THOR

2011/05/10

 

http://thor.marvel.com/

USA 2011  Directed by: Kenneth Branagh  Written by: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne  Produced by: Kevin Feige  Cinematography by: Haris Zambarloukos  Editing by: Paul Rubell  Music by: Patrick Doyle  Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Tadanobu Asano, Rene Russo

I never saw the appeal of Thor as a comic-book hero. Actually, if picky, I’d say Thor is not even a superhero by any means. He’s a Nordic mythical deity cast to Earth by his father Odin. And, with his red cape, ironclad armor and a little gold, winged helmet housing a set of goldilocks, he’s borderline a Halloween mascot.

“Thor” the movie is an attempt to make the character less kitsch – red cape, ironclad armor, and long flowing goldilocks for all the females to swoon over. Chris Hemsworth (Thor) took a lot of time working out for the ladies. Outside his armor he’s a pin-up for Levi’s commercials…at times where it would barely hold on to his tight derrière. His piercing blue eyes could raise your body temperature to tip the mercury.

But, “Thor” is a superhero comic-book adaptation. And it’s mostly for boys. What bright idea was it to make it into a romantic comedy? Sure, there were moments of clashing and flying fists and bodies. Of course there was a ton of CG effects that required a small nation of computer animators. But for the most part, the story somewhat circled around Thor and his love interest, Jane Foster, played sappily by the recent Oscar doll, Natalie Portman. However, the fault doesn’t lie with the actors, considering there are a few more big-screen heavyweights aside from Portman – Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Stellan Skarsgård (Jane’s senior yet timid colleague), and cameos by Jeremy Renner and Sam Jackson. It’s just that all the crucial stakes raised by the characters weren’t…all that crucial.

Thor’s an arrogant god born with invulnerability. Because of his hard head that put his realm in danger of going back to war with its nemesis, the frost giants, Thor is stripped of his powers by his father and cast to Earth as punishment. There, he meets Jane, by accident, and struggles to regain his senses and worth for his triumphant return. But then, the film segues to Jane and Thor getting acquainted for a really long time, leaving all the action and plots to the curb. Somehow, Thor (a daft god) finds Jane (a geeky, squeaky astrophysicist) really interesting. But, unlike other sensible action movies where at least the distressed dame would be the cause for the hero to go berserk and blow things up, Jane was just there to have coffee talk with Thor. And for the final battle, she isn’t even really in harm’s way; accept maybe stubbornly tiptoeing into crossfire.

Throughout the film, one character stood out sincerely, Kat Denning’s sexy, pouty Darcy – Jane’s intern, who found Thor, Jane, and the entire scenario to be a farce. It made a lot of sense on paper to point Kenneth Branagh to the director’s chair…for the amalgamation of theatrical period-costumed figures with modern-day countryside simpletons. But the delivery missed the target by a long shot. “Thor” was handled with little sensitivity to the comic-book genre and over-saturated melodrama that left it out by the backdoor like a wet dog. So despite the thunderous disputes and whirlwind high-school crush, Branagh hammered the last nail in Thor’s coffin.

LIMITLESS

2011/04/27

http://www.iamrogue.com/limitless/fullsite/

USA 2011  Directed by: Neil Burger  Written by: Leslie Dixon  Based on: The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn  Produced by: Leslie Dixon, Ryan Kavanaugh, Scott Kroopf  Cinematography by: Jo Willems  Editing by: Tracy Adams, Naomi Geraghty  Music by: Paul Leonard-Morgan  Cast: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Anna Friel, Johnny Witworth, Robert John Burke, Tomas Arana, T.V. Carpio, Patricia Kalember, Andrew Howard

So much to do, so little time; some of us feel like this while others are just the opposite – with little purpose in life and thus feel like too much time on their hands. “Limitless” opened the window and let us peek out to the great wide open of possibilities and also see what could happen if one tries to fly too close to the sun. It’s a classic moral tale told through the lens of a very unique and innovative director, Neil Burger. Some of the imagery done here are downright trippy. But it styled the story so fittingly. After all, it is a science fiction piece about a loser writer, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), with a mental block that got handed a miraculous tip in the form of a little transparent pill, which can optimize a person’s brain function to 100%. But with great power comes greater threats, turbo-charging all the stakes to overload.

This film rides heavily on Bradley Cooper, his first-time lead role. As an alumnus of The Actors Studio in New York (the Mecca for actors to be), he had all the training, intensity, and charm to silence any speculations over his ability to keep the audience in the seats and his supporting actor at bay – Robert De Niro, who plays Eddie’s boss, mentor and rival, Carl Van Loon.

The pill clocks in at 30 seconds to take effect and lasts 24 hours. At which time, Eddie crawls out of his grimy world and into one that is saturated with clarity, edge, detail and speed. A drug addict with a larger-than-life dream, Cooper’s repeating transformation from the slummed-out slacker to the golden boy with the Billionaire Boys Club swagger is easily entertaining as is sympathetic. It’s this constant contrast between the light and shadows that draws you in. Along the way, other characters are seen leveraging from this pill, each giving a notable attempt at this transformation; to which, surprisingly, was Eddie’s loan shark, a Russian immigrant – played palatably satisfying, maybe even trumping Cooper, by Andrew Howard.

With a plot that keeps twisting but never sliding far from its own truth – although a couple of scenes could have propelled it to ace status – “Limitless” carries enough weight to fend off any lip-gnawing thriller and yet has the humor, light or dark, to find everyone able to enjoy it with a few snorts and slaps to the knee. At the end, it even leaves the story open for new chapters and us wanting more…as long as the writers don’t run out of their limit of magic little pills.


SUCKSEED [SUCKSEED HUAY KHAN THEP | SUCKSEED ห่วยขั้นเทพ]

2011/04/06

http://www.suckseedthemovie.com/

THAILAND 2011  Directed by: Chayanop Boonprakob Written by: Chayanob Boonprakob, Tossapol Tiptinnakorn  Produced by: Jira Maligool, Chenchonnanee Sppnthonsaratul, Suwimol Techasupinan, Wanruedee Pongsittisak  Cinematography by: Naruphol Chokkhanaphitak  Music by: Genie Records  Cast: Jirayu Laongmanee, Pachara Chirathivat, Thawat Pornrattanaprasert, Natcha Nualjam (Nattasha Morrison)

It doesn’t happen very often that a Thai comedy is more than a random potpourri of tasteless, one-hundred-year-old jokes and failed 1910’s/1920’s slapstick references, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see SUCKSEED succeed not only in the comedy department, but in many more ways.

SUCKSEED tells the story of two childhood friends from Chiang Mai, Koong and Ped, who both somehow fancy the same girl, their classmate Ern. Ern leaves for Bangkok after primary school, but a few years later their paths cross again and they accidentally reunite in high school after Ern returns to Chiang Mai in 2006.

To impress the girls (especially Ern) and to challenge his twin brother Kay, a star guitarist, Koong decides to form a band, Koong And Friends, assigning Ped to play bass and basketball player Ex as drummer. At first it all looks like just another one of Koong’s short-lived ideas, but after finding out that Ern is an ace guitarist herself and his brother is entering a nationwide music award with his band The Arena, Koong becomes dead serious about Koong And Friends.

Together they decide to enter the talent competition as well to leave their mark – this way or another. But the odds are against them and things turn for the worse when Koong’s and Ped’s battle over Ern intensifies and Ern switches sides and decides to perform with The Arena at the music awards. Friendship, love and musical success – all seems impossible the closer the competition comes.

SUCKSEED works as good as a comedy as it does as a drama, love story and film about music, thanks to a wonderful script, the perfect cast and an array of participating Thai bands and singers (thanks to Grammy’s stable of some of the best rock/pop bands in the country – a well-calculated cross-marketing measure for Grammy / GTH, but also admittedly a great benefit for the audience). So there’s something in for everyone and, amazingly, I found mostly older people watching the film in local cinemas than teenagers who supposedly are the core audience. That speaks for the quality and maturity of SUCKSEED as a film, and it also proves that it was a good idea to pull in some bands that were most popular a long while ago, like Blackhead.

Still, SUCKSEED is a genuinely charming and smart film that is much more a coming-of-age drama than just a loose collection of motifs and genre quotes: it is very convincing in various departments, yet it is also mostly original, featuring fantastic timing, pace and sense for subtleties, mastering noise and silence equally well, throwing in a lot of pretty creative ideas (like the imaginary appearance of bands whenever the characters lose themselves in the music), twists and intelligent dialogue without ever overshadowing the story or the characters.

One of the film’s biggest achievements is that it always feels natural and organic, no matter what (and no matter what flaws show here and there). I should especially mention that the direction and cinematography are unobtrusive, only taking centre stage when necessary (SUCKSEED features some hilarious and exceptionally creative sequences, first and foremost the stellar scene with Blackhead joining Ped at the market), but otherwise let the story and actors drive the film – something you don’t find too often in Thai cinema.

As for the cast I wouldn’t say that all of them are great actors (and how could they – most of them are newcomers), however, they are the ideal cast for their roles nevertheless and display great enthusiasm, talent and partly also versatility, all of which makes me look forward to their next projects. Here are some promising new actors at work that we will most probably see a lot more often in the future.

SUCKSEED, despite some of its goofy looking poster artwork, teenage ensemble and motifs that generally concern a younger audience manages to transcend its story and make it universally relevant for everybody – SUCKSEED turns out to be heartfelt, fresh and authentic, with far above-average IQ, humor and artistic craftsmanship, let alone a brilliant soundtrack that even those who are not familiar with Thai music will most certainly appreciate.

The film is as funny as it is fun to watch – maybe I am getting senile, but I consider SUCKSEED an accomplished work that I have enjoyed more than most Thai movies in recent years. SUCKSEED is the 2011 surprise hit so far – and the Thai movie to beat in the months to come.

J.

 

 

 



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