Movie Review: Thor (2011)

Thor. God of Thunder from Norse and Germanic myths. Member of the Avengers (Marvel Comics). Portrayed as well meaning but clueless to those who deceive him for their own aims, he’s fierce in battle with his hammer Mjöllnir, a weapon capable of summoning lightning and destroying mountains…

And now Thor is also a major motion picture from Marvel Studios, the same folks who produced Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, and this summer’s X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger films. Also in the pipeline are movies based on Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, The Avengers, a rebooted Spiderman, and more… It’s a good time to be a superhero!

At first I was a bit concerned about Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth (Captain Kirk’s father George Kirk in Star Trek (2009)). How would this work? Directed by Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Dead Again), would it become more Shakespearean in tone or would it keep the light touch favored by director Jon Favreau in Iron Man? Could Hemsworth anchor a film? Early shots from the production were interesting, but didn’t really start gaining my confidence until seeing recent trailers.

I really shouldn’t have been worried. Branagh gave it just enough weight to make it have some heart behind it and the movie works beautifully.

Thor has an all-star cast… Hemsworth as Thor. Natalie Portman (Black Swan) as Jane Foster (now an astrophysicist and not a nurse as in the comics, though they kept the name Dr. Donald Blake as a temporary name for Thor on Earth during one scene). Sir Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal, The Rite) as Odin, the ruler of the Gods of Asgard. Stellan Skarsgård (Pirates of the Caribbean series, Mamma Mia!) as Dr. Erik Selvig, Foster’s mentor and fellow scientist. Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) as Darcy Lewis, who seems to be Foster’s assistant and confidante. Idris Elba (The Losers, TV’s The Office) as Heimdall, the guardian of Bifrost the Rainbow Bridge between worlds. Rene Russo (Outbreak, The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)) as Frigga, queen to Odin’s king and mother of Thor. Add to that a few relative newcomers like Jamie Alexander (TV’s Kyle XY) who plays Sif, warrior maiden and friend (love interest perhaps?) to Thor and Loki, and Tom Hiddleston as Loki, who did an amazing job making Loki a believable villain trying to prove himself to his father. And then there were the “Warriors Three” are Thor’s companions of old, with Tadanobu Asano as Hogun, Josh Dallas as Fandral, and Ray Stevenson as Volstagg… You’d think the movie would be bogged down by all the talent and yet it stays on track and quite entertaining throughout.

The film begins with Thor arriving on Earth and being hit by the car of Jane Foster and her companions who were searching for a strange astronomical phenomenon in New Mexico. We later learn how Thor came to be on Earth through his actions in Asgard and Jotunheim, the realm of the Frost Giants. Asgard is the home of Thor and the rest of the gods. And Midgard is the realm of Earth. Between these three realms, Bifrost, the rainbow bridge, acts as a doorway. The whole film amounts to a “Hero Journey” for Thor who has to learn there is a time and a place for fighting, but restraint is a necessary element to being a better ruler.

I really don’t want to spoil the film. But I have to say I was surprised at how well it worked. The story was entertaining and bridged the worlds effortlessly and Hemsworth did an amazing job in the title role. His easy smile and demeanor combined with the size and muscle mass he picked up for the film made him utterly believable. Hopkins as Odin was understated until he needed to be bigger than life – and I think the role of a tired king and father worked beautifully. And it’s always tough to see Portman in anything.

Special effects-wise, Asgard was gorgeous and all of the effects in the three realms were very elemental in nature and never overdone. The giants, the metal guardian of the vault in Asgard, and Bifrost make up the biggest part of the effects work. Add to that the various fight choreography, and I never felt the movie got out of hand or ungrounded as things did a bit with Iron Man 2.

One spoiler – I was disappointed by the little scene at the end of the credits. I’m sure it’s meant to set up next year’s The Avengers, but it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the sneak peek in Iron Man.

Though I believe I gave the first Iron Man five out of four (5/4) stars – I have to give Thor a solid four out of four (4/4). It didn’t blow me away, but it was entertaining, solid, and I really enjoyed myself. I want to see it again if that helps at all!

If you’ve been holding off because Thor‘s not your thing – wait six months for the DVD or Blu-ray. But I think this film kicked off the 2011 summer movie season with a bang!

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Trailer Time: Conan (2011) (New Trailer!)

Ok, the last trailer we saw didn’t impress me much. This one shows much more of the world of Hyboria and what we will see in the film due out August 19th…

What do you think?

Synopsis

“I live.  I love.  I slay…I am content.”
- Conan The Barbarian

The most legendary Barbarian of all time is back this Summer. Having thrived and evolved for eight consecutive decades in the public imagination- in prose and graphics, on the big screen and small, in games and properties of all kinds- Conan’s exploits in the Hyborian Age now come alive like never before in a colossal 3D action-adventure film.

A quest that begins as a personal vendetta for the fierce Cimmerian warrior soon turns into an epic battle against hulking rivals, horrific monsters, and impossible odds, as Conan realizes he is the only hope of saving the great nations of Hyboria from an encroaching reign of supernatural evil.

Deftly adapted from the original works of Robert E. Howard and faithful to the mythology and psychology of his iconic character, CONAN THE BARBARIAN stars Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Rose McGowan, Saïd Taghmaoui and Ron Perlman. The film is directed by Marcus Nispel, and written by Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood.

–Fitz

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DVD Review: Shaun the Sheep: The Big Chase

Hi all!

It’s no secret I’m a fan of well-done animated programs. Whether they were done in the 1940s or in just the last few years, it really doesn’t matter so long as they are fun and tell a good story. The style is less important, though I tend to enjoy good old two-dimensional hand-drawn animation and classic stop-motion more than computer-generated “pixel fests.” With a good story and passionate people working to bring that story to life, a great team can do almost anything with animation in any style.

That said, I am also a fan of old-school humor. Slapstick from artists like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, and even the Three Stooges can be used not only to entertain audiences with wild physical antics, but can also offer social commentary in a non-confrontational way. The greats didn’t even need dialogue, just exaggerated facial and physical expressions to show action and emotion.

When you mix great animation, storytelling, and slapstick humor together, you can end up with something very special. Shaun the Sheep is one of those projects from Aardman Animation, the same folks who brought Wallace & Gromit to life. Using stop-motion, claymation techniques these brilliant folks bring an entire farmyard to life with a flock of sheep, three naughty pigs, a barnyard dog, and a clueless farmer. Without any speech at all beyond the lyrics of the theme song, each five minute episode tells a complete story with humor suitable for both kids and adults.

The latest DVD, Shaun the Sheep: The Big Chase, pulls together seven episodes of fun mayhem on Shaun’s farm. The episodes include everything from a runaway sheep on an ATV and a monster from the swamp to a runaway boat and rare migrating zebra ducks!

One of my favorites was the title episode for the DVD – “The Big Chase,” in which Timmy (the baby sheep of the flock) went for a joy ride on the Farmer’s new toy – a four-wheel ATV. Bitzer, the Farmer’s faithful dog, was supposed to be guarding it but Timmy was sneaky. And once he got the motor started, it was off to the races! Bitzer and Shaun tried to catch the ATV after stealing a motorcycle from a pizza delivery guy. The pigs tore off in a convertible to cause more chaos. And we got to see town nearby the farm for the first time I can remember. After they finally stopped the ATV, the Farmer, dressed in his finest riding leathers and helmet, gave it a spin and didn’t do nearly as well as the baby sheep!

Another great episode was “Bitzer from the Black Lagoon.” Whenever Shaun and Bitzer start playing soccer, you know nothing good is going to happen. This time when the ball gets lost in a nearby forest, Bitzer goes after it. Unfortunately, he finds the ball floating atop a small pond and when he tries to retrieve it, he ends up covered in swampy mud and greenery. When he gets back to the farm, he doesn’t look like Bitzer at all and scares the sheep into a panic. When the flock finally realize it’s really Bitzer under the muck and corner him to get him cleaned up, they get a bit of a shock instead!

And “Zebra Ducks of the Serengeti” introduces two troublesome ducks into the mix. These two birds decide to build a nest on the Farmer’s house, blocking the chimney. When Bitzer and Shaun finally get them off the roof, both birds are covered in soot and end up looking like a pair of rare Zebra ducks. The Farmer sees this as a money-making opportunity and decides to set up a small drive-through exhibit so he can show off these rare ducks. Unfortunately, like many of the Farmer’s plans, the ducks spoil everything by getting cleaned up just in time…

In addition to the seven episodes, you get a couple of bonuses. The “Mini Making of Shaun” video shows a bit about how each episode goes together and the amount of work involved. I’m always impressed seeing these talented folks getting the thousands of shots together for each five minute episode. The DVD also includes a music video (“Timmy’s Tune #1″) from the new show for preschoolers called Timmy Time.

If you like animated shows you can share with your family, it’s tough to beat Shaun the Sheep. We love all the characters and Aardman continues to add more to the series each season. Be sure to pick up Shaun the Sheep: The Big Chase at your favorite retailer or rental store if you get a chance!

This review originally appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Definitely check out this and other great Shaun the Sheep titles below!

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