Saturday, November 2, 2013

Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor)

Thor's once again ready for some arse-smitin'.

Without any reservations or holding anything back, I can confidently say that "Thor: The Dark World" is the best Thor film to date, which really isn't saying much considering that this is only the second one. The film, as expected from Marvel Studios, is ripe with spontaneous humor, effective one-liners, and smirk-inspiring references that you may think that Marvel's head honchos have seen "Man of Steel", looked at each other in utter disbelief specifically during the climax, and contacted, within minutes, some of their friends in the comedy business. Lesson learned: never trust a Marvel trailer, for it will tease you with the prospect of sheer ominousness, but will almost always bring you an all-smiling kind of escapist popcorn stuff. 

Though the film is with a subtitle that seems to suggest a more brooding sense of adventure for the 'Thunder God' himself, "Thor: The Dark World" is a very fun and innocuous 'might and magic' outing that's as relentless in its action as it is in its comedy. Plus, you will know that you're in for a ridiculous type of enjoyment when one of the first things you will see in the first 10 minutes or so of the film is a stark naked Stellan Skarsgard running aimlessly around the Stonehenge while parading his very Swedish behind. 

Also, for the first time, we're given an otherworldly villain that's not really a kin to our long-haired hero. His name's Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), a dark elf who wants to destroy all the realms and revert the entire universe back to its dark state because, like rats, his kind is most comfortable in the dark. Of course, no matter what it takes, this will not be allowed by the future king of Asgard, or by the incumbent Odin (Anthony Hopkins), or even, surprise surprise, by the god of mischief himself: Loki (Tom Hiddleston in a definite scene-stealer). 

For someone who's really not into the whole fantasy and sci-fi stuff, "Thor: The Dark World", in some regards, may come across as something too jargon-y, especially when Natalie Portman's Jane Foster starts to talk about gravitational theories and whatnot. On the other hand, though, coming in as a fantasy fan will surely be a treat all on itself because, compared to the first film, Asgard (plus the other realms) is in fuller view this time around, and we're also finally able to behold its sheer size and very Rivendell-esque aesthetic. 

In addition, the film is also more well-endowed in its action sequences, though I can definitely see the visual dissonance that seems to suppress the film's search for a kind of identity. I see a group of bearded warriors engaging in a very fantastical skirmish and "The Lord of the Rings" is what immediately enters my mind. I see a metal-hulled ship that's being shot at by giant laser guns and "Star Wars" involuntarily pops up in my head. Though it is but given that "Thor", in its own right, already has a fairly established universe in the comic books, I still just can't buy how it was realized on-screen, and it also doesn't quite help that director Alan Taylor is a "Game of Thrones" luminary. 

On a more positive note, though, the film's climactic set piece, which sees Thor and Malekith do battle in a highly spasmodic gravitational condition (in layman's term, they're fighting while being spontaneously teleported from one realm to another), is on par with "Iron Man 3's" firecracker of a payoff. 

Chris Hemsworth, in his third outing as the titular superhero, is more effortless than ever in Thor's otherwise unwieldy boots and heavy garb while holding the even heavier Mjolnir, though him being completely overshadowed by Hiddleston's even more effortless portrayal of the unpredictable Loki just can't simply be avoided. This time around, after being defeated in "The Avengers" by, well, the Avengers, Loki is the obvious victor, performance-wise. 

And the ending? Well, I can't believe what I've just seen, but did Kevin Feige and company just borrow from "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra's" playbook? It's a great sleight of hand (the ending, that is), sure, but I've seen it before, and sadly in an infinitely lesser film. Does this suggest that Marvel's creatives are finally reeling? In terms of the overall quality of "Thor: The Dark World", it's quite evident that, no, it's not anywhere near that, but the ending sure speaks a lot about the fact that even air-lifting Joss Whedon into the set for emergency rewrites just couldn't save a relatively lousy ending. 

Nonetheless, the film is still good enough for what it is, and has some nice enough surprises and in-jokes up its sleeve to make it adhere more tightly to the ginormous hull of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And, man, just seeing Heimdall the Gatekeeper (Idris Elba) single-handedly kick some dark elf ass secures "Thor: The Dark World" an automatic spot in my list as one of the more truly enjoyable Marvel movies to date. Again, that's not saying much, but the film sure is staggering in scope, which has pumped me up even more for the astronomical degree of awesome that's in store for us when "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" finally rears its head.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Bride of Re-Animator (Brian Yuzna)

Red Rock West.

Folks both living and dead, the mad re-animator that is Herbert West is back (assuming that nothing fatal has happened to him when Dr. Hill's giant intestines have coiled him in the first film) and as lively and demented as he can be, and, along with his colleague Dan Cain, we next see him in, wait a minute, in Peru?! Am I missing something, or has Herbert West suddenly taken heed of Bruce Banner's exploits? 

Anyway, the plot suggests that Herbert West, ever the clandestine doctor who will, even without thinking twice, fit his whole laboratory inside a rat hole or what have you if he must just to evade suspicious eyes and potential dangers alike, has suddenly put himself in the middle of a not-so-subtle and not-so-secret South American war zone for reasons unclear.

The film, in terms of visually upping the ante for the franchise, has succeeded even in this opening scene, because nothing screams 'I will top the first film' more than explosions, a war-torn setting, and some brief gunfight sequences. I wouldn't really bet nearly anything in favor of Herbert West over a highly-trained guerrilla in a shoot-out, but hell, in the opening sequence alone, every horror fan's favorite diminutive doctor has just conveniently shot two skilled soldiers dead in just a blink of an eye, all while performing a surgical procedure on a military casualty. As it turns out, the title of the H.P. Lovecraft short story should not be "Herbert West: Re-Animator", but "Herbert Wild Wild West". That's a joke. Moving on... 

Even just a few scenes in, I can already feel a sense of deliberate epicness that this film is trying to gun for, in the same vein as "Hellbound: Hellraiser 2" when it has successfully transported the horror from the humble doorsteps of an old house (as in the first film) to the fiery gates of Pinhead's version of hell itself. Only this time, though, "Bride of Re-Animator" has so much going on with it that there seems to be no space for proper exposition anymore. On one of the film's many and flimsy sides, there's Dr. Carl Hill from the first film, or, to be more exact, there's Dr. Carl Hill's 'severed head' from the first film that desperately wants to have a piece of Herbert West. On another, there's the whole 'creating a perfect woman' angle that's obviously a nod to the Frankenstein lore. There's also the awkward romantic arc between Dan Cain and this Italian journalist (played by Fabiana Udenio), whose every scene seems to emit a similar vibe as a perfume commercial, and whose thick accent and lethargic presence perfectly complements my occasional yawns.

On the up side, though, Jeffrey Combs is even more entertaining and better-suited this time around as Herbert West, what with his very theatrical-esque portrayal of the said character's mad drive to play god with science, and his uncommon loyalty to his only friend Dan. Physical-wise, Combs seems to be a carbon copy of Johnny Depp; that is if the latter's growth is a bit stunted and if his forehead is ten times more generous. 

Bruce Abbott, on the other hand, who was so effective in the first film, pales in comparison to Combs' unworldly charm, and even more so when she was paired with the said journalist who's even more lackluster in retrospect. Should I say that they deserve each other?

There is a scene deep into the film that is, though impeccably lighted and set-designed, too carelessly-handled that I do not know where to look at or what's happening to whom or who's killing which poor sap anymore. Yes, I'm talking about the climax, which, generally speaking, isn't really one of the franchise's strongest suits. Like a horror house in some county fair, the said climax struggles to cram as many shock elements as possible within a span of 5 or so minutes that anyone who may go in will be more exhausted than they are frightened, post-entry. But hey, as lousy as this sequel may be, "Bride of Re-Animator" is still one hell of a bumpy ride worth taking, and I wouldn't be surprised if I'll once again see myself creeping back to the end of the queue, fingers-crossed, and ready to relive this sloppy experience one more time.

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