Tag Archives: tom hiddleston

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: ‘Kong: Skull Island’

dfn-kong_skull_island-300For the fourth major variation on a familiar cinematic legend, Kong: Skull Island is good, dumb fun.

Opening with a brief prologue that takes place in 1944, the movie fleetingly introduces the gigantic beast known as Kong before fast-forwarding to 1973. Scientists Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) visit Senator Willis (Richard Jenkins) to secure funding and a military escort to visit an uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean.

Randa, Brooks and their colleague San (Tian Jing) are soon accompanied by a military unit led by Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), whose most notable soldiers include the nonplussed Cole (Shea Whigham), the excitable Mills (Jason Mitchell), and the resolute Chapman (Toby Kebbell). The unit is joined by battle-tested civilian photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and experienced tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), the latter hired for a princely sum by Randa and Brooks.

Flying to the island through thick storms and dark clouds in a fleet of helicopters, the explorers begin dropping charges to test a theory put forth by Randa and Brooks — something about the island’s surface and what may lie below it — and before anyone knows what’s happening, an angry, roaring Kong shows up, prompting the antsy soldiers to make the unwise decision to fly right at him.

Kong, no doubt thankful that he doesn’t have to chase them down, makes quick work of all the pesky helicopters and many of the nameless soldiers. Thus ends Act I of the three-act Kong: Skull Island.

Four writers are credited for the movie — story by John Gatins, screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly — and the premise holds out the possibility of a strikingly different experience. But the execution falls short; for example, the humor that is scattered throughout Act I, for example, arrives at timely intervals yet lacks true wit.

The military men, who have been serving in Vietnam for years and should be happy to have survived and eager to get home, are neither; they’re just itching for another fight, one that they can somehow “win,” unlike the exhausting war that they’re “lost.” The same is true for the tracker, the photographer, and the scientists; they’re distinguished by their professions, not by their personalities.
The movie is overstuffed with so many characters that they’re all reduced to stereotypes, and the actors are mostly defeated by the requirements of the monster scenario; they know they are mere fodder for the elaborate action sequences, nearly all enhanced by visual effects to accommodate the gigantic Kong.

Kong is such a huge, dominant character that it’s impossible to conceive of defeating him, at least from the standpoint of rational human behavior; it’s like staring at a 10-story building and imagining that you can take it down by shouting at it.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who previously made the appealing indie The Kings of Summer, as well as helming a number of television episodes, brings all the personality of a traffic cop to the proceedings, perhaps overwhelmed by the scale of the production. On this type of movie, keeping to the budget and the schedule are apparently of higher priority than anything else, resulting in a movie that makes little impact despite the thunderous effects.

The film opens in theaters throughout Dallas on Friday, March 10.

Review: ‘Crimson Peak’

'Crimson Peak'
‘Crimson Peak’
The latest film from Guillermo del Toro showcases his strengths and weaknesses.

In a career that stretches back to the mid-1980s, del Toro has carved out a distinctive niche as a Latin fantasist with a flair for fanboy fetishism. His best films — The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) — have married narratives that feel intensely personal with authentic characters who resonate culturally. Adorned with in gorgeous costumes, detailed makeup, and nightmarish settings, those films soared into the cinematic heavens.

Some of his films have followed more familiar, even formulaic patterns — Blade II, Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army — yet del Toro’s strong visual aesthetic and sense of propulsive action made them into compulsively watchable entertainments. More recently, however, Pacific Rim depicted a losing battle between del Toro’s fannish instincts and the need for a compelling story, independent of the outlandish graphic approach.

Once again, Crimson Peak is a delight for the eyes, but a vast disappointment for the heart and intellect. It is very much a gothic romance, rather than a straightforward period horror piece, with a great emphasis on family dischord and melodramatic behavior, set in snowy Buffalo, New York, early in the 20th century.

The movie begins as a love story with ulterior motives. Edith (Mia Wasikowska) is the only child of widowed and wealthy industrialist Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver). Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) arrives from Britain with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to make a presentation about a new machine to Mr. Cushing and his company’s board but is immediately swatted down by Cushing, who suspects that Thomas’ smooth hands betray his lack of integrity.

Urged on by his sister, Thomas manages to meet and quickly romance Edith, who is seduced by his good looks and suave charm, incurring the wrathful disapproval of Mr. Cushing. When circumstances change, Thomas and Edith end up married and living with Lucille at the decrepit Sharpe family mansion in Cumberland, England. Thomas and Lucille clearly have their own agenda in mind, one that puts the innocent Edith’s future in doubt, though that’s kept mysterious as long as possible.

In the meantime … well, that’s one of the problems with the movie. Colloborating with writer Matthew Robbins for the third time, officially — after Mimic (1997) and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010) — del Toro has devised a framework that allows him and his production team to create a sumptuous environment that is wonderfully, darkly beautiful, its main setting a clever twist on a haunting house, its environs more vertical than horizontal, allowing the sky and the ground to bleed into it.

Settings are not characters, however, and del Toro and Robbins have placed unbelievably starchy people in the leads. Thomas, Edith, and Lucille never come to life; they’re more like Victorian-Era stiffs than breathing human beings. It’s as though del Toro, Robbins, and the actors decided to be content with approximations rather than scratch away their exteriors. Likewise with the story, which faithfully follows an archaic narrative that lacks any surprises, new insights or refreshing perspectives.

That leaves Crimson Peak as a fitfully involving drama that lacks any trace of romance, mystery, or (true) melodrama. Nothing churns; the surface always remains placid as the movie marches gracefully toward its climax.

The film opens on Friday, October 16, at theaters throughout Dallas.