Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World is strong on story and action and enhances the characters of some previously under-developed folks. It’s got fun dialogue as well.

It doesn’t have quite the spark and heart that the first one had, but it’s still solid entertainment.

You will like Thor: The Dark World if you had fun at:
Thor
Iron Man
Marvel’s The Avengers
The Amazing Spiderman

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released November 8, 2013

Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Don Payne, and Robert Rodat. Based on the comics by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby.

Directed by Alan Taylor

Starring Jaimie Alexander, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Tadanobu Asano, Anthony Hopkins, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Stellen Skarsgard, Idris Elba, and Chris O’Dowd.

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Thor (Hemsworth) first came to Earth, meeting Jane (Portman), Darcy (Dennings), and Eric Selvig (Skarsgard) and working with them to stop Loki and other baddies from taking over the world. Then he left, promising his beloved Jane that he would return.

But the Bifrost (the bridge between realms) was destroyed in the battle with Loki and Thor couldn’t return, although he did show up in New York City with the other Avengers a while back.

Now Thor has been trying to bring peace to the nine realms, along with his compatriots Siff (Alexander), Volstagg (Stevenson), Fandral (Levi), and Hogun (Asano). After finishing one major battle that opens the film, they think they’ve achieved their goal.

But the Convergence is coming– a time period in which the realms are very close and portals and the like open up between them. These portals cause laws of physics to go haywire on Earth, and Jane– ever the curious scientist– goes with her intern Darcy to investigate one. She stumbles through one of the portals, encountering a seething red/black substance called Aether. She is possessed by it, and this awakes some real baddies: the Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Eccleston).

These creatures want revenge on Asgard for the destruction of their planet, and they go right to it, wreaking great havoc and bringing lots of death to Asgard, at the same time that Jane is there with Thor after he went to find her. See, he’s been keeping tabs on her through Heimdall (Elba), but when she encounters the Aether, Heimdall can’t see her. So Thor goes and gets her.

Now Jane is going to die if the Aether doesn’t get out of her, but the only person who can get the Aether out is Malekith, and we don’t want Malekith to have it because it will make him unspeakably powerful and then he will proceed to destroy Midgard (Earth) and Asgard and probably more realms. Besides, Malekith is already ruthless and very powerful– he strikes at the very heart of Asgard with almost no effort.

So Thor has to get Loki’s help– and Loki has been in an Asgardian jail cell for a while now. These two can’t trust each other, but it sure is great to have them together.

So while Thor is trying to stop Malekith, Jane and her colleagues find a way that might make Malekith vulnerable and actually help save the realms. With all kinds of great visuals and solid set-pieces, we get an extended and very cool showdown.

Critique

Thor: The Dark World tells a solid, complex story that is driven by people following their hearts and getting into trouble or making deliberate trouble because of it. It’s a good, satisfying story. What would make it more satisfying is more risk for Thor, less overacting for Anthony Hopkins, more scenes between Loki and Thor, and a greater understanding of Malekith and the Dark Elves.

Highlights abound, however. There is some great humor, some of it very finely tuned and timed. Tom Hiddleston knows Loki through and through and steals every scene that he’s in. Portman can do better work than this, but she is frankly not given enough to do. Her moments with Dennings are delightful, though. Skarsgard is just great. His fragile hold on sanity makes him all the more interesting. Eccleston doesn’t get enough screen time, but he is menacing and great also.

The production values are high, of course, and the pace is wonderful- the movie feels shorter than it is, which is always a good sign.

A little more heart, a little more time spent for some characters, and Thor: The Dark World would have been the equal of the first installment. As it is, it’s worth your time and money.

Content warnings: Some minor salty language, plenty of wham-bang-destructo comic violence.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4

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The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger is a frustrating movie. At times good, solid western flick, at others mind-numbingly silly, and at other times far too over the top, it has plenty to offer to everyone but it’s not fully coherent and Johnny Depp needs to take a role that doesn’t require hours of makeup. His Tonto is boring and vapid.

You might enjoy The Lone Ranger if you liked:
Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3
Rango
Spaceballs
Rhustler’s Rhapsody

… but no promises.

If you prefer movies that don’t have nonsensical scenes of animals being silly and over-the-top, totally fabricated and pointless explosion scenes, you might want to give The Lone Ranger a pass.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released July 3, 2013

Written by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio

Directed by Gore Verbinski

Starring Helene Bonham-Carter, Ruth Wilson, Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, Tom Wilkinson, James Badge Dale, and Stephen Root.

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

The story of The Lone Ranger is simple. A clean-cut DA (Hammer) is returning to his frontier hometown where his brother is sheriff and his former flame is his brother’s wife. A railroad tycoon (Wilkinson) will stop at nothing to bring his railroad progress along. A Union army captain (Pepper) shows up for some reason or another. Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) stars as a nutter of an Apache  who wears a bird for a hat is able to show up exactly where he needs to be throughout the film. A psycho(Fichtner) who may or may not be working for the railroad guy wants to kill everyone and might have a vendetta. After the psycho escapes from custody, the DA’s brother (Dale) takes the DA along with a posse and goes into a slot canyon where he himself points out that is perfect for an ambush.

The entire posse is killed, except a horse that is sometimes a spirit guide and sometimes a buffoonish cartoon character indicates to the Apache that the DA is alive. So the Apache revives the DA and they go after the bad guys and they find a saloon owner (Bonham-Carter) who is conveniently angry at the bad guys.

Wait. That’s not simple; that’s mostly just convoluted absurdity used to disguise Depp’s trademarked goofiness and a sad excuse for an homage to a great old Western TV show about heroism and courage and justice.

In any case, the chase is on! Will the railroad magnate manage to take control of everything, including the DA’s nephew? Will the random Union army captain be important to the plot? Will the DA and the Apache ever even break a bone while they are thrown from fast-moving train cars and fall from immense heights and get into numerous fights over the course of a day or two?

Find out all these answers– if you can sit through this far-too-long, generally irritating flick. What makes it worse is that Hammer is a wonderful Lone Ranger and the single arc for that character is great.

Critique

Pretty sure we’ve covered the critique portion fairly well.

Here are the problems with The Lone Ranger:

1. It’s far too long (but how could it not be immensely long with such a convoluted plot?).
2. It’s slapstick and buffoonish and that takes away from the Lone Ranger lore.
3. It’s too full of explosions and over-the-top sequences which would have been better if the conflicts had been more personal.
4. Gore Verbinski directed it and Johnny Depp is in it.
5. Its budget was way too big.
6. Its plot is too complex for what ought to be a Western superhero movie.

Here is what The Lone Ranger gets right:

1. It’s beautifully shot.
2. Armie Hammer.
3. Tom Wilkinson.
4. The Lone Ranger’s character arc.

See The Lone Ranger at your peril.

Very unrecommended.

Content warnings: Plenty of noisy violence, some language, lots of intense scenes.

Writing: 2          Acting: 3.5           Overall: 2.5

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The Mechanic

The Mechanic is, sadly, not as nifty as the previews promise. It lumbers along trying to make the conflicts and fight scenes meaningful, but it doesn’t take the time to think the relationships through and this weakens the entire movie.

Even the always-accessible and charming Jason Statham can’t elevate this flick beyond something of a clinical, joyless actioner.

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released January 28, 2011

Written by Richard Wenk and Lewis John Carlino

Directed by Simon West

Starring Mini Anden, Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Donald Sutherland, and Tony Goldwyn

Rated: R

*     *     *     *      *

Story

Arthur Bishop (Statham) is a professional, slick, cold assassin who can be relied on to do his hit jobs flawlessly- making them look accidental as needed or anything else the client requires. After he is deceived and does a job he regrets, he finds motivation to go after the people who had his mentor (Sutherland) killed.

But in the meantime, his mentor’s son, Steve (Foster) is a lackadaisical no-good punk who doesn’t seem to have any reason to feel sentimental about his dad. Nonetheless, he wants revenge and he convinces Bishop to train him as an assassin. Steve finds direction in this path and it turns out he isn’t bad at it, but his lack of polish, control, and focus dooms him to not being anywhere near as good as Bishop.

The two work together to do jobs here and there, and having Steve around throws Bishop’s routine off. Add to this the totally forgettable dalliances that Bishop has with Sarah, who it appears is a high-priced prostitute who has feelings for Bishop and for whom, if he had the ability to do so, Bishop my have feelings as well.

Soon Steve and Bishop home in on Dean (Goldwyn) as the big baddie. Dean is also the boss of the network that Bishop has been working for, so the guy has a lot of resources to dedicate to stopping Bishop and his protege.

This all leads to bullets flying, clever maneuvering, nifty fights, and the question of whether the servant has become the master.

Critique

The only things that The Mechanic has going for it are three good actors doing as best they can and some fun action scenes. But even those action scenes can’t top the opening sequence wherein Bishop assassinates a very bad man.

Statham is wonderful at the slow burn and we want to see his righteous rage burning in the set of his stubbled jaw and square chin, but there’s not enough emotional weight to the conflicts in The Mechanic, so Statham never really gets to slow burn. He does what he can, and Foster is great as a wily, vindictive punk, but the writers didn’t think nearly enough about what would drive these characters and how their relationships really would work. Goldwyn does a workaday job as a villain. It would be nice if he could find another role, though.

Despite some fairly solid action sequences and plenty of attempts to make the viewer care about what’s going on, those attempts fall flat because we are just never given a reason to root for, or hate, anyone. Thus, this is a flat action flick that only really engages when the fights get going.

Content warnings: salty language, some sexuality and nudity, plenty of heavy violence

Writing: 2.5          Acting: 4          Overall: 2.5

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Star Trek: Into Darkness

Star Trek: Into Darkness is very aptly titled. The title makes you wonder: is this flick going to be grim and challenging? Are difficult things going to test the mettle of our heroes? Or maybe the villain leads the entire universe into darkness.

Is it going to be as grim as The Dark Knight Rises?

The title might also be referring to the final scene as the crew set forth on a historical journey.

What is so splendid about Star Trek: Into Darkness is that it is very intelligently made, and the multi-layered title is simply a symptom of the delightful disease we call ‘smart and polished film-making.’

I loved this movie. You will too.

Here’s a trailer (as if you haven’t already seen every trailer for this flick):

The deets:

Released May 16, 2013

Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof. Based on the original TV show by Gene Roddenberry

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Starring Zoe Saldana, Alice Eve, Nazneen Contractor, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, Noel Clarke, and Benedict Cumberbatch

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Kirk (Pine) and his crew on the Enterprise, Starfleet’s flagship vessel, have been out on missions for some time since the last time we caught up with him. Into Darkness opens with Kirk fleeing some natives of a distant planet, accompanied by Bones (Urban). They are trying to lure the natives out of the kill zone of an exploding volcano, but at the same time they must not violate the Prime Directive, which is to remain unseen and not alter the course of a society’s evolution.

Meanwhile, Spock (Quinto) is going to descend into the volcano with a high-tech fusion device that will stop the volcano from erupting. Piloting his shuttle is Sulu (Cho) and helping him prepare is his love interest, Uhura (Saldana).

They succeed, of course, in their mission, which it turns out was totally in violation of rules. Now Kirk is demoted and becomes first officer to his mentor, Pike (Greenwood). But there’s a bad guy named John Harrison (Cumberbatch) who seems to have it in for Starfleet, and Admiral Marcus (Weller) specifically. After Harrison commits some dastardly deeds, Kirk and his crew are sent to deal out retribution. But things are complicated, and Scotty (Pegg) finds he has to take a stand against some questionable technology– whereupon he resigns his post on the Enterprise, and Chekhov (Yelchin) must take his place.

As the quest to get Harrison begins, a new science officer shows up without being asked for. She is Carol (Eve) and she might know more about the questionable technology and John Harrison than she should.

A series of events take place, through which Kirk becomes uncertain of himself and where his loyalty really ought to be. Uhura has to face down some Klingons, and the crew of the Enterprise becomes stuck between two massively powerful enemies and they have to somehow stop the bad guys while saving lives.

And that’s all I can say without spoilers. But believe me when I say this is an intricate plot that surprises and delights.

Critique 

Star Trek: Into Darkness is not as fresh as the first one in this rebooted franchise. It’s not an origin story, but is instead a story about a bunch of people who have to reassess who they are and come to a greater understanding of what is important to them. It also handily positions the Enterprise and her crew for the next film in which they hopefully are doing actual exploration– as is their mission.

The script is nearly flawless, with the exception of two problems, both of which center on Carol. First is the idiotic underwear scene. Alice Eve is a beautiful woman and this scene is dumb. Second is her British accent, which is totally unexplained by the script. For a professionally trained linguist, this is irritating.

Other than those issues, the script takes the time to set up conflict, try-fail cycles, character development, and solid resolutions that satisfy. It’s an intricate plot that Kirk and his crew have to uncover and stop, but it all makes sense at the end.

One interesting tidbit is that some people will take issue with a Spock who is not quite as alien and dispassionate as he was played by Nimoy. This is true, but this is a different Spock in a different timeline who lost his ENTIRE PLANET. Get a grip, people.

The acting is great, with more being asked of Pine than to be a rogue and a brash hero. His scene after the devastating attack on the Starfleet Council is just excellent. Cumberbatch is wonderfully larger than life and is truly awesome in his iconic role. Simon Pegg gets to do a lot in this film as well, with his truly excellent Scotty being an unsung hero throughout the story. Karl Urban, again, is a surprisingly good Bones. Saldana adds some very nice, tough layers to Uhura that we only started seeing toward the end of the original Star Trek TV show’s run. Quinto is also a very good Spock.

The fact that these films have focused on the relationships, particularly the legendary friendship between Kirk and Spock is wonderful, and the actors have a great chemistry. This is an ensemble film and you might be surprised at how much is asked of characters who are not Kirk and Spock.

Now. There are a lot of explosions. Lots and lots. There’s a lot of physical conflict in this film. These explosions and this conflict are appropriate for a film that is about war and terrorism. This stuff isn’t glorified; it’s shown as ugly and devastating. Listen for the screams and confusion.

That said, the punches sound like thunderclaps, which will never stop irritating me.

You will laugh, cheer, and possibly even cry as you watch Star Trek: Into Darkness. It’s one of the best movies of 2013 and is a fitting sequel to the first one.

Content warnings: Some salty language and a bit of skin and sensuality. Plenty of scifi violence.

Writing: 5          Acting: 5          Overall: 5

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