The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
At first glance The Family Stone appears to be yet another silly romp about family dynamics. But the Stones a vivacious loving liberal-minded New England family are more than just cardboard cut-outs; they’re as real as any dysfunctional family can be. The film begins with the Stones getting ready for their annual holiday gathering. Matriarch Sybil (Diane Keaton) is especially anxious to meet her eldest son’s (Dermot Mulroney) girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker). The family has been warned Meredith is a controlling neurotic New Yorker with very little redeemable qualities. And when Meredith arrives she certainly does nothing to dispel the notion meeting her potential eccentric in-laws with a mix of awkwardness confusion and hostility. Yet oddly enough the disruption brings about some needed changes within the family Stone allowing them to come together and realize their extraordinary capacity for love. Everyone in this stellar ensemble rises to the occasion and truly paints a very vivid picture of a family devoted to one another--but who are less than approachable to outsiders. As mom Keaton turns in yet another genuine look at a complicated woman dealing with some insurmountable obstacles while Craig T. Nelson as her loyal husband does a nice job conveying a warmth to their marriage. Playing their grownup children is Mulroney as the straight-laced “suit” Everett who isn’t all that priggish; Luke Wilson as the laid-back Ben who seems to have strayed the most from his family; and Rachel McAdams as the passionate if rather acerbic little sister. But the real revelation is Parker as the uptight highly unlikable Meredith. It’s quite a departure from her fun-lovin’ Sex
and the City days and the Parker--who truly is one of the better comedic actresses we have today--easily handles the unpleasant chores of playing someone suffering with chronic foot-in-mouth syndrome. Like many newbie filmmakers writer/director Thomas Bezucha--whose only other credit is the little seen indie Big Eden--has the advantage of having that certain fresh quality to his work. Stone’s dialogue is snappy poignant and spot-on as the Stones interact with each other in all too familiar ways. The whole Meredith scenario will perhaps have many of us remembering similar situations--from both sides of the fence. It’s just as painful to have to meet the family of someone you love for the first time as it is dealing with a family member’s poor choices in mates. And what makes
The Family Stone stand out even more is how Bezucha truly defines the term “dramedy.” From the trailer the film seemed to be a balls-out slap-sticky comedy which in many ways it is but you may be surprised to see how The Family Stone’s more serious tones will touch you.
September 19, 2003 6:25am EST
Darrin (Cuba Gooding Jr.) an advertising executive living in New York is totally bankrupt--both morally and financially. On the same day he gets fired from his job for embellishing his résumé Darrin finds out his aunt has died and he must travel back to his hometown in Georgia to attend her funeral. Turns out auntie left a small fortune for Darrin in her will but there's a catch: In order to collect the inheritance he must first lead the local church gospel choir to success at the annual Gospel Explosion--a national competition. But the choir which consists of a handful of older churchgoing folk is in shambles. Desperate for results Darrin draws potential members by opening the choir to just about anyone including prison inmates and atheists. Unfortunately the most talented singer in town is a jazz singer named Lilly (Beyoncé Knowles) who wants nothing to do with the church. Will Darrin be able to convince her to join the choir on a tune and join him on a date? Predictable from beginning to end this pic has one great thing going for it--the music. With gospel styles as diverse as traditional Southern to contemporary with a touch of hip-hop The Fighting Temptations will have you anxiously anticipating each musical number.
Gooding who last starred in the shipwreck Boat Trip misleadingly gets top billing in the comedy The Fighting Temptations. Sure the film revolves around his smarmy character Darrin but Gooding is outshined here by talented cast members that are either funnier or more musically inclined than he is. As Gooding's love interest Lilly Knowles who made her big-screen debut in last year's Austin Powers in Goldmember has found a perfect vehicle to show off both her multi-octave range and her developing acting skills. Unsurprisingly her musical numbers including her steamy nightclub rendition of "Fever " are much more memorable than her dialogue. But sandwiched between the sentimental scenes and rollicking musical numbers are two performances that really stand out. The first is Mike Epps as Lucius Monte Carlo's Caddy-driving welcoming committee. Epps (Friday After Next) livens up every scene he is in and the comedian consistently peppers his laugh-out-loud lines with subtle mispronunciations: "(Lilly's) in a spectrum of fine-ness; the energy is so potnent that she got a class-action suit against her right now for reckless endangerment." Adding to the comedy is Steve Harvey as the gossip-spreading local radio DJ. Like Epps Harvey's scenes many of which have him sitting behind a card table while reporting live from community events are refreshingly funny.
In a career that spans nearly four decades director Jonathan Lynn has amassed a diverse hit-or-miss filmography that includes the cross-dressing comedy Nuns on the Run the fish-out-of-water hit My Cousin Vinny the not-so-distinguished The Distinguished Gentleman and the screwball comedy The Whole Nine Yards. While The Fighting Temptations is not a hit for the director it is not exactly a miss either; it is middle of the road. With the church scenes for example Lynn really gives moviegoers a sense of the feverish rejuvenation that takes place during religious musical performances complete with patrons being 'slain in the Spirit' and falling to the ground. Regrettably the story by scribes Elizabeth Hunter and Saladin K. Patterson also falls to the floor like a fainting churchgoer; the musical numbers liven up the otherwise humdrum plot involving Darrin and Lilly. Assembled under the guidance of music-savvy producers such as Loretha Jones and Benny Medina the movie ends up being surprisingly entertaining. Some of the top scenes in the film include Knowles' a cappella solo "Swing Low Sweet Chariot " The O'Jays barbershop rendition of "Loves Me Like a Rock" and a moving Gospel Explosion performance by the Blind Boys of Alabama.