REVIEW: Thor (2011)

Summary: In this, the fourth movie in Marvel’s combined Movie Universe (preceded by Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2), we meet Thor, a human-like alien who was worshiped as a god by the Norse tribes. We find him about to take the throne in Asgard, a realm far beyond ours. But after some immaturity, his father banishes him to Earth. However, Thor’s brother Loki isn’t to be trusted (as most “trickster gods” shouldn’t be).

Thoughts: Thor is definitely a different kind of superhero. Most of a first movie made of a superhero is him getting his powers or dealing with them. Thor is an immortal (we think, they don’t really say) from another dimension/realm, whose powers are just a part of who he is. The movie doesn’t dwell on his powers (or lack thereof when he is banished), its just the story of Thor and how he learns humility from humans.

Thor introduces a lot of new concepts to the Marvel Movie Universe. The first three movies were all humans who either through science or technology gain powers they wouldn’t normally have. In Thor we meet an entire race of beings who are even more powerful than the heroes we’ve already met (*see “The Avengers” Discussion below) who have had powers for thousands of years. They live on a far away planet, that even SHIELD, the group that seems to know everything about all of the superheroes so far, doesn’t seem to know anything about. It’s not bad that all this is introduced, its just a little disorienting to think “OK, while Thor is on this alien planet fighting these people with a magical hammer, Tony Stark is in a cave building an arc reactor from a box of scraps”. Both of which are equally unbelievable in their own way, its just a step in a different direction, a direction the comics took decades ago.

As for the movie itself, it was pretty good. I love the main characters. Thor, Loki, and Odin were great as they should be. Odin is played by Anthony Hopkins with an Eyepatch of Power. You cannot have a more badass character than that (unless it’s Samuel L Jackson with an Eyepatch of Power, which also happens). For being a trickster god, Loki is actually a villain with motivations other than just screwing everyone over. You kind of feel sorry for him. Thor’s friends from Asgard were a little too comic-relief-y and the humans were vague and not very interesting, though better at comic relief. Natalie Portman plays the love interest, a scientist whose studies somehow related to both astronomy and theoretical wormholes. It’s more of an Informed Ability than anything we actually see on screen. Also, the love story is kind of something we’re told about but not really shown either. In fact, most of the Earth stuff felt a little rushed. Thor’s banishment lasts maybe two days, but the stuff in Asgard looks like it lasts longer (maybe it does, different realm and all).

The direction was different. There were a lot of shots tilted to the side, maybe to emulate the comic book feel, I’m not sure. I had to look up the director, as I wasn’t familiar with his work; turns out that I was familiar with him as an actor, as he played Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The movie was not shot in 3D, but converted before release. If I hadn’t seen Avatar in 3D a couple times, I wouldn’t have noticed the “cutout” feel you get sometimes, but the CGI sequences were rendered in 3D so the backgrounds sometimes look better dimensionally than the characters.

I think that after seeing this movie, Thor is now one of my favorite superheroes. Something about the way he carries himself and manages to be funny and awesome at the same time. He’s not an ass like Tony Stark, he’s just Thor. Know him, fear him.

Overall: Thor overcomes it’s weaknesses to become a quite enjoyable movie.

“The Avengers” Discussion
Here we are, one movie away from The Avengers where all of the heroes get together. Let’s break down who we’ve met so far:

Iron Man (first appearance: Iron Man): Powered suit gives an ass the ability to fly and shoot lasers. Gets almost destroyed every time he fights, even after he upgrades his armor.
The Hulk (first appearance: The Incredible Hulk): Man who gets angry and grows into an unstoppable green monster.
Black Widow (first appearance: Iron Man 2): SHIELD Agent who fights people. No obvious powers.
Hawkeye (first appearance: Thor): SHIELD Agent who threatens to shoot people with arrows. No obvious powers.
Thor (first appearance: Thor): Thunder god.

We haven’t met Captain America yet as his movie comes out later this summer, but he’s a science experiment from the 40’s. The Hulk punched a guy once who had this same super-soldier serum: the guy broke every bone in his body.

The question my friend and I came up with after the movie is this: Why would Thor (or The Hulk) need to team up with anybody? I’m sure if anyone can make a believable scenario to make it necessary, its Joss Whedon, but it begs the question.

Also, as it stands currently, Iron Man is in the Avengers Initiative as of Iron Man 2 and we can assume Black Widow and Hawkeye are as well. But Hulk is on the run, Thor is stuck in Asgard, and I’m pretty sure the Cap will still be in the 1940’s at the end of his movie. How will The Avengers find time to get all of them in the same place at the same time and get them to unite as a fighting team without it all feeling rushed? I’m not worried, just very very curious.

REVIEW: The King’s Speech (2010)

Summary: This is the story of King George VI, the most recent King of England. His stutter never allowed him to have the confidence to be King, but after a series of events, he finds that he can be King and can inspire his people in a time of crisis.

Thoughts: The Academy Awards seem to be a fickle bunch. Sometimes they give the Best Picture to “Return of the King”, but most of the time it goes to movies I’d never heard of or movies I’d see but not be impressed with.

“The King’s Speech”, however, is deserving of “Best Picture”. It is perfectly shot, well edited, flawlessly acted, and even based on a true story. It is inspiring, funny, and true to life. I learned a lot about the recent British monarchy and was thoroughly entertained. Colin Firth dives into the role as the Duke of York/King of England. You can really see the pain of him struggling with his speech impediment. Geoffrey Rush was simply entertaining. Even Helena Bonham Carter proved that she can play normal people and not just crazed lunatics (even if she is one in real life). The rest of the cast of Harry Potter also played their parts well, as most of the cast are also in that film series. We actually had to pause the movie to take in the fact that Peter Pettigrew and Winston Churchill could be played by the same actor!

Overall: A great movie; inspiring, entertaining, and educational.

MINI REVIEWS: Leap Year, Eat Pray Love, Bubba Ho-Tep

Trying to catch up on my reviews. None of these movies really affected me, so here are some mini-reviews.

Leap Year (2010)
Summary:Amy Adams plays a career woman who longs to be married. When her boyfriend leaves for Ireland without proposing, she chases him down to ask him to marry her, on the one day she can according to Irish tradition. However, nothing goes right on the trip and she’s stuck with a miserable Irish man who doesn’t much care for her.

Thoughts: This movie has no idea what it wants to be. Is it a romantic comedy? Is it a travel comedy? All I know is that it failed at all of them. If you can’t tell that she was going to end up with the surly Irish guy, you haven’t seen many movies. 2/5

Eat Pray Love (2010)
Summary: A woman played by Julia Roberts leaves behind her perfectly fine life to “find herself”. She eats in Italy, prays in India, and finds love in Bali, while ignoring her husband and boyfriend back in the States.

Thoughts: What a throughly unpleasant movie. She leaves her husband, then her boyfriend, then flies around the world trying to make herself feel better. In the end, she does. It didn’t have anything to say to me, or I hope to anyone. 1/5

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Summary: Bruce Campbell plays an Elvis impersonator in a retirement home who is convinced that he is Elvis and traded places with an impersonator when he got tired of being famous. No one believes him but another patient at the home, who is convinced that he is JFK dyed black as part of a cover-up. Together, they fight a mummy that is feasting on the souls of other patients.

Thoughts: With a plot like that, I expected more. I guess I shouldn’t have expected Bruce to kick butt like he did in the Evil Dead movies, but I did want a little more comedy and/or horror from this comedy-horror. As it is, I didn’t find it super entertaining. 2.5/5

REVIEW: Burlesque (2010)

Summary: A girl (Christina Aguilara) leaves her small town and moves to LA to make a life. She finds an out-of-the-way burlesque club whose owner (Cher) in trouble and about to lose the club. Of course, the girl is awesome and saves the day.

Thoughts: This movie was billed as musical, which I think is false advertising. To me, a musical is a story that is progressed by having the characters sing songs in odd places to express their feelings about matters. It is not, as this movie is, a story about people who sing random songs on a stage. “The Music Man” is a musical: characters sing and dance in situations that are not normal about their feelings or to stir people up. “Burlesque”, to me, is not a musical: the only original songs are about working at a Burlesque club, sung on stage to patrons (save for one song completely randomly sung by Cher, the song that won a Golden Globe, which was on stage). Heck, “Coyote Ugly” had the same plot and just as many songs, the characters just didn’t sing them.

Other than that, the plot was cliche and predictable. The acting was merely OK, with Stanley Tucci outshining the rest of the singers-turned-actresses by a huge margin. Seeing the guy who played James the Bad Vampire in Twilight in another movie was pretty funny, as he looked like he wanted to eat all of the other characters. Cher was Cher, take that however you’d like, and Christina Aguilara was a surprisingly decent actress. Not leading lady material, but serviceable.

Overall:  You’ve seen this movie several times already in other forms, and selling it this time as a musical doesn’t add anything.

GAME REVIEW: Portal 2 – Single Player (2011)

Summary: Portal was released in 2007 as part of The Orange Box, a group of games produced by Valve, the company which created Half-Life. While first only available in this boxed set, it grew wildly in popularity and even won several “Game of the Year” awards thanks to its unique gameplay and humorous content. However, it wasn’t much more than a tech demo of what could be done, so in 2011 they released Portal 2, a stand-alone full-fledged game. Both games star a silent protagonist who has a gun that can shoot portals that she can use to solve puzzles while trying to outwit an Artificial Intelligence that doesn’t like her very much.

Thoughts: The first game felt like a demo because of the numbered test chambers. You were dropped into a room and told to get to the exit, over and over with each room being harder to solve until you managed to break out and defeat the AI that was forcing you to go through the tests. The game proved to have a pretty good replay value because you were encouraged to find the best way to solve the puzzles in the least amount of time using the least amount of portals. Except for the last level, where you go behind the scenes and have to figure out where the game wants you to go without having giant destination points and not being able to tell what surface is portal-able: I didn’t enjoy that part very much and never really wanted to replay it.

Most of Portal 2 is like the last level of Portal 1. There are a few test chambers in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end, but I would say half if not more of the game is trying to figure out where the game wants you to go in vast environments with 95% of the surface not portal-able. The story is great (there is a story!), the dialog is entertaining, there are some great twists, it makes sense as to WHY you are in these areas outside of test chambers, but its just so hard to figure out WHERE you’re supposed to go, and not just HOW. Maybe that’s a purposeful addition to the challenge, but its just not the same. Also, it seems like most of the areas only have ONE way to solve the puzzle/get where you need to go, meaning that if you wanted to play through it again, you’d be doing the same thing but you’d probably be able to do it faster because you’ve eliminated the “where am I trying to go” factor.

I’ll play through it again because I missed some achievements and there is developer commentary on every level, but I really didn’t see much replayability in the single player game itself. I haven’t played co-op yet, I may review it separately. Honestly, all I really want is more test chambers where I try to figure out the best way to solve the puzzle, not the only way. The game can redeem itself for me by releasing more levels. I don’t need more plot, I just want more challenge.

Overall: They tried to make a full-game out of a tech demo, but it turns out I just want more tech demos.

REVIEW: Sex and the City 2 (2010)

Summary: A sequel to the 2008 film based on the HBO series, SATC2 finds the four friends finally maturing and getting bored with the happily ever afters they got in the first film. So they take a trip to Abu Dhabi, to get away from it all.

Thoughts: Dish Network users got free HBO this weekend, so I went through and recorded a bunch of movies. Combined with having all of the Starz channels free for a year, we have a lot of movies on our DVR. I decided to review each of them, instead of just the ones I see in theaters.

I watched most of the Sex and the City series with my wife a while back. I found most of it disturbing to my young mind, but the dialog was usually pretty clever. Then we watched the first movie as the series didn’t really end so much as just stop. The problem was the first movie was completely forgettable. I couldn’t tell you anything about what happened in the first movie.

The problem with the second movie is that not only is it forgettable, its boring. You really feel that the characters are bored with their lives because you, the viewer, are just as bored as they are. Even when they all ignore their problems to go to Abu Dhabi (funnily, the real Abu Dhabi wouldn’t let them film there), you’re bored watching them hang out at the hotel and ride camels. A lot of the movie is spent with the characters finally starting to mature. It’s been 12 years, it’s about time. The problem with watching characters spending a whole movie maturing is that it’s boring. The first movie was an OK coda to the series (that I remember), but this one just takes that coda and stretches it out.

It’s completely unnecessary, lacks any charm the series ever had (clever dialog is replaced by terrible puns like “It’s against the law: Jude Law!”), and I’m afraid to say it, kind of racist. The always-right Americans go to the Middle East, don’t respect any of the customs of the country, get arrested, and come out the heroes because the women of the Middle East really long to be consumers of terrible New York fashion like the girls. I’m not sure what message that is sending out, but I don’t think its the one they wanted.

Overall: Boring, uncomfortable, kind of ruins the pretty good series.

REVIEW: Iron Man 2 (2010)

The Real Man of Steel

Summary: Tony Stark is Iron Man and has solved all of the world’s problems (somehow).  The Government doesn’t like that he’s not sharing his technology, other weapons manufacturers are trying to copy him, and a man from his hidden past wants him dead.  Tony has problems of his own, but he finds he can depend on his friends and future allies…

Thoughts: I loved the first Iron Man.  It was so much fun and totally unexpected.  I went into this movie with high expectations and had been pumping myself up for a while now.  However, it did not live up to my own hype.  It’s not bad by any means, its just not as awesome as I would have hoped.

The plot is a bit slow at times.  Things will happen, then everything will slow down for a while, then speed up.  Some things that happen are a bit too unbelievable for me, but I suppose if you put a super-genius in a room for long enough, he’ll come up with something.  The main villain’s motivation for revenge is explained, but not why he feels he needs lightsaber-whips instead of just using his knowledge to blow Tony up.

There didn’t really seem to be much character development.  In the first movie, we watch Tony go from being an arrogant loaner who realizes that he needs to try to redeem himself for some of the things he may or may not have done.  In this movie, Tony is an arrogant loaner (again) who I guess realizes that he needs his friends, but I’m inferring that on the movie.  Really, he treats everyone like dirt, and if they’re his friend, they’ll get mad but forgive him.  If they’re villains, they’ll get mad and try to kill him.

The effects were great, as expected.  All of the new armor looked awesome.  The battle scenes were great, but a bit short.  I suppose real battles don’t take 10 minutes like is some movies, but it just seemed that after a few punches the fights were over.  There were a few surprises that even the trailers didn’t ruin, but they look great.

I may be being too hard on this movie.  I was fun, it just wasn’t as much fun at the first one.  It had humor, it had action.  It just kind of slowed down at points where I feel like it may not have needed too.  What I really liked was the parts that are leading into the other Marvel movies.  For those who don’t know, Marvel Studios is making several movies of their superheroes and then in 2012 there will be an “Avengers” movie with them all coming together.  So each movie is leading into the next, almost like we’re getting all of the backstory for “Avengers” in each of these other movies.  So far we have Iron Man 1 & 2 and The Incredible Hulk (the one with Ed Norton).  Next comes Thor, then Captain America, then Avengers which will bring them all together..  They’re planning even more movies as well.  I like that they’re planning ahead with these, instead of just trying to capitalize on the comic book movie wave.

Another things I appreciate is that while there are inside jokes and references, I like they they don’t try to force this kind of stuff directly into the plot.  Sure Whiplash and Black Widow are in this movie, but they aren’t called by name.  The Hulk wasn’t called “Hulk” in his movie either [EDIT: watched it again, and they do call him that in a throwaway line, and he does say “Hulk Smash!”  I still feel they handled it better than the following].  I didn’t like how Fantastic Four (a Marvel movie, but the rights belong to another company) had Johnny Storm come up with their code names from the comics (“Mr Fantastic” doesn’t make any sense, seriously) and everyone used their catchphrases like they knew they were supposed to say them.  Anyway, I’m glad the Marvel Studios-owned properties aren’t doing that.

On a side note: I was excited about the music in the movie since I bought the “soundtrack” which was basically an AC/DC greatest hits album.  However, the movie had two AC/DC songs, which is only one more than in the last movie.  There were a lot of good songs, but for AC/DC to be the entire “soundtrack”, they weren’t in it except in the beginning and the end.

Overall: Not as much fun as the first, but not bad at all.

REVIEWS: 2009 Movie Review Retrospective

This is a retrospective of the movies I saw in theaters this year.  I’ve arranged the movies in the order in which I would recommend them.  You might notice that the listing doesn’t match up exactly with the ratings I gave them originally, but that’s the point in a retrospective.

  1. Avatar
    Yes, I’m going to do it.  I’m going to put the last movie I saw at the top of the list.  But this movie changes so much about movies in general, that I can’t help but put it at the top.
  2. Star Trek
    JJ did the impossible and made a great Star Trek movie that manages to both reboot and continues the series in a worthy manner.
  3. District 9
    Surprisingly good, partly because the ad campaign gave nothing away and partly because it was heartwarming and action filled.
  4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
    I think this movie can finally stand alone as a good movie, not just a good Harry Potter movie.
  5. Up
    It’s Pixar.  It’s funny, heartwarming, doesn’t talk down to you or your kids, and looks amazing.
  6. Drag Me To Hell
    A good balance of funny and scary, with a satisfying ending.
  7. Zombieland
    While Zombieland wasn’t exactly what I wanted, it was still tons of fun.
  8. 2012
    The world is literally falling apart and they want us to care about individual people?
  9. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
    My least favorite book of the series turns into a dull movie.
  10. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
    A movie built on the cliché that bigger is better, which it definitely isn’t in this case.
  11. Terminator Salvation
    Skynet reveals their big plan and its a Terminator with free will?  All I know is that it could have been worse.  A lot worse.  It’s still pretty bad.
  12. The Hangover
    Funny, but highly inappropriate.  Can’t really recommend it.
  13. The Men Who Stare At Goats
    Advertised as a slap-stick comedy, its more of a dark comedy, and not very comedic at that.
  14. Watchmen
    So long, so boring, so weird.
  15. Hannah Montana: The Movie
    Yet another “movie” version of a TV show that manages to not be a game changer, even when that’s supposed to be the moral of the story!
  16. Year One
    Probably the worst movie I’ve ever seen.  Unfunny comedy, cringe-worth dialog, every scene dragged on and on.  First movie we literally talked out loud about walking out of.

REVIEW: Avatar (2009)

A whole new world.

Summary: It’s 2154 and a marine who lost the use of his legs finds a new opportunity to take his twin brother’s place controlling an alien body on a beautiful planet.  His job is to study the natives and maybe convince them to relocate so the humans can have a rare substance on their land.  However, he finds that betraying the natives is a lot harder after they accept him as one of their own.

Thoughts: James Cameron hasn’t made a movie since Titanic.  The mind that brought us Terminator and Aliens has been out of action since 1997.  However, this movie has been in his mind since before then.  Finally, the technology caught up with his vision, and unlike George Lucas and the Prequels, Cameron’s vision was worth waiting for.

While the story may have been told before, its never been told this well.  Every aspect of the film is technologically superior to anything that has come before, CGI or live action.  The characters are incredibly life-like (Sigourney Weaver’s Avatar is obviously alien and obviously Sigourney).  The mannerisms of each actor is brought through their CGI counterparts perfectly.  The planet itself is beautiful as well.  I found myself lost in the CGI, forgetting it was computer-generated several times.  The action was fantastic, the plot engrossing, and it was genuinely entertaining.

I got to see it in 3D, which I have to recommend.  Cameron designed it to be seen in 3D, and it is exquisite.  Most of it is very subtle and really helps bring you into the movie.

Overall: Beautiful, thrilling, groundbreaking.  While I wouldn’t say it changes everything about filmmaking, it certainly changes a whole lot.

REVIEW: Star Wars In Concert (12-12-2009)

Star Wars... IN CONCERT!

Summary: Imagine a clip show of the best parts of the Star Wars Saga, like a condensed music video version of all 6 movies.  Now imagine that the music was being created right in front of you by a full symphony orchestra introduced by Mr. Anthony Daniels (C-3PO)!  That’s basically what “Star Wars In Concert” is.

Thoughts: I wanted to see this for two reasons.  The first was the opportunity to see John William’s score performed live.  The second was to see Anthony Daniels in person, a dream of mine since childhood for some reason.  The show preformed well on both accounts.

Starting with the THX Deep Note (sadly not played by the orchestra) and ending with an encore of The Imperial March, the whole show was the memorable themes John Williams wrote for characters or events played against clips along with some dialog from the movies relating to the musical theme.  Some clips had laser lights, and a few had PYROTECHNICS that we could feel on the other side of the arena!  The opening theme played against clips from the saga in release order (4,5,6,1,2,3), but once Anthony Daniels came out he started the (heavily condensed and choppy) story from the beginning.  Anakin’s Theme, Duel of the Fates, Across The Stars, Battle of the Heroes, all of the great themes Williams wrote for the prequels were there, proving that while Lucas may have lost his way for the prequels, Williams certainly didn’t, making what I’d argue to be some of the best musical pieces of the modern era.  I especially liked the clip show for “Across The Stars” (Anakin and Padme’s love theme), as I liked the idea of using parts of Episode I as flashbacks (complete with sepia tone and echo).  One of the other clips was memorable (at least to me) as it had Episode I clips of Yoda, but not the horrible-and-brown-for-some-reason Muppet they made for the film originally, the decent CGI model they use now when they show clips from Episode I in videos since 2005, presumably waiting for the rumored 2010 Special Edition Blu-ray release of the films (Special Editions of the Prequels are fine by me, in case you were wondering).  The first act ended after Anakin’s even-more-abrupt-than-Episode-III fall to the Dark Side with the Imperial March played against some of the Empire’s glory from the Original Trilogy.

After a 20 minute intermission (and dismissal of the choir since Williams wasn’t in his choral phase in the 70s and 80s), the Original Trilogy started.  Luke’s Theme, Leia’s Theme, Luke and Leia’s Theme, The Hoth Battle, The Forest Battle, Mos Eisley, several of the classic arrangements were played.  The clips started to lose focus at this point, as except for the personal themes, all of the clips had shots from the prequels thrown in.  For instance, while Obi-Wan is explaining to Luke that this is his father’s light saber, they show a clip of Anakin with the random lightsaber he got tossed on Geonosis after his was damaged (which you can tell is green, even in the sepia tone).  Also, apparently there wasn’t enough of the Forest Battle to fill the whole time, so they used clips from the Battle of the Naboo Plains from Episode I, somehow creating a video containing both Ewoks and Jar Jar!  The best part musically was when they actually played the Cantina Band song in the middle of the Mos Eisley section.  Incredible talent there.

You may notice how I really only talked about the clips they were playing.  This was mostly because the music was so note-perfect that we all found ourselves becoming so engrossed in the clips that we would forget that all of the music was being performed live.  There were times when the main screen would show the orchestra playing and it was some of the best parts, honestly.  There’s something about hearing and seeing this music that I grew up with performed live and uncompressed by any means analog or digital.  The fact that C-3PO himself was introducing the clips only enhanced the unrealness/awesomeness of it all.

Sadly, this was the second-to-last American show, so if you live in the States, you missed it already.  If you’re one of my European friends and this is coming near your home, by all means, go see it!  It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.