Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Thor, the movie about the Norse god based on a popular series of comic books written by J. Michael Straczynski, is a new take on what happens once more if you piss off Anthony Hopkins. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I mention Straczynski because he's a veteran writer from old TV shows as well as the popular Babylon 5 show, and I follow his work. Thankfully, they gave Joe a writer's credit.

I had read a few of the old Thor comic books in the seventies, and found the character quite annoying. There wasn't much conflict since this is, after all, a God. Straczynski's take on the character is a 180-degree turn.

Thor falls under Odin's wrath (Odin, of course, is Hopkins, looking very regal) when he disobeys him in his arrogance. He's the very powerful son of the King because of his hammer, an instrument that Odin throws somewhere onto Earth's desert. And Thor, stripped of any power he has, is thrown near the same place. Thor, thoroughly human now, is picked up by scientist Jane (Natalie Portman) and her working crew, and it's with her that he learns values and a little humility.

It's a well-told story with a great deal of humor. Portman is fine as the bumbling, dressed-for-the-desert scientist. And Chris Hemsworth, who played Captain Kirk's father ever-so-briefly in the re-imagining of Star Trek, plays Thor. He has a deft comic touch.

I did not picture Thor with less than long blond tresses and with a beard, as Hemsworth sports, but it's a good look. You can't argue with success. Everything about this movie works.

Thumb's up.


Hereafter, the latest movie by Clint Eastwood, combines three stories all headed toward the same conclusion: the belief in the ability to communicate with those who are dead.

Matt Damon plays an American with an unsettled life because he has a "gift," or what he terms a "curse," of being able to see dead people when he touches the living. Marie, a very successful journalist, is caught up in real-life drama when the Thai town she's visiting is consumed by a tsunami - the experience in which she almost dies takes her beyond for a few seconds. And young Marcus is consumed by the fact that his twin brother was killed while out collecting his mother's prescription medication.

I am usually fascinated and sometimes stunned by Eastwood's directorial efforts, but not so this time. I just didn't find most of the stories compelling. And the ending was quite disappointing for all three stories.

In fact, the only thing I took away from watching this film was an appreciation for the actress who played Marie, Cecile de France. I've never seen her before, but she's stunning in both her look and her acting. Everything she did was subtle yet spoke volumes.

I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone except those who are absolutely consumed with what happens after we die. And even then, I don't think those viewers will get the answers they seek.

Thumb's down.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Tourist

I was all set to be disappointed in this film, but I found it most pleasantly a real romp. I smiled from beginning to end.

Frank (Johnny Depp), an American schoolteacher on vacation in Venice, happens to meet a beautiful woman (Angelina Jolie) on a train. For some reason, she takes a shine to him, and invites him up to her lavish hotel room. You learn from the beginning that Elise is being followed for some reason. The mystery that we uncover bit by bit is why, or rather, for whom.

Too much more would spoil the fun, but I should add that the background is fabulous Venice, filmed beautifully. The most beautiful city in the world, with the most beautiful woman in the world within. And Depp isn't bad to look at, either.
While that's certainly enough eye-candy visuals to keep you happy for 10 minutes, the story and the actors keep it all interesting and intriguing from beginning to end.

Thumb's up.

Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talking 'Bout Him?)

Who Is Harry Nilsson is a brilliant documentary that explores why the gifted singer/songwriter self-destructed in a most gaudy way.

I knew about Harry Nilsson's work a bit before he became famous with the movie theme for Midnight Cowboy, "Everybody's Talkin' at Me," a song, ironically, he did not write.

Before I saw this documentary, I could name three or four hits Harry had. However, I had forgotten or simply did not know the breadth and depth of his song resume. The documentary very nicely shows in chronological order, by album recording, how each happened. And the struggles that ensued every time.

Record producers who were involved in Nilsson's projects recognized that a strong hand was needed, or Harry would run amok. And one even insisted it be in the contract. The result was the beautiful Nilsson Schmilsson. But after that, including its follow-up, The Son of Schmilsson, was filled with bad choices.

The documentary takes pains to interview such luminaries as Randy Newman, Yoko Ono, Robin Williams, the Smothers Brothers, and Micky Dolenz, as well as some of Harry's wives. These interviews shine a bright light on an increasingly miserable existence, and Harry's friendship with John Lennon seemed to be the pinnacle of uncontrolled wildness, something only great money, celebrity friendships, and copious amounts of drugs and alcohol can produce.

I thought it odd and sad that Harry longed for a father that was never in his life, and yet left his children from a former wife just as quickly. In the end, I didn't even recognize the face of this man who had produced so much. He died of a massive heart attack after finally finding a happy marriage and after raising his family out of bankruptcy.

The film is an incredible look into a life headed up and then crash-and-burn down. Thumb's up.

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants had everything going for it: a popular novel as its basis, and a spectacular cast: Twilight's Robert Pattinson, and Academy Award winners Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz.

The truth is, however, it doesn't hold together, and I think some of the fault is with Witherspoon. She doesn't seem to know how a depression history would play on a young beauty stuck in the circus with her Type A husband (played by Waltz, who is just brilliant here). Pattinson, I think, strikes the right chord: stupid when he should be, smart when he needs to be. But the whole story rests on whether you accept the relationship between the young vet (Pattinson) and Witherspoon's circus performer. I didn't for a minute.

But Waltz is worth watching. His circus owner rings true as a perfectionist who wants his circus to be a rival to Ringling Bros, despite the fact that his circus isn't family-friendly, and who's willing to spend any extra funds he has on an elephant instead of pay his workers.

The ending was interesting, but not terribly believable.

Thumb's down for this disappointing adaptation.