REVIEW: THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

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THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

Third solo flick for the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) has his sister, Hela The God of Death (Cate Blanchett) returning from exile and claiming the throne of Asgard. She destroys Thor’s hammer and casts he and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into space, where they land on the anarchic planet of Sakaar. While Hela lays waste to Asgard’s armies, Thor is taken prisoner and forced into a gladiatorial arena where he finds his old ally Hulk is the reigning champion. Ever determined to save his world, Thor plots to escape with Hulk, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and a Asgardian Valkyrie warrior (Tessa Thompson) in hiding, who has faced Hela before.

Marvel took a chance with an out of left-field choice by hiring New Zealand comedy director Taika Waititi (What We Do In The Shadows) for this third entry. Armed with a script and story by Christopher Yost, Eric Pearson and Chris Kyle, Waititi delivers an audacious action/adventure that evokes The Fifth Element with it’s mix of over-the top, sci-fi action and a delightfully eccentric sense of humor. It’s tone also echos the Guardians of the Galaxy flicks, but while their humor was sarcastic and biting, here it’s very offbeat and sometimes downright weird. It makes for one of the more daring and fun entries in Marvel’s long running film series and it works far more than it doesn’t…and not all the humor hits the mark. The design of the film and it’s action sequences is stunning and it doesn’t quite look like anything we’ve seen from these movies so far, though not too different to alienate itself from the other films of the MCU. The SPFX are as good as it gets and there is a wonderfully 80s-esque electronic score from Mark Mothersbaugh. At 130 minutes it might be a tad too long, but it is never boring and when it’s not thrilling us with some spectacular action, it’s providing some solid laughs and gives us one of the stronger Marvel villain’s to boo with Blanchett’s Hela.

The cast all do wonderfully here. Chris Hemsworth shows he has a gift for comedy with a more jovial Thor. He’s still haughty and noble and a bit self-centered, but the actor also handles the comic scenes very well without weakening the God of Thunder’s heroic veneer. Hiddleston is also fun as Loki, who seems more reluctantly along for the ride this time than his usual in control, scheming self. Tessa Thompson is fiery and sexy as the Valkyrie warrior who once faced Hela and it frightened her so much she went into self-imposed exile on Sakaar’s nowhere land. There is still a noble quality hidden under the booze and bravado and it will draw her to Thor’s side despite her reluctance. Mark Ruffalo is again a delight as Banner/Hulk. The good doctor seems to have taken a backseat to his green alter ego and it’s fun to watch him deal with the fact that he’s been Hulk-ed out for over two years. Cate Blanchett is smoothly sinister as the God of Death, Hela. She is a great actress and makes her fierce and powerful, but not without a very dry and twisted sense of humor. She’s fun to watch as she chews the scenery, but she never let’s the character get too over-the-top, avoiding camp. In support we have Karl Urban as Skurge, a traitorous Asgardian who becomes Hela’s henchman, Idris Elba returning as Heimdall and Jeff Goldblum as the eccentric and flamboyant Grandmaster, who runs Sakaar’s gladiator matches. A great cast who deftly handle the offbeat tone and material.

This flick may not be for everyone, but for those who enjoy movies like The Fifth Element, or even the recent Guardians movies, this is definitely up your alley. It’s got some spectacular action, some visually sumptuous settings and FX and a healthy, but very offbeat and eccentric sense of humor. Director Waititi delivers one of the more audacious entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and he and lead Hemsworth keep Thor’s effective qualities sharp, while making him far funnier than we’ve ever seen him…and it works. There is a top notch cast of eclectic characters to back the God of Thunder up, including Waititi’s own hilarious vocalization of alien gladiator Korg and an appearance by another Marvel superhero, that won’t be spoiled here. A really fun and in many ways daring, entry in Marvel’s on-going movie series.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 hammers.

 

 

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BARE BONES: COLLIDE

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COLLIDE (2016)

Noisy and dull action flick has Casey (Nicholas Hoult) quitting his job working for a drug dealer named Geran (Ben Kingsley) when he meets and falls for the beautiful Julliette (Felicity Jones). But when his new love needs a new kidney, Casey goes back to work and runs afoul of Geran’s rival, powerful drug lord Hagen (Anthony Hopkins). Still with me?

Boring action flick is directed by Eran Creevy from a script by he and F. Scott Frazier. Despite a good cast and a lot of fast paced car chases, the flick can’t generate much interest thanks to a weak script, too hip for it’s own good direction and more clichés than you can drive a Ferrari through. The filmmakers are more concerned with headache inducing camerawork and an obnoxiously loud soundtrack than with reigning in their actors, such as the shamelessly over-the-top Kingsley. The flick was barely interesting enough to keep one’s attention despite all the noise and wastes the new star power of Rogue One’s Felicity Jones by giving her scant little to do.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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BARE BONES: BLUE RUIN and NOAH

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BLUE RUIN (2013)

Directed and written by Jeremy Saulnier, Blue Ruin is a well made, if not slightly overrated thriller about Dwight (Macon Blair) a man traumatized and turned into a wandering bum by the murder of his mother and father. As the man accused is being released from prison as part of his plea-bargain, Dwight sets a sloppy plan for revenge in motion that escalates into a war with the man’s family that leaves a trail of blood and bodies. The film is somber, but has some suspenseful moments and a quirky sense of humor, too. But there are some flaws, as Dwight seems too inept to get as far with his plan as he does and some plot conveniences help him along. It did always hold my interest, but it didn’t knock me out, nor did I find it even close to the film festival hype it has garnered. A quirky and entertaining little thriller, but I found it kind of forgettable after all is said and done. Reminded me a little of Blood Simple but far less gripping. Also stars ex-Brady Bunch-er Eve Plumb.

3 star rating

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NOAH (2014)

Incredibly pretentious and dreary version of the beloved Bible story by director Darren Aronofsky that he co-wrote with Ari Handel. The movie takes a simple tale about faith, hope and renewal and turns it into a nihilistic fantasy flick that is not only boring, but filled with elements that just seem out of place, like a group of fallen angels that look like Transformers made of rocks and an epic battle right out of Lord Of The Rings. Sure, there are some startling visuals and some top notch SPFX, but it is a grim mess of a movie that takes a very good cast, including Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Hopkins (what ISN’T he in?) and leaves them afloat in a sea of pretension. Adding insult to injury, the film refers to God as ‘The Creator’ in what seems to be an effort to nullify the religious aspects of the story and turn it into a bizarre sci-fi/fantasy loosely based on the Biblical tale. A mess and a dull one at that.

2 star rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THOR and THOR: THE DARK WORLD

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Yes, it’s true I have covered both these films before but, with Thor: The Dark World recently being released on home media, I decided to revisit it and the first film together. They actually make a really cool double feature with each film bringing it’s own style thanks to two different directors yet, they still blend very well together with their mix of fantasy and real world adventure. It is also interesting to see Thor as we first saw him, the arrogant hot-head, in contrast to the more noble and humble warrior he has progressed into over the course of the first film and The Avengers. That and his relationship with Jane Foster is resumed as well. A really entertaining night of popcorn entertainment with a little extra courtesy of two contrasting yet equally talented directors.
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THOR (2011)

I’m not that familiar with the Marvel comics version of Thor, so, I have to take the movie at face value and as such, Thor is a lot of fun. The film takes place both on Earth and in Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) home realm of Asgard and Kenneth Branagh does a nice job of switching back and forth between both worlds and keeping the tone even and the narrative flow fairly smooth (more on that later). The film fits in very nicely with the world created in the Iron Man films and yet has it’s own style and flavor as it tells the story of arrogant Prince Thor and his path from banished and disgraced warrior to hero of both Earth and Asgard. The cast works really well together and in filling their roles. Hemsworth brings a nobility to Thor, as well as, keeps him charming during his arrogant beginings and then makes believable his humble awakening during the course of the film. Natalie Portman is energetic as the pretty scientist and love interest, Jane Foster and she and Hemsworth have a nice screen chemistry together that actually gave their growing relatrionship a realistic touch despite the fantasy story elements. Tom Hiddleston makes a good villain as the devious Loki, Thor’s brother and Anthony Hopkins is a regal and strong Odin. Kat Dennings is cute as Portman’s sidekick, Darcy and her antics are just enough to provide humor without being annoying and Stellan Skarsgard is fine as a fellow scientist, Dr. Selvig who grew up with norse mythology and provides some exposition for those not in the know. And I would be remiss in not mentioning Rene Russo as Thor’s mom. There is plenty of action and the SPFX are top notch especially in the portrayal of the mystical Asgard which is beautifully designed and realized. Thor’s flying was the hardest thing to pull off and they smartly keep it to a minimum and it works withing the context of the scenes. My only gripes are minor. The middle of the film slows down for about 20 minutes… though it does give the opportunity for some nice character interaction… but, soon picks up as the film heads toward it action filled last act. The earth sequences don’t quite flow as smoothly as the Asgard sequences leaving me to believe there was some editing to get the fim under 2 hrs but, it is not jarring. And, finally, the set of the New Mexican town just doesn’t quite look like a real town, it’s layout does make it look like a set, well built, but still a set. But these problems are small and don’t ruin what is an overall very fun and entertaining movie that has some nice fairy tale touches as well as plenty of action. Stay through the credits as usual with these films.

A solid 3 and 1/2 hammers!

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THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)

Thor was one of my favorites of the Marvel Phase 1 movies. I loved it’s fun mix of fantasy and real world adventure and thought Hemsworth made a noble and very likable hero. And now the Norse God turned superhero is back in his second solo adventure and a welcome return it is. Thor: The Dark World opens 5000 years earlier with an alignment of the planets being taken advantage of by the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) to unleash a weapon called The Aether which will convert all the worlds into dark matter where only the Dark Elves may exist. Thor’s grandfather Bor (Tony Curran) defeats the invaders and they are assumed destroyed and The Aether is hidden away never to be found… or so Bor hoped. But, in the present, the worlds are aligning again and the long dormant Malekith and the remaining Dark Elves seek to destroy all once more and, as fate would have it, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) stumbles upon the hidden weapon and it is absorbed within her. Now hunted by Malekith, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings Jane to Asgard against Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) wishes and must somehow find a way to stop Malekith, banish The Aether and save the woman he loves and all the known worlds… and the only one who can help him is his devious stepbrother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) imprisoned in Asgard’s dungeons by Thor’s own hand. This second solo adventure is this time directed by Game Of Thrones and Deadwood director Alan Taylor who creates a much grittier and down to Earth version of Asgard then the bright and magic kingdom-ish version we saw in the delightful first feature directed by Kenneth Branagh. It’s still recognizable as Asgard and it blends perfectly with the first Thor but, we get to see far deeper into the city and into it’s halls and pubs and get a more lived in and functional look at Thor’s homeland. The tone of the film is also darker at times and that was a nice change from the upbeat first film and Avengers but, so not to get too dark or grim, the film is punctuated with a lot of fun and humorous sequences especially those involving Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), the latter’s trip to Stonehenge being especially hilarious. I thought the humor and the darker story elements were blended just fine and there was plenty of action and strong drama throughout till the big free-for-all ending set in London where Thor and Malekith finally get to throw down. And the action and special effects do not disappoint, they are top notch as with all the previous Marvel films. The budget is onscreen in all aspects of the production from sets to costumes to FX. Taylor gets good work from all the cast. There are some nice character moments in between the drama and destruction and all the actors are now very comfortable in their roles and work very well together. Hemsworth is once again a noble hero who has grown since his first visit and the battle in New York. He and Portman still have a nice chemistry together and I liked their scenes especially when Thor has to explain where he’s been for two years. Dennings gets a bit more screen time and handles it well getting some of the bigger laughs and Hiddleston is once again scene stealing as Loki. It was also nice to see Rene Russo finally get a big scene and have a bit bigger part this time and Hopkins is still endearing as the weary but, majestic Odin. We also get some nice scenes with supporting characters Heimdall (Idris Elba), Sith (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (now Zachary Levi) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) but, those expecting expanded roles from this bunch will be disappointed. Newcomer to Thor’s world Christopher Ecceleston, is OK as villain Malekith but, he really doesn’t make a strong impression or stay with you after the film is over. To me his somewhat tepid villain is the film’s only real stand out weak point and a stronger villain or more screen time to really establish Malekith as a threat would have made this flick even better. Taylor’s interpretation of Don Payne and Robert Rodat’s script is highlighted by a moody score from Brian Tyler and some nice cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau. Overall, Thor: The Dark World is a very entertaining follow-up that gives us enough of the action, drama and suspense we are looking for and takes it in enough of a different direction to keep it fresh but, not straying too far as to alienate us. It’s not perfect, as stated the villain could have been stronger, there are a few slow spots here and there, especially in the first half and we can tell there was a bit of editing to manage the running time but, for all the entertainment we get, those minor flaws can be overlooked. A fun and worthy sequel to both Thor and The Avengers and certainly less schizophrenic then the mixed bag that was Iron Man 3As with all Marvel films stay through the entire credits for not one but, two additional sequences and keep an eye out for a couple of really fun cameos. Another solid bit of entertainment from Marvel and Disney.

3 and 1/2 hammers!

thor TDW rating

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REVIEW: THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)

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THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)

Thor was one of my favorites of the Marvel Phase 1 movies. I loved it’s fun mix of fantasy and real world adventure and thought Hemsworth made a noble and very likable hero. And now the Norse God turned superhero is back in his second solo adventure and a welcome return it is. Thor: The Dark World opens 5000 years earlier with an alignment of the planets being taken advantage of by the Dark Elves and their leader Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) to unleash a weapon called The Aether which will convert all the worlds into dark matter where only the Dark Elves may exist. Thor’s grandfather Bor (Tony Curran) defeats the invaders and they are assumed destroyed and The Aether is hidden away never to be found… or so Bor hoped. But, in the present, the worlds are aligning again and the long dormant Malekith and the remaining Dark Elves seek to destroy all once more and, as fate would have it, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) stumbles upon the hidden weapon and it is absorbed within her. Now hunted by Malekith, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings Jane to Asgard against Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) wishes and must somehow find a way to stop Malekith, banish The Aether and save the woman he loves and all the known worlds… and the only one who can help him is his devious stepbrother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) imprisoned in Asgard’s dungeons by Thor’s own hand. This second solo adventure is this time directed by Game Of Thrones and Deadwood director Alan Taylor who creates a much grittier and down to Earth version of Asgard then the bright and magic kingdom-ish version we saw in the delightful first feature directed by Kenneth Branagh. It’s still recognizable as Asgard and it blends perfectly with the first Thor but, we get to see far deeper into the city and into it’s halls and pubs and get a more lived in and functional look at Thor’s homeland. The tone of the film is also darker at times and that was a nice change from the upbeat first film and Avengers but, so not to get too dark or grim, the film is punctuated with a lot of fun and humorous sequences especially those involving Darcy (Kat Dennings) and Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), the latter’s trip to Stonehenge being especially hilarious. I thought the humor and the darker story elements were blended just fine and there was plenty of action and strong drama throughout till the big free-for-all ending set in London where Thor and Malekith finally get to throw down. And the action and special effects do not disappoint, they are top notch as with all the previous Marvel films. The budget is onscreen in all aspects of the production from sets to costumes to FX. Taylor gets good work from all the cast. There are some nice character moments in between the drama and destruction and all the actors are now very comfortable in their roles and work very well together. Hemsworth is once again a noble hero who has grown since his first visit and the battle in New York. He and Portman still have a nice chemistry together and I liked their scenes especially when Thor has to explain where he’s been for two years. Dennings gets a bit more screen time and handles it well getting some of the bigger laughs and Hiddleston is once again scene stealing as Loki. It was also nice to see Rene Russo finally get a big scene and have a bit bigger part this time and Hopkins is still endearing as the weary but, majestic Odin. We also get some nice scenes with supporting characters Heimdall (Idris Elba), Sith (Jaimie Alexander), Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Fandral (now Zachary Levi) and Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) but, those expecting expanded roles from this bunch will be disappointed. Newcomer to Thor’s world Christopher Ecceleston, is OK as villain Malekith but, he really doesn’t make a strong impression or stay with you after the film is over. To me his somewhat tepid villain is the film’s only real stand out weak point and a stronger villain or more screen time to really establish Malekith as a threat would have made this flick even better. Taylor’s interpretation of Don Payne and Robert Rodat’s script is highlighted by a moody score from Brian Tyler and some nice cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau. Overall, Thor: The Dark World is a very entertaining follow-up that gives us enough of the action, drama and suspense we are looking for and takes it in enough of a different direction to keep it fresh but, not straying too far as to alienate us. It’s not perfect, as stated the villain could have been stronger, there are a few slow spots here and there, especially in the first half and we can tell there was a bit of editing to manage the running time but, for all the entertainment we get, those minor flaws can be overlooked. A fun and worthy sequel to both Thor and The Avengers and certainly less schizophrenic then the mixed bag that was Iron Man 3. As with all Marvel films stay through the entire credits for not one but, two additional sequences and keep an eye out for a couple of really fun cameos. Another solid bit of entertainment from Marvel and Disney.

3 and 1/2 hammers!

thor TDW rating

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA

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THOR (2011)

I’m not that familiar with the Marvel comics version of Thor, so, I have to take the movie at face value and as such, Thor is a lot of fun. The film takes place both on Earth and in Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) home realm of Asgard and Kenneth Branagh does a nice job of switching back and forth between both worlds and keeping the tone even and the narrative flow fairly smooth (more on that later). The film fits in very nicely with the world created in the Iron Man films and yet has it’s own style and flavor as it tells the story of arrogant Prince Thor and his path from banished and disgraced warrior to hero of both Earth and Asgard. The cast works really well together and in filling their roles. Hemsworth brings a nobility to Thor, as well as, keeps him charming during his arrogant beginings and then makes believable his humble awakening during the course of the film. Natalie Portman is energetic as the pretty scientist and love interest, Jane Foster and she and Hemsworth have a nice screen chemistry together that actually gave their growing relatrionship a realistic touch despite the fantasy story elements. Tom Hiddleston makes a good villain as the devious Loki and Anthony Hopkins is a regal and strong Odin. Kat Dennings is cute as Portman’s sidekick, Darcy and her antics are just enough to provide humor without being annoying and Stellan Skarsgard is fine as a fellow scientist, Dr. Selvig who grew up with norse mythology and provides some exposition for those not in the know. There is plenty of action and the SPFX are top notch especially in the portrayal of the mystical Asgard which is beautifully designed and realized. Thor’s flying was the hardest thing to pull off and they smartly keep it to a minimum and it works withing the context of the scenes. My only gripes are minor. The middle of the film slows down for about 20 minutes but soon picks up as the film heads toward it action filled last act. The earth sequences don’t quite flow as smoothly as the Asgard sequences leaving me to believe there was some editing to get the fim under 2 hrs but, it is not jarring. And, the set of the New Mexican town just doesn’t quite look like a real town, it’s lay out does make it look like a set, well built, but still a set. But these problems are small and don’t ruin what is an overall very fun and entertaining movie that has some nice fairy tale touches as well as plenty of action. Stay through the credits as usual with these films.

A solid 3 and 1/2 hammers!

Thor rating

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2012)

Captain America is a good flick and there definitely is some fun to be had and I enjoyed it but, It’s not quite the great popcorn flick it could have been. The film is well directed by veteran Joe Johnston with some nice, nostalgic old fashioned war movie touches but, it’s in how the film is structured that is where the weaknesses lie. The biggest chink in Cap’s shield is the pacing. The film takes a lot of time with his origin and while what we watch is entertaining, it takes far too long to send him on his first mission to rescue POWs from a Hydra instillation. Once he does officially take on the mantle of superhero and supersoldier, there is a quick montage of him in action and then the film slows down for more dialog until the final confrontation and that itself is underwhelming and over too quick. Why is Hydra thought of as such a threat if they can be defeated so easily? And I shouldn’t have to read the comics to find out what this glowing cube is that Hydra uses to power it’s forces. It’s origins are vague and we don’t really learn about it until The Avengers. Another big problem is that they take so much time to develop the character of Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans), that everyone else is short changed. Main villain Red Skull, played by the always good Hugo Weaving, hasn’t enough screen time to develop a threatening enough screen presence. He’s a pretty generic villain for a classic comic character and Cap’s arch villain. The showdown between Cap and Skull is also far too short and leaves not enough impact though, the scene that follows does have some nice emotional resonance to it. The cast is good with what little they have to do.  Hayley Atwell looks serious and pretty as Agent Peggy Carter who is Rodgers’ love interest and Tommy Lee Jones barks alot of orders as Col. Phillips who doesn’t quite believe in Rodgers’ abilities at first. Cap’s sidekick and old friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) might have 10 minutes screen time, if that. The Howling Mad Commandos also have very little screen time and you need to watch the credits to find out all their names. Dum Dum Dugan (a perfectly cast Neal McDonough) is another classic character wasted with little to do. All in all it is entertaining but, at the same time, also somewhat disappointing. Also stars Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark and Stanley Tucci as Dr. Abraham Erskine, who creates the super soldier serum that turns Rodgers into Captain America. As with all Marvel flicks stay though the credits.

3 shields!

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