Friday, July 29, 2011

Thor


You shall not pass!
One can’t say Kenneth Branagh's Thor isn’t ambitious. This adaptation of a comic book based on Norse mythology includes romance, humor, family drama, and lots of special effects. Unfortunately, the film is a confusing mish mash, aspiring to be both more and less than what it is.

The film begins in a New Mexican desert and awkwardly segues into a distant flashback, before moving into a more recent flashback and then back to the present. The recent flashback follows the warrior Thor (Chris Hemsworth), son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins), king of the planet Asgard. Thor’s arrogance lands him on Earth many miles from home. Confused and frustrated, he stumbles upon a group of scientists, at least one of whom, Jane (Natalie Portman), is willing to overlook his bizarre behavior and help him find a way home.

Just because you are blond and I am not doesn't mean I'm bad.

One section of this film is set in Asgard, a visual creation both kitschy and beautiful. A much lighter section involves Thor’s humorous adjustment to Earth. Yet another section involves S.H.I.E.L.D., a group of government agents who are interested in an unmovable hammer which Odin threw to earth.

The script is an odd mixture of genuinely funny and unintentionally humorous. The social and physical laws that govern Asgard are hardly explained, and the pacing picks up when our hero falls to Earth. The agents are present to connect Thor to other superhero films produced by Marvel, and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s role is entirely unrelated to the plot. However, its scenes are some of the most functional in the movie.

Or does it?

The actors seem to be in several different films. Hemsworth fares well as Thor, seamlessly shifting between several genres. His transformation from cocky to contrite to compassionate is far more believable than his love story. Portman’s Jane is cute and her attraction to Thor is understandable, but the film implies that they fall in love without showing us how. Watching them giggle at one another is not particularly gripping.

Kat Dennings, who plays Jane’s assistant Darcy, is natural in her delivery of amusing one-liners. Thor’s friends, The Warriors Three, seem to have stepped out of a science fiction show, Hopkins is low key as the patriarch, and Renee Russo has a thankless, tiny role as Thor’s helpless mother. Colm Feore does his best as Laufey, leader of the blue Frost Giants, and a great Idris Elba plays a seemingly implacable gatekeeper to other worlds.

The power of Christ compels you!

Most baffling (and, in some ways, interesting) is Thor’s brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston. He appears to be in five different movies. Loki is almost as important a character as Thor. Too little time is spent with him to completely understand his motivations, but because the audience follows his character, the tricks he pulls feel like tricks on the audience. Alternately calculated and extremely emotional, he is more bizarre than intriguingly ambiguous. Hiddleston gives an expressive, even furious performance, making his campier moments stand out all the more.

Patrick Doyle’s soundtrack is stirring. Sometimes its high quality only emphasizes what the film lacks. In the end, Thor’s numerous distractions prevent it from either remaining lighthearted or developing its mythological elements. Weighed down by special effects, action, and dumb lines, Thor is an original idea that seems determined to be a mediocre film.

You are hot therefore I love you.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Jane Eyre: A Rare, Unearthly Thing



Cary Fukunaga has directed an ethereal version of Charlotte Brontë’s oft-adapted novel Jane Eyre. The film’s muted visuals convey the gothic story’s mystery while hinting at its internal passions.

Our heroine Jane Eyre’s (Amelia Clarkson) youth involves characters who resemble the grim child abusers in a Charles Dickens novel. The plot’s pace quickens once Jane (Mia Wasikowska) reaches young adulthood and moves to Thornfield Manor, a forbidding castle surrounded by equally impressive grounds. There she encounters housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) and begins tutoring the lord’s French ward Adele (Romy Settbon Moore). Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane that Lord Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender) has moods that are as unpredictable as his travels. Jane feels drawn to Rochester, even though she feels that the more she learns about him, the less she knows.

 

Here Jane’s renowned “plainness” comes from her soft features and downtrodden position. Wasikowska’s youth contributes to the character’s believable confusion and sexual curiosity. Most importantly, she conveys Jane’s stoicism, wisdom, and imagination. Fassbender’s Rochester is slightly frightening but magnetic, amusing, and acutely observant. He tells Jane that she is no more “naturally austere, any more than [he is] naturally vicious.” She is as sharp, and correctly describes him as “the most phantom-like of all” her “unreal” experiences at Thornfield. Fukanaga brings out the novel’s poetic language, making mere exchanges of words more intense and erotic than many a lovemaking scene.

Inspired by Northern English folk music and gypsy fiddling, Daro Marianelli’s sweetly passionate score is haunting. Yet the film’s painterly aesthetic, from a stormy sunset to the resonant final image, is the movie’s most prominent aspect. While Fukunaga’s attention to historical detail lends a realistic rawness, the movie’s exquisite colors convey a fairy-tale-like quality, accentuating Rochester and Jane’s allusions to magic.


Thornfield is alternately beautiful and menacing. A naturally-lit nude painting evokes a sense both ominous and sensual, much like Jane’s attraction to Rochester. An individual who feels trapped is silhouetted against a window showcasing other worlds. Jane and Rochester are filmed outside in a way that makes them appear to be spirits of nature.

Wasikowska sometimes underplays the deceptively tame Jane, and Fassbender is occasionally too dramatic. On the surface, this is a straightforward if suspenseful adaptation of Brontë’s classic melodrama. But beneath is a rapturous, even transcendent tale.