Now that the Oscars are behind us, we can get back to the things that really matter…like heightening our senses for films to keep on our radar for next year’s ballot. If Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has taught us anything, it’s that the Oscars love family dramas; family dramas like this week’s Being Flynn. Despite it’s title, Being Flynn has absolutely nothing to do with Tron. The Flynn in this case is Nick Flynn, a young man who works in a homeless shelter in Boston. While there, he is suddenly confronted with his estranged, conman father. Based on a true story, Being Flynn has all the makings of a powerfully jarring drama. While the film’s main stars are Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore, there are a few young, up-and-coming actors to be found in the cast as well. One such performer is the beautiful and talented Olivia Thirlby.
Probably the role for which she’s most known, if you’re lucky enough to already know who she is, Olivia Thirlby appeared in the hit 2007 indie comedy hit Juno. The film centers on a high school girl, a social misfit named Juno, who accidentally manages to get pregnant by her longtime best friend. The film is a straightforward, yet charmingly quirky deconstruction of societal standards and traditional family values. Thirlby plays Juno’s best friend Leah who is an absolute riot. The things that come flying unrestrained from her mouth maybe the product of Diablo Cody’s wildly eccentric script, but Thirlby’s delivery is simply outstanding.
New York, I Love You
I really love anthology films. They allow multiple filmmakers to add their own perspective to one overall vision. And even if one individual story doesn’t work, you don’t have to suffer it long before an entirely new tale unfolds. In 2009, a conglomeration of directors got together to create a celluloid collage entitled New York, I Love You. The film is actually the follow-up to 2007’s Paris, Je t’aime, which featured several tales of love and human connections in the city of light. New York ,I Love You similarly explores love, but this time in the city that never sleeps. Thirlby turns in a rather meta performance as an actress in the segment directed by Brett Ratner.
Thirlby reveled as the feisty first love of a young and depressed drug dealer Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck), who also happens to be the chief supplier of her psychologist stepfather's (Ben Kingsley) regular intake of marijuana. Thirlby played the spirited love interest in a way we haven't seen before. Her character was inspiring, but not without her own pain and darkness weighting her down. Working in accordance with writer/director Jonathan Levine's fun and interesting script, Thirlby created an unforgettable and full character who, in the wrong hands, could have turned out to be just a vehicle for Peck's journey.
Bored to Death
Though short-lived, the HBO series Bored to Death made quite an impression with fans. The show follows a writer named Jonathan Ames, played by Jason Schwartzman, who spends his evenings working as a private detective. Co-starring Zach Galifianakis and Ted Danson, Bored to Death is an off-the-wall satire of film noir and Raymond Chandler-type detective stories. Thirlby plays Suzanne, Jonathan’s ex-girlfriend who ends up providing a great deal of the character’s motivation and anguish throughout the first season. Considering how gorgeous as Thirlby is, I guess we can understand his unwillingness to accept that their relationship is kaput.
This entry may seem like a bit of a cheat, as it hasn’t been released yet, but Pete Travis’ Dredd represents one of the biggest reasons you’re going to want to become very familiar with Thirlby and soon. Dredd is the reboot of the comic book character Judge Dredd, whose escapades were already brought the screen once in the 1995 film starring Sylvester Stallone. Judge Dredd exists in a dystopian future in which criminality has become such a problem that a special police force is tasked with acting as judge, jury, and executioner right at the scene of the crime. As much as I thoroughly love the campy, cheesy goodness of Judge Dredd, I am very much looking forward to seeing Karl Urban’s take on the character and seeing Thirlby dish out justice right alongside the helmeted hero.
At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
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.