Monday, May 23, 2011

Thor (3D)

Hollywood really has a talent for milking a franchise. In some cases, they're so good at it that they manage to ensure a series' success even before it gets released, as is the case with the upcoming film adaptation of Marvel's Avengers Comics. And how are they doing this exactly? Well, it's a simple case of giving each member of the Avengers superhero group some individual screetime and in so doing, build a momentous degree of hype around the inevitable release of the film series. The latest screen addition to the Avengers group, Thor 3D is another succesful ingredient to this ingeious strategy.

But don't fret – Thor is a far cry from your traditional superhero movie... To be honest, it's not much of a superhero movie at all, seeing that Thor is of course a god and not some spider mutation freak or a multi-billionaire half-robotic dick. A huge part of the film doesn't even play off on earth to begin with as the movie divides its focus between happenings on two planets, instead of one. 

"To be honest, it's not much of a superhero movie at all, seeing that Thor is of course a god and not some spider mutation freak or a multi-billionaire half-robotic dick."

The 'earth part' of the story is leaded by the film's very capable love interest, Natalie Portman (Black Swan, Brothers, Star Wars) and it's quite refreshing to see Portman in a less serious role for once, even though it takes a while to get use to her straightforward dialogue and simple character model. Nonetheless, there's nothing wrong with her performance and it's great to see how comfortable she fits her stereotyped role. Kat Dennings (Charlie Bartlett, The House Bunny, 40 year old virgin) is brilliant as a bit of comic relief, but to be honest, Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek, The cabin in the woods) is by far the funniest of the lot. Other noteworthy performances by Clark Gregg and Stellan Skarsg rounds off the human part of the cast.

But to be honest, most of the film's magic takes place on the far away realm known as Asgard, where Thor and his fellow godlike beings keep themselves busy with heated political affairs that make our own local governmental debates look like something out of a Teletubbies episode. Director Kenneth Branagh (Rabbit-proof fence, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) has cleverly decided to keep the laughs to a minimum on Asgard, which helps to create a  powerful contrast between the two worlds. And what makes all this even more enthralling is that there's no obvious right and wrong side, as viewers are left to choose a side for themselves. Whilst Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston) is obviously the antagonist for at least the last half of the movie, his actions feel mostly justified, as the story is masterfully spun to a climatic ending. The godly part of the cast is just as wonderful, with special mention to Anthony Hopkins and Colm Feore.

The movie's greatest accomplishment is however hands-down the spectacular special effects that results in Asgard being presented as painfully majestic and battles sequences come alive as wondrously epic. The 3D itself was however a really disappointing, but the awesomeness of the standard effects more than make up for this. Whilst I don't usually single out sound effects, the sound editing here is so good that it at least deserves its own sentence in this review. All of this makes Thor an excellent popcorn movie that will have fans and newbies alike drool with anticipation for the next Avengers installment – Captain America.

This sad Excalibur-like moment can kind of get to a man that has a hammer as a best friend.
Highlight: Thor's trip to a local pet store almost had me crying with laughter.

Rating: 4 Meerkat Tails

Monday, May 16, 2011

Water for Elephants

Even though British actor, Robert Pattinson is best known as an American vampire, he has also started to prove that he is quite believable and capable as an American human. ‘Water for elephants’ cements his skills, whilst also providing a splendid amount of dramatic entertainment in the process.

But there's more to this film than merely witnessing Pattinson's evolution into a serious actor - In the centre of this drama broods a serious love triangle between Pattinson, love interest Reese Witherspoon and the surprise star of Inglorious Bastards: Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as another diabolical evil mastermind.

All three roles are beautifully realized, with the tension between them increasing more and more as the film nears its quite gracious 121 minute runtime. The forbidden love plotline plays out entertainingly intense and in this sense, might even remind viewers of a film with a similar sentiment, Titanic.

As most of the film plays off in a circus, there's a lot of glorious eye candy to behold both in the form of a colourful ensemble cast as well as realistically envisioned set pieces. The great thing about the film's backdrop is that nothing feels over-the-top and this gives the film an awesome degree of honest appeal. The circus is portrayed as a real business with its fair share of troubles and conflicts brewing underneath the glamorous exterior.

"The great thing about the film's backdrop is that nothing feels over-the-top and this gives the film an awesome degree of honest appeal."

Water for elephants can at times be a little frustrating and hard to watch (especially the few scenes of quite intense animal cruelty), but overall it's an impactful ride that will leave you satisfied due largely to a well rounded ending.

Highlight: Pattinson gets inducted into the circus by means of a very traditional 'ceremony'.

Not as cute as Dumbo, but close enough!
Rating: 4 Meerkat Tails

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Limitless

After the runaway success of 'The Hangover', Bradley Cooper quickly became somewhat of a household name. With his knack for comedy proven, he had yet to prove himself as a capable serious actor. Limitless seemed to be the perfect opportunity to show that there's more to this just above average looking Hollywood star.

In Limitless, Bradley plays the role of a washed out writer who has nothing going for him. This all changes when he is introduced to a new designer drug that increases a person's mental capacity tremendously, without any noticable drawbacks. Whilst this might sound like a cleverley disguised pro drug campaign, things quickly turn sour, as the lead's dependancy on the drug leads to some very unhealthy lifestyle decisions. 

There's however more to the plot than simple drug addiction. Wrapped around this chewy, druggy centre is a heavy focus on corporate politics, steered beautifully by the film's main antagonist, Robert de Niro. While there's a lot happening, director Neil Burger (The lucky ones, The Illusionist) has managed to keep everything quite tight and interesting. The corporate political subplot actually helps to give the film some needed depth, even though it does kinda feel like you're watching two neatly stitched together films instead of one.

The film's own take on the classic 'drug-o-vision' made me a bit queasy, but actually does a great job in highlighting the drug's super intense effects. A simple score complements the films ups and downs quite well.

With all these compliments, comes the realisation that the film is far from perfect and actually comes across very forgettable. The main reason for this is that the film tries to be just too many things all at once. Part comedy, part action, part psychological thriller and part crazy – Limitless is quite limited by it's lack of a proper golden centre. This results in a fun ride, but one you soon forget as soon as you get onto the next one.

"Part comedy, part action, part psychological thriller and part crazy – Limitless is quite limited by its lack of a proper golden centre."
Nevertheless, Limitless is a very commendeable effort at genre mixing that many will find quite intriguing – from drug junkie to aspiring corporate snake. Just don't expect any mind bending and revolutionary outcomes.

Highlight: It's been a while since I was this excited for correctly predicting the outcome of  a scene: Blood is involved.

I really struggled to get a proper pic...

Rating: 3-and-a-half Meerkat Tails