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Movie Review: Thor (2011) April 25, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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6 comments

Thor was one of those movies that had me intrigued as soon as it was announced.  Of all the superhero premises, this one had ‘disaster’ written all over it more than any other.  A magical hammer, the God of Thunder, guys dressed in shiny armour fighting blue giants that can turn things into ice.  Not exactly the type of material that you’d think would make a good, (at least) semi-serious film set partially on present-day Earth.

But then enter director Kenneth Branagh (you know, the guy that does all the Shakespeare stuff), throw in Aussie Chris Hemsworth (probably best known by non-Aussies as Kirk’s dad in the Star Trek reboot), Academy Award winners Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins, and all of a sudden the film starts having potential.  Could they make this farcical premise work?

Well, yeah, they did.  About as well as I could have imagined.

Thor, like the other successful Marvel adaptations (especially the first Iron Man), is great fun, a rollicking good time.  It’s visually spectacular, with tremendous action, a likable protagonist and occasional laughs that hit the right spot.

Chris Hemsworth really buffed up for this role and does a solid job as the charming titular character, ensuring certain stardom for years to come.  Natalie Portman’s role is largely limited to ‘intelligent love interest’, but she’s always nice to look at and have around.  And when you have the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard and Rene Russo in supporting roles, you know things can’t be too bad.

Considering how badly things could have turned out, Thor was almost a minor miracle.  While it is certainly not perfect, I found myself taking all the ‘other worldly stuff’ seriously enough to be laughing along with the movie as opposed to laughing at it.  It was slightly uneven at times, given the contrast between Thor’s supernatural world of Asgard (reminded me of a futuristic Clash of the Titans-type place) and some ordinary small town in New Mexico, but for the most part it worked.

On the other hand, while Branagh is no doubt very capable in creating drama, I did find some of the fight scenes a little lacking.  Interestingly, it was the scenes that featured only actors and no special effects that worked best — the action scenes that relied heavily on CGI, probably because of the way they were shot (too many cuts), didn’t quite pack the same punch.

That said, I was impressed with how Branagh allowed Thor to be a part of the Marvel universe (in light of the upcoming The Avengers film) while giving the film its own voice and style.  Pulling off a film like this where the supernatural and science co-exist peacefully was no mean feat.  This was a terrific introduction to a character that I’ll be happy to see again when The Avengers is finally released in May 2012.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: I saw this film in 2D, but it was bloody hard to find a cinema and a session that did not screen the film in 3D only.  Ridiculous.  Spare a thought for the people who don’t want to waste their money on 3D!

PPS: Look out for Jeremy Renner in an extended cameo.  I was surprised to see him but after some research it looks like he’ll be a key figure in The Avengers film.

PPPS: Make sure you stay until after the credits — there is a scene with Samuel L Jackson at the end which could potentially be relevant for The Avengers or a Thor sequel.

Movie Review: The Rite (2011) March 16, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Paranormal, Reviews.
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1 comment so far

I am a huge fan of horror films, and few intrigue me more than those with ‘possession’ and ‘exorcism’ angles.  So of course I was eager to see The Rite, which was apparently aiming to be this generation’s The Exorcist.  It stars Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins and newcomer Colin O’Donoghue (great screen presence), and tells the story of the young son of a mortuary owner (O’Donoghue) who almost drops out of seminary school and is instead whisked to Rome to participate in ‘exorcism’ class, and ends up learning from an unorthodox expert (Hopkins).

I didn’t have to see the film to know that critics were probably going to savage it — few horror films these days, especially those dealing with the supernatural, are likely to pass through unscathed.  However, I thought the previews looked pretty promising, so I was kind of hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

I’ll get straight to the point.  The Rite started off extremely well, almost too well for its own good.  It was atmospheric, intriguing, chilling and rather eye-opening.  It also asked some interesting questions about religion, faith and psychiatric illness, without coming off feeling contrived.  There were some fantastically effective scenes and sequences that made me recoil in horror.  It’s supposedly ‘inspired’ by true events, though I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that.

However, at some point, around halfway through the film, The Rite takes a massive wrong turn.  I can almost pinpoint the exact scene where things start going downhill.  The point of view begins to switch awkwardly all over the place, and all subtlely flies out the window.  Instead of keeping you guessing, everything is spelled out and shoved down your throat, and genuine chills are replaced by cheap scares and special effects.  What began as potentially a new classic spiralled into just another uninspiring supernatural horror flick.

Sigh…

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the first half.

2.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Wolfman (2010) February 14, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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9 comments

Argh!

Talk about a massive disappointment.

The Wolfman (the film not the man) is a ‘remake’ of the 1941 classic horror movie (which I haven’t seen), and had been on my ‘must-see’ list for quite some time.  I’ve always been a sucker for monster movies and this one looked highly promising.

Ponder the following:

  • a classic werewolf storyline (let’s not pretend there’s any surprises here);
  • 2010 make-up and prosthetics skills combined with the latest special effects technology;
  • Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro, Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins, Golden Globe nominee/winner Emily Blunt, and freaking Mr Smith/Elrond (Hugo Weaving)! and
  • script by Andrew Kevin Walker, who worked on Seven and Sleepy Hollow (plus uncredited rewrites of Stir of Echoes and Fight Club!).

There was no way this film could not be awesome.  Or so I thought.

Even when I heard that The Wolfman received lukewarm reviews, I was convinced the critics were wrong.

Well, they were right.  It’s still early, but there is a good chance The Wolfman will be my biggest disappointment of 2010.

It’s difficult to know where to begin. The Wolfman‘s biggest problem is that it’s not scary.  Not one bit.  All the elements were there – the full moon, the shadows, the misty woods, and even the growls – but there was zero tension.  Not having seen the 1941 original, I can’t say whether this was supposed to be a tribute or a ‘re-envisioning’, but The Wolfman felt like a cheesy, unintentionally comical mess.  I couldn’t decide whether it was trying to take itself seriously or be tongue-in-cheek with the over-the-top blood and violence.

The pace was all stuffed up (when a 102 minute film feels both too long AND rushed at the same time, you know there’s a problem) and the script was utterly predictable all the way to the end.  Even the music didn’t fit.  Worst of all, the special effects and make-up were sub-par.  The CGI buildings and scenery were good, the morphing process were decent, but the post-transformation scenes made me think I was watching a pissed-off Chewbacca on acid.  While there may be excuses for all the other problems, there’s no excuse for for this in a production of this magnitude.  Not in 2010.

I should have known the film was in trouble when Benicio Del Toro (one of my faves) appeared on screen sporting the worst haircut since ‘The Hanks Disaster’ from The Da Vinci Code.  When I heard Del Toro was cast in the lead role, I thought, “Great choice!  They’ll hardly have to use any make-up!”  However, that haircut made him lose all credibility, and I think the look on Del Toro’s face throughout the movie confirmed that he was embarrassed to have such an abomination on his head.

As for the others: Anthony Hopkins looked like he was just there to pick up the paycheck, Emily Blunt did her best in a thankless role, and Hugo Weaving was utterly hilarious (unintentionally, of course).

There must be a plethora of reasons why The Wolfman was crap, but the easiest point of blame is director Joe Johnston.  It’s not he is a bad director, but his style didn’t fit this film.  It may have worked for Jumanji and Jurassic Park III (and could for the upcoming Captain America and Jurassic Park IV films), but not for The Wolfman.  How they ever managed to botch up something so promising this badly is beyond me.

1.5 stars out of 5

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