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.
See Jane dance and flirt. See Jane exchange witty repartee. See Jane fall deeply in love with the wrong boy. But mostly see Jane become the beloved Victorian romantic author we’ve come to know. In a “what if” scenario Becoming Jane combines bits and pieces of the real Austen’s life gathered from letters she wrote to her sister with a somewhat fictitious account of her life as a 20-year-old emerging as a writer thinking way ahead of her time and dreaming of doing what was then nearly unthinkable--marrying for love. The young Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) meets her match in Londoner Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy). Despite her parents’ urgings to marry someone who could assure her future social standing—and Jane’s initial disregard for the roguish and decidedly non-aristocratic Tom—the two soon fall head over heels for each other. Their romance bucks all the sense and sensibility of the age but reality hits hard when it’s clear they will risk everything that matters--family friends and fortune--if they marry. According to Becoming Jane Jane’s love dilemma and inevitable heartbreak (the real Austen died a spinster) is what inspires her to write her tomes. A self-proclaimed Jane Austen enthusiast herself Hathaway fits right in as the budding author perfecting the British accent and Victorian look. The actress’ own free-spirited nature and spunkiness seen in her films The Princess Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada seep right through in Becoming Jane. The girl just can’t help herself. Some ardent Austen scholars--who believe the real Austen was much more subdued in her demeanor--may scoff at how Hathaway plays Jane much like the author's most famous heroine Pride & Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet but it works for the movie. Matching Hathaway every step of the way is McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) as the young suitor Tom Lefroy. His devil-may-care attitude draws Jane in as the two would-be lovers spar like champs. But once he falls hard for Jane McAvoy breaks your heart. He too would have made a dashing Mr. Darcy. Becoming Jane’s supporting players also keep up especially consummate actors Julie Walters and James Cromwell as Jane’s parents. They play the elder Austens with much affection. But despite the fact that they married for love Walters’ Mrs. Austen doesn’t want the same life for her daughter. “I don’t want you to pick potatoes like me!” she exclaims. Women of that age had little choice. With the countless adaptations of her work—including the most recent Pride & Prejudice starring Keira Knightley—Jane Austen has proven to be gold for movie and television studios alike. A biopic on the author herself was unavoidable. Even though Austen remained unmarried her whole life many believed she must have experienced some kind of love to be able to write as she did. Becoming Jane’s screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams therefore use their imagination incorporating what little was known of Austen’s young adulthood and creating an Austenite world with Jane as its romantic star. Much like Finding Neverland it’s great fun recognizing characters and situations that may have inspired Austen’s novels. Adding to the mix is British director Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots) who frames the English countryside with a loving eye and captures the late 18th century/early 19th century period just as well as any Merchant-Ivory film could have. The only thing Becoming Jane lacks is a wonderfully weepy happy ending in which the dashing gentleman strides across a field to proclaim his love for the heroine. But Jane says it herself in the film: Even if she can’t have love and fulfillment by God she’ll make sure all of her novels’ heroines have theirs.
Whitney Houston's father John Houston died of cardiac arrest early Sunday morning in New York after struggling many years with diabetes and heart disease. He was 82. He and his famous daughter were recently embroiled in a lawsuit in which the elder Houston's theatrical management company claimed the pop diva owed the company $100 million for helping her through financial difficulties and securing a record contract. In December, he publicly urged his daughter from his hospital bed to "pay the money you owe me." The dispute did not keep Whitney away, however, as Reuters reports the singer flew to New York Sunday from Miami, where she was doing a shoot for a magazine cover, to be with her family.
Ben Affleck will not be marrying his fiancee Jennifer Lopez on Valentine's Day after all. Reuters reports the actor quelled the rumor by telling Vanity Fair in an interview published Monday that he and Lopez "don't have time!" and added they are shooting for the nuptials to take place sometime next summer.
Jude Law doesn't like rumors either. According to People.com, Law, who is married to actress Sadie Frost, insisted to Australia's Syndey Morning Herald that the rumor he and Nicole Kidman had an affair on the set of their movie Cold Mountain is categorically untrue and "to suggest otherwise is malicious, hurtful and libelous." It was reported by a few tabloids that Frost, who recently had to be treated for postnatal depression after giving birth to the couple's son, may have been also upset about the alleged affair. Law added, "I have been on to my lawyers and will follow all legal action necessary to ensure that these kind of vicious lies are put to a stop."
Pop star Michael Jackson, who allowed a British interviewer access to his personal life over an eight month period for a special television documentary, reveals, among other things, that he picked a surrogate mother to give birth to his third child, Prince Michael II. Jackson also told ITV1 reporter Martin Bashir having children sleep in his bed is perfectly innocent and admitted he had plastic surgery on his nose--twice. Riiight. The 90-minute TV-special aired on British television Monday and will air on ABC's 20/20 Thursday.
Meryl Streep doesn't buy into all the Oscar hullabaloo. The Oscar-winning actress told London's Daily Telegraph, "I find it alarming that all the campaigning for Oscars is getting like a political campaign. It really is distasteful.....It won't be long before they start paying for television commercials for best picture, best actor and all those things." The 53-year-old actress has been nominated 12 times, winning twice, and shares the nom record with Katharine Hepburn. Heavily touted this year for her performances in The Hours and Adaptation, Streep will most likely break that record when the Academy announces the nominations next week.
Russell Crowe is set to reunite with his A Beautiful Mind director Ron Howard for the boxing drama Cinderella Man. Variety reports the film focuses on Depression-era fighter and folk hero Jim Braddock, who defeated heavyweight champ Max Baer in a 15-round slugfest in 1935.
The Directors Guild of America has announced their nominees for the best television movie direction for 2002, including nods for the late John Frankenheimer for HBO's Path to War, Julie Dash for CBS' The Rosa Parks Story and Mick Jackson for HBO's Live From Baghdad.
NBC's new drama Kingpin has drawn criticism from the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Associated Press reports, for its depiction of Hispanics as "drug dealers, murderers and unpatriotic American citizens," the group said in a statement. They added the show "opens the door to more negative feelings towards Latinos in our community."
Based on a headline-grabbing true crime that has long fascinated the French and inspired work by such esteemed writers as Jean-Paul Sartre Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Genet Murderous Maids is the story of sisters Christine Papin (Sylvie Testud) and Lea Papin (Julie-Marie Parmentier) who in 1933 murdered Madame Lancelin (Dominique Labourier) and her daughter Genevieve (Marie Donnio) in their elegant home in Le Mans France. Also from Le Mans Christine and Lea--like their elder sister Emilia who fled hardship for a religious life--had difficult childhoods. Their mother Clemence (Isabelle Renauld) who lived a life of poverty and menial work was largely indifferent to her daughters although she favored Lea. Her taste in men was unfortunate: Her husband had raped Emilia and her current lover a crass veteran makes advances toward Christine. After Christine leaves a series of demeaning jobs in wealthy homes she eventually lands a position with wealthy lawyer Lancelin and his family and is able to get a job there for Lea to whom she has grown unusually attached. When the relationship between the sisters becomes incestuous Christine grows jealous of Lea's closeness to Madame Lancelin. Worse she suspects that her employer is aware of their relationship. Christine finally loses control one evening when Madame Lancelin and her daughter unexpectedly return home early. Christine violently attacks the two women and persuades Lea to collude in the vicious assault. Nabbed by the authorities Christine eventually ends up in an asylum where she dies and Lea serves time quietly in prison.
Testud won the Cesar (France's highest film award) last year for most promising actress in Les Blessures Assassines and no wonder. She is brilliant and wholly believable as the tortured complex sister driven to incest and murder. Testud suggests pain so real that you almost fathom the horrific ends she goes to. As the quieter and more vulnerable sister Parmentier is also superb. She is able to convey a muted ambivalence and confusion simmering under her vulnerable surface. All other performances including those of Renauld as their amoral mother and Labourier as the hapless bourgeois madame are also right on the mark.
Jean-Pierre Denis who also co-wrote the screenplay adaptation from the book The Papin Affair does an extraordinary job of evoking his deeply troubled characters their clueless employers and the starkly contrasted milieus and rigid moral and social climates that infused their lives. Denis wisely lets the authentic costumes and settings (the film was actually shot in Le Mans) tell much of the story. His decision to dispense with a music track in favor of natural sounds and the pitch-perfect performances he coaxes from his actors add to the chilling authenticity. The crisp imagery that Denis' cinematographer Jean-Marc Fabre delivers amounts to a provocative tableaux--a doomed mix of magnificent comfort and unsightly squalor. The film which was nominated for 4 Cesar Awards is also a handsome production rich in fine performances--especially those of Testud and Parmentier. One scene that depicts the incest between the two sisters may disturb many but it is in keeping with Denis' reverence for the cold hard ugly facts and the mysterious psychological and social underpinnings that were integral to this legendary case.
As the world undoubtedly knows, the long-awaited, hotly contested (behind the scenes, anyway) "Charlie's Angels" flick will finally open Friday.
In case you haven't already heard, in the Y2K version, there'll be Natalie (Cameron Diaz), the nerdy one who can dance; Dylan (Drew Barrymore), the street-smart one; and Alex (Lucy Liu), the sexy one.
And, of course, the new angels are all across-the-board beautiful and equally trained in the discipline of martial arts.
But as seasoned tube watchers know, before Drew, Cameron and Lucy, there were Farrah, Kate, Jaclyn, Cheryl, Shelley and Tanya.
Feeling Nostalgic? Well, it's a good thing that we have below the handy biographical profiles of these titular old-school Angels.
WHO: Jill Munroe AKA: Farrah Fawcett TENURE: One season: 1976-1977, with regular guest appearances throughout. M.O.: As the athletically gifted one, Jill is versed in all sports and sports-related trivia. When she is not fighting crimes, she dedicates her free time to coaching a girl's b-ball team. Jill's other hobbies include driving really fast in her sports car. WHY DID SHE LEAVE: Always living on life's edge, Jill left the detective agency to become a professional racecar driver.
WHO: Sabrina Duncan AKA: Kate Jackson TENURE: Three seasons: 1976-1979 M.O.: Maybe it's because of her signature turtleneck and slacks combo, but Sabrina has always been known as the smart one. Before joining the Townsend Agency, Sabrina was an LAPD officer and once married. Among the brunette's other attributes is her ability to speak fluent Spanish. WHY DID SHE LEAVE: Comparatively more straitlaced than her colleagues, Sabrina eventually left the agency after three years of dedicated service to remarry and raise a white picket-fence family.
WHO: Kelly Garrett AKA: Jaclyn Smith TENURE: All five seasons: 1976-1981 M.O.: Though her experience as a Vegas cocktail waitress and an airline stewardess had endowed the wavy brunette with a certain spunky street-smartness, the fact remains that Kelly is, hands down, the sophisticated one. Orphaned since birth, Kelly -- also a former LAPD officer herself -- enjoys living a single and romantically uncommitted life with her oversized pet poodle. WHY DID SHE LEAVE: Kelly was shot in the head while confronting an embezzler during the series' swan song episode, wherein the Angels saw the end of the Townsend Agency and Charlie in bodily form.
WHO: Kris Munroe AKA: Cheryl Ladd TENURE: Four seasons: 1977-1981 M.O.: Little sister of Jill Munroe, Kris joined the rank of the Angels after the elder sibling's departure. Like Kelly and Sabrina before her, Kris also served once as the officer of the law (though in San Francisco, not Los Angeles). But unlike her older sis, Kris does not exhibit the same natural talents in the area of sports. WHY DID SHE LEAVE: The Townsend Agency folded (see entry on Kelly Garrett).
WHO: Tiffany Welles AKA: Shelley Hack TENURE: One season: 1979-1980 M.O.: Though she's the daughter of one of Charlie's good friends, Tiffany proves that it is her strength and not nepotism that got her foot in the Townsend Agency. Studied in the field of parapsychology, Tiffany is also an accomplished violin and volleyball player. WHY DID SHE LEAVE: The wanderlust had gotten the best of Shelley after only one short year of detective work. She left the agency in favor of new and unidentified adventures on the East Coast.
WHO: Julie Rogers AKA: Tanya Roberts TENURE: The final season: 1980-1981 M.O.: Undoubtedly due to her late entry into the angelhood, not much is known about the mysterious Julie. But here is what is known: Julie is a world traveler, has two good friends and would sometimes go scuba diving. WHY DID SHE LEAVE: See entry on Kris Munroe.