Thor Ragnarok (****) a well-placed step towards the inevitable

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Thor: Ragnarok – 2017

Director Taika Waititi
Screenplay Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Starring  Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins

I feel bad for Chris Hemsworth. By the time most of us knew he was funny, we already had seen Guardians of the Galaxy. Now, several years and another Guardians sequel later, we get a humorous movie that’s energy feels borrowed as much as anything.

Thor: Ragnarok is a very good film. It’s got more spectacle than the other two films in the sub series. It’s got more character and it’s much more enjoyable. Sad truth is both Thor films are the least likely to be viewed by most fans because outside of Hiddleston, there isn’t much more to enjoy for those films. Whatever charisma Thor is granted is more than undone by Natalie Portman’s wooden acting. This time, there is nothing holding back the God of Thunder. Except for maybe that thing they have attached to his neck.

After discovering the true location of his father, Thor finds that he is near the end of his life. What’s worse, he drops some info about Thor’s unknown older sister, Hela. Hela (Blanchett) is bad, of course, and powerful as hell. She once had her father’s favor, until her ambition outweighed that of Odin (Hopkins). Then he gave her the Zod treatment.

Hela breaks out and quickly dispatches Thor and Loki into an oblivion called Sakaar which is the home to one of the Elders of the Universe,, The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Anyone who doesn’t know who he is pitted against here, hasn’t looked at any promotional materials for this film.

The best part of this film is the humor, but if it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, they’ve certainly tried here. So frequent are the jokes, there feel to be no stakes. Perhaps if they’d laid the groundwork at all in either of the previous two entries, it wouldn’t feel so out-of-place. All of the sudden, we have the guy who never gets it, leading with the jokes.

The stakes of this film are pretty high, though. We’re on the cusp of Infinity War, and actions in and around this film look to be contributing directly to its inception. There are several significant losses in this chapter. While no one seems to have time to even ponder the significance of their departures, there are plenty of opportunities for yuks.

These laughs are pretty damn good, though. I can’t thank Marvel enough for letting Jeff Goldblum in the door. His contributions alone are worth more than any of the myriad effects. There is nothing better than seeing him barely scrape the surface of an incredibly powerful character and just make it seem like he’s out for a never-ending good time.

Hemsworth is very good, and his ever developing chemistry with Hiddleston is fun to experience. Knowing that he could have been this same funny guy 2 Thor films ago makes it just q little weird now, but oh well.

Blanchett takes the same doomed baddie and puts her incredible beauty behind it. She seems right at home in this universe and they leave enough ambiguity to make one realize she could be called on later by someone who is in love with The Goddess of Death.

Loki (Hiddleston) is delightful and they give him a variety of things to fail at, until he fights on the right side. Elba is finally given something to do, and he looks gorgeous while doing it.

Mark Ruffalo is here and he spends much of his time outside of Hulk looking perplexed. It fits the theme of someone who was stuck inside the green giant for over two years. Tessa Thompson, as Valkyrie is fine as the lynch pin required to move all of the cosmic tumblers into place. She handles her role with a surprising amount of casual grace.

Waititi is a pleasant enough choice for this film. He adds a gloriously distracting color palette along with a memorable character Korg, who has several of the film’s best lines with a beautiful delivery. His addition of Rachel House as The Grandmaster’s bodyguard doesn’t work for me, if for no other reason than it’s the same annoying character House played in The Hunt for the Wilder People. I am pretty sure I am in the minority of people who found that film a tad overrated. I really can’t tell you anything technical he might have added to the film, because by now that stuff is pretty much handled by the Marvel house. They brought him in for the humor and that’s what they got.

In all, this is a fun film that is as good as one could expect coming from one of the heretofore most boring parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If it feels a bit underdone, it’s because it still follows the formula of megalomaniac who almost has it all until she doesn’t. Marvel has done a great job making their formula interesting, even if the characters (outside of Steve Rogers) evolve at a snail’s pace. If the Marvel movie formula is still stuck in the mode of dragging these characters in and never quite letting them go, well, one can understand why. It’s comic books, man.

The thing that holds Thor back, like with many of their characters, is that nothing really drags him down and out once The Immigrant Song begins to play.

(**** out of *****)

 

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Sorry, I just can’t hate Transformers: The Last Knight (***)

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Transformers: The Last Knight – 2017

Director Michael Bay
Screenplay  Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Ken Nolan
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, John Turturro (with the voices of Peter Cullen, John Goodman, Erik Aadahl, Ken Watanabe, Jim Carter, Frank Welker, Steve Buscemi, Gemma Chan)

There was a point a decade or so ago when Anthony Hopkins still had a sterling reputation. He decided to retire, presumably to avoid having to reduce himself to less impactful roles. Stanley Tucci has never had the height of critical stature from which to be reduced. It is almost certain Michael Bay is sitting there, behind the camera, saying something like “just put more Tucci into it!” John Turturro, my Lord, he can be in anything good or bad. There will always be something along the lines of The Night Of for him to look forward.

There is a feeling of hanging around the savanna’s watering hole as it begins the process of drying when seeing the likes of these three in a Michael Bay film. With nothing to do but keep feeding on the animals approaching the ever decreasing water, they don’t need to lie in wait or put any skill into the hiunt. Instead, they just pick off the distracted animals, one by one, like moviegoers heading into a googleplex. Meanwhile the smell about the swamp attracts all sorts of pestilence.  It is hard to smell, much less respect.

Is this trash?  Yes. Is it congruent in any way with how humans (much less award winning thespians) act? Well, no.  But look!  They’re destroying the Pyramids again! And Sir Anthony is looking cool shooting Megatron with a cane!

That said, despite every column inch of negative press regarding this film and how uselessly complicated (and just plain useless) it is, I still can’t bring myself to dislike it. The film is the same as each of the others in terms of plot devices, MacGuffins and General Sharp / Morshower. This time though, they actually took the time to build on the half-ass ending they had in Age of Extinction with a somewhat decent first half of the film.

The biggest advantage the film has early on is the general absence of Optimus Prime, who is back on the Cybertron being bitch slapped by a floating sorceress (Chan) and then charmed with stories of their home planet’s once and future greatness. Not slowly and without subtlety, Prime is won over to the side of whatever causes humans the most damage.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, we have a chance to actually get to know some of the other Transformers. This is a great opportunity that has largely been wasted in previous films. We are usually stuck listening to the boring leader of the Autobots opine about virtue and never again losing trust in humans while Megatron plans and schemes to be that one extra bad guy in the end who gets destroyed as a prelude to the big finish.

The point this time is to see, hear and feel the interaction with the other characters who have not had opportunities for forming anything more than thumbnail generalities previously. Bumblebee is the big winner here. Likewise, Carter’s Cogman, who exhibits a feeling of dedicated servant coupled with unhinged sociopath that is warily fun.

Less fun is the precocious little girl who acts as though she is a protector of Autobots. The little kid was focused in an ill advised early round of commercials which I think significantly diminished this film’s already waning appeal. No one liked Scooby Doo once they added Scrappy.

If one can get past the historical hogwash of King Arthur’s court, the Nazis and other points that directly contradict at least the first two films.  And if you can look past the fact that yet another large mass is coming to our orbit and trying to destroy us without affecting things like, say, our gravitational field. And if you can just accept that character A has to get to point B in the first act, then character C is the only person that can help with situation D. And if you get around the idea that for all but the first one of these films, Bay has not bothered with concepts like gravity, space or coherent editing…you should be just fine.

Do I understand if someone hates this film? Sure. It’s not that good at all. But is it too complicated and silly at the same time as it has been accused? If anything, this plot has been the most straightforward of them all.

The bots benefit from more screentime, and become more like-able, just like the film itself. I never disliked Optimus Prime, but in no way did I realize that boring Peter Cullen would have 90% of the dialogue for all of the Transformers up to now. I don’t mind looking at Prime. I just want to hear someone, anyone, else.

Here’s a general rule when evaluating this film: if you didn’t enjoy any of the previous movies, then move along. This one won’t change your mind. If you think that somehow Bay took a dip in skill, energy or just plain continuity this time around, you picked the wrong reviewer to follow. I have a hard time writing reviews on films as if they should suck and just saying they are just too complicated to explain. When it gets down to it, there are plenty of nonsense reviewers out there that just took this film off. Bay has not gotten any better in these 5 films, but he certainly hasn’t gotten any worse.

(*** out of *****)

Manhunter vs. Red Dragon: Mann vs Ratner

MANHUNTER

Manhunter – 1986

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Red Dragon – 2002

 Manhunter                                                                                                                     

Director Michael Mann
Starring William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina, Stephen Lang, Tom Noonan
Screenplay Mann

Red Dragon

Director Brett Ratner
Screenplay Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mary-Louise Parker, Anthony Heald
Screenplay Ted Tally

Brett Ratner gets a lot of crap. Mainly for being the guy who will direct anything Hollywood gives him the opportunity to direct. His take on the third X-Men film is roundly criticized, even though he didn’t vary from the comics any less than Bryan Singer had. His first big sin, aside from making the Rush Hour films a fun, vapid success, is the remake of the film adaptation of Red Dragon. The first filmed version, Manhunter, bombed at the box office, but had always enjoyed critical success because of the connection to Michael Mann. Mann’s Miami Vice, a big success in the 80’s, gives all the flash and style present in that show, while ramping up the creepiness.

Then came Silence of the Lambs. The owner of the rights to the Lecter name, Dino De Laurentiis, lent the rights of the name to the filmmakers gratis. He had no concept that the second adapted book of Thomas Harris had any potential to make money. Everyone knows how that turned out. The success of Silence of the Lambs created a demand for another Lecter film with the actor that won an Oscar portraying him. De Laurentiis was not about to let the rights go for free this time. In fact they were the ones that ended up producing this time.

That first sequel, Hannibal, was a solid film with the uneven casting replacement of Julianne Moore as Clarice. As good an actress as she is, Moore had none of the talents that Jodie Foster had in the role. Nonetheless, the film scored at the box office, leaving the demand for more Lecter as fevered as ever.

Hopkins was game for more work as his famous alter-ego, and apparently Anthony Heald was available to play Dr. Chilton, so Red Dragon was rushed into production, coming out about 20 months after Hannibal. It was not the huge success that was its two Hopkins’ predecessors, but it was a very big film for a fall release.

Having recently watched the first two seasons of the Bryan Fuller television series and waiting for the third, I felt that now was the perfect time to jump into the series again from the beginning. As a result, I watched both versions of the Red Dragon story and decided to give it a side by side comparison. This breakdown will approach it’s review in several categories including but not limited to cast/characters, director, screenwriter/story. I have a feeling my determination of value may differ slightly from most, but I am cool with that.

Character/Cast:

Hannibal Lecter / Hannibal Lecktor: Anthony Hopkins vs. Bryan Cox

This is an easy one, if you understand the character. Hopkins was in his 3rd go round with Hannibal and he plays it to near perfection. This version of Lecter is mad as hell, not so resigned as his portrayal in Silence…and it dovetails nicely with the continuing development of the character. He is envious of his counterpart Will Graham, but too much interested in psychosis to pass up an opportunity to help. It’s a major thing for the character that we get the prologue with the “missing” player of the orchestra, as it presents Lecter more accurately to the books. Lecter was a killer, but he was anything but a desperate random killer of college girls, as portrayed in Mann’s story.

Brian Cox has a lot going against him in Manhunter.  Not the least the choice of cell and lighting, as well as the goofy changing of the name to Lecktor. All of this shows that the filmmakers did not really understand what they had their hands on when they purchased this property. The emphasis of the story at that time is on Dolarhyde. Harris had not fully fleshed out the character of Lector.  If they had, the result may have been different. Still, he does hold the camera with his gaze, and the viewer is entranced by that remorseless voice. Lecktor is nowhere near as scary as Lector, in total because I have a hard time feeling fear when everyone is wearing Miami Vice colors.

Edge to Red Dragon

Will Graham: Edward Norton vs. William Peterson

If one is not careful, they give this one away too easily. Edward Norton is an endlessly talented actor who has never consistently approached his potential. If he wanted to, he could have knocked his Will Graham out of the park. As it stands, he hits a solid double off the wall. His Graham is vulnerable and intelligent, obsessed and aloof, detailed and derailed. We get the benefit of seeing the injury he suffers at the hands of Lecter, and we also have the privilege of seeing Hopkins at his most engaged. Norton has a lot to hide when he meets him, and he does this with the verve of an unsure teenager standing up to someone he knows he is not better than. The Harris text feels much more natural coming from Norton’s Graham, and his brilliance mixed with a lack of strength is much more relatable. More than that, I buy him as much more curious and inquisitive.

William Peterson is a good actor. Of his work with Michael Mann, I have never been a fan. His Graham is not so much afraid for his family as his interested in explaining to them that sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Men in the Michael Mann universe don’t really know fear all too much.  At least not leading men. Peterson’s Graham spends a lot of time berating his unknown serial killer with curse words and questions to the open air. The same lines that Norton uses, only this time they seem angry and aimless. His interactions with his wife Molly pale in comparison to Norton’s Graham. One is talking to an equal, the other is pacifying the weaker sex. None of this is Peterson’s fault. His style in other works have been much more flexible and varied. Here, he might as well be played by Don Johnson or Philip Michael Thomas, for all the time he spends looking off to the side of the scene.

Point to Red Dragon

Francis Dolarhyde vs. Francis Dollarhyde: Ralph Fiennes vs. Tom Noonan

Before he played Voldemort and after Amon Goeth, Fiennes tried to fill the simple shoes of Francis Dolarhyde. He gives the role every bit of method acting he can conjure up, but in the end, it feels like too much. It’s very much the definition of having an all-star at every position, much like they did with the earlier film. The movie needs room for the viewer to breathe and watch without preconceptions. Fiennes is serviceable in every way, but he exudes almost no menace, for some reason.

Noonan’s Dollarhyde, however is the very high point for Mann’s film. Even without the extensive background given to Fienne’s Red Dragon, we know exactly what this beast is about from the moment we lay eyes on him. He is not at all a functioning part of society and very much someone to fear. Before I ever watched Mann’s film all the way through (took me a few times before I had ready access to media), I knew the movie was more his than anyone else’s. His power is clear, even if his character’s transformation is rushed through, compared to Fiennes, who is given every benefit of Harris’ and Tally’s writing to grow more thoroughly.

Point to Manhunter

Jack Crawford: Harvey Keitel vs. Dennis Farina

This one boils down to personal choice as much as anything. Both actors are enjoyable in their roles, to a certain degree. They bring what they have to the role. Keitel brings Brooklyn, New York to everything he does, and while he’s always got a strong presence here, I kept expecting him to break off into some hyper-kinetic rant and go off on a shooting spree. And really, would it have been so expensive to bring back Scott Glenn?

Farina, on the other hand brings a Chicago menace to the role. It’s easy to picture Farina as a crooked cop playing outside the lines, as he was a cop for 18 years, up to the time when this film was being made. He is the easy choice for me as Jack Crawford, if you want solid police procedural material. Let it be said, though, that neither player approaches Scott Glenn’s mastery of the role for Silence… nor Laurence Fishburne’s inventive take for the TV show.

Point to Manhunter

 Molly Graham: Mary-Louise Parker vs. Kim Greist

Poor Kim Greist.  She had the misfortune to be a woman in a Michael Mann directed story. Women in these spots are to be seen, mostly, and not heard too much. She makes good window dressing, to be sure, but as a person she is a few short of a six-pack. She seems sensible enough to be worried about her husband, but most of her questions or suggestions are hushed by her loving man of the house. She makes a good object of affection for their, son, too. The closest one can compare her too in-depth of character is, say, Shmi Skywalker from the first two Star Wars prequels.

Parker does not get much more screen time, and she’s shuttled around like cattle a bit two, but one only has to see her holding the gun for target practice in the middle of the film to know that she is trusted to do more than wait for Will to get the bad guy.

Big time point to Red Dragon.

Reba McClane: Emily Watson vs. Joan Allen

Extra props to seeing a really young Allen playing our blind damsel in distress. She, too is hindered by the Mann effect, but not as much as the plot cripples her performance. We get to see all of her scenes rushed into pretty much one night and a follow-up. Not much of it makes sense. She is an independent woman who has overcome her handicap, and she pretty much falls for the office weirdo after a ride home? Something tells me she might wait for the, say, 2nd date, perhaps? Her flailing around in the end while Iron Butterfly’s only hit blasts away looks a little like a random set director just told her to lean against the wall and wave the occasional arm.

Watson benefits from Ted Tally’s intelligent script. Simple things, like seeing her count steps and even waiting for the 2nd date. I think that Allen could have done every thing that Watson does, but she was never asked to. Also, it does not hurt the probability scale that Watson is visibly older and perhaps a little more willing to weigh the risks of her decisions. The likelihood that she spent more time with Dolarhyde, absorbing more information and maybe being a little more desperate is greater.

Easy point to Red Dragon.

Freddy Lounds: Hoffman vs. Lang

Given that it was because of this role in particular that I thought Stephen Lang was a horrible actor for years, this should be and is an easy victory for Hoffman. It balances out, though. It took me years to get over Hoffman’s annoying performance in Twister. Lang and the late Hoffman were supposed to play annoying characters, and both fit the bill. Hoffman’s Lounds is given more opportunity to flesh his character out, and he does a brilliant job of it. He is supposed to fall into the deep due to his hubris, but we see that he knows the risk he is taking, which makes why he is doing it more interesting. Lang just tips over into the abyss with no real clue.

Point to Red Dragon.

Fredrick Chilton: Anthony Heald vs. Benjamin Hendrickson

It takes one a much effort to figure out who or what Chilton is within the scheme of Manhunter. Mann misses the importance of the character by giving him absolutely zero nuance. This should be no surprise based on his handling of Freddy Lounds. In Mann’s hands he’s just another guy with a cigarette. Heald’s Chilton was one of the highlights for Silence of the Lambs, as Tally completely understands the smug ignorance he represents. They do a good job, for the most part, in fitting him into the second film. My only real complaint is a small one. As the movie is ending, we get a strong hint from Chilton that Lecter can expect a visit from Clarice Starling. That’s a little too cute to begin with. However, his hair and clothing style is somewhat different at that point from what it is in the classic film. Ratner should have avoided such an obvious effort to pander.

Point to Red Dragon, carried over from Silence of the Lambs.

Screenplay: Ted Tally vs. Michael Mann

If you are wondering who gets the point, you really haven’t been following along. It’s amazing to realize that these two takes on the same story are both 124 minutes long, yet contain such radically different amounts of information. Tally sticks so much closer to the source material that there are very few questions as to motivation or history.

Mann chose to ignore inconvenient aspects, making Lecktor a killer of “college girls” to bypass the moral complexity to Hannibal’s psychopathy. The result creates a void that Cox has to fill by sheer force of will. Hopkins benefits greatly from Tally’s translation of Harris’ dialogue and actions. How hard is it for Mann to show that Hannibal does not respond well to people being rude?

More than this, there is so much more plot and character development. Adding the original ending, the tattoo and hints about Dolarhyde’s Grandma, we are given context. With Mann, we get a lot of smoking and people looking away from the camera. Oh, and some yelling, too.

Huge point to Red Dragon.

Director: Brett Ratner vs. Michael Mann

Ratner is not real subtle, but he does not intentionally go out of his way to blow stuff up, Renny Harlin-style. His style is distinctly paint by numbers, but he has some nice flash and style.

Conversely, at this point, Mann was all about flash and style. His luck to get Tom Noonan in casting helped to add a real visceral element to a movie which otherwise is as muted as any episode of Miami Vice. It would take him several years to have the content catch up to the visuals, even if it only lasted briefly. The movie version of Miami Vice, Public Enemies and more recently, Blackhat make it clear that his tenuous touch with storytelling is on the wane.

Ratner’s done a lot of crap lately too. Somehow he got roped into doing Beverly Hills Cop IV. Likely because of his pals in Hollywood. It can’t be worse than Hercules, one would suspect.

Why is this debate important?  For me it’s the demystification of Peterson and, more importantly, Mann. He is a little closer to Brett Ratner than he would like to admit. I have him on the downside of that equation, even.

To that end, and the end of this article, my ratings for both films:

Red Dragon (**** out of *****)
Manhunter (** out of *****)

CPE, Em & El: Thor: The Dark World: More Loki, anyone?

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Thor: The Dark World – 2013

Director Alan Taylor
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Zachary Levi, Tadanobu Asano, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo
Screenplay Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

It’s no surprise that Loki is one of the first characters that you see after the prologue of Thor: The Dark World.  It’s a short scene, with a scolding from father Odin (Hopkins) and a wayward look from his mother Frigga (Russo).  It feels like a tag along scene, after the events of The Avengers.  We already knew he was going to be locked up, so why do we need to see it played out this way?

The answer is obvious.  Hiddleston, the big surprise from the first film, is so good as the villain, the film struggles to move forward without his gracefully devilish grin.  For this reason, we have many scenes with him locked up, even seeing a bunch of other goons broken out of jail.  He even helps the bad guy (Kurse, played unrecognizably by Akinnuoye-Agbaje) escape, while he remains behind.

We are treated to the obligatory “If you betray me, I will kill you,” scene before his brother, Thor (Hemsworth) lets him out of his imprisonment.  After this, we get to see this same sequence repeated ad nauseam with seemingly every supporting character down the line.  This scene is a waste of time for any actor, but at least Hiddleston seems to enjoy the attention, no matter how it is received.  Thank goodness for that.

Thor’s second time out may not be Shakespearian masterpiece that the first film almost was, but it is not bad, in any sense.  It suffers from the strength of its superhero, who we discover from Odin is not actually part of a race of Gods, but rather just a strong race of individuals who can endure for 1000’s of years.  If he is not unbeatable, that hammer sure is.  The thing about Loki is that he doesn’t use his brawn.  Up to this point, the filmmakers of the Thor films have not had to worry real hard about creating a nemesis.  This method worked well in his first two appearances.  Now, as we see Thor’s foes, Kurse and Eccleston’s Malekith, we anxiously wait for him to find a reason to do something other than swing that huge hammer.

Sadly, any thought that is required of the good guys comes in the form of the same braintrust that they had in the original.  This means plenty of face time for Portman and, more unfortunately, seeing Skarsgård in various states of disrobe.  Supposedly it helps him think more clearly when he acts like a loon.  Portman is a little less annoying this time through, even if she still is not a believable genius.  Dennings is still more than capable comic relief as an intern, this time with one of her own (Jonathan Howard).

The screenwriters and Taylor tone down the Hamlet this time, of course that story has been told.  Taylor’s talent for utilizing characters employed so effectively in Deadwood works on Asgard.  Russo leaves a mark in her brief turn, and it is a nice surprise.  Hopkins seems more baffled with each movie, and that suits the aging Odin just fine.  Thor’s band of misfit warriors are briefly used once more, but at least they seem to have a place in Asgard as something other than merry men (and one stoic woman).  It’s nice to see an expansion of Alba’s Heimdall, as his one action scene is an intense moment.  

The weakest part of the story is the megalomaniacal nature of the foe (is there any other in Thor’s universe?).  The plan to take over the “9 realms” has more to do with timing than anything, and the convenience of it all gives nothing at all as grist to the plot.  It all leads to a battle that is loony toon to the point where one wishes the hammer could end it all.  Instead, we get to see the puny humans run around looking frail, weak, and even worse, like Skarsgård.

There is a new mcguffin in the form of a red liquid called Aether.  That, with the Tesseract +3 other elements will get you something in a future film, no doubt.  Do we get more Loki?  If we do, we’ll definitely be entertained to an extent that he is on the screen.  Hemsworth has shown a capability to wear Thor’s wig and not look too much like a fool.  He needs more than what we’ve seen as a supporting cast on Midgard to make it work.

(***1/2 out of *****)

El’s Review

I thought THOR DARK  WORLD  was fine I liked the  funny parts.  The  next  one will probably be better.  Part 3.

(*** out of *****)

Em’s Review

I liked Thor Dark World.  It was really funny.  It had the right amount of action.  I did not like the things what were creepy, though.  The dark elves.

(****1/2 out of *****)

R.E.D. 2: More of the same, thank God.

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R.E.D. 2 – 2013

Director Dean Parisot
Starring Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Anthony Hopkins, Mary-Louise Parker, Lee Byung-hun, Brian Cox, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Neal McDonough
Screenplay Jon and Eric Hoeber based on Red by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner

There are many movies out now that I would like to see.  Even so, the Grouchnapper and I went on an early Sunday morning to take in the second installment in the R.E.D. series.  We were not disappointed.  Every aspect of the sequel is as good or better than the first film, even with the absence of character building.  When you have full characters, though, there is no need for extensive (re)construction.

This time around, Frank Moses (Willis) and Sarah (Parker) are seemingly retired.  Frank enjoys it.  Sarah doesn’t.  Boggs (Malkovich) insists that something is up, and he brings them back into the fold…just in time for his funeral.  What happens from here is a series of expositions passed from scene to scene.  What is up is not nearly as important as the style with which it happens.

Most impressive, once more, is Mirren’s Victoria.  She saunters from scene to scene as the most dangerous and strangely the most loyal actions.  There could come a day that she will be the end of the other characters, but not this day.  Each scene she shares with Brian Cox’s Simanov is a treasure, especially the one involving the curling toes.

Willis and Parker share a believable chemistry, but what is more impressive is the way that Malkovich is incorporated into the mix, as a partner of sorts to Parker’s Sarah.  He is always present for some timely advice, yet still able to have the goods on each new situation.  Malkovich owns each scene he is in, even when all he does is roll his eyes.

The best thing about Willis’ performance this time is how he allows all the characters to bloom around his straight man performance.  He is there in the end, whenever the team needs to get out of one situation or another, and he is forever ready to take a punch, kick or a barrage of bullets sent his way.  The one providing most of those, Han Jo-Bae (Byung-hun) takes the spot vacated by Urban from the original.  He has as much charisma as his predecessor, with the same economy of character.  McDonough’s scenery chewing fills in the gaps very nicely.  This script shows that Willis is capable of much more than we are seeing of him in the Die Hard series of films.

Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Edward Bailey may be his most complete character since Silence of the Lambs.  While it’s not believable he would have the physical strength to pull of a lot of his heavy lifting, it sure is enjoyable to see him out wit people.

This is the best DC Comics series, really the only successful series outside of Batman.  There is no reason to think that they can’t make many more of these films without losing interest, so long as the cast remains the same.  Of course, at their age, any one of them could die of natural causes.  Something tells me that none of them will.

(***** out of *****)

Cool Papa E Reviews The Mission: Impossible series

Mission: Impossible – 1996
Directed by
 Brian De Palma
Starring
Tom Cruise, Emmanuelle Béart, Jon Voight, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emilio Estavez, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Redgrave, Henry Czerny, Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė
Written by  
David Koepp, Robert Towne

Considered at the time to be a blasphemous departure to the original series is now seen as a pretty solid thriller.  That is saying something with De Palma at the helm.  Known for his inconsistent ability as well as his occasional genius, De Palma could have sunk this franchise before it started.  Sure, he had just gotten through with Carlito’s Way, but he could just as easily turned it into Snake Eyes , Mission to Mars or, worse, Black Dahlia.

Getting rid of the entire cast in the first mission and then spending the rest of the movie with solid replacements was a stroke of brilliance.  Having Henry Czerny play against cast was equally grand.  The best scene, by far, is breaking into the CIA. Old computers and all, it still works.   The train scene stretched credibility to the max.  The twists are plentiful, and the performances are solid.  As Ethan Hunt, Cruise delivers a performance intense enough and generic enough that he is able to grow into.  The reveal with a half hour left is a little early.  It was nice to see Jon Voight bite it, even if he was Jim Phelps at the time.

(***1/2 out of ******)

Mission: Impossible II
Directed by
John Woo
Starring Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Ving Rhames, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Roxborough, Anthony Hopkins (uncredited), William Mapother
Written by Robert Towne

Taking a calculated risk for the second movie in a row, Cruise inserts noted Hong Kong director John Woo.  Woo is a great choice, and he brings all of his bag of tricks to the show.  Problem is, he used about 3/4 of these tricks in earlier films.  The car wreck on the cliff, the gun standoff and the motorcycle stunts are all Woo standards.  Still there is something intriguing about having Cruise attack those stunts.  The color palate is immensely beautiful in Blue Ray, making the last 1/3 of the movie, duplicate scenes and all, remarkable as ever.

Cruise looks like he is having a ball through most of the events.  The bad guy (Scott) is kind of bland, with no lasting impact, unless you consider that he gave up being Wolverine for this role.  I had more of a feeling of danger with Anthony Hopkins as the head of IMF.  Or the blonde number 2 guy.  Thandie Newton is more than adequate as the damsel in distress.

Towne’s script presents a grim fatalism to everything.  One real weakness is any real discussion about how communicable the disease Chimera is.  There is a lot less tension in M:I:II than in most films involving virus outbreaks.  This one makes it seem like it can be solved with hands, feet, guns and grit.  Makes it feel a little insubstantial, which, of course, it is.

(**** out of *****)

Mission: Impossible III
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Starring
Tom Cruise, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ving Rhames, Michelle Monaghan, Johnathon Rhys Meyers, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne, Maggie Q, Simon Pegg, Keri Russell, Eddie Moran
Written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Abrams

Far and away the best of the series, with no discernible flaws.  Taking many risks, including making Hoffman a bad guy, giving Hunt a fiancé and then marrying him all before the major mission kicks off, it succeeds in ratcheting up the tension, instead of making it goofy.  The rescue mission with Russell is as awesome is it is heartbreaking.  The kidnap in Rome, the double cross in the Florida Keys, the escape from the IMF, the building jump and the interrogation scene are all high-water marks for the series.

Hoffman’s belligerent diatribe as he sits there captured shows exactly what they got in this movie that the other two so desperately lacked: a credible nemesis.  Every moment counts, every detail matters, and every scene leads to something.  The same combination responsible for just about every classic series or movie over the last 8 years (Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman) is the driving force behind the success of the film.  Making Laurence Fishburne the boss and Crudup as his buddy in the office works in many ways.  Maggie Q, Rhys Meyers, Rhames and especially Pegg give Cruise the best supporting team yet.

The best thing about M:I:III is for the first time, the series feels vital.  The story gives Cruise a chance to flesh out the Hunt character unlike he has ever been before.  As a husband, he feels more human than he ever did as just an agent.  Like Jean Reno in Leon: The Professional, he has roots.  The sequels have been more a pleasant surprise to now.  With part 3, we now wait in breathless anticipation for the fourth entry.

(***** out of *****)