Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – A Great Movie Trapped in a Good Movie

   This was a movie that could have been one of my Top 5 Marvel Cinematic Universe films. I really wish this could have been a Planet Hulk type film as the Hulk and Sakaar are the best parts of this film are everything having to do with the Hulk, the good is the Thor movie this film is trapped in, which is very much a Marvel by the numbers. It wants to be “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” but the last films didn’t do the work for us to get that emotional investment. I’ll get into what I mean deeper into the review. For my non-spoiler thoughts though, it is well worth checking out, it is a good movie that is a lot of fun.

The film was directed by Taika Waititi, written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost while being produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who is exiled from Asgard by a returned Hela (Cate Blanchett), who seeks to conquer Asgard and the known universe. Thor finds himself broken and is forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena on Sakaar for the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Now in a race against time he must get back to Asgard and find allies to save Asgard from Hela.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography and Soundtrack – The cinematography is colorful and pulls you in immediately and when tied with the soundtrack creates the feel of being in an 80’s rock album. Especially with ACDC’s “Immigrant” as the main theme song of the film. The style of the film is unique too, it looks like a B Movie done with an A Movie budget.

The World of Sakaar – I wish the entire film could have taken place here. Everything interesting takes place on Sakaar. It is where Valyrie is living as a mercenary collecting fighters for the Grandmaster and also playing with Hulk. This world is fascinating as the trash and beings from all over the universe fall into the portals above this world. The Grandmaster played by Jeff Goldblum is also a real treat and should have been the main villain of this film and the film should have taken place here. Hela should have been saved as a bigger bad for later, there are enough “Conquer the universe” villains in the MCU.

Loki – Loki is wonderful in this. His reveal of being Odin happens early on when Surtur tells Thor that Odin is missing. Loki is so much fun in this, he is sometime ally and sometimes enemy but always is serving himself and his ego. This makes when he gets tricked by Thor near the end all the more enjoyable as well as his relishing of Hulk’s pummeling of Thor. When he is exiled like Thor in the fight with Hela he gets in with the upper class of Sakaar easily, which is completely in character. He does eventually team up with Thor and Valkyrie as we see his good come out when he comes back to save the people of Asgard (though it largely because he wants to be loved by them…he did build a statue of himself when he was pretending to be Odin and do a play of “Thor 2” and his “redemption.” Hiddleson continues to nail this character as he continues to be the best part of the Thor films.

The Grandmaster – Jeff Goldblum plays the wonderfully insane Grandmaster in this. What we learn is he came to Sakaar back in the beginning and built it up to be his own source of entertainment. From the tournament, from references to his orgies this is a guy who doesn’t care about anything about his own amusement. He really is a great character and is a fun villain as his own ambition (cheating so Hulk will win the fight and keeping Thor locked up with Hulk) lead to his undoing and his people rebelling against him. He shows up at the end in an after credits scene so I hope he will show up in the future.

Asgard’s Past and What Asgard Means – A major theme of the film is that Asgard is not a place it is a people and that what a people are is important. Hela is the warrior who was with Odin when they made the 9 Realms and spread the will of Asgard through them. It was after peace time that she was trapped and erased as she wanted to keep fighting. I wish Hela had been addressed as we never get why she loves battle and war and her erasure from history is an evil that Odin is never called out on and Thor never recognizes. She was a female God who was Odin’s Right Hand in the end it meant nothing because Odin changed the past. Odin was toxic patriarchy and that is never addressed. I’m still putting this in the pro area for what could have been covered and for the importance of a people meaning more than a place. People are what make a place matter.

The Hulk Story and Hulk’s Relationships – Hulk is the best part of this film, he is friends with Valkyrie who trains with him and his relationship with Hulk is funny as he sees Thor as both a friend and a threat. Hulk is like a giant child who just wants to fight and win but we see him become more and become Banner once more after hearing Black Widow’s last video. From here Banner’s story comes in and in the final sacrifice becomes Hulk again to take on Hela and her undead army. This is by far the best Hulk movie and it is the great film trapped in the good film. I wish we could have got Planet Hulk from the comics.

Okay: Surtur – Clancy Brown’s voice is perfect for the God of the Fire Demons but he is a pretty useless villain. Thor easily defeats him and he exists only as a plot device to bring about Ragnorak, which is the only way to destroy Hela. I wish more had been done with this guy and that we’d received more history and motivation. He seems driven by prophecy but he is hypothetically so powerful, there is no reason he should be driven by that.

Hela – Cate Blanchett is a great actress and she wonderfully vamps this role up…but she gets no development. We never get why she wants to conquer or how Odin shaped her into the person she is, she simply does. This is lazy storytelling and the only reason she isn’t a con is because Blanchett is such a great actress and the costume design is on point. She looks like Maleficent and her giant wolf is Fenrir and army of the Dead are a lot of fun.

The Thor Story – Thor goes through the hero’s journey again. This time it is him realizing he doesn’t need the Hammer to be Thor as he is the God of Thunder. It is after discovering this he helps Valkyrie find herself as a defender of Asgard again and helps Hulk become Banner once more. He also shows Loki what it means to be a good ruler. This is all good, it isn’t bad but it is also Marvel by Numbers. There is nothing done here that wasn’t done butter elsewhere. I would have preferred more development of Valkyrie so she wasn’t just a support character or Hela having a reason for what she did. These are things that could have made this a great rather than good Thor story. The great story is Hulk and Thor trapped on Sakaar being gladiators that we don’t get nearly enough time with as in the end the Thor and Ragnorak story is what drives the plot, and that is only good, not great.

The Asgard story is a marvel movie by the numbers. Villain has world conquest plot but is stopped by the hero when he discovers the power of friendship and his own internal power. Thi is “Iron Man 3,” “Captain America” and the last 2 Thor films. This is a shame as Hela and Sakaar both could have been so much more than what we are given. Things change with the people of Asgard being nomads now, but it doesn’t have the same weight to it as the loss of of SHIELD in “The Winter Soldier” or the death in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Hell the great movie taking place on Sakaar could have led to a Planet Hulk type film with Thor, sadly at the end of the day this is a Thor film and that is what keeps it from reaching greatness. I’d still recommend this film, it is beautiful and fun and easily the best of the “Thor Trilogy.”

Final Score: 8.7 / 10

The Aviator (2004): A True Scorsese Biopic Masterpiece

aviator

     I think at this point “The Aviator” is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. It has an amazing soundtrack, cinematography, writing and cast and deserves all the awards it won. It is a film I definitely plan to watch again and it inspired me to check out Howard Hughes’s films, which will be some later reviews down the road.

      The film was directed by Martin Scorsese, written by John Logan and produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King and Charles Evans Jr. It is also based off the book Howard Hughes: The Secret Life by Charles Higham.

     The story is a biopic of Howard Hughes and the conflicts he went through with the businesses he owned and his role as a director and producer in Hollywood while dealing with his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The Pros: The Soundtrack – It’s Howard Shore so the fact that the soundtrack is amazing doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He does a great job here of capturing the jazz of the era, the torment in Howard Hughes’s mind. He truly did a masterful job on this soundtrack.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning, especially in any sequences where Hughes is flying in one of his planes. Robert Richardson did a great job and the film is beautiful.

The Writing – The writing is really solid in this. People talk like they would in the era and we get a lot of show rather than tell, which is the screenwriter John Logan doing  a great job at his job. This film is long but it doesn’t feel long because of the writing.

The Characters – The main characters and their relationships are really what drive the film and it is fascinating to see how they interact and react to Hughes, who is an unstable genius. His relationships are really what drive the film.

Katharine Hepburn – Cate Blanchett does a fantastic job as Katharine Hepburn. She’s eccentric and selfish just like Hughes, but we see does have a little more self-awareness and did try to deal with the problems in their relationship that he ignored since he was so focused on his job. She moves on and is happier for it, though in his darkest place she still reaches out as a friend, even after how cruel he was when they broke up.

Noah Dietrich – John C. Reilly plays Hughes’s second in command and is the one making everything happen behind the scenes. Reilly is a great actor, which I really didn’t realize until this film. His arc is learning to put his foot down with Hughes so that Hughes won’t destroy the companies he created with his different projects.

Juan Trippe – Trippe is the owner of Pan Am Airlines and the main antagonist in the film. He is played by Alec Baldwin who does a good job in the role and manages to imbue the character with honor, humanity and ruthlessness. His arc is when he stops the fight after the hearing becomes an attack against him rather than the attack against Hughes it was meant to be.

Senator Brewster – Alan Alda is one of my favorite actors and it is wonderful seeing him in an antagonistic role as he works with Trippe to keep Hughes’s airline from competing with Pan Am. He’s ruthless but has a kindness to him as you see that even though he’s corrupt there is still a humanity to the character.

Ava Gardner – Ava is the one Hughes keeps wanting to marry but who continues to turn him down since his crazyness (paranoia, etc.) keep her from feeling safe around him. She is there to help him get back together though and we see she loves him as a friend, just knows that she could never marry him or be in a relationship with him. Kate Beckinsale does a good job.

Howard Hughes – DeCaprio is fantastic as Hughes. He really does a great job as the eccentric millionaire (Hello Gatsby) though this time we get to see the full depths of a very flawed genius. DeCaprio captures his passion, fear, anger and stubbornness and seeing him complete his arc and face his those fears is powerful.

Making “Hell’s Angels” – Making the film “Hell’s Angels” (Which is a pretty good film) is fascinating as we see how Hughes needed everything to be perfect and to be a certain way. Each year see what is going on, whether it is getting more cameras for filming, editing it so that it will be in sound or trying to find clouds to film the flight scenes. This could have been the film and us given more details and it would have been just as great as the film we got.

The Flights – The flights are beautiful. We see fighter planes, spy planes and even a crash that Hughes goes through over the course of the film. In each case the freedom and danger. The planes are beautiful and the shots from the sky are stunning.

The Hearing – They do a good job of overlaying the hearing where Hughes calls Senator Brewster out for business relationship with Juan Trippe and Trippe’s monopoly on the airlines and with it we get the conclusion as he finally pulls himself out of his depression and funk in order to be there and not to panic.

   There isn’t really anything I can say wrong about this film. It hits all the right notes, all the main characters are explored and grow and change or deal as the film progresses and the story has excellent payoffs. I’d highly recommend this film. It is the best film I have seen from Martin Scorsese and deserves all the awards it won. Not only does it give the snapshot of a person during an era, but it also manages to capture the freedom in flying and the passion it takes to make projects a reality.

Final Score: 10 / 10

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014): A Time to Fight

How to Train Your Dragon 2

“How to Train Your Dragon 2,” is definitely the best Dreamworks animated sequel and might be the best Dreamworks animated movie…I’d have to rewatch “Prince of Egypt,”again before I say that for certain though.

Everything the first movie did well, this movie did better (though introduces a problem the first movie didn’t have) and the movie also dealt with loss, morality and growing up in a much deeper way than the first film. I’m saying all this now before getting into the assessment, since explaining all these things will be spoilers.

The premise to “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” is that Hiccup has been chosen by his father to the heir to Berk and Chieftain of the clan. Hiccup doesn’t feel ready since his passion is exploring and mapping the world, living free and in the moment. Things come to a head though when Drago and his army arrive on the scene and Hiccup must deal with the consequences of this new enemy.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Here is my assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Music: The music once again is fantastic. It takes the Scottish theme and even incorporates a traditional tune for a love song that appears at one point in the film. Just as great as the first film musicwise.

The Animation: The animation has been improved. I saw it in 3D and in this instance the 3D is definitely worth it. The details of the dragons and the hair upon the people (from slight facial hair to large beards and different hair styles) is fantastic. They’ve improved upon the first one which already had great animation.

The Characters: The characters are once again fantastic, the main Dragon Riders team has grown up and is given more to do. There is even a three way romantic triangle between them (3 way being that the guys competing for the affection of Ruffnutt feel no ill will towards each other). I’m going to go more in depth on the individual characters who stood out next before I get into the relationships.

Eret – Eret the Dragon hunter played by Kit Harrington is a new character in this film, and Kit Harrington (Jon Snow from “Game of Thrones) does a great job! We see this egotistical dragon hunter ruled by fear of dragons eventually come to accept and love them when Astrid’s dragon saves his life. He eventually is taken into the community of Berk at the end and inherits a dragon.

Gobber – Gobber is gay and the reveal is fantastic! It is sad that he is the only explicitly gay animated character that we know about so far. Get on that Pixar! He is great as the supporting character again and he really is part of the family. He is like Hiccup’s Uncle and an adopted brother to Stoick. He has some comedic moments but he always shines on the emotional moments and the fights. His character grew a lot this film.

Astrid – I debated putting her in the okay area, but decided against it. She is used pretty well in this film. We get to see that she is like Stoick, she leads and is stubborn in her beliefs like Stoick against the flighty Hiccup. This is done well, though could have been done better. She kind of disappears again in the third act as mostly support…though she is really active in the first 2 acts and is once again the unspoken leader of the Dragon Riders (as Hiccup becomes the Leader of the Clan).

Stoick – Stoick is one of the best characters in this movie. We get to see how much he’s sacrificed and sacrifices for this people and that though he is stubborn he listens and is willing to try the path of the people he loves. For example when he find his wife alive…which will get it’s own entry further down…as well as what happens to him.

Valka – Hiccup has an awesome mom! You can understand why she left, given that she saw her inability to harm dragons as putting the village in danger…and that there is no way to build a bridge between Dragons and Vikings. Her role as a rescuer of Dragons is really well done. She is essentially the anti-Drago representing freedom of choice verses Drago’s domination of others.

Hiccup – Is great in this in that he is dealing with his desire for freedom verses responsibility to his people as well as how is world is changed when he learns his mother Valka is alive and is living the life he wants to live (saving Dragons and exploring the world to find other Dragons) and also dealing diplomacy verses fighting given that Drago has no desire for peace and goes about destroying everything precious to Hiccup at one point in the film in his conquest for power. Suffice to say we see Hiccup rise to the occasion and become a worthy Chief.

Toothless – This film is as much about Toothless as about Hiccup. He also has an ascension story as he builds relationships with the other dragons and even finds his inner power when he takes on an Alpha to defend to Hiccup and in turn becomes the Alpha of the Dragons, proving the way to a person’s loyalty is sacrifice and not fear.

The Stoick and Hiccup relationship – Is really well done in this film. They develop their dynamic further and we even see Stoick going out to rescue Hiccup after he leaves to try and convince Drago to accept peace. In the end their mother builds a bridge between them as she represents where Hiccup is and when he sees his Father’s patience and tenderness with going where Valka wants to go he begins to accept that he is a part of them both which leads to him beginning to accept his future role.

The Valka and Hiccup relationship – This reveal could have ruined the film…his mom being alive but missing for twenty years…there are more ways than I can count that that premise could destroy the plot. It doesn’t though, it only compliments it. Valka teaches Hiccup about dragons and apologizes for abandoning him. They do start over and we see her reflected in his as the life he wants to lead. He also begins to realize that Drago can’t be negotiated with when she warns him against it because of that time together.

The Dilemma – The Dilemma is perfect and answers the question, is there a time to fight? The answer is yes. Over the course of the film Hiccup realizes he must defend his home and his community from those who don’t want peace and want to dominate and enslave. This is revealed when he talks to Drago who believes the only way to live with others is to dominate them through fear. He realizes that he was wrong after fear is used to dominate Toothless to kill someone close to him.

The Battles – Are really good in this. The fight at the sanctuary is especially given we see nature and technology used in unison in different ways as the two factions (Stoick verses Drago) takes place.

The Loss – I love bittersweet stories, and this one was. Stoick dies…killed by Toothless when Drago uses the Alpha to control Toothless to kill Hiccup which leads to Stoick jumping in the way. It was sad and I’m glad they didn’t bring him back…it motivated Hiccup to become the Hero and also the reason he casts Toothless away until he comes to the understanding that “Good Dragons are being used by Bad Dragons,” and devotes the climax to rescuing Toothless and his people.

Okay: Drago – Isn’t super memorable in this. He is a one not baddie just like the Alpha Dragon in the first movie. They attempt to give him motivation but he spends most of the film just screaming and hurting people. Like the Alpha Dragon in the first film he only exists as a force of nature. There also is a con associated with him.

Cons: Racism – Drago is the only dark skinned character seen in this entire universe…and he is the bad guy. This could have easily been avoided by making him like the other vikings or even having people from his people joining the vikings. It is this factor (poor planning, don’t know if this was purposeful or not, it could just be stupidity like “Resident Evil 5,” but this factor keeps it from being a perfect film). It could have easily been avoided which is a shame. Hopefully we see more dark skinned heroes in future animated films.

The Director and co-writer DeBlois has done it again and I have to say I look forward to the 3rd film. Hopefully with the world opening up from Valka and Hiccup exploring it we can see the wrongs of this one (racism) dealt with. Let’s see a diversity of people just as we see a diversity of dragons and from that a diversity of heroes from this amazing world. I highly recommend this film to anyone, Hiccup’s story and the relationships are the driving factor and the movie achieves these relationships perfectly.

My Score for this film is 9.7 / 10.