Thor: The Dark World


Quoth the raven, nevermore will there be barbers and razors in Asgard.

Quoth the raven, nevermore will there be barbers and razors in Asgard.

(2013) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Jaimie Alexander, Tadanobu Asano, Rene Russo, Alice Krige, Clive Russell, Jonathan Howard, Chris O’Dowd, Talulah Riley. Directed by Alan Taylor

It is hard to achieve success when it comes to the movies, but it is harder still to maintain it. The Marvel superhero films have been on a long winning streak but has the moviegoing public tired of their celluloid adventures yet? Not according to the box office.

Thor (Hemsworth) pines away on Asgard, having had to clean up the mess that his half-brother Loki (Hiddleston) – who rots in an Asgardian prison – wrought with his invasion of Earth in The Avengers. Two years have passed since New York was trashed and Thor has been busy mopping up the results of those events, leaving Jane Foster (Portman) – his earth-born ladylove – petulant and sulky, wondering if her God-like boyfriend has dumped her.

Something called the Convergence is approaching – an event when all nine realms which include Asgard and Earth – are perfectly aligned. As it approaches the boundaries between the realms get a bit thin, causing some temporal and spacial anomalies. While Jane is investigating one of these (leaving a date with the hapless Richard (O’Dowd) to do so) she is infected by something called the Aether.

That’s a bad thing. Apparently this is the stuff that the Dark Elves planned to use at the last Convergence to bring about a return of the universe to complete darkness, something that the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith (Eccleston) are very eager to do. The Asgardians had gone to war with the Dark Elves to prevent this and only through the efforts of Thor’s grandfather had the forces of light prevailed. Malekith and his major-domo Kurse (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) skedaddled into a spaceship where they would remain in stasis until the Aether called them back, which when Jane is touched by the stuff is precisely what happens.

Cue Thor to fetch Jane to Asgard to see if the medicine of the Gods can help her. Cue Odin (Hopkins) to be grouchy and a bit frumpy. Cue Thor’s mom Frigga (Russo) to be far more understanding than her husband. Cue Thor’s pals Fandral (Levi), Vostagg (Stevenson), Sif (Alexander) and Hogun (Asano) to be understanding. Cue Jane’s ex-boss Dr. Erik Selvig (Skarsgard) to lose his marbles and walk around Stonehenge stark naked and muttering crazy talk about the Convergence. Cue Jane’s intern Darcy (Dennings) to be snarky and get an intern of her own (Howard). And after Thor desperately seeks his help, cue Loki to make some plans of his own.

Taking over from Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair is Alan Taylor who cut his teeth on the Game of Thrones HBO series as well as other fine TV shows but it is the adaptation of the George R.R. Martin fantasy that prepared Taylor for this big screen debut. He certainly doesn’t have any problem with the scale needed for a cinematic franchise like this. Asgard is properly awe-inspiring, the battle sequences (of which there are several) are properly epic and the heroes properly heroic.

While some critics have groused about Hemsworth as Thor, I don’t agree with their assessment. His character has a bit of an inflated ego (hey, he’s a Norse God after all and the son of the King for all that) and a bit of a maturity issue and he is well aware that his strength doesn’t lie in his intellect. He is the kind of guy who charges in to lay a beat-down on his enemies first and asks questions later. However Thor isn’t just a caricature thanks to Hemsworth who makes his personality work and be relatable to his audience. That’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

Hiddleston however is the star of this show in many ways. He is deliciously evil as Loki with a snarky attitude to boot. He revels in his badness but shows some depth that makes his character perhaps the most interesting one in the film. He has some of the best comic relief in the movie and also conversely some of the most poignant moments. Hiddleston is a star in the making and perhaps with this performance arrives in that sense.

The drawbacks here is that the movie drags a bit particularly in the middle and for a movie of this nature that can be a killer. Also early on some of the events are a bit confusing and are never properly explained or given context.

Fortunately the movies plusses outweigh those fairly significant minuses, making this solid entertainment that will please the superhero junkie in your family, although I predict that the fanboys will probably pick it apart and as we head into the next Marvel film will in all likelihood trash it and moan about how it has killed the Marvel franchise. They’ve done the same with Iron Man 3 which is no better or no worse than this.

REASONS TO GO: Wonderful eye candy. Hiddleston raises the bar on super-villains. Hemsworth is a terrific Thor.

REASONS TO STAY: Confusing in places. Lumbers a bit.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a good deal of sci-fi/comic book violence, a few bad words and some suggestive dialogue.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This the last film to be written by Don Payne (who also wrote Thor). He died of bone cancer shortly before the movie was released.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/25/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Seeker: The Dark is Rising

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: What Happens in Vegas

Advertisements

New Releases for the Week of September 28, 2012


September 28, 2012

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA

(Columbia/Sony Animation) Starring the voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez, Andy Samberg, Kevin James, Cee-Lo Green, Steve Buscemi, David Spade. Directed by Genndy Tartakovsky

In an effort to insulate his willful daughter Mavis from the world, Count Dracula decides to turn his castle into a hotel for monsters only. There, he and Mavis can hang out with Frankenstein and his bride, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Invisible Man and all of their friends. However when a human hiker stumbles into the Castle and Mavis takes a liking to him, all manner of chaos will ensue. However, I don’t know how eager I’d be to have Dracula as my father-in-law.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for some rude humor, action and scary images)

Looper

(Tri-Star) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano. In the future time travel has been discovered but it’s illegal; so only criminals use it, to dispose of their “problems.” They send the people they want to whack back in time to the present day where an assassin – called a Looper – murders them and disposes of the body. Nice. Neat. But for one Looper, he is put in a very disconcerting situation when his assignment turns out to be his own future self. So would that be homicide or suicide?

See the trailer, an interview and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: R (for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use)

OMG – Oh My God!

(Viacom18) Mithun Chakraborty, Paresh Rawal, Akshay Kumar, Poonam Jhawer. When an antique shopkeeper loses everything to a tornado, his faith in God wavers to the point where he makes it his mission to convince others of the non-existence of God. This leads to mayhem until he gets an unexpected visit from Lord Krishna himself.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Pitch Perfect

(Universal) Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Rebel Wilson. A shy young girl who has just enrolled in college is roped into the a cappella group, even though she’d much rather listen to music than make it. However she resolves to take the group from their traditional arrangements to mash-ups of modern hits which might lead them to success at competitions. Or unfair comparisons to “Glee.”

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material, language and drug references)

Robot & Frank

(Goldwyn) Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler. The concerned children of a retired thief are worried that he is unable to care for himself living alone. So against the old man’s wishes, his son buys him a robot that is programmed to improve his physical and mental health. The old man soon finds his life changing in some ways – and returning back to what it used to be in others.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for some language)

Solomon Kane

(Radius) James Purefoy, Max von Sydow, Pete Postlethwaite, Alice Krige. A soldier in the 16th century discovers his actions have damned his soul. He vows to redeem himself and refrain from violence for the remainder of his days, but when a supernatural threat descends upon the land, he discovers that his skills may be the only thing to save his home and people.

See the trailer, featurettes, a clip and a link to stream the full movie from Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: R (for violence throughout)

Won’t Back Down

(20th Century Fox) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Oscar Isaac, Holly Hunter. Two mothers, horrified at the state of education in their poverty-level neighborhood, resolve to improve the quality of the education in their area. Met with opposition from the city and education bureaucracy they find themselves forced to take the fight much further than they thought possible.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and language)

Skin


Skin

Sophie Okonedo ruminates on how ironic it is that her skin, so beautiful, could cause her so much trouble.

(2008) True Life Drama (Elysian) Sophie Okonedo, Alice Krige, Sam Neill, Ella Ramangwane, Hannes Brummer, Tembi Murake, Danny Keogh, Ben Botha, Nicole Holme, Lauren Das Neves, Jonathan Pienaar, Gordon Van Rooyan, Tony Kgoroge, Corbus Venter, Anna-Mart van der Merwe. Directed by Anthony Fabian

 

South Africa is a changed land. There are, however, many in the United States – particularly of the younger generation – who have little or no memory of the system of apartheid that reigned there until 1994 that relegated the black majority to second class status. Nearly all of us are unaware of the story of Sandra Laing, for whom apartheid did far more insidious damage.

Sandra (Ramangwane) was a well-adjusted little girl, adored by her shopkeeper parents Abraham (Neill) and Sannie (Krige). They are Afrikaans, living in the East Transvaal of South Africa in the 1950s, but while Abraham and Sannie are both lily-white, Sandra’s skin is darker-hued and her hair curly. Despite evidence to the contrary, she appears to have at least some African blood in here.

That is a problem in South African society. When Sandra’s parents drop her off in an all-white boarding school, after a short time during which she undergoes brutal teasing and extensive ostracizing, she is pulled from school by police officers and escorted home. Her parents are outraged – their daughter has been classified as colored, even though both parents are white. They go through extensive legal battles to reclassify her as white, finally getting a geneticist to testify that it is entirely possible that there is enough African DNA in even the whitest of Afrikaans to show up dominant unexpectedly. The Supreme Court at last classifies Sandra as white.

But that doesn’t make the now-teenaged Sandra (Okonedo) happy, although her parents are pleased as punch. Sandra knows she’s never going to be accepted by white South Africa, legal or not. On top of that, she falls in love with a black vegetable seller named Petrus (Kgoroge) who does business with her father.

However her father is not nearly as tolerant perhaps as you might think, and not only forbids the relationship but chases off Petrus with a shotgun. Like most willful daughters, this only strengthens Sandra’s resolve and soon enough she’s pregnant. When she elopes with her man to Swaziland, her father disowns her. They remain estranged for a very long time.

In the meantime, Sandra – cut off from her family and now living the life that most black members of South African society were experiencing with no running water, no electricity, no sanitation, low pay and few prospects. The pressure begins to take its toll on her marriage to Petrus, who grows more abusive until now with two small children, she is forced to leave.

She goes to find her parents only to discover that they no longer live where she grew up and for a time her attempts to find them are fruitless. However as the apartheid government falls and free elections are conducted for the first time, South African media takes an interest in the young woman who’d suffered so much because of a division that was really, when it comes down to it, only skin deep.

This is Fabian’s first effort and it shows in places. Some of his scenes dwell on minutiae a bit too much, be it cinematographically or through dialogue. That said, he captures the atmosphere of apartheid-era South Africa nicely; I’ve read comments from South African natives who have said so and far be it for me to disagree.

The main attraction here is Okonedo. Oscar-nominated for Hotel Rwanda, she proves that nomination was no fluke, turning in a performance that is nuanced and believable. Her Sandra shows the scars of being thought inferior to the point where she partially believes it, before she is forced to make a choice to save her kids from her abusive husband.

Neill and Krige, both tested veterans, perform pretty well although Neill is a bit over-the-top as the somewhat bombastic Abraham. There’s some scenery chewing going on, but not so much that it becomes irritating – it’s merely noticeable. Kgoroge  also turns in a fine performance, although he tends to be overshadowed in his scenes with Okonedo.

This is one of the tragic stories of apartheid, and that it hasn’t gotten virtually any coverage in the States is a bit of a crime. This might have been the movie to rectify that but it wasn’t picked up by a major or even a major indie distributor, getting barely any theatrical release in the States and relegated to cable where it can be found even as we speak. It is worth seeking out though if for no other reason for Okonedo’s performance.

WHY RENT THIS: The story is extremely moving. Okonedo gives a tremendous performance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The pacing drags occasionally.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of sexuality and a little bit of violence, but the thing to remember here is that the subject matter is on the adult side and might be too much for immature sensibilities.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie won 19 international festival awards and was nominated for six mainstream awards.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Data not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tsotsi

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Snow White and the Huntsman

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice


The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Alfred Molina is disturbed to discover that Nicolas Cage has blue balls.

(Disney) Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Monica Bellucci, Toby Kebbell, Alice Krige, Omar Benson Miller, Jake Cherry, James A. Stephens, Gregory Woo, Peyton Roi List, Nicole Ehringer, Ian McShane (voice). Directed by Jon Turtletaub

 The world is a magical place, even the parts we can see. There exists a whole world, however, that we can’t, one in which the impossible is commonplace, and in that world good battles evil incessantly, barely in the lead although not without cost.

Balthazar Blake (Cage) is one of the three apprentices to Merlin (Stephens) – yes, that one – back in 840 AD, along with Veronica (Bellucci) and Horvath (Molina). All of them are in conflict with Morgana le Fay (Krige), who wants to enslave the world by using a spell called The Rising, which will raise the dead into an army for her. She probably should have put in a call to George A. Romero.

Horvath betrays his fellows and Veronica takes a bullet for Balthazar, winding up imprisoned along with Morgana in a grimhold, a nesting doll that acts like a prison. As the years roll by, Balthazar adds more of Morgana’s followers to the grimhold as additional layers to the doll until he finally captures Horvath himself.

But Balthazar’s work is far from done. The dying Merlin told Balthazar that only one sorcerer can truly destroy Morgana and it is Balthazar’s job to find him. It only takes about 1200 years, but Balthazar finally locates him. Talk about determination!

Young Dave (Cherry) goes on a school field trip and spends most of it trying to get the attention of a comely young blonde named Becky Barnes (List), whom he asks in a note if she’s interested in him as a friend or a girlfriend. Becky checks the appropriate box, but a coincidental wind blows the note all the way to a curio shop named Arcana Cabana which is run by – you guessed it – Balthazar. Using the test of a dragon ring, Balthazar realizes that Dave is the one he’s looking for; the Prime Merlinian. Note to writers: where do you come up with these names? It sounds like something dreamed up by a panel of math geeks at an MIT calculus conference.

Because he’s nine (or ten, depending on who you ask) years old, Dave manages to release Horvath from the nesting doll…err, grimhold, and all Hades breaks loose. Balthazar and Horvath manage to be sucked into a magical urn that will hold them for ten years to the day. Why? Just because.

Ten years later, the adult Dave (Baruchel) is a physics nerd at NYU when he runs into old flame Becky (Palmer) when he runs a physics primer for English majors, which is an idea which no doubt the administrators at NYU are scratching their heads and wondering “wha…?” about. Although apparently without a job and no visible means of support, Dave has placed several eight-foot Tesla coils together in an unauthorized lab in a subway turnaround. Why? Just because.

Of course, now the two wizards are out of their urn and looking for that grimhold, Balthazar so that he can protect the world and potentially destroy Morgana once and for all, and Horvath because he wants to resurrect Morgana and destroy the world. Why? Just because.

Balthazar knows he needs to teach Dave the basics of magic and quickly because (queue serious music) the fate of the world rests in his hands. Why? Just…oh you know what comes next.

The trio of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Turtletaub and Cage has previously teamed up in the two National Treasure movies, which I found to be a seriously entertaining take on the Indiana Jones movies. This one is less effective although it still remains entertaining. This movie is a bit of a mash-up between genres, an action movie blended with a fantasy movie, sort of like Harry Potter in Die Hard. Expelliarmus mothereffer!

Cage and Molina are effective here, and you get the feeling there is a bit of a nudge and a wink in their work. They spend most of the movie lobbing plasma balls and one-liners at one another. Baruchel is less effective for me. He is the perennial dweeb in movies over the last few years, and I can understand why he was cast – Dave is certainly a science nerd. However, his hunched over posture, perpetual whining coupled with his inability to make intelligent choices, made it very hard for me to root for him. I was kind of hoping that Cage would turn him into a newt and save the day.

There is plenty of eye candy and most of it is pretty decent, although there’s a ton of plasma balls, fire streams and lightning bolts hurtling around. Some real cool sequences include a Chinese dragon (which while it was chasing Dave, made me think inadvertently of the much better movie How to Train a Dragon which featured Baruchel’s voice) and a steel eagle from the Chrysler building. There is also an homage to the sequence in Fantasia that inspired this movie which I enjoyed.

The trouble with movies about magic is that sorcerer’s should be pretty much invincible, particularly ones as powerful as these. For example, there is an extended car chase sequence in the last third of the movie; very well done, but it seemed to be fairly pedestrian. They could have easily done a chase with something more imaginative – invisible horses, beams of light, anything – and you would think that a sorcerer could wave his arms and turn the car into a mule.

Similarly, a crucial plot point involves Becky moving a satellite dish so that a spell can go awry. Wouldn’t the sorcerer casting the spell be able to move the satellite dish back into place? After all, they’ve been moving objects telekinetically throughout the movie.

But I digress. Anyone going to a movie like this and expecting Scorsese is a lunatic. This is Bruckheimer, and he excels at movies that entertain on a visceral level rather than inspire or educate, and that’s fine folks – we all need mindless entertainment once in awhile. However, I would have expected a movie about magic to be more, well, magical. Definitely this is entertaining, but it could have been done so much better with a bit more imagination.

REASONS TO GO: Cage and Molina do some pretty solid work here. The eye candy is effective.

REASONS TO STAY: Baruchel is a bit too whiny and foolish to get behind as a heroic lead. The whole car chase sequence seemed unnecessary and could have been handled more imaginatively.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a bit of fantasy violence and some scenes of brief sexuality, but for the most part should be okay for audiences of all ages, although some of the creatures might be a little scary for the littlest of kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Abigail Williams is based on an actual person who was accused of being a witch in Salem, Massachusetts in the 17th century, ran away and was never heard from again.

HOME OR THEATER: There are enough sequences that have the gee-whiz factor that I give a slight nod towards seeing it in the theater.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: My Life in Ruins