Movies

Movie Review: Thor

Ah, Thor. You might be my favorite superhero movie since Iron Man.

Thor is definitely somewhere on my list of top 5 Marvel superheroes. The guy is Marvel’s answer to Wonder Woman: raised in a society with different moral standards in regards to fighting and killing, able to occasionally outright kill a guy who is totally a bad guy without angsting about it, and just generally, you know, Mythic.

This movie is exactly what you’d expect to get if you combined Jack Kirby art, Kenneth Branagh drama, and modern Hollywood’s pop culture superhero aesthetic. Fortunately, the first two things complement each other sublimely, and, other than a few lines that sound cheesy or flat, the Hollywood conventions don’t get in the way too much.

I spent the whole first act being vaguely annoyed. “Wait, I thought I liked Thor. This guy is a complete ass.” The movie was so good at telling me Thor’s origin story that it made me forget a central conceit of that origin story, namely that Thor starts out as a complete ass. I’m not going to spoil anything, because I know this isn’t the most widely known comic book origin story, but let’s just say they were able to cut out the fat and modernize it thoroughly, while remaining close enough to the canon that the story remained faithful to the character’s essence.

Speaking of faithful, the realm of Asgard is both wondrous and beautiful; capturing the spirit of Kirby’s illustrations. Many times I was giddily gobsmacked by how detailed, natural, and correct it all seemed. The costuming was a damn good compromise between the simple graphic qualities of Kirby’s design and modern movie convention. It wasn’t perfect, but I think that’s more of a consequence of practical technical limitations and conventions; I’m not going to dismiss a masterwork of superhero costume design because I think that a breastplate should have a slightly different sheen. This was the first movie in ages that made me feel like there were wholly different worlds, worlds that may have influenced each other, but that had their own qualities of mood, soul, and aesthetic. I felt like I could touch those walls of gold, and they would be solid. That doesn’t happen often, with our modern CG.

A few of the plot points fell a little flat: I immediately understood Jane Foster’s fascination with Thor, but his devotion to her was never really justified. I suppose the filmmakers may have just let “look, she’s Natalie Portman, Natalie Portman!” act as the entire justification for Thor’s romantic devotion, but that wasn’t enough for me. This made some of the story’s final moments lack punch, but that’s a relatively minor nitpick in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable film. And yes, there were one or two times where the script tripped over itself, trying to be too pop-culture-y or too epic, but none of those flubs were bad enough to sear themselves deeply enough into my brain for me to quote now. Only two of the film’s many, many product placements were so transparently obvious that they made me wince; in that case I can remember what they were, but I’m not going to point them out in the hopes that you will be better able to ignore them than I was, dear reader.

What else is there to say? Sif and the Warriors Three were utterly perfect. Volstagg had that legendary mix of gluttony and goodwill that he picked up in the Walt Simonson era. Loki had a great character arc, probably one of the best villain origin stories I’ve ever seen in a comic book movie. And Thor… was Thor, that same hero I know and love. Good job, movie. Good job.

Secretariat

Day late, dollar short movies, Doug Loves Movies edition, AKA I saw it on a plane.

So I’m on a plane on my way to GDC watching Secretariat.  Stupid movie lured me with a strong female lead  breaking with convention and pushing boundaries and all that. I swear I almost used the word “brassy” there.  Send help.  Also, the livery colors are very difficult to ignore. I can’t look away.

This movie is too cute for its own good. Unnecessary flashbacks. Unnecessary, simplistic monologues. Out-of-place hippie nostalgia subplot.  John Malcovich malcoviching a low-grade malcovich, en francais! But it’s charming, somehow.

To some extent, the plainspoken clichés and saccharine aphorisms are simply a product of the setting. As my old friend Adam likes to say about movies set in the mid-century, this story is from “simpler times.” Times before extended, overly specific metaphors, when you could just have your Dad tell you one thing about horse racing early in your life, and ride that nugget of philosophy to the Triple Crown!

Spoiler alert? How many people don’t know the ending to this story, or at least the ending for the horse? Every time a horse wins a few races or looks promising, the world remembers that horseracing exists, and invokes Secretariat. “Could this be the next Secretariat?” Invariably no, no it can’t be. But the chance gets the story retold, and keeps the ending in everyone’s minds.  So why not tell it again, in movie form? People liked that other horse movie, right?

And this movie does a good job of telling the story. It captures a bit of the spirit of the times. It’s also beautifully shot; the heraldry and the grace are what got me looking at the screen and plugging in my headphones in the first place.  Come for the pageantry, stay for the tears.

Recently, there was a This American Life about people who have a weird quirk: they cry at movies on airplanes, and only on airplanes. I find myself getting a bit misty in-flight sometimes, but I’d say that’s more due to the fact that I kick off most trips with a little light insomnia. My tears are at their most jerkable when I’ve not had sleep in quite some time; when I was younger and having four-to-five-day insomaniacal stretches, I’d just watch the History channel and weep openly at stories of people overcoming hardship. Someday I’ll tell you about the woman’s suffrage documentary that nearly killed me. Anyway, that was another important part of the This American life story about the plane crying: not the sufferage, the triumph. The guy said he only cried at happy moments, or moments of victory. Secretariat provides plenty of those, naturally.

Also, I like horses. This movie is full of horse magic. The horse knows. The horse is wise beyond imagining. These are all truths that most American girls carry in their blood, and immediately believe – no matter how much they’re contradicted by actual experience with horses. It’s an easy chord to strike, an easy heartstring to pluck, an easy music metaphor to overextend. At the same time, if there’s one horse in history who came close to living up to that impossible ideal of horsey perfection, it’s this one. It feels perfectly natural to sing his praises.  I’m done now.

This movie hits all the right notes (why am I doing this?!), but it has some serious flaws. You can see the full emotional arc laid out before you right from the starting gun (ok… metaphor appropriateness increasing). Every setback and hardship is a straight-up cinematic cliché, just  as every triumph is pre-ordained by history.  Secretariat is the apotheosis of predictability.

But what do I want from a movie about Secretariat; an InfernoKrusher ending?  As much as I’m in favor of the sublimely unexpected destruction of convention, it would have been a betrayal of the feel-good dream this story offers and this movie provides.

In the end,  Secretariat drew me in with pretty clothes, pretty horses, and pretty sentimentality. Still, all in all, a pretty good movie. You might want to watch it the next time you have horrible insomnia or are on a cross-country flight, preferably both.

Day Late Dollar Short Movie Reviews: Machete

Since my college days during the advent of internet movie reviews, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have that job. I like movies, I like talking about things, and I can and do enjoy  movies of just about every genre. Now that I have this here blog, I figured I’d finally get around to writing some – the problem being that I now seldom see movies when they come out and reviews matter. That’s why I’ve titled this feature “Day Late Dollar Short Movie Reviews.” Movie news you probably can’t use!

A few days ago my brother told me he was going to see Machete. If he hadn’t I probably would have forgotten it was even out.  I loved the Grindhouse trailer, I’m generally a bit fan of the ‘sploitation revival, and when I heard they were making a full movie I was ridiculously gleeful, but that anticipation faded in the intervening months.

Machete is a movie where Danny Trejo kills a lot of people, primarily with the titular machete (though there’s more variety in his methods than the title implies). There are some hot women in it. If that’s all you want, you won’t be disappointed. The violence in Machete is super mega over-the-top; the problem is that the rest of the movie can’t seem to keep up the same pace. There are long stretches where it starts to take itself far too seriously, and instead of a ‘sploitational romp it feels like a mediocre action drama. Most of these interminable interludes contain Jessica Alba. Read the rest of this entry »