Thor Ragnarok (2017)

Thor_Ragnarok_posterMy heart lept in my chest when I heard that Taika Watiti (What We Do in The Shadows) was going to be helming the latest Thor movie. Because it’s hardly a well-kept secret that Thor has essentially been the weakest of all the Marvel threads (Hulk’s individual film excluded).

So once more Marvel has done an impeccable job of keeping lukewarm bandwagoners such as myself mildly interested. Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. Brie Larson in the upcoming Captain Marvel movie — another personal favorite. Then, we have Ryan Coogler directing Black Panther with one of the most glorious casts in recent memory. They make their product so alluring despite my general lack of interest in the perennial juggernaut.

But back to Thor Ragnarok which goes far beyond the quip-filled, light-hearted humor that Marvel has often boasted, to great success, I might add. Even with its darker moments and strains of drama, there’s little doubting that Watiti’s brand of near insouciant humor is alive and well. Exhibit A is the very fact that we are reintroduced to Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as he swings precariously from a rocky prison encased in chains about to be executed by a fiery conflagration of a villain.

In case you haven’t realized it already what we are about to be served up is a comedy about an apocalypse. Oxymoronic as it may sound, the film all but pulls it off. Still, more explanation is in order.

Thor returns to Asgard only to begin quibbling with his black sheep of a brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) just like old times. They call on their father (Anthony Hopkins) whose imminent death is less an ending and more a god-like dispersal. There are other asides involving Dr. Strange (Cumberbatch) and yes, we even found out a little bit more about the Hulk and what Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has been doing the last couple years.

Being the weasel that he is, Loki’s always betraying his brother and Thor winds up getting captured by a former Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who has taken on the life of a slave trader, bringing in fighters for the Contest of Champions. Thor is destined to be the newest attraction on center stage.

Watiti most obviously makes his general tone felt in the film through his own character Korg, a giant rock monster who is more like the Michelin Man than The Thing. Watiti’s understated voice coming through so clearly as he matter-of-factly talks about the not uncertain death that awaits nearly everyone. But he’s also handy for a few rock, paper, scissor jokes as well.

Jeff Goldblum is probably the film’s other finest creation for his own brand of oddly perturbing flippancy with gladiatorial violence and hedonistic relish of death matches. But in the same breath, The Grandmaster also happens to be probably the funniest addition to the cast for those very same reasons.

In fact, it’s these themes touched on briefly that are most crucial to drawing conclusions about Ragnarok. It’s deeply entrenched in issues of death and mortality, violence and warfare. By no small coincidence, the main villain brought to the fore is Hela (Cate Blanchett) who helped Odin build his kingdom and has come back to rule it as her own. It’s not a particularly inspired creation but what did we expect? It is what it is.

Meanwhile, Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” is the film’s favorite hard-hitting tune to conjure up for perfect trailer sound bytes to crosscut with the action at hand. Whether it serves any other purpose aside from just being a bit of retro-cool is probably beside the point.

There’s a line that seems apt for such a film that I couldn’t help recalling. It goes like something like this, “We laugh at death because we know that death will have the last laugh at us.” It’s one thing to make light of death as a coping mechanism and as an outlet to grapple with something we don’t completely understand, quite another to completely dismiss it. Because the far easier road is to try and evade dealing with it altogether.

The usual CGI extravaganzas and spectacle aside, there is something still to relish in this movie. What I’m trying to say is that Thor Ragnarok is a deathly funny superhero film. In spite of the usual tiresome amount of pyrotechnics, random cameos, and overzealous action sequences, there is an ephemeral and still a delightful enjoyment to be found in this picture. It no doubt bears the imprint of Watiti while still wearing some of the tiresome Marvel tropes.

The one theme it does suggest most overtly is that “Asgard” was built on past indiscretions, bloodshed, and violence. But moreover, the mythical nation is not simply a place. It’s the people that make it up. And in the wake of an apocalypse, it’s some amount of solace. That and Jeff Goldblum giving the commoners a pat on the back. It’s always good to undercut solemnity with another punchline following the credits.

3.5/5 Stars

Midnight in Paris (2011)

8d293-midnight_in_paris_posterDirected and written by Woody Allen and starring Owen Wilson, this film is a nostalgic piece of romantic fantasy. 

Gil is a successful screenwriter, who is attempting to finish his first novel, and he is in Paris with his wife (Rachel McAdams). She dismisses his work on a nostalgia shop because she feels it is not as worthwhile as his screenwriting career. Gil is infatuated with everything about Paris, while his wife is content with fine dining and shopping with her parents and wine tasting with stuffy friends. 

Then one evening Gil wanders the streets of Paris, and at Midnight a 1920s style car pulls up and he is invited in. Over the course of the evening, he meets the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, and even Ernest Hemingway, who agrees to read his manuscript. The following night he brings his wife but she leaves and he is picked up once again at midnight. This time he talks with Hemingway, meets Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and the beautiful Adriana (Mario Cotillard). Gil continues to return at night much to his wife’s annoyance and his father-in-law’s disapproval. He meets legendary surrealists such as Salvador Dali, Man Ray, and Luis Bunuel, who he inspires with his conversation. 

He finds Adriana’s diary in the present and meets a fellow aficionado (Lea Seydoux) of the olden days. Gil returns to the 1920s and Adriana convinces him to go back to the 1890s where they meet Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, and Degas. This is where Adriana is happy and despite their love, Gil realizes that even though nostalgia is good it is best to live in the present. Gil gets some final feedback on his manuscript and then breaks up with Inez, realizing it was not meant to be. However, Gil finally does find someone who shares his love of Paris in the rain. 

Allen made this film really enjoyable for me because he brought to life many people such as Hemingway, Dali, Bunuel, and others. This type of history fascinates me much like Gil, and it was fun to see these figures represented in the flesh by the likes of Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, and Adrien Brody. That being said, this film carries a good lesson about living your life in the present. I would have initially said that Owen Wilson seemed wrong for this film, but I think he did a wonderful portraying Gil as a man mesmerized by the golden days of Paris.

4/5 Stars