Thor

Just the one film and an early weekend one at that. It’s been previewing since Monday and we opted for the cornea-friendly 2D version of…

Thor

“Did it work?”

See it if you like: superhero films with more pathos and romance than humour and action. Think Hulk rather than Iron Man.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Origin story of a Norse god who becomes a mortal on earth in the modern day, and set-up for a team-up movie due next year.

I’ll generally go to see any superhero film that comes out and the majority these days seem to come from Marvel Comics. DC seem to have stuck with churning out more Batman ones, and failing to release new Superman episodes. Marvel, on the other hand, seems content to churn out as many films as it can based on every major character it holds, regardless of quality. Sometimes hit, sometimes miss.

Thor, for me, fell into the latter category. Despite a reasonable cast, it just seemed like a big, gaudy mess. Chris Hemsworth is excellent in the role of Thor himself (but since when did he have a beard? The guy from the comics I remember was clean-shaven) and Anthony Hopkins is fine as Odin. Brian Blessed was apparently considered and I’m glad they didn’t go with him otherwise the whole thing would have looked even more like Flash Gordon.

Natalie Portman seems to be popping up in a lot recently and performs passably as some scientist whose name I can’t be bothered to look up who goes all doey-eyed at Mr Muscles.

The biggest surprise was seeing Shakespearian legend Kenneth Branagh attached as director. Given the kind of story the films tells, it’s perhaps not a bad choice. It is operatic and dramatic, so it does suit him. However, I just found the whole thing completely overblown in its use of effects.

The halls of Asgard look like an overgrown church organ and the Rainbow Bridge seems to have been made by gluing together several million “Ziggy” handsets from early episodes of Quantum Leap.

If there’s a highlight it’s the Destroyer – a genuinely scary and fearsome-looking opponent with a rather spine-chilling sound every time it’s about to shoot fire. Having said that, the battle sequence it features in is just kind of “OK”. Having said that, its appearance on earth leads to possibly the best line in the film.

In response to the quote heading this review, uttered by the wonderful Stan Lee in his expected cameo, I have to say “Sorry, fella. No. It didn’t.”

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Your Highness / Fast Five

A two-film Saturday night courtesy in a change of Gillian’s mum’s shifts. The two which fit nicely into our available timeslot were as follows:

Your Highness

“Quests suck!”

See it if you like: Dungeons & Dragons and drawing cocks on school text books.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Useless prince has to help awesome brother on a quest to rescue a maiden from an evil wizard. While telling cock jokes.

Your Highness is a very silly film from the people who made Pineapple Express which I’ve not seen. I can see it being a very divisive film – you’ll enjoy it or you’ll think it’s awful. I doubt there will be any middle ground. I also think that watching it over a few beers would be best.

The story tells of Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride) and his squire Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker) who must help elder brother and all round superstar Fabious (James Franco) rescue his virginal bride-to-be Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) from evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux). On the way they encounter tough-as-nuts questress Isabel (Natalie Portman).

There. That gets the cast out of the way. A cast, incidentally, who apparently improvised the majority of the dialogue. Impressive. Even if the dialogue is fairly basic and full of sexual innuendo. And sexism. And tasteless insults. As I said – best watched with beer.

The cast do carry things off very well, and it’s quite a surprise to see Portman in particular move from OSCAR nomination in Black Swan to such completely different fare. Franco overacts in just the right way while McBride and Hardiker pair off well as the useless slob prince and his aide who doesn’t realise what a dick he is.

For an admittedly low brow comedy, the production values are quite high and the special effects and action sequences aren’t badly done at all.

Definitely not one you’ll be taking the kids to see unless you want to start explaining about Minotaur penises and why a hand would be like a vagina. Let your inner schoolchild enjoy it and you’ll have a good time.

Fast Five

“One last job, then we disappear forever.”

See if it you like: the thought of Newton spinning in his grave

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Members of the casts from all four previous films get together to pull off one last huge job before the franchise retires.

The gang’s all here – and then some. Pulling in cast members from all the films, including the somewhat sideways jump of Tokyo Drift, Fast Five aims to finish the franchise with a bang (although there are rumours of a sixth…)

We watched the fourth instalment the other night in preparation and I realised how slow it was. Gillian really didn’t enjoy it either. A few action sequences held together with a rather dull plot. Definitely the weakest of the series so far after the novelty of the first, buddy/buddy laughs of the second and scenery change of the third.

Fast Five manages to take all the ridiculous madness of the previous four, shove them through a blender, syphon off anything to do with Newtonian physics and pour the mixture onto celluloid. My only regret about watching this film is that I didn’t see it on IMAX.

As I think I hinted at, I think the laws of physics **** themselves when this film hit the screens. It makes no sense whatsoever. On the other hand… who, seriously, cares? It’s got cars, babes, muscle-bound men, explosions, crashes, trains, dirt, guns, grenades, rocket launchers, laughs, spills, fights, romance…

OK, so the plot in brief. Brian (Paul Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel) team up to pull a huge job in Rio, taking down a drug lord and making themselves massively rich. In a not-very-well-hidden nod to the likes of Ocean’s Eleven they require a group of specialists. This is where they raid the back-catalogue of characters.

The cast definitely seem on a high and there are some really funny moments and great dialogue as they bicker and cajole. This fleshes out the utterly mind-blowing action scenes. If you thought the opening stunts in the last few films were a little over-the-top, you’ve seen nothing yet.

And that’s nothing compared to the final sequence. Good – and indeed – grief. For those with as much as a Physics GCSE, kindly partition off that section of your brain (particularly the segment to do with friction, force, acceleration and so forth) otherwise you’ll just turn in to a gibbering Newtonian wreck. I opted to sit there and giggle at the incredible destruction and sheer ludicrousness of the entire thing.

I know it’s only April, but I can see this ranking as one of the best action films of the year by the time we hit Christmas. Like all the best shows it leaves the audience wanting more. Whether we’ll get that is anyone’s guess.

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Black Swan, NEDS and Tangled

Three films this weekend and certainly some variety in them. WARNING: this review contains the word “****”.

Black Swan

“I just want to be perfect.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: ballet dancers vie for the prized rôle in Swan Lake while the director bashes the audience’s brain with a marmalade-smeared herring.

Black Swan has had some impressive reviews and I believe is up for OSCARs. Darren Aranofsky isn’t exactly known for making run-of-the-mill films and this certainly isn’t a change in direction for him. Natalie Portman plays Nina, an incredibly skinny young girl and a promising ballet star, under the watchful eye of trainer Thomas (Vincent Cassel) and domineering influence of her mother (Barbara Hershey).

After landing the part of the Swan Queen, she finds herself in a confused friendship/rivalry with Lily (Mila Kunis), a more happy-go-lucky character.

That’s about as far as the regular plot goes. Leading on from this, the plot goes ever so slightly Fight Club. Only weirder.

One thing I will say – every performance is superb. the acting is simply brilliant right across the board. The story, however, just didn’t grip me. I guessed a couple of the “odder” parts before they happened so despite the twisting freakiness, I never felt surprised.

This may make me pretty unique in the film viewing world, but I just didn’t enjoy Black Swan that much. As I said, a great piece of work but just not one that grabbed me. Gill – on the other hand – loved it!

NEDS

“What the **** are you looking at, you wee ****?”

Plot: A young boy grows up in Glasgow and changes from promising student to psycho thug. Pretty much a documentary, really.

If you want hard-hitting, this is it. NEDS is brutal, unrelenting and unforgiving. In many places it’s rather uncomfortable to watch (although never quite as much as The Kid).

Conor McCarron plays John McGill, a young boy leaving primary as best-in-class and entering secondary school where expectations change from academic to thuggish. His brother’s reputation as a NED (non-educated delinquent) precedes him and other people’s expectations of how he might turn out push him towards the Dark Side.

For a bunch of amateur actors, the performances are well above par. The dialogue certainly helps gain the movie it’s 18 rating with more “*****” than a building full of senior bankers. It’s pretty violent as well, including some domestic incidents on top of the street brawls. This is not one to watch with grandma.

John’s descent seems pre-prescribed, especially once people find out where he lives and who his brother is. The message buried within certainly hinges around whether nature or nurture is at the heart of how a person turns out.

If there’s a weak point in the film, it’s the ending. After some strong incidents and emotional story, writer/director Peter Mullan doesn’t seem to know how to round things off. A shame as it spoils an otherwise excellent example of low-budget locally-made cinema.

Tangled

“Frankly, I’m too scared to ask about the frog.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Rapunzel with a PIXAR twist.

Yes, I know this isn’t a PIXAR film – it’s traditional Disney – but John Lasseter is a senior producer and it shows in the humour. Apparently this is the most expensive animated film ever made. Much as it is enjoyable, I just can’t see where the cash went. It doesn’t look much better than anything else recently. Having said that, Disney went to extraordinary lengths to create a CGI film that looked like a traditional hand-painted one. Developing new technology is always a big investment.

The story is fairly simple. After all, it’s geared at the younger audience. We took two 9 year-old girls and a 2 year-old boy (who was very well behaved!). The girls enjoyed it, but did seem to get a little bored close to the end. At 100+ minutes it’s a little longer than most animated films these days.

With some witty banter between characters, there is something there for the grown-up, too. However, the two best characters in the movie are Maximus the horse and Rapunzel’s pet chameleon – both non-speaking parts. This says a lot for the quality of the artwork.

I’m not a fan of films with spontaneous singing, so I switched off when the characters burst into song. With the exception of the performance in the grotty inn, most of the song/dance sequences don’t have much going on on-screen to while away the time.

Overall, not a classic but not too bad. As I said, though, the kids enjoyed it – and that’s the main thing.

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