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Mini-Reviews: Thor, The Beaver, Hobo With A Shotgun

In an attempt to give readers my feelings on films as I plug away on a number of writing assignments, I’ll provide mini-reviews to give my succinct opinion on films and to give me time to finish my other projects.

Thor:

I’m torn on Thor. It’s light on exciting action, and the Earth plotline is flat if necessary to the plot. However, I still found Thor to be enjoyable, primarily because the visuals in Thor’s home realm are gorgeous and the Shakespearean interplay between the gods is a joy to watch. Its earnestness is winning, as are its performances– it’s probably better than any Thor film has a right to be. Yet if you’re looking to this movie for action sequences that make you say “Whoa!”, you’re better off looking to Hanna or Fast Five.

Whenever the movie is on Asgard, it’s delightful– Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, and Tom Hiddleston are having a lot of fun, chewing into the scenery with great gusto. And what scenery it is: creating a home for the gods that doesn’t evoke laughter is a monumental task, and director Kenneth Branagh and his effects team have done a sensational job. It’s a gorgeous film in 2D, and while I can see why a few sequences (especially the end credits) would be spectacular in 3D, I hear the conversion is so-so at best– might as well skip the 3D and enjoy the colors of Asgard in their full brightness. Chris Hemsworth is also pitch-perfect as Thor: he’s funny, handsome, egotistical, and his transformation from angry proud warrior to humble leader is believable.

While the stakes are high and the performances strong, I will say that Earth is somewhat disappointing. We rarely see Thor with powers on Earth– his one action scene is more of an elaborate wrestling match than anything else– so we know we’re only in for plot development. It’s important for Thor to be banished to Earth for him to learn humility, but Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, and especially Kat Dennings are given very little to do other than play “types.” There’s really only one action scene that made me sit up– a battle against Frost Giants– but we never felt Thor was in any real danger, and the choreography is alright at best, so it lacks the true action-based thrills other films have already provided this year. Still, it’s a strong origin film, likable and fun with appealing performances. It just never quite hammers it out of the park.

The Beaver:

To The Beaver’s credit, not once did I think of Mel Gibson’s personal life while watching. As a depressed man who pulls himself up by talking through a beaver puppet, Gibson is actually extraordinary– I can’t imagine this film working without him. He is funny, sad, charming, and gives a complete reminder as to why he’s a movie star in the first place. The premise, however, is just really hard to fully sink into. Both the script and Gibson do a good job of taking its more outrageous moments and plot turns and making them seem like they’re on the verge of realistic… but it never stops seeming like a comedy premise treated as drama. You expect to laugh, but the film never once goes for it, opting for depressing character drama instead. It’s a bizarre mash-up of elements that never really pays off– but it’s never boring either.

What Gibson accomplishes as Walter Black/The Beaver can’t be under-appreciated. I became emotionally invested in his character, and every time I thought the movie was going too far from the bounds of reality, Gibson did his best to suck me back in. The rest of the film lets him down though. The plotline between Anton Yelchin (whose hairline is distractingly uneven) as his son and Jennifer Lawrence (who is distractingly gorgeous) as the love interest is mostly a yawner, and while Jodie Foster does typically fine work, her character is underwritten. The main problem is that it’s more or less impossible to imagine these events transpiring in real life– it’s just TOO out there. Maybe at the hands of a Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry, we’d get drawn in, but with Foster’s glossy Hollywood visual style, it never really clicks. I was intrigued the entire time, but by the end, I could never really sink my teeth into The Beaver.

Hobo With a Shotgun:

Odds are if you know what this is about, you’ve decided already whether to rush to see it or to never see it again. It’s easy to make the argument that this is Troma-style filmmaking at its best. It’s easy to make the argument that this is merely a mostly-humorless splatterfest. You’ll get what you want out of it either way. I was surprised how earnest the film was: they don’t go for the self-conscious, slightly ironic sense of humor of Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse films. There’s some gleefully bad dialogue, but the directorial touch where one acknowledges that the dialogue is bad is absent. Does that make the movie better or worse? Whatever argument you enter the film making, you’ll likely leave making as well.

The performances across the board are more noteworthy than the performances in a more self-conscious film, as the earnestness carries the proceedings forward. Rutger Hauer is actually terrific as the Hobo, and I enjoyed Molly Dunsworth’s transformation from gold-hearted hooker to full-blown accomplice. The villains (especially Gregory Smith, former child star of Small Soldiers!) chew the scenery well as they bash people’s heads and burn buses of small children. But without that slight detachment that irony brings, you are forced to find the constant gory murder either hilarious or somewhat bleak– I found myself leaning towards the latter. The more earnest you make the film, the more wincing I tend to do at gory murder of women and children. Still, I appreciated the production value, the music, and especially the performances. And any movie with the line “When life gives you razor blades… you make a baseball bat covered in razor blades!” must have *some* value.

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~ by russellhainline on May 10, 2011.

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