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Men in Black: International, the fourth film in the MIB franchise, is the second-worst of the group, after Men in Black II. The original and Men in Black 3 were good; International, meanwhile, is a wasted opportunity—an admirable attempt to restart things that doesn’t hit all its marks.

Replacing Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin are Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, as agents H and M. H is the bold, brash, super-hot dude of MIB; he saved the world years ago, with Agent High T (Liam Neeson) of the London MIB branch, from an evil alien force called the Hive.

M is the latest recruit, having found MIB’s secret headquarters after years of searching. As a child, M witnessed an alien encounter (and saw her parents getting their minds erased), starting a curiosity fire that doesn’t get put out until Agent O (Emma Thompson) gives her a chance to basically save the world as a probationary agent.

Tessa Thompson is great in anything she does, and she is great here. She brings a fun energy to the role, with a slight wiseass edge. Hemsworth is a performer who seems to like himself a little too much, yet he still manages to be likable. The two make a good pair, as they did in Thor: Ragnarok.

While it is fun to see Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson onscreen together again, the screenplay they’re following is a bit baffling. Matt Holloway and Art Marcum, two of the many writers on the original Iron Man, take a hack at sending the duo on a global adventure. The globetrotting, which includes Paris, Italy and Marrakesh, lacks a true sense of purpose—which is surprising, since the characters are trying to save the world.

After a fairly strong start, the action, presented by director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton), devolves into sloppy boredom. With each passing location, it seems as if the movie is directionless, merely picking new locales and switching up the scenery to disguise the fact that it is actually going nowhere.

A “mole in MIB” subplot doesn’t help matters much, with villain’s identity being ultra-guessable. A finale in Paris (after opening in Paris) offers few surprises and no thrills. The movie ends with a big old “Huh?”

The special effects are pretty good, with a few new aliens, most notably a little one named Pawny (the voice of Kumail Nanjiani), adding sporadic fun. I also got a kick out of a mini-alien posing as a beard on some dude’s face.

F. Gary Gray has another sequel on his resume, that being the lousy Be Cool, a sequel to Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty. Sonnenfeld, of course, directed the other three MIB films. Conclusion: F. Gary Gray needs to cease and desist directing sequels to Barry Sonnenfeld films.

This project was originally supposed to be a crossover with the Jonah Hill 21 Jump Street franchise. I’m guessing Warner Bros. soured on the notion of turning MIB into a joke, figuring they could reboot and regenerate revenue on the franchise while staying within its own established universe. Given Gray’s failed film, they figured wrong. No doubt: A Men In Black comedy with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill would’ve been automatic box-office gold. This one is a dud.

The Godzilla film sort of sucked. The X-Men are bombing … and now this. This summer-movie season so far has been a cruel, unforgiving place for big movie franchises.

Men in Black: International is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The Marvel universe gets its most grandiose chapter with Avengers: Endgame, a fitting successor to last year’s Infinity War—and a generous gift to those of us who like our movies with superheroes in them.

When we last saw Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), he was a survivor of the dreaded Thanos (Josh Brolin) finger snap, a universe-altering occurrence that took out half its living creatures and provided that tear-jerking moment when Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and many others turned to dust.

Endgame picks up where that action left off, with Stark floating in space and keeping a video journal of his inevitable demise, as he’s run out of food and water. Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Rocket (the voice of Bradley Cooper) are among the other survivors, dealing with the repercussions of so much death on Earth.

There are tons of questions this movie needs to answer in its three-hour running time. Where’s Thanos? Where’s Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)? Is Tony permanently marooned in space? What’s been going on with Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) during all of this Thanos hullabaloo? Is everybody really dead? Does Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) still have his Walkman in the Great Beyond?

Good news: The movie answers many of these questions and more thanks to another well-balanced screenplay and a crack directorial job from the team of Anthony and Joe Russo. When you leave Endgame, you’ll feel satisfied.

How do I really talk about any of this without becoming the Spoiler King? I can tell you that the movie is the second one this year that borrows a lot from Back to the Future Part II (after Happy Death Day 2U). I can tell you that the Hulk undergoes a fantastic wardrobe change. I can tell you that the New York Mets, my favorite baseball team, has been decimated by the Thanos snap, not unlike when Fred Wilpon took over sole ownership of the franchise in 2002. I could tell you that Rocky Raccoon comes face to face with his creator, Paul McCartney, and eats his foot, but that would be a lie.

I can also tell you, no lie, that it all zips by in a spectacularly entertaining way—and that very little of it misses the mark. There are a few moments when it’s evident that all of the stars weren’t physically together, with their presence pasted together through the power of special effects, just like that lackluster season of Arrested Development during which all of the cast schedules didn’t align. This is a forgivable offense; there’s no chance you are going to get a cast this size all in one room at the same time. Help us, CGI.

In the middle of all the action and plot developments, Downey delivers another soulful, endearing performance, well beyond anything you would’ve expected from a Marvel movie before he started showing up in them. Chris Evans continues to rock, something that truly began with Captain America: Civil War. Hemsworth and Ruffalo continue to explore more-humorous variations of their characters, and both are a total crack-ups.

Are the Marvel movies anywhere near finished with Endgame? Don’t be silly. James Gunn just got his job back as the director/commander of the Guardians of the Galaxy; Captain Marvel is just getting started; and Spider-Man’s next adventure will enter your face before the summer is done.

Have some of the more-popular story arcs within the Universe reached their conclusions? Maybe. I’m not telling. Set aside three hours, and get some answers yourself.

Avengers: Endgame is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Drew Goddard, who hadn’t directed a film since The Cabin in the Woods in 2012, assembles an all-star cast for a nutty film—that’s sometimes a little too cute for its own good.

The star of this movie is the El Royale, a fictional hotel based on Lake Tahoe’s Cal Neva hotel, once owned by Frank Sinatra. Bad Times at the El Royale features fine art direction, from its aged lobby straddling two states, to its creepy tunnels behind the rooms set up for criminal voyeurs.

Jeff Bridges plays a mysterious priest who checks into the resort along with a singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm) and a hippie (Dakota Johnson). After the messed-up manager (Lewis Pullman) checks them in, each visitor has his or her own story in his or her own room.

Goddard shows flourishes of brilliance, mixing thrills, mystery, humor and lots of blood into the intertwined plots, giving the film a Tarantino-like feel. (I know that’s a cliché these days, but it’s true.) The film is set in 1969 and pays homage to the time through its soundtrack, set design and subplot involving a Manson-like cult leader (Chris Hemsworth).

At nearly 2 1/2 hours, the film is a bit much; a half-hour could easily be excised. However, the stuff that works makes Bad Times at the El Royale a worthwhile movie.

Bad Times at the El Royale is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The Avengers team takes a swift kick to their (remarkably muscular) collective ass from a super-baddie named Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, the best blockbuster you will see at the movies this year.

While Marvel has been on a nice roll lately (Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Captain America: Civil War), the last “Avengers” movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, was a misguided, boring dud. This third installment (the first of a two-parter, with the second being released next summer) lets it all hang out with a massive collection of characters and a true, scary sense of impending doom.

There are many, many storylines at play servicing so many superheroes and villains. Infinity War feels like the Magnolia of Marvel movies in that it takes all of those storylines and balances them in a cohesive, entertaining manner. The film is 2 1/2 hours long, but it’s never close to boring.

The balancing act is performed by directors Anthony and Joe Russo, the team that made Civil War such a winner. The magic of that film carries over into this one, which picks up directly after the end of Thor: Ragnarok. That film ended with Thor and his fellow Asgardians feeling somewhat triumphant despite losing their planet while defeating emo Cate Blanchett. A mid-credits scene saw their ship coming into direct contact with one owned by the mighty Thanos (Josh Brolin).

In one of the great motion-capture achievements, Brolin is the best of monsters—one who manages just enough of a sensitive side that he falls well short of stereotype. At one turn, he’s obliterating planets and torturing horrified people under his large feet. Then he’ll shed a tear that shows there’s a big, obviously misguided heart pumping in his Infinity Stone-seeking chest. He’s much more complicated than your average CGI character.

I won’t go into the whole Infinity Stone thing, other than to say they’ve played a part in many past Marvel films—and they all come together and show their purpose in this movie as Thanos adds them, one by one, to his Infinity Gauntlet. Each time he gets another, a palpable sense of dread builds.

The gang is pretty much all here, so it’s easier to tell you who doesn’t show up in this installment: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Ant Man (Paul Rudd) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) are nowhere to be seen, but Hawkeye, Ant Man and a newish Marvel superhero will play into the next chapter.

Robert Downey Jr. continues his magnificent trek as Tony Stark/Iron Man, who is trying to arrange a wedding and babies with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) when yet another apocalypse begins. Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) continue their streak of weird humor after Ragnarok while Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) continues to smolder after the events of Civil War. Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) provides the sensible-guy arc, and has some of the movie’s best scenes with Stark.

Tom Holland continues his joyful portrayal of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy join the fray with a welcomed—and quite substantial—contribution, especially from Zoe Saldana (Gamora) and Karen Gillan (Nebula), estranged daughters of Thanos. Some of the best banter in the film happens whenever Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) encounters an Avenger trying to out-cool him.

There’s a lot at stake in this movie—perhaps too much for one film. That’s not necessarily a complaint, but a slight sense of overload and an abundance loose ends keep Avengers: Infinity War from being a masterpiece. Hey, maybe it’ll get an upgrade to “part of a masterpiece” next summer, when the next chapter plays out.

For now, get thee to a big screen, and be prepared to have your face melted with superhero/bad guy greatness. It’s dark; it’s funny; it’s thrilling; it’s action packed; it’s fantastically performed ... and it’s just Part 1.

Avengers: Infinity War is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

They were smoking some wild shit and licking frogs when they put together Thor: Ragnarok, a film so nutty that it easily surpasses the Guardians of the Galaxy films as the screwiest offering in the Marvel universe.

When you hand the keys to the Thor franchise over to a director like Taika Waititi, you know you are going to get something bizarre—and Waititi doesn’t disappoint. Waititi is the New Zealand comic actor/director responsible for the hilarious vampire faux documentary What We Do in the Shadows and the funny family drama Hunt for the Wilderpeople. There’s really nothing on his resume that screams, “Hey, let’s have this guy direct an action packed, highly expensive Thor film!” but he got the gig, so there you go. Sometimes the wild card pays off.

Borrowing from a host of Marvel comics (including the famed “Planet Hulk” storyline), the hallucinogenic plot drops Thor (Chris Hemsworth) on a crazy garbage planet where everyone is bent on around-the-clock, violent entertainment, and led by Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, finally getting a worthy high-profile role outside of a Wes Anderson film—that was a long drought). The Grandmaster shaves Thor’s head, dresses him in gladiator gear and throws him into the ring for a weaponized bout with his prized competitor.

That prized competitor would be the Hulk, who has been held captive on the planet for the past couple of years. He’s been nothing but the Hulk the whole time, with Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) trapped inside him. Thor and Hulk have a battle royale for the ages, followed by some great scenes in which the Hulk actually speaks. (Ruffalo provides the voice, and this is the first time in the recent Marvel films where Lou Ferrigno isn’t providing Hulk’s growls.)

There’s also a whole other, apocalyptic subplot in which Thor’s long-lost sister Hela (a striking and devilish Cate Blanchett, decked out in black) is causing major havoc on his home planet of Asgard. Blanchett is now high in the ranking of Marvel movie villains. She’s played a baddie before, but never this entertainingly.

Thor’s mischievous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) makes it into the mix, siding with his brother in the war for Asgard, although he’s still not 100 percent trustworthy. Waititi wisely plays upon the comic notes from Loki’s past Avenger films and makes Loki, more or less, a clown in this movie. It works beautifully.

The great Tessa Thompson plays Valkyrie, an Asgardian-turned-trapper for the Grandmaster who has a slight drinking problem. Karl Urban gets perhaps his best role outside of Star Trek as Skurge, an Asgardian who becomes Hela’s right-hand man; he boasts a collection of stuff that includes an infamous exercising tool.

To say the result of all this is trippy is an understatement. The movie looks like Thor meets Boogie Nights (minus the porn) meets The Lord of the Rings. It scores high marks in the fantasy genre realm while being one of the year’s funniest movies—and that’s high praise. Most of the cast members get to demonstrate both comedic and action chops, and the film never feels off balance. Goldblum, thankfully, gets to riff most of his dialogue, Goldblum-style. It all feels very improvised and loose.

As far as moving the stories of Thor and Hulk forward … in this respect, the movie spins its wheels. Ragnarok is largely a standalone, expensively silly curio that looks great and distinguishes itself without worrying much about connecting to plot threads in other films. It does do that (stay for the after credits scene), but it does so without being too obvious

This is not a problem. These are comic-book movies, and sometimes (like with Avengers: Age of Ultron), they can take themselves a little too seriously. Ragnarok embraces its insanity and takes it to highly entertaining, WTF? levels.

No, I don’t want to see this happen with every Marvel movie, because it could get tired and gimmicky. But, say, with every fourth movie, why not let a rogue director go crazy with some Avengers? It certainly works here.

Thor: Ragnarok is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The first Ghostbusters was a magnificent movie miracle.

Some of the greatest comedy actors of the time (Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis and Dan Aykroyd) joined forces under the guidance of a hot director (Ivan Reitman, coming off Stripes and Meatballs) to merge horror, science fiction, comedy and big-budget special effects. They balanced these elements perfectly—and turned out a classic.

I was not expecting anything near the brilliance or originality of the 1984 original from Paul Feig’s reboot/remake/whatever-you-want-to-call-it entry into a movie franchise that has remained dormant since the miserable 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters 2. Considering the cast that Feig assembled—Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones—I did expect to have a good time.

That didn’t happen. I was bored … super bored. I laughed a total of 2 1/2 times at the new Ghostbusters, and I did not laugh once due to anything the headliners did. It’s as if Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy, The Heat) figured, “Hey, I have these stars and a big budget for special effects. I don’t really need a funny script, do I? These stars can just stand in front of a camera and be funny, right?”

Perhaps they can, but that didn’t happen this time out: Ghostbusters is a stale facsimile of the original. If you watched those lousy preview trailers and worried that the franchise was creatively bankrupt, know that the stupid jokes in that trailer (“That’s gonna leave a mark!”) are about the best laughs the film has to offer. I found myself really annoyed with the haters who judged this movie by those lousy trailers before they saw the completed project. Sadly, I have now joined that camp: I really hated this movie.

The normally reliable Wiig, as the “sensible scientist,” basically stands around looking lost. Comedic firecracker McCarthy, as the trailblazer scientist of the group, bumbles her way through the role with a smile but no material. My current favorite Saturday Night Live star, Kate McKinnon, is the brainy yet eccentric science wizard; she’s allowed to mug like a crack addict on an New York City subway full of inebriated, unarmed billionaires. Leslie Jones, as the street-smart member with no science chops, seems to equate volume with humor. She’s just loud.

After a promising start featuring Zach Woods (Silicon Valley), Ed Begley Jr. and a haunted house, the plot switches to a geek (Neil Casey) looking to cause a ghost apocalypse in Manhattan. He’s planting traps around the city that attract paranormal activity, perhaps because he’s lonely. The new Ghostbusters then band together to conquer the geek and save the city.

The ghosts are dull, fluorescent things bolstered slightly by some decent 3-D effects, if you should choose the more-expensive viewing route. The folks putting together some of the 3-D action did a pretty good job: There are moments where stuff seems to be coming out of the movie frame and suspending in the air in front of you. Those moments won’t make you laugh, but they might wake you up a little.

Andy Garcia as the mayor made me laugh … once. Begley as a paranormal enthusiast made me laugh … once. Chris Hemsworth as a brain-dead receptionist almost made me laugh once, but it was more like a chortle. That’s it for the laugh count.

Aykroyd, Murray, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver all make useless, remarkably lame cameos. Ramis also makes an appearance in one of the movie’s few inspired moments.

To say this film is a disappointment would be an understatement. So far, this summer has blown it with Spielberg, Superman, Batman, Independence Day aliens and now the Ghostbusters. Will Suicide Squad return some dignity to DC? Will Star Trek Beyond give the summer the big-budget fun boost it needs?

Let’s hope the movies get a lot better when it gets cold outside. Let’s also hope that the people steering this franchise have a much funnier script in their hands before they make any further adventures involving proton packs.

Ghostbusters is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Four years ago, when Snow White and the Huntsman came out, Kristen Stewart was all the rage. The film made lotsa money, and it looked like the former Bella had a new franchise on her hands.

Not so fast. Kristen, in a moment of shameful and delicious wickedness, made out in public (well, in front of somebody’s unauthorized camera, anyway) with that film’s married director, much to the chagrin of then-boyfriend Robert Pattinson—and, consequently, her fan base. Plans for a sequel starring her were scrapped, and a whole new plan centering on co-star and budding movie giant Chris Hemsworth (Thor!) was hatched.

What producers didn’t realize at the time was that Hemsworth basically sucks when he’s doing anything other than playing Thor. Blackhat, In the Heart of the Sea, Vacation and now this mighty slice of hell are proof of this.

While Snow White was no creative party, it was a tolerable misfire. However, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a complete mess. It probably looked good on paper or around the pitch table, but the finished product plays like a drunken, straining renaissance festival after the organizer was strung out on heroin.

Because sorcery and magic mirrors were involved in the original, Charlize Theron is allowed to return as the evil Ravenna, even though she was dead. Because Stewart is gone, there’s enough money for two new stars, so in come Emily Blunt as Queen Freya, and Jessica Chastain as Sara. Of course, you have Thor on hand as the Huntsman, the most useless, banal role this guy has taken on in his mostly useless, banal career.

Despite all of this talent on hand, the movie largely consists of the two main villainesses talking all slow and evil, as if they were related to the elves from the Hobbit movies. Meanwhile, Hemsworth is garbling all his lines through some sort of Scottish accent. Note to directors: Hemsworth, from Australia, is capable of American and Australian accents. That’s it. Attempt other accents at your own peril.

The plot involves some sort of bullshit involving the magic mirror that allows Ravena to come back. Ravena takes the time to explain just how she came back, and how she’s only sort of dead, but not really. It doesn’t make much sense, even with her detailed, slow, deliberately paced explanation.

The movie actually starts years before the first movie, with Freya all excited about having a baby with some married dude. An unfortunate event inexplicably turns her into an ice queen, and she freezes a bunch of the countryside (echoes of Disney’s Frozen). The movie then jumps over the events of Snow White into a new, sequel-type adventure. So it’s a sequel and a prequel, all in one.

It’s unfortunate to see Blunt embarrass herself like this. She’s coming off the triumph of Sicario and Edge of Tomorrow. Then again, Into the Woods sucked, too, so perhaps Blunt’s agents need to keep her far away from fairytale based films. Theron, who has an impressive track record, sometimes shows up in clunkers, so her presence here is no surprise, and should buy her another decent house. Chastain is clearly looking for a franchise, and she’s not going to get it here.

Hemsworth certainly has movie-star looks, and he’s perfectly fine when he’s playing exaggerated forms of himself. Beyond that, he’s possibly the worst actor on the planet when he has to do difficult accents and emote. If he’s not wielding Thor's hammer, he’s horrendous.

The lesson here, I guess, is that if you have Kristen Stewart in your movie, and she makes out with the director, don’t kick her out of your franchise; give her a raise! Christ, you are in Hollywood, so all bets are off as to who’s doing whom.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

There have been a lot of Moby-Dick adaptations over the years, the best one being the bizarre John Huston version with Gregory Peck going bonkers as Ahab.

There is just no need for another take on the Herman Melville classic right now. Strange, then, that somebody with a lot of money thought there was the need for a movie about the actual events upon which the classic novel was based.

In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of the Essex, an actual whale ship out of Nantucket, Mass., that was sunk by a whale in 1820. The alleged culprit of the sinking was a sperm whale (like Moby), and the sinking resulted in many days on lifeboats for the surviving crew—as well as some cannibalism.

Chris Hemsworth plays Owen Chase, first mate of the Essex. The crew includes Tom Holland as Thomas Nickerson (Hey, it’s Thor and Spider-Man together!), Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow!) as the resident recovering alcoholic, and Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln!) as Captain Pollard—all people who actually existed. However, the story in the film goes way off the real-life script.

In Ron Howard’s film, the whale that did the sinking pulls a sort of Jaws: The Revenge thing and follows the survivors as they float aimlessly in the sea. Chase, who published a true account of the tragedy back in 1821, goes a little crazy here, believing a sperm whale, spotted with white blotches, is out to get him.

That never happened, of course. Yes, a whale sank the ship, and yes, some crewmembers became lunch. No, the whale didn’t follow the survivors and taunt them. It busted up the Essex and then disappeared into the sea for some plankton and leisurely swimming. That’s too boring, so the second half of the movie involves starving men trying to evade a vengeful whale. A whale movie hasn’t been this stupid since Richard Harris pissed off a killer whale in Orca.

This film has the odd framing device of Moby-Dick novelist Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) interviewing an older Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who is telling the story of the Essex as if it had never been told previously. In reality, the story had gotten out long before—such as in Chase’s aforementioned published account. The whole revelatory framing device rings false.

“Stupid” and “nonsensical” (read: whales with vendettas) can be forgiven in an action movie as long as the effects are up to snuff. Such is not the case with Sea. The whale that eventually attacks the Essex is not a convincing entity. It looks like Hemsworth is battling the product of many artists who just couldn’t get things quite right. The blend of live and animated performers is just awful, as are the 3-D effects, if you should be so unfortunate as to have laid out the extra dollars for 3-D.

Hemsworth fares better than he did in the awful Blackhat, but I have no idea what accent he’s trying to use. Is it a Massachusetts accent? Or Hungarian? Klingon?

Holland, a fine actor who was excellent in The Impossible, is tasked with looking scared and hungry, which he does admirably. He essentially has the Jamie Bell role from King Kong, that of the young “golly gosh” novice who has gotten himself into a harrowing nautical situation. They look very much alike.

Howard has made a lot of movies, and this is one of his worst, on the bottom of the pile along with The Dilemma and The Da Vinci Code. Regrettably, his next effort will be a second sequel to Code—dimming his chances of rebounding from this waterlogged dreck.

In the Heart of the Sea is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Turns out Chris Hemsworth isn’t all that interesting when you take away his hammer, strip off his cape and disguise that bitchin’ Australian accent.

He’s actually quite dull. At least he is in Blackhat, an atrocious cyberspace thriller from normally reliable director Michael Mann (Heat, Public Enemies).

Hemsworth plays Nick Hathaway, a hacker doing time in a maximum-security prison. When a hack job leads to an explosion at a nuclear power plant in China, authorities let Nick out of prison under the condition that he find the other hacker and save the day. If he fails to find the hacker, it’s back to prison, where his hair will still look spectacular, despite the fact that he does not have access to premium hair-care products.

Upon leaving prison, Nick instantly becomes some sort of super-detective. Joining forces with Chinese former roommate Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang), he can shoot bad guys and beat the crap out of attackers in a restaurant—even though he lacks any real training. I guess a few years in a big prison automatically make you sharp with hand-to-hand combat and a Glock. (Fact: Most hackers lack Nick’s innate super-detective skills, but they will kick your ass in Call of Duty and Snickers-eating contests.)

Mann and Hemsworth make the fatal error of having Nick be an American. This means Hemsworth must don an American accent, something he cannot do without sounding really, really stupid most of the time. There are moments when he sounds Midwestern, and others when he sounds like he’s from Long Island. On occasion, he also sounds like he’s from Australia, because he can’t do an American accent.

This is one of those movies in which actors often mouth words that are different from the ones we are hearing, because of sloppy looping and editing. One or two slips in a movie is understandable, but this one looks almost like it was dubbed in another language at times.

It’s also a movie where … everybody … speaks … really … slowly … and … growly. The pace is sluggish, and the likes of Viola Davis (who plays some sort of FBI agent or something) look annoyed the whole damn time. The movie clocks in at 133 minutes. I would say there were actually about 30 minutes of plot-worthy material. Somebody seriously needed to light a fire under this film’s ass.

As many film aficionados know, Mann often includes super-cool shootouts in his movies. This film has a couple, and they’re the only parts truly worth watching.

As for the subject matter, Blackhat feels old before it even starts. When is somebody going to figure out that the sight and sound of somebody typing away on a computer keyboard is not something we want to see? People type a lot in this movie, which is so dynamic I just can’t stand it!

Nick gets a love interest, because a movie in which somebody doesn’t try to make out with Thor is implausible. It takes something like 15 minutes of knowing each other for Nick and Chen Lien (Wei Tang) to get it on. Who can blame her, really? Hemsworth’s shirt is often unbuttoned, revealing his Marvel-worthy chest. This is accompanied by those heavenly bangs hanging down the side of his head in strands of just the right length. Oh … I’m getting distracted.

It’s early, but I hated Blackhat enough to suspect it will make my list of the worst films of 2015. If it doesn’t, then bravo to those 10 idiots who will manage to make movies more moronic over the next 11 months. That, in a sad way, would be a significant achievement.

Blackhat is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

You can smell the fresh paint on the holiday toys while watching Thor: The Dark World, an enjoyable yet highly commercialized entry in the Marvel cinematic universe.

The latest installment is a step below Kenneth Branagh’s goofy and grand first installment. While the sequel is not likely to piss off superhero-film fans, director Alan Taylor is not going to blow many minds, either. It’s an OK placeholder flick while we wait for the next Avengers movie, due out in 2015.

Chris Hemsworth returns as the incredibly handsome man with long hair, a big hammer and impossibly silly dialogue. After the events of The Avengers, he’s fighting a war in some land seemingly named after a Sigur Rós album, while Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is trying to date new dudes back on planet Earth.

As for bad brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who owns the role), he’s doing dungeon time in Asgard (a land seemingly named after a mini rock opera by Rush), largely because of what he did to New York City.

Things come to a head when ancient villain Malekith (Christopher Eccleston, who looks silly here thanks to his makeup) awakens from his slumber and seeks out a powerful dark force called the Aether. With this power harnessed, Malekith looks to cause some deep trouble during an event called the Convergence of the Nine Realms, which sounds like it could be the title of a secret third side to Yes’ Close to the Edge.

OK, I’ll stop making progressive rock jokes. 

Jane, inadvertently, gets herself involved in the universe-threatening activities, and Thor takes her to Asgard, where she meets the parents, Odin and Frigga (Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo). Odin wants his son to become king and marry a goddess, as most kings of the universe would want for their children. Frigga seems indifferent and happy to have some girl time.

Hiddleston might actually be out-cooling Robert Downey Jr. in the Marvel universe. He’s a great talent, managing to make a malicious bastard someone who we strangely find ourselves rooting for. When Thor must call upon his nasty sibling for help in fighting Malekith, it’s one of those, “Oh, goody, goody!” moments that will have you rubbing your hands together with a sly grin on your face (perhaps confusing the person sitting next to you in the theater).

Minus Hiddleston’s excellent work, Thor: The Dark World wouldn’t be much of anything. Hemsworth is capable enough, but he’s starting to feel like more of a supporting player in the Thor movies.

I have read some fan chatter criticizing the relationship between Jane Foster and Thor, declaring that they have no real reason to be pining for each other. Here are a couple of good reasons: Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, the most handsome man on Earth, and the tremendously beautiful Natalie Portman plays Jane Foster! I, for one, see no further explanation for why these two would want to see each other naked. Makes sense to me.

The credits, in keeping with Marvel tradition, contain two additional scenes—one a few moments into the credits, and another at the very end. One of them features Benicio Del Toro, and it is very weird. The other is actually the real end to this movie, so it is essential that you stick around.

As for post-Avengers Marvel movies, Iron Man 3 is far superior, because it did new things with its character and messed around with the format. Meanwhile, Thor: The Dark World, while worth seeing, is part of a franchise that has lost a bit of its heft.

Thor: The Dark World is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

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