Thor: Ragnarok

November 5, 2017 at 9:52 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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I liked this film so much more than either of its prequels (“Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World“), which is admittedly a pretty low bar.  Those were both dull and overly serious, relying entirely on special effects to replace any meaningful plot or dialogue. Come to think of it, this film is not so different. It is mostly a special effects spectacle with largely silly dialogue and a plot so full of holes that it is hard to decide which ones to highlight. How about the utter lack of explanation for how Hulk ended up on this planet, or how Bruce Banner’s ominous fear about himself is utterly ignored in the end, or how a creature vanquished so easily at the beginning of the movie becomes all powerful when it returns. The list could go on, but then you might be tempted to think that I didn’t like this film and I did. Why? Because there was one critical difference between it and its predecessors; it had a sense of humor. New Zealand born director Taika Waititi, who is most known for the tedious “What We Do in the Shadows” and the lovely “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” is primarily a comedy writer/director. He has brought that aesthetic to the Thor franchise, where it is much needed. This film was, first and foremost, a superhero action movie. As such, it had its main villain, played with delicious glee by Cate Blanchett. It had its various lesser baddies, played with varying levels of silliness, from the relatively straight Karl Urban (as “Skurge”) to the always over-the-top Jeff Goldblum (“Grandmaster”). And it had several well-choreographed fight scenes, including the Hulk/Thor battle that we have all seen in all the previews, and the final battle scene, which was beautifully scored to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” The best thing about these scenes was that the audience could actually follow the action, which has been a real problem in many CGI fight scenes in previous movies (think anything Michael Bay). But, as I mentioned, on top of all of this saving-the-universe-yet-again stuff, there was this nice layer of light comedy. At times it didn’t work, particularly when it was overly adolescent; I could have gotten through a Thor movie without ever hearing any masturbation, penis-size or anus jokes. But, what it did really well was to add dimension to two overly dramatic Marvel characters. Both Thor and The Hulk have suffered in overly serious films. Here, they suddenly became real people. These two characters were more alive in this film than in any film to date. Their buddy relationship was particularly fun to watch, as it allowed both actors to show a softer side to their characters, including warmth, humor, and self-doubt. I like this new Hulk a lot and I really like the new Thor who has evolved by the end of this story. I hope these are the two characters who show up in the “Infinity Wars” movies. I could definitely watch more of both of them.

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Star Trek Beyond

July 23, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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For those of you familiar with the Star Trek canon, this film will be exactly what you expect it to be, for better and for worse. Though widely more popular than the last one (“Into Darkness”), I liked it less. Perhaps, I am experiencing sequel fatigue, but I recall having the same reaction to the latest James Bond film after really loving the previous one. I think I am just craving something new and I didn’t really find it here. Much has been said about director Justin Lin (the ” The Fast & The Furious” series) and his style and it was noticeable here in the pacing, which was faster and more unrelenting than previous Trek films. For me, that fast pace is entertaining but led to little plot development; the film was a series of rapidly presented problems that were almost as rapidly resolved. However, what I was most aware of was how this story line seemed like best-of clips from so many Star Trek films before it. We have the one maniacal leader who has an irrational/poorly justified hatred of The Federation (or Jim Kirk, in particular) and who is somehow capable of getting others to mindlessly die for his cause. Inevitably, after the rest of his group is defeated, he ends up mano-y-mano against Kirk (or, as in the last movie, against Spock). Throw in a good henchman, wisecracking banter and maybe crash the Enterprise into a planet while you are at it, and you pretty much have the components of most of the films (“Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and “The Voyage Home” being the two notable exceptions). If they want to stick to the formula, fair enough. But, if you are not going to engage me with a plot that surprises me, give me more depth. Slow the film down. Have less unrelenting action and more opportunity to get to know the characters (and introducing Sulu’s husband doesn’t really count as getting to know the characters) and to create tension. I can’t help but think of the great “Wrath of Khan” and the final battle scene in the nebula. The film had invested in all of those characters enough that there was real tension in that scene and, because it unfolded so slowly, that tension really built.  It’s true that they had an advantage because Khan was an established character but Trek has the Klingons or the Borg or many others they can draw on. “Wrath” was a very slow paced film by this today’s standards but the pacing allowed me to invest in the action in a way this film never did. This one was like a roller coaster. I just hung on and then it was done. I mean, I enjoyed the ride but it’ll never stay with me. That nebula scene still does, even 35 years later.

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