Horror Film Review: The Prodigy (dir by Nicholas McCarthy)


The Prodigy, which was released way back in February, is yet another creepy kid movie.

You know how these movies go.  There’s always some child who seems like a perfect little angel but is actually either psychotic or demon-possessed or maybe an alien.  Whatever it is, the important thing is that the child can get away with killing people because no one thinks that an eight year-old would do that something like that.  Inevitably, it’s the child’s mother who figure out what’s going on and it’s always up to her to try to stop her child’s reign of terror.  Sometimes, the mother is successful.  More often, she’s not and the movie ends with the little brat smiling at the camera or something.  Seriously, you know how it goes!

Because there’s been so many of them, it’s usually easy to predict what’s going to happen in these creepy kid movies.  At the same time, they’re effective because … well, let’s just be honest here.  Kids are creepy.  Even the ones that aren’t evil know that they can get away with stuff that no adult would be allowed to do.  Add to that, they’ve got those high-pitched voices that can give you a migraine if you get stuck on airplane anywhere near one of them.  Beyond that, these films also touch on every parent’s worst fear.  What if your child does grow up to be evil?  What if you mess up while you’re raising them and, as a result, other people suffer?  What if your child grows up to have bad hygiene or an obnoxious attitude?  I mean, I don’t have any children yet but these are the things that I imagine keep most parents up at night.

Anyway, in The Prodigy, the creepy kid is named Miles (Jackson Robert Scott).  Miles is super smart.  He started talking when he was just a toddler.  However, after Mile turns 8, he starts to behave strangely.  He pulls mean pranks on the babysitter.  He attacks other children.  He starts speaking Hungarian in his sleep and saying stuff like, “I’ll cut your eyes out and watch you die, whore.”  After Miles does something bad, he always claims that he has no memory of what he did.  Whenever Bad Miles takes control, Good Miles just seems to black out.  Needless to say, his parents — Sarah (Taylor Schilling) and John (Peter Mooney) — are concerned about what’s happening with their son.

Could it have something to do with the fact that, at the same time that Miles was being born, a Hungarian serial killer named Edward Scarka was getting gunned down by the cops?  Is it possible that Edward’s evil spirit is now inside of Miles and is trying to take control of him?  Sarah certainly comes to think so!  As for John — well, who cares?  John is mostly just there to get upset and pout.

The Prodigy does have some scary moments.  Director Nicholas McCarthy establishes an ominous atmosphere early on and the film remains remarkably bleak for the majority of its running time.  I mean, there are some really dark moments in The Prodigy.  But, at the same time, the whole crazy child plot is a bit too predictable and the film doesn’t really bring anything new to the terror tyke genre.  Add to that, this is yet another film in which a family pet is gruesomely murdered for no particular reason.  I guess we’re supposed to be shocked and say, “OH MY GOD, IF THEY’LL KILL THAT ADORABLE DOG, THEY’LL KILL ANYONE!” but the dog is so obviously doomed from the first moment that it appears that it just feels like lazy storytelling.

Outside of a few isolated moments, The Prodigy doesn’t really make much of an impression.  It’s an efficient horror film that’s never really memorable.

Film Review: Greta (dir by Neil Jordan)


I always worry a little bit about Chloe Grace Moretz.

Seriously, it seems as if every film in which she appears features her either losing her entire family or getting stalked by some psycho or both.  It’s rare that she ever gets to play someone who is happy with their life.  Even when she was cast against type as a spoiled, vacuous brat in Clouds of Sils Maria, she still came across as being the saddest spoiled, vacuous brat imaginable.  Obviously, Mortez has the dramatic talent necessary to play these type of roles and, out of all the young actresses working today, she seems the most likely to still have an interesting career 30 years from now.  Still, it’s hard not to wish that she could just do a nice, romantic comedy at some point in the future, if just to give her a break from constantly being menaced on screen.

This year’s Chloe Moretz Gets Stalked film was Greta.  In this one, Moretz plays Frances McMullen, a waitress living in New York City.  Frances lives in a nice loft, has a fantastic roommate and best friend named Erica (Maika Monroe), and a strained relationship with her wealthy father (Colm Feore). As is typical of any character played by Chloe Moretz, Frances is still struggling to come to terms with the recent death of her mother.

After Frances finds an expensive handbag on the subway, she returns it to its owner, a piano teacher named Greta Hibeg (Isabelle Huppert).  Greta claims to be French and says that she’s been lonely ever since her daughter left home to study music in France.  Frances needs a substitute mother.  Greta needs a substitute daughter.

Can you tell where this is going?

If you said, “Together, they solve crimes!,” — well, you’re wrong but you’re still my hero.  Instead, what all this leads to is Greta becoming rather obsessed with Frances.  When Frances discovers that Greta has a whole closet full of handbags and that she’s not even French, Frances decides to end their friendship.  However, Greta will not take no for an answer.  Soon, Greta is following both Frances and Erica all around New York City.  Greta even goes to Frances’s place of employment and makes a scene that leads to Frances losing her job.  (Considering the amazingly ugly waitress uniform that Frances was required to wear, I’d say that Greta was doing her a favor.)  Eventually, it all leads to a kidnapping, a drugging, and an unexpected visual gag involving the Eiffel Tower.

About 30 minutes into Greta, there’s a scene in which Isabelle Huppert spits a piece of chewing gum into Chloe Moretz’s hair and it was at that moment that I knew that I was going to absolutely love this film.  I mean, there have been a lot of films made about people being stalked but it takes a certain amount of demented genius to have one of the world’s most acclaimed actresses actually spit a piece of gum into someone’s hair.  Brilliantly, the film follows this up with a scene of Frances and Erica trying to press assault charges against Greta, all because of the gum incident.  The cop is so cynical and unimpressed by their story that you just know that Frances is probably like the hundredth person to get attacked by chewing gum in just that day.

My point here is that there’s absolutely nothing subtle about Greta and we’re all the better for it.  As directed by Neil Jordan, Greta is a thoroughly excessive and deliberately campy little film and definitely not one to be taken too seriously.  Everything, from the lush cinematography to Greta’s sudden rages, is wonderfully over-the-top.  While Moretz wisely underplays her role (because, after all, someone has to keep things at least vaguely grounded in reality), Maika Monroe and especially Isabelle Huppert dive head first into the film’s melodramatic atmosphere.  Huppert, especially, deserves a lot of credit for her ferocious performance as Greta.  Whether she’s cheerfully celebrating a murder by doing an impromptu dance or suddenly screaming in Hungarian, Huppert is never less than entertaining while, at the same time, remaining credible as a very threatening individual.  One of the great joys of Greta is watching this masterful French actress play a Hungarian who is obsessed with Paris.  (It’s also probably not a coincidence that Greta is obsessed with someone named Frances.)

There’s an interesting subtext to the Greta and Frances relationship, one that goes beyond a girl who needs a mother and a woman who needs a daughter.  In many of the scenes where Greta stalks Frances, Huppert plays her as if she’s a spurned lover, crying out, “I love you!” and demanding that Frances return her phone calls.  As for Frances, she’s portrayed as being an almost absurdly repressed single girl who spends all of her personal time with two very different women, the accepting and fun-loving Erica and the predatory and destructive Greta.  (When Erica tells Frances that a guy who is interested in her is throwing a party, Frances says that she already has plans with Greta.)  Watching Greta, it occurred to me that the film was really about Frances coming to terms with her own sexuality, with Greta representing her fears and Erica representing the peace of accepting who you are.  The film may be about Greta stalking Frances but it’s also about Frances struggling to decide whether to give in to her fears or to accept her own identity.

Then again, it’s also totally possible that there’s no intentional subtext at all to this film.  It might just be an entertaining film about Isabelle Huppert stalking Chloe Moretz.  And that’s fine, too!  Either way, it’s a fun movie.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #102: Chicago (dir by Rob Marshall)


ChicagopostercastIt’s strange to refer to a best picture winner as being underrated but that’s exactly the perfect description for the 2002 film Chicago.

When Chicago was named the best picture of 2002, it was the first musical to take the top prize since The Sound of Music won in 1965.  Until the box office success and Oscar triumph of Chicago, it was assumed by many that a musical had to be animated in order to be successful.  After Chicago won, the conventional wisdom was changed.  Dreamgirls, Nine, Rock of Ages, Hairspray, Jersey Boys,  Into the Woods, Les Miserables, none of these films would have been produced if not for the success of Chicago.  It’s also due to Chicago that television networks are willing to take chances on shows like Glee and Smash.  And while I think a very valid argument could be made that we would all be better off without Glee, Smash, and Rock of Ages, you still can not deny that Chicago both challenged and changed the conventional wisdom.

And yet, despite its success and its continuing influence, Chicago is one of those best picture winners that often seems to get dismissed online.  Some of that’s because, by winning best picture, Chicago defeated not only The Two Towers (which is arguably the best installment in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy) but also Roman Polanski’s searing masterpiece, The Pianist.  Critics often point out that The Pianist won for best adapted screenplay, best actor, and best director but Chicago somehow managed to win best picture.  They suggest that the Academy was either worried about the implications of giving best picture to a film directed by Roman Polanski or else they were blinded by Chicago‘s razzle dazzle.  They argue that Chicago was merely an adaptation of an iconic stage production, whereas The Pianist and The Two Towers were both the result of visionary directors.

Well, to be honest, I think those critics do have a point.  The Pianist is one of the most emotionally devastating films that I have ever seen.  The Two Towers is the perfect mix of spectacle and emotion.  And yet, with all that in mind, I still love Chicago.

And it’s not just because of scenes like this:

Or this:

Or even this scene of Richard Gere tap dancing:

If you’ve been reading this site for a while then you know my bias.  You know that I grew up dancing.  You know that I love to dance.  And you know that I automatically love any film that features a dance number.  And, since you know my bias, you may be thinking to yourself, “Well, of course Lisa likes this….”  And you’re right.

But you know what?  Even if nobody danced a step in this film, I would still enjoy it.  (Though it would be odd to see a musical with absolutely no dancing.)  Chicago is not just about spectacle.  Instead, it tells a very interesting story, one that is probably even more relevant today than when the film was first released.

Set in 1924, Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger).  Married to the decent but boring Amos (John C. Reilly), Roxie wants to be a star.  She has an affair with slrazy Fred Casely (Dominic West), believing that he has showbiz connections.  When Fred finally admits to her that he lied in order to sleep with her, Roxie reacts by murdering him.  Because Roxie is pretty and blonde and claims to have been corrupted by the big, bad, decadent city, she becomes a celebrity even while she sits in jail and awaits trial.

Also in the jail is Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a nightclub singer who killed her husband and sister.  Roxie idolizes Velma but, after Velma snubs her, a rivalry forms between the two.  Roxie hires Velma’s lawyer, the slick Billy Flynn (Richard Gere).  During the trial, Roxie becomes even more popular, Velma grows jealous, and the only innocent women on death row — a Hungarian who can’t speak English — is ignored and executed because she doesn’t make for a good news story.

Chicago is a cynical and acerbic look at both the mad pursuit of celebrity and the pitfalls of the American justice system.  In its way, it’s the film that predicted the Kardashians.  (If Roxie had been born several decades later, it’s not difficult to imagine that she’d build her career off of a sex tape as opposed to murder.)  Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones are both sociopathic marvels in their respective roles.  Even Richard Gere, who, in other films, can come across as being oddly empty, is perfectly cast and surprisingly witty in the role of Billy.

Director Rob Marshall does a great job of making this stage adaptation feel truly cinematic.  At no point does Chicago feel stagey.  Perhaps Marshall’s smartest decision was to tell the entire film through Roxie’s eyes.  Every musical lives and dies based on whether it can convince the audience that it would perfectly natural for everyone onscreen to suddenly break out into song.  Chicago is convincing because, of course, Roxie would view her life as being a musical.

And did I mention that the film features a lot of great dancing?

Because it so seriously does….

So, yes, it can be argued that Chicago beat out some worthier films for the title of best picture of the year.  But, regardless, it’s still a good and memorable film.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #100: Pearl Harbor (dir by Michael Bay)


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“And then all this happened…”

Nurse Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) in Pearl Harbor (2001)

The “this” that Evelyn Johnson is referring to is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  You know, the date will live in infamy.  The attack that caused the United States to enter World War II and, as a result, eventually led to collapse of the Axis Powers.  The attack that left over 2,000 men died and 1,178 wounded.  That attack.

In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, that attack is just one of the many complications in the romance between Danny (Ben Affleck), his best friend Rafe (Josh Hartnett), and Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale).  The other complications include Danny briefly being listed as dead, Danny being dyslexic before anyone knew what dyslexia was (and yet, later, he’s still seen reading and writing letters with absolutely no trouble, almost as if the filmmakers forgot they had made such a big deal about him not being able to do so), and the fact that Rafe really, really likes Evelyn.  Of course, the main complication to their romance is that this is a Michael Bay film and he won’t stop moving the camera long enough for anyone to have a genuine emotion.

I imagine that Pearl Harbor was an attempt to duplicate the success of Titanic, by setting an extremely predictable love story against the backdrop of a real-life historical tragedy.  Say what you will about Titanic (and there are certain lines in that film that, when I rehear them today, make me cringe), Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet had genuine chemistry.  None of that chemistry is present in Pearl Harbor.  You don’t believe, for a second, that Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett are lifelong friends.  You don’t believe that Kate Beckinsale is torn between the two of them.  Instead, you just feel like you’re watching three actors who are struggling to give a performance when they’re being directed by a director who is more interested in blowing people up than in getting to know them.

Continuing the Titanic comparison, Pearl Harbor‘s script absolutely sucks.  Along with that line about “all this” happening, there’s also a scene where Franklin D. Roosevelt (Jon Voight) reacts to his cabinet’s skepticism by rising to his feet and announcing that if he, a man famously crippled by polio and confined to a wheelchair, can stand up, then America can win a war.

I’ve actually been to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.  I have gone to the USS Arizona Memorial.  I have stood and stared down at the remains of the ship resting below the surface of the ocean.  It’s an awe-inspiring and humbling site, one that leaves you very aware that over a thousand men lost their lives when the Arizona sank.

I have also seen the wall which lists the name of everyone who was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor and until you’ve actually been there and you’ve seen it with your own eyes, you really can’t understand just how overwhelming it all is.  The picture below was taken by my sister, Erin.

Pearl Harbor 2003If you want to pay tribute to those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor, going to the Arizona Memorial is a good start.  But avoid Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor at all costs.

Shattered Politics #59: Night Falls on Manhattan (dir by Sidney Lumet)


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Oddly enough, right after I watched City Hall, I watched yet another 1997 film about politics and police corruption in New York.  And while Night Falls on Manhattan is definitely not one of Sidney Lumet’s best films, it’s still definitely an improvement on City Hall.

Night Falls on Manhattan tells the story of what happens when two veteran detectives — Liam Casey (Ian Holm) and Joey Allegreto (James Gandolfini) — attempt to arrest drug dealer Jordan Washington (Shiek Mahmud-Bey).  Liam ends up getting shot multiple times before Jordan, disguised as a police officer, flees the scene.  As the cops search for Jordan, they accidentally shoot and kill one of their own.

In short, Manhattan has gone crazy and only the prompt capture and conviction of Jordan Washington will set things right.

However, the police don’t have to spend too much time searching for Jordan because, the very next day, he turns himself in.  He’s accompanied by a veteran radical lawyer named Sam Vigoda (Richard Dreyfuss).  Vigoda announces that yes, Jordan is a drug dealer and yes, he did shoot Liam Casey.  However, Vigoda claims that Jordan has been paying off the cops and that Liam and Joey weren’t actually trying to arrest him.  Instead, they were specifically looking for an excuse to execute him.

Flamboyant District Attorney Morganstern (Ron Leibman) know that his office has to convict Jordan.  And luckily, he has a secret weapon.  Liam’s son, Sean (Andy Garcia), just happens to be a former cop and an assistant district attorney.  He assigns Sean to handle Jordan’s prosecution.

Sean, it turns out, has political ambitions of his own and, by prosecuting Jordan, he not only gets revenge for the shooting of his father but he also furthers his own career.  (He also gets a girlfriend, in this case an associate of Vigoda’s who is played by Lena Olin.)  When Morganstern has a heart attack, Sean suddenly finds himself being mentioned as a candidate to replace him in the upcoming election.

However, even as Sean appears to be shoo-in to be the next district attorney, he also discovers that neither Liam nor Joey were as innocent as he originally assumed..

Night Falls In Manhattan is an occasionally diverting legal and political thriller.  As a director, Sidney Lumet had an obvious feel for New York culture and, as a result, the film feels authentic even when the plot occasionally veers into melodrama.  As opposed to City Hall, you never doubt the plausibility of Night Falls On Manhattan.  Though Andy Garcia is a bit an odd choice to play an Irish-American (and it’s particularly difficult to imagine him being, in any way, related to Ian Holm), the rest of the film is well-cast.  Fans of The Sopranos will enjoy a chance to see James Gandolfini playing someone who, because he’s on the “right” side o the law, is actually more dangerous than Tony Soprano and Rob Leibman is thoroughly believable as a bullying crusader against crime.

After I watched Night Falls on Manhattan, I did some checking online and I was surprised to discover that the film is apparently not better known than it is.  While it definitely uneven, Night Falls On Manhattan is an interesting look at crime, ethics, and urban politics.

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (dir. by Marc Webb)


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 One would think The Amazing Spider-Man 2 would be a hit right out of the ballpark. You have a follow up to the highly successful film & one of Marvel’s flagship characters and tons of back story the movie can work with. It’s filmed right in New York – I saw part of the setup at Times Square myself. Perhaps I caught the film at a bad time, or my mindset wasn’t proper, but I had a tough time feeling anything for the film. Perhaps because this is a sequel to a film that rebooted another movie that was only a decade old. Maybe the time has come for Disney/Marvel to knock on Sony’s door and tell them they want their baby back. My only regret is that I didn’t get this review out soon enough to save people from spending money on this. I should have done more.

With Great Power really does come Great Responsibility.

The film picks up some time after the end of the first film and does manage to handle a few story related elements well. Writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Star Trek), along with two other writers created a script that connected to the first film. The audience is given some closure when it comes to Peter Parker’s parents and the secrets they were guarding. For long time comic fans, they’ll get a Spider-Man that cracks tons of jokes while taking down the bad guys.

Okay, let’s focus on the good before the bad.

It’s Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s chemistry that keep the moments between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy real. You can tell there’s a good connection between them in any scene they share. You might as well be watching a reality series based on their relationship, really. Additionally, Garfield continues to give Spider-Man all the razor sharp wit he deserves, feeling very much like the comics. Credit also goes out to Sally Field as Aunt May. For a character that is usually in the background, her scenes were the memorable ones – the ones that I’d start a conversation with “Hey, you remember that part when…” Even Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborne was pretty good for the most part, I suppose.

I can’t complain about the way it was shot or the effects that were used. Spider-Man’s swinging is pretty on point, and the in air acrobatics are as cool as they’ve ever were. Some scenes tend to move a little slow – particularly the Gwen / Peter ones – but it helps to establish where they’re going. It’s more or less a necessary evil.

And that’s about it. I don’t really have much else to say on the good elements to this movie. It’s a shame really, because making movies aren’t easy with restrained budgets and producers breathing down your neck to get the product in the theatre.

Now the Bad:

Let’s start with Electro. While I thought the Electro powers were great and all, I had a problem with the reason behind his existence. It’s almost a page taken out of Batman Forever – literally, that was the first movie that came to mind on watching Oscorp technician Max Dillion’s (Jamie Foxx) Spider-Man fandom blossom into jealousy and then hatred. Foxx does what he can with it, and I’ll admit that once he has that Electro-suit on, it’s kind of cool. The argument could be made that because the character meets his hero and is then shunned by him, this causes him to become a villain – as evidenced by the schizophrenia-like voices that accompany Electro’s theme (“He lied to me, They hate me, they’re using me, He’s dead to me.”) during his fights. My reasoning here is that if the character was a fan of Spider-Man, having witnessed him stop all these crimes, wouldn’t it make sense for Spider-Man to try to stop you if you’re inadvertently disturbing the peace? It’s not even like Dillon had a beef with any of the Oscorp workers who may have mistreated him here. I had a serious disconnect with Electro as a character with justifiable motives for his actions. Granted, this is coming from someone who isn’t as familiar with Electro as many who’ve read the comics. It’s altogether possible that he is working within the comic’s defined role, and if that’s the case, many may find it refreshing. It just seemed a little off to me.

DeHaan has similar issues. As Harry Osborn, he’s great. As the Goblin (you’ve been looking at the posters, it’s not exactly a spoiler), I found myself feeling like the only reason he was there was to push a story arc. Imagine someone watching a fight and then suddenly running in and saying “Aha, now you face me!” It was just about the same setup here. The collective theme of the movie seems to be..”You know what? Let’s hate Spider-Man, because we can. We’ll figure out a detailed, legitimate reason later.”

On Paul Giamatti, I would dare to call his appearance a cameo, but it feels tacked on. I thought it would we better to never mention him at all marketing wise and then surprise audiences with where he goes. That’s all I really have to say about him in this.

One other thing was a standout – the music. The music, though a great change from Horner’s Rocketeer sounding score, almost overpowers the film. I was a little shocked to find out that Hans Zimmer worked on it (Along with friends Johnny Marr and Pharrell Williams), but some of the tracks felt phoned in. If you asked me who did the music before showing me the credits, I would have sworn it was maybe Henry Jackman, or maybe Tyler Bates. That isn’t to say that either of them are bad composers, by the way.

Let me put it this way: You could have switched this score out with the one from Despicable Me and I don’t think anyone would have known the difference. I almost put my hands in my face on hearing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” in the middle of a track. Zimmer might as well have just went with his “Point of No Return” score here.

Overall, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was so-so for me. I don’t see myself trying to ever see it again, but depending on what you’re looking for, you may get a different experience from it. I’m hoping that Sony just shelves the Webhead for a while.

Super Bowl Trailer: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 “Enemies Unite”


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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues the reboot Sony began with the Spider-Man franchise minus Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire. While The Amazing Spider-Man did quite well in the box-office when it came out in 2012 the general consensus with fans and critics alike was that it was just another origins tale that rehashed events from the Peter Parker story that was already well-known to comic book and non-comic book fans alike.

This sequel will now bring in villains and some plot points that fans have been waiting for since the franchise first began in the early 2000’s. We have Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti as the villains Electro and Rhino finally appearing on film with hints that other iconic Spider-Man villains such as the Vulture and the Hobgoblin probably having a cameo. This sudden flood of villains looks to be Sony’s attempt to set-up a Sinister Six film that would be the studio’s way to counter the success of Marvel’s and Disney’s success with The Avengers.

Time will tell if this gamble will end up paying off for Sony and many comic books wish it won’t since there’s a chance it would return Spider-Man to Marvel Studios thus making him available to appear in future films as an Avenger.

Sony went to unprecedented lengths to make sure people knew about the new trailer arriving on Super Bowl Sunday. We had a teaser teasing the trailer for the Super Bowl. Then we had the brief teaser shown during the Super Bowl. Below is the full 3-minute plus trailer that was shown on-line soon after.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is set for a May 2, 2014 release date.

Review: Thor (dir. by Kenneth Branagh)


Marvel Comics has had a much better success in bringing their 2nd-tier characters over onto the big-screen than DC Comics and they’ve made the risky decision to tie-in every film they make into one shared universe. Comic book fans have begun to call this the Marvel Film Universe since it contains the same characters and backgrounds as those of their comic book counterparts but also with enough changes to make them stand-out on their own. They’ve already begun this with the first two Iron Man films and a recent reboot of the Incredible Hulk. With the X-Men, Spider-Man, Daredevil and Fantastic Four film rights still under the control of other film studios it left Marvel (now Disney) to use other characters in their control to fill out the rest of this shared universe. The next one to get their turn on the bigscreen is the live-action adaptation of Marvel’s Asgardian God of Thunder. The studios picked British filmmaker Kenneth Branagh to handle this adaptation and his background in bringing Shakespeare to the big-screen has made Thor a flwed but very entertaining superhero film.

To start off, it has to be said that Thor was always going to be the most difficult of all the characters that will make up The Avengers film to bring to the bigscreen. While all these Marvel films do have their fantastic elements due to each character’s superhero nature it was even more fantastic with the character of Thor. This character is in effect a being who has been worshipped by humans in the past as one of their deities. God-like characters have always been tough to make human and relatable in stories and film. It’s a testament to Branagh’s handle of the Asgard characters such as Thor, Odin and Loki that we don’t end up with just all-powerful beings, but individuals whose impulses and motivations definitely are human. It’s this dynamic between Thor, his father Odin and his brother Loki which drives the Shakespearean angle of the film’s storyline. It’s where Branagh’s history of making Shakespeare accessible to the general film audience that makes their story easy to follow and understand.

The film actually begins with the human characters of Dr. Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman) and her colleagues (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings)  driving around in the New Mexico desert at night looking for atmospheric disturbances which should validate Foster’s theories on the Einstein-Rosen Bridge aka wormholes. What they end up running to instead is Thor himself arriving on Earth (Midgard in Asgardian terms) to begin his banishment from his homeworld. Yes, I say homeworld as the film has turned one of the more difficult aspects of Thor’s background into something that makes sense for the audience not steeped and learned from decades of Thor comic books. Thor’s home of Asgard is just one of nine worlds around the galaxy of which Earth is one.

It’s right after this scene that we go back to what started Thor’s banishment. The film does a great job explaining the role the Asgard’s played in Earth’s past history and the consequences of their war against the Frost Giants of the world of Jotunheim (one of the nine worlds). It’s through the narration by Odin himself (Anthony Hopkins) that we learn of the origins of the Gods and myths of Norse culture. This intro scene also shows Odin showing his two young sons in Thor and Loki the relic he had taken to end the wars between Asgard and the Jotunheim. For an origin sequence it was able to set up the rules of this fantastical world of Asgard and it’s Nine Realms. It’s the sequence right after which would lead to Thor’s banishment from Asgard and the stripping of his all-powerful hammer, Mjolnir, and his powers.

For some, and I would have to agree, this sequence which takes Thor, his brother Loki, childhood friends Sif and Warriors Three to the icy world of Jotunheim made up the best action setpiece for the film. The battle which begins between Thor’s forces and those of King Lauhey (Colm Feore under some very elaborate make-up effects) of the Frost Giants. This scene shares some similar qualities with an earlier action setpiece in the first Iron Man film in that it surpasses all other setpieces which would occur later in their respective films. This is not to say that the other action scenes were boring or just simple fare. They were exhilirating and full of energy, but that very first one in the beginning just had even more energy and action that it might’ve been better saved for the climax of the film.

Once the banishment occurs we finally catch up to the film’s first scene and the film begins to go back and forth between Asgard and Earth. With the former we see the machiavellian side of Loki finally assert itself. While Loki’s character is never truly shown to be evil his mischievious streak does show to have a cruel side to it. The bombshell of a news from Odin about his true origins was a nice touch, but it doesn’t lead to the sort of evil character turn we’re used to. In fact, I would say that Loki’s character (played with Iago-like relish by Tom Hiddleston) ends up becoming like the son who does the wrong things for the right reasons. He’s a nice contrast to the more open-faced Thor who does what he says instead of dancing around the subject even to the detriment of his standing with his father.

The scenes on Earth itself is where the comedic aspect of the film comes in. Most of the comedy comes at the expense of Thor’s “fish out of water” reaction to the new world around him. It’s helped much by some great comedic timing by Jane’s assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings who steals the film from Portman whenever they’re on together). It is also the time on Earth where some of the flaws in the film really become apparent. First and foremost would be Portman’s Jane Foster character who seem to be so uneven. She goes from brilliant astrophysicist one moment then giggling schoolgirl the next whenever she’s in close proximity to Thor. While Portman and Hemsworth do make quite the radioactively beautiful couple there’s a sense of untapped chemistry between the two that might have been left on the editing floor. It’s a shame really since so much could’ve been done with the Foster character to really give reasons to why Thor ends up valuing the lives of said mortals to earn his God of Thunder status once again.

Thor really does entertain despite some character and storytelling (really most of it on the Earth side of things) flaws which could’ve sunk the film right from the start. I believe that it’s director Branagh’s handling of the Shakespearean tragedy on the Asgard side of the film that holds the film together. This is one reason and the other being a star-turning turn by Chris Hemsworth as Thor himself. His performance goes from cocky, brash young man on the cusp of leadership to lost, confused and rudderless once banished then back again to a maturing prodigal son who finally learns the lessons his father has been trying to teach him. It would interesting to see Hemsworth’s Thor truly interact with Downey’s Tony Stark and Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers when The Avengers comes out in 2012.

The riskiest part of Marvel’s attempt to create their Marvel Cinematic Universe succeeds where most seem to think it will fail. It’s not as strong an origin film as Favreau’s first Iron Man, but it does add a sense of wonder that film could never grasp through two films. Even the controversial casting choices to put non-white actors to play Asgard roles (Tadanobu Asano as Hogun and Idris Elba as Heimdall) comes off well that the audience shouldn’t even wonder why a black and Asian person were playing characters written originally as white.

From the look of things there’s no official word whether there will be a second Thor film, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was no matter how the film does boxoffice-wise. There’s just too much great stories to tell about Thor, Asgard and the rest of the Asgard Nine Realms now that the foundation has been laid down with this first film. I do hope that Branagh returns for those sequels if they do happen. One thing which Branagh has proven was his handling of action sequences. They weren’t amazing, but they were handled with enough skill that I believe a second time around we’d get even better action from a director known more for serious dramatic films.

A final thing to mention would be the Easter Egg final scene which occurs once the end credits finish their run at the end of the film. For those who stayed to see this scene it should be a nice treat for Marvel and comic book fans. It shows a certain artifact that should tie Thor to the upcoming Captain America film later this summer. All I can say for those who didn’t stay to see it and knows their Marvel trivia are two words: Cosmic and cube.

PS: An Avenger member makes a cameo appearance halfway in the film that doesn’t look tacked on despite what some of the more “glass half-empty” film bloggers on the net would make you think…Also, it’s safe to forgo seeing Thor in 3D. It’s not a bad post-conversion but it doesn’t really add to the film. See it in 2D to save yourself a few bucks on the ticket price.

Thor (Super Bowl TV Spot)


The second Marvel Pictures superhero is plain and simply the awesome Asgard Thunder God himself. Thor is the Kenneth Branagh directed adaptation which will help tie-in with the rest of the Marvel Pictures produced superhero hero film of the last 3 years.

The Super Bowl tv spot shows new scenes in addition to those already shown in the official trailer released a couple months ago. This tv spot is all about Chris Hemsworth being Thor. There’s action sequences involving him battling Odin’s weapon of mass destruction in The Destroyer in what’s probably a town in New Mexico. We don’t see much of any of the other Asgardians like Loki, Sif, The Warriors Three and Heimdall.

Of all the superhero films Marvel has been working on since they decided to handle making films of their comic book properties this one has to be the wild-card of the bunch with the highest chance of failing. So far, the hype for the film has been even with many loving what they’ve seen, so far. Then there are those who seem to be hating what they’ve seen, so far. We’ll see on May 6, 2011 which side ends up being correct.

Thor Official Poster


Finally! We now have the first official poster from Marvel Studios in regards to one of their tentpole 2011 summer films.

Thor looks to continue building the Marvel Universe live-action world which began with the first Iron Man then followed up by both The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. This film will finally put the Asgardian Thunder God on the big-screen with Chris Hemsworth (played Captain Kirk’s father in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot) in the title role with British filmmaker Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair.

The film sports quite a cast with Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, Tadanobu Asano, Tom Hiddleston and Stellan Skarsgard brought in to support Hemsworth. This film will be one of the films to usher in the 2011 summer blockbuster season as it gets a May 2011 release. A sizzle reel of some finished footage was shown in this past summer’s San Diego Comic-Con and reaction was mostly positive though there was a vocal minority who moaned that the look of the film looked to be too corny or just plain awful.

One must take such reactions, both in the positive end and the negative end with a grain of salt as the crowd in the audience are the hardcore of the hardcore fans. It’s not surprising that the reactions would be extreme on both ends.

Thor is either doing some final reshoots of scenes or has already completed them with post-production work now in gear to get the film ready for it’s May 2011 release date. Hopefully, part of said post-production is to fine-tune the 3-D process for the film so as to avoid any Clash of the Titans and The Last Airbender 3-D debacles which has given 3-D a bad name after a great showing with James Cameron’s Avatar.

I, for one, cannot wait to finally sit in that darkened theater to see Thor with his mighty hammer, Mjolnir, smiting foes both Asgardian and technological. It is with guarded optimism that this film continues what has been and still is an ambitious project by Marvel Studios to tie-in all their films together to create an epic and ever-growing universe on film.

Source: Yahoo! Movies