THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

October 30, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. The ultimate cinematic dilemma … how to make the next comic book movie stand out from the (many, many) others? The brilliant answer comes from director Taika Waititi and co-writers Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost – a screwball superhero action film that delivers not only the required alien war scenes, but also a campy villain for the ages in a movie that may be the funniest of the year.

For those who prefer their superheroes dark and brooding, this one will be a shock. Prepare for Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster – the most polite villain we’ve seen in awhile, and one who looks to be straight out of the 1960’s “Batman” series. Chris Hemsworth as Thor is one of many returning actors/characters, only this time he really gets to flash his comic timing on top of his Thunder God biceps. His love-hate, trust-no trust, see-saw relationship with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in full force, as is the Bruce Banner banter with The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It’s certainly more in line with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY than the previous movies for Avengers.

As much fun as Goldblum brings to the party, this is really Cate Blanchett’s show. She is the frightening (with a dash of camp) Goddess of Death, and long-lost sister of Thor and Loki, and daughter of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). With a headdress that puts everyone at the Kentucky Derby to shame, Hela’s enormous powers are such that she crumbles Thor’s mighty hammer with little effort – just to remind everyone that big sisters are renowned for messing up younger brother’s toys.

Of course, with that title, we know that the story revolves around what could be the end of Asgard. Joining in the fun are: Idris Elba who is back as Heimdall, Tessa Thompson as a master of one-liners Valkyrie, Karl Urban as Skurge – rewarded with a wonderful exit scene, Ray Stevenson returns as Volstagg, and rocky alien Korg who is voiced by director Waititi. Fans of the series will be happy to know other familiar faces pop up periodically – one especially magical sequence teaches Loki a quick lesson.

In addition to the main rescue story line, the powerful villains, and crazy aliens, there are numerous nods and tributes to previous versions (notably Planet Hulk, and Fantastic Four), and a hilarious early stage play with three cameos that make it clear, big time laughter is here to stay. It’s fun to catch the reunions from such previous projects as Star Trek, JURASSIC PARK and Westworld.

Special acknowledgment goes to director Taika Waititi for hilariously taking the comic book film world down a different path. He’s known for his comedic projects like HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (one of my favs from 2016), WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, and his work on the brilliant but short-lived “Flight of the Conchords”. It’s still very much a Marvel movie, with visible fingerprints of Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. It’s also a fantastic adventure film that sets the stage for next year’s AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, while also featuring the best use ever of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. So get ready to rock, roll and rollick in a film that is just about as much fun as you can have in a theatre.

watch the trailer:

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HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016)

July 7, 2016

Oak Cliff Film Festival 2016

hunt for Greetings again from the darkness. It just doesn’t seem very many movies are designed to be funny to a wide range of viewers. There are raunchy comedies for taboo lovers. There are comedies for young kids. There are even Nicolas Cage movies for unintentional laughs. But writer/director Taika Waititi actually delivers a thoroughly entertaining movie that will generate laughs across multiple generations … it’s quite simply, a fun time at the theatre.

Based on the 1986 book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump, who himself is a bit of a legendary figure in New Zealand, the film begins with Child Protective Services (or whatever it’s called in New Zealand) dropping off 12 year old Ricky Baker to his new foster family. Paula, the CPS agent, considers Ricky a lost cause and describes him as “a very bad egg” as she rattles off his list of previous rebellions to new foster mom Bella, who takes note of Ricky’s heft with a couple of wisecracks – delivered with a well-meaning smile.

In a terrific screen introduction, “Uncle” Hec slowly comes into frame flashing a world class scowl and a wild boar slung over his shoulder. Ricky continues his habit of running away at night, but Bella slowly wins him over with her kindness, understanding and breakfast offerings. A tragic occurrence and fear of being shipped back to the juvenile center, has Ricky disappearing into the New Zealand bush. Soon enough Hec catches up and the two begin a relationship that is the core of the film.

Rima Te Wiata plays Bella as a perpetually optimistic woman with a sincere drive to help Ricky adjust and find some joy in life. Sam Neill plays Hec in full grumpy curmudgeon mode … a nice compliment to the extraordinary presence of Julian Dennison (Paper Planes) as Ricky. Ricky and Hec together are a hoot to watch. It’s not simply the generational differences, but also a clash of one man who wants little more than to be left alone and a young boy who wants little more than to be noticed and cared about. It’s not so much the direction of their relationship that surprises, but rather the manner in which it develops.

Director Waititi’s next film is Thor: Ragnarok, so this makes us appreciate even more his pleasant little indie film that features not just colorful and interesting characters, but the beautiful landscape of the New Zealand bush … much of which we see during the humorous manhunt for Hec and Ricky. It’s a farcical comedy with a dose of profundity and loads of adventure for two social misfits. Rachel House is pretty funny as the obsessed CPS worker, and Rhys Darby (“Flight of the Conchords”) is downright hilarious as Psycho Sam. Watching criminial-wannabe Ricky literally count off his Haiku, leaves little doubt as to why this one has been such an “audience favorite” at multiple film festivals.

watch the trailer: