Tag: chris hemsworth

Extraction


Extraction (2020)
★★★ / ★★★★

First-time director Sam Hargrave helms an action-thriller so kinetic and breathless, clichés and tired tropes are overshadowed by sheer entertainment value. The premise is familiar: A group of mercenaries is hired by an imprisoned drug lord’s right-hand man (Randeep Hooda) to rescue the drug lord’s teenage son (Rudraksh Jaiswal) from a rival crime boss (Priyanshu Painyuli). But there is a catch: the former drug lord’s assets are actually frozen and so it is impossible to pay the mercenaries in full. Former Special Forces Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) finds his team dropping like flies just when the mission is about to be completed. The action doesn’t stop from here—which will impress those looking for adrenaline-fueled shootouts and hand-to-hand combat.

Most impressive sequence involves an extended tracking shot—beginning from the streets of Dhaka and ending under a bridge. Multiple techniques are employed to create an illusion of an unbroken shot and it is convincing enough. As men pummel one another to deliver jaw-breaking violence, it becomes clear that a lot of thought is put into how to make the action both realistic and beautiful. I enjoyed how there is a certain rhythm when the action must change from trading bullets to using fists, vice-versa. It never makes the mistake of communicating that violence is just all for fun. In fact, there are a number of shots that underline how painful it is to be hit by the buttstock of a rifle, to be choked to death, to receive a bullet in the shoulder. It shows, too, that it is not pleasurable to use your own fists to break someone’s face. Although the action entertains on the surface, the seemingly cartoonish violence is not without consequences.

A sense of humor is not absent either. Crowded streets and tenements contain hundreds of extras—look closely and notice how excited they are to be in a movie. There is a joke about running people over. How supposedly powerful drug lords glare intensely, so far away from the action, when things do not go his way. No one is forced to wink or smile at the camera simply to create low-hanging humor. No buddy jokes despite the ex-soldier having to hang out with a teenager for about half the picture. It is one of those films that you feel the filmmakers having a good time in making their movie, so they needn’t try so hard for a sense of goodness to come through. This is a quality I don’t see often in action films. It just wishes to create a good time and there’s nothing with that.

There are moments of deeper meaning which I wished screenwriter Joe Russo delved into a bit more. While in short-lived shelter, Tyler and the boy, Ovi, get a chance to talk to another. Naturally, the teenager is curious about his rescuer. Ovi’s questions revolve around Tyler’s lifestyle—not how exciting or thrilling it is but how lonely and soul-crushing it must be. Despite all the complex action sequences, a conversation between man and boy is actually the center of the film. And rightfully so. When we meet Tyler, he hides a sadness, guilt, possibly even anger. His animalistic rage is revealed at times when he is pushed to a corner by men who wish to kill him. In this critical scene—a silent scene—between Tyler and Ovi, much is revealed about our protagonist—and the beautiful details do not require words. It is without question there is a heart and brain in “Extraction.”

Those who wish to focus on the big picture—and only the big picture—will claim that the film is composed merely of a series of stunts. I just showed above how this assertion is inaccurate. But taking this type of criticism as is, I then ask, “So what?” It doesn’t require special glasses to realize that these stunts are well done. There are stakes to the action unfolding. And we get to see another part of the world that’s not Chicago, or New York City, or Los Angeles, or (insert European city here)—a place that big action blockbusters seldom visit.

Men in Black: International


Men in Black: International (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

F. Gary Gray’s “Men in Black: International” is a tolerable but forgettable reboot that does not take enough risks because the studio is afraid to provide a work so different that fans of the franchise may find it unpleasant, off-putting, or unrecognizable. But guess what? The last entry was released seven years ago. The more appropriate move, one may argue, is to overhaul the series completely, turn it toward a different direction, and let it rip. It may or may not have worked. But at least it would have been memorable, a fearless experiment. Instead, however, we are handed this reluctant reboot, too safe to become anything more than a movie to be forgotten about once the end credits appear. A losing strategy was chosen.

We follow Molly (Tessa Thompson), dubbed Agent M by Agent O (Emma Thompson), lead of Men in Black’s New York branch, during her probationary period in London. Smart, observant, and highly enthusiastic to learn more about the secret organization, Agent M recognizes that Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) is one of the top suits within the London branch, and so she finds a way for the two of them to work on a case. The screenwriters, Matt Holloway and Art Marcum, make the correct decision to establish the protagonist before the banters and the effects-heavy action sequences. Because we get a sense of her quick wit, resourcefulness, and determination, we do not question her qualifications. If only the rest of the picture functioned on this level.

Exchanges between H and M are hit-or-miss. While Hemsworth and Thompson share some chemistry, it is never fiery or crackling. Perhaps it is in the way the characters are written when together. They have different personalities but they are not opposites. And because they are not opposites, they rarely clash. And because they rarely clash, drama fails to reach a zenith.

It is apparent the duo are meant to be liked, together and apart. They are played with cool and gusto by the attractive leads, but this approach comes across as boring at times. The humor is like a gentle tap on the shoulder when there are instances where we crave for a playful punch in the gut. Furthermore, it oozes political correctness when it comes to gender and I found it to be both distracting and patronizing. The casting itself is already daring. Why not go all the way?

I enjoyed the curious creatures that populate this universe. There are nudges to previous “Men in Black” films but these are rarely ostentatious. I smiled at the small moments when the camera would linger for an extra second or two to admire an an extraterrestrial’s body shape, skin texture, tentacles, number of heads, humanoid eyes. They need not talk, or grunt, or do anything to have a personality. It gives the impression that the filmmakers are proud of the special and visual effects outside of the action scenes even though these effects do not always blend seamlessly into the environment.

Speaking of action scenes, they are tired and generic. There is nothing special about toy-looking guns shooting colorful lasers. Cue the swooshing sound effects and CGI explosions. To me, these are mere punctuations to the adventures Agents M and H must go through to forge a formidable partnership. After all, the point is to revive a nearly dead franchise. If this core wasn’t strong—and it isn’t about half the time—then the movie would have been an exercise in futility.

Avengers: Endgame


Avengers: Endgame (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

It requires a daring decision to surprise me when it comes to modern superhero films and, quite miraculously, “Avengers: Endgame” manages to do so about fifteen minutes in. It has been a while since a Marvel film left me wondering, “So then… what’s next?” and it is a most refreshing feeling, a promise, a question mark followed by an exclamation point, that there is plenty more to unbox considering its hefty running time of three hours. The well-paced and consistently entertaining direction by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo gives the impression that just about anything can or will happen given that the material at hand is meant to be a closing chapter to one of the most ambitious projects Hollywood has given moviegoers.

The expectation is enormous and the picture delivers for the most part. The action sequences are busy but always given context in addition to being well-choreographed and so those giving at least a modicum of attention would not be lost; the special and visual effects are first-rate—certainly ostentatious at times but not once do they come across as empty decorations; there are enough moments of silence and ponderation given the fact that the characters remain in mourning over their fallen comrades and loved ones after Thanos (Josh Brolin) succeeds in eliminating half of the universe’s population; and the direct and indirect nudges to Marvel films that came before are throughly entertaining—handled with creativity, humor, and a solid sense of foreboding.

And yet the picture is not without notable shortcomings. The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely takes on a monumental task of putting together more than a decade’s worth of stories and creating an unforgettable, possibly instant-classic, culmination. While I admired that the goal is nothing short of magnificent, the work scrambles at times at trying to be everything at once.

Most noticeable is the humor, how it comes across as shoehorned—at times cringe-y—when events begin to feel a little grave. In previous films, the well-written and well-delivered comic lines succeed in alleviating tension. Occasionally, it works here. But not nearly all the time. I think the reason is because the heavy atmosphere of foreboding consistently points to the demise of characters we’ve learned to love. Laughter fizzles rather than helping to elevate excitement. In the middle of it, I wondered if it would have been a more daring decision to minimize the humor that Marvel films thrive on. It absolutely would have been more challenging.

Considering the running time, it is curiosity that there isn’t more in-depth character development. Instead, we receive one too many scenes or shots of our heroes looking solemn or trading conciliatory handshakes. Sometimes there are close-ups of tears flowing down one’s cheeks. I found the melodrama to be unnecessary; a more elegant choice might been to trust the audience to grab onto the story and understand the gravity of the plot without such dramatic signposts.

The remaining tension between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), for instance, may have been worth exploring. Instead, the two leaders are given only about three to five minutes to sort out their personal issues. People forget that Evans and Downey Jr. are dramatic actors; they work best not when the charm is on but when it isn’t, when the material demands that they let go of their masculine chain mail and reveal their character foibles.

While the chosen strategy is understandable from a point of view of an action-centric story, an argument can be made that an amplified drama leads to stronger moments of catharsis. Here, catharsis often comes in the form of surprise deaths and teary reunions. I was not particularly moved by any of them—with one exception that comes late into the picture.

Bad Times at the El Royale


Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Bad Times at the El Royale” has more in common with independent cinema of the ‘90s, particularly Quentin Tarantino’s earlier works, than it does with empty, flashy, and impatient suspense-thrillers of today. It is written and directed by Drew Goddard with terrific energy, rousing creativity, and perspicuity in untangling the numerous and complex character motivations. What results is a highly entertaining non-linear picture in which the viewer is given the gift of possibilities. It is established early on that just about anything can happen—and it does—so we wonder whether right can prevail over wrong, if good can trump evil—or at least a semblance of these opposing categories.

A Catholic priest (Jeff Briges), a singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum cleaner salesman (Jon Hamm), and a hippie (Dakota Johnson) check into the titular motel, situated between a literal state line of California and Nevada, run by the sole employee Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman). Over the course of the night, these individuals would reveal themselves to be something else other than how they wish to be perceived. Great care is put into each character. And just when we think we have them figured out, the propulsive film screeches to a halt and introduces extraneous but fascinating flashbacks.

I admired the picture’s willingness to take its time. Clocking in at almost two-and-a-half hours, there is never a dull moment. When characters speak, we are inspired to listen because he or she, one can argue, is a certain type of archetype. And yet it is not so obvious that the work becomes more of an academic exercise than a visceral experience. Like other great films, subtext is there should one wishes delve into the work further. When characters do become silent, it becomes a moment of rising apprehension. The tease of whether or not violence might occur at any moment is executed with glee and verve. It is clear that Goddard has an understanding of neo-noir thrillers, particularly in how to use every ticking second to keep viewers’ expectations up in the air. Imagine betting a large sum of money on a coin flip—and the coin flip being in slow motion.

Goddard gives his work a sense of freedom. I claim that the work could have been only eighty minutes in duration if it had undergone liposuction—wall-to-wall suspense and thrills from the first minute until the moment the end credits begins. Had this been the case, it would have been a significantly lesser experience because the beautiful details are actually embedded in the fat. I loved moments when characters simply sit down, share a drink, and converse—not because it furthers the plot but because it helps our understanding of the players. There are even moments when the camera remains still to capture how a woman sings in addition to how well she sings.

Performances are just about impeccable across the board. Bridges as an aging man with memory issues is equally compelling as Erivo who portrays a black soul singer who made a difficult but moral choice of taking the much longer route toward possible financial success. Notice how the camera’s movements match that of Bridges and Erivo’s styles of acting. It adapts when only one actor is on screen and then again when both of them must share a frame and connect. Also notice how the established rhythms are shattered when the dastardly Billy Lee, played with great fun by Chris Hemsworth, sashays into the frame nearly two-thirds of the way through the story. The mesmerizing, devilish dance would make Hitchcock proud.

Avengers: Infinity War


Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Those not well-versed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe need not fret: “Avengers: Infinity War,” the accumulation of preceding works of the franchise, as directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, is a supremely entertaining movie, made for viewers who like their action films big and loud without sacrificing creativity and heart. Compounded with the requirement that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely must juggle over twenty personalities throughout its behemoth running time, while maintaining a breezy forward momentum, the film is without a doubt a successful mainstream entertainment.

It is the correct decision to keep the central conflict at bare minimum: Stop Thanos (Josh Brolin) from acquiring six Infinity Stones. If successful, this would grant him the ability to eliminate half of the universe’s population by merely snapping his fingers. With so many moving parts—some events happen on Earth, others take place in outer space; under each setting are strands designed to come together for climactic battles—it is critical that the story is simple and clean as possible. But the masterstroke is its treatment of the villain.

It is inaccurate to categorize Thanos simply as good or evil. He believes he is saving the universe by performing genocide. On the most basic level, he argument makes sense: resources are scarce while populations continue to rise. His method just so happens to be monstrous, at least based on our morality. But that is not only the reason why he is complex, perhaps even a tragic figure. He is not written to be deranged psychopath who simply wishes to see the universe burn; like the heroes we root for, he is capable of feeling and caring. He is equally determined as those who wish to thwart his plans which makes for a compelling watch.

The special and visual effects are seamless. Hoards of rabid aliens clashing with elegant Wakandan warriors made me think of the epic battles in “The Lord of the Rings” with even more camera acrobatics. When Falcon (Anthony Mackie) soars above the battlefield or when Spider-Man (Tom Holland) swings from one collapsing piece of skyscraper to another, there is an urgency to the aerial shots and danger when the viewer looks down from great heights. When Thanos beats Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) with his bare fists, pieces of his armor fall off like broken teeth. These effects create images that are exciting, brutal, and realistic. I wish more blood and bruises were shown, but perhaps the brand hopes to keep such barbarous images at a minimum.

Having only a limited time to tell the story in an efficient way, characters we wish to get to see or get to know more do not get the attention they deserve. I wanted to bathe in the bromance between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), the hilarious banter between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), as well as the brilliance of Shuri (Letitia Wright), a young scientist with countless inventions. Although not a perfect superhero film, not even a near-perfect one (“The Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man 2,” “The Avengers,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), the picture delivers fresh popcorn entertainment. Notice there is almost always something to laugh at, be nervous about, or worth being curious over.

“Avengers: Infinity War” delivers upon its ambitions. If its risk-taking and playful crossovers is a portent of what is yet to come, not just within the “Avengers” movies but within the Marvel brand as a whole, then it can be assumed that the apices of the franchise remain territories to be discovered. It is only a matter of time.

Thor: Ragnarok


Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

There is a gag in this third installment of “Thor” involving the title character being thoroughly convinced that he is the “strongest Avenger.” Up until this film, however, I held the opinion that hammer-wielding God of Thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth) was the “most boring Avenger,” all superpower and good looks but severely lacking in the personality department. It is to my great surprise then that “Thor: Ragnarok” is able to change my mind. It is the funniest and most entertaining entry of the series thus far—not a surprise because it is directed by Taika Waititi, one of the two masterminds of “What We Do in the Shadows,” the most enjoyable mockumentary horror-comedy of the decade.

For a series that has taken itself too seriously in the past, its new approach is a much-needed breath of fresh air. The first half offers a joyous experience. Arguably, its attitude is punk-rock in that it is willing to throw everything against the wall just to see what would stick. But the strategy is not lazy because just about every scene, at times coming across as comic strips due to their ability to reach the punchline in a matter of mere seconds, is executed with infectious energy and glee. Sure, the special and visual effects are seldom cheesy but the Marvel spirit is consistently present, alive, and willing to experiment. I enjoyed that I did not know where the story is heading—nor did I care so long as it is able to maintain such a high level of entertainment.

One can feel that the performers are having fun. Cate Blanchett, playing Hela the Goddess of Death who wishes to rule Asgard, chews the scenery as if she were in some high fashion photoshoot. Whenever the camera is focused on her, she is posing and selling every bit of clothing and accessory on her body. It amusing to watch because the performance is an exaggeration—which, oddly enough, matches the over-the-top universe that these characters inhabit. Jeff Goldblum, who plays the flamboyant ruler of planet Sakaar, is the runner-up when it comes to scene-stealing performances. His extemporaneous dialogue added more color to an already pavonine display of alien personalities.

Perhaps the picture’s weakness is, as expected, the action sequences involving groups of people either fighting one another or one group attempting to flee the fray. Although well-choreographed and there is a technical believability among the chaos, self-seriousness kicks in during these scenes. One tends to notice the dramatic score more often. Strong personalities are muffled for the sake of delivering kinetic energy. The fighting and the repercussions of violence are supposed to tug at the heartstrings. But it is strange because we never get the impression that war is hell since there is minimal depiction of blood, severedl limbs, and gruesome deaths.

Regardless, “Thor: Ragnarok” provides the excitement, bona fide sense of humor, and high energy that viewers expect from a Marvel film. Here’s to hoping that future installments that have Thor in it would not forget that Hemsworth can do physical comedy and understands the importance of timing instead of simply putting him up as golden-haired decoration.

Ghostbusters


Ghostbusters (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

The problem with this remake of the 1984 “Ghostbusters” is a lack of a consistent engagement where laughs turn into gasps of horror, and vice-versa, as well as its dearth of genuine curiosity despite its main characters being scientists who aim to provide incontrovertible proof of the paranormal. One may not be blamed for thinking that the studios simply green-lit the project to make money without the intention of ever providing solid entertainment because just about every other scene plays out like a television movie.

The casting directors made good choices in employing Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones to play the paranormal investigators. Each of them has a big but specific personality that brings something special to the table even though the script is not quite up to the level of its performers’ talents.

Particularly joyful to watch is McKinnon, a real scene-stealer. Notice that even when she is not saying anything but just so happens to be in the frame as her co-stars, our eyes tend to gravitate toward her—whether it is due to the way she stands, how she contorts her face, the manner in which she controls her eyes. This is called presence and it is invaluable. Another ray of light, but in a different way, is Jones. She has the more thunderous lines but she sells them with one hundred percent effort with enthusiasm left to spare. I enjoyed how her character is written as a historian compared to her more science-minded counterparts.

Allowing the special and visual effects to take over the final third is a grave misstep. The images look too playful, silly, non-threatening. In the filmmakers’ attempt to become family-friendly, it has forgotten to take risks with its imagery. Compounded with the fact that the stunts are too jokey to the point where we can almost see the wires lifting the actors as the characters are attacked by ghosts in Times Square, what results is a frustrating lack of suspense. There is no tension in our heroines’ confrontation with the neon-animated spirits. Twenty minutes of action unfolds but we end up not caring at all. Clearly, the picture does not qualify as a thrilling action-fantasy picture.

Neither does it qualify as a strong comedy with interesting characters. While the Ghostbusters share a sense of camaraderie, there are numerous ad-libbed lines, particularly from McCarthy, that ought to have been left on the cutting room floor. They stand out like sore thumbs because they are usually out of context. In addition, some of the dialogue, especially those between Erin (Wiig) and Abby (McCarthy) which touch upon how they have grown apart over the years so their reunion—though friendly—is a bit awkward, barely commands realism. It might have been more interesting if the writers, Katie Dippold and Paul Feig, had allowed the two to engage in some sort of friction and then slowly build toward mending their friendship. Give them a reason to work together even though they do not want to be around one another. Instead, everyone must be likable from the get-go. This is a recipe for boredom.

Directed by Paul Feig, “Ghostbusters” wants to have fun, and there are amusing elements here such as Chris Hemsworth playing a handsome but hopelessly dimwitted assistant, but those involved behind the camera seem to forget that there is value in work that is rough around the edges. This is why the original was such a success and is beloved by many. This work, on the other hand, is pristine, neatly-packaged, and just about everything is too controlled and polished. It fails to embody the spirit of its inspiration. And we see right through its mask.

Thor: The Dark World


Thor: The Dark World (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Every five thousand years, the nine realms, including that of Earth and Asgard, align which means that gravity, light, and matter are able to penetrate through worlds. When Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) stumbles upon a fluid-like weapon called Aether, a Dark Elf named Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), defeated by the ancestors of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), is awakened from his slumber. Driven by revenge for the deaths of his fellowmen, Malekith hopes to take advantage of the convergence by acquiring the Aether and bring about the eradication of the universe.

A total mood-killer for me when it comes to superhero movies is when a villain’s endgame fails to make sense in any way, shape, or form. “Thor: The Dark World,” based on the screenplay by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely, belongs in this category. If Malekith were to succeed in ending the universe, while he would indeed get his revenge, how would this benefit him and his dwindling species in the long run? Would more resources be available for them? Could they live “outside” the universe given that the universe would be no longer? And yet despite these questions, a lack of practicality—on the level of a superhero picture anyway—is the least of its problems.

One of the driving forces of the film is the romance between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Jane. Their relationship is most unbelievable and near impossible to sit through because they are so boring together. A few jokes are attempted—she from Earth and he from a different world altogether—but not any of them are funny, memorable, or clever enough to pass as even remotely cute or entertaining.

Portman is a very good actress and it saddens me that she is given absolutely nothing substantial to do or say. The role could have been played by anyone who can look wide-eyed when physics-defying phenomena are discovered, act cute when a good-looking man is around, and look peeved when she comes across someone she does not particularly like.

I found the character to be insulting especially because Jane is supposed to be a brilliant scientist. With the way the character is written, I was not convinced that she is smart—someone who is an astrophysicist with three degrees. I felt Portman almost having to dumb herself down to play Jane. Why didn’t the writers challenge themselves to create a convincing, strong, and genuinely clever woman? I would rather watch an intellectual falling in love with Thor who, according to Loki (Tom Hiddleston, clearly the best performer in the film), is a “witless oaf.” I agree somewhat.

What makes Thor a great superhero? The film does not answer this question. For me, all I saw was a hunk of muscle in armor hammering his way through structures and bad guys. Although the movie offers some beautiful computerized action sequences as well as special and visual effects, there is little to no substance. We do not grow to like Thor any more or less—he is just there to look good, talk in a deep voice, and save the universe because the plot requires it.

Directed by Alan Taylor, “Thor: The Dark World” is likely to please those who like action. But those who like action with a little bit of brain, substance, real drama, and complex emotions are highly likely to be gravely disappointed. It is clear that Marvel is capable of excellence—or at least come close to it. Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers” and Anthony and Joe Russo’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” are good examples. The ante has been increased. Thus, it is only appropriate that we expect more.

Red Dawn


Red Dawn (2012)
★ / ★★★★

After a strange power blackout the night before, brothers Matt (Josh Peck) and Jed (Chris Hemsworth) wake up to tremors caused by explosions from afar. Scrambling downstairs and opening the front door, they discover dozens of North Korean paratroopers descending from the heavens and the neighborhood is thrown into chaos. Jed the Marine responds quickly and instructs his younger sibling to get inside the truck. Soon, they find themselves picking up friends on the way to a secure location.

“Red Dawn,” directed by Dan Bradley, is as frustrating as it is boring and miscalculated. The premise is interesting: a bunch of kids suddenly being thrown into warfare and deciding that it is their duty to liberate their home from foreign invaders. Though the template is ripe for a good action picture, not much is done with it. Instead of establishing a specific mood and searching for meaning behind the noise, it makes violence glamorous–and laughable. After a would-be training montage in the woods, it remains hard to believe that these high school students can jump on top of buildings like Jason Bourne and not pop their kneecaps–or at least twist their ankles.

The screenplay is cynical because it is rooted in the idea that nothing much is going on inside teenage brains other than getting together with the opposite sex, embracing a superficial definition of honor, and having an inability to put aside personal issues for the greater good. There is not one character I could relate with–someone I could look at and think, “If I were thrusted in a similar situation, I would be like him (or her).” The writers, Carl Ellsworth and Jeremy Passmore, treat the kids like a piece of meat, only to be disposed of when it is convenient to the plot for dramatic purposes.

It lacks an effective human element. The easiest to explore would have been the relationship between the two brothers. Instead, during the quieter moments, they sit next to girls and they flirt. Now, I have never been to war or a similar situation, but I can imagine. If my life was in danger every minute, the last thing on my mind would be hooking up. I would want to be next to my family, to try to get to know them more, to fix whatever was broken. Its priority is so misplaced that I ended up feeling upset halfway through.

A convincing dynamic among the rebel group, calling themselves Wolverines, is absent. Each character is so underwritten that I could not keep track of their names. To help orient myself, I labeled them with names like “Marine,” “Quarterback,” “Guy Who Swallowed Deer Blood” (Josh Hutcherson). They go to town and cause problems for the North Koreans, but we are not given any inside scoop on how they are going to execute their plan. They just do it. Are we supposed to just buy it? How is that an enjoyable experience for us?

“Red Dawn” is not good enough for a smart viewer who wish to pick the political and moral implications of the content or for someone who simply wishes to turn his brain off and experience empty calorie entertainment. Certainly both camps deserve much more.

Snow White and the Huntsman


Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

After the death of Snow White’s mother, King Magnus (Noah Huntley) went to war against an army that consisted of soldiers whose bodies shattered like glass when struck with appropriate force. Claiming a swift victory, the king found a prisoner, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), in one of the carriages and was so struck with her beauty, he decided to marry her the next day. Ravenna proved to be a traitor when she poisoned and pierced the king’s heart with a dagger just when they were about to consummate their marriage. As queen, Ravenna imprisoned Snow White indefinitely just in case she’d be of some use in the future. “Snow White and the Huntsman,” based on the screenplay by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini, showed magnificent promise as we plunged into a medieval world tarnished by dark magic and other curiosities, but it was ultimately unable to sustain its exciting momentum, weighed down by its middle section so bloated and soporific, it was like a poison apple to an otherwise thrilling action-fantasy. Casting Theron to play the evil queen was an excellent decision because she was able to deliver stunning beauty juxtaposed with an intensely ugly shrillness when things didn’t go her way. Theron completely embodied the queen’s desperation, from her intense glares to her branch-like fingers, to capture Snow White (Kristen Stewart) who successfully escaped from the castle. According to the mirror, eating the heart of the fairest in the land would provide Ravenna immortality–forever beautiful and powerful. Less effective were the title characters, especially Chris Hemsworth as The Huntsman. While it was fun to watch his physicality in terms of killing and knocking bad guys unconscious, the more sensitive moments, such as the backstory involving his deceased wife, not only felt like footnotes but they felt so muted, I didn’t feel like I knew the character well enough. Halfway through, I found myself expecting him to get killed because his use surpassed its expiration date. On the other hand, while Stewart did an adequate job as Snow White, looking very beautiful and tortured, it was unfortunate that her character was not given enough dimension for us to be convinced that she was a complex character worth rooting for no matter what. Because of this, her so-called moments of valor felt forced which began in the final act when she had to deliver a speech as to why they should lead an assault to her father’s former castle. Furthermore, the picture went overboard with its special and visual effects. At its best, the effects successfully placed us into the mind of Snow White. There was a real sense of dread when our heroine entered the enchanted Dark Forest for the first time and experienced horrific hallucinations. However, the effects eventually took center stage as it introduced fairies, trolls, and the like. While the film had a magical element to it, the introduction of the creatures felt more like empty visual candy–distractions–than tools of progressing the story forward. Lastly, I found the dwarves to be very dull which was a mistake because they are a staple to the mythology. If they had to be introduced, at least the writers ought to have done them the honor of making them memorable. Directed by Rupert Sanders, “Snow White and the Huntsman” had some entertaining action sequences but it needed to have the fat of its middle portion trimmed to make it feel more compact. Waiting for something to happen combined with inadequately established protagonists does not equal escapism.

The Avengers


The Avengers (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The Tesseract, a cube with the potential energy to destroy the planet, was obtained by the egomaniacal Loki (Tom Hiddleston) from S.H.I.E.L.D., Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistic Division, led by one-eyed Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Overpowered by Loki’s strength and otherworldly powers, Fury sought help from Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) eventually joining the party. Based on the screenplay by Joss Whedon, comprehensive character development in “The Avengers” was simply out of the question because each superhero contained an interesting personality filled with quirks and unique sense of humor. The main question was how to keep the story interesting apart from massively entertaining explosions and jaw-dropping action sequences. I found that the film was similar to a great swimmer. Because of Whedon’s direction, the film knew how to pace itself so it didn’t drown in its own ambitions. When the movie kept its head underwater by delivering the intense and often breathtaking battle scenes, they were allowed to play out to our satisfaction without overstaying their welcome. For example, the duel between Iron Man and Thor was simply wonderful to watch. Out of the six, not only did the two of them have the biggest egos, they were my least favorite characters compared to the rest. (Personally, listening to Thor speak is as boring as reading about the history of differential equations hybridized with Shakespearean lingo.) Yet it didn’t matter because I was so involved in what was happening. Their brawl, and of those to come, was within the story’s context. Thor, prior to joining the group, wanted to convince his adopted brother against enslaving Earth while Iron Man worked for a cause and had to deliver Loki to the proper authorities. When the movie gasped for air, they were quick and memorable. The sense of humor stood out because the script played upon the elementary personalities of each hero or heroine. For instance, the material had fun with what the audience expect of Black Widow and her sex. The script was balanced in subverting the typicalities of women’s roles in superhero movies, given that they’re usually the romantic interest or object of desire, and remaining loyal to her character as a woman on a global and personal mission. Since she, along with Hawkeye, did not have a stand-alone movie, having not read the comics, I appreciated that her character was given a little bit more depth than her counterparts. While there were still unanswered questions about her history and the intricacies of what she hoped to gain by joining S.H.I.E.L.D., by the end, I felt like I knew her as well as the other guys. I felt like she had her own stamp in the dynamics of the group, that they wouldn’t be complete without her. Naturally, the film’s climax involved a lot of extirpation of expensive skyscrapers. But the main difference between the destruction seen here as opposed to, say, Michael Bay’s “Transformers,” was the action didn’t feel incomprehensible. Things blew up but the quick cuts weren’t injected with multiple shots of epinephrine. Each jump of perspective had something enjoyable to offer instead of relying on a false sense of excitement. In other words, the destruction was actively made interesting instead of allowing it on autopilot. “The Avengers” could have used more Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), less speeches between Loki and Thor, and an explanation on how The Hulk became more manageable toward the end. Nevertheless, such negatives are so small compared to the cyclopean roller coaster ride that the filmmakers had given us. When I was a kid, I played with a lot of action figures. Some even revolved around crazy narratives I made up, one of which involved a live caterpillar and beetle destroying Legos that stood for Gotham City. I must say, the sight of The Hulk tossing Loki around like a piece of spaghetti made me feel like a kid again.

The Cabin in the Woods


The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Five friends decided to drive to an isolated cabin in the middle of a forest for a needed weekend getaway. While playing a round of Truth or Dare, the cellar popped open. Curt (Chris Hemsworth), the athlete, said the wind must’ve done it. Marty (Fran Kranz), the fool, scoffed at the improbability of such a statement. Jules (Anna Hutchison), the whore, was just dared to make out with a wolf hung on the wall, tongue and all, so strange and comedic that it was almost erotic. As a dare, Jules chose Dana (Kristen Connolly), the virgin, to go down the cellar and investigate. Her eyes scanned over trinkets behind a shroud of black. She screamed. Holden (Jesse Williams), the scholar, came rushing to her assistance. Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, “The Cabin in the Woods” was drenched in irony and satire but it also worked as an astute criticism of the stagnancy of the kinds of horror movies released since the slasher-fest eighties. In this instance, the five friends were appropriately not given background information because we’ve familiarized ourselves, to the point of being inured, to their respective archetypes. Instead, much of the screenplay was dedicated to challenging our expectations of them as well as their rather unique circumstance. For example, with Curt’s impressive physique and propensity for holding onto a football like it was a requisite organ, we didn’t expect him to know much about books let alone cite a respectable author. There was a very funny joke about his and others’ stereotype, so we were constantly aware that the material was one step ahead of us. I watched the movie with a smile on my face because I found it so refreshing. Instead of me sitting there trying to psychically push the material to reach its potential, it was ambitious enough to set the bar for itself. It challenged its audience by thinking outside the box in terms of the inherent limitations of the genre. We’ve all wondered why characters in scary movies, after escaping an assault mere ten seconds prior, tend to drop their knife, gun, or whatever weapon that just saved their lives. The film acknowledged this phenomenon without flogging a dead horse. The first half took inspiration from Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead II,” although more tame with regards to the comedy and horror. The second half, on the other hand, was a surprisingly electric conflation of twisted originality that seemed to stem from a series finale of a television show, cartoonish gory violence, and exorcism of authority. What connected the two disparate halves was our curiosity about what was really going on. Notice the characters did not explain anything to us in detail. The filmmakers were smart enough to assume that we were capable of observing, thinking on our own, and putting everything together like a puzzle. By simply showing us what was happening without having to explain each step and why certain events had to transpire a certain way, as a dry lab report would, it was already one step ahead of its peers. I wish, however, that the last few scenes didn’t feel so rushed. So much tension was built up until the final confrontation but instead of milking our nerves, I felt like it was in a hurry to let go of the weight it collected over the course of its short running time. Directed by Drew Goddard, “The Cabin in the Woods” was a fun frolic in the dark forest of clichés because a handful of them were subverted with fresh ideas. I wouldn’t want to come across that towering zombie that used a bear trap as a weapon, though. He could give Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers a run for their money.

Thor


Thor (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Powerful ruler Odin (Anthony Hopkins) had two sons, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), with two very different personalities. Thor couldn’t wait to be king of Asgard. Wielding absolute power, in a symbol of a throne, was at the top of his priorities. Loki, on the other hand, was the quiet one. His actions were preceded by thorough thinking. However, there was brewing jealousy from his end. When Thor and his friends (Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas, Jaimie Alexander) had unwisely broken a truce and caused a new war against the Frost Giants, Odin banished Thor to Earth to learn about humility and what it meant to be a great leader. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, “Thor” was unexpectedly comedic. I actually enjoyed the comedy, especially when sarcastic Darcy (Kat Dennings) was on screen, more than the action scenes themselves. Watching the action sequences, although supported by grand special and visual effects, failed to get me to become emotionally invested. I believe it had something to do with the fact that Thor’s evolution from a bellicose warrior to a more controlled leader wasn’t fully convincing. What did being romantically involved have to do with becoming an effective king? From what I gathered, he simply grew weak in the knees whenever he was next to Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a fellow researcher of Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), one of the three people Thor met when he landed on Earth. And given that love was the answer to everything, I failed to understand why she would be attracted to him other than the fact that he had a nice set of abs and biceps. She was supposedly smart but her intelligence was thrown out the window the moment he took off his shirt. It was insulting. The director didn’t take enough time, other than one or two short scenes, to explore the relationship between the two lovers. Jane was supposed to be our conduit so that we would ultimately care about about the title character. As for Thor’s friends in Asgard, I wondered how they could stand him. Surely being a prince wasn’t enough to earn their loyalties. After leading them to a suicide mission and narrowly escaping, none of them questioned Thor’s ability to make smart decisions. Didn’t they have minds of their own? Instead of weighing the complexities of the somewhat cheesy story, I found myself focusing more on spotting other Avengers characters like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and references to the Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man.” What “Thor” lacked was the crucial journey designed to win us over. When he was on Earth, he didn’t learn what it meant to be human. He just developed a crush. It’s a bad sign when we find ourselves feeling nothing when Thor faced incredible danger.

A Perfect Getaway


A Perfect Getaway (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

“A Perfect Getaway” tells the story of three couples in Hawaii–Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich; Timothy Olyphant and Kiele Sanchez; Chris Hemsworth and Marley Shelton–and two of them happen to be killers. It’s the audiences’ jobs to guess who the real killers are but it’s actually less than fun it sounds because the journey to get to the revelation is pretty generic. Three-quarters of the film was funny because of all the misfortunes and suspicions of Zahn and Jovovich. While the two did not exactly have chemistry, they were interesting enough as stand-alone characters for comic relief and some sensitive moments. I just wished that the movie had more thrills than comedy because half-way through it, I constantly wondered where it was going (or even if it was going anywhere). David Twohy, the writer and director, did not shape the picture’s tone to a level that rises above tried-and-true formulas of false alarms and supposed twist endings. Speaking of the twist, I’ve read on some message boards that the picture did not quite cheat. I cannot disagree more. There were some unexplained (and ultimately unjustified) scenes that did not at all make sense when one takes the time to look back on what was happening as a whole. I believe that the movie was designed primarily to trick the audiences and the glaring inconsistencies were just too unforgivable for me to believe that it could happen in real life. After the revelation, although I did expect it in some way, it really took me out of the experience and the suspense involving the mystery immediately dissipated into thin air instead of giving me the chills like a really good suspense/thriller movie does. Still, I did enjoy the chase sequences while they lasted. In a nutshell, “A Perfect Getaway” was a highly uneven film but there were some good laughs and exciting chase sequences (when they finally happened). It’s a good DVD rental but definitely not worth seeing in theaters.