Tag Archives: chris hemsworth

Review: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’

dfn-thor_ragnarok_ver2-300Director Taika Waititi steals his own movie from his co-stars in Thor: Ragnarok.

He plays Korg, a doleful inmate in a remote prison who is resigned to a life of pain, yet keeps alive an impossible dream of rebellion against the forces that hold him captive. Resembling a bunch of rocks, Korg is nonetheless a very appealing personality in a very appealing, very funny comedy that actively works against the stereotypes of superhero films.

Waititi makes Thor: Ragnarok his own, bringing his signature authorial voice to a project with a massive budget and massive expectations. Hailing from New Zealand, the filmmaker has made a series of delightful comic works in which the characters struggle against the odds to make something of themselves — but not too much, since that wouldn’t be proper.

Having come to greater attention with What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, not to forget past festival favorites like Eagle vs. Shark and Boy, Waititi is fully prepared to put his own stamp on the third in a series of films that ran into a dead end.

Kenneth Branagh’s Thor showed strong potential for the Norse god, a fish out of water on Earth, but Thor: The Dark World, directed by Alan Taylor, felt very ordinary, featuring a lot of destruction but no real evolution of the primary characters.

Thor: Ragnarok resets the series with a much lighter touch. The screenplay, credited to Eric Pearson, Craig Kyler and Christopher L. Yost, really finds its footing after Thor is expelled from Asgard, his home planet, to a distant world, where he is quickly captured by indie warrior Scrapper (Tessa Thompson) and sold to Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The ruler of all he surveys, Grandmaster runs very popular gladiator games, and sees in Thor the possibility of making a quick profit before the mighty warrior is killed by his reigning champion.

That champion turns out to be Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who has been trapped in his larger than life form for two years and doesn’t recognize his old friend Thor. Eventually, of course, Hulk will team up again with Thor, as well as Scrapper, as well as Thor’s half-brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) — also exiled to the same distant planet — to do battle against the evil Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who has assumed rulership of Asgard and wants to conquer the universe.

You know, the usual superhero stuff.

What makes all this enjoyable is the sure directorial touch of Waititi. He has no better idea of how to stage action than anyone else in the Marvel cinematic universe, but he excels at capturing believable interactions between characters, mixing believable dramatics with comic exchanges that are consistently amusing.

To a certain degree, it’s because Thor, Loki, Hulk, and Scrapper all make fun of ancient stereotypes, tamping down expectations that they’d ever want to be typical superheroes, and then proving by their actions that they’re willing to make the sacrifices needed. Scrapper, especially, stands out, not only because she’s a new character but because she’s not hemmed in by romantic attachments; she’s just a tough, experienced warrior with a sure sense of her own capabilities and a wily disregard of what others might want from here.

Thor: Ragnarok flies by in a thoroughly engaging manner. You never forget that it’s a silly superhero movie, and that’s perfectly OK with the actors and the filmmakers. The idea is just to have fun and enjoy all the action and pretty pictures on screen, and the film easily accomplishes that, leaving most viewers, myself included, wanting more.

The film opens wide throughout Dallas and Fort Worth on Friday, November 3. Check local listings for showtimes.

Review: ‘In the Heart of the Sea’

dfn-in_the_heart_of_the_sea-300Hale and hearty as it aims to be, Ron Howard’s In the Heart of the Sea is still not very nourishing. It endeavors to be as authentic as possible, yet wages a losing battle against artificial whales and waves.

Chris Hemsworth is front and center as veteran sailor Owen Chase, whose wife is expecting their first child. First mate Chase is about to head out to sea in 1820 New England, confident he will be made captain of a new whaling vessel, as his superiors had led him to believe. Instead, he is told that the inexperienced George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), scion of a wealthy shipping dynasty, has been appointed as captain, with Chase again promised a promotion at the successful completion of the voyage.

Before all that happens, of course, a framing device is required, one that will make abundantly clear that In the Heart of the Sea is drawn from a true story. Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) shows up on the doorstep of grizzled Tom Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), declaring that he will write a book entitled Moby Dick and requesting that Nickerson tell him the true story behind a legendary disaster at sea.

Eventually, the whaleship Essex is underway, with a minimum goal of 2,000 barrels of whale oil mandated.. Aristocratic Captain Pollard and earthy first mate Chase are at odds, with the ship’s crew lining up solidly behind Chase. With the water in the North Atlantic fished out, the ship heads to the South Atlantic, and then, as the months pass and whales remain difficult to find, the Pacific Ocean beckons, where a fateful encounter with a giant, vengeful whale awaits.

Now, if all this sounds terribly pedantic, that’s because it is.

The source material, Nathaniel Philbrick’s book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, is a wonderful read, as I recall. (It was published in 2000 and won the National Book Award for Nonfiction.) Charles Leavitt’s screenplay struggles to give it dramatic life; what works so well on the page — the episodic nature, the digressions, the details — bog the story down on the screen.

Howard is no stranger to visual effects; his most recent effort, Rush, nicely integrated them with period drama and auto-racing thrills. But as advanced as visual effects have become, it’s still too obvious when they’re employed in place of real-life whales and waves.

If the drama in the foreground was more compelling, then the mismatching effects wouldn’t be an issue. Howard’s compositional skills and framing preferences work against that, however, and as inherently dramatic as the disaster was, it doesn’t play like that in the movie.

In the Heart of the Sea aspires to be the behind-the-scenes story of Moby Dick. It’s a respectable telling but falls short in providing fresh insight or exciting action.

The film opens wide throughout Dallas on Friday, December 11.

Review: ‘Blackhat’

Chris Hemsworth in Michael Mann's 'Blackhat'
Chris Hemsworth in Michael Mann’s ‘Blackhat’

In the opening scene of Michael Mann’s ‘cybertech’ thriller, Blackhat, the CGI enabled camera sweeps inside the wires, cables and ports of a nuclear power plant supercomputer. Blips and beeps of data are soon overcome by something else, feeding itself through the virtual membranes of the computer and taking control.

We’ve just witnessed a cyber attack in all its coded glory. Films used to penetrate our psychosis by playing on fears of bodily infection, sickness and viral contamination. Today, the new global horror is hacking and its rapid, anonymous repercussions. It’s a bold, prescient way to start a film, but one that doesn’t sustain itself over the course of two hours.

After this initial attack on a Chinese nuclear facility, the local government enlists Captain Dawai (Leehom Wang) to study the cyber attack and find its originator. With the help of the United States Justice Department and headstrong operative Carol Barret (Viola Davis), Dawai pushes for the release of heavy computer hacker Mark Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), currently serving an 18 year sentence in a Supermax prison for his own online dalliances with cyber terrorism. Intelligent, driven and built like Thor, Hemsworth negotiates his temporary furlough into a permanent vacation if and when he catches the big villain.

Also along for the ride — which turns into a massive globetrotter from Hong Kong to Malaysia then Indonesia — is Dawai’s tech-savvy private sector little sister, Lien (Wei Tang) and the agent (Holt McCallany) responsible for Hathaway’s reigns.

Directed by veteran filmmaker Michael Mann (best known for masterpieces Heat and The Insider), the characteristics of his style are all over Blackhat. Fully integrated into using Hi Def digital equipment now, the images have a crisp, fluorescent edge to them. The way he stages certain scenes, with the night-time sky perched magnificently behind his characters, is terrific to behold. There are three action set pieces where the two opposing forces of law and disorder meet in a unique landscape and bullets fly. No director emphasizes the sound and propulsive feel of automatic weapons quite like Mann, and he again displays that mastery here.

Yet despite the visual flourishes, Blackhat fails to reach a cohesive whole. As the strong tough guy, Hemsworth embodies another handsome lone wolf in the extensive universe of Michael Mann protagonists. Sharply dressed, deadly and one who speaks without using contractions; think Tom Cruise in Collateral, Robert DeNiro in Heat and Johnny Depp in Public Enemies. Bad guys to say the least, but fully formed anti-heroes we almost begin to root for. Hemsworth displays none of that charisma in a single-note performance.

Handled even more clumsily is the relationship that forms between Hathaway and fellow techie Lien, portrayed by the beautiful Wei Tang. Included to add gravity to the consequences of their situation, neither one infuses enough chemistry or interest to make their quick bonding effective.

Even more astounding is the fact that any law enforcement agency would allow these two to be front and center during all tactical missions involving SWAT teams and heavy armory. It’s a narrative blunder that immediately destroys any credibility established, especially after Blackhat relies on some quite intelligent methods to connect the dots from one plot device to the next.

Eerily ripped from the headlines of current events, Blackhat succinctly translates just how frightening and real the next 50 years may be when any institution or supposed “secure” site can be ripped and used against itself for ominous reasons. If only the living and breathing inhabitants within this film were as real.

The film opens wide in theaters across Dallas today.

Opening: ‘Rush’ Revs Engines, Hearts, and Minds

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl in Ron Howard's 'Rush' (Universal)
Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl in Ron Howard’s ‘Rush’ (Universal)
It all starts with the script, and Peter Morgan (‘The Last King of Scotland,’ ‘The Queen’) has crafted a storyline that is easy to follow, especially for those not familiar with the 1970s, or Europe, or Formula 1 racing, or automobiles.

It consists of a series of episodes detailing the growing rivalry between British driver James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Austrian racer Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), but under the direction of Ron Howard, ‘Rush’ never feels choppy or episodic. (The writer and director previously teamed on 2008’s Frost/Nixon.) It all flows together marvelously, driven in no small measure by the pervasive period details (that never feel forced or mannered) and Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography, which brims with 70s flavor.

Hemsworth and Bruhl give juicy star turns, playing outsized characters who are perfectly aware of their outsized nature, and embrace it. Hunt is the extroverted one, a friendly fellow who seeks wine, women, and song to accompany his adventures on the race track, while Lauda is more intense and focused on the mechanics of his chosen sport. The sparks fly between them.

Howard has cast his supporting players wisely. Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara shine as primary love interests for the drivers; Natalie Dormer burns up the screen in her all-too-brief appearance.

Most of all, Rush is a smart thriller. It’s aimed at mainstream audiences, but those of us whose hearts race at the revving of an engine will get a special kick out of it.

The film is now playing in theaters across the Metroplex.