Movie Review ~ Thor: Ragnarok


The Facts
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Synopsis: Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Sam Neill, Benedict Cumberbatch

Director: Taika Waititi

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 130 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Let’s be real here…you didn’t like those first two Thor movies either, did you? I knew it. Seemingly out of place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, likely because they were the only films that took place largely in literally their own universe, Thor and it’s sequel Thor: The Dark World were what comic book movies should never, ever be: boring. It was only when Thor joined up with his friends in The Avengers and Avengers: The Age of Ultron that the Norse god felt energized and alive. Well after Thor: Ragnarok there is enough electricity generated by director Taika Waititi to power several more sequels. It puts the other two films to shame and bests several other Marvel outings at the same time.

As the film opens, Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Rush) is in a bit of a bind as he finds himself in the clutches of the fire demon Surtur. Surthur lets Thor know that a great battle known as Ragnarok is about to unfold, a battle that will see Surtur lay waste to Thor’s Asgardian home and all its peoples. Since this is the prologue and we have a couple of hours left, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Thor makes it out of his prison and finds his way back to Asgard. Arriving unannounced only to run into his mischief making adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Kong: Skull Island) masquerading as their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, The Silence of the Lambs). Unaware that Loki imprisoned his father on Earth, Thor meets up with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, August: Osage County) who points him in the right direction of where his father may be.

Thor does find his pops but the reunion is short-lived as his long-lost sister Hela (Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine, having the absolute best time ever) arrives with her eyes on Odin’s throne. Sending her siblings into another galaxy to get them out of her villainous way, she starts to wreak havoc in her homeland and Thor and Loki make their way through a new world ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park). With Loki avoiding a life of servitude on the junk planet, that leaves Thor fighting for his freedom, gladiator-style, against his old friend the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher). Assisted by fellow Asgardian in exile Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, Creed) and loyal Heimdall (Idris Elba, Prometheus), all make their way back to Asgard to face off with Hela to save their world.

There’s a lot that happens in Thor: Ragnarok and it’s almost universally entertaining. Waititi (who also plays a dryly-hilarious alien made up of rocks) brings such interesting ideas to the table along with a sense of humor and fun that has been missing from not only Thor’s previous outings but from Marvel at large. With its fun cameos (not only from Marvel characters), it’s wacky and colorful and I enjoyed every minute of it. Mark Mothersbaugh’s (The LEGO Movie) score is a real tip and while they curiously use Immigrant Song twice, it makes sense and gives key battle sequences a rock concert vibe. I normally recoil at movies that are so CGI heavy but the visuals are gorgeously rendered here, making for truly exciting viewing.

While it does help to have a working knowledge of the other entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this one may be a good entry point for newbies…but then someone will have to explain to them why the other two movies are so dull. Here’s hoping Marvel retains Waititi because he’s the reason why this works so very well.

The Silver Bullet ~ Thor: Ragnarok



Synopsis
: Thor must face the Hulk in a gladiator match and save his people from the ruthless Hela.

Release Date:  November 3, 2017

Thoughts: At the end of this first teaser trailer for November’s third Thor film the only word I could think of was ‘finally’.  Finally, after two solo films and appearances in several other Marvel releases, the God of Thunder might just get his own adventure that’s worth a second viewing.  I wasn’t any kind of fan of the original Thor or its sequel Thor: The Dark World, finding them turgid treks through standard action franchise portals.  This one, however, just feels like it has a pulse and personality to go with it.  From the inspired casting of Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) to a genuinely exciting surprise finale right on down to the ‘80s reminiscent title cards…I’m actually looking forward to this one.

Down From the Shelf ~ Jurassic Park III

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A decidedly odd couple with ulterior motives convince Dr. Alan Grant to go to Isla Sorna (the second InGen dinosaur lab.), resulting in an unexpected landing…and unexpected new inhabitants on the island.

Stars: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, Laura Dern

Director: Joe Johnston

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: It took four years for Steven Spielberg to direct a sequel to 1993’s Jurassic Park and with the problematic reception of The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997, the award-winning director was understandably cool to the thought about returning behind the camera for the third entry in 2011. Instead, Spielberg gave his old pal Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger) the chance to direct and while the end result was a marked improvement over his lugubrious sequel, Jurassic Park III has its own set of problems to contend with.

Paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neil, The Vow, making a welcome return to the series) is facing budget cuts and a scientific community more interested in his adventures at Jurassic Park than the research he’s devoted his life too. When a wealthy couple want to hire him and his assistant (Alessandro Nivola, American Hustle) to guide them on a sight-seeing trip over Isla Sorna (Site B featured in The Lost World: Jurassic Park), he reluctantly agrees as a way to make ends meet. Nevermind that series fans will know that Grant never set foot on Isla Sorna (Jurassic Park took place on Isla Nublar)…it’s a detail explained later but not very well. A crash landing is only the start to the bad luck Grant and company encounter as they try to survive an island with dinosaurs that have run amok and double-crossing members of their party.

At a trim 92 minutes (including credits) the film doesn’t take much time to breathe (or to think) and it’s probably best if you follow suit. Between some fairly terrible CGI dinosaurs and animatronic models that look like they were plucked out of your local science museum, the quality of the effects took a tumble here.  Odd colored dinosaurs look like they have graffiti on them and the raptors have mohawks…punk rock raptors? A big bad dino has a head that looks so fake you wonder if Johnston wasn’t making a spoof of the original film instead of a continuation of that story.

Performance-wise, only Neil (and a brief cameo from Laura Dern, The Master) have any real sense of urgency. Everyone else seems to be present to chew the scenery or be chewed on. Particularly bad is Téa Leoni who takes one too many pratfalls and apparently gets several haircuts during the 24 hours they are stranded on the island. Leoni also has an annoying way of running through the forest screaming and waving her arms and legs like she’s on fire, leading me to wonder if someone ever bothered to tell her she wasn’t in a comedy.

It’s not as boring as The Lost World; Jurassic Park but it’s far sillier. Depending on your mood, that could be either a good thing or a very bad thing. Watching it again recently I rolled my eyes a lot but didn’t have the outright disdain for it that I had when it was originally released. The script (with a contribution from Alexander Payne, Nebraska) feels like a tired third entry in a successful franchise, nothing more and nothing less. Its lackluster performance at the box office signaled the closing of this beleaguered park, a wise move if nothing of substance could be produced.

 

 

In Praise of Teasers ~ Jurassic Park (1993)

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I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately.  It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

Jurassic Park (1993)

Here’s my favorite kind of teaser: one that shows no actual footage from the movie itself.  I had all but forgotten this ad for 1993’s Jurassic Park, a clever intro to audiences not only that the movie was coming their way but in how the dinosaurs would be coming back to life in the first place. Though the movie did take ample time to explain the process, having the teaser give some info up front that there was some science behind it all couldn’t have hurt.

Now that the movie has spawned two (inferior) sequels, had an IMAX 3D re-release of its own, and is readying for an all-new adventure (Jurassic World) in 2015 it’s nice to be able to look back and see how Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking adventure first caught the eye of moviegoers.

Miss my other teaser reviews this week?

Check out my musings on Alien, Misery, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Showgirls!

Movie Review ~ Jurassic Park 3D

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The Facts:

Synopsis: During a preview tour, a theme park suffers a major power breakdown that allows its cloned dinosaur exhibits to run amok.

Stars: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, BD Wong, Wayne Knight

Director: Steven Spielberg

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 127 minutes

TMMM Score: (9.5/10)

Review:  It’s hard to believe that Jurassic Park is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this  year – I still remember like it was yesterday seeing one of the first showings at the Edina Theater and going back a few more times that weekend to see the dino action, bringing my friends along to see their reaction.  I saw the film a total of 10 times that summer and have revisited it dozens in the years since but I still was a little leery of the movie being re-released in 3D and IMAX to celebrate two decades of T-Rex and Raptor filled scares.  The film was so entertaining to begin with; did it really need 3D/IMAX to increase the entertainment value?

The answer is “no” but that doesn’t mean I didn’t greatly enjoy seeing the film digitally restored with booming sound and a carefully thought out 3D conversion overseen by its director.  You see, Jurassic Park is such an old-fashioned thrill ride of a film that it could be played backwards and still give you a big bang for your buck…though the term “popcorn film” was coined years before it’s one of the best ways to describe the experience.

Most people are probably already familiar with the plot involving a theme park in the South Pacific home to cloned dinosaurs.  What looks to be a huge advancement in science and consumer marketing turns deadly as the aggressive dinos break free during a tropical storm…much to the terror of a small group of men, women, and children that have stopped in for a visit.

What works about the film (wide-eyed wonder, excellent action sequences, state-of-the-art visuals) still works and what was once iffy (the film has a tendency to feel overwhelming in its scope) feels corrected by seeing the movie again on the big screen.  Though I still feel that the movie is less concerned with its calculated leaps in narrative than it is about dropping the jaws of their audience, there’s no denying that the movie has lost little even after countless viewings.

I was struck at how solid Neill was in his lead role as conflicted Paleontologist Dr Alan Grant.  Though the role could have gone to a real name star (Harrison Ford), Spielberg made the right choice by choosing the understated Neill to really ground the film.  While I’ve grown to like Dern (check her out in The Master and especially Smooth Talk), I do still cringe a bit at her overzealous line readings delivered with a lilt that sends a shiver up my spine.  Goldblum’s kooky theorist goes down easier than it did back in the day thanks to our exposure to similar actors like Johnny Depp who have probably would have played the role if it were made today.  Oscar winning director Attenborough (A Chorus Line) hits the right notes as the man behind the park, wisely toned down by screenwriter David Koepp from his evil genius characterization in Michal Crichton’s source novel.  Mazzalo and Richards performances have retained their mostly pleasant early 90’s feel though the efforts of both feel a bit light when surrounded by such impressive special effects.  Jackson, Wong, Peck, and Ferrero are nice supporting players while Knight’s performance feels the most stuck in the past.

The Oscar winning effects still look incredible and the various thrill sequences that had you on the edge of your seat will make you climb right over it as you witness a T-Rex attack that feels more up close and personal than ever.  The 3D is used sparingly but to great effect as the textures and depth of the park are increased, giving the film some needed strength in its slightly slower middle third.

Looking back it’s amazing to think that Spielberg directed Jurassic Park and his Oscar winning Schindler’s List in the same year…two enormously popular films for very different reasons.  It only speaks to his talents as a director that he could produce such tonally different movies yet keep the undeniable Spielberg touch intact.

Only in theaters for a few weeks, there’s every reason to get your tickets to Jurassic Park whether it’s your first or thirty-first time you’ve seen it.  The surprises are still there, the unexpected scares are present, and you may even find yourself getting that warm fuzzy feeling of retuning to something that reminds you of one great summer and one great film.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Plenty

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young Englishwoman spends 20 years to make whatever kind of life for herself at the expense of others around her in post-World War II England.

Stars: Meryl Streep, Sam Neill, Charles Dance, Tracey Ullman, Sting, Ian McKellan

Director: Fred Schepsi

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:   Here’s a curious character study drama that was adapted from the stage play its author, David Hare (The Hours, The Reader).  Already a two-time Oscar winner racking up a strong streak of films (and coming off of the undervalued Falling in Love), Streep is strangely subdued here playing a former resistance fighter that has to adjust to life after wartime.  The film has a real dreamlike quality to it and though the work among the actors is strong, it’s an aloof affair that made it a tough one to really get involved with.

The movie has a lot of layers to it, compounded by Hare’s revised script that expanded upon certain relationships previously unexplored on stage.  Director Schepsi relies on the strength of his actors to maneuver through a middle act that sags a bit but succeeds in a strong opening and closing to the piece.

Along with Streep (who, even subdued, is mesmerizing) there’s commendable work by Neill, Dance, McKellan, and Ullman.  Ullman and Streep formed a nice bond onscreen and off and it’s nice to see Ullman in this type of role as she’s primarily known for her comedic work. 

The overall experience of Plenty may not be enough to warrant a second viewing but for Streep completists interested in her early evolving body of work it’s worth a look.  Her next film would be Out of Africa and I tend to look at this film and Falling in Love to be a bridge between the types of performances Streep gave in Silkwood and would give in Out of Africa.