THOR: The Film Babble Blog Review

THOR (Dir. Kenneth Branaugh, 2011)

(Warning: This review may contain Spoilers!)

Summer doesn’t officially begin until late June, but the summer movie season began last week with the opening of the huge blockbuster FAST FIVE. However the season doesn’t really feel like it’s underway until a big-ass superhero flick swoops in, so today we get us the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: THOR.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a cocky (and somewhat douchey) Norse God who lives in the splendiforic golden CGI city of Asgard which is in another realm from our world, you see?

Thor’s father, the King of this realm, played with his patented gravely gravitas by Anthony Hopkins, is ready to let his son take the throne, but an attack by a gang of scaly skinned creepy creatures called Frost Giants throws that plan out of whack.

The Frost Giants steal the source of Asgard’s power “the Casket of Ancient Winters.” Defying their father, Thor and his brother (Tom Hiddleston) go after their frigid foes into their icy realm, along with their gung-ho troop of hearty warriors (Tadanobu Asano, Joshua Davis, Ray Stevenson, and Jaimie Alexander).

A busy and bombarding battle goes down, which doesn’t please Hopkins so he banishes his son to Earth, and throws his hammer of power down there with him.

It then becomes a bit of a fish out of water story with Thor meeting up with a trio of scientific researchers in a desert in New Mexico where he crash lands – Natalie Portman (much more animated than in YOUR HIGHNESS), a befuddled Stellan Skarsgård, and the wise-cracking Kat Dennings – who take him in as they just happen to be up on Nordic mythology.

Thor’s predicament is that he has to fight through a military instillation that has surrounded his mighty hammer in the desert since, like the Arthurian legend, it can not be removed by just anyone.

The film gets bogged down in noisy fight scenes and impenetrable exposition that I couldn’t follow recognize the weight of, but since I don’t know the comic from which this is based, that stuff may mean a lot more to the hardcore.

I got that Thor must fight his brother Hiddleston, who turns out to be half Frost Giant I guess, and a giant destructive robot in order to restore the kingdom of Asgard and awaken their father from some deep sparkling golden slumber, I think.

It was hard to follow or care about this because Hemsworth has little charisma or believability in the role, and his being paired with Portman is forced and fairly chemistry-less.

Those elements don’t completely cripple THOR, because on the surface it’s a serviceable super hero movie with plenty of fast paced action that folks just wanting mindless thrills will likely go for.

It’s also fun to see how the Marvel movies are building what my fellow local entertainment writer friend Zack Smith calls an “uber continuity” with Clark Gregg reprising his role as Agent Coulson from IRON MAN 1 & 2, a cameo by Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, and an after the end-credits scene, which I won’t spoil, but will just say that it foreshadows events to come in THE AVENGERS, so stay until the very end.

I was very surprised to see that this was directed by Kenneth Branaugh because in retrospect except for some nuanced acting from a few members of the cast, there is precious little in this assembly line formula that could be reasonably attributed to him.

While I normally avoid 3-D, I didn’t have a choice with the advance screening I saw of this. I didn’t get a headache, but apart from a few scattered arresting visuals, the 3-D added very little.

THOR is bombastic and in your face enough without such enhancement, but I bet kids of all ages will eat it up in whatever format.

More later…

YOUR HIGHNESS: The Film Babble Blog Review

YOUR HIGHNESS (Dir. David Gordon Green, 2011)

Sometimes really funny people make really unfunny films.

The comic pedigree of the folks involved in this medieval mess is strong – director David Gordon Green, actor/co-writer Danny McBride, and actor James Franco were all key players in one of my favorite comedies of the last 5 years: PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, but this comes nowhere near the laughter level of that manic marijuana-tinged movie.

It sure tries to, with scores of drug, sex, and bloody slaughter gags, yet none of them elicited even as much as a slight giggle out of me.

Here’s the plot anyway – McBride is an oafish prince who reluctantly joins his heroic brother (Franco) on a quest to rescue Franco’s fiancée (a dim witted Zooey Deschanel) from the clutches of an evil wizard (Justin Theroux).

Along the way they encounter natalie Portman as a warrior princess, and they travel together taking on a five headed serpent monster, treacherous knights working for Theroux, and every profane expression known to be ever spoken by man.

On the surface YOUR HIGHNESS has everything necessary for a fantasy action comedy set during the Dark Ages – it’s got tons of sword play, silly sorcery by way of not-bad CGI, a horse-drawn chariot chase, severed limbs, gratuitous forest nymph nudity, and gorgeous locations in Northern Ireland.

Everything that is, except for legitimate laughs.

Reportedly much of the film was improvised, which makes sense because the dialogue is awful without any lines worth quoting.

McBride is simply doing his predictable slimeball schtick that he does on the HBO series East Bound And Down, and it wears thin really fast in this set-up.

All of McBride’s characteristics come off as clunky as the armor he wears.

Franco and Portman are both slumming it after their loftier turns in 127 HOURS and BLACK SWAN respectively, and it’s obvious they did this because they thought it would be fun, and I’m not doubting they had fun on set, but on screen they sadly look like they are wasting a lot of energy on extremely moronic material.

Deschanel seems detached from it all, maybe a result of certain substances that no doubt were passed around by the cast and crew.

As for the rest of the supporting players like Rasmus Hardiker, Toby Jones, and Charles Dance, I’ll let them off the hook – it’s bad enough for them to be in this film.

YOUR HIGHNESS is a crude cringe-inducing crap-fest devoid of wit and invention. I doubt even teenage stoners will laugh at it. I’m seriously surprised McBride, Franco, and Green think it would be funny, because they are capable of so much more comically.

“This quest sucks!” McBride complains at one point. I heartily agree.

More later…

Hey Kids – Funtime Oscar Picks 2011!

It’s that time of year again – the Oscars are Sunday so I’ve got to make my annual predictions. If you’ve followed this blog in previous years you’ll know I’m no expert – I usually do okay with the major categories, but come up short in my picks for the smaller awards.

Still here’s what I got:


Yes, many are saying THE KING’S SPEECH will win this, having won many previous awards, and boasting the most nominations, but I am so feeling the Facebook film to go home with the gold.

2. BEST DIRECTOR: David Fincher for THE SOCIAL NETWORK. Yep, likewise.

3. BEST ACTOR: Colin Firth for THE KING’S SPEECH. I’d prefer James Franco for 127 HOURS but Firth seems like a shoe-in for his stammer-perfect part as George VI.


Natalie Portman for BLACK SWAN.

Seeing the young Portman again recently at a revival screening of THE PROFESSIONAL (1994) reminded me how far she’s come – I expect this to confirm that.


Christian Bale for THE FIGHTER.

None of the other actors nominated have that unhinged intensity that Bale brought to his role as a boxer gone to seed – or crack.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Hailee Steinfeld for TRUE GRIT. Seems about time for such a young actress to win this – also seems time because Steinfeld was so good holding her own up to Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin in this instant Western classic.

And the rest:







13. MAKEUP: THE WOLFMAN (Rick Baker, Dave Elsey)


15. ORIGINAL SCORE: Alexander Desplat for THE KING’S SPEECH

16. ORIGINAL SONG: “If I Rise” (A. R. Rahman, Dido) from 127 HOURS









We’ll see how many I get wrong on Sunday night.

More later…

BLACK SWAN: The Film Babble Blog Review

BLACK SWAN (Dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2010)

Last weekend the Carolina Theater in Durham as part of their “Retrofantasma” revival film series presented a double feature of what they dubbed “Prestigious Horror Movies”: Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL (1980) and Ed Bianchi’s THE FAN (1981).

I predict that one day Darren Aronofsky’s BLACK SWAN will be included under that banner – it’s an extremely classy psycho sexual piece of prestigious horror if there ever was one.

In his follow-up to THE WRESTLER, Aronofsky focuses on the vastly different world of ballet. He recently told an interviewer: “Wrestling some consider the lowest art – if they would even call it art – and ballet some people consider the highest art. But what was amazing to me was how similar the performers in both of these worlds are. They both make incredible use of their bodies to express themselves.”

As a dancer in the New York City Ballet Company, a stressed out Natalie Portman is told by her director (a sharply abrasive Vincent Cassell) that for his stripped down production of “Swan Lake” that she is perfect for the role of the White Swan – not so much for the part of the Black Swan.

Since it’s a dual role for one dancer, this is a bit of a dilemma for the beleaguered ballerina.

Cassell: “I knew the White Swan wouldn’t be a problem. The real work will be your metamorphosis into her evil twin.”

Portman sees a less skilled yet more passionate dancer, Mila Kunis, as competition, but Kunis appears aloof at the prospect and appears to be offering friendship and congratulations when Portman gets the duel lead.

Meanwhile Cassell’s former star (and former flame) Winona Ryder is on her way out of the company because of her age and clashes with Portman as she is being made her successor.

Back in their narrow NY apartment Portman’s mother – a well cast Barbara Hershey – also a former ballerina, pushes her daughter to work harder to perfect her craft.

Perfection is exactly what Portman craves, but little things like nightmarish hallucinations start getting in the way. Portman gets majorly freaked out by scratches and abrasions on her back which she can’t explain and keeps seeing herself in the face of Kunis.

There also seems to always be taunting laughter coming from the shadows or under the surface of the tormented terrain Portman is desperately trying to navigate through.

To her mother’s disapproval, Portman goes out for a night of drinks, drugs, and debauchery with Kunis. “Ah, ballerinas. No wonder you two look alike” says one of 2 guys at the club attempting to hit on them.

It’s an apt comment that Aronofsky runs with. Portman is constantly tortured by her own visage – obviously because she’s becoming her own evil twin just as “Swan Lake” dictates and Kunis is the unknowing recipient of Portman’s image.

Except for a number of behind the back of the protagonist’s head shots as she approaches a scene, BLACK SWAN bares little resemblance to THE WRESTLER especially as it embraces startling surreality. THE WRESTLER had gritty white trash grounding; “Black Swan” wants to soar in a higher class with a deliriously scary blend of art and life.

Although it has its share of horror or suspense movie clichés including mirror scares and fake-out dream sequences, BLACK SWAN is an incredibly immersive experience.

Aronofsky thoroughly gets inside of Portman’s emotional and professional obsession as the actress delivers a career best performance. Kunis puts in some of her finest work as well with a loose uninhibited demeanor that effectively balances with Portman’s plague.

It may disturb some audiences, but with its vigor and justified vanity BLACK SWAN is a towering achievement. It may not be the perfection that Portman desires, yet its ambition coupled with its sweeping visual style makes for one of the most intense and intriguing films of the year.

Expect to hear about it over and over during the upcoming awards season.

More later…

Oscar Postpartum 2009

I did considerably better this time with my Oscar picks than the several years. I got 18 out of 24. Instead of listing all the categories like last year (and of course because they are listed on my last post as well as everywhere else online), I decided to just look at the ones I got wrong:

BEST ACTOR: My pick: Mickey Rourke for THE WRESTLER. Who won: Sean Penn for MILK. I can’t say I was completely taken aback – I knew it was a tight race and I knew Penn had a slight edge. Still, I loved the underdog comeback story of both the movie and Rourke’s real life back story so I can’t say I’m not disappointed either. Penn did however acknowledge Rourke nicely in his acceptance speech: “Mickey Rourke rises again…and he is my brother.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT: My pick: THE CONSCIENCE OF NHEM EN. What won: SMILE PINKE. I really was just shooting in the dark here – I haven’t seen any of the nominees so I was going by internet research. I feel like even if I had seen them I’d still be taking a wild guess.

SOUND MIXING: My pick: THE DARK KNIGHT. What won: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. I should have known not to vote for the same movie in both sound editing and mixing. Sigh.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: My pick: VALS IM BASHIR (English title: WALTZ FOR BASHIR. What won: OKURIBITO (English title: DEPARTURES). This was because I heard more buzz for BASHIR and neglected to really look into the others. Ill rectify that by checking them all out in the very near future.

As for the 81st Academy Awards broadcast itself I enjoyed host Hugh Jackman though I thought his song and dance numbers went on too long as did the show itself but that, of course, is a given. The “In Memorium” segment was poorly done (give everybody the big screen treatment next time!) and the one presenter presents multiple awards deal seemed to even throw Will Smith when he had to step up to the task: “Yes, they still have me up here… I think Hugh is napping.” My favorite bit of the show was presenter Ben Stiller in fake beard and sunglasses in an obvious parody of Joaquin Phoenix’s now infamous Letterman appearance of a few weeks back.

To his awkard antics (or non-antics) and his declaration: “I just want to retire from being the funny guy”, co-presenter Natalie Portman remarked: “You look like you work at a Hasidic meth lab.”

Ah, another Oscars over. Now back to the daily grind.

More later…

The Darjeeling Prequel – Now Playing On My iPod Nano

“She’s kind of like a movie everyone rushes to see, and no one understands it sittin’ in their seats.”
– The Replacements (“Achin’ To Be” from Don’t Tell A Soul, 1989)

So as every online film geek knows that the official “prequel” to the highly anticipated Wes Anderson joint THE DARJEELING LIMITED (well, anticipated in my area – I know it’s already opened in other markets) was made available free though iTunes last week. It was filmed a year in advance of THE DARJEELING LIMITED and titled HOTEL CHEVALIER (the end credits list it as “PART 1 OF THE DARJEELING LIMITED“).

Since I just got an iPod Nano and am really new to the world of podcasts and video downloads I thought it would be a good tryout to download and watch this 13 min. short. I know – I could easily blow it up on my computer screen but having heard the criticism of this new gadget as a valid visual medium I decided to view and review HOTEL CHEVALIER based on my iPod experience. So here goes :

Immediately I realize how silly this venture is because it’s presented in widescreen which makes the picture much smaller than the screen provides and there’s no way to zoom or enlarge in any way. A mustached Jason Schwartzman lounges in a Parisian hotel room ordering grilled cheese sandwiches and watching STALAG 17 on TV (I could barely see it on the iPod screen – thanks for the nerdspotting The Playlist!) until Natalie Portman calls up and wants to visit. She shows up shorthaired (I guess it still hasn’t grown back from V FOR VENDETTA) and clingy. They exchange cryptic dialogue – Portman : “are you running away from me?” Schwartzman : “I thought I already did” and have a brief sex scene that is really not done justice on my iPod’s postage stamp viewpoint.

This short film seems to completely be about the song “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)” by Peter Sarstedt – the bulk of which is played twice. The lack of back story and any further insight into either Schwartzman or Portman’s characters left me hanging and unsatisfied. Even though on my little screen it looked great – the colors and framing all held my attention and I loved the song but sadly the stylistic approach is the whole show – no real insight or memorable moments appear. The last tracking shot of the couple in question walking in slow motion is a Anderson trademark and it’s provided in this short as the payoff which uh…well, let’s just say it doesn’t bode well for THE DARLEELING LIMITED. Despite that the full length follow-up PART 2 already getting pretty scathing reviews so far I’m gonna wait and see for myself how disappointing it will be – snap! Nah, nah…we’ll just wait and see.

More later…