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Movie review OF THOR

Roger Ebert
May 10, 2011 | THOR
I didn't attend the critics' screening for "Thor" because it was at the same time
Ebertfest was showing "A Small Act," about an 88-year-old woman
named Hilde Back. She'd flown from Sweden, and I wanted be onstage to
present her with the Golden Thumb. Missing "Thor 3D" was not an
inconsolable loss, because I was able to see it in Chicago in nice, bright 2D.
The house was surprisingly well-populated for a 8:50 p.m. screening on a
Monday, suggesting that some people, at least, will make an effort to avoid 3D.
"Thor" is failure as a movie, but a success as marketing, an illustration of the
ancient carnival tactic of telling the rubes anything to get them into the tent.
"You won't believe what these girls take off!" a carny barker promised me and
my horny pals one steamy night at the Champaign County Fair. He was close.
We didn't believe what they left on.
The failure of "Thor" begins at the story level, with a screenplay that
essentially links special effects. Some of the dialog is mock heroic ("You are
unworthy of your title, and I'll take from you your power!") and some of it
winks ironically ("You know, for a crazy homeless person he's pretty cut.") It
adapts the originalStan Lee strategy for Marvel, where characters sometimes
spoke out of character.
The story might perhaps be adequate for an animated film for children, with
Thor, Odin and the others played by piglets. In the arena of movies about
comic book superheroes, it is a desolate vastation. Nothing exciting happens,
nothing of interest is said, and the special effects evoke not a place or a time
but simply special effects.
Thor to begin with is not an interesting character. The gods of Greek, Roman
and Norse mythology share the same problem, which is that what you see is
what you get. They're defined by their attributes, not their personalities. Odin
is Odin and acts as Odin and cannot act as other than Odin, and so on. Thor is
a particularly limited case. What does he do? He wields a hammer. That is
what he does. You don't have to be especially intelligent to wield a hammer,
which is just as well, because in the film Thor (Chris Hemsworth) doesn't seem
to be the brightest bulb in Asgard.
The land (sphere? state of mind? heaven?) known as Asgard is described in
Norse mythology as being near Troy, or perhaps in Asia Minor. In the movie, as
nearly as I can gather, it is not of this earth and must be elsewhere in the
universe. It consists of towering spires and skyscrapers linked by bridges and
buttresses and betraying no sign of a population, except when untold
thousands of Asgardians are required to line up at attention like robotic Nazis
to receive dictates from the throne of Odin (Anthony Hopkins).
Asgard's ancient enemies are the Frost Giants, whose home is Jotunheim. I
believe, but cannot promise you, that Jotunheim and Asgard are linked by a
bridge, although this bridge also seems to be the way Thor reaches Earth, so
perhaps it's more of a gateway through time and space, which would explain
why Asgardians hurtle across intergalactic light-years and land in New Mexico
without a hair out of place.
Thor is the first to arrive, and encounters three human scientists. Whether he
is human himself is a question the film sidesteps. We know from mythology
that gods sometimes mated with humans, which is a hopeful sign. The humans
are astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her friend Darcy (Kat Dennings)
and the distinguished Dr. Erik Sevig (Stellan Skarsgard). I mention she's an
astrophysicist because behaves more like a Storm Chaser, cruising the desert
in a van and peering into the skies, which won't get you far in astrophysics.
Their van hits Thor after he unluckily lands in front of it. This is not a Meet
Cute for the gods. Later there's a meteoric event in which Thor's hammer
hurtles to earth and becomes embedded so firmly that it can't be pulled lose by
a pickup truck or even the federal government.
So now Thor is on Earth, his hammer is stuck, and I am underwhelmed. Thor
luckily speaks English and Jane and her friends take him to the local diner,
where he eats lots of Pop Tarts and, when he finishes his coffee, smashes the
empty cup to the ground. "We don't do that," Jane explains as if to a child, and
advises him to simply order another cup, after which he apparently absorbs
human behavior and the movie drops the Taming of the Thor angle.
The three scientists are thin soup. Jane flirts demurely with Thor, Kay stands
next to her and does nothing very important, and Dr. Sevig regards them
gravely and looms slightly above a low-angle camera while looking on with
wise concern. There is also a government agent (Clark Gregg), whose every
action is the remedy to an immediate requirement of the plot.
Superhero movies live and die on the quality of their villains. "Thor" has a
shabby crew. The Frost Giants spend most of their time being frosty in their
subzero sphere of Jotunheim and occasionally freezing their enemies. Thor's
brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is dark-haired, skinny, shifty-eyed and sadly
lacking in charisma. He might as well be wearing a name tag: "Hi! I can't be
trusted!" These villains lack adequate interest to supply a climactic battle, so
the movie fabricates a Metal Giant, sends him to the New Mexico town, and
has him blast fiery rays that blow up gas stations real good but always miss his
targets. He is apparently killed by a sword through his spine, but why does he
need a spine since when his mask lifts we can see his head is an empty cavern?
And what about that town? It seems to be partly a set with two interiors (the
diner and Jane's office) and partly CGI. It seems to go for a few blocks and
then end abruptly in barren desert. Not even any suburbs or strip malls. I
know aliens from other worlds are required to arrive in New Mexico, but why
stay there? Why can't the Metal Giant attack the Golden Gate Bridge or scale a
Trump Tower somewhere? Who cares he if turns a 7-Eleven into a fireball?
Here is a film that is scoring 79% on Rotten Tomatoes. For what? The
standards for comic book superhero movies have been established by
"Superman," "The Dark Knight," "Spider-Man 2" and "Iron Man." In that company
"Thor" is pitiful. Consider even the comparable villains (Lex Luthor, the Joker,
Doc Ock and Obadiah Stane). Memories of all four come instantly to mind.
Will you be thinking of Loki six minutes after this movie is over?
The director given this project, Kenneth Branagh, once obtained funding for a
magnificent 70mm version of "Hamlet." Now he makes "Thor." I wonder with
a dread fear if someone in Hollywood, stuck with a movie about a Norse god,
said "Get Branagh. He deals with that Shakespeare crap."

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/thor-2011
Movie review of Dead Sentence

Roger Ebert
August 30, 2007 | 0Print Page
When he was asked by Johnny Carson how a magazine could quote him saying he
really would murder to avenge his family, Charles Bronson looked Carson in the eye
and said, "Because the quote is accurate. I really could, and I would." There was a
little silence then, because Bronson was totally convincing.
He was publicizing "Death Wish" (1974), his film about a man whose wife is
killed and daughter raped. He gets a gun and starts posing as bait for muggers,
a middle-aged guy with a bag of groceries. Then he shoots them dead. I think
he kills about 11 victims (17 in the book) and is nicknamed "The New York
Vigilante," but the homicide rate drops 50 percent in New York, and so a cop
cuts him a deal: Get out of town. As the film ends, he's drawing a bead on a
guy in Chicago.
Funny thing. When Bronson made "Death Wish II" (1982), it was set in Los
Angeles, even though Brian Garfield, the author of the novel Death Wish, had
written a 1975 sequel, Death Sentence, set in Chicago. Ah, yes, here's my copy
right here, dedicated to "Jay Robert Nash, John McHugh, Roger Ebert and Bill
Granger, Chicago front-pagers all, with thanks."
He was thanking us because he'd come to Chicago to research the city (in two
days, as I recall), and we agreed to meet him at the Billy Goat to feed him the
real dope. The Goat ("no fries, cheeps") is a hamburger-and-booze emporium
tucked away on the lower level of Michigan Avenue, responsible for the
enticing aroma of frying onions that pedestrians enjoy in front of the Wrigley
Building. You will recognize the tavern on the book's Page 27, "a block from
Tribune Tower and equidistant from the Sun-Times and Daily News press
rooms." His hero figures police reporters who hang out there "might be the
best source of information about the unfamiliar city." He carries his beer to
the back of the bar, where "there were nine or 10 men and women roughed up
by alcohol and cigarettes and the cynicism of insider's experience." He got the
Billy Goat right.
Bronson went on to make "Death Wish 3" (1985), "Death Wish 4" (1987) and
"Death Wish V" (1994), by which date he was 73 and didn't need the bag of
groceries as bait. They were set variously in Los Angeles and New York, largely
filmed in Toronto, and never did get back to Chicago, reportedly because
Garfield hated the first movie and its sequels so much he would never sell the
rights to Death Sentence. But now here at last, in 2007, is "Death Sentence,"
and it is filmed in, that's right, South Carolina. It doesn't follow the book,
either.
Kevin Bacon steps into the Bronson role, although curiously, even with the real
sequel to work with, his name is changed from Paul Benjamin to Nick Hume. In
the movie's first press releases, he was John Hume. In the Bronson movies, he
was Paul Kersey. There is always a legal reason for these things. I favor John
Paul. Probably another bad idea. You may have no interest in the information
I've shared so far, but I'll bet you don't read it anywhere else. Probably a
reason for that, too.
Everything that follows will be a spoiler of one sort or another, unless you have
already guessed that John, I mean Nick, has lost a close family member,
obtains a gun that would stop a charging locomotive and goes out for revenge.
In the older movies, the killing mostly amounted to the hero shooting people,
but "Death Sentence" is directed by the Australian James Wan ("Saw," "Dead
Silence"), who has a much more sensational line in violence.
In the Bronson movies, the hero just looked more and more determined until
you felt if you tapped his face, it would explode. In "Death Sentence," Bacon
acts out a lot more, scaring his wife (Kelly Preston) and drawing the attention
of a police detective (Aisha Tyler), who you would think, at a crucial point,
would think to ask Nick why he has a blood-soaked bandage wrapped around
his hand. Probably just smashed a mirror in grief.
Wan's movie is very efficient. Bacon, skilled pro that he is, provides the
character the movie needs, just as he has in such radically different films as
"Where the Truth Lies," "The Woodsman" and "Mystic River." John
Goodmanand Garrett Hedlund are creepy and scary as the gun dealer Bones
Darley and his skinhead son, Billy. Bones is the kind of gun dealer who looks
like he would like to demonstrate his merchandise on you, and Billy is the kind
of kid who is not satisfied with tattoos crawling up his neck but also has one of
those goatees that tells you, "I am either a perverted madman, the leader of a
suicidal cult, or terrified you will not notice me."
There is a courtroom scene of true surprise and suspense, and some other
effective moments, but basically this is a movie about a lot of people shooting
at each other, and during the parts I liked, the action audience will probably
go out to get popcorn, or a tattoo or something.
http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/death-sentence-2007
MOVIE REVIEW OF IRON MAN
Roger Ebert
June 1, 2008 | 4Print Page
When I caught up with "Iron Man," a broken hip had delayed me and the movie had
already been playing for three weeks. What I heard during that time was that a lot of
people loved it, that they were surprised to love it so much, and that Robert
Downey Jr.'s performance was special. Apart from that, all I knew was that the movie
was about a big iron man. I didn't even know that a human occupied it, and halfway
thought that the Downey character's brain had been transplanted into a robot, or a fate
equally weird.
Yes, I knew I was looking at sets and special effects--but I'm referring to the
reality of the illusion, if that make any sense. With many superhero movies, all
you get is the surface of the illusion. With "Iron Man," you get a glimpse into
the depths. You get the feeling, for example, of a functioning corporation.
Consider the characters of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Stark's loyal aide,
and Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Stark's business partner. They don't feel
drummed up for the occasion. They seem to have worked together for awhile.
Much of that feeling is created by the chemistry involving Downey, Paltrow
and Bridges. They have relationships that seem fully-formed and resilient
enough to last through the whole movie, even if plot mechanics were not about
to take them to another level. Between the two men, there are echoes of the
relationship between Howard Hughes and Noah Dietrich in Scorsese's "The
Aviator" (2004). Obadiah Stane doesn't come onscreen waving flags and
winking at the camera to announce he is the villain; he seems adequately
explained simply as the voice of reason at Stark's press conference. (Why did
"Stark," during that scene, make me think of "staring mad?"). Between Stark
and Pepper, there's that classic screen tension between "friends" who know
they can potentially become lovers.
Downey's performance is intriguing, and unexpected. He doesn't behave like
most superheroes: he lacks the psychic weight and gravitas. Tony Stark is
created from the persona Downey has fashioned through many movies:
irreverent, quirky, self-deprecating, wise-cracking. The fact that Downey is
allowed to think and talk the way he does while wearing all that hardware
represents a bold decision by the director, Jon Favreau. If he hadn't desired that,
he probably wouldn't have hired Downey. So comfortable is Downey with
Tony Stark's dialogue, so familiar does it sound coming from him, that the
screenplay seems almost to have been dictated by Downey's persona.
There are some things that some actors can safely say onscreen, and other
things they can't. The Robert Downey Jr. persona would find it difficult to get
away with weighty, profound statements (in an "entertainment," anyway--a
more serious film like "Zodiac" is another matter). Some superheroes speak in
a kind of heightened, semi-formal prose, as if dictating to Bartlett's Familiar
Quotations. Not Tony Stark. He could talk that way and be Juno's uncle. "Iron
Man" doesn't seem to know how seriously most superhero movies take
themselves. If there is wit in the dialog, the superhero is often supposed to be
unaware of it. If there is broad humor, it usually belongs to the villain. What
happens in "Iron Man," however, is that sometimes we wonder how seriously
even Stark takes it. He's flippant in the face of disaster, casual on the brink of
ruin.
It's prudent, I think, that Favreau positions the rest of the characters in a more
serious vein. The supporting cast wisely does not try to one-up him. Gwyneth
Paltrow plays Pepper Potts as a woman who is seriously concerned that this
goofball will kill himself. Jeff Bridges makes Obadiah Stane one of the great
superhero villains by seeming plausibly concerned about the stock
price.Terrence Howard, as Col. Rhodes, is at every moment a conventional
straight arrow. What a horror show it would have been if they were all tuned
to Tony Stark's sardonic wave length. We'd be back in the world of "Swingers"
(1996) which was written by Favreau.
Another of the film's novelties is that the enemy is not a conspiracy or spy
organization. It is instead the reality in our own world today: Armaments are
escalating beyond the ability to control them. In most movies in this genre, the
goal would be to create bigger and better weapons. How unique that Tony
Stark wants to disarm. It makes him a superhero who can think, reason and
draw moral conclusions, instead of one who recites platitudes.
The movie is largely founded on its special effects. When somebody isnt
talking, something is banging, clanging or laying rubber. The armored robotic
suits utilized by Tony and Obadiah would upstage lesser actors than Downey
and Bridges; it's surprising how much those two giant iron men seem to reflect
the personalities of the men inside them. Everything they do is preposterous,
of course, but they seem to be doing it, not the suits. Some of their moments
have real grandeur--as when Tony tests his suit to see how high it will fly, and
it finally falls back toward earth in a sequence that reminded me of a similar
challenge in "The Right Stuff." The art direction is inspired by the original
Marvel artists. The movie doesn't reproduce the drawings of Jack Kirby and
others, but it reproduces their feeling, a vision of out-scale enormity, seamless
sleekness, secret laboratories made not of nuts and bolts but of...vistas.
A lot of big budget f/x epics seem to abandon their stories with half an hour to
go, and just throw effects at the audience. This one has a plot so ingenious it
continues to function no matter how loud the impacts, how enormous the
explosions. Its an inspiration to provide Tony with that heart-saving device;
hes vulnerable not simply because Obadiah might destroy him, but because
he might simply run out of juice.
That leaves us, however, with a fundamental question at the bottom of the
story: Why must the ultimate weapon be humanoid in appearance? Why must
it have two arms and two legs, and why does it matter if its face is scowling? In
the real-world competitions between fighting machines, all the elements of
design are based entirely on questions of how well they allow the machines to
attack, defend, recover, stay upright, and overturn their enemies. It is
irrelevant whether they have conventional eyes, or whether those eyes narrow.
Nor does it matter whether they have noses, because their oxygen supply is
obviously not obtained by breathing.
The solution to such dilemmas is that the armored suits look the way they do
for entirely cinematic reasons. The bad iron man should look like a mean
machine. The good iron man should utilize the racing colors of Tony Stark's
favorite sports cars. It wouldn't be nearly as much fun to see a fight scene
between two refrigerators crossed with the leftovers from a boiler room.
At the end of the day it 's Robert Downey Jr. who powers the lift-off separating
this from most other superhero movies. You hire an actor for his strengths,
and Downey would not be strong as a one-dimensional mighty-man. He is
strong because he is smart, quick and funny, and because we sense his public
persona masks deep private wounds. By building on that, Favreau found his
movie, and it's a good one.
http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/iron-man-2008

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