I am on a personal boycott of movies in 3D, a technology that rarely adds anything of value to a film. (My friend’s husband summed it up nicely when he said he never saw a movie – any movie – and thought, “Wow! That would have been so much better in 3D.) Instead they just give us murky visuals for obscenely ballooned ticket prices. My boycott has already caused me to miss a couple of new releases this year because 2D screenings were sparse or non-existent, a depressing trend as studios test the market for 3D-only releases.
I managed to find a 2D screening of Thor (out in Ontario, one of the garden cities of the Inland Empire) and was puzzled to see images just as dingy as anything I would have seen through those juvenile 3D glasses. Some of the scenes were so dark that I had trouble following the already ambiguous action. Even the scenes that should have popped with brightness – a sunny day in the New Mexico desert for example – are visually listless and a couple shades darker than expected. But later, when Thor is in the sunlight wearing his cape and armor we silently thank the murkiness: It had been hiding some very silly looking costumes that are only a shade better than what we could see at Comic-Con.
Otherwise Thor is about as schizophrenic a movie as we could get without it being wholly a failure – just close to a failure. Some elements, like the lead actors and some parts of the script, work well, while other parts, the cinematography, the choreography of the action scenes, work less well.
Let’s take a look at the good stuff first. Chris Hemsworth owns the role of Thor, the prince of a strange alien/godlike race from Asgard who is banished to Earth for provoking a war with his people’s longtime enemies the Frost Giants. (I can’t believe I’m an adult writing stuff like this.) They are a race that mixes magic and science so well that ancient Norse peoples mistook them for gods. Hemsworth tackles the role of Thor with sincerity and ego, never making the hokey Asgardian dialogue sound as bad as it really is. He struts and preens in the early scenes before being banished by his father Odin and eventually learns something of the humility necessary to be a great leader. I don’t know if Hemsworth is much of an actor, but he does well here, making the transformation credible. Physically they couldn’t have carved a better person for the role; he’s ruggedly handsome and has the body that looks more like a marble statue in the Vatican Museum than a real person. (Or, to put it more crassly, like something we would find in a gay porn movie.) And Natalie Portman as Dr. Jane Foster, an astrophysicist and Thor’s love interest is, as always, serviceable, but her talents are really wasted here. Director Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Dead Again, Hamlet) knows how to direct actors so we would expect him to challenge Portman a bit, but we don’t get any of that. She wanders around playing the damsel in distress just like every other female lead in an action movie of this sort.
Most of the supporting roles are well cast and executed, including (and especially) Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Thor’s jealous younger brother. We are reminded something of Iago as Loki manages to lie and manipulate everyone around him into executing his plans. He’s given more shades than most movie villains and, as a result, is somewhat more relatable. Anthony Hopkins bellows like any good king and Stellan Skarsgard is effective as a skeptical scientist. The only performance that falls flat is Kat Dennings as Darcy, Jane’s assistant. Her biting irony and snarky comments smack us as too writer-y; we feel the hours of sitting in Starbucks getting to the screenwriters and tricking them into believing her lines could have possibly been funny. Then when they are given to Dennings she delivers them with a self-consciously casual hipness that smacks of desperation, as though she had studied hours of Janeane Garafalo’s standup routines from the early 1990s.
The major fault of the film is its vastly different tones that never mesh well together. We are tossed from the somber earnestness of Asgard to the comical, verging on slapstick, scenes on Earth. Surprisingly the scenes in Asgard work better, but when they are spliced together with the scenes on Earth, we’re at a loss. Are we supposed to take a fantasy world more seriously than our own? Or are we meant to find the formal speech and solemn speeches just as funny as the running gag where Jane hits Thor with her car? Like the character of Darcy, I didn’t find any of it funny.
I understand this is meant to be a light, inconsequential, entertaining action movie, but what are we supposed to make of a movie in which a brilliant astrophysicist hires the useless Darcy with no background in science as an assistant? Or when faced with Thor his opponents stupidly forget they have weapons to beat him. Are the Frost Giants so mesmerized by his muscles that they forget they have the ability to freeze people? Or are the federal agents who capture him on Earth so entranced by his wavy locks that they forget they have guns? It’s too goofy to credit even in a movie like this and makes what should have been great fun nothing by a great big slice of ham. (Rating **1/2)
Jumping the Broom
Tyler Perry has dominated the African American market for the past several years, proving that there’s a mint to be made by targeting black audiences, hungry from product that the major studios have failed to produce. I have a hard time respecting anyone who shamelessly plugs his name in front of the title of every movie, but what I can say for Perry is he has inserted a racial sensibility into the cultural landscape that studios have shied away from (mostly because, I think, studio executives are fundamentally unfamiliar and uncomfortable with black people). They have essentially conceded a potentially lucrative market to Tyler Perry.
Hopefully Jumping the Broom will reignite the interest of studio heads in the African American market. They may know nothing of Los Angeles south of the Santa Monica freeway, but they do know the movie was made for less than $7 million and took in more than $13 million its opening weekend. I saw the movie last Saturday afternoon in a theater about half full and I could clearly feel the anticipation of the all-black audience (I think I was the only white person there, so the market is still limited) for a movie they could relate to without themes related to drug addiction or inner city conflicts.
Now while I would love to see more movies like this, I wish Jumping the Broom had been a better movie. While it gave me the opportunity to watch two of my favorite and disgracefully underused actresses, Angela Bassett and Loretta Divine, a script that is barely sitcom appropriate wastes them. In the story of a young couple bringing their families – one extremely rich from Martha’s Vineyard, the other working class from Brooklyn – together for their whirlwind marriage, everyone has a crisis or ongoing drama. And they are all conveniently resolved in the last ten minutes of the film without being truly earned. Every conflict is resolved because everyone suddenly gets reasonable, not because of a realization that organically grows from the progression of events, but because the writers needed them to so they could type THE END.
Still it’s hard to dismiss any movie in which Romeo walks around with his shirt off and there are some genuine laughs, especially from Loretta Divine as the working class mother of the groom who feels snubbed and condescended to by her son’s fiancée and family, and sets out to break up the marriage. But even her character is forced to go too far – so far that a simple apology is not enough to mend the damage. But that’s a symptom of the sloppy writing that doomed a potentially sharp comedy about class relations in the African American community to a mediocre sitcom comedy. (Rating **1/2)
This movie is another exhibit in the ongoing case against Hollywood’s ability to make romantic comedies. In this fiasco, brainy and reserved Rachel meets hunky Dex in law school and they become study partners. She nurses a crush on him, but fails to act on it, letting her flamboyantly sexy best friend Darcy steal him away from her. Now it is years later and Darcy and Dex are engaged and Rachel is still humiliatingly single, a state of absolute ignominy for a woman, especially nearing the end of her life at 30, in these movies. Through contrived circumstances Dex and Rachel realize they love each other and kindle a relationship behind Darcy’s back.
As rotten as Darcy is (and they have to make her rotten so we can cheer when Rachel and Dex finally get together in the end), I have to say their affair made me wish the Hayes Office was still around because they would have nixed the entire script. What Rachel and Dex do is ultimately so cruel to Darcy that it’s hard to feel any sympathy for them or their love, which is peddled as a sacrosanct emotion in these movies allowing putatively sympathetic characters to get away with just about anything in order to realize their love.
It’s hard to see why Rachel and Darcy are even friends in the first place. Darcy is loud, brash, and selfish, stomping all over her so-called friend. This, of course, makes us wonder that if Dex is such a great guy what does he see in her? And if he’s dumb enough to fall for Darcy why would a levelheaded girl like Rachel want him? And once Rachel and Dex figure out they want to be in love, why doesn’t he just call off the wedding? And why would Rachel continue to see him as he plans his wedding? These are the major questions we have to ask; trust me, there are plenty of minor ones as well.
They ask us to accept too much stupidity here that it’s a good thing it is somewhat redeemed by some good performances. Ginnfer Goodwin as Rachel is perky and cute, the perfect lead in a romantic comedy, while Colin Egglesfield, best known for his stint on the now doomed All My Children, is passably good as the conflicted Dex. John Krasinski does what he does best as Rachel’s friend, but really drives another nail into his typecast coffin. I do wonder, though, why they would go to the trouble of carting out Jill Eikenberry as Dex’s terminally ill mother just so she can stand around and look sad, supposedly shaming Dex into staying with Darcy. I don’t really know what to say about Kate Hudson as Darcy. I feel like she did a good job, but like Krasinski, what is she doing that is any different from what she’s done in the past?
Something Borrowed is a pointless, cynical exercise that imparts all the wrong messages and morals and, even worse, isn’t remotely funny or charming. Avoid wasting your time here. (Rating *)