G.I. Joe: Retaliation


OK, Snake Eyes looks really cool, I'll give you that.

OK, Snake Eyes looks really cool, I’ll give you that.

(2013) Action (Paramount) Dwayne Johnson, Jonathan Pryce, Byung-hun Lee, Elodie Yung, Ray Stevenson, D.J. Cotrona, Adrianne Palicki, Channing Tatum, Ray Park, Luke Bracey, Walton Goggins, Arnold Vosloo, Joseph Mazzello, RZA, James Carville, Bruce Willis, Joe Chrest, Tiffany Lonsdale. Directed by Jon M. Chu

When you make a movie about an action figure, the basic problem is that action figures are made of plastic and have no real personality. Movies that stick too close to the canon can sometimes run the risk of following suit.

The Joes – America’s elite fighting force, commanded by Duke (Tatum) and his sidekick Roadblock (Johnson) have infiltrated North Korea and are now heading for sunny Pakistan to secure their nuclear arsenal after their President was assassinated. Unfortunately, the person they should have been worrying about was our President (Pryce) who has been kidnapped and replaced by Zartan (Vosloo), one of Cobra Commander’s (Bracey) top henchmen. He has framed the Joes for the deed.

Now reduced to Roadblock, Lady Jaye (Palicki) and Flint (Cotrona), the remaining Joes soon become aware that Cobra Commander – who has been broken out of maximum security prison by rent-a-ninja Storm Shadow (Lee) and the half-crazy Firefly (Stevenson) who likes to use tiny little explosive firefly robots to do his dirty work. Now the United States is the de facto territory of Cobra and he has a nifty little weapon called Zeus – with all the firepower of a nuclear weapon and none of the fallout. Sort of like the “tastes great, less filling” of modern weapons of mass destruction.

They need to figure out a way to foil the nefarious plan of world domination. They’ll need all hands on deck to do it – including the enigmatic Snake Eyes (Park), trainee Jinx (Yung) and the guy who started it all, General Joe Colton (Willis), the original G.I. Joe.

The first movie in the series, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra was considered a misfire. Chu and the studio wanted to take the franchise in another decision – one not so much more gritty than more realistic. The performance-enhancing suits of the first movie are gone and while there are a few gadgets here and there, for the most part this is more stunt-oriented and battle oriented using weapons that are more or less familiar. Sure there are still comic book elements to the movie but then you don’t see an action movie for realistic behavior. There’s a superhuman element to the action hero that is just a teensy bit shy of spandex and a cape.

So is this version better than what they came up with for the first movie? Yes and no. Most of the cast from the first is gone with only Snake Eyes, Duke, Storm Shadow, Zartan and the President returning to the sequel. Adding Johnson is usually a big plus but for once his larger-than-life charisma is pretty much absent which is surprising and disappointing. I don’t know if he was just going through the motions on purpose but it sure seemed to me like he was. In either case this was one of the least successful performances of his career which is bad news since he’s expected to carry the film on his broad shoulders. In his defense, he isn’t given a whole lot to work with.

Also in his defense, the rest of the cast isn’t much better with the exception of Willis, who is nicely understated as Joe and Park, who is completely mute as Snake Eyes. Most of the rest is chest-thumping posturing with a loud rock soundtrack which really was already dated in the 80s when the heyday for chest-thumping action films was.

Even in that situation a movie like this can be saved with eye-popping special effects and/or jaw-dropping stunts. While the effects and stunts are more than adequate, they aren’t quite spectacular enough to overcome the film’s deficiencies.

REASONS TO GO: The Rock is charming as always. Some great martial arts scenes.

REASONS TO STAY: No character development AT ALL. Uninspiring.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s all sorts of violence from martial arts one on ones to battle sequences to gun fights – and a bit of sensuality and mildly bad language too.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was originally scheduled for release on June 29, 2012 but Paramount delayed the film for a year to what they claimed initially was to add 3D effects but later the real reason turned out that they wanted to add more scenes with Tatum in the film as he had become a big star in the meantime and getting him to do reshoots required a long wait.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/4/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 29% positive reviews. Metacritic: 41/100; the critics have, as expected, not warmed to the movie.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Battleship

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: Your Sister’s Sister and the beginning of the 2013 Florida Film Festival!

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New Releases for the Week of March 29, 2013


GI Joe Retaliation

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION

(DreamWorks) Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Adrienne Palecki, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Stevenson, Byung-hun Lee, Ray Park, D.J. Cotrona. Directed by John M. Chu

The Joes are decimated by a sneak attack but are shocked to discover that the strike was ordered by their own government – by the President, in fact. It becomes clear that the government has been infiltrated by Cobra, their arch-nemesis and at the highest levels. In order to survive and stop Cora from his evil plan they’ll have to call on some extra help – the man who started it all, G.I. Joe.

See the trailer, clips, promos and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of combat violence and martial arts action throughout, and for brief sensuality and language)

The Host

(Open Road) Saoirse Ronan, Max Irons, Diane Kruger, William Hurt. The Earth has been invaded by parasites that take over the human body and erase their memories; the parasites are winning as the free human numbers are dwindling. A brave young girl will risk everything for those she loves and in doing so give hope to the human race that love can indeed conquer all. From the novel by Twilight series creator Stephenie Meyer.

See the trailer, interviews, featurettes and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for some sensuality and violence)

On the Road

(Sundance Selects) Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams. A young writer’s life turns upside down when he meets a brash Westerner and his girlfriend. The three of them embark on a cross-country road trip to escape a world growing ever more conservative and conformist. Based on the classic Jack Kerouac beat novel.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, drug use and language) 

Tyler Perry’s Temptation

(Lionsgate) Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Lance Gross, Kim Kardashian, Vanessa Williams. A marriage counselor whose own relationship is rocky decides to be with another man. The repercussions of her choices send a ripple effect from her life to the lives of those around her. Based on Perry’s stage play Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.

See the trailer and a filmed version of the play the film is based on here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence, sexuality and language) 

Kill the Irishman


 

Kill the Irishman

Don’t get Ray Stevenson angry – he can fart flames!

(2008) Biodrama (Anchor Bay) Ray Stevenson, Christopher Walken, Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer, Vinnie Jones, Paul Sorvino, Fionnula Flanagan, Laura Ramsey, Steve Schirripa, Linda Cardellini, Bob Gunton, Jason Butler Harner, Robert Davi. Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh

 

Here, at last, is a movie for which the Irish lament “Danny Boy” is quite literally appropriate for – and the filmmakers showing restraint unheard-of in Hollywood actually don’t use it. That’s at least worth some respect.

Danny Greene (Stevenson) was an enforcer for the Cleveland Irish mob. In his heyday in the 70s, he and his partner John Nardi (D’Onofrio) fought a war against the Italian mob that was epic in its viciousness. In 1976 alone, 36 bombs exploded in the city as a direct result of the mob war.

He started off as a longshoreman rising up in the union. He eventually took over the leadership of the union (Merke) and would later be convicted of skimming funds from the membership. Once out of jail, he turned to crime as a full-time operation, working with Shondor Birns (Walken) but things go south. Greene requests a $75,000 loan to build a semi-legal drinking establishment; Birns entrusts the money to a runner who then proceeds to buy drugs with it, and is promptly caught by the police. Because Greene never received the cash, he refused to pay back the loan which had been paid for by the Gambino family, putting immense pressure on Birns.

Greene breaks away from the Italian mafia forming his own group mainly comprised of young guys of Irish descent, with Nardi as (kind of) their legitimizer. Greene is bombarded with several attempts on his life, including one where his home was hit by a bomb while he and his girlfriend were asleep. The house collapsed but Greene and his girlfriend survived, shielded by rubble.

Greene would attain legendary status in Cleveland. He often took care of those in need of cash in Cleveland’s Irish community and came out of every assassination attempt more or less unscathed. He became a darling in the Cleveland media and the bane of the Cleveland mafia’s existence. He also became an informant to the FBI.

This is based on a non-fiction book – loosely based I might add – that was written by a Cleveland police officer familiar with the case and with Greene (the fictionalized character based on the author is played by Val Kilmer in the film). That book was also turned into a documentary I haven’t seen yet, but the filmmakers here do a pretty credible job with it.

The cast is pretty spectacular for an indie, including Walken – curiously restrained as the racketeer who first came into conflict with Greene, and veterans Schirripa and Sorvino who have made careers out of playing Mafiosi doing stand-up jobs.

Stevenson, best known for his work on the HBO series “Rome” and for playing The Punisher in Punisher: War Zone (and doing both well) proves once again he is much more than an impressive physique. He catches both the larger than life aspect of Greene as well as his clever and sinister side. Greene was a complicated man as you can probably tell from the synopsis; he was equal parts folk hero, bullshit artist, criminal and killer. The movie tends to gloss over the killer part to focus on his folk hero standing; he is portrayed as a basically decent guy who just happened to kill people for a living.

This is an excellent cast top to bottom. Cardellini plays Greene’s wife and the mother of his kids in a role that could easily have been thankless but is given some sparkle by her performance, while Flanagan plays an old Irish woman who reminds Greene of his roots and isn’t afraid to stand up to the tough guy, to his amusement.

This takes a larger than life character and tries to compress him down into a two hour time frame which has its pros and cons. One of the cons is definitely that we really don’t see why Greene, who was so obviously bright and charismatic, went down the road of organized crime. It just kind of happens in the film and without any explanation. One scene depicting how he fell into it – or a montage if necessary – could have made for a bit more continuity.

Still, this is well worth watching. America has a fascination with criminals, from Jesse James to John Dillinger and Danny Greene could well end up having the same kind of cultural impact over time. He had a lot of blarney and a dark side as well, a combination that’s like catnip to our violence-obsessed culture. Although Greene considered himself as Irish first and foremost, he may well have been the perfect American anti-hero – living life on his own terms and by his own rules and the devil take the cost.

WHY RENT THIS: Surprisingly stellar cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Glosses over some of the motivations as to why Greene got into crime.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of violence, quite a bit of bad language and a helping heaping of nudity and sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The production shot at Tiger Stadium (Navin Field) in Detroit shortly before it was demolished.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is an hour-long documentary on the real Danny Greene.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.2M on an unreported production budget. The movie probably finished just a bit below breaking even.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Wiseguys

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Savages

The Three Musketeers (2011)


The Three Musketeers

Resident Evil goes to 17th Century France

(2011) Adventure (Summit) Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich, Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Mads Mikkelsen, Christoph Waltz, Orlando Bloom, Juno Temple, Gabriella Wilde, Freddie Fox, James Corden, Til Schweiger, Helen George. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Sometimes, when all else fails, you can rely on the classics. Even if all else around you is crap, the classics can always be relied upon to be entertaining. At least that’s the common perception.

It is the 17th century and France is in turmoil. The teenage Louis XIII (Fox) is controlled essentially by the manipulative Cardinal Richelieu (Waltz) and the King’s own Musketeers have been rendered less potent. The three greatest Musketeers – Athos (Macfadyen), Porthos (Stevenson) and Aramis (Evans) are bored and frustrated at sitting on the sideline. Athos is in a particular funk after being betrayed by his lover Milady de Winter (Jovovich) when they had stolen the plans for an airship from Leonardo Da Vinci’s vault in Venice. After retrieving the plans, she’d drugged their wine and handed the plans over to Lord Buckingham (Bloom) of England.

A year has passed since then and a young Gascoigne named D’Artagnan (Lerman), the son of a former Musketeer, has journeyed to Paris to become a Musketeer himself. Along the way he fell afoul of Rochefort (Mikkelsen), captain of the Cardinal’s guard and supposedly the best swordsman in Europe who rather than duel the hot headed youngster just shoots him. His life is spared by Milady, who is also journeying to Paris.

In Paris D’Artagnan affronts all three of the Musketeers, challenging to duels at different times which all three of them unknowingly accept. However, his first duel is interrupted by the arrival of the Cardinal’s guard who wish to arrest the four of them for dueling in the streets. However the four fight alongside, winning the day despite a vast numerical disadvantage. This is witnessed by Constance (Wilde), handmaiden to the Queen (Temple). Despite D’Artagnan’s best efforts at flirting with Constance, he is rebuffed.

The three realize that D’Artagnan is an able ally and meant to be one of them, so they bring him to their home where their manservant Planchet  (Corden) waits on them cheerfully despite the constant complaining. They wind up being summoned to the palace where the King and Queen, impressed by their victory, reward them which infuriates the Cardinal who wanted them punished.

In the meantime, the nefarious Richelieu has hatched a scheme in which love letters in Buckingham’s own hand are planted in the Queen’s boudoir. Milady also steels a diamond necklace given to her as a gift by the King. Richelieu prevails upon the King to throw a ball after the King discovers the letters, and ask the Queen to wear the gift for him. If she doesn’t have them, it will mean the Queen’s having an affair and she would have to be executed and England declared war upon.

It is up to the Musketeers to retrieve the necklace from Buckingham’s own vault and to bring the culprits to justice, but it’s a nearly impossible task. Can the Musketeers avert a catastrophic war that would drag nearly the entire continent into it?

This isn’t your mom and dad’s version of The Three Musketeers (and there have been more than forty of them). For one thing, while it’s been a long time since I read the Alexandre Dumas classic, I’m pretty sure I don’t remember airships in it. Or Gatling guns. Or Matrix-style bullet dodging.

There is much more CGI than this kind of movie really needs to have. I can understand CG attempts to make the sets look more opulent, or more like 17th century France, but Da Vinci-esque airships, hidden vaults and storage rooms? It seems kind of unnecessary to me.

Unnecessary in that this is one of the best adventure tales ever written and despite all the different versions of it, it still stands up today. The best version is the 1948 film with Gene Kelly (of all people!) as D’Artagnan, but my all-time fave is the 1973 version with Michael York as D’Artagnan. It was produced by the Salkinds who would go on to make Superman: The Movie and other classics of 70s cinema.

One of the requirements for a good Three Musketeers movie is not chocolate nougat, but a good D’Artagnan. The successful ones do; even the unsuccessful ones have at least a passable D’Artagnan. This one has the latter. Lerman, who is best known here for Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (in which I described him as bland) is a bit better here, but he still lacks the charisma D’Artagnan needs. Lerman has got the looks though and the long hair…ladies will and do swoon.

I was particularly impressed by Macfadyen who has been a career supporting actor, but he really shows some impressive screen presence here and with the right role could do some real damage as a lead actor on a franchise film. Let’s hope he gets the chance.

The movie has some nice casting touches (Waltz is terrific as Richelieu although we don’t get to see enough of him – when we do we get a good idea of his devious nature) and a few huh moments (Milla Jovovich seems to be channeling her inner Alice from the Resident Evil franchise which wouldn’t be a bad thing but it is distracting when she’s wearing petticoats). All in all the acting is solid and the CGI is seamless. I’m told the 3D effects are nice in places as well, although of late I’ve become as anti-3D as Roger Ebert.

This is a movie that I really wanted to see succeed. Anderson has proven a fine action director on the Resident Evil films and while I agree that there are always new ways to come at the Dumas source material, this way was too full of anachronisms and logical gaps to really fully capture my heart. However, it is entertaining even if it’s attempts at being grand fall a bit short.

REASONS TO GO: Nice special effects and some fine swordplay. Macfadyen makes a fine Athos.

REASONS TO STAY: Takes a lot of liberties with the story. Doesn’t have the wit of the 1973/1974 versions.

FAMILY VALUES: There is quite a bit of swordplay, a few things blowing up real good and some musket shooting. All in a day’s work for a musketeer.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Waltz has the same birthday (October 4) as Charlton Heston, who also played Cardinal Richelieu in the 1973/1974 versions of the Dumas classic.

HOME OR THEATER: Very much a big screen epic extravaganza.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Conviction

New Releases for the Week of October 21, 2011


THE THREE MUSKETEERS

(Summit) Logan Lerman, Milla Jovovich, Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson, Luke Evans, Mads Mikkelsen, Gabriella Wilde, Juno Temple, Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

A hot-headed young man joins forces with three rogue Musketeers to take on the evil Cardinal Richelieu, the sensual assassin Milady DeWinter and Lord Buckingham, prime minister of their sworn enemies Great Britain and prevent a cataclysmic war. There have been screen versions of this Alexandre Dumas classic for decades (my favorite being the Alexander and Ilya Salkind version in the 70s) but this is the first to come out in 3D.

See the trailer, clips and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of adventure action violence)

Johnny English Reborn

(Universal) Rowan Atkinson, Gillian Anderson, Dominic West, Rosamund Pike. There is a plot afoot to assassinate a world leader and cause global chaos and only one man can stop it – superspy Johnny English. The trouble is that English is nowhere to be found, and once he finally is located, is woefully out of practice. That’s no matter; what Johnny English does requires no skill or practice whatsoever.

See the trailer and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Spy Spoof

Rating: PG (for mild action violence, rude humor, some language and brief sensuality)

Margin Call

(Roadside Attractions) Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany. On a single day during the height of the 2008 financial meltdown, the key players at a financial firm cope with the implications of a scandal at their own company that might shutter its doors forever. They will need to wrestle with decisions both moral and ethical that will not only weigh their jobs in the balance but also their very souls.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language)

The Mighty Macs

(Freestyle Releasing) Carla Gugino, David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton, Ellen Burstyn. In 1971, a small Catholic women’s college caught the imagination of the sports world when a hard-edged head coach and a spunky nun helped mold the team into a national championship run that defied the odds. They would become a team for the ages.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: G

Paranormal Activity 3

(Paramount) Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery. This is the prequel to the enormously popular found footage horror series. It depicts, in the 80s, how the supernatural forces that beset Katie and Kristi came into their lives as young girls.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Rating: R (for some violence, language, brief sexuality and drug use)

The Way

(ARC Entertainment) Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Deborah Kara Unger, Yorick van Wangingen. An American doctor travels to the Pyrenees to recover the remains of his estranged son, killed in a storm while making a pilgrimage along the Way of St. James. In tribute to his son and also as a means to understand him better, he decides to complete the journey his son wanted to make. This was directed by Estevez and filmed along the actual Camino de Santiago in France and Spain.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Spiritual Drama

Rating: NR

Thor


Thor

Thor is a bit perplexed as Odin extolls the joys of fava beans and a nice Chianti.

(2011) Superhero (Paramount) Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Rene Russo, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Clark Gregg, Colm Feore, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander, Tadanobu Asano. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Part of the maturing process is realizing that, in fact, you don’t know everything. Most parents will tell you that this is a condition that afflicts most teenagers, some worse than others. Of course, if your teenager happens to be a God, that can be a bit overwhelming to deal with.

Thor (Hemsworth) is the God of Thunder and son of Odin (Hopkins), the Highfather of the Norse Gods. Thor isn’t exactly a teenager but he acts like one – reckless, arrogant and foolish. The mortal enemies of the Gods are the Frost Giants, whom Odin defeated a thousand years before and took their most fearsome weapon from them. Now, a trio of them has attempted to steal it back, unsuccessfully which cheeses off Thor big time. Not just because they dared to cross the borders of Asgard itself, which Thor sees as an act of war – but because they did it on the day that Odin named him his heir over his younger brother Loki (Hiddleston).

So Thor decides to pay the Frost Giants a little visit, taking along his good friends the Warriors Three – handsome Fandral (Dallas), taciturn Hogun (Asano) and voluminous Volstagg (Stevenson), as well as Loki  and Sif (Alexander), an intense but loyal female warrior. To get there they must cross Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge which is guarded by the grim Heimdal (Elba), who normally wouldn’t allow Thor to cross on such a fool’s errand – but he is curious as to how the Frost Giants got into Asgard without him knowing, so he allows them to pass.

Of course this turns out to be a very bad idea. The confrontation quickly turns ugly and the Asgardians must fight their way past a kind of gigantic dog-like creature as well as a horde of Frost Giants, necessitating their rescue by Odin himself. He asks Laufey (Feore), the King of the Frost Giants if the incident could be forgotten but Laufey says a brusque no. War, it seems, is coming to Asgard.

Thor continues to be petulant about the whole thing and he and his dad get into a shouting match. Odin, pissed off beyond all measure, exiles Thor to Earth, stripping him of his powers and sending his enchanted hammer Mjolnir after him. When Thor learns some patience and gains the wisdom that is worthy of the hammer, he’ll be allowed to use it once again.

Meanwhile, on earth, a trio of scientists is studying some mysterious radiation surges in the New Mexico desert. Jane Foster (Portman) is extremely dedicated and passionate to her scientific muse. She is mentored by pragmatic Scandinavian Dr. Erik Selvig (Skarsgard) and aided by flighty intern Darcy Lewis (Dennings), who is a bit science challenged (she’s majoring in Political Science but this was the only internship she could get). They are out in the desert when a giant funnel cloud opens up. Of course Jane drives right into it – and smack into a Norse God which she strikes with her car.

As she begins to analyze her scientific data she theorizes that what she encountered was one end of a wormhole, through which the “really cut for a homeless guy,” as Darcy describes him, travelled. At first, he seems a bit demented. He is courtly to near ridiculous levels, freakishly strong, socially awkward by our standards and continually spouts out insane statements about Norse mythology, asserting that he is the God of Thunder and carries an enchanted hammer. Yeah, right.

In the meantime, the government agency SHIELD, led by the somewhat brusque agent Coulson (Gregg) has taken over, throwing a cordon around the hammerfall site and taking all of Jane’s research, including her journal. Thor, finding out where his hammer is, determines to go get it and prove himself worthy to Odin.

Up in Asgard, things have gone from bad to worse. Odin has fallen into a coma, Loki has proven to be treacherous and has taken the throne, threatening to annihilate the Frost Giants once and for all. Thor’s friends Fandral, Volstagg, Hogun and Sif come to Earth in a desperate attempt to retrieve Thor and set things to rights. Loki, discovering their treachery, sends down a Destroyer robot to end the lot of them and give him the throne of Asgard free and clear.

At first glance, Branagh is an unusual choice for directing a superhero comic adaptation. After all, he is best known for his Shakespeare adaptations and somewhat classical approach to film. However, he turns out to be the perfect choice; he immediately saw the epic quality in the story that even the Bard would have appreciated and Branagh wisely approaches the story in a matter befitting Shakespeare.

The result is a visually stunning, well-acted superhero movie painted on a cosmic canvas. Hemsworth, memorable as George Kirk in the Star Trek reboot, proves to be a solid and charismatic lead. He has all the makings of a big star, which bodes well for the Marvel Universe. His Thor, although petulant and impulsive is also easy-going and good-hearted. It’s nice to see a superhero mature onscreen in front of you as opposed to the darker superhero tales which seem to be more in vogue these days.

He gets some pretty good support, particularly from Hopkins who lends every inch of gravitas possible to Odin. Portman makes for a sweet romantic interest, in a PG kind of way. Skarsgard, one of the more reliable character actors around, is flinty and stolid as Dr. Selvig; skeptical and practical but also loyal to Jane, the daughter of an old friend. Dennings provides ample comic relief, which is surprising since in previous roles she didn’t strike me as the sort. I’m pleased to see Dennings show that kind of range – I’ve always liked her as an actress, so having that sort of versatility does make career longevity more of a possibility. Rene Russo also makes a rare and welcome appearance as Thor’s mother (and Odin’s wife) Frigga.

Hiddleston makes a fine Loki – tormented, mischievous and hateful. He is not the pure evil that sometimes he is portrayed in the comics; his origin also diverges from Marvel canon somewhat but in a good way I think. He proves to be a formidable opponent for Thor.

I also liked Elba as Heimdal, lending the kind of gravitas usually associated with James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman and Patrick Stewart. While we’re on the subject of the guardian of the rainbow bridge, the bridge makes one of the more arresting visuals of the movie. It is a combination of magic and science that is colorful (as you’d expect) and in an odd way, sensible. The city of Asgard itself is also gorgeous; certainly a CGI creation but looking almost like a miniature in many ways. It looks very much like a city of Gods.

As you can tell from the plot description, the story is a bit ponderous in places, with lots of characters showing up from the pages of Thor and Norse mythology in general. Fleeting glimpses are made of the Infinity Gauntlet, Hawkeye (of the Avengers) and Stan Lee. Keeping track of everything and everyone can be taxing at times, particularly for those who aren’t as well-versed in the comics.

Still, this is a very good start to the franchise; not quite to the level of Iron Man but surprisingly close. Now that the Marvel moviemaking machine is in full gear, it’s good to see that the quality standards are still high. Hopefully that’s something that will turn out to be as eternal as the Gods themselves.

REASONS TO GO: Asgard is beautifully realized. There’s an epic and Shakespearean quality to the story. Hemsworth acquits himself well as a leading man, with fine supporting performances by Portman, Hiddleston, Hopkins, Skarsgard, Elba and Dennings.

REASONS TO STAY: The story can be a bit confusing in places.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some science fiction/fantasy/comic book violence and a couple of scary monsters.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Marks the first appearance of Rene Russo in a feature film in six years.

HOME OR THEATER: Most definitely the big screen to maintain the epic quality of the movie.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Tropic Thunder

New Releases for the Week of May 6, 2011


May 6, 2011

Thor gets ready to lay the hammer down on a bad guy.

THOR

(Paramount/Marvel) Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Colm Feore, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Stevenson, Jaimie Alexander, Clark Gregg. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Thor, the God of Thunder and son of Odin is a mighty warrior but an arrogant one. His arrogance unwittingly triggers hostilities between the Gods and the Giants who have been in an uneasy peace for centuries. For his actions, Odin banishes his son to live on Earth and to learn a little humility, which isn’t easy for a God living on Earth but there you go.

See the trailer, clips, a featurette, promos and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard. 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Action

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence)

I Am

(Paladin) Tom Shadyac, Desmond Tutu, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn. After a devastating cycling accident left him incapacitated, possibly permanently, director Shadyac (auteur of the Ace Ventura movies among others) re-examines himself and his place in the universe, deciding to make a movie about it which might just make up for Ace Ventura, karma-wise.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: NR

In a Better World

(Sony Classics) Mikael Persbrandt, William Johnk Nielsen, Trine Dyrholm, Markus Rygaard. An idealistic doctor who splits time between his home in Denmark and an African refugee camp must choose between revenge and forgiveness. At home his son is undergoing the same choice, albeit in a far different situation. This was the Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film earlier this year.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for violent and disturbing content some involving preteens, and for language)

Jumping the Broom

(TriStar) Angela Bassett, Paula Patton, Mike Epps, Loretta Devine. It seems like it would be a simple thing; two young people coming together in matrimony, in beautiful Martha’s Vineyard no less. However their families – one well-to-do, the other blue collar – are at each other’s throats. Not exactly the seeds for a happy nuptial, right?

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content)

POM Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold

(Sony Classics) Morgan Spurlock, Ben Silverman, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader. Gadfly Spurlock (he of Super Size Me) takes on his own industry this time – and product placement therein as he documents his attempts to have his film entirely financed by product placement. Along the way he gives us a glimpse of how the movie industry works – and how pervasive advertising is in our lives.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for some language and sexual material)

Potiche

(Music Box) Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Fabrice Luchini, Karin Viard. Set in the 1970s, the trophy wife of a wealthy French industrialist proves to be better at running his company than he is when he is convalescing from a heart attack, setting the stage for this French war between the sexes. I saw this previously at the Florida Film Festival and reviewed it here.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for some sexuality)

Something Borrowed

(Warner Brothers) Ginnifer Goodwin, Kate Hudson, Colin Egglesfield, John Krasinski. Rachel and Darcy are best friends; Rachel is the maid of honor for Darcy, who is about to marry the man that Rachel has had a crush on since law school. When Rachel sleeps with Darcy’s husband-to-be after a night of too much drinking, their little circle of friends are in for a game of “change partners!”

See the trailer, clips, featurettes and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including dialogue, and some drug material)