Archive for Chris Hemsworth

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)

Posted in 2012, Adult Fairy Tales, Cinema Knife Fights, Fantasy Films, Magic, Special Effects, Sword & Sorcery, Warriors, Witches with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: An enchanted forest. A beautiful princess lies sleeping on a bed. By her bedside stand two men, one pale and forlorn, the other shirtless and brooding.)

EDWARD:  It’s all my fault. It was my job to protect her. If only I hadn’t been so distant and honorable, and chaste—why was I so chaste?  Idiot!—  perhaps she would have been happy and wouldn’t have come into these woods alone.

JACOB:  It is all your fault, you stupid vampire!  Any idiot can see that you’re not the right one for her!  I am, and I have the chest to prove it! (flexes his pectorals).

(A roar erupts from the woods, and suddenly, THOR jumps into the scene.)

THOR:  You’re both losers!  The princess belongs to ME!

(THOR begins beating Edward and Jacob with his hammer, and as they cower with lots of “Ouches!’  and “Oomphs!” THOR continues to pound away at them.)

(Camera slowly pulls back to reveal MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES eating popcorn and watching the proceedings.)

LS:  This is better than today’s movie!

MA:  There’s certainly more of an emotional connection. I want to be Thor right now.

LS:  Then what are we waiting for?  Let’s join the party!  (hands MA a club and lifts an axe over his head.)

MA:  No. We don’t have time to beat on characters from a lame movie series. We have a new movie to review.

LS: Damn!  We’re always working!

(EDWARD and JACOB flee, and THOR lets out a victorious roar. He approaches the princess and kisses her, but nothing happens.)

THOR:  Why isn’t anything happening?

MA:  Nothing’s happening because—and I don’t mean to burst your bubble, Thor, but— today’s movie is SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, not SNOW WHITE AND THOR—and even though Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the Huntsman is Thor-like, he’s still playing the Huntsman in this one, not Thor.

LS: In other words, the chick’s not for you, Thor. Sorry.

THOR:  Dammit!  And I came all the way from Asgard, too!  (Skulks off into the woods.)

MA:  Yes, today we’re reviewing SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012), the new movie that attempts to put an adult spin on the old fairy tale and turn it into a rousing action adventure story. It stars Kristen Stewart, of TWILIGHT fame, as Snow White, Chris Hemsworth as Thor…er…the Huntsman, and Charlize Theron as the evil Queen, Ravenna.

When we first meet Snow White, she’s a baby.

(A group of DWARVES by the edge of the woods start cheering and whistling.)

MA (shaking his head):  I said “baby” not “babe!”

(DWARVES boo and hiss. Some throw vegetables.)

LS: Thanks, I can make a nice salad later.

MA:  Then we see her as a little girl enjoying her happy life with her mother and father, who happen to be king and queen of the land—how’s this for a rousing start to an action adventure movie?  But then Snow White’s mother dies, leaving the family sad and grieving.

LS: And we never know how the mother died. It just says “It was a rough winter and Snow White’s mother died.” What kind of explanation is that?

MA:….until daddy meets Ravenna (Charlize Theron), is mesmerized by her beauty, and marries her immediately. She in turn murders her new husband, sneaks her army into the castle, and overtakes the kingdom, throwing Snow White into the dungeon.

LS: Actually, it’s not a dungeon, it’s a tower. Snow White is locked away in a tower. And it’s actually pretty ingenious how Ravenna tricks Snow White’s father into finding and marrying her. I thought that was pretty cool.

MA: Are you serious? Ingenious?  I thought it was a pretty standard trick.

We next see Snow White (Kristen Stewart) when she’s 18 and still locked away in that tower, but not for long, because the Queen’s magic mirror has informed the Queen that she’s no longer the fairest one in the land, that that title now belongs to Snow White. What’s an evil queen to do?  Why, kill Snow White of course!

LS: Funny how Snow White does not become a competitor for “fairest in the land” until she turned exactly 18. This is also when Ravenna’s brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), first tries to have sex with Snow White, when he goes to fetch her for the Queen. Nice to know everybody at least waited until she turned legal first! At least they all had such nice manners back then (and a keen awareness of statutory rape laws).

And even more basic to the story—why the hell does the Queen keep Snow White alive for so long? Why not just kill her right away? She doesn’t even find out about what benefit Snow White can give her until the girl turns 18—do your research, lady! —so why did she keep her alive for so many years? And if Snow is so important because she’s so innocent, wouldn’t her beating heart have been even more innocent for the Queen’s purposes when she was a child? None of this makes sense.

And what’s up with the magic mirror? It looks like a great big golden plate. Gold isn’t exactly mirror material. It’s not all that easy to see yourself in. And instead of just answering her every time Ravenna asks “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” (each time she asks this, I have to admit, I winced), the mirror has to melt all over the place and the melted gold turns into a man-shaped thing (played by Christopher Obi – or at least it has his voice), and it takes forever. A simple “You are the fairest!” would have been nice.

MA: The Queen sends her brother to kill Snow White, but he fails, and she escapes, somehow managing to get out of the castle and into the woods, all the while eluding the Queen’s soldiers. Who knew that Snow White was related to Indiana Jones?

LS: This Snow White will kick your ass!

DWARF:  Snow White rocks!

LS:  Quiet, you!  We’re reviewing a movie here!

(DWARF sticks his tongue out)

MA: Queen Ravenna then hires The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to go into the dangerous woods and find Snow White for her. Of course, as you probably already know, the Huntsman falls for Snow White once he finds her, and he eventually helps her fight back against Ravenna. They’re also befriended by the obligatory dwarves who also help them in their cause to defeat the evil Queen.

LS: There’s a key scene here that I had a MAJOR problem with. The Queen has promised she’ll bring the Huntsman’s wife back from the dead if he finds and captures Snow White for her. So he agrees, and he finds her, and Finny is there—the Queen’s brother, who let her get away from the tower in the first place—and Finn says, “Give her to me,” and the Huntsman says, “Give me back my wife first!”

Anyone with half a brain would say “I can’t give you back your wife, my sister is the sorcerer in the family. We have to go back to the castle first.”

But, instead, Finn says something like, “It’s all a lie, Ravenna can’t raise the dead, and you’re stupid for believing her!”

Why the hell does Finn do this? All he has to do is get the Huntsman (and Snow White) back to the castle, and he can double-cross the guy all he wants. But instead, he blows it. This just didn’t make any sense to me, and the only reason it happens is to move the storyline in the direction the writers want.

WHAT A STUPID SCENE!

MA:  Yep, I had the same reaction.  I sat there thinking, Finn, you’re an idiot.

And if you know the story of Snow White, you know how the rest of this movie plays out. No surprises here.

I was completely disappointed with SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. I actually thought I was going to be pleasantly surprised and enjoy this one. Boy, was I wrong!

This one lost me right from the get-go, as I thought the pacing was all off. It opens slowly, with those dull introductory scenes of Snow White’s origins, and for me, the movie never recovered. You’re turning Snow White into an action adventure story and this is how you start your movie off?  Come on!

LS: It’s called setting up the story. It made sense here.

MA: I get that, and it can be forgiven if what follows is compelling and exciting, but that’s not the case here.

It’s not like it has a slow beginning but the rest of the film kicks butt and so I can forget about the slow beginning. The movie is dull, and it started with those first few scenes.  That’s what I’m saying.

Truth be told, I didn’t find this movie adventurous at all, and I certainly didn’t find it exciting.

I also really didn’t like Kristen Stewart as Snow White. I thought she was miscast in this role. She seemed awkward and uncomfortable throughout, and didn’t come across as very princess-like. She seemed much more comfortable at the end of the movie when she gets to dress as a warrior and take on Ravenna in battle. But as Snow White, whose beauty is as pure as snow, I didn’t see it. She seemed like she would rather be riding a motorcycle than a horse.

LS: I think she would look more natural on a motorcycle, too, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (laughs). But seriously, I think she’s growing on me after seeing so many damn TWILIGHT movies. It was just nice to see her in a movie that wasn’t about whiny vampires and shirtless werewolves. I liked her in SNOW WHITE. And toward the end, in her armor, I thought she might be able to play a decent Joan of Arc.

MA: As advertised, Charlize Theron has a field day as the evil Queen Ravenna, and this was one part of this movie that I did like. Theron gives the best performance in the movie, and she’s the main reason why I didn’t hate this film completely.  She’s as beautiful as she is evil, and she is exceedingly believable in the role. It’s too bad the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to her.

LS: I’m a big Charlize fan, and I agree, she looks beautiful here—in fact, I don’t once believe that Kristen Stewart is her competitor for “fairest in the land” —but I wasn’t all that impressed with her character, at first. All Ravenna does is scream at the top of her lungs all the time. I found her kind of irritating. Always shouting at everyone. She’s like a one-note character. And we hardly ever see her. In the beginning of the movie, she’s in it a lot after Snow White’s father finds her. But by the middle of the movie, she’s hardly in it at all. Every once in a while, there’s a shift from the action to show us the Queen looking menacing, but she doesn’t do much again until toward the end. I wish she’d been in it more, and they’d fleshed out her character more. There is one flashback to her childhood that makes you sympathize with her a little, but it’s not enough. I just think the character is underwritten. It’s too much of a standard baddie role.

MA: I agree with you that she’s not in the movie all that much, but I thought her performance was strong enough to overcome this. And  I liked all that shouting.

LS: But her character grew on me, because Theron does one thing that’s interesting with Ravenna. There are moments when she seems like a space alien. She just has no empathy or understanding for the characters around her, and she gets this weird look in her eyes—it reminded me of an insect—like she’s some alien creature trying to pass for human, afraid someone will figure out her secret, and I thought that was what redeemed her performance. This is an instance where acting ability is able to transcend a weak script.

MA: Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the Huntsman is about the only other bright spot in this movie. Sure, he’s a little bit like Thor here, but like Theron, he’s believable in the part, and he’s also very likeable.

LS: Hemsworth is fine, here. His character IS a bit like Thor, but that’s to be expected, considering it’s a fantasy film, and he’s kind of a warrior. But the guy has real charisma and the camera loves him.

MA: Veteran actors Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins are among those playing dwarves in this movie. The dwarves are supposed to be providing comic relief here, but they didn’t really do it for me. They weren’t over-the-top enough to make me laugh, nor were they earthy enough for me to take seriously.

LS: I couldn’t tell what they were trying to do with the dwarves here. Once or twice, they seem like comic relief, especially Gus (Brian Gleeson). But most of the time, it’s like they were trying to make the little guys much more edgy and dangerous. When the Huntsman and Snow White first meet them, the dwarves attack and then capture them, threatening to rob and kill them.

I don’t have a problem with more edgy dwarves, but it’s like the writers weren’t sure whether to keep them edgy, or make them more comic as the story goes on. Make up your minds!

MA:  I agree with you.  That’s why I didn’t really like the dwarves.  It’s almost as if they were written to be edgy and then somewhere along the line someone decided dwarves in a Snow White story shouldn’t be this dark and watered down their scenes.

(A DWARF comes out of the woods)

DWARF:  Is this edgy enough for you?  (Flips MA & LS the bird.)

LS:  You stick that finger out at me again, I’ll cut it off!

(DWARF darts back into the woods.)

LS:  Of course, here the dwarves are CGI, which means that instead of real dwarves, we’ve got famous actors “shrunk down” to look like dwarves. Between that, and the make-up (which is pretty good), it’s interesting to try to guess who’s who. As you said, the actors Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins are here, there’s also Nick Frost from SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), and Ray Winstone (who I didn’t recognize at all at first) and Toby Jones, who we most recently saw in THE HUNGER GAMES as one of the announcers. It’s actually kind of fun identifying them.

MA: I’m happy for you.  Why don’t you develop a new TV game show while you’re at it: “NAME THAT DWARF.”

LS: Maybe I will

MA: I thought the writing was particularly weak. The characters aren’t fleshed out at all. What do we know about Snow White other than what we already know from the fairy tale?  Nothing much!  You know, if she wasn’t such a boring character, this movie might have been more fun!

LS: I don’t think Snow White is all that bad

MA: Come on!  She put me to sleep.  And if she’s such a kick-ass character, what does she need the Huntsman for?

When Ravenna decides she needs to hire someone to find Snow White in the woods, she immediately hires the Huntsman even though she seems to know nothing about him. When we meet him, he’s drunk and he’s in a fight. These are the qualifications needed to hunt down a princess?  I mean, who is he?  Is he the greatest huntsman in the land?  If he is, I missed the part where we find that out!

LS: Sometimes I think your story comprehension is a little off. They explained it clearly enough. Not many people have gone into the haunted forest and lived to tell about it. It’s dangerous. The Huntsman is one of the few people who have been in the forest and knows his way around. He’s not the greatest huntsman in the land, but he knows the territory and Finn and his soldiers can’t find Snow White without him.

MA: I wouldn’t say they explained it clearly.  They mention it in one brief scene.  And for me, it wasn’t clear that he was the only guy who could do this.  It just seemed a forced plot point to me.  I kept thinking, if Ravenna a sorceress, why can’t she just find Snow White using her black magic?

LS: Maybe if you hadn’t dozed off, it would have been clearer

MA: (laughing):  Shh!

LS: I agree about Ravenna, though. It’s never exactly clear how powerful she is. What her limitations are. In one scene she seems all-powerful, in another she’s unable to do something you’d think would be easy. I don’t get it.

MA: Evan Daugherty, Josh Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini wrote the screenplay, which is about as fresh as a rotten apple. In Amini’s case, this comes as a surprise, since he’s the guy who wrote the screenplay for DRIVE (2011), a movie we both liked a lot.

LS: I didn’t think it was that horrible. It was weak in spots, but my main problem with the script is the whole idea of remaking a fairy tale in the first place. By doing this, you know what the outcome is going to be. You know what the characters are going to do, for the most part, so there’s no suspense. I think the script does what it can with the idea, for the most part, considering the concept is flawed from the get go.

MA: Yes, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN definitely suffers from the “We Know This Story” syndrome. We all know the story of Snow White, yet the movie doesn’t seem to make much of an effort to approach this familiar story from different angles. Sure, Snow White gets tough in the final act, but before that, things are pretty dull.

The love story angle is also pretty much a dud. I have no idea who Snow White loves in this movie, the Huntsman or her childhood sweetheart, William (Sam Claflin), who returns to the kingdom to save her. She doesn’t seem particularly interested in either guy, and the Huntsman seems to be only interested in her because she reminds him of his deceased wife. So, even though this one plays like a love story at times, it’s missing the actual love story!  And there’s no sexual tension whatsoever.

LS: I’ll agree with you there. There were times when I thought this movie was trying to recreate the whole “love triangle” silliness from the TWILIGHT movies. Does she love William, who she grew up with as a child, or the Huntsman who’s more manly, and better looking, and stronger, and more heroic? The movie seems to be teetering on going for the triangle, but then it seems to just forget about it. Clearly the Huntsman is the main male character here, and it’s his kiss that becomes crucial later on (and there’s no Prince Charming to be found!).
And there isn’t a lot of sexual tension. The script just doesn’t give us any. And  the actors, while good here, don’t bring any sexual tension of their own to the screen.

MA: And why do all the creatures, both good and bad, instead of dying, shatter like glass in this movie?  Do all the living creatures in this kingdom have a different molecular make-up?  What planet are they on?

LS: They don’t all shatter like glass, only the ones the Queen conjures up with magic. But this effect is over-used and gets tired awful fast.

MA:  Really?  I could have sworn I saw some of the “good” animals shatter as well.

LS:  Were you drunk when you saw this movie?

MA:  No, but I was saturated with boredom.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN was directed by Rupert Sanders, and I can’t say that I was impressed. The pacing was off, and there really weren’t any memorable scenes to lift this movie out of its doldrums. There was also very little sense of fantasy. I wasn’t drawn into its world of dark forests and evil kingdoms, mostly because I found the action to be superficial and dull. It’s anything but exciting.

LS: I disagree. It has its flaws, and there are a couple of slow scenes, but overall, I thought it did a good job retelling a classic tale.

MA: The special effects were average. There’s a neat troll scene, and the troll looks cool, but it’s one and done for Mr. Troll. Needless to say, he doesn’t do much.

LS: I would really have liked to see the Troll come back during a crucial scene to help Snow White fight her enemies or something. He seemed like too cool a character to waste. But yeah, after showing us this monster, the movie just forgets about him.

But I disagree about the effects. This movie has terrific effects. Most of them are on a very small, detailed level, though. They’re not all as big and flashy as the Troll. Like when we first enter the forest. There are all of these weird animals and plants that we see – some of them are kind of fascinating.

(MA yawns)

LS:  And a scene in a part of the forest that belongs to the fairies is kind of beautiful, too. It’s mostly small stuff (except for that giant troll), but it’s fascinating to look at.

MA: SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN lacks the necessary edge and style to successfully make the jump from fairy tale to adult action adventure tale. I liked the two performances by Charlize Theron as Ravenna, and Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, but that’s all I liked. The rest of the movie is muddled and dull, exhibiting about as much imagination as a worm in an apple.

I give it one and a half knives.

LS: Yeah, we’re in disagreement about this one. We do agree about Charlize Theron, and Hemsworth. I liked Hemsworth doing his cocky warrior thing. He’s good at it, although it would be nice to see him play something completely different in another movie. So I agree with you about the two of them.

But I think Stewart is actually pretty good here. She emotes a little more than she does in the TWILIGHT movies.  She does have a kind of awkwardness to her. A kind of stiltedness, but it’s starting to work for me. And there’s actually one scene in this movie where she smiles!

MA:  I just didn’t think this awkwardness was a good fit for the Snow White character.
LS: It didn’t bother me. In fact, it kind of worked for me. And I thought Sam Spruell was interesting (and odd-looking) as the evil Finn. It almost seemed like he was in the movie more, and had more to do, than Charlize did. And I liked the dwarves for the most part.

I didn’t love SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Despite the revisionist spin on it, I just find the story too familiar, and therefore a little boring. But I thought it was well-made, had a good cast, and was visually impressive. For what it was, I enjoyed it.

I give it three knives. It was at least as good as last week’s CHERNOBYL DIARIES, and I gave that three knives.

MA:  Wow, we really do disagree here.  And I think the main reason is where you found the story a little boring, I found it a lot boring.

(They’re suddenly surrounded by a group of menacing looking DWARVES.)

DWARF (points to LS):  You can go.  You said good things about us.  (Points to MA).  You stay.  We’re going to teach you a lesson.

LS (hands the club back to MA):  You might need this.

MA:  Gee, thanks.  You sure you don’t want to stick around?  It might be fun.

LS:  How so?

MA:  I was thinking of starting a new games show of my own: BEAT THE DWARF!

LS: Hmm.  Has potential. Maybe I’ll stick around, after all

DWARF: I prefer the new show, BEAT THE CRITICS.

(The DWARVES charge, just as MA lifts his club and LS wields his axe.)

(Suddenly, the BEAUTIFUL PRINCESS sits up in her bed. Everyone has forgotten about her, and she’s boiling mad)

PRINCESS: Will you all shut up! I’m trying to sleep here!

(Fade to White)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN ~ one and a half knives!

LL Soares gives SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN ~three knives.

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THE AVENGERS (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Aliens, Based on Comic Book, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies, Joss Whedon, Marvel Comics, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE AVENGERS (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: a massive flying aircraft carrier, hovering in the sky. CLOSE-UP reveals MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES at the controls.)

MA:  For a minute there, I thought I had prepared for the wrong movie, BATTLESHIP.

LS:  Nope. This is a Helicarrier, one of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s prize possessions. If he ever finds out we took it, he’s gonna be soooo pissed. (cackles)

MA:  Yeah, I know what it is. You want to tell me again how it is we’re sitting at the controls?

LS:  Fury and the Avengers are all out celebrating their victory over the bad guys, and everyone else is dead tired, so I slipped a friend of mine who works here some cash, and we get to take this baby for a brief spin. Just long enough to review the movie. Don’t worry. We’ll get her back without a scratch.

MA: I hope so. This is an expensive piece of equipment. I wouldn’t want to have to pay the bill if we damaged it.

LS:  You worry too much. Why don’t you start the review?  I see some buttons and controls I want to play with.

MA:  Today’s movie, THE AVENGERS, is the long-awaited, much-anticipated Marvel superhero movie that’s been on moviegoers’ minds ever since the after-the-credits final scene of IRON MAN (2008) when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) approached Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) about the Avengers Initiative.

There was also some anxiety surrounding this one:  with all the hype and expectation, would it be as good as fans hoped for?  I’ll cut right to the chase and say yes, it’s every bit as good and then some.

LS: That might be a bit premature, but go on.

MA: In THE AVENGERS, the villainous Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s half-brother, is still bitter from having to live his life in the shadow of his famous sibling, and so he accepts a role from the Chitauri, an alien race that wants to conquer the galaxy. Loki will help the Chitauri conquer the Earth, and in return, Loki will become King of the Earth. To do this, Loki steals the Tesseract, an energy source of unlimited potential that had been in the possession of one Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).

LS: Yeah, a lot of this stuff comes from the previous Marvel movies. The Tesseract (called “The Cosmic Cube” in the comics) is something we last saw the Red Skull trying to get in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) . Loki,  the sniveling brother of Thor, was also the main villain in THOR (also 2011). THE AVENGERS just brings this all full circle.

MA: To save the world and stop Loki and the Chitauri, Fury activates the “Avengers Initiative,” which pretty much means rounding up the local superheroes to battle the bad guys. The Avengers include Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.,) Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

LS: Yeah, we previously saw the Black Widow in IRON MAN 2 (2010), and Hawkeye in THOR. So these are familiar faces as well. It’s actually pretty cool that all of the actors returned to reprise their original rolls. Too often in blockbusters like this, some actors, for whatever reasons, have to be replaced, and it’s just not the same. In THE AVENGERS, the only original actor who isn’t returning is Edward Norton, who was Bruce Banner in 2008’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK (or, for real hardcore Hulk fans, Eric Bana, who was played the role in Ang Lee’s 2003 movie, HULK). Here, Banner (and the Hulk) are played by Mark Ruffalo. A great actor, who actually makes you forget those other guys, so I wasn’t too sad to see him as part of this cast.

MA: What makes this movie so interesting is none of these guys like each other nor do they trust each other, and they don’t even trust Nick Fury, so even before they’re battling the bad guys, their battling themselves, and it’s these skirmishes that make up the best part of the movie.

LS: Well, yes and no. Not all of the skirmishes are equally good.

MA: Nit-picker!

LS:  I wonder what this big red button does?

MA:  Should you really be pressing a button that’s big and red?

LS:  Too late. I already pressed it. Hmm. Harmless.

(MA looks out his window and sees an engine falling from the Helicarrier.)

MA:  Do me a favor and don’t press any more buttons.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.

But these folks are superheroes, and so eventually, they all patch up their differences and set their sights on working together and defeating Loki and the Chitauri in a climactic battle sequence that is one for the ages. I joke about this, that they’re superheroes and so of course they eventually work together, but one of the strengths of THE AVENGERS is very little of it plays like a predictable superhero tale. The movie is exceedingly fresh.

LS: I’m not so sure about that, either. The movie is good, it’s exciting. But “exceedingly fresh?” That might be pushing it a little bit.

MA: I absolutely loved THE AVENGERS. It’s the best movie I’ve seen this year. It just has so many things going for it.

Probably the most impressive thing about THE AVENGERS is with all these characters in this movie, I never felt cheated. Not only do all these guys get sufficient quality screen time, with plenty of key moments, but some of them, Captain America and Thor in particular, were more enjoyable and more satisfying here than in their own movies CAPTAIN AMERICA and THOR.

LS: What about the Hulk?

MA: Yeah, the Hulk, too.

Robert Downey Jr. also returns to top form, capturing the magnetism and seemingly endless “bad boy” playboy energy he showed back in IRON MAN. He too is much better in this movie than he was in IRON MAN 2.

The cast is downright impressive. Downey Jr. is my favorite here, because I really enjoy his interpretation of Tony Stark, but he’s far from being alone in this movie, although I would say he’s the unofficial leader of this group and its most captivating and entertaining character.

LS: Yeah, Downey is great as Stark/Iron Man. But “the most captivating and entertaining character?” I don’t know about that. What about the Hulk?

MA: The Hulk’s cool, but Tony Stark is more fun to watch than Bruce Banner.

Chris Evans shines as Captain America, and I liked him better here than in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, as his character is better defined. He’s out of place in the 21st century, at first, and he’s disappointed that the nation isn’t quite the bastion of patriotism and heroism it was when he last saw it during World War II. But he adapts, and he brings his sense of patriotism and pride to the fight. On the battlefield, he’s also the Avengers’ strategic leader, directing the team and giving them their duties.

LS: Yeah, Evans is better here than he was in the CAPTAIN AMERICA movie. I also think Cap is a much more interesting character in the modern world. I’m not as psyched about his adventures in a fictionalized past as I am with him being a fish out of water in current times. He’s more compelling now. And his “boy scout” image isn’t so black and white anymore. The time change forces him to develop more as a character.

By the way, WHAT ABOUT THE HULK?

MA: What is it with you and the Hulk, anyway?  Hey!  Watch where you’re going!

(The Helicarrier accidentally takes off the top of a skyscraper)

LS: Woops. Now we’re in for it. Fury is bound to lower our security clearance for this.

MA: Our security clearance? I just hope he has some good insurance on this thing. Anyway, now that you have us back on track, I’ll get back to the review.

Mark Ruffalo enjoys a strong debut as the Hulk.

LS: Finally!

MA:  Honestly, I didn’t miss Edward Norton one bit, and this surprised me, because I thought I would. Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is very likeable, and he plays him less haunted and more introspective. I also like the way they made the Hulk’s face resemble Ruffalo’s.

LS: Yeah Ruffalo is great in this role, and you’re right. The reason why the Hulk finally works so well here, is because he doesn’t take himself so damn seriously. Banner has a really sarcastic/ironic sense of humor that sets him apart from the more angsty/tortured previous Banners. And the Hulk himself actually has some funny scenes. While I like the darker, more tragic Hulk, I thought this version was a breath of fresh air and more interesting for the movies. And yeah, the CGI effects, where the Hulk’s face actually does look like Ruffalo’s, are pretty good here. And for the record, I thought Hulk was the best thing in this movie.

MA: What a surprise!

Chris Hemsworth returns as Thor, and although I mentioned I enjoyed him more here than in THOR, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy him in THOR. He’s excellent in both moves. I just enjoyed his scenes a bit more in this one.

LS: I like Hemsworth and Thor a lot. For some reason I thought he was a bit more subdued here than in his own movie, but Thor is always an enjoyable character. And I thought the skirmish between Thor and the Hulk was the best of the Avengers’ infighting battles.

MA: Scarlett Johansson is excellent as Black Widow, and she just might have more screen time than any of the Avengers!  And you know what?  I didn’t mind one bit!  When will she have her own movie?

LS: That might just happen, because she is very good here. I wasn’t as excited about her scenes in the midst of battling aliens, where I thought she was outgunned, but the one-on-one scenes of her and the other characters are terrific. It would have been nice if she at least tried to have a Russian accent, though.

MA: Jeremy Renner is very good as Hawkeye, and Samuel L. Jackson finally gets to do a lot as Nick Fury, and he doesn’t disappoint.

LS: I think you’re selling Hawkeye short.

MA:  No, I just thought I’d let you talk about him.

LS:  Yeah, right.

Renner does a fine job as Marvel’s master archer, even if he does spend half of the movie in the thrall of Loki. But where the hell is his mask? It’s not like the character’s costume in the comics is so complex. That cool mask of his would have been nice. Are Hollywood actors so egotistical that they have to show their faces as much as possible? In Iron Man’s case, it makes sense that we see Stark’s head inside the armor, because Iron Man’s mask is completely expressionless. But if the characters in the comics have masks, I think the characters in the movies should as well. Even Captain America here “loses” his mask in the midst of battle toward the end. Although I didn’t think that was necessary.

Masks are important!  (reaches into a bag. )  Here, put this on. (places a mask over MA’s face. Then puts one on himself.)

MA:  Cool. Thanks!

LS:  Gee, it’s dark in here.

MA:  Dark?  Your mask doesn’t have any slits for eyes!  Take that thing off!  (rips off LS’s mask and his own. )  What are you trying to do?  Get us killed?

LS:  Stop your worrying. This thing can practically fly itself!

As for Nick Fury, I never really cared for the character much in the comics, and he doesn’t do a lot for me here, either. I like Sam Jackson, and he does provide a link between all the characters, so he makes sense in the movie. But I could take him or leave him.

MA: Clark Gregg returns as likable agent Phil Coulson, and when your cast includes Stellan Skarsgard and Gwyneth Paltrow in supporting roles, you know you’ve got something good going. Skarsgard of course plays Selvig, the brilliant scientist we met in THOR, and Paltrow is Pepper Pots, Tony Stark’s love interest.

LS: In some ways, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson is actually more compelling than Nick Fury, as a character, although his slavish worship of the superheroes (like his wanting Captain America to sign his trading cards) seemed a bit condescending at times.

MA: I thought it was pretty funny. Besides, Coulson is the stand-in for us. He’s the fanboy of the group.

LS: I realize that. But they make him look a little too geeky, when he’s supposed to be a professional. His “big scene” here, though, is pretty good. Although I think they put way too much importance on him as an inspiration to the others.

MA: I liked that scene.

LS: Also pretty good here is Cobie Smulders as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill. Most people will recognize Smulders as Robin on the hit CBS sitcom HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. But she’s very good in this more serious role, as well.

MA: And Tom Hiddleston turns in a fine performance as Loki, although Loki is still not one of my favorite villains. He’s simply not powerful enough, either in strength or mind, to really wow me. I never get the feeling he’s actually powerful enough to defeat the heroes. Not a good trait to have if you’re a villain. He’s like the Rodney Dangerfield of villains. No respect. Well, he hasn’t really earned it.

LS: Now we’re getting into what I didn’t like about the movie. THE AVENGERS has a lot going for it. It’s a lot of fun, the fight scenes are great, the characters—for the most part—are very well done. But my biggest beef with this movie is that it just didn’t have a strong enough villain. I thought Loki was a letdown. We’d already seen him in the THOR movie, and didn’t need to have him be the bad guy here, too (even if, in the original issue of THE AVENGERS # 1 way back in 1963, it was Loki who brought the team together to fight him – and he didn’t need Nick Fury back then to do it).

I just don’t think Loki is a strong enough character. And the generic aliens didn’t help all that much. It was like these great heroes get together to fight an inferior bad guy and a bunch of flying CGI effects. A strong villain would have made for a better movie. And if there is one flaw with THE AVENGERS, I’d say that’s it.

MA:  I can’t disagree with you there. THE AVENGERS lacks a compelling villain, but I liked the actual Avengers so much, I didn’t really care.

LS:  Also – what is up with Loki? Sometimes he seems to have unlimited power. Other times he doesn’t use his powers at all and seems kind of lame as a bad guy. Which one is it? Is he as formidable as Thor or not? If he’s taking on an entire team, you’d think he would have to be pretty impressive, but he’s not. The same goes for the aliens. Sometimes normal people like the Black Widow and Hawkeye are able to fight the aliens off. Other times, they are able to take on Iron Man (even if he is weakened at that point). And they just didn’t seem scary enough. Their living whale battleships were pretty cool, though.

MA: But the true star of THE AVENGERS is writer/director Joss Whedon. What a few weeks it’s been for Whedon. He wrote THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012) which came out a few weeks ago, which was an excellent movie, and I have to say, THE AVENGERS is even better.

LS: Yeah, Whedon does a good job here. I could see a lot of other directors dropping the ball here, but Whedon does a great job juggling everyone throughout the movie and keeping them all—well, most of them—consistently interesting. It’s tough to direct a movie like this and turn out something as good as Whedon has here.

MA: Whedon does everything right here, and for a guy to do that with such an ambitious project like THE AVENGERS, that’s incredibly impressive. So yeah, there are so many ways this movie could have been disappointing, and Whedon avoids all of them.

The best part is he gives all these characters key scenes, and lots of them. You certainly don’t watch this movie and think there’s just too many characters involved. It’s the opposite. You’ll find yourself not getting enough of these characters.

LS: I agree there.

MA: I loved the interactions between the superheroes, and these scenes of in-fighting and bickering make for some of the best moments of the movie. When Iron Man first bickers with Thor and makes fun of the way he speaks, it’s a hoot. You have a three way fight between Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, a memorable bout between the Hulk and Thor, and the tension-filled scene with all of them at each other’s throats on board the Helicarrier. And we haven’t even gotten to the main battle to protect the world yet!

LS: I liked the in-fighting for the most part, even if I do think that Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk were in a completely different class from the rest of the characters. Captain America seemed pretty useless in comparison to the big boys, and the Black Widow seems completely out of her depth once the aliens show up. Hawkeye would to, except he has those amazing gadgets on his arrows, to keep him interesting.

Another thing about Hawkeye is, in the comics, he’s more wise-cracking and enjoyable. I thought Renner played him way too serious. And he could have worn the damn mask!

MA: You and that mask! Whedon’s screenplay also gets the humor right in this one. There are plenty of funny moments in THE AVENGERS, some are laugh out loud funny. Whedon’s dialogue is fabulous.

There are also some really impressive battle scenes here, very cinematic. The battle on and around the Helicarrier was amazing, and the climactic battle between the Avengers and the Chitauri is not to be missed.

LS: The big battle between the Avengers and the aliens is great because of the Avengers themselves. But the aliens are so generic, the team could have been fighting robots and it would have been the exact same thing. They needed a more exciting enemy.

MA: I saw THE AVENGERS in 3D, and I thought it looked excellent, though to be honest, this movie is so entertaining I bet it plays just as well in 2D. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

LS: I saw it in 3D, too. And while I thought it was fine, I eventually just forgot I was wearing the glasses, and didn’t really see why it had to be in 3D. I’m sure in 2D, it would have been just fine.

MA: THE AVENGERS runs 2 hours and 22 minutes, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It held my interest from start to finish.

LS: Me, too. I wasn’t bored at all. It is an exciting movie, despite my few complaints.

MA: THE AVENGERS is my pick for the most entertaining movie of the year so far. Yeah, I’ll admit, I’m biased because I really like the Marvel superhero movies, but as those things go, this one is one of the best. It just might be THE best. I love IRON MAN (2008), and I really enjoyed last year’s X-MEN FIRST CLASS (2011), and THE AVENGERS is every bit as enjoyable as these movies. What just might make it even better is THE AVENGERS is a bit more cinematic than those two movies. Joss Whedon includes some grand and memorable action sequences that lift this one to a higher level. Plus you’re dealing with an ensemble cast of characters that you’d be hard-pressed to match elsewhere.

LS: Yeah, THE AVENGERS is one of the best Marvel movies so far. Also, when I went to see it on Friday night, every single showing was already sold out. I had to see it at a Saturday matinee instead. So I’m sure this one is going to be a huge box-office hit. (Editor’s Note: since this review was written, THE AVENGERS went on to have the biggest movie opening weekend in box-office history, with over $200 million in the U.S. alone).

MA: Hands down, THE AVENGERS is a winner. I give it four knives.

LS: Well, it does have a lot going for it. A great cast, great heroes, and great fight scenes. But it’s not perfect. The first half of it, as S.H.I.E.L.D gathered up the heroes, did move a little slow at times. Not boring, mind you, but I found myself thinking “hurry up and assemble already!” And I still say the “big bad” left a lot to be desired (you’d think Joss Whedon, who added the phrase “big bad” to our lexicon in his BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER series, would have been more conscious of the need for a worthy bad guy).

One thing, though. Like most of these movies, there’s a hidden scene or “Easter egg” once the credits start rolling. But this time, it happens pretty early on and you don’t have to sit through all of the credits. In THE AVENGERS this extra scene gives us a major teaser as to who’s going to be the enemy in THE AVENGERS 2, and he’s way more lethal than half-assed Loki. So that got me excited, knowing what they have in store for next time. I’m not saying a word about who the classic villain is, though. You have to go see the movie if you want to find out. But I will say that Jim Starlin fans (of which I’m one) will be very psyched!

MA:  But if you do stay to the very end of the credits, there is an additional scene, but it’s played strictly for laughs and it’s not as important as the prior scene you just mentioned. Still, it cracked up those of us still sitting in the theater.

LS:  I liked this movie a lot, but I just didn’t think it was as perfect as you did. I give it three and a half knives. As in, it’s great and people should go see it, but it could have been even better!

MA: Well, there you have it. Shouldn’t we be returning the Helicarrier now, before Nick Fury notices it’s gone?

LS: I guess so.

MA: So what are you going to tell him when he asks about the giant scrape on the side of the Helicarrier?

LS: I’ll blame it on aliens.

MA:  Good idea!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE AVENGERS ~ four knives!

LL Soares gives THE AVENGERS~three and a half knives.

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Fun Stuff!, Gore!, Hillbillies, Joss Whedon, Monsters, Supernatural, Surprises!, Twist Endings, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A cabin in the middle of the woods. MICHAEL ARRUDA has just arrived, to find L.L. SOARES sitting in front the fire, reading a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories)

MA: Nice to see you’re so comfortable. It took me forever to find this place.

LS: I know, I’ve been here for three days now. Did you get lost or something?

MA: This place isn’t on any map or GPS that I know of. How did you get here anyway?

LS: I borrowed THE FLY’s teleportation machine.

MA: That explains why you didn’t need a map.  Whoa!  You borrowed THE FLY’s teleportation machine?

LS:  Clean that wax out of your ears, son, that’s what I said.

MA:  That didn’t work out so well for Seth Brundle.  There weren’t any flies in there with you, were there?

LS:  No.  But there was this tarantula, and a scorpion.  Is that bad?

MA:  Aren’t you worried that you’ve somehow all been jumbled together, and that now you might be sharing some of their DNA?

LS (burps):  Not really.

MA:  Are you telling me that you—?

LS:  Yep.  They’re just delicious when you add some of Stubbs’ barbecue sauce.  Anyway, do you want me to start the review while you’re getting settled?

MA: Sure.  Man, you must have a stomach made of iron.

LS: This week’s movie is THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, and it’s the first movie directed by Drew Goddard, who mainly was a writer before this. He wrote CLOVERFIELD (2008), a movie we both liked a lot.

MA:  Yep, CLOVERFIELD was one of my favorite horror movies of the last decade.

LS:  CABIN is also written by Joss Whedon, who created shows like BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL two shows that Goddard also wrote for. And Whedon will be directing THE AVENGERS movie next month, too!

MA:   Goddard co-wrote the screenplay with Whedon.  In addition to writing CLOVERFIELD, Goddard also wrote several episodes of the TV show LOST, and I thought there were parts of this movie that reminded me of LOST.

LS:  THE CABIN IN THE WOODS starts out kind of strangely, as we see a group of scientists taking a lunch break before they go back to work. These are Hadley (Bradley Whitford) and Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and they seem to be in charge of some strange experiment.

MA:  Strange is the operative word here.  The movie opens and I’m thinking, what an odd way to get this one started, but it caught my attention, and so I guess it worked!

LS:  Then the story shifts to five college kids who decide to take a weekend “off the grid,” kicking back at a secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere, which belongs to one of the kids’ cousin. They include  Jules (Anna Hutchison), a sexy, flirty co-ed who just dyed her hair blonde; her roommate Dana (Kristen Connolly), a slightly less outgoing, innocent-seeming redhead; Jules’ boyfriend Curt (Chris Hemsworth—yes, THOR himself), a jock;  Curt’s friend Holden (Jesse Williams) who Jules and Curt are trying to fix up with Dana; and fifth wheel, Marty (Fran Kranz) who is smart and a smart aleck and he smokes a lot of weed, and I wasn’t really sure why he was going along with them, but he’s a welcome addition to the group, as far as I’m concerned.

MA: Yeah, he’s the most fun— and refreshing— character in the movie.

LS:  They take an RV out to the country, where they come upon your typical, cliché’ redneck gas station owner, Mordecai (Tim De Zarn) who sets the creepy mood, and you just know these kids are in for some trouble.

MA:  This is the scene where I almost groaned out loud.  I’ve seen so many scenes like this one; it’s almost painful to sit through any more, so when this movie took this scene and did something completely different with it later, it was that much more refreshing.

(There is a knock at the cabin door.  MA opens door to find a redneck gas station owner at the door, and behind him his redneck son, behind him another old man, and on and on the line goes.)

REDNECK MAN:  This is no place for strangers!

REDNECK SON:  My advice to you is to turn around and go back to where you came from.

OLD MAN:  Turn back before ye perish!

EVEN OLDER MAN: You’ll be sorrrrry!

SKELETON IN OVERALLS: Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

MA:  I think I’m going to throw up.  (Slams door in their faces.)

LS: Yeah, I’m sick to death of those guys, too. Get a life! And get some teeth!

Anyway, like I was saying, you know these kids are headed for trouble. The thing is, what kind of trouble is something a little bit different than what we usually see in these kinds of movies. You might go in expecting yet another retread of THE EVIL DEAD or something along the lines of Eli Roth’s CABIN FEVER, but instead, we get something different than we’re expecting. This ties in to the fact that there are two smart, creative guys at the helm of this one, and they’re determined not to give us something we’ve seen before.

During a game of Truth or Dare, the kids find a doorway into a basement. When they go down to explore, they find lots of very strange artifacts, which will somehow decide their fate, depending on which one they choose. Dana picks up a diary of a girl who lived in the cabin back in 1908, and it’s rather disturbing. Meanwhile, outside, some strange figures start shuffling around, holding some vicious-looking weapons.

Beyond that, I don’t want to say too much, except that the kids in the cabin, the creatures stalking them, and the scientists back at the underground lab are closely linked, and that there really is a reason why all this is going on. A very cool reason. And I figured it out by the half-way mark, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this movie at all.

Not only is the directing and writing very good here, the acting isn’t too bad, either. I really enjoyed the interaction between Jenkins and Whitford as the scientists, who also involve their fellow employees in their activities. These are two good actors who turn in good performances.

MA:  I agree.  I thought veterans Richard Jenkins (who was in LET ME IN (2010), and received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in THE VISITOR (2007), not too shabby), Bradley Whitford (who most people will recognize from TV’s THE WEST WING) were excellent and lent credibility to the proceedings.  They definitely help make the unbelievable seem believable.  Credit here also goes to the writing, which gives them plenty of lively lines to deliver.

LS:  The kids aren’t too bad, either. Hutchison as Jules is very sexy and Hemsworth is a muscular alpha male as Curt.

MA:  Yes, no doubt about it, Hutchison is hot.  The scene where she makes out with a stuffed wolf’s head in a game of truth or dare is worth the price of admission all by itself!

And I liked Hemsworth as Curt too.  Most jocks in these films are jerks.  Hemsworth makes Curt pretty likeable.

LS:  I wasn’t as impressed with Jesse Williams as Holden – he was okay, but nothing special. The two best performances here, however, are Kristen Connolly as the “virginal” Dana, who gets tough when she has to, and Kranz (who Whedon fans will recognize as Topher from the short-lived but really good series DOLLHOUSE). He pretty much steals every scene he’s in, and was my favorite character.

MA:  I agree with you wholeheartedly here.

LS:  Wholeheartedly?  That reminds me!  (Suddenly there is a bloody heart on LS’ plate next to a bottle of barbecue sauce.) Thanks, I didn’t want it to spoil.

MA: Where did that come from? That’s not yours, is it?

LS: Of course not! Mine isn’t this big. I had it in my pocket for a snack. And right about now, when you’re just about to go into a long rant, is as good a time as any for the munchies.

MA:  Long rant? I’ll save those for when I don’t like something!  Anyway, as I was saying, the two leads are excellent.   Kranz nearly steals the movie as Marty, a character who’s stoned most of the time.  Yet, this turns out to help him later in the story.  Hmm, a subtle plug for medical marijuana, perhaps?  (laughs) Kranz is funny, likeable, and best of all, refreshing.  He provides the film with its best moments.

LS: He was great on DOLLHOUSE, too. I’d love to see Kranz become a star because of his performance here.

MA: Kristen Connolly is also excellent as Dana.  She enjoys the best of both worlds in this movie, as she’s pretty hot herself, and yet she’s strong, capable, and more than holds her own when the going gets rough.  She’s also smart.

LS: Yeah, she is pretty hot, too. Gotta love a redhead. And I liked her character a lot.

MA: Nice job by both these actors. There’s also a surprise cameo appearance at the end that’s been generating some excitement.

LS: Yeah, except I didn’t find it very exciting. The person who shows up isn’t that big a deal, since he/she has been in these kinds of movies before. It certainly wasn’t as big a deal as Bill Murray’s appearance in ZOMBIELAND (2009). I don’t even know why we’re keeping it a secret.
MA: Yeah, I didn’t think it was a big deal, either.

LS:  The movie has its fair share of scares and laughs, and knows how to balance the two of them effectively. And the fact that there are some genuine surprises here means that CABIN is a movie you can really enjoy. It’s smarter than the usual Hollywood horror flick, and I enjoyed it a lot. In fact, I give it three and a half knives!

What did you think of it, Michael?

MA:  I enjoyed it too, but I didn’t love it.

LS:  Of course you didn’t.  (starts eating the heart)

MA:  THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is definitely different.  As advertised, it offers a refreshing take on the usual tale of young people trapped in a haunted cabin in the middle of nowhere.  For that, I commend the filmmakers, and I really did like this movie.

It’s just that, I’m not sure that I bought it all.  What was going on behind the scenes, in those scenes with Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, bordered a bit too much on fantasy for my tastes.  Now, I know you won’t like this comparison, but some of the stuff was reminiscent of MEN IN BLACK, only better.  MEN IN BLACK was science fiction and it was pure comedic fluff, while THE CABIN IN THE WOODS is horror and never strays down the road to goofiness.  That being said, I still had a hard time accepting some of the things that happen in this movie once the explanations start rolling in.

LS: MEN IN BLACK? Did you really need to go there?

MA: Sorry, but I think I did.

(There is a knock on the door, and when MA opens it, there is a brutish BIG ZOMBIE standing in the doorway)

BIG ZOMBIE (to LS): You gonna eat that heart?

LS (talks with his mouth full): Way ahead of you. And I’m not sharing!

BIG ZOMBIE: Dammit!

(BIG ZOMBIE growls and skulks away)

MA: I actually bought into THE HUNGER GAMES more.  That was a movie that I thought I was not going to believe, but that one, with its combination of strong acting, writing, and directing, convinced me that those deadly games were in fact real.  THE HUNGER GAMES had more of an edge, I think, than THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, which as much as I liked it, would have been better served had it had a jagged edge of its own.

But I really enjoyed THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.  I enjoyed it a lot.  It’s a really creative flick, and it would be difficult not to like this movie.

I said earlier it reminded me a bit of LOST, in that you have a group of characters stuck in a situation that they at first think they know about and have a handle on, but soon they realize there is so much more going on, and it’s way more complicated than what they first thought.  At one point, one of the characters remarks that they’re like puppets, manipulated by outside forces, which reminded me of the survivors on LOST when they were dealing with “the Others” early in that show.

LS: Yes, I see what you mean about the LOST comparison, although I thought the ending of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS was more satisfying than the ending of LOST.

MA: And like CLOVERFIELD, which was also written by Drew Goddard, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS has well-written characters and fun, lively dialogue.

I thought the special effects were also very good.  I liked the monsters and creatures in this one and thought they looked genuinely scary for the most part. They were credible.

LS: I wish we’d gotten to see more of them!

MA: Not so credible is the plot.  Ultimately, did I really buy all that was happening?  And the answer to that question is no, I didn’t.  Because while the film never breaks out into a full-fledged spoof/comedy— it does get the humor right, and it’s smart in that the dark elements of the movie remain dark— it’s difficult to take the proceedings all that seriously once you learn the secret of what’s ultimately going on.

I liked THE CABIN IN THE WOODS for what it was— a wild, over the top, creative horror movie, but had it somehow been more believable, I would have loved it.

I give it three knives.

LS: Yeah, I liked this one a bit more than you did. But at least we can agree that it’s a lot of fun and that the folks out there should check this movie out.

MA:  Yes, it’s definitely worth checking out!

(There’s another knock at the door)

MA: I wonder who it is now.

(Outside the door, lots of REDNECKS and ZOMBIES are playing outside on the front lawn)

LS: What’s going on here?

REDNECK MAN: What does it look like?

REDNECK SON: We’re havin’ a picnic.

OLD MAN: Yeah, and we brought all the fixins’

EVEN OLDER MAN: We even brought the grill!

SKELETON IN OVERALLS: I can’t wait to eat. I’m starvin’ right to death.

REDNECK MAN: Yep, my great great grandpa needs to put some meat on those bones.

MA: That’s all well and good, but it looks like you’ve forgotten the most important part.  The food!  There’s no meat on the grill.

LS: Yeah, what are we supposed to be eating?

REDNECK MAN: Well, you’re not going to be eatin’ anything.

BIG ZOMBIE: We’re gonna be eatin’ you!

(CLOSE-UP of a LITTLE BOY ZOMBIE licking his lips)

MA (to camera): Gotta go!

(MA and LS run away in fast motion as the ZOMBIES and REDNECKS look on in bewilderment)

-END-

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE CABIN IN THE WOODS ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives THE CABIN IN THE WOODS ~three and a half knives.

THOR

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, Marvel Comics, Mythological Creatures, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THOR (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A vast bridge made of multi-colored stones. MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES are walking across it, chatting, when they come across a large man in golden armor resting his hands on the hilt of a giant sword)

LS: Who the hell are you?

HEIMDALL: I am Heimdall, guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. I protect the way into the ancient city of Asgard, home of the Norse Gods.

LS: Oh that’s nice. You know where we can get a drink around here?

MA: Yeah, we’ve developed quite a thirst. We’ve been walking a long time now.

HEIMDALL: You appear to be two creatures from the human world of Midgard. You are not allowed to pass any further.

LS: Oh come on, man. We just saw the movie THOR, and we thought we’d check out Asgard. It looks like a great place to go on vacation.

MA: Yeah, it looks like fun. Do you have any amusement parks here?

HEIMDALL: Turn back, foolish humans. I knowest not how thou hast reached this place, but it is meant for the gods alone. Not for the likes of thee.

LS: What a friggin snob.

MA (to LS): I told you we should have gone to Transylvania.

HEIMDALL: Go back. Thou shalt go no further.

LS: Hey, what’s that? Looks like a bunch of unruly frost giants!

HEIMDALL (looks around): What? Where?

(LS and MA run past)

HEIMDALL: Huh? Where did those mortals go?

(LS and MA are suddenly in downtown Asgard, a city made of gold and jewels)

LS: So here we are, in the heart of the legendary city of Asgard, so we can do our review of the new superhero flick, THOR, in style.

THOR—if you didn’t know already—is the latest in the long line of superhero movies based on characters from Marvel Comics. This includes a multitude of heroes, from Spider-Man and the Hulk, to the Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Elektra. To, of course, the X-Men and Iron Man. Hey, that’s a lot!

MA: To say that Marvel has been on a roll would be an understatement. Not only have there been a lot of these movies over the last decade, but they’ve been high in quality. It’s no accident these movies have done well. They’re made well.

LS: Back when I was a wee lad reading the actual comic books, the most you could hope for was the occasional TV-movie, or television shows like THE INCREDIBLE HULK with Bill Bixby. And, of course, some cartoons. But it was a rare event indeed for there to be an actual theatrical film based on Marvel Comics. And when it did happen, it was something low-budget and pretty awful.

For a long time, DC Comics held the key to big-budget superhero films based on their characters, like Superman and Batman. But Marvel has finally caught up.

In a few months, we’ll be seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, another classic Marvel character. And next year is the much-anticipated superhero team movie, THE AVENGERS, which will feature everyone from Iron Man and Thor, to Captain America and the Hulk.

MA: As long as they keep churning out quality products, I’ll continue to look forward to these movies.

LS: The latest release from Paramount and Marvel Studios is the story of THOR, the mighty Norse God of Thunder, who also happens to be a superhero.

THOR begins in the middle of the action. Scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is studying anomalies of weather, and is pursuing a strange disturbance in the atmosphere with her team: Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) —who I thought at first was her father, but who I guess is her mentor—and her assistant, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings). They are following a strange tornado in a range rover, when they find a man in the center of it.

We then jump back in time to how he got there.

MA: Yet another movie that begins with a flashback. This is really becoming the trend these days, and I don’t like it. I wish these movies would start AT THE BEGINNING!

LS: I find it annoying too.

We then jump back to the city of Asgard – pretty much a world of its own – populated by gods from Norse mythology. The city is ruled by the one-eyed Odin the All-Father (Anthony Hopkins)— the king of the gods—and at first we see him telling his two young sons the story of how Odin and the warriors of Asgard were able to save the planet of Midgard (Earth) from the wrath of invading Frost Giants, and send them back to their own world. The war lasted for many years, and there is an uneasy truce between them. Odin’s two boys, Thor and Loki, are clearly in awe of their dad and both are being groomed to be his possible successor.

MA: Anthony Hopkins looks like he walked off the set of THE WOLFMAN (2010), put on some royal clothing, and entered Asgard.

LS: We then jump to when they are grown men. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the cocky, charismatic God of Thunder, is about to be named the new king. His younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), watches from the sidelines. The ceremony is interrupted by a breach in the city’s security. Frost Giants were somehow able to get into the city and attempt to steal back the glowing casket that holds their power (a trophy the Asgardians brought back from their long war). The giants are thwarted by the Destroyer – a kind of living robot who is installed in the great hall to protect the casket – but Thor is still outraged that the giants were able to get past the security boundaries at all, and he wants to go to the Frost Giants’ world to punish them for their arrogance.

Odin forbids it. The threat was taken care of, and he is not eager to start another war. He says that Thor is not ready to become king, that his decisions are too rash, and the day’s ceremony is postponed indefinitely.

Thor sneaks off to the Frost Giants’ world anyway, and is joined by his close friends: the warrior woman Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), and the Warriors Three, which are made up of the dashing swordsman Fandral (Josh Dallas), the Mongol warrior Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and the mountainous Volstagg (Ray Stevenson). Loki tags along as well. They get there by being transported via a gigantic sphere-like contraption that works similarly to the transporter bridge on STAR TREK.

On the Frost Giants’ world, Thor and his friends almost start a full-blown war, until Odin appears and stops it. He takes his son and his friends back to Asgard, where he decries Thor’s arrogance and banishes him to the world of humans.

Soon afterwards, Odin falls into a long coma called “The Odin Sleep” which seems close to death, and Loki becomes the new King of Asgard. While up to this point, Loki has seemed to be a good guy, in awe of his brother Thor, it is revealed that, upon becoming king, he is not so good after all, and has an agenda of his own. When he finds out the truth of his birth (a story that didn’t make complete sense to me), it makes him even more determined to tear the world of Asgard apart.

MA: You’re sure going into lots of detail here. Maybe you should just let the folks watch the movie.

LS: I actually dreaded reviewing this one because the story is so complex, and involves so many characters, that it’s hard to give a concise synopsis.

MA: Try this on for size: Thor annoys his dad and gets banished to Earth. There you go. Let’s move on now.

LS: When Thor is banished to Earth, he is stripped of his powers and reduced to little more than a human himself. And his ascension to earth is the tornado that Jane Foster sees in the beginning of the movie. In the middle of the storm, her vehicle hits Thor, and she’s afraid she’s hurt an innocent bystander. It is later on that she realizes that Thor was the actual heart of the storm.

Meanwhile, Thor’s sacred weapon, his hammer Mjolnir, has also hurtled to earth. When it is lodged in a stone (much like Excalibur and the King Arthur legend), crowds of bystanders try to pull it out. But no mortal man can move the hammer. Only Thor can, when and if he redeems himself. The rest of the tale involves Thor trying to do just that. Redeem himself and regain his powers and the throne of Asgard. But he has a long way to go. Meanwhile, Loki has started unleashing much chaos on Asgard.

At one point, Sif and the Warriors Three arrive on earth to help Thor. And Loki sends the Destroyer down to kill him. Meanwhile, the clandestine government agency S.H.I.E.L.D, which fans of the IRON MAN movies will be familiar with, are on the scene, under the jurisdiction of Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg, also from the IRON MAN movies). S.H.I.E.L.D. – a kind of special ops CIA-type organization – is trying to determine what the hammer is, and what is the source of its power (energy readings of the weapon are off the map).

Throw in an brief appearance by archer Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), who long-time Marvel fans know better as the future Avenger, Hawkeye, and you’ve got yet another piece of the puzzle leading up to 2012’s big event movie, THE AVENGERS.

MA: Which after this synopsis is tomorrow!

Seriously, that was a very detailed and informative synopsis. You’re obviously a long-time fan of the comic books, so what did you think of the THOR movie? Did it live up to your expectations?

LS: Like most adaptations, there are both good and bad elements to the movie. But I had a good time overall.

MA: I did, too.

LS: First off, it’s got some very talented people involved, from director Kenneth Branagh, who made his name in adapting Shakespeare plays to the big screen, like HENRY V (1989) and HAMLET (1996).

The acting is pretty good too, from Anthony Hopkins to Natalie Portman, and solid actors like Idris Elba, Ray Stevenson and Stellen Skarsgard in smaller roles. But I guess the big question is, how does Chris Hemsworth work out as Thor? Is he able to bring the character to life? I think he does a good job.

In the comics, the character was much more serious, but Hemsworth seems so absorbed in playing Thor, that the times when we get laughs from his behavior in this strange new world actually seem pretty genuine. And not only can he act, of course, but Hemsworth looks the part, being extremely well-muscled for the job.

MA: Yes, I enjoyed Hemsworth as Thor too. I thought he both looked and sounded like Thor, and I especially enjoyed his scenes where he’s getting used to our life on Earth.

(Another armored warrior approaches them. This one is BALDER THE BRAVE)

BALDER: Halt! What art thou humans doing here in Asgard?

LS: BALDER! I have to admit, I was very disappointed you didn’t make it into the movie. Sorry to hear it, chap.

BALDER (lowers head): Yes, they cut me out of the script completely. I guess there were already too many characters.

(BALDER lifts his head again, and finds the two humans are gone)

BALDER: Where didst those rascals go now?

(We suddenly find ourselves in the royal throne room of Asgard)

LS: Where was I? Oh yes, Anthony Hopkins brings his regal bearing once again to the role of a fatherly monarch.

MA: I thought Hopkins just mailed it in here. There really wasn’t much for him to do with this role. I enjoyed him much more in THE RITE (2011) which we saw earlier this year.

LS: Yeah, I guess you’re right. He could have played this role in his sleep – which is ironic, since for a big part of the movie he is asleep.

I also missed some of the fun language from the comics. Thor and the Asgardians speak in flowery ways here, but long gone are the “thees” and “thous” of the old Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comics. And I never got to hear Thor say the immortal line “I Say Thee Nay!”

MA: Yeah, I’m real sad about that (rolls his eyes).

LS: Tom Middleton, the other crucial role here, is okay as Loki. Early on, I didn’t care for him, much. He seemed to be too earnest and actually a good guy – it would have been nice if he’s show potential for evil earlier—but once his darker side finally did come out, he turned out to be an okay villain.

MA: Yeah, if you’re watching SCOOBY DOO! I thought Loki was one of the weakest characters in the movie. I didn’t like him as a villain at all, and that’s major knock I have against the movie, that it doesn’t have much of a villain. I wasn’t that impressed with Middleton’s performance. I thought he made Loki rather wimpy.

LS: Like I said, he was okay, but not terrific. In the comics, Loki is a much more formidable foe. Where Thor is pure brute strength, Loki is one of the most powerful sorcerers in the universe. He is certainly a force to be reckoned with, in the comics. Here—not so much. But even in the comics, Loki always had his weasely side. Although there is a cool fight on the rainbow bridge between the brothers toward the end that’s not too bad. I also didn’t care much for the “secret” of Loki’s birth. I thought it was kind of lame.

The growing romance between Thor and Jane Foster is also a key component of the movie. Natalie Portman seems like an odd choice for a superhero flick, especially when she has been in much more arty fair lately, like last year’s BLACK SWAN, but she was also in the fantasy/comedy YOUR HIGHNESS last month, so she isn’t opposed to being in more mainstream movies.

MA: And don’t forget she was in the three STAR WARS movies, EPISODES I, II, and III as Padme, Anakin Skywalker’s wife and Luke Skywalker’s mom.

LS: She’s good in THOR, but she isn’t given very much to do here, except look at Thor with googly eyes. It’s definitely not one of her better roles.

And while I love Ray Stevenson (he even played another Marvel character – The Punisher – to great effect in 2009’s PUNISHER WAR ZONE), I thought he was a kind of a weak Volstagg. Not that it was his fault at all. His acting was fine. But in the comics, Volstagg is a gigantic, obese glutton of a man (and a hilarious story-teller, where he is always the hero in his stories). Whoever did the work on Stevenson’s costume and make-up did a shoddy job. He looks like Volstagg after a year on Jenny Craig, when he should be mammoth in size. And he could have been given a few more chances to make us laugh.

MA: I thought Natalie Portman did a fine job as Jane Foster, and I can say the same for Stellan Skarsgard who played her mentor Erik Selvig, and Kat Dennings who played their young intern Darcy. Now, none of them delivered what you would call Oscar caliber performances, but they were by far my favorite characters in the movie, and whenever they were on screen, I liked the film that much better. And a lot of this is because of their strong performances. So, I have to give them credit.

LS: I actually found Kat Dennings’ character to be rather irritating as the movie went on. And Portman and Skarsgard –two Oscar-caliber actors –are given pretty one-dimensional roles here. So I don’t agree that the earthbound characters are the best thing in the movie.

MA: Well, they’re a heck of a lot more fun than whiny Low Key— I mean, Loki.

I also enjoyed Idris Elba, who we’ve seen in several horror movies in the past few years, even though he was unrecognizable as Heimdall. It’s still a cool character, and he did a good job with him.

LS: Yeah, Elba is pretty much always reliable, and he’s very good here.

(Another large, armored WARRIOR enters the throne room)

WARRIOR: How darest thou humans enter the throne room of the mighty Odin! Prepare to die!

LS: We’re sorry, mister. We didn’t know this room was off limits.

MA: Yeah, it’s our first time here.  We sure could use a brochure or a map.  Would you happen to have one handy?

WARRIOR: There is no excuse for such arrogance!

LS: Hey, isn’t that Ulik and his trolls invading the streets of Asgard?

WARRIOR: What! (runs outside) Where are those dastardly trolls?

(LS and MA rush past him unnoticed)

LS: THOR was available in three different versions in theaters. In regular 2D, in 3D, and in IMAX. I saw the 3D version, which meant an extra $5.00 for glasses.

MA: I saw the 3D version as well.

LS: While the 3D effects did seem pretty good when the movie began, after a while, I pretty much stopped noticing. I’m not sure if it was because I just got used to the 3D, or if it was just poorly used here, and I only became aware of it again a few times during fight scenes. Overall, I thought it was a waste of money, and would have been just as happy to see the 2D version.

MA: I agree. To me, the 3D effects were most noticeable during the Asgard scenes. When the story took place on earth, I hardly noticed the 3D at all.

LS: And of course, as Marvel movie fans already know, you need to stick around until the very end – after all the credits – to see a “secret” scene that appears at the very end. Not surprisingly, this scene involves another appearance by Samuel L. Jackson as S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury, and more clues about the upcoming AVENGERS movie.

So what did you think of THOR, Michael?

MA: I found THOR likeable enough. I mean, I certainly enjoyed watching it, but I thought it was an uneven film, and this lack of consistency prevented it from reaching the next level.

I thought the scenes on earth worked best. They were humorous, and I liked the pacing to these scenes. I enjoyed the characters—Natalie Portman’s scientist and her mentor and intern—a lot, and it was fun seeing Thor interact with the real world.

The scenes in Asgard, while visually impressive, lacked punch. They reminded me somewhat of the opening scenes on Krypton way back in SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (1979), only those scenes happened at the beginning of the movie, while these Asgard scenes continue throughout the whole movie. There’s nothing really wrong with these Asgard scenes, but compared to the scenes on Earth, they’re rather flat and nowhere near as fun. It’s almost like two different movies.

The story’s likable enough. I like Thor’s story, and I think screenwriter Ashley Miller did a good job telling it, but again, the earth scenes are so much better. The dialogue is quick and witty, while on Asgard things are just more mundane.

The jumping back and forth between Earth and Asgard didn’t really work for me. I would have preferred an opening scene on Asgard, and then that would be it. I would have enjoyed seeing the rest of the story take place on earth.

LS: I don’t think it was as bad as all that. Asgard is a very important aspect of Thor’s story and belongs here.

MA:  Then they should have done a better job writing these scenes.  Thor and his Asgard buddies are about as lively as a bunch of Jedi Knights huddled around Yoda, while the Earth scenes have spunk.

LS:  I actually liked most of the scenes in Asgard. While I like Portman, I didn’t think Jane Foster was all that compelling a character. So I’m glad it didn’t take place exclusively on Earth.

MA: I wasn’t that impressed by Kenneth Branagh’s direction, either. While the film looked good, I thought it was short on impressive action. I thought the best action sequence was the fight between Thor and the Destroyer, which I found exciting and well-staged. But the rest of the action I thought was average at best.

And while the scenes in Asgard do look good, it’s difficult to come out and state unequivocally that these scenes are “stunning” because as good as they look—and the city and the bridge do look terrific— they still look like CGI animation, and it’s just not the same as looking at a remarkable set built for a movie like this. It’s just not the same.

Still, I thought THOR was fun. It was lively, energetic, and colorful. It’s also fun to watch these Marvel movies as they make their way towards the inevitable AVENGERS film coming out next year.

So, I liked THOR, but it didn’t blow me away. I give it two and a half knives.

LS: I thought it was a good superhero film, at least as good as the IRON MAN movies, and a worthy addition to the Marvel pantheon….

MA: I liked the first IRON MAN better.

LS: …..but I didn’t love it. I thought it was overstuffed at times and would have appreciated more gravitas. I expected something dramatic and powerful from Kenneth Branagh, but this was pretty much his version of a fluff piece.

I give it three knives.

MA: I almost gave it three knives, but I also found the ending and the climactic battle between Thor and Loki lacking. Had it been stronger, I would have rated this one higher.

So, that about wraps things up. Now, what?

LS: Let’s go there! (Points to a restaurant sign that reads, VOLSTAGG’S ALL U CAN EAT BUFFET) I’ve worked up an appetite.

MA: Sounds good. All right, folks, we’ll see you next time with a review of another new movie.

LS: I can’t wait to down a case of that Asgard Ale!

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THOR 2 and a half knives


LL Soares gives THOR 3 knives