Friday, May 6, 2011

THOR (2011)

In the realm of Asgard aging king Odin (Anthony Hopkins) intends to install warrior son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as his successor, which does not sit well with other son Loki (Tom Hiddleston).  The ceremony is interrupted when frost giants from the realm of Jotunheim, Asgard’s longtime enemy, attempt to steal an item of power.  Against his father’s command, the arrogant Thor travels to Jotunheim and breaks the uneasy truce.  As punishment the furious Odin banishes Thor to the realm of Earth where he falls, literally, into the hands of stargazing scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her team (Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings).  Meanwhile back in Asgard, Odin becomes ill and Loki conspires with the fire giants to control the realm and kill his brother.  Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the psychologically rich and thematically complex Christopher Nolan BATMAN reboots.  I was certainly conned by Robert Downey, Jr.’s quirky charms in the first IRONMAN movie, which this new Marvel franchise seems eager to emulate.  THOR, however, has neither the ambition of the former nor the charisma of the latter.  The script, credited to Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne from a story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich, feels thin and lacks engagement with character or story.  Relationships and motivations are reduced to off-hand lines, and obstacles are all-to-easily overcome.  Director Kenneth Branagh exacerbates these failings by adopting a visual style alternating between the derivative and the self-conscious.  His action scenes are lifeless, and he elicits tepid performances from an otherwise solid cast.  Hopkins sleepwalks through the role even in the few scenes when his character is upright.  Skarsgard seems apologetic with every line he utters.  Hemsworth is all beefcake and no sizzle, with his best moments and biggest laughs in the all-too-few scenes where the hapless warrior adjusts to mundane life on Earth.  Portman is unconvincing both as a scientist and a romantic lead, and the chemistry between Jane and Thor is nonexistent.  Any notion that audiences will be clamoring for future sparks is laughable.  Dennings, in the obligatory comedic sidekick role, and Hiddleston, bringing a modicum of depth to his conniving villain, glimmer in a film that otherwise comes off as a 3D wet blanket.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

SCREAM 4 (2011)

Like it or not the original SCREAM set the gold standard for self-referential horror-comedy.  The underappreciated SCREAM 2 kept the franchise moving at a brisk clip by taking itself less seriously.  On the other hand, the justly maligned SCREAM 3 felt tired and lumbered to its foregone conclusion.  Like horror franchises of the past, this one appeared dead and buried.  But true to genre conventions, appearances often are not what they seem.  In this series reboot Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) returns to Woodsboro (on the anniversary of the horrific Ghostface killings – naturally!) along with her publicist (a callously funny Alison Brie) to promote her new book.  Meanwhile former journalist Gale Weathers-Riley (Courtney Cox) fights writer’s block and struggles in her marriage with now police chief Dewey (David Arquette).  Soon Ghostface is terrorizing a new generation of fresh-faced teens and clueless adults who happen to get in the way.  Among the cast of potential victims and/or suspects are Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), spunky best friend Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), creepy ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella), geeky horror aficionados Erik (Robbie Mercer) and Charlie (Rory Culkin), and overenthusiastic deputy Judy (Marley Shelton).  The body count increases as the suspect list dwindles until the bloody dénouement, in which motives are revealed and loose ends torturously wrapped up.  Despite the efforts of director Wes Craven and original screenwriter Kevin Williamson, the end results are a mixed bag.  On the plus side, returning (read: surviving) cast members Campbell, Cox and Arquette feel like old friends you’re happy to see, and you genuinely fear for their characters’ safety.  In general the same cannot be said for the new blood.  Except for Panettiere and Culkin the pretty teens in harm’s way barely register enough to raise blood pressure beyond the visual machinations of Craven and plot devices of Williamson.  More to the point, this precociously clever series has swallowed its own tail.  And though fans of the genre (and I’m one) could easily spend their money on worse fare, I sincerely hope that this time the franchise is really and truly dead.