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abqreviews


Soda Pop for Thirsty Pigs

A bunch of reviews by some rambling, near-alcoholic horror fan:


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Mid-Day Double Feature Picture Show:
abqreviews
So today I went to see Thor, but car trouble caused me to be late an hour. I decided then to see another film and catch a much later showing of Thor after dinner with some friends and then a walk around the park, as my leg needed the exercise (two weeks without a cramp, a record). I decided, against all common sense, to see Your Highness
 
 It sounded good on paper; a good cast, the film had been in production a long time, and the trailers didn't look bad. Oh boy, was I wrong. Pretty much all the dialogue is improvised, and it shows. None of the jokes have any comedic timing, and although the film is nowhere near as bad as Friedberg & Seltzer's films in terms of being off-topic, the filmmakers seem to have no idea what they're parodying. Medieval fantasy is obviously the main target, but no, we get references to science fiction films, Disney musicals, superhero films, sword and sorcery films, Hammer-style gothic horror and mythological films like Clash of the Titans.

 Most of the "humor" just comes from jokes about how Danny McBride's character is a spoiled coward while his brother (James Franco) is a stereotypical perfect hero. The half-hearted attempts at character development also mar the film. Many of the jokes are just too vulgar, unpleasant and pointless to really work. What's odd about the film is that there was clearly a lot of hard work put into the cinematography, sets, special effects and creatures to give a truly epic feel to the film, one that succeeds better than 90% of most serious such films that I've seen. It's just depressing to see such a beautifully crafted fantasy world ruined by unfunny dick jokes (or in several instances, dick-less jokes).

 Surprisingly enough, the film is actually at it's best when it plays itself straight towards the end when Danny McBride's character toughens up and storms the villain's lair in an admittedly impressive fight sequence. Natalie Portman is also great as a Red Sonja-esque warrior woman, and gives the film's best performance, one which could easily carry a serious fantasy film. Justin Theroux is also good as the villain, and the scenes with his 3 mothers, a trio of Macbeth-style witches, who nag him like he was a little kid, are actually quite funny. Too bad they barely get any screentime.

 Basically the film is a lot like Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers in that it would work much better played straight, but unlike that film, where the lame comedy was tolerable, here the lame comedy is just, well, lame. Literally and figuratively, the film is a waste. Another Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it ain't. 
 
The high point of the film.
 

 After sitting through that load of crap, I went to see Thor a few hours later. I've been apprehensive about this ever since I heard Branagh was attached, and got even more scared when I saw pictures of Thor, and assumed Branagh was playing the titular role! (actor Chris Hemsworth looks a lot like Branagh from his Mary Shelley's Frankenstein days). I also found it funny that this film shares several things in common with Your Highness such as the story of an arrogant prince who has to prove himself to his father, conflict between two brothers, anachronism jokes, and Natalie Portman (not that the latter is ever a bad thing, mind you *DROOL* ).  But y'know what? I loved it.
 Anthony Hopkins couldn't have been better casting for Odin, and while I haven't read any Thor comics in years except for the early Journey into Mystery issues, I know I'll be hearing Hopkins in my head from now on when I do read them. Hemsworth gives Thor both the regal arrogance and roguish charm you'd expect from the character, and while he's a far cry from the noble superhero of the comics, he does a good job capturing the spirit of the younger Thor seen in the "Tales of Asgard" backup comics about Thor's youth, with a hint, I suspect, of the bufoonish Thor from Twisted Toyfare Theatre. This is an origin story after all, so one shouldn't expect to see Thor in all his "I say thee Nay!" glory just yet.

 While the romance between Thor and Jane Foster (Portman) is well, rushed to say the least, it's not depicted as anything more than a fascination with discovering something otherworldly. For years in the comics, Jane was written out of the stories so Sif could be Thor's love interest, with Jane dismissing her attraction to Thor as superficial (she went mad upon seeing Asgard or something). Thus, I guess you could say the rushed relationship in this film is forgivable in context. Anyway, it's still better than the similarly rushed "romance" in Avatar, because unlike Cameron, at least Branagh doesn't think he's writing some great mature love story that will redefine romances or something. I never thought I'd say this about Branagh, but he actually shows restraint and unpretentiousness. Anyway, Portman is good in the role, although here Foster is an amateur astrophysicist rather than a nurse, but who cares? She's really likeable, and her friends, played by Stellan Skarsgaard and Kat Dennings, provide for some great comedy relief.

 The real scene-stealer however, isn't any of those actors, good as they are, but Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Back when I was reading comics, when the Thor stories weren't really all that focused on Asgard and were more focused on commies and supervillains like the Radioactive Man and Mr. Hyde/Calvin Zabo (my favorite of Thor's rogues gallery, for obvious reasons), Loki was just a standard supervillain with a sense of corny humor, a cross between the Joker and Mr. Mxyzptlk. To my understanding, while he has been made darker like many supervillains, he hasn't ever really been made more three-dimensionsal or sympathetic by later writers (though I've heard he's very recently been reformed as well as turned into a child). This film remedies that, here, he's such a well-rounded figure I was actually rooting for him over Thor!
 
The best film villain in a long time.
 
While Loki is retconned into having done some terrible things just for fun later on in the film in order to make us loose empathy for him, it could just as easily spark a nature Vs nurture deabte. Loki doesn't even do anything terribly evil until after he's been revealed to have been lied to, betrayed and manipulated by Odin. Sure he's somewhat jealous, but not evil. Just hurt and longing for acceptance. Hell, for a god of mischief, he actually plays the voice of reason a lot early on in the film before he becomes the antagonist! But you can't say he's entirely misunderstood and justified either, as he hates Thor for being more favored than he is, but everything we see indicates that Odin approved of him more than Thor, whom Odin clearly sees as arrogant compared to the initially calm and serious Loki. As someone with similar adoption issues, it really left me with a sense of ambiguity. Complexity and depth for a villain who was previously just Mxyzptlk in viking drag, who woulda guessed?

 As for the special effects, while I never once thought I was looking at something real, I'll give the effects wizards props for attempting to imitate the look of Jack Kirby's bathsit insane architecture and machinery, which is no easy task.

 I really enjoyed this film, and my only real problem with it is that it's too short. Also, it may be odd to say this, but for a director who once prided himself on being a mature reinterpreter of Shakespeare, then embarassed himself with his botched attempt at a faithful Frankenstein adaption, it's probably true that this film, based off of a comic book, is the richest and most rewarding thing Branagh's ever done. 

 Now someone sign up Robbie Coltrane to play Mr. Hyde in the sequel...