Haymitch Abernathy: You really wanna know how to stay alive? You get people to like you. Oh! Not what you were expecting. Well, when you're in the middle of the games, and you're starving or freezing, some water, a knife or even some matches can mean the difference between life and death. And those things only come from sponsors, and to get sponsors, you have to make people like you. And right now, sweetheart, you're not off to a real good start.
Uncle Ben: If anyone's destined for greatness, it's you son. You owe the world your gifts. You just have to figure out how to use them. And know that wherever they take you, we'll always be here. So come on home Peter. You're my hero, and I love you.
Thor is a place-holder. No getting around it. He has his own franchise for the sole purpose of reminding audiences that he's still in the picture, just so he can make a reappearance in the next Avengers sequel. I appreciate the fact that the Thor series is not (and probably never will be) as compelling as the Iron Man or Captain America franchises. Which, honestly, is fine by me! I have absolutely no problems with watching The God of Thunder do heroic things for two hours, every couple years.
Dark Elves and the "Aether" square off against Thor in this sequel. The plot is much too complicated for its own good, and there's no reason for me to explain it. But the driving force behind the movie is the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster. Not only will they have to save the entire universe from utter darkness, but they'll also have to figure out how to work a relationship that spans the universe. I'll ask you, which one do you think will be more difficult?
Well, to answer my own question, making the relationship work turns out to be the much more difficult task. Practically and figuratively. I knew, from the first scene of the movie, that Thor would triumph over the Dark Elves in the end. Saving the universe was inevitable. Whereas, even two movies in, I'm not quite sure if or how the relationship between Jane and Thor will end. There are some real stick-to-the-bones questions that are raised about their relationship. Like the fact that Jane only has a mortal's life, while Thor can live for thousands of years. In the long run, these questions are much more significant than saving the world again. And yet, I thought the "save the world" aspect of the story was better executed than the "relationship" aspect of the story.
So in short, I thought the relationship offered more interest and possibility, but I also thought it was shortchanged and not executed particularly well. In contrast, I thought the action was predictable but ultimately executed much better.
Alright, lets see, what works in this movie? First and foremost, the cast (like in every Marvel movie) is so special! Chris Hemsworth has charisma coming out the ears! Thor is not an easy character to bring to the screen. And in some areas (not performance related), it shows. Fact is, it's impossible to connect to Thor on the same level as Tony Stark or Steve Rogers. He's a gorgeous, 7 foot tall demigod. Not exactly relatable to the everyman. But that's just the nature of the character, as Chris Hemsworth turns in yet another cracking performance!
But Thor, without Loki, is a whole lot less interesting. Thankfully, the incomparable Tom Hiddleston is back in the costume as The God of Lies and Mischief! He really is the glue that holds the Thor franchise together. It's rewarding to see where the character is going after the events of The Avengers. Marvel truly is lucky.
Natalie Portman. It's tough to judge her performance as Jane Foster. I will say that she is better than she was in the first movie. Portman is actually given a significant role in this one. The plot, for a good chunk of time, does hinge on Jane, which is nice. No matter which way you slice it, it's not easy to be a leading lady opposite a superhero.
One of the bigger problems with the movie lies in the villain, played by the underrated Christopher Eccleston. I like Eccleston (9th Doctor all the way!), but I really couldn't have cared less for his character, Malekith the Dark Elf. The performance is lost under countless layers of costume and makeup. Plus, it doesn't help that Malekith's motivations are uninspiring at best. It's a shame to waste Eccleston in a role like this.
Other noteworthy performances would include Anthony Hopkins as Odin. No surprises there. Rene Russo actually has a few truly significant moments as Frigga, Thor and Loki's mother. Jaimie Alexander continues to impress as Sif. And lastly, in the most love-it-or-hate-it performance of the film, Kat Dennings returns as Darcy. I'm kind of a fan of hers. Both her performance here, and in the original, probably equals my favorite small supporting performance in this series. I think Darcy is hilarious! But she's best used in small doses, sprinkled throughout the movie. Which is exactly what she is in this film.
The script of this movie may be a wee bit less heartfelt than the original Thor. Yet it still has its moments of hard-hitting drama. But the technical side of things (visual effects, action, world building) all manage to leave the original Thor in the dust. First of all, director Alan Taylor does manage to build a huge, sprawling world, with only a couple of hang-ups. This movie (unlike the first) takes you on a journey throughout the Nine Realms. World building can be a tricky task, but this movie accomplishes that task quite nicely.
The production design is thoroughly excellent! Every castle in Asgard, every Elvish ship, and every grotesque creature manages to make an impression. Visually speaking, the movie is a joy to watch! Specifically, the Asgardian funeral is stunning.
The action is a pretty massive step up from that of the first movie! In quality and quantity. Aerial battles and the Mjolnir stand out as big action highlights. I still feel like Thor has yet to be used to his full action potential, but at least this movies tries its best to give him awesome visual moments of battle. The aerial battles taking place during the siege of Asgard are also excellently built.
Patrick Doyle provided an entirely appropriate score for the first Thor movie. He managed to musically find the heart of the story, while successfully stepping out of his comfort zone for the action material. In this sequel, one of the very best, Brian Tyler, takes over the scoring duties. And boy, does he ever deliver! Tyler also scored Iron Man 3, so he is becoming quite the fixture at Marvel. And to that I say, "Good!" His themes for this movie are so heroic and relentless! Doyle's score wouldn't have worked for this movie. And Tyler's score wouldn't have worked for the first movie. So in the end, it all works out.
Thor: The Dark World winds up falling right about where the first movie did. It's inherently not as compelling as Marvel's best films. And it's held back by a murky storyline, an uninspiring villain, a choppy final battle, and one or two poorly paced scenes. Still, it's a far cry from unwatchable, and at times, it's downright thrilling! Check off the boxes, we have yet another secondary Marvel hero in a solo-pic, brought back to the screen with sufficient success.
You know what two things are extremely similar? My enjoyment for Ender's Game the book and my enjoyment for Ender's Game the movie.
Let's start with the book, shall we? I read Ender's Game about a year ago. And I thoroughly enjoyed it from the first chapter to the last. Not only is it an entertaining story, but it also provided a canvas for Orson Scott Card to say deeper things about the tolls of war, the psychology of a leader, and the power of technology. In addition, it is a book that is well ahead of its time, in the way that it handles the World Wide Web. As I said, I liked the book from the first to the last chapter. BUT ... the book has an epilogue. And in this epilogue, the book completely lost me. After that last ending scene, I really had no desire to read any more of the Ender books.
And the movie is pretty much the same. I was entertained for the vast majority of the film. But then the last 10 minutes happened, and we're treated to Ender's mind becoming one with the aliens. It's a plot development that's going for a home run, a way to bring in one final philosophical idea. But for me, it just didn't connect at all.
Before we get to the plot, quick sidebar: For all those people making a huge fuss about boycotting this movie - are you doing anything to boycott the latest Roman Polanski movie? Nope? Didn't think so. People don't boycott Polanski's movies, they actively embrace them. Taking it a step further, renowned filmmakers including Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Woody Allen, Darren Aronofsky, and Stephen Frears have all signed a petition to bring Polanski back to the States. So, child molestation is okay, but simply speaking up for a personal belief is boycott worthy... You can't have it both ways, but nobody seems to care.
Anyways, Ender's Game is the story of Ender Wiggins. At the end of its rope, humanity must turns to children for deliverance. Ender is enrolled in "Battle School," where he'll try to become the greatest commander Earth has ever seen. He must protect humanity from "The Formics." Ender must climb the ranks at an unsightly pace, if he want's to protect those he loves.
The movie does an exceptionally good job of bringing over a lot of what the novel has to offer. Sadly, the movie can't take the time to address the Valentine/Peter relationship, and that's the biggest thing missing. Other than that, the majority of Ender's story is in tact. And it's not just that much of the story is the same. The director and screenwriter, Gavin Hood, does an admirable job of capturing the essence of the book. We can feel the weight of the world as it slowly presses down on Ender. It's very well done.
And speaking of Gavin Hood, this movie is infinitely better than his atrocity of a super hero film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That was free.
My main problems with the movie rest in the aforementioned last 10 minutes (which is a fault of the source material, not the filmmaking itself). The pacing is a little slow at times. Some key/noticeable plot points aren't explained very well, such as Mazar's face tattoo thing, and the MD device. Now, if you've read the book, you can fill in the blanks and you know exactly what's going on. But if you haven't, you'll be pretty bemused at times. I'll get to my last problem in a second.
The cast, or the vast majority of it, is exceptional! Asa Butterfield, of Hugo fame, hits all the right notes as Ender. He can play the confusion, the superior intellect, and ultimately the moral tragedy of the character. After the big twist at the end, Butterfield really turns it up a notch. What might be the most impressive thing about the performance is the fact that Butterfield has to go toe to toe with actors like Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, and Viola Davis.
And speaking of those three, they all do what they can with what their given. Kingsley doesn't have a very large part, but he is Ben Kingsley after all. Viola Davis has the most thankless role as Major Anderson. But, like Kingsley, she has enough talent to make up for a bland character. Harrison Ford, on the other hand, has the meatiest role of the three. Colonel Graff, more than anybody else, is responsible for the final outcome of this story. Ford gives a performance that doesn't feel as phoned in as it could very well have been.
As for the other child actors, they are solid in limited roles. It doesn't hurt when you cast two Academy Award nominees as your main female characters. Abigail Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld give entirely well-done performances. Sadly, Breslin is limited to only two or three scenes ... a shame. Steinfeld has more to do in the story, and she does it well.
But the last problem I have with the movie lies in one of the villains (and one of the child actors). MoisÚs Arias (of Hannah Montana fame ... is that fame? I guess not.) just doesn't cut it as Bonzo. He's supposed to be this formidable, intimidating figure, but Arias is everything but. In all fairness, his acting isn't too too bad. But the main problem lies in the fact that Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld both look to be a good 7 or 8 inches taller than Arias. And the with that, the intimidation factor goes right out the window.
The action and special effects are top shelf. The scenes in the Battle Room are surprisingly exhilarating! That's the part of the novel I was most looking forward to seeing on screen, and it didn't disappoint. The visuals are a pleasure to look at, and there's never a weak moment on screen.
I bemoan the fact that James Horner was replaced as composer for this movie. In his place, we have the producers and the director demanding a completely derivative score. Steve Jablonsky's music for Ender's Game is a hodgepodge of previous musical efforts. Most noticeably, he completely rips off the Game of Thrones theme for his Battle School theme. It may be an imitative score, but that doesn't mean it's entirely ineffective in context. In a lot of places, Jablonsky's music does add a driving force to the images on screen.
I applaud Ender's Game for its high ambitions. I applaud it for capitalizing on the source material and reaching most of those high ambitions. I also applaud it for being a YA movie that doesn't pander to any crowd. Still, the film is not without its flaws. But at the end of the day, I'm completely fine with the final product. It's a movie that deserved to be made. It's a movie that I enjoyed watching. But, like the book, it's also something where I have no real desire for a sequel. As a standalone film (which is what this will be, as it turns out), I was pleased and entertained. Nothing more or less.
"In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him." 7/10
Well, I couldn't have predicted this! After the unabashed feebleness of My Neighbor Totoro, I can't say that I was too hyped to watch Kiki's Delivery Service. But out of the clear blue sky, I've found a Miyazaki movie that I like even more than Princess Mononoke! It shocked me as well. Kiki's Delivery Service doesn't share Princess Mononoke's grander or epic story telling. But then again, it doesn't collapse around itself in the third act (Mononoke's main problem). The final product is so very whimsical, I couldn't help but grin the entire way through!
Like all 13 year old witches, it is now time for Kiki to train away from home for a year. She settles in a large town by the ocean. She may be a witch, but she still just a 13 year old girl, a long way from home. To survive, she must find out where her place is in this daunting new world.
How could you not like this movie? Right from the opening credits (played over a scene of Kiki flying away from home on her witch's broom), I had the strangest feeling that this movie was going to be better than most Miyazaki efforts. It would seem an odd thing to think, because Miyazaki movies often have interesting openings, but disappointing endings. And yet, I could just tell that I would love this movie! And why is that? Well, because it's very evident, from the very first scene, that Kiki's Delivery Service is genuinely and thoroughly interested in its main character. Miyazaki's movies tend to go for grand and exhausting stories, that ultimately choose visual magnificence over characters. But not here.
Kiki is possibly the best Ghibli main character ever! It's a coming of age journey for her, no question there. But as animated, kids movie, coming of age stories go, Kiki's Delivery Service is the cream of the crop!
But while, on the surface, the movie is just about a young witch trying to find her way in the world, the undercurrent of the story is about inspiration. It's about our "reason for being." Let me explain: Kiki's discovery isn't just about HOW to be what she is (a witch), it's about finding out WHY she want's to be a witch. Her inspiration. And this idea really applies to everybody and everything. What's the inspiration behind being or doing anything? The movie doesn't try to tell you. Because something that personal is impossible to address, and the film knows it. No, the movie just reminds you that finding your inspiration is entirely up to you. But it also reminds you that that you will, eventually, have to find your very own motivation. I really loved the way the movie developed towards the end!
Kiki's Delivery Service is "the most" excellent Miyazaki movie in a lot of ways. It's the most fun. It's the most delightful. It's the most concise. It's the most complete. It's has the best main character (and one of the best supporting characters). It's the most subtle. And it's ultimately the most rewarding.
As I mentioned before, Kiki is one of the best Miyazaki main characters ever. A very young Kirsten Dunst voices her in the English dub. She's really exceptional! After Spider-Man, Dunst has only popped up occasionally over the last couple of years. Which is a shame, because she really is a top-notch actress. Excellent character, excellent performance.
The supporting cast and supporting characters are also some of Miyazaki's finest. Kiki's talking black cat, Jiji, is so terrific! Voiced by Phil Hartman in his last film role, Jiji outclasses even Calcifer from Howl's Moving Castle. Love him!
The production side of things doesn't have a weak link. Miyazaki's trademark visuals are once again on full display, but in a much more personal way. Miyazaki's visuals are never less than breathtaking, but they also have the tendency to be overblown. But not in this movie. It's a subtlety beautiful picture, from the first frame to the last.
Joe Hisaishi. I seriously love his music! While Miyazaki himself might disappoint more than most believe, Hisaishi is never less than exceptional! Every note of his score for Kiki's Delivery Service is utterly pleasant. Because the movie doesn't really have an antagonist, Hisaishi is able to write music that is ever so charming! One of his finest. Also of note, the movie employs some pretty mainstream-sounding pop songs over the opening and closing credits. "Soaring" and "I'm Gonna Fly" by Sydney Forest do not sound like your typical Miyazaki fare. But it gives the movie a more normal animated movie feel, which in this case works completely.
Kiki's Delivery Service is such a sweet, touching, joyous and warmhearted film; it can't help but be one of Miyazaki's best. What some might call a lack of ambition, I would call a character driven masterpiece! How My Neighbor Totoro became the classic, and this one became the side note, I'll never understand. But alas, this film, along with Porco Rosso, will go down in my mind as Miyazaki two most overlooked, but brilliant films. An unexpected masterwork!
"We each need to find our own inspiration, Kiki. Sometimes it's not easy." 9/10