31 Oct 2013

Review of Thor: The Dark world. Or pants are compulsory


I was lucky enough to be gifted with two tickets to the pre-release of Thor: The Dark world.  I wasn’t incredibly enthusiastic, but my girl was, and the promise of seeing the movie first was exciting.  We fortified ourselves with wine and sat down in the Titan XC cinema in Reading to watch.

Synopsis:
After the battle in new york (Avengers) Thor has returned to Midgard. But the destruction of the Bifrost Bridge has brought chaos and war throughout the nine realms.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is leading the Asgardians in battle to restore order and peace, which he does so successfully, but his heart is with Midgard and the mortal Jane Foster.
Sif
Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been imprisoned for his crimes against Earth by Odin (Athony Hopkins). His life was spared after his mother Frigga (Renee Russo) pleaded with Odin to spare their adopted son that she loves so much. Now he rots in a dungeon below Asgard.

Back on Earth Thor has been away for two years and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is trying to get on with her life.   She is in England at the request of Doctor Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) who has discovered the alignment of the nine realms, and the danger this alignment poses to Earth. 

As the alignment of the Nine realms approaches, it is watched by Nelson Mandela (Ildris Elba) the guardian of Asgard. But hidden even from him an ancient enemy of the Asgard stirs, wating to return and threaten Asgards authority,and the very existence of the nine realms.

ENSUE Stan lee action.

Thor: The Dark world is a well-constructed movie.  It manages to carry action, humour and a little poignancy surprisingly well. The direction by Alan Taylor and good performances by Hemsworth, Portman and Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki, keeps the pace flowing and the audience entertained.  The humour is well placed and entertaining, but does not diminish the story in anyway.  Little elements like Loki’s choice of disguises and Dr Selvig thinking better with his trousers off were great comic moments.  The chemistry between Hiddleston and Hemsworth as conflicted brothers is good, and Loki adds a degree of wit and humour to balance Thor’s brooding.
Dude less of the brood
But while he does brood at times Hemsworth is able to play the hero, the conflicted son, and the roguish warrior equally well.  He is a talented thoughtful actor with the build of an 80’s action hero. Which brings me to the last element of his and the movie’s appeal. Not only does Thor have good action and humour, it also has Hemsworth in a gratuitous bathing scene. Oh yes the gasps and delighted murmurings from the ladies (and the gentleman in the front right of me) told me that the female demographic thought their money was already well spent.

Just a quick note to add the Skargard, Ildris Elba, Renee Russo and Anthony Hopkins were also very good, as you would expect. 

Marvel has really learnt a lesson that Warner Bros should learn, fight scenes can be epic, but also need to balance with the pace of the movie, and do not require the destruction of an entire city. If you compare the big fight in the end, with the one in Man of Steel, it is shorter, funnier than and just as violent as you would want.  You will not be bored.  Oh, my favourite fight scene, Frigga kicking ass.

The production was very good, and the scenes set in Asgard were magnificent. The production team really took to heart a Scandinavian theme, and the dark elves look great, if a little reminiscent of Hellboy2. But I didn’t mind that at all.

Fine I admit it, I really liked it.  I didn’t think I would, but I think that with this Marvel franchise of Avengers and their own movies that Thor: The Dark world will be right up there with Avengers. While you could say that that the character development for Thor’s friends was lacking, or the tension between Sif and Foster was incomplete there is only so much you can put in 120 minutes before it gets dumb or muddled.

 I saw it on a massive screen in 3D, but while I recommend you see this on the big screen, the 3D was pointless and added nothing at all.

 

Thoroughly entertaining movie

7 and a half monkeys

28 Oct 2013

World War Z





I finally watched the controversial  World War Z. A film plagued with controversy and pre and post production problems. There were expensive re-shoots and re-writes with what seem to be  five different writers by the time the film was completed.  Paramount was unhappy with the first ending and the third act was rewritten and shot, not to mention several delays with the release.

But the controversy was not about the expense or the problems, rather with the complete departure from the book it is based on. World War Z is an excellent novel, an oral history of how the world survived the Zombie apocalypse. Based on a book written after World War II, it is very popular. And while there was initial excitement with the project, the internet went sour as the film's premise was released.

But despite all this the film was rated 67% by rotten tomatoes, 7.1 by IMDB and 63 on Meta critic. More importantly it has made a lot of money. I guess it must be ok right?

Right Brad?
Both my girl and I loved the book, and we were both apprehensive about the film. But we decided to watch it and be objective. Sadly life got in the way and we missed it at the cinema. But it is out now and we sat down and watched it.
Synopsis:
Ex UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt)  is caught up in a global Zombie apocalypse. After fighting his way through New Jersey, he and his family are rescued by his friend Thierry (Fana Mokoena) a survivor form the UN. Thierry and the military send Gerry out with a scientist (Elyes Gabel) to try and find the source of the plague.

Ensue Brad running from Zombies.
Run Brad Run!


Putting aside that the film is not the book (as disappointing as that is) we sat down to objectively watch and hopefully enjoy the film. The first act is all about Gerry trying to keep his family alive, in typical zombie movie fashion. Nothing new, but the action and the acting is fine. Brad Pitt as Gerry is both a tangible character and also an excellent  everyman character for the audience to identify with.
The film was shot in a way that as Gerry was working to keep his family alive; he was also taking in every detail of events as they unfolded which I liked.  Mireille Enos was a bit wasted really, you could see the humanity in her character and  she added depth to Pitts Gerry.

However from the second act on the film started to fall apart. As we watched the action (sadly most of which we had seen in the trailers) we started to question the story. By the end of the film our questions were quite vocal and our irritation was the only thing keeping us awake.

The story just didn't make much sense. I kind of appreciated where they tried to go, but not enough to derive enjoyment from the story. The film had its moments, Brad Pitt and the other actors gave fine performances, and I did like the manic depiction of the zombies. But with such a poor story it ceased to matter. Either a disaster movie and/or a zombie movie it was fragmented and poorly executed.

While I remain disappointed that the movie is massive departure from the book, the film ultimately fails from a poorly crafted story with too many plot holes.  I think the original concept was a potential trilogy, but that as not clearly communicated to the studio. Paramount did not like the end of the original film and wanted something more “up-beat” so we got the ending that they reshot.  It is clumsily executed and you are left wanting.  World War Z is very disappointing.

4.5 Monkeys

13 Oct 2013

Hammer of the Gods or why do I keep doing this to myself


I like a good adventure story, a combination of excitement and drama to fire up the testosterone is great.  I also like fantasy and historical stories, I have  particularly enjoyed the History Channel's series Vikings and I can't wait for season 2.

Good Telly
Squeaky, my  fiance's daughter, has been learning to scuba dive recently and this has given me free time to watch TV and movies which the girls would not normally like. While looking for such entertainment I came across  Hammer of the Gods, and I noted that the cast includes Clive Standen who plays Rollo in Vikings. But I was apprehensive as most movies about Vikings are garbage.  Erik the Viking  and the 13th Warrior are fun, but mostly movies about the Norsemen or Vikings are poorly written, poorly choreographed excuses for fur bikinis and grunting. Even that makes them sound more entertaining than they are.

Which brings us to Hammer of the Gods.

SPOILER ALERT
Normally this is where I provide a synopsis however this movie doesn't deserve one.

Hammer of the Gods starts off with the premise that King Bagsecg of the Vikings is losing his grip on Britain and has sent his son Steiner for re-enforcements.  Steiner arrives in Britain on a long ship and is met by some Saxon warriors. The combat that follows isn't the worse I have seen, but the choreography was certainly average. While passable for a film of this budget, I suspect people that know or appreciate good sword play may be very disappointed.

This fight scene sets up the central characters; The berserker Grim, The hero Hagen(Clive Standen), The pious pagan Jokul and Prince Steiner( Charlie Bewley) doing his best Travis Fimmel impersonation. After the Norsemen butcher the Saxon warriors, Prince Steiner gazes over the sea slowly filling with Viking longboats and CGI lightning.
From left to right Jokul, Grim, Prince Steiner and Hagan.
The warriors travel to King Bagsecg's camp avoiding more CGI lightning,  where they find that the king is dying.  Bagsecg's other son Harald meets Steiner and scolds him for bringing only six men. Apparently the long ships we saw earlier were also CGI. The King (the great James Cosmo) orders his son Steiner to kill his half brother Vali because he would not fight.
James Cosmo
Steiner refuses because he made Vali give an oath that he would not fight without him. Harald offers to kill Vali, but Bagsecg seems disgusted with all his sons and orders them all out except for Steiner. The King tells Steiner that none of his sons are worthy of his crown, except for one. The King orders Steiner to find Hakon, Steiner's older brother who was exiled years ago for reasons unknown.

Steiner and his companions ride off amidst the CGI lightning to find Ivar the Boneless who knows where Hakon is. As they camp Vali is caught sneaking into the camp with the news that Harald was making a deal with the Saxon army.  Despite Jokul warning Steiner that Valis arrival is a bad omens the companions venture on to find Ivar

In history Ivar the boneless is one of the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok, who is the central character of  Vikings. In this story he was banished from King Bagsecgs army for being  'rapy' with boys. Oh right so its not that historical then?  OK sure whatever lets move on.

Ivar will tell Steiner where his older brother is if he enters a peculiar competition. Steiner has three chances to bet Ivar in an arm wrestling competition. Each time he fails he has to take a drugged drink, and if he fails all three times Ivar gets to take him like a woman for the night.  Now this appears is taken directly from the computer game  Fallout2  and an interesting and uncomfortable scene, but an interesting choice for this sort of movie.

Steiner defeats Ivar with the use of Jokuls magic snake belt. And no that is not a euphemism. Jokul has a metal belt in the design of a snake which Steiner, oh forget it.

The companions now joined by Mr Rapey and his servant Agnes (Alexandra Dowling who you may have seen recently in Games of Thrones as Roslin Frey, who married Edmure Tully at the red wedding). 

So far so average. 

And then it all changed. The companions get ambushed by a bunch of masked baddies and Grim dies. It was at this stage I had the uncomfortable feeling that this Viking film was about to got to Hel (get it?  sigh never mind). The action was confused and as it takes place in the woods there is almost a cheesy horror feel about it. 

The survivors make camp where Hagan finds a Saxon coin dropped by Vali. Pretty much everyone hates Vali except for Steiner. Even Ivar doesn't fancy him. Hagan wants him gone, but Steiner is desperate to protect his little brother. But before this resolved the masked bandeetoes return on horseback and take them all hostage. All except little Agnes who hid.  It turns out the bandeetoes are Saxons and they offer Steiner a deal, which he rejects. Agnes rescues him and he rescues the others including Vali who was just about to convert to Christianity.
Ray Ramanos new project "Everybody hates Vali"
From here on in the companions are methodically killed off in a highly clumsy fashion. Eventually only Steiner Vali and Agnes remain to find Hakon, and they do in a cave. Apparently Hakon is now the king of the Troll-Pict people. But that doesn't deter Steiner from his mission and he offers Hakon the crown, and in return Hakon reveals to Steiner that the reason he was banished is because his girl friend is his mother. Yes Hakon is dating Steiner's mother, who is also Hakon's mother. 

But it only when Hakon kills Vali (who had just joined his weird cult) that Steiner gets annoyed and they fight.  Steiner kills he oedipal brother, then while he is it at it he kills his mum. Then he returns to his fathers camp with Agnes, kills Harold and takes the crown.

I do get what writer Matthew Read was trying to do and say. The whole story is a set up for King Bagsecg to turn his soft hearted son into a king, while ridding himself of his other son and ex wife. Good, great even. That concept is a good Nordic saga right there. But the execution was very poor. The whole film was derivative of the success of the TV series Vikings, but with little of the style.

Part of the story was in a foreign language, Welsh, or old English perhaps, but without subtitles it may as well be in Greek. I think they took some chances with the movie to try and distinguish it despite it's budget, but I think maybe they did too much. Some interesting elements, but I think it was too derivative and too poorly executed.  Making Hakon some sort of crazy cult leader  was weird and disjointed. The lack of subtitles was distracting and a little boring.

A good idea but poorly executed

3 disappointed Monkeys.

6 Oct 2013

Rush


When I was studying film there was a girl I knew who refused to watch any film that was based on real events. She never provided a logical reason for it, just refused to watch them. Obviously what I would do would be to suggest such movies, and then not tell her until afterwards. 

I never really understood her aversion, and even though I prefer fiction to say a documentary, a good story is a good story and sometimes the best stories are from history.

Normally I would write a synopsis of the films but with this film I am not sure it would help you decide to go see it or not. Rush is the story of  two Formula 1 racing car drivers and their rivalry, set mostly around the 1976 gand prix.

Sound dull?

I have watched Formula 1 on TV for a bit and was pretty dull. It is highly expensive cars racing exceptionally quickly around a track. The first driver to cross the finish line having completed a set number of laps, wins.  I could go on, but I am not sure that will entice you to watch this film.

And you really should.

This is not  Days of Thunder, or Fast & Furious 623, Rush is an interesting and exciting story. You don't need to like Formula 1 or know who these men are to enjoy this movie. Director Ron Howard  focuses on  their story, but he also manages to capture the excitment of these powerful races and why it is one of the most watched sports in the world.

 Rush is the story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda, one is a charming charismatic young man with a natural talent for racing and the other is annoying, dedicated, and technically brilliant. You can probably guess from those description which one is the Austrian.  The men are polar opposittes but both equally exceptional drivers.

Chris Hemsworth's scope and career is growing film by film. Daniel Brühl who plays Niki Lauda, must have been highly uncomftable with the mouth prosthetic, but it never showed. Both Brühland and Hemsworth gave excellent performances. Both men showing the best and worst of the Lauda and Hunt in their careers and personal lives.


The story is good, and the race scenes are excellent. Ron Howard has seamlessingly created a period film of the 70's, interspersed with recreated and real footage.  People in the cinema were literally on the edge of their seats, and I cannot remember the last time I witnessed that.



Rush is one of best films I have seen this year and if you do decide to see it I recomend seeing at a cinema over a DVD. As I said you don't have to like Formula 1 to really enjoy this movie, and I think that is a testiment to Howard's craft as a director, and the abilities of the cast. 

8 monkeys.