SKIN TRADE (2014)
Routine action adventure pairs action icon Dolph Lundgren (who also produced and co-wrote) with Thailand action sensation Tony Jaa. Lundgren is Newark, N.J. cop Nick Cassidy who teams with Thailand cop Tony Vitayaku (Jaa) to take down crime lord and human trafficker Viktor Dragovic (Ron Perlman). There is nothing we haven’t seen before in this fast paced and sometimes ludicrous action flick, directed by Thailand director Ekachai Uekrongtham, but, there is a B-Movie entertainment to be had and it’s fun to see Lundgren pair with someone who speaks English far worse than he does. There is also fun in seeing Lundgren and Jaa together and against Ron Perlman, no less. The action itself is routine for the most part, as is the plot, but go in expecting that and it can provide some fun and unintentional chuckles. Also stars Michael Jai White and Peter Weller.
BIG GAME (2014)
Offbeat Finnish action adventure is based on a comic book and tells of young teen Oskari (Onni Tommila) who is sent into the woods, with bow and arrow, as part of a coming of age hunting trip to prove himself a man. At the same time a terrorist (Mehmet Kurtuluş) and a traitorous Secret Service agent (Ray Stevenson) take down Air Force One over those same woods and are on the hunt for the escaped President Of The U.S. (Samuel L. Jackson). Obviosuly, he is found by Oskari first, who vows to prove his manhood by delivering the President to safety, despite being outnumbered and outgunned by his pursuers. Directed by Jalmari Helander and co-written by he and Petri Jokiranta, this is actually a fun little movie despite being preposterous and silly. Jackson and young Onni Tommila get along well and are a fun team. It’s not to be taken too seriously and doesn’t holdup to today’s Hollywood blockbusters, but it has it’s heart in the right place and can be lighthearted, if not forgettable, fun.
GRUDGE MATCH (2014)
On paper, making a movie about Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone playing two over-the-hill boxing rivals who get together for one more tie-breaking fight, must have sounded like a great idea…and it could have been. But the film takes itself far too seriously, instead of just having a good time with the silly premise and just going with it. Director Peter Segal (who’s made a career out of mediocre and mundane comedies) directs with a leaden hand from the script by Tim Kelleher and Rodney Rothman, a script which makes the mistake of downplaying the humor and tries to make a fairly serious flick out of this nonsense. De Niro and Stallone do the best they can with the weak soap opera-level material, but neither really acts like they are completely onboard with this. It’s a shame, the premise could have been a lot of fun with writers and a director who recognized it’s real potential. Also stars Kevin Hart as the son of a Don King-like fight promoter and Kim Basinger as the girl who got between the two boxers back in the day. Snooze Match is more like it.
Another teen-centric sci-fi movie based on a book series. This one by Veronica Roth has a post-war walled city of Chicago where society is separated into 5 groups referred to as ‘factions’ that each serve a purpose to support the city. If you think this is a thinly-veiled metaphor for the high school class structure, it just shows how obvious it all is. Subjects are tested when they come of age to determine which group they are best suited for but, are ultimately allowed to choose their own faction… which kinda negates the point of the test. Enter Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) who is born into the Abnegation (the good kids) faction but, yearns to be in the Dauntless faction (the rebels, cool kids) who protect the city and maintain law. But, her aptitude test brands her a ‘Divergent’… someone capable of being in any of the five groups… and thus she must try to hide her designation, as being whoever you want to be, is frowned upon in this high school… ah-hem, futuristic society. Throw in her efforts to succeed as a Dauntless, falling for her hunky Dauntless trainer ‘Four’ (Theo James) and saving the city from a coup d’etat and we have all the paper thin messages about being who you are, being whatever you want to be, overcoming adversity and first love that any pimpled teen could want. The saving grace is that director Neil Burger (Limitless) moves everything at a brisk pace, takes this teen angst metaphor seriously and gets good work out of his cast especially leading lady Woodley, who is no Jennifer Lawrence and her ‘Triss’ is no Katniss, but, she is charming and endearing enough and makes a feisty heroine. Overall, it’s actually manages to be somewhat entertaining despite how obvious and derivative the material is. Also stars Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Ray Stevenson and Jai Courtney.
BAD WORDS (2014)
Actor Jason Bateman makes his directorial debut in this deviously funny and delightfully inappropriate comedy about 40 year old grade school drop out Guy Trilby (Bateman) who exploits a loophole in the rules to enter a children’s national spelling bee. Trilby obviously has an agenda, other than embarrassing a bunch of 10 year olds, as he drags a reporter (Kathryn Hahn) along and enters in a friendship/rivalry with a precocious Indian boy (Rohand Chand) who also wants the championship. Andrew Dodge’s script has some blisteringly funny moments, though there are a few sentimental ones too, and director Bateman gives a really hilarious performances as the bitter and angry Trilby, who will stoop to any level to mow down his pre-adolescent competition. Bateman also gets very good work out of his fellow cast members, including young Chand, and crafts a movie that is not afraid to ‘go there’ and present it’s young spelling bee contestants in hysterically inappropriate spots. Suffers slightly from a routine, sentimental climax but, otherwise is a daring and very funny work from first-time director Bateman and writer Dodge. Also, at 88 minutes the movie knows not to wear out it’s welcome.
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.
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!
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!