Thor * * * 1/2

Genre: Action

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writers: Screenplay by Ashely Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne, story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich, based on the comic book series by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard

Running Length: 114 minutes

Synopsis: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), a powerful but arrogant warrior from Asgard, is banished to Earth by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as punishment for reigniting a reckless war. But after a dangerous villain from his world sends the darkest forces of Asgard to invade Earth in order to finish him off, the hammer-wielding Thor will learn what it takes to be a true hero in order to save mankind.

Review: I had my reservations when Thor was announced – how well will his godlike powers be translated to the big screen? Will it be another Clash of the Titans debacle? Stuck in development hell for a number of years, the project finally took off with Kenneth Branagh at the helm. Branagh isn’t exactly the first director one would think of for a superhero movie, since he cut his directorial teeth on a number of Shakespearean adaptations. Amazingly, something that could have gone terribly wrong managed to do everything right, and the superhero summer season kicks off with a bang and with the bar set very high. 

Although this is an origins story, Branagh manages to balances exposition very nicely with action, and despite running at almost two hours, almost nothing feels drawn out or superfluous. The CGI is top notch, in both the landscapes as well as the action sequences, but there’s no real need to watch this in 3D as the film rarely makes use of the third dimension. There’s also a fair bit of humour deftly sprinkled amidst the more serious and action-packed moments, and no other superhero film in recent years have managed this many laugh-out-loud moments. It’s almost as though the fact that Thor isn’t as sacrosanct a superhero character (unlike Spiderman or Superman, for example), that the production feels more at ease with poking occasional fun at the franchise. 

What’s also interesting is that unlike most superhero movies, there’s actually some rather good acting to be found in Thor. Actors like Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston put in performances that are far more involving that what is par for this genre, and almost everyone feels like they are vested in their characters – even the more minor ones. Chris Hemsworth must also be given credit for turning what is potentially a flat character into a star-making turn. Apart from his sheer physicality (and mad props for Hemsworth for being able to carry off the Thor costume without looking ridiculous), Hemsworth succeeds in the dramatic, comedic and romantic departments as well, an almost unheard of occurrence in thie genre. The only one who seems to be performing below her usual standard is Natalie Portman, who is reduced to little more than a pretty face, and does nothing much except giggle at Thor’s enormous pectorals. 

It’s rare to find a film, much less a superhero movie, which manages to work on multiple levels. Thor has something for everyone, from fans of the comic series to general audiences who are just there for the spectacle. Easily one of the most enjoyable superhero movies since the original Iron Man. 

P.S. Remember to stay through the end credits for a longer than usual teaser sequence that reveals yet another major plot device in the Marvel universe.

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of four stars)

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits * * 1/2

Genre: Drama

Director: Don Roos

Writer: Don Roos, based on the novel of the same name by Ayelet Waldman

Cast: Natalie Portman, Scott Cohen, Charlie Tahan, Lisa Kudrow

Running Length: 102 minutes

Synopsis: Emilia (Natalie Portman) is a Harvard law school graduate and a newlywed, having just married Jack (Scott Cohen), a high-powered New York lawyer, who was her boss – and married – when she began working at his law firm. Unfortunately, her life takes an unexpected turn when Jack and Emilia lose their newborn daughter. Emilia struggles through her grief to connect with her new stepson William (Charlie Tahan), but is finding it hard to connect with this precocious child. Emilia is also trying to overcome a long-standing rift in her relationship with her father caused by his infidelity. But perhaps the most difficult obstacle of all for Emilia is trying to cope with the constant interferences of her husband’s angry, jealous ex-wife, Carolyn (Lisa Kudrow).

Review: Although filmed before Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (thankfully the film isn’t released under the pedestrian American release title of The Other Woman) seemed to have languished for some time since its inception in 2009, and its release now seems timed to cash in on Portman’s increased bankability since her Academy Award success. It’s a pretty certain bet that most audiences would be watching this film based solely on the fact that it features Natalie Portman, her performance here is good but not spectacular, which pretty much describes the rest of the film as well.

One of the greater weaknesses of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is its structure – although there are many dramatic incidents that occur, the timeline feels unrealistic and many of the plot threads are eventually given short shrift. Too much reliance is placed on Portman delivering one tearful, emotionally charged scene after another, and because these incidents aren’t given enough breathing room, the entire film gets bogged down with overt melodrama.

It also doesn’t help that apart from Portman’s more faceted performance, the rest of the characters are nothing more than caricatures. Carolyn is portrayed as a controlling, paranoid ex-wife who always seems on the verge of hysterics, and this is done to such an extent that when she finally displays a more humane side (in which Lisa Kudrow shines in what’s probably the best scene in the entire film), it does not feel believable at all. This is true even of Charlie Tahan, whose character is pivotal to the film, and yet is obviously delivering lines that no real 8 year old kid would be uttering – no matter how smart or precocious.

That said, the scenes where Portman and Tahan interact manage to work quite well, although Portman may have just been a little too good at being cold and distant for audiences to ever truly empathize with her situation. The film also manages to give a slightly more measured look at the changed dynamics of a family from the home wrecker’s point of view, which isn’t something that is seen in most other movies dealing with similar subject matter.  

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of four stars)


Hall Pass * * *

Genre: Comedy

Directors: Peter and Bobby Farrelly

Writers: Pete Jones, Peter Farrelly, Kevin Barnett and Bobby Farrelly

Cast: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Nicky Whelan, Richard Jenkins

Running Length: 104 minutes

Synopsis: Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) are best friends who have a lot in common, including the fact that they have each been married for many years. But when the two men begin to show signs of restlessness at home, their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) take a bold approach to revitalizing their marriages: granting them a “hall pass”, one week of freedom to do whatever they want with no questions asked. At first, it sounds like a dream come true for Rick and Fred. But it isn’t long before they discover that their expectations of the single life – and themselves – are completely, and hilariously, out of sync with reality.

Review: A lot has changed since the Farrelly Brothers’ breakout hit, There’s Something About Mary, was released thirteen years ago. What were groundbreaking back then – crude sexual jokes, gross out sight gags and the like – have now become the norm in most R-rated comedies. Hall Pass may not exactly have pushed the boundaries of such comedies, but like many Farrelly Brothers’ movies, it does have something that many of such comedies lack – a heart.

Although Hall Pass boasts a fair number of shocking moments (none more disgustingly memorable than the scene where Fred has to deal with a drunk woman) and is actually laugh-out-loud funny at times, what really sets it apart is that the film actually manages to offer some pretty good insights into relationships and monogamy. It actually gets pretty sentimental at times, toeing the line of schmaltziness, but as a whole both the comedic and “serious” moments work well together.

Hall Pass is far from being perfect – the decision to feature both the husbands’ and the wives’ storylines means that something has to give, and in this instance it’s the wives’ stories, which feel woefully underdeveloped. There is enough fodder for a whole other movie, so the inclusion of these subplots merely detracts from the main story. Also, despite Rick and Fred having a number of friends, none of them seem to have any real personality other than Richard Jenkin’s late appearance, who then manages to steal the limelight from the two leads in every scene they share. The film is also fairly predictable throughout, and most of the plot developments are easily figured out, including the shock moments.

Hall Pass won’t be as enduring as There’s Something About Mary, and despite the scatological humour and male nudity, comes across as a relatively tame film. Whilst it’s a tough sell to anyone who doesn’t like lowbrow, slapstick humour, most audiences will likely find themselves pretty entertained.  

P.S. One more thing – don’t forget to stay through the entire end credits to catch a seriously funny outtake that involves a minor cast member. It truly is comedy gold.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)


Made in Dagenham * * *

Genre: Drama

Director: Nigel Cole

Writer: William Ivory

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Geraldine James, Miranda Richardson, Rosamund Pike

Running Length: 113 minutes 

Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of the 1960s, Made in Dagenham is based on a true story about a group of spirited women who joined forces to protest for equal wages. Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), along with her friends and co-workers at the city’s Ford Motor Factory go on strike to protest the unfair wages. Rita is coerced into attending a meeting with shop steward Connie (Geraldine James), sympathetic union representative Albert (Bob Hoskins) and Peter Hopkins (Rupert Graves), Ford’s Head of Industrial Relations. What she expects to be simply a day out of work, complete with a free lunch, turns into much more when she and her colleagues become outraged by the lack of respect shown in the meeting to the women employees. Rita becomes the main driving force of the equal wages movement, and soon it spreads nationwide, and even attracts the attention of the government, especially newly appointed Secretary of State Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson).

Review: To be honest, I wasn’t expecting Made in Dagenham to be anything but a run of the mill female empowerment movie. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how entertaining and engrossing the film turned out to be. Much of this can be attributed to the excellent ensemble cast, in particular Sally Hawkin’s spirited, delightful turn as the accidental heroine. Although the film is based on a true story, Made in Dagenham does feel a little too pat and tidy for real life, but nonetheless it manages to be a compelling piece of filmmaking. 

Sally Hawkins was suitably impressive in her Oscar-nominated role in Happy-Go-Lucky, and while her portrayal of the plucky Rita O’Grady is not as accomplished, she brings an optimism and a twinkle in the eye to the proceedings, making the film more light-hearted than the traditional feminist movie. Miranda Richardson also deserves kudos, turning the bit part of a government bigwig into a full-on role, and Rosamund Pike is extremely memorable as the underappreciated wife of a Ford official, despite appearing in a limited number of scenes. 

The women’s strike is fodder enough for one movie, and one of the few missteps in Made in Dagenham is its addition of unnecessary subplots – for example, there’s Rita’s co-worker who has to deal with her shell-shocked husband. Although these are compelling side stories, they are not well-connected with the central story and as such feel like they are padding out the running time of the film. It’s also a rather predictable film that ends up exactly where everyone would expect it to be, but the final product is so enjoyable and satisfying that few audience members would be complaining once the end credits roll.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)