THOR is a strange beast – both the movie and the character. Given his own movie so that he can soon join the World’s Biggest Superhero Movie ever, Marvel Studios’ upcoming THE AVENGERS, Thor sticks out like a thor thumb (thorry) because he is not actually a superhero but rather a Norse God who happens to live in outer space. The nutso qualities of this are in start contrast to the traditional “origin” stories of more regular superheros like Spider-Man and The Hulk who get their super powers from chance exposure to radiation or other scary chemical sources (and who were really born in response to a 1950s fear of The Bomb) and makes “regular guys who dress up in suits” like Batman and Iron Man seem positively pedestrian. Interestingly, the best of the current crop of Superhero flicks are those featuring Batman and Iron Man, the former because of Christopher Nolan’s dark and adult-oriented direction and the latter because of Robert Downey Jr.s’ adult-oriented performance. THOR is geared towards kids and adults will find it ludicrous and silly, but they may also find it surprisingly entertaining, as it is directed with a surprisingly light and deft touch by Kenneth Branagh as a kind of “Shakespeare In Space Lite.” Actually, only about half the film is set in space, and that is by far the most entertaining, with Anthony Hopkins playing it as straight as he can as Odin, Thor’s old Dad, faced with tossing his son and heir from his sparkling, extremely clean gold-and-silver kingdom for picking a fight with the nasty Frost Giants (yes, it’s a silly movie). The other half of the movie is set on Earth, in New Mexico, as banished Thor is discovered by a somewhat wacko storm-chasing cosmologist (played somewhat sincerely by Natalie Portman) and tries to figure out what a Norse God should do on boring old Earth. These scenes are humour for children, with pratfalls and low-aiming jokes, and not nearly as good as the space stuff; a blossoming romance between Thor (the hugely-muscled and certainly charismatic Australian Chris Hemsworth) and Portman’s UFO-geek is as ludicrous as any developing attraction between an Alien Norse God and an obsessed ET fancier. Take an eight year old boy with you to increase your chances of a rollicking, if more-than usually ridiculous, time.
I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS ***1/2
I suspect the reason this quite fine film has taken so long to get a release is a marketing one – it is both a conman movie, most similar in tone to CATCH ME IF YOU CAN (but on a very different budget), and a love story between two men that makes so much of homosexuality that it almost feels like “Queer cinema” – that is, cinema confined to queer audiences. Like CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, it’s based on the exploits of a real con-man (Steven Russell), and, like that other film, the story, while claiming to be entirely true, is at times so outrageous and brazen that we must remind ourselves that con-men might not make the most reliable sources of their own exploits. It’s snappy and colourful and often quite funny, and Jim Carrey as Russell rides a nice line between finding sympathy for his somewhat reprehensible lead con-artist and exposing his many faults, warts and all. Unfortunately, Ewen McGregor, as the titular Phillip Morris, the light of Russell’s life, is badly miscast as both American and gay – neither the accent nor his many “homosexual mannerisms” fit him properly and he simply looks awkward. However, he’s not in the film much, wheras Carrey’s in every scene, and he gives a performance worth seeing.
FAST AND FURIOUS 5 ***1/2
Let’s just get out of the way that this film – the fifth in the franchise – is ludicrous, ridiculous, with some unbelievably silly dialogue, a plot with holes big enough to drive a stolen bank vault through, and without much going on in the acting department. It is also fabulously entertaining from start to finish – if you can be entertained by expertly realised scenes of automobile destruction, punctuated by scenes of automobile racing, automobile stealing and general automobile appreciation. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker gather a group of criminally-inclined precision drivers (!) to gather in the Favelas of Rio and rip off Brazil’s richest criminal, and nothing – not an army of corrupt cops, an unmanageable city, a plan that makes no sense nor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson himself – is going to get in their way. Along the way about two hundred cars (in a conservative estimate) get smashed, gutted, thrown through the air into the side of fast-moving trains, and almost anything else imaginable and then some, all accompanied by the best metal-on-metal sound effects design you’ve ever heard. So many action movies these days fail in their very raison d’etre – they ruin the action with too much rapid editing, trying too hard to hide their CGI effects, cables and stuntpeople. FAST AND FURIOUS 5 – or, as its on-screen title attests, FAST 5 – is old-school motor mayhem, with action sequences so clearly and beautifully rendered that I was in awe of the filmmaking, even as the script left my head spinning. It’s like THE CANNONBALL RUN on steroids. Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson are also like Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson on steroids – you’ve never seen such biceps as Diesel’s until Johnson enters the picture with biceps about three times as big – and their fistfight exactly two-thirds through the film is accompanied by the type of sound effects you could expect from a modern Godzilla movie. Clash of the Titans indeed – when their forearms clap together later it’s like a volcano exploding. In its own way, brilliant. Don’t go if you really don’t like cars though…
The unnecessary remake of ARTHUR , starring Rusell Brand as Dudley Moore and Dame Helen Mirren as Sir John Gielgud (echoing her gender-switching take on THE TEMPEST as Prospera, following after Guldud’s Pospero in the earlier Tempest adaptation PROSPERO’S BOOKS) is very strange. It starts out brilliantly – the first scene, mainly between Mirren and Brand, is excellent – witty, dry, warm, slickly expositional, and genuinely funny. The last scene is almost unwatchable in its awfulness – sentimental, obvious, unnecessary and acted and directed without any conviction whatsoever. In between, the movie progressively gets worse – literally, each new scene is a little worse than the previous one; it’s like walking down some steps from quality to horrendousness. Likewise, the film, as it progresses, simply becomes less funny, such that the last third (or “act”) is, simply, not a romantic comedy but a romantic drama, not even trying to be funny (or if it is, failing utterly). Brand is cursed with, I would suggest, eighty percent of the films’ lines, and he is fine in the funny first third, desperate in the unfunny but at least pretending to be a comedy middle third, and lost at sea in the dramatic third – he simply doesn’t have the chops as a dramatic actor yet, and watching him deal with tragedy is painful. This is a movie that you leave once the jokes stop – maybe in time to get your money back.