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.
Based on Susanna Kaysen's account of being trapped in a mental institution in the late '60s, director James Mangold's "Girl, Interrupted" is a semi-involving tale of identity and belonging featuring a solid performance from Winona Ryder and a spirited, star-making turn from Angelina Jolie.
Ryder stars as Susanna herself, an unhappy, upper-middle-class high school graduate uncertain about her place in American society circa 1967-68. While being moody, depressed and promiscuous might seem normal in the 1990s, in the late '60s, it's enough for Susanna's parents to seriously wonder about their daughter.
After chasing a bottle of alcohol with a bottle of aspirin, the girl's psychiatrist immediately diagnoses her as a borderline personality and subsequently commits her to Claymoore Hospital. That's where the opening line of the movie comes in: "Maybe I was really crazy, maybe it was the '60s, or just a girl, interrupted." For those wondering about the phrase, it's taken from a Vermeer painting ("Girl Interrupted at Her Music"), which played an integral part in Susanna's development.
Unfortunately, the movie chooses not to delve into the ironies and social details of Susanna's memoirs. Instead, the script by Mangold, Anna Hamilton Phelan and Lisa Loomer opts to focus on Susanna's interactions with her fellow mental patients and their nostalgic antics. They laugh. They fight. They sneak out at night to bowl a few frames in the basement.
The characters are mostly presented as types. There's Polly (Elisabeth Moss), a burn victim who has trouble coping with her disfigurement; Daisy (Brittany Murphy), a rich, little girl with a sordid family history and a weird obsession with chicken; and Susanna's roommate, Georgina (Clea Duvall), who seems fairly normal. Watching over this female version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" are a stern but fair nurse named Valerie (Whoopi Goldberg) and, in a few scenes, a philosophy-spouting head psychiatrist named Dr. Wick (Vanessa Redgrave).
The real flesh and blood character of the film is wild and rowdy Lisa (Jolie), an eccentric sociopath who instigates and motivates her co-patients to achieve her own end. A constant escapee from the institution, it's Lisa with whom Susanna becomes most connected. They're fast friends and partners in raucous behavior, but Susanna will learn a thing or two about Lisa's ability to be clever and ever so cold-hearted.
Both Ryder and Jolie are impressive in their roles. Ryder is required mostly to be somber and react to Jolie's more flamboyant behavior, but she's quite believable as a spoiled princess whose depression has caused her to lose touch with reality. She's never really sick; she just needs a wake-up call.
The Jolie character provides a wake-up call and more, with the actress delivering another memorable performance on the heels of her award-winning work in "Gia" and "George Wallace." Never over the top but always teetering on the high wire, Jolie mesmerizes in all of her scenes and should garner plenty of notices for the part. It's her performance as the mad, raving, charismatic ringleader that gets the movie's blood pumping.
That's a good thing, because the direction of "Girl, Interrupted" is more than a few paces too deliberate. Third-time feature director Mangold worked miracles with this sort of slow-building drama in his debut movie, "Heavy," and the underrated "Copland." But here, middling is as middling does. The episodic adventures of Susanna and her crew of misfits aren't enough to sustain interest, especially when the plotting comes across as burdensome as Susanna's weary attempts to get out of bed.
Cinematographer Jack Green lenses the movie with an appropriately sparse and clinical look and feel. A more probing or fully rounded, character-driven script that examines the institutional practices and mores of '60s society would fit perfectly. Instead, the film achieves only moderate success, balanced precariously on strong performances from its two lead stars.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality and suicide.
Winona Ryder: Susanna Kaysen Angelina Jolie: Lisa Brittany Murphy: Daisy Clea Duvall: Georgina Whoopi Goldberg: Valerie
A Columbia Pictures presentation. Director James Mangold. Screenplay Anna Hamilton Phelan, James Mangold and Lisa Loomer. Memoirs Susanna Kaysen. Producers Cathy Konrad and Douglas Wick. Director of photography Jack N. Green. Editor Kevin Tent. Music Mychael Danna. Production designer Richard Hoover. Costume designer Arianne Phillips. Art director Jeff Knip. Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes.