Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – Movie Review

thor ragnarok

The ultimate cinematic dilemma is how to make the next comic book movie stand out from the (many, many) others? The brilliant answer comes from director Taika Waititi and co-writers Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost – a screwball superhero action film that delivers not only intense action scenes, but also a compelling villain for the ages in a movie that may be the funniest of 2017.

For those who prefer their superheroes dark and brooding, you’ll be in for a shock. Prepare for Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster – the most polite villain we’ve seen in awhile, and one who looks to be straight out of the 1960’s “Batman” series. Chris Hemsworth as Thor is one of many returning actors/characters, only this time he really gets to flex his comedic timing on top of his Thunder God biceps. His love- hate, trust-no trust, see-saw relationship with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in full force, as is the rivalry and banter with The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It’s certainly more in line with Guardians of the Galaxy than the previous Avengers installments.

As much fun as Goldblum brings to the party, this is really Cate Blanchett’s show. She is the frightening Goddess of Death, long-lost sister of Thor and Loki, and daughter of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). With a costume which is very faithful to the comics (and we get a few versions throughout the movie), Hela’s enormous powers are powerful enough to destroy Mjolnir with little effort, not to mention much of Asgard and key players within.

Of course, with that title, we know that the story revolves around what could be the end of Asgard. Joining in the fun are: Idris Elba who is back as Heimdall, Tessa Thompson as a master of one-liners Valkyrie, Karl Urban as Skurge – rewarded with a wonderful exit scene, Ray Stevenson returns as Volstagg, and rocky alien Korg who is voiced by director Waititi. Fans of the series will be happy to know other familiar faces pop up periodically – one especially magical sequence teaches Loki a quick lesson.

In addition to the main rescue story line, the powerful villains, and crazy aliens, there are numerous nods and tributes to well known storylines from the comic books (notably Planet Hulk, and Fantastic Four), and a hilarious early stage play with three cameos that sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Special acknowledgment goes to director Taika Waititi for adeptly taking the comic book film world down a different path. While he’s mostly known for his comedic projects like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows, and his work on the brilliant but short-lived “Flight of the Conchords”, this is still very much a Marvel movie, with the visible fingerprints of Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. It’s also a fantastic adventure film that sets the stage for 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, while also featuring the best use ever of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. This is without a doubt a great addition to the MCU.

 

9 out of 10 stars

……………………………………….

Advertisements

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) – Movie Review

hobbit battle of 5 armies

There’s simply no denying it: The Hobbit is no The Lord Of The Rings. While cast and production values remain absolutely top-notch, the first two films in the Hobbit trilogy have proved disappointing, especially when assessed against the sublime trio of movies that first transported us to Middle-earth. It’s evident that the slim narrative of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source novel – even when supplemented with details and backstory from his Appendices – simply doesn’t merit an expansion into three unnecessarily protracted movies. Strictly speaking, The Battle Of The Five Armies suffers from many of the same problems as its predecessors. But director Peter Jackson proves once again that he’s an expert hand at crafting epic battles underpinned by love, loyalty and sacrifice. As a result, the final Hobbit film is (more or less) the best of the trilogy, although it still pales in comparison to what comes after it.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the dwarven company of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) watch in horror as Smaug the dragon (Benedict Cumberbatch) lays waste to Laketown. When Bard (Luke Evans) bravely manages to take the dragon out, Thorin regains the mountain kingdom of Erebor by default. He succumbs swiftly to the ‘Dragon Sickness’ – a hungering greed to keep the treasures of Erebor all to himself, refusing a claim from elven king Thranduil (Lee Pace) and rewards for Bard and the now-homeless humans. As a battle brews between dwarfs, elves and men, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) returns from Dol Goldur with news that entire battalions of orcs are on the march as well – signs of an incipient evil that might soon sweep Middle-earth again.

Truth be told, The Battle Of The Five Armies doesn’t have quite the sense of magic and poetry that so effortlessly infuses the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Indeed, the script is peppered with simplistic dialogue, with many characters forced to navigate entire chunks of exposition or deliver less than witty one-liners. Bilbo and Gandalf, for instance, spend a great deal of the raging battle standing still and expounding on what’s going on around them. It also seems remarkably odd for a film weighted down with so many characters, including wholly invented ones like lovelorn elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), that so much screen time is devoted to Alfrid (Ryan Gage). The vile right- hand man of Laketown’s Master (Stephen Fry) is clearly meant to provide comic relief now that the dwarfs are caught up in emotional turmoil of their own, but winds up annoying rather than entertaining the audience.

And yet, Jackson somehow manages to salvage the film from itself, in no small part because of the engrossing battle scenes and some deft character work from his stellar cast. The climactic battle stretches well over an hour, as the upper hand shifts from orcs to everyone else and back again, but Jackson keeps the action and drama coming thick and fast. Waves of orcs slam into ragged battle lines of men, ranks of elves swell and rise, and Thorin wavers between greed and honour as he decides whether to plunge into war or stay safely sequestered within the impregnable walls of Erebor. Many of the battle sequences may be technically extraneous, but it’s hard to care too much when Legolas (Orlando Bloom) – scoring his requisite action-hero moment – dances his way to safety over a collapsing bridge and takes out an orc or two while doing so.

Jackson’s cast – actors we’ve spent so much time with over the past decade – rises remarkably to the occasion. There’s stellar support, as always, from fan favourites like McKellen and Cate Blanchett, whose Galadriel goes briefly supernova in a confrontation which foreshadows the darkness that will befall Middle-earth come The Lord Of The Rings. Armitage lends considerable depth and weight to Thorin, who could easily lose a great deal of audience sympathy when he burrows further into himself and starts losing (and banishing) friends. Pace exudes a solemn, almost malevolent dignity as Thranduil, one which he tempers with a surprising amount of heart as well. For a brief, touching moment, the imperious king finds within himself the father he has forgotten how to be. Even Lilly, who is saddled with a made-up character and fledgling, forbidden romance with dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner), miraculously mines some genuine emotion from a fairly poorly-conceived and utterly fictitious love story.

The true triumph of the Hobbit franchise, however, remains Freeman. He’s playing the same archetype that Elijah Wood did in The Lord Of The Rings – the homebody Hobbit who’s small in stature yet casts an enormous shadow – but makes it feel thoroughly fresh. Freeman’s Bilbo is equal parts heart, humour and hero, and he makes it easy to see why Gandalf holds hobbits in such high esteem. Freeman’s scenes with Armitage, rife with paranoia and tension on Thorin’s part, are some of the best in the film, with a huge emotional payoff at the end.

With The Battle Of The Five Armies, the curtain really does fall at last on Jackson’s vision of Middle-earth. In the past three years, it’s been – frankly – a pretty bumpy journey. In too many ways, the Hobbit trilogy recalls but never quite manages to recapture the indescribable magic of The Lord Of The Rings. That’s true of the final film in the franchise as well. But it certainly comes closer than either of its two predecessors to truly making Middle-earth live again. The film’s final scenes quite literally bring everything home, and in that final swell of music and emotion, throw open the doors to the epic world that Jackson first invited us into over a decade ago.

 

7 out of 10 stars

…………………………

The Monuments Men (2014) – Movie Review

There’s something almost refreshingly old-fashioned about “The Monuments Men,” one of those Very Important Pictures that Hollywood used to produce with such abundance in its heyday. It’s one of those World War II pictures in which a motley group of strangers is recruited by the United States Army to carry out a mission behind enemy lines. Dubbed the Monuments Men, this group of art experts was assigned the task of rescuing some of the world’s greatest art masterpieces from the grasping hands of the Nazis who were busily absconding with the works, presumably with the intention of displaying them in a museum of their own after the war.

Lt. Frank Stokes, who spearheaded the mission, is portrayed by George Clooney, while the men he recruits are played by Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bib Balaban, Dimitri Leonidas and Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey”). Cate Blanchett co-stars as a curator who is also a Resistance fighter working for the French Underground, and who is initially suspicious of the Monuments Men’s motives for rounding up the treasures.

The movie is interesting enough as an unusual slice of history, I suppose, but the screenplay by Clooney and Grant Heslov, based on the book by Robert M. Edsel, never finds a way to make this true life tale come alive as drama. The characters are dull and under-developed, and, as a consequence, we find ourselves strangely uninterested in their back stories and unmoved by their fates. There is also way too much emphasis placed on the comical and the sentimental, and the movie comes replete with a gratingly frivolous score that seems woefully inappropriate to the subject at hand.

Despite the all-star cast, the movie is weighed down by over-earnest acting, with Murray and Balaban seemingly on hand mainly for the comic relief they provide.

Clooney has directed the film with hollow competence, and there’s some discussion about whether or not lives should be risked for the sake of inanimate objects, no matter how valuable, but it’s hard to make anything particularly memorable out of a story where the artwork has more personality than the players.

 

4 out of 10 stars

………………………………………..

Blue Jasmine – Movie Review

Let me preface this review by saying I’m not a huge fan of Woody Allen’s movies, and after seeing this movie I’m even less of one. I’ll admit that I infrequently visit the world of film, preferring to be entertained by movies, so likely don’t have a refined enough palette to fully appreciate this piece of art. For example, my uncle was a connoisseur of fine cheeses, the more pungent and aged the better. Being young and curious I asked to try a small piece of cheese, not realizing that my underdeveloped taste buds were more attuned to sugary delights than refined cheeses. That taste of old, sweaty gym socks remains with me to this day. So, forgive me if I highlight aspects of this film which are signature Allen hallmarks as unpalatable. The protagonist is completely unlikeable and therefore I didn’t connect nor care what happened to her. This, to me, made the story completely pointless. At times, I found the movie almost unwatchable because the main character’s behavior was so distasteful. Self-Inflicted Wounds would have been a better title than Blue Jasmine. The supporting characters weren’t much better. All deeply flawed, with these flaws being on full display as the main descriptor of each character. Real people aren’t like this. It wasn’t even a close enough facsimile of a real person for me to suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy the story being told. I also found it curious that all of the male and female characters were essentially created from the same mold. The female characters being these one person wrecking crews affecting the lives of all the people around them, and the male characters being victims, weak, powerless and spineless in the face of these whirling dervishes. All this despite the socio-economic status of the individual. Perhaps Allen did this on purpose. Perhaps this is a reflection of the world in which Allen lives. In any case, watching a film which is inspired by a classic and is infused with Allen’s peculiar view of the world is just not that entertaining to me. That being said, Cate Blanchett’s performance is outstanding and for that alone the film is worth viewing. I’d be surprised if Cate was not included in the list of nominees for an Oscar next year.

 

5 out of 10