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Thor: Ragnarok – Review

10 Nov

In between Marvel movies, the MCU relies on its number of shows to keep the world alive. The Defenders was an excellent entry that united all of the Netflix heroes, but Iron Fist and Inhumans has been a slog through primordial mud. Because of this, I haven’t been having the best time with the MCU recently, so I needed a major pick me up. I was relying heavily on Thor: Ragnarok to really bring it, but was worried because this series has been one of the weakest in the MCU. I held onto the fact that the film was being helmed by Taika Waititi and went in not knowing what to expect. Well, Ragnarok succeeded at jolting new life into the MCU and has now placed itself at the top of the Thor movies as the best entry into the series yet.

After leaving the Avengers during the events of Age of Ultron, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been spending his time searching for the rest of the Infinity Stones. Upon his return to Asgard he finds that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been disguised as Odin (Anthony Hopkins) since he last saw him in The Dark World and has been running Asgard in his own devious ways. The two bickering brothers do end up finding Odin, only to be warned that his oldest child that neither Thor nor Loki knew about, Hela (Cate Blanchett) is soon to break free from the prison that Odin locked her in. She quickly does escape and throws Thor and Loki from the Bifrost and the two end up on Sakaar, a planet run by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) who forces his slaves, including the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to fight in gladitorial matches. With Thor and Hulk/Bruce Banner finally reunited, they meet up with another Asgardian, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), who vows to have revenge on Hela. Now a team of their own, the group must find their way back to Asgard before Hela completely resumes control and spreads her evil all over the known worlds.

There is a lot jam packed into this movie that just runs a little bit over two hours, but that never really gets in the way. More on the pacing later. For now I want to start with why this movie works so well. It is the perfect blend of action and comedy, which is something the Thor movies have seriously been lacking all these years. The movie begins with a joke, which kind of had me worried. Was this going to be an all out comedy with the action taking a back seat? Not even a little bit. The comedy never overwhelms the stellar action sequences, but they provide a lot of great fun in between these set pieces. When the action does pick up, it really blows the roof off. The final battle on Asgard is hands down one of the greatest sequences in the MCU and features a striking image that totally sums up everything the action in Thor’s movies should be.

Everyone really looks like their having the times of their lives in Ragnarok, which really gives this film even more life. Chris Hemsworth gives his best performance in the franchise yet and works great with both Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo, who also bring a lot to their performances. Cate Blanchett is excellent as Hela and continues to show that the MCU has had a very good year with their villains. Jeff Goldblum is almost too funny here, and speaking of too funny, Waititi himself has a pretty hilarious part in the movie if you can spot him. While this movie is a great time all by itself, it’s also a solid connection to the rest of the cinematic universe. It links together multiple films and a handful of different characters to add more depth to the universe Marvel and Disney have been building all these years.

If I had anything to complain about, it would have to be some of the pacing. Like I said before, there’s a lot in this movie. So much so that you’d think it would slow the movie down. Quite the opposite actually. The beginning of the movie sets up all this important stuff so fast that I was begging for it to slow down just a little bit and let me feel the weight of it all. By the time Hela escapes and Thor and Loki find themselves on Sakaar, things find a very steady pacing. By the final part of the final battle, however, things speed up once again without ever letting me feel the weight of what I was seeing. I wouldn’t have minded if the movie was a little bit longer if it meant these two sequences were fleshed out a little bit more.

Thor: Ragnarok is exactly what this series needed. It’s a blast of action and comedy that never lets up in either department. It’s full of great performances, a lot of heart, and serves well as a connection among movies in the MCU. Some pacing issues are there, but it’s never enough to completely bring the movie down. This is one of my new favorites in the entire franchise, and I’d love to see Taika Waititi back to take on more Marvel adventures.

Final Grade: A-

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Kong: Skull Island – Review

13 Mar

I love monster movies. Like I really, really love monster movies, so the fact that Legendary is giving us a whole universe dedicated to giant monster brawls is almost too exciting. The first film in the MonsterVerse, Godzilla, came out in 2014, and despite some mixed reviews, I thought it was pretty badass. It did have some flaws, but when it got down to the monster mayhem, it really knew what it was doing. Now we have the second film, Kong: Skull Island, which introduces King Kong and the island to the universe. This beloved ape has been around since 1933, and it’s awesome to see that he has no intentions of giving up his big screen glory. This film is excessive, yes, but it’s also an extremely entertaining and action packed thrill ride.

William Randa (John Goodman) is a government official who has all the proof he needs to lead an expedition to an undiscovered island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean called Skill Island. After fighting for approval, he finally gets the go ahead and begins assembling his team. His first order of business is to find a tracker, which he finds with James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former SAS captain that served in the Vietnam War. He also recruits the help of Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his regiment, the Sky Devils, as a military escort. Photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also joins the expedition with hopes of uncovering some unknown government conspiracy. When the group finally gets to the island, it doesn’t take long for the protector of the realm, a 100 foot tall ape named Kong, to show up and defend his land. This attack splits the group in two, which forces them to work together and keep their eyes peeled for Kong and the other horrors that wait for them on the island.

I had such a blast with Kong: Skull Island, that I’m still getting excited thinking back on it. It’s exactly what I wanted from this movie, and based on what some other critics were saying, I was kind of worried I was going to be let down. One thing that’s worth noting that can be seen as a negative are some of the characters. Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard and John C. Reily’s Hank Marlow are two examples of well thought out and fully realized characters. I understand their motivations and they stand out amongst the rest. There are other side characters that also have large personalities that make them memorable, but there’s no real development with any of them. Tome Hiddleston and Brie Larson, however, seem to hardly be in character at all. They’re just the stereotypical heroes you would expect to see in this movie. They try to add a little back story to them, but that exposition doesn’t really help at all. They’re just there to save the day, and that’s about it.

The original King Kong has one of the most classic stories in the history of film, and no sequel or remake since then has been able to capture that same essence and feeling. Kong: Skull Island doesn’t even try, and it’s all the better for it. Sure, it has the same kind of set up with the characters being introduced and sailing to the island, and there are natives which are to be expected on Skull Island, but that’s where the similarities end. The story of this movie pretty much revolves around Hiddleston and company trying to stay alive and get to the rendezvous point on the other side of the island. This is really all I needed, but there’s a cool subplot added in with Jackson’s character that raises the stakes even more. I was so thrilled to see this movie not get bogged down in trying to be something more than it is. The plot was there to drive the movie forward, but it wasn’t so stale and uninteresting that I lost track of what I was really watching. This keeps the pace fast with the action always moving forward. It’s cool to say that I was never once bored watching this movie.

Let’s talk about the man of the hour though. Toby Kebbel is tasked with being a side character soldier, but also was the motion capture actor for Kong. This seems appropriate since he did the motion capture for Koba in the new Planet of the Apes movies. He really brings Kong to life in this movie, which is awesome, and the physicality of the role is not to be forgotten. Kong has major throw downs in this movie that will force any viewer to go into popcorn munching overdrive. This is where the movie really shines, and I appreciate the visuals that add to the excessiveness that I mentioned I loved so much. Sure, the close ups and the crazy compositions of Kong back lit by the sun may seem cheesy, but they’re really just too cool to look at, and provided some of my favorite parts of the movie.

Is Kong: Skull Island going to match the classic status that Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack did with the original back in 1933? Of course not, but it does add a fulfilling new chapter to the MonsterVerse, and also was just a highly entertaining film. Once the characters get to the island, the action very rarely slows down and I found myself getting lost in the visuals of the island and the monster brawls that seemed larger than life happening before my very eyes. This isn’t a movie about characters nor does it have any important lessons to teach the viewer. This is about giant monsters throwing down for a couple of hours. In that way, it did not disappoint.

Final Grade: B+

I Saw the Light – Review

12 Apr

There are many great artists who die way before they’ve done everything they had the potential to do. This goes for musicians, film makers, actors, painters, and really anything you can think of. Hank Williams is one of those people that falls into this category devastatingly well. Much in the vein of what Walk the Line did with Johnny Cash, Marc Abraham’s I Saw the Light tells about the ups, downs, and inevitable end to Hank William’s career and personal life. It’s a very interesting movie about a very interesting person, but it unfortunately stumbles into pit falls that a lot of biopics do. It’s a bit too long, unfocused, and brushes over points of interest far too much to really make this a movie that comes close to reaching its full potential.

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The film begins in 1944 with Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) and Audrey Sheppard (Elizabeth Olsen) getting married in a gas station in a small town in Alabama. What follows is the story of how Hank rose to fame and the toll it had on his life and on his family. He started out humble enough, playing small shows around town and hosting his own radio show where his band and his wife sang songs early in the morning. Eventually, Hank goes on to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and that’s where his career really took off. With a string of hit songs and a winning stage personality, it seemed America found itself a new voice. What people didn’t know was Hank’s troubling addiction to drugs and alcohol and the strained relationship with Audrey and his children that was caused by these addictions and his sharp rise to stardom.

People who make biopics are undoubtedly taking on a huge responsibility. First of all, their subject has to be done properly for their fans or followers or even the subjects themselves to fully respect what was created in their name. There have been some huge successes like Walk the LineSelma, and even Love and Mercy. Unfortunately for I Saw the Light, this Hank Williams biopic doesn’t stand nearly as tall as the movies I’ve mentioned. First off, I’m a little concerned on how balanced the movie is in terms of his successes and his failures. I’m no expert on Williams, but I felt the film focused mostly on his addiction to drugs and alcohol, and not so much on his time at the Grand Ole Opry or really exploring his music further. All in all, I Saw the Light was a pretty depressing movie for the most part of it.

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This isn’t to say that there isn’t some great drama and music in this movie, because there are scenes that work really well. One particular scene shows Hank Williams showing up to a concert completely out of his mind and making a complete fool of himself before he even plays a note of music. That was a really good scene that’s unfortunately cut a little too short. A lot of things are cut short in the movie, even when it comes to character development. There are a few friends of Hank that show up throughout the movie that we are supposed to care about, but nothing is ever done to make the characters appear real or change. Even though the movie is about Hank Williams doesn’t mean that they couldn’t explore the lives of the people in his band a little as well. On the flip side, the music that is in the movie all sounds very authentic and really puts you in the time period. Hiddleston and the rest all perform the songs very well and I found myself tapping my toes on more than one occasion.

Speaking of Tom Hiddleston, I’m not even sure he was in this movie. For all I know, I was watching the real Hank Williams, who rose from the grave just so he could star in his own biopic. Hiddleston can now be ranked with those few actors who have completely transformed themselves into a character to the point where you don’t even feel like you’re watching them and you can lose yourself in the story. His movements, voice, posture, and expressions all seem so meticulously planned to create the most authentic representation of Hank Williams that he could possibly conjure up. If anything, people should just see the movie for Hiddleston’s performance.

I Saw the Light has a lot of problems with how the story is told and what the story focuses on, but there are also plenty of good things in the movie. Tom Hiddleston is fantastic, the music is so much fun to listen to, and I really had no problem immersing myself in the time period. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like I got the full story on the life and death of Hank Williams. This is a movie that could have been great, but instead it’s just pretty good. Is it worth seeing? Yeah, I think so, but don’t expect to be completely fulfilled by the end of it.

Crimson Peak – Review

20 Oct

Has Guillermo del Toro ever done any wrong? Maybe just once, but he continues a streak of interesting and beautiful films with Crimson Peak. Let me just get something out of the way here. This film is nothing like what you may think it’s going to be based on the trailers and the other advertising done for it. What this film actually is is a Hammeresque fairy tale brought to you by one of the masters of the fantastical, Guillermo del Toro. Is Crimson Peak perfect? Absolutely not, in fact it’s one of this film makers weaker movies, but it’s still a good means of escape.

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As a young girl, Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) was warned by the ghost of her mother, “Beware of Crimson Peak.” Some fourteen years later, Edith is all grown up and aspiring to be a writer of ghost stories. Her life starts going through a major change when she meets Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet who came to America to raise money for a new machine he has designed. After someone close to Edith dies under mysterious circumstances, she marries Sharpe and moves to his family’s mansion in England where he lives with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain). Both of the Sharpes begin acting a lot differently to Edith once she arrives. Not only that, but she begins getting visited by ghosts in the night who suffer from all sorts of physical deformities. Obviously, not everything is what it seems which reminds Edith once again of he dead mother’s mysterious warning.

The closest movie in del Toro’s filmography that I can compare Crimson Peak to is Pan’s Labyrinth, although it’s not nearly as epic as del Toro’s masterpiece. Like I said, this film is not exactly what you or I would call a modern horror film. There are horror elements to the story, but this mostly feels like a Grimm fairy tale told through the lens of del Toro working for Hammer Studios. That’s kind of a stretch in terms of descriptions, but that’s just how I see this movie. Edith’s last name is Cushing for heaven’s sake. Anyway, if you go into this film expecting to see a horror film or ghost story like Sinister or Insidious, you may be sorely disappointed.

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I’d love to say that Crimson Peak is a flawless movie, but that simply is not true. There are some aspects of this movie that really began to put me asleep in my seat. For one thing, the first half hour or so is excruciatingly boring. I get that it’s set up for everything that’s about to happen, but Edith’s character isn’t really interesting enough to make this part of the movie really anything special. There’s also the manner with which the ghosts are used in this movie. First of all, there were far too many jump scares. This film doesn’t need these cheap tricks. It’s already creepy enough. The ghosts also didn’t do as much as they were maybe intended to do. I loved their designs and how they moved, but I just wish their role in the story was tweaked a little bit so they could show off how cool they were some more.

Now let’s move on to what was awesome. First of all, this is a beautiful film with the best use of color I’ve seen this this year. The beautiful colors and the gorgeous costume and set design only add to my theory more that this is meant to be seen as a fairy tale and not a horror movie. The acting in this film is all fine too. Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska work well together and both really look and act the parts that they are trying to play. The real scene stealer in this movie though is Jessica Chastain. I’ve seen her in a lot of movies, but this may be my favorite performance of hers. It’s a side of her acting that I’ve never really seen before and I was really impressed. Finally, the whole movie just has a magical tone to it where things seem to float on air in some instances and crumble before your eyes the next. It’s hard to explain but it’s easy to lose yourself in the beauty of Crimson Peak.

While the advertising for Crimson Peak really blows the big one, the film itself does not. That being said, it’s far from being Guillermo del Toro’s best work and may even be one of his weakest in terms of storytelling and pacing. The film does succeed, however, in providing some legitimately cool scares, creating a creepy yet startlingly beautiful atmosphere, and telling an archetypical fairy tale. While Crimson Peak is a mild disappointment, I certainly wouldn’t mind revisiting it sooner rather than later.

Thor: The Dark World – Review

14 Nov

Ever since The Avengers dropped last year, it seems that everybody is going a little Marvel crazy, and that’s just fine with me. This year alone we’ve already got to see Iron Man 3, a new show on ABC called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and most recently Thor: The Dark WorldWe’re on our way to the next Avengers movie, but for now the cinematic Marvel universe is growing and growing, with The Dark World not only being a very entertaining film, but also an important entry in terms of expanding the universe.

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Since Bifröst was destroyed and rebuilt, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been traveling through the different worlds in over to restore peace amongst them all, however, a  lurking evil is waiting for its moment to strike. On Earth, Jane Austin (Natalie Portman) uncovers a portal that releases and infects her with the Aether, a powerful substance that was locked away by Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) father Bor. Now that the Aether has been released, the dark elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) come out of hiding to reclaim the Aether and use it to destroy the universe. Facing his most difficult and personal challenges yet, Thor must team up with his brother Loki (Tim Hiddleston) to stop Malekith and save the universe.

Now, let me be there first to say that the original Thor was my least favorite of all of the first Avengers films. I’m sure many will disagree, but in my opinion, once Thor got to Earth in that movie, it slowed down way too much. Kenneth Branagh was s good choice of director and handled the Shakespearean content very well, but it just wasn’t as entertaining as I wanted it to be, which is exactly what I expect from any movie with a Marvel logo attached to it. Luckily, The Dark World fixes all of its entertainment problems, and despite some major ugliness in the plot, beats its predecessor by a mile.

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Right off the bat, this movie throws action in your face and doesn’t let up until it’s over. I can’t say the same thing about the first one, even though it did have the task of setting up the universe and the characters. This time, we know everyone and we can see exactly what they can do. Idris Elba’s character Heimdall gets more to do in this one and it’s really cool to see him kick some ass. Who really steals the show is Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, this time not really playing the villain but still full of wisecracking remarks.

Still, there are some ugly, ugly problems in this movie. For one thing, the whole plot of a powerful villain using a mysterious substance to destroy the earth is a bit old by now. Wasn’t that pretty much the whole thing behind the Tesseract? Now it’s the Aether. Another thing is that there are moments in the plot where everything is solved without any effort. One scene in particular ends before there can even be any suspense at all. And finally, there are moments when the CGI looks pretty bad, especially when it’s from a distance.

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As for the Thor movies, I can say without question that The Dark World is better than the original Thor and I can also say it’s better than Iron Man 3, in terms of post-Avengers Marvel movies. Though it is not without some major flaws, I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained from the very start to the very finish. Let’s just say the movie was over before I even realized, not because of the run time, but because I just had so much fun with it.

The Avengers – Review

4 May

One of the first thoughts I had after leaving The Avengers last night was, “How can I review this film and still give it justice?” I’ve been training for this movie since I was a kid by watching the television shows, playing the games, and reading the books of the various characters in this film. I have so much to say, and worried that I’m just going to start rambling about how awesome it is. I’ll give it my best shot, so forgive me if I sound like a giddy school girl.

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Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is back with a vengeance in The Avengers, with plans to take over the world using the energy of the mysterious and ominous Tesseract.  Now, the director of S.H.I.EL.D, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles his team of extraordinary individuals. These are: the millionaire playboy Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.); the demigod Thor (Chris Hemsworth); the super soldier Steven Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans); gamma radiated scientist Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); sharp shooter Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner); and super agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson). Together they are The Avengers, and Loki is in for one hell of a battle for Earth.

The outstanding thing about this movie is that every superhero gets their share of screen time. One isn’t more important than the other, and every single one plays a vital role in accomplishing the mission. Even Hawkeye and Black Widow, who didn’t get their own individual tie-ins get a lot of screen time and are just as significant as characters like Thor and Captain America. I can even say that each hero got their own moment of just jaw-dropping awesomeness that my friends and I are still talking about.

I was a little worried that this movie was going to feel like it went on for too long with a run time of almost two and a half hours, especially since I was at the midnight movie and I had a small inkling of concern that I was going to fall asleep. I had absolutely no cause for concern. First of all, the movie felt like an hour and a half tops. The fact that I was in that theatre for two and a half hours is mind blowing. I just did not want the movie to end. Also, when the film first started, I immediately was wide awake and ready to go.

The special effects here are absolutely phenomenal. New York City is almost annihilated at the end, and it looks great. The fight scenes were also brilliantly choreographed and edited so that we got to see how each member was contributing to the battle. There was one long take in particular that travels all throughout the Manhattan battlefield to show all of the Avengers taking on numerous villains. It was so satisfying.

The performance were top notch. Tom Hiddleston is fantastically menacing as Loki, making him a villain we love to hate. Downey Jr. is appropriately sarcastic, and Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth pull off the tough talking but heroic persona of a superhero. The scene stealer in The Avengers, however, is Mark Ruffalo, who I didn’t put enough faith into. His Bruce Banner is very mild and soft spoken, but when he Hulks out, the audience is treated to the best Hulk scenes to grace the big screen.

I know I’m going to get a lot of heat from this next statement, but I believe that The Avengers surpasses The Dark Knight. Go ahead and disagree. That’s absolutely fine, but I can honestly say I was never more entertained by the action and surprisingly deep characters of The Avengers, and it was awesome to see all these heroes onscreen at the same time. It is the best super hero movie ever made, by far, and the scene during the end credits make me very impatient for the next one. I 110% recommend The Avengers, and I can’t wait to go back to the theaters and see it again.