Thor: Ragnarok

Okay, what the Hell was that?  I mean this in all seriousness.

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!Image result

When you say that that Marvel Studios have built a rather successful movie business from movies based on the comic book heroes of the ’60s and ’70s (for the most part), it sounds ridiculous.  The you watch one.  You realize that this success has merit.  And I believe I know what that merit is: the comic book superheroes are given life because they are treated like living, breathing, real people.  The films are grounded in a realism that will trick you if you aren’t paying attention too closely.

I’m a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  I have enjoyed every single one of the movies so far, even with the left-of-center entries like “Ant Man“, “Guardians of the Galaxy“, and “Doctor Strange“.  What is shocking about this latest entry: everyone thinks it is so funny.  “Thor: Ragnarok” is clearly meant to be light-hearted popcorn fare.  This movie is by far the worst of the MCU, and I’m going to tell you why.

Ragnarok is the Norse myth of their version of the Judeo-Christian “End of Days” or the Apocalypse.  Now, have you ever seen or heard someone make light of that material (and don’t bring up “This is the End” with James Franco)?  So concept-wise, this film is really about the destruction of Thor’s “world”, the mythical realm of Asgard.  So…we are going to destroy Asgard, and the that is the very point of Ragnarok.  I ask again, what about this material strikes you as funny?

It’s not that Marvel can’t throw some humor into their movies (see here: Joss Whedon’s treatment of the Thor-Hulk relationship in the 1st Avengers movie).  They are great at doing that.  This film though, deliberately seeks to make every line a joke or a punchline.  And THAT is what I don’t get.  We kill off Odin, and we get a joke.  We get Banner back from a 2-year hiatus as the Hulk, and we get a joke.  Thor loses an eye, and we get a joke.  We reduce Loki and his machinations into a joke.  We introduce Valkyrie and her issues, and we get a joke.  The character that most would have have the floor for jokes is the not-so-menacing Grand Master (played wonderfully by Jeff Goldblum) and yet…he barely jokes?

There is no end to the stupidity of the treatment of this material.  Hela, goddess of Death, comes to the screen, and although menacing as she is, she doesn’t come off all that serious.  Now, every other villain introduced int he MCU has been serious.  With the grounded-in-realism approach to superheroes, the MCU made us believe in them in a way we never did before.  But here you have the Goddess of Death presented, and you make her almost laughable in her wanton destruction of everything.  (In the comics, Hela is cold, aloof, and ultimately evil as all get-out.  She is frightening like a force of nature, and utterly unbeatable.)

This is the problem with “Thor: Ragnarok”.  When everything that should be treated serious is swept aside with a joke, nothing is seen as serious – and you are suddenly left with watching a comic superhero action flick with no depth, no realism, no grounded foundation, no character development, no further plot lines being laid out, and nothing to keep your interest.  In the end, I was left preferring that Thor and the rest just get killed off.  It was a sad end to my enjoyment of the MCU, and now I will proceed very cautiously towards anything else they do, and I will most definitely pass on ANYTHING this director does.  (His name is Taika Waititi, FYI.)

Ragnarok was an end alright; the end to superhero movies being treated like quality movies.  Marvel, you let this fan down and I don’t appreciate the joke.

… and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.


Thor: the Dark World

“Thor: The Dark World” Thor_-_The_Dark_World_poster

Marvel Studios continues to bring “the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” to life and they are making each film so layered that it is hard to remember that not so long ago, this would have been laughed at as a story for a movie.  The latest installment of the Marvel universe to come to life is “Thor: the Dark World” and it is a glorious treatment of the Nine Realms once more.  To those that don’t know, Spiderman and the X-Men titles are not yet owned by Marvel Studios – which means you can disregard that crap.

Thor’s 2nd installment in his own franchise brings more of Asgard to life.  It helps to fill in the gaps of story, like why didn’t Thor come back to Earth after the events of “The Avengers” (aka. the alien invasion of NYC).  Here’s the scoop.  When last we saw Asgard, the Bifrost Bridge had been destroyed.  So like how did Thor even get back to Earth to take place in the Avengers?  Well, as it turns out, Heimdall (played once more by the great Idris Elba) has managed to fix the Bifrost.  So why didn’t Thor come swooshing out of the sky and go hook up with his girlfriend back on Earth?  Well, since the events of “Thor” – you know, where the heir to the throne was banished to Earth, the other prince turned traitor & blew up the Bifrost, and King Odin went into a coma-like sleep – Thor has been a little busy running all over the Nine Realms trying to put things back in order.  It seems like Loki inadvertently caused a massive rebellion all over the Nine Realms.  It was up to the son of Odin to bring some order back to the place.

The nice part about Marvel Studios work is that they are truly connecting the dots.  I just connected the 1stThor” movie to “the Avengers” to “Thor: the Dark World” in one paragraph!  Interesting, right?  Oh but it gets better!  In the 1st few minutes of this film, we are getting this recap of events to nicely tie everything together.  They also show Thor isn’t doing this alone.  He is bringing order to the Nine Realms with the help of the Warriors Three!  Oh, sorry – to those that don’t know, the Warriors Three are Volstag the Voluminous, Fandral, and Hogun the Grim, and they are Thor’s best buds.  Oh, and they are accompanied also by the fair Lady Sif.  (As an aside note, Lady Sif is the WIFE of Thor in Norse mythology.)  Throughout the movie, you get to see the friends of Thor being badasses but also doing what friends do – supporting their friend.  To the discerning viewer, you will notice that Fandral is not played by Josh Dallas any longer (that would be Prince Charming from TV’s Once Upon a Time) and is instead played by the Zachary Levi (from TV’s Less Than Perfect and the most awesome series in a LONG time Chuck).

I guess my 2nd question in relation to the story was “what about Jane Foster?”  Where did she go?  What’s been happening with her?  Very next segment of the film was picking up with Jane in London.  Boom.  Like that, all my questions about continuity involving the story were answered.  I applaud Marvel for this – because it is an honest rarity.  Jane is in London tracking anomalies that – you guessed it – might be something like when she discovered when Thor came to Earth.  So, not only did Marvel answer my question directly, they even told you why – another rarity in storytelling.

So, in the 1st 5 minutes of the movie, they give you the back story of the villain of this movie and explain the motivations behind said bad guy.  In the next half an hour, they answer all continuity questions and brought all characters up to speed.  Now that we are all caught up with who’s been doing what and why, and who the bad guy is and why he is coming after everybody – let’s begin with the plot of this film and start laying waste to Earth and Asgard, shall we?

In the first film, Thor’s homeland of Asgard basically looks like Norse Heaven and seems pretty friggin’ impregnable.  (It’s only because Loki is Mr. Sneaky Man that trouble gets in.)  Well, you can kiss that idea good-bye in “Thor the Dark World” because when the bad guy comes after what he needs (which is with Jane Foster…who was brought home for safekeeping by Thor), it is a full-on attack by the creepy Dark Elves.  We’ve got Heimdall attacking a spaceship with a sword!  The throne gets used as a crash landing site.  The prison suffers a jailbreak.  The worst though is the leader bad guy, Malekith, attacking Thor’s mother Frigga (whom happens to be defending Jane Foster).  I liked this because it made the bad guys seem almost unstoppable.  If they can attack Asgard like that, what hope would any place else have?  Imagine if they attacked Earth?  Because – you guessed it – that’s exactly where they are going.

I won’t get into the details of the film; I’d rather you experience it for yourself.  Suffice to say, it was incredibly well designed.  It is constructed in solid, believable steps that take you on the journey.  And when you are talking about Asgard and Thor, being “believable” can be daunting to say the least.  Kudos to both the writers and the director for deftly handling this material and giving us another slam dunk of an installment in the Marvel Studio Universe.  So, Alan Taylor takes the helm for Kenneth Brannagh – and does a marvelous job.  Story by Dan Payne and Robert Rodat – great job guys!

As for the acting, Chris Hemsworth will be Thor for his lifetime.  He’s too perfect for the role.  He LOOKS like Thor should.  His voice seems utterly fitting for his role and Anthony Hopkins as his father Odin is still a stellar call in my opinion!  The good news is that the action doesn’t tell the story here.  The actors do.  Thor cries for the loss of family, Odin  gets bitter, people go mad, death seems everywhere at times – and the acting takes you there emotionally.  I’ll be honest, I thought the Dark Elves were going to be stupid and like another alien kind of thing, but it all worked so well that I didn’t want this movie to end!

The best funny moments come from characters like Fandral and Loki and of course Dr. Erik Selvig.  Loki imitating Captain America was hysterical!  The levity of these scenes helps anchor the film – for while it may not be as grand in scope as “the Avengers” it certainly had that weighty feeling of big evil threatened whole universe.  I think that’s why I really appreciated those moments. Tom Hiddleston is utterly superb once more as the scheming and deceitful Loki.

Truth is, this film is principally about Thor’s relationships – be it with his father, mother, friends, girlfriend, or estranged brother.  I have to hand it to Marvel for striving to bring us quality when so much other shlock could have been done (see here “X-Men: First Class” or “the Wolverine” or worse still “The Amazing Spider-Man”).  The Studio has worked vigorously to not only give us action and thrills, but also the real character-building.  This way, when “Avengers 2” comes out, you aren’t left saying “I wish Thor had more screen time – they didn’t get to do much with his character.”  I like that a LOT.

Thor: the Dark World” is way better than advertised, and the trailer just doesn’t give you enough.  Forget waiting to rent this one, go and see it on the big screen if you still can!  You’ll be happy you did!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: WolverineX-Men_Origins_Wolverine

Billed as the 1st hit of the Summer Season, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is not as enticing as I was lead to believe.  I had high hopes of such too.  When I 1st saw the trailer for this film, I figured it was at least going to be as good as the 1stX-Menmovie.  However, the film didn’t quite reach that goal.  I suppose it was a combination of factors, but almost everyone that I have spoken too about this movie thought about it exactly as I did.  The general consensus: it was okay, but that’s it.

I like Hugh Jackman as the title character.  However, I know he’s not as short as he’s supposed to be.  I know he is actually rather tall for the part, but it’s the acting that counts.  I really liked him in the first 2 movies of the X-Men trilogy.  He isn’t even bad in this one.  The real failure of this movie is the pacing.  It moves so fast through more than a century of this character’s history that it is almost like saying “yeah that’s really important”.  Funny, but I thought that was one of the coolest parts to Wolverine.  He’s a beast in the comics, made more so by the thought that nobody really knows how old he really is – including himself!  The film instead sweeps all of this information by you so fast that if you look into your popcorn you may just miss an entire era!

Live Shreiber plays Wolverine’s brother Sabretooth in the film.  Nobody ever explains anything about the character.  He’s sort of evil right from the start, even as a boy.  No one bothers to explain what exactly is his power is other than running, climbing, and extending his own claws for effect sake.  There are a lovely couple of moments to the film wherein Sabretooth and Wolvie get into it, but not to the level I was hoping for.  I liked him, but I wanted to see him really terrorizing the crap out of everyone and anyone that he came across.  Sabretooth is also not quite what I envisioned him to be.  A little black trench coat?  Really?  I was hoping for more of the look he had in the 1st X-Men film.

The rest of the characters are utterly forgettable.  Ryan Reynolds brief moment as Wade was pretty cool, but for the few moments of screen time that he gets, he really could have been anybody.  I have no idea why half of these characters are included in this film.  It seems like people just wanted to see Gambit in action so they came up with some lame excuse to throw him in.  Emma Frost makes an appearance, but it was once more weak and far too brief.  Less is more in films such as these, meaning that you can give us the essence of the character in a much more cohesive fashion if you simply narrow your focus.  The whole idea of this film was to do a story about Wolverine, right?  And yet, the writers felt the need to plug in as many cannon comic book heroes as they could to the tale.

Regardless, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” fails to scratch the potential it offered.

…and that’s it for this edition of the REEL VOICE


X-Men First Class

X-Men: First Class”  X-MenFirstClassMoviePoster

Okay, so this isn’t cannon.  Big deal, I say!  So what if it isn’t Beast, Cyclops, Marvel Girl, and Angel?  It has Professor X, Magneto, Moira McTaggart, and the Hellfire Club.  But really what this movie has is some fine actors carrying off what could have been absolute garbage and making it a success.  That’s how I see it anyway.  James McAvoy as Charles Xavier was the 1st step to making the film work.  Too many times, a studio rushes to put out another film to further the franchise without really seeing how it could impact the rest of the franchise.  In this case, FOX didn’t do that.  They said, “Okay so we can’t do the original canon storyline, but we can do something that captures the essence”.  I think they succeeded in making a pretty solid film.

A couple of points I really liked about the film: James Fassbender as Magneto and Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique.  Magneto is one of those characters that you can’t help but empathize with.  He looked the part COMPLETELY, especially when hunting Nazis in Argentina.  I don’t know why, but I always saw Eric Lensherr (Magneto’s real name) as completely right in advancing and advocating Mutants as the next higher form of evolution.  In other words, Eric believes that mutants are the superior race.  I mean, why WOULDN’T you think that if you had super powers?  And some of these powers are incredible!  Take for example Magneto himself.  He can do some pretty magnificent things with his mastery over magnetic fields.  Now, I don’t see a victim of the Nazis SS scientists suddenly becoming just like them – that part I don’t buy.  Regardless, Fassbender does a great job with the character and I would be interested to see if FOX decides on another “prequel” film like this to show Magneto more.

I liked Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique because of the simple argument that Eric poses to her about how she shouldn’t have to change to “blend in”.  She brought that simple argument to the core of her character and you could see how it works both within the cannon character idea and this film.  Lawrence does a fine job in making you consider her plight in all of this.  That deserves praise.

I also liked Beast, but more as Hank McCoy.  Once the full transformation happened, the actor looked stiff and sounded liked he struggled under the prosthetic makeup.  January Jones makes Emma Frost look good on screen, but she is utterly flat and unappealing.  It’s sad that so many X-Men fans clamor for this character to get the royal treatment she deserves, but so far nobody has done her justice.

I really liked Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club.  In the opening sequence, he was mesmerizing!  I take my hat off to one of the most prolific actors of my generation.  This was a stellar job!  He wasn’t quite menacing, but he was brilliant.  There’s just something perfect about Shaw as a villain and Bacon captured that on film to a “T”.

What I didn’t like were the no-name other “original” members of the X-Men.  Havok is thrown in because they didn’t want to screw up Scott Summers (aka. Cyclops) introduction in other films in the franchise.  (FYI: Havok is actually Scott Summers younger brother in cannon.)  But I didn’t really care about the discrepancy – it was the acting that was completely lame.  The same holds true for the adapting mutant and the stripper with gossamer wings known as Angel.  The Hellfire Club cronies were done better by far – they barely spoke!  Less said the better when you can’t act or you don’t have the screen time necessary to develop a character.  In other words, the “X-Men” in this movie are cardboard cut-outs that don’t need to be in this film.  If you can’t devote the time on-screen to put in the work required to believe in the characters, then don’t put them in.  Less is more in this case.

Anyway, I thought “X-Men: First Class” worked on a lot of levels.  You will have no problem following the main characters, and you can ignore the other lesser characters completely.  If you want to rank in among the rest of the FOX X-Men franchise, put it above “X-Men: the Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, but below “X-Men 2: X-Men United”.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE


Watchmen”  ?????????????????????????????????

Suffice to say, but every comic book-reading teen from the Eighties has read this ground-breaking Graphic Novel.  Calling that masterpiece a “graphic novel” isn’t enough – even saying that sounds lame.  “Watchmen” changed the landscape of comics forever.  It was all thanks to Alan Moore, the author.  This was not Superman or Spider Man.  These were new heroes, and not quite what you’d expect heroes to be or even look like.  Oh, the immediate comparison of Night Owl to Batman is apparent, but what else seems the same?  Not much.

So, this book (let’s just call it that) comes out in 1986 and it spelled the end of an era.  Comics at that point were pretty bright and colorful and the climate was changing much more so than the comic book companies were aware of.  “Watchmen” broke the image of comics for all time.  Frank Miller would continue this trend in his brilliant work “The Dark Knight Returns”.  Suddenly comics that had not accepted the darker storylines and imagery stirred up by the eighties themselves found themselves with disillusioned readers and low sales.

The teens of the eighties demanded more of their comics.  The artwork was much improved from the seventies and a lot of talent was springing up all over the world.  However, the storylines were suffering.  We, that teenage crowd of the day, wanted darker heroes – and mostly it was because we were seeing the world without blinders.  The reason for that change: Alan Moore’s work called “Watchmen”.  Folks, there was an underground movement years ago involving a smiley face button with a drop of blood on it.  Nobody that had one explained it: we just assumed if you knew, you KNEW.  Moore had crippled the sugar-coated view of the world, and believe it or not, a lot of teens listened and read intently.  We understood.

Yes, I was one of “those” kids.  I still have my bloodstained smiley face button from back in “the day”.

So, of course I had to re-read the whole story prior to going to see the movie.  Folks, you don’t need to read this story prior to seeing the movie.  It’s ALL in there.  For those of you who were fans back in the eighties of this “comic book”, the wait was worth it.  This is a dark film.  There isn’t a happy ending.  The true hero of the story kills criminals without mercy – at least that’s my opinion.  There’s sex, rape, murder, brutal scenes of grotesque violence, naked blue men, and some very disturbing imagery.  Realistically, this film should be a NC-17 rating.

There are 3 actors whom you may recognize in this film, but for the most part they are unknown.  At least, they were to me.  They are perfect for their roles!  So, the casting is top notch, which really helps a film like this one.  The actor who plays Rorschach is brilliant – of course, the role is just written that way.  None the less, the portrayal is flawless!  Even Moloch and Hollis were well cast parts, fulfilling all readers’ dreams and wishes.

The imagery was ripped straight from the panels of the comic, which makes the film FEEL like you are reading that masterpiece.  It contains everything from Dr. Manhattan’s glass “house” on Mars to Dreiberg’s basement lair for “Archie”.  It is both a relief and not a surprise that the creators of this film didn’t mess around.  Instead, they just got it right!

If you are a fan of the book, then don’t delay: go and see this movie right away!  It is worth every penny to see this one.  It is not an “adaptation”; it’s just the book in movie form!  I know that’s kind of hard to imagine, but it’s true.  Go see it and you tell me if I am wrong.  There are a couple of minor things that were changed in the film, but nothing that changed the tone of the movie.  As I say, these are minor changes.

If you have not read the book, you just need to prepare yourself for a long movie.  At nearly 3 hours in length, “Watchmen” is a sumptuous visual feast.  It is a story that spans at least 3 decades, so there is a lot of ground to cover.  There are flashback sequences in the movie to explain both character storylines and give the story a full telling.  If you don’t like that kind of thing, then you won’t like this movie.

If you prefer a more heroic tale, where the good guys win out over a clearly defined villain, then don’t go see this movie – you won’t enjoy it.  If you thought Chris Nolan’s “the Dark Knight” was a pretty terrific movie, then you might enjoy this film.  Keep in mind this: criminals don’t get arrested in this film, they die.  If you liked “the Punisher” with Thomas Jane (we won’t even bring up its “remake”), then you’ll appreciate “Watchmen”.

The bottom line: this film has a power to it than cannot be matched by other super hero movies.  I found it rather fitting for today’s audience to be exposed to this movie.  There are a lot of kids out there who have grown up with “darker” comic book heroes (like Dead Pool and Spawn), and I hope they do somehow convince mom or dad to take them to this.  Parents, you have to know what you child may be able to handle.  Take that into account prior to making that decision.  Will this movie change the way people will view super heroes?  Maybe.  Who knows what the film’s effects will be?

In those prophetic words I will end my review: who watches the Watchmen?

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

V for Vendetta

V for VendettaVforvendettamov

It’s that time of year when people head to the polls to cast their ballot.  What a wonderful feature to our government, you know?  We collectively determine who is running our nation.  I might be over-simplifying that and I am not going to even get into lobbyists and special interests groups.  But – in the end – we vote our leaders into office.  In that vein of thought, I figured I might rattle your brains with a political action-drama film that is based on a graphic novel.  “V for Vendetta” is a BRILLIANT work of art!  That’s right folks; this isn’t just a film.  When it comes to a film being defined as a work of art, it has to meet some very EXCEPTIONAL criteria (because I just wouldn’t call it so otherwise).

V for Vendetta” is a story about freedom and of course, revenge.  It really is focused upon political power and it makes a few really fine statements about the influence the “common man” has.  Power, real or perceived, can be taken away at any moment by a disgruntled population.   When you stop to think about it, all governments are subject to public approval.  If the public doesn’t like their government, they will and ALWAYS have revolted.  Some people in this world seem to think that because they are in a seat of political power that they are “untouchable”.  Nothing could be further removed from the truth.  If a government pushes the limits of what its public will tolerate, you can bet your ballots will be turned into bullets.  When that happens, historians will call it “rebellion” or “revolution”.  I call it “the righting of society”.  Society needs a change and when that need is strong enough, action MUST follow.  In my opinion, governments are nothing without the support of its people.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with this film, you may be wondering what I am talking about?  “V for Vendetta” is the tale of a near-future in England wherein a dictatorship has risen to power through the use of censorship and terrorism against its own people.  Of course, this latter point is the crux of the story – hence, the reason for a vendetta.  It is the story of one man, a victim of the evil of this plot of a dictatorship to overthrow the established government and take control for itself.  That one man mounts a series of attacks aimed at the specific people responsible for the atrocities committed by the dictatorship.  In a brilliant move of storytelling, the man is a bit theatrical and seeks to express the human condition to the masses without the interference of censorship.  In other words, he plays banned music in forbidden areas, he stays up past curfew, he steals works of art before they can be destroyed, and he watches movies that the government doesn’t want you to see.  He’s a rebel and an artist, but he is also the moral conscious of the film. Through him, we are exposed to the villainy of censorship and what happens to a society when they agree to let others do their thinking for them.

The main character is the faceless V.  He is called a madman, a crazy person, a genius, and a terrorist of sorts.  V is out for revenge, not so much for himself (although he has plenty of cause) as it is for someone else and what was done to that person.  That person is a complete stranger to V.  However, her death symbolizes all that is wrong with the world in which V lives.  It lights a fire within V to not simply seek out those responsible and punish them, but rather to alert the public to the need for change.  He wants to complete a mission by another rebel that was never completed hundreds of years ago.  That mission was the plan of Guy Fawkes and other conspirators which would become known as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.  V’s plan to resurrect the Gunpowder Plot is meant to inspire the people of the nation to rebuild their government.  V wants them to identify want is wrong with their nation and change it.  Will blowing up a building really accomplish that feat?  As V would explain it, “the building is a symbol, just as the act of blowing it up is a symbol.”

Far too few movies can provoke such profound thoughts.  “V for Vendetta” is a success on so many levels that it is hard to imagine that more critics don’t put this film on a pedestal.  The film tells a political tale, but also a story of revenge.  It reminds me in a way of the line from “The Dark Knight” about how a hero lasting long enough to become hated by the people he protects.  V is not a hero in a classic sense.  He is out to overthrow the totalitarian government that has inflicted grave injustices upon himself and others.  Within the film, V references another classic tale of revenge: “the Count of Monte Cristo”.  I know that movie (and its 2 remakes) and the original novel well.  Here is where the film achieves true greatness!

V becomes allies with a hapless woman caught up in his rebellious plot.  Her name is Evey – another fine performance by the greatly underrated Natalie Portman.  Evey becomes the real story of “V for Vendetta” for she is both victim and hero.  She is taught through her alliance with V to become utterly free of fear.  She begins as a weak person and ends the film as its strongest character.  She provides that truly grounded-in-reality, human experience that we experience the story of the film through.  V may be the main character but Evey is our guide.  She rises above fear of the powers that be with the aid of V, and in the end she helps V to remember he is after all human.  Evey and V’s relationship is a love story within this political tale of revenge, and with it, the film transcends just being an entertaining action film/thriller.  It becomes a work of art.

I think I make that claim because I don’t ever recall a more poignant tale about politics and freedom.  “V for Vendetta” could have easily become some action flick with a political backdrop.  It could have been a romance story with a revenge backdrop.  It could have been a revenge story that is clouded by politics and a love story.  It was none of those things.  It rose above what it could have been because it shows what one man is willing to do for the cause of freedom, and what one woman can teach a man bent on revenge about love.  This is a positively brilliant movie because it gets me thinking about the value of expression…and freedom…and love…and revenge…every time I watch it!

So, in the immortal words of the Gunpowder Plot, I ask you to watch this film and “Remember, remember the 5th of November, the Gunpowder, treason, and plot.  I can think of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.



Another amazing super-hero flick from Marvel Studious kicks off the summer season in “Thor”.  The film stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, and Stellan Skarsgard.  Thor is a Marvel comic book hero, featured mostly in the Avengers, “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”.   Of course, in what other group would the God of Thunder fit?  Oh, I’m sorry.  Did the whole religion & comics connection blow your mind?  Well, actually, this is something that a lot of people were caught off guard by.  By people, I mean comic book readers.

A quick re-cap might be in order here.  Thor is the Norse God of Thunder and Lightning.  He is the son of Odin, the All-Father, chief of the Norse pantheon of deities.  The Norse Gods live in the divine realm of Asgard, which is connected to Earth by the Bifrost Bridge.  Thor is a pompous, arrogant prince, who is headstrong and stupid.  The comic version of Thor has Thor being banished to Earth (known as Mid-Guard to the Asgardians) because he needs to be humbled before he can take his place as Odin’s successor to the throne of Asgard.

“Thor” is a fantastic blend of fantasy, magic, science, and super-hero comic book material.  Honestly, when Marvel Studios announced that they were tackling the God of Thunder, I was concerned.  It was difficult material in the comics.  It was hard to accept a God as a super hero.  I was always left with the question “If Thor is a God, why doesn’t he just decide to stay in Asgard?”  I mean, if you had access to Heaven, wouldn’t you take it?  Why would you ever leave?  This film actually tackles that question in a very direct manner.  Kudos to Marvel for doing so!

“Thor” also delivers a fantastic representation of one of the most difficult to imagine worlds ever conceived: Asgard according to Marvel comics.  Those who have read the comics can grasp that statement.  The rest of you will have to imagine this: a larger than life world where everything is gorgeous and kind of sci-fi like (and when they say Giant they mean something like 50’ tall).  About 50% of the film takes place in Asgard, which makes sense and would have been a disaster if the studio had not gotten it right.   Marvel got it right, and I for one loved it – from Jotunheim to Heimdall and the Warriors Three.

Hemsworth is fantastic as Thor!  You just could not have asked for a better person to play the part, to look the part.  Hopkins does a fine job as Odin, very believable (unlike Liam Neeson as Zeus in “Clash of the Titans”).  Portman is great as Jane, but honestly I wish they would have chosen someone else.  I only say that because of her star power; it wasn’t necessary for the part and I think it would be nice to offer the fans of this soon-to-be franchise some continuity – because I doubt she will reprise her role as Jane.  I found Hemsworth’s portrayal of Thor to be spot-on and I believed the romance between him and Jane utterly.  That’s important because it becomes a direct connection to the question I mentioned earlier.

For fans of the comic, this film offers you a lot.  You’ll get to see Thor doing what Thor does best, including spinning his hammer, flying, and smashing his hammer on the ground.  Thor has the lingo and the attitude you know from the comic, and Hemsworth just looks the part.  Oh, and he even dons the winged helmet for a scene.  Nice!    Loki is done so perfectly that it deserves a standing ovation.  I mean the acting is wonderful (the ac tor is Tom Hiddleston), the lines given the actor are perfect, the costumes are exactly what they should be, and the special effects concerning his power are what you would want to see.  In a word, Loki was flawless.

This is a fun film that anybody can enjoy, as it has great laughs, some great combat scenes, and just a ton of things that a super hero flick should have.  I HIGHLY recommend “Thor” for a really good time at the movies!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.


The Spirit

The Spirit Thespiritposter

This Frank Miller directed film isn’t fit for consumption.  Don’t waste your time with this one, folks.  Hey, I’m a fan of the famous graphic novelist, but this film is barely entertaining.  It lacks the grit of earlier work we have seen from Frank Miller.  I refer to “Sin City” foremost, but also “300”.  In those earlier films, Miller expresses violence with a touch of campiness.  However, in “Spirit”, the camp overruns everything.

Don’t get me wrong: the film is shot in that wonderful style that has been created out of Miller’s graphic novels.  And I personally find it to be a fantastic look to a film.  That being said, in “Sin City” there were lovely cut-away shots that dissolved into simple silhouettes that were stunning to behold.  Maybe it was because that was the first time I had seen anything like that?  Possibly.  In this film, there are none of those kinds of shots though.  In fact, I think that they may have attempted to do such twice in the movie – and failed utterly both times.

I don’t understand why some people believe that a style can make a movie.  Face it folks: with no story comes a film with absolutely zero appeal.  No one will remember this film in 5 years.  It will be in the $5 bin at Wal-Mart in about 6 months after its release to DVD.  That’s the gist of this film for me.  It had no story.  The whole “I don’t know what I am” storyline for the hero started off as promising, but quickly was reduced to a quick explanation.  Yay.  Woo hoo.  It was delivered flat and received just the same.  My advice to the writer of this tale: stay in comics, dude.

Samuel L. Jackson eats up the screen though, which I did find rather delightful.  He’s actually pretty funny.  I loved his Nazi doctor scene!  The fight in the swamp is entertaining, but the outfit?  A sombrero?  That was an utter failure.  The clones running around with the Latin names were a highlight as well. Even Scarlett Johansen attacked her role with luscious abandon.  It was great to see her play a part – ANY part – with real teeth!  Also, some of the action in the film is pretty over the top, but that actually makes it pretty funny too.  Maybe this action film was supposed to be a comedy?

All in all, I don’t recommend this movie.  You can bypass it all together and you’ll never be missing out.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

The Dark Knight Rises

 “The Dark Knight Rises” Dark_knight_rises_poster

Unfortunately, I believe this film will ever be remembered for the Aurora shooting in Colorado than for the film itself.  I believe that it has tarnished this film, not unlike Heath Ledger’s overdose tarnished “The Dark Knight” back in 2008.  This has been a very tragic franchise for Chris Nolan – tragic & lucrative.  Nice to see Christian Bale though going to visit the victims in the hospital; I can only imagine how awful everyone involved in this film must feel.  Of course, I believe that people will remember & people will still care years from now.  Sadly, my optimistic view of the world may be very wrong – and maybe people have short memories after all.

Let me say this about “The Dark Knight Rises”: it gave a lot to the fans of the comics.  Is Joseph Gordon Levitt playing Robin?  Yes!  Well…sort of.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  You decide for yourself.  Is Anne Hathaway terrific as Catwoman?  You bet!  Was she spot-on?  Well, sort of.  You decide for yourself.  Bale was fantastic at capturing Frank Miller’s bitter “retired” Bruce Wayne from the infamous Dark Knight graphic novels that brought Batman back from oblivion.  He also excelled as the fatalist as seen in “ the Knightfall ” storyline from the comics all those years ago.  Quite truthfully, there’s also a high percentage of the famous (and glorious) “ No Man’s Land ” story arc / graphic novels in this film as well.  Really, like I said, there’s a lot in it for the fans.

Michael Caine is and will forever be Alfred to me.  He’s a charming actor, but Alfred is iconic.  That character FINALLY came to life after all these years when Nolan cast Caine in “Batman Begins”.  In this film though, Caine brings real power to the character.  In other words, I believed Alfred was a real person with real emotions and real relationships.  That is one of the real gems to this film.  Love the ending!

Sadly, the bad guy of the film is Bane.  The voice of this character was HORRID.  I couldn’t decide if it was trying to be British and elitist or maybe vaguely comical (like an animated Disney villain might be).  He was hard to understand frequently, and it would have just been so much better if he had a deep, growling voice.  Imagine if Darth Vader had walked onto the Tantive IV and bellowed his opening lines with the voice of Stewie Griffin?  It just didn’t work.  I don’t know what they were going for with his voice but it destroyed everything to the character.  Of course, he is supposed to be uber-tough, but going toe to toe with Batman and not even flinching?  I find that implausible without sufficient credit.  Of course, if Nolan HAD supplied the accreditation I seek, then it would have been BANE from the comics with his Venom drug in full swing.  Now granted, Nolan managed to squeeze a lot of the character from the comics into Tom Hardy’s portrayal in “Dark Knight Rises”.  I still cannot get past the voice though!

The supporting cast is wonderful, once more.  Morgan Freeman returns as Lucius Fox – brilliant as always.  Gary Oldman IS Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, and I honestly don’t think anyone else will ever do half as good a job as he has done with this character.  (As with Alfred, I loved the ending!)  The additions of Matthew Modine as Foley (the wannabe Police Commissioner) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake (the wannabe Robin) were great additions to the storyline.  I was really impressed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt especially.  Marion Cotillard plays Miranda – a billionaire that can save Wayne Industries AND make an honest man out of Bruce Wayne?  That was a nice touch!  By far though, Anne Hathaway was the real stand-out.  She brought such gusto to her performance (love the line about the shoes!) that it is hard to remember why any of us thought Michelle Pfeiffer was good in “Batman Returns”.  She is a believable Selina Kyle, an exceptional thief that is just way in over her head.  A brilliant job!

So, this franchise ends and it actually is tied up rather nicely.  It leaves the door open for others to follow – both with the story lines created by Nolan for these films and in the films themselves.  What I mean is, if another director wanted to pick up where this story ends and carry on, he could do so.  Batman is an icon, not necessarily a person.  So, it is plausible that a director could do this.  Will somebody do this?  Unlikely.  Look at “the Amazing Spider-Man”.  That franchise was only 5 years dead and the studio decided to hit the reset button & start fresh.  I expect this will be no different.

A word of warning though about “The Dark Knight Rises”: this is a very dark film.  This is NOT “the Avengers”.  No bright colors or clearly identifiable good guys here.  For that matter, the bad guys might not actually seem that bad.  Truth is, that’s how DC Comics rolls.  Everybody should know this by now – and the Batman is the darkest of all comic book heroes.  So, keep the kids at home.  Teenagers can handle it (but still might not get some story lines) but anyone under the age of 14 should stay at home for this one.

I believe this is a great ending to the franchise and I hope the Dark Knight stays out of motion pictures for a while.  Let us savor and enjoy this one – even as we remember those innocent victims of a senseless shooting in Aurora.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

The Avengers (2012)

“The Avengers” TheAvengers2012Poster

There will not be any film breaking the records set by this film any time soon.  It has broken 22 of them so far, including the fastest film to ever gross $1 billion worldwide.  It did that in 10 days.  Think on that for a minute…

Seriously, the closest records to this film’s grosses at the Box Office are “The Dark Knight” and the last of the Harry Potter filmsHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2”.  If you are any movie studio other than Marvel & Disney, you can just assure your investors that you MAY recuperate your losses in production & distribution for this Summer’s releases – and that’s all.  Why?  Because “The Avengers” is blockbuster gold!

A “blockbuster” is defined (according to as “as applied to film or theater, denotes a very popular and/or successful production. The term was originally derived from theater slang referring to a particularly successful play but is now used primarily by the film industry.”  To further note: “The etymology of the term is uncertain; some histories cite it as originally referring to a play that is so successful that competing theaters on the block are “busted” and driven out of business; others claim a derivation from the nickname of a type of World War II-era bomb capable of destroying an entire city block.”  The “other theaters” on the block could be referring to all other so-called big releases of the Summer (which typically starts Memorial Day weekend).  Anyone releasing a film this Summer had better hope that the buzz of “The Avengers” has died down by July.  As for the reference to a WWII bomb that levels whole blocks: that sounds like an accurate analogy of what this film will do to the (ahem) competition this Summer.

Why am I talking so much about blockbusters?  Well, a little history is needed to explain my point of view.  The 1st film to ever be tagged a “blockbuster” was “Gone with the Wind”.  It set the Box Office record for most money ever made off a film by such a huge margin that no one dreamt it could ever be beaten.  Fast Forward to 1976 where we find Spielberg and his fish-tale “Jaws” breaking that record.  That’s right: a shark beat out Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.  As amazing as that was, what happened the next Spring was even more astonishing.  A film that was released in May stayed in the theaters in some areas for more than a year, and it was so successful it opened at Mann’s Chinese Theatre TWICE.  That film was “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” (or as many of us know it, simply “Star Wars”).  It shattered records and raised the bar for what would later be called a success in Hollywood in many, many ways.  What’s so significant about that?  Not to labor the point, but it let the whole world know that the epic good guy vs. bad guy saga was not only plausible, it was profitable.

Now, in this time period, we see “Harry Potter” films grossing huge sums.  It was an epic story, spawned by a wildly successful series of books.  We also the success of another film series like the “Twilight” saga (pardon me while I vomit).  Right up there is a super hero movie, a sequel to a great re-birth of a franchise and featuring a critically-acclaimed performance, “the Dark Knight”.  Notice a pattern here?  These are all escape-films, which are films that are designed to by completely implausible in story and comprised of the fantasy, horror, or comic book genres.  What do you think would top the Box Office records?  The answer is obvious: “The Avengers”.

But why the financial success of a super-hero film that centers on not one but SIX super heroes?  The truth is that movie-goers want entertainment, but they also want characters that they can connect with.  They want a hero film because they like rooting for the good guy – just so long as the villain is vile enough to really despise.  They want the big action and the great special effects, but they don’t want to lose out on the story.  “The Dark Knight” may have won a lot of doubters over to the super-hero genre, but some people felt it was a little too dark and depressing.  They craved a heroic tale, but with something really SUPER in it.  They want a hero that they can connect with, or at least empathize with (look that word up because it’s a fantastic word!).  So, where one is good, six must be better, right?  This is where you have to realize the unique quality to “the Avengers”.  To balance 6 different stories (really that’s what it is) with character development enough to draw people in, that is an impressive feat for any director and/or writer.

Enter Joss Whedon, a man primarily known for his supernatural chick-powered TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”.  Sometimes, you just need the right person for the right job.  Sometimes you bail on projects about Amazonian women and bad casting ideas.  Sometimes Ang Lee is not the right choice for a tale about a green monster.  Sometimes, you need a little of that Favreau connection.  Sometimes, you ditch prima donnas named Norton in favor of a nice-guy actor.  And in the case of “the Avengers”, you needed Joss Whedon.  Whedon took on this project and he made all the right choices in my opinion.  And this is one hell of a project too! (Its budget alone was over $220 million.)

With Whedon at the helm, “the Avengers” started to assemble.  Robert Downey Jr. joins in as “Iron Man”, Chris Hemsworth brings the hammer down as “Thor”, Chris Evans dutifully shoudlers his shield again as “Captain America”, and they welcomed Mark Ruffalo as “The Incredible Hulk”.  Each is the master of their own franchise.  At this rate, we can easily expect another installment for each hero.  (We now know that “Iron Man 3” & “Avengers 2” are confirmed.)  Ruffalo brings warmth and charm to the tormented Bruce Banner, and who would have thought the Hulk was funny?  RDJ rocks as Stark once more.  As a huge Iron Man fan, I will forever be biased towards that character.  But I also have to admit that I loved Evans as Cap once again.  It’s so refreshing to see a man out of time like this and just doing what he knows to try and save people.  He’s brilliant – both as character and the actor portraying him. They are all great, each in their own way.  The real deal is that all of these guys have the spotlight.  All of them do cool stuff.  All of them have their deep moments on screen.  And it is all perfectly balanced.

Even the supplemental characters, the supporting cast, of Scarlett Johansson (the Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Stellan Skarsgård, and Samuel L. Jackson (Col. Nick Fury) returns.  I didn’t like Hawkeye so much, but that’s because he is henchman for Loki for much of the film.  That and I never much cared for the character in the comics either.  Black Widow?  Eh.  I don’t know if I like her or not in this.  I understand the necessity of the character in the plot, but as a charecter to be included herein I just wasn’t sold on her.  The best parts of this supporting cast though are Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson and Tom Hiddleston as the villain God Loki.  Hiddleston fills the shoes of that oh-so-desired role of a God bent on revenge and willed to destroy a whole planet to accomplish this feat, and he does so brilliantly!  Loki lives up to the comic book version of himself in every way, so fans will NOT be disappointed.  Gregg though is the heart of this film.  His character will reach you in a way that you did not expect.  (Watch other audience members reactions to his character and you’ll see what I mean.)

When Whedon turns up the action for the final showdown with Loki, you will appreciate being in a large movie theater with really LOUD speakers and a great picture!  The action is fabulous!  There is more property damage shown in this film than any film short of “Independence Day” and it is gloriously executed.  Even during these climatic action sequences, Whedon finds areas to include the thought “how would this character act in this situation”.  If you are a fan of the comics (and I admit, my preference was always the Avengers over the X-Men), you will really appreciate this.

The humor of this film really kind of takes you by surprise.  There are a lot of really funny parts to this ensemble piece, and it isn’t just Tony Stark quipping one-liners either!  Clark Gregg is priceless as is the Hulk!  Of course, RDJ has his moments and they are great too!  God, there’s so much humor in this film, it will definitely throw you.  It’s just not what you expect from a super-hero flick.

Oh, the plot – right!  Loki wants to conquer Earth by means of the Tesseract (we’ll just call it the Cosmic Cube, okay?) which he will use to open a doorway to an alien dimension & bring into our realm an army of alien monsters.  The agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D decides to activate the Avengers Initiative to “fight the battles we can’t” and thus begins to pull together Earth’s mightiest heroes.  The plot may seem simple enough, but it is an intricately woven tale that allows us to see Loki doing what he does best and in the process we get to see what our heroes can do to each other.  Somebody said it right: they are like a dysfunctional family.  In the end, the team comes together to battle Loki, and the rest is Box Office history.  The story may sound cliché but in truth it is EXACTLY what it was supposed to be.  It gives patrons precisely what they crave; hence the records being set.

My recommendation: start Summer early.  Go to the theater.  Buy some popcorn.  Sit in the air-conditioned loveliness that is a darkened movie house.  Sit back and enjoy a FANATSTIC tale of heroes banding together to stop the forces of evil and save the world.  It’s an eye-popping, ear-blasting, laugh-inducing, heart-felt super hero extravaganza!!!  Do stick around as the credits roll; there are TWO additional scenes!  “The Avengers” have arrived …and the box office will never be the same.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.