Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Remember That Movie: Revenge of the Nerds

Those who grew up in the eighties and nineties may recall a certain social dynamic that seemed to divide everyone between those who were cool and those who weren’t. The cool side of the dynamic was made up of all the pretty girls and all the boys who were physically active or socially adequate. If you were like me, you fell into the other side of the dynamic, those who were awkward, gangly, physically incompetent, and were interested in geeky things like superheroes, horror movies, technology, or the like. We were known as ‘nerds’ and we were picked on by the cool kids. Those of us lucky enough to catch it on cable when our parents weren’t looking had a film to rally around back then that fulfilled our fantasies: 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds.

In case you don’t remember, Revenge of the Nerds is about the clash between a fraternity of jocks and a dorm house of freshmen nerds. When the frat boys accidentally burn down their own house, their coach and the college dean allow them to displace any freshmen of their choosing from their dorm. The dean sets the displaced newbies up in the gym, emergency shelter style. Meanwhile, a group of these wronged dweebs decide to create their own fraternity. But, like a little kid swinging his arms while someone bigger is holding his head, they are faced with constant opposition and ridicule from the jocks, which seem to be in control of the Greek Council.

The film stars Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards, Timothy Busfield, Curtis Armstrong, Ted McGinley, John Goodman, and James Cromwell. It was directed by Jeff Kanew (V.I. Warshawski) with a screenplay by Jeff Buhai (Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation), Miguel Tejada-Flores (Fright Night Part 2), and Steve Zacharias (Eddie).

Curtis Armstrong earns most of the film’s biggest laughs as Dudley ‘Booger’ Dawson, the crass member of the nerds, for such exchanges as when Gilbert, played by Anthony Edwards, tells his friends about his new girlfriend. Booger responds, “Big deal, did you get in her pants?” Gilbert scoffs, “She’s not that kind of girl, Booger.” To which, Booger replies, “Why? Does she have a penis?” He practically steals each scene he’s in, no matter if he’s taking advantage of Takashi, the token Asian nerd, during card games or winning an arm wrestling match by picking his nose.

Unfortunately, there are very few laughs outside of Booger’s scenes as much of the humor is weak or falls flat. Also, the movie struggles between treating its characters as cartoon stereotypes and people you care about. The nerds consist of the computer geeks, the crass slob, the Asian, the music geek, the 12 year-old intellectual phenom, and the flamboyantly gay guy. The jocks are arrogant, agro-Neanderthals and the sorority girls are superficial bimbos. These days, if those characters were featured in a Judd Apatow or a Todd Phillips comedy they’d have some dimension to them. Here, they have little more to them than what’s on the surface.

The jocks’ antics are really kind of lame by today’s standards. Their biggest act of humiliation is to release a bunch of pigs into a party hosted by the nerds and then moon the nerds when they came out. Instead of humiliating and painful, it feels quaint and silly.

The most interesting things about Revenge of the Nerds are how much it seems to influence future R-rated sex comedies and how dated the film’s perspective is.

For example, there is a scene in the movie wherein the nerds gather around to watch the sorority girls undress and sleep half-naked thanks to cameras they secretly installed during the film’s famous panty raid scene. The scene sounds very creepy, but plays like harmless sex comedy tomfoolery. However, it dawned on me a similar concept was carried out in American Pie fifteen years later. Guy secretly installs camera so he and his socially-awkward horndog buddies can watch elsewhere as girl undresses. That film simply took the concept to another level of interactivity (and backfires in humiliation).

What is striking about the film is how archaic the character’s attitudes are, particularly those of the jocks. Stan, the lead jock played by Ted McGinley, at one point declares, “Those nerds are a threat to our way of life.” In a way, he was right. His perspective that “the beautiful people shall rule the earth with the meek and nerdy under thumb” has definitely become a thing of the past, or at most, stays within the halls of high school. Outcasts are less easily identifiable and subtler than the stereotypes depicted in this film. No longer can you just look for the guy with the pocket protector and taped-up black-rim glasses. So, Stan is correct in the sense that that perspective did shift over time.

What’s more on point is those nerds eventually improve and change everybody’s way of life. The nerds Stan goes to college with are the ones who, figuratively speaking, would go on to work for Pixar, Microsoft, Verizon Wireless, Comcast, Google, Facebook, and every other technology or communications developer that has created everything from wireless routers to computer animated movies. Our society is ruled (or heightened) more by the work of the nerd than the work of the jock. As a matter of fact, nerds are even responsible for improving communications on the field between a quarterback and his coach and those graphics audiences at home see during the football games. In that sense, Stan did lose the war against the nerds.

We know how things turn out because we’re living it. Therefore, one can feel disconnected from Revenge of the Nerds while watching it because it is locked within its time. This prevents the film from holding up.

By the way, has there ever been a sex comedy that has endured over time as a great film? Porky’s hasn’t. Revenge of the Nerds hasn’t. American Pie hasn’t. But that’s a subject to explore another time.

Revenge of the Nerds went on to create one theatrical sequel (Nerds in Paradise) and two TV-movie sequels (The Next Generation and Nerds in Love). All but Revenge of the Nerds II were written by the original screenwriters. Buhai and Zacharias both went on to work on the script to the Whoopi Goldberg basketball comedy Eddie, while Tejada-Flores wrote scripts for such B-movies as Screamers and Rottweiler. Jeff Kanew, the director of the original Revenge of the Nerds, was struggling when the script for Nerds crossed his path. Afterwards, he wheezed out Troop Beverly Hills and V.I. Warshawski. His career stalled after that.

As for the cast, let’s begin with the nerds. Robert Carradine (Lewis) starred in the rest of the Nerds sequels and then moved on to TV movies and TV shows, most notably Lizzie McGuire. Anthony Edwards (Gilbert) only appeared in the first Nerds sequel, taking roles in more notable films such as The Sure Thing, Top Gun, Playing by Heart, and Zodiac. He also appeared in ten episodes of Northern Exposure, but may be best-known for his four years as Dr. Greene in the NBC series ER. Edwards is one of the few castmembers to not appear in the entire Nerds film series. Timothy Busfield (Poindexter) also only appeared in the first Nerds sequel and went on to a successful career in several TV shows, including Trapper John, MD; thirtysomething; The West Wing; and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. He also worked with Robert Redford in the films Sneakers and Quiz Show. Curtis Armstrong (Booger) has been very busy with over 100 roles in such films as The Sure Thing and One Crazy Summer with John Cusack, Van Wilder, and Ray. Armstrong’s career has mostly featured TV roles, most notably in Moonlighting, The Emperor’s New School, American Dad!, and Eek! The Cat. Larry B. Scott (Lamar) has had less on his plate since starring in the rest of the Nerds film series. He starred such ‘80s movies as The Karate Kid, SpaceCamp, and Iron Eagle, but has mostly taken bit parts in TV shows. His most significant TV credit is in an early-‘90s TV series titled Super Force, which ran for two seasons. Brian Tochi (Takashi) has mostly stuck to bit TV parts and voice work. However, he did star in Police Academy 3 and 4 as Elvis Nogata. His most notable voice work was in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film trilogy as Leonardo’s voice and as Liu Kang in the short-lived TV series Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm. James Cromwell (or ‘Jamie’ as he’s credited in Revenge of the Nerds) may have also appeared in the entire Nerds film series, but he’s had an incredible film career since the ‘80s with such films as Babe, Star Trek: First Contact, and L.A. Confidential.

As for the jocks of Revenge of the Nerds, Ted McGinley (Stan) has starred in several TV shows, including Happy Days, The Love Boat, and Hope & Faith, but he may be best known for his role as Jefferson D’Arcy in Married…with Children. Donald Gibb (Ogre) appeared in the rest of the Nerds film series except Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation. He has since appeared in many bit TV parts, but also had supporting roles in Bloodsport and Bloodsport 2. Julie Montgomery (Betty) took bit parts in TV shows before starring in the last two Nerds films. Her last acting credit was in 1994’s Milk Money. John Goodman (Coach Harris) may be the most famous castmember of Revenge of the Nerds. Surprisingly, the film was only his seventh project and first notable role. Goodman went on to be a successful film star while also starring in the TV show Roseanne for nine seasons.

Revenge of the Nerds was made on a budget of $8 million and went on to make $40.8 million at the box office, making it the tenth highest-grossing college comedy of all time (Animal House is #1 with $141.6 million). It made an additional $20 million in rental revenue. Bravo placed Revenge of the Nerds at #91 in their ‘100 Funniest Movies’ list (Animal House is also #1 on that list).

20th Century Fox tried remaking the film under their short-lived genre label Fox Atomic. Production began in 2006 for a 2007 release date. The film was to star Adam Brody and be directed by Kyle Newman (Fanboys). Recognizing how different things are since the original film, Newman’s intent was for the remake to be less of a direct translation of the original with jocks and nerds and more of a spiritual descendent. The project quickly became problematic with creative differences from studio executives who didn’t understand the humor and were unenthusiastic about creating a remake of a film they didn’t like but were mandated by 20th Century Fox to churn out in order to launch the Atomic label. Meanwhile, issues arose regarding the college locations used during production. Filming was cancelled after three weeks. It was intended to be Fox Atomic’s launching pad, but turned into its only cancelled project. Fox Atomic released such films as 28 Weeks Later, The Rocker, and Jennifer’s Body. The label was shut down in 2009.

This may be just as well since the film’s concept simply does not translate well these days. People still get picked on for being awkward or different, but the faces of both sides are less clear-cut and more complex than they were when Revenge of the Nerds was filmed. It is now an occasionally funny sex comedy about socially-awkward characters that is best viewed (if at all) as a stepping stone for films like American Pie, Old School, and Office Space. Revenge of the Nerds is an iconic comedy, but not a great one.


Should you see it? Skip

Revenge of the Nerds is available on the 'Panty Raid Edition' DVD and Netflix Watch Instantly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Film Faves: 1995

Howdy folks and welcome to this month's edition of Film Faves.

For those who may not know, Film Faves is a monthly feature here on The Gibson Review wherein I countdown my twelve favorites of any film-related topic.  As I said, it is not an objective list of the twelve best of that topic, but a subjective favorites list - hence the name.

Since its inception, Film Faves has been counting backward through time, knocking out my favorites of each year.  This month, we hit the halfway mark of the 1990s with the year 1995.

Let's get started.

This month's subject was an interesting year for talent.  For example, it featured a heavy dose of debuts: Liv Tyler turned heads in Empire Records, Cindy Crawford turned people off in Fair Game, Natasha Henstridge turned geeks on in Species, Salma Hayek burned up the screen in Desperado, Jason Lee pissed Ben Affleck off in Mallrats, and Joaquin Phoenix tripped over himself for Nicole Kidman's attentions in To Die For.

Also, many actors had break-out roles in 1995: Alicia Silverstone became a hit in Clueless, Don Cheadle impressed many in Devil in a Blue Dress, Mira Sorvino won awards for Mighty Aphrodite, Babe was James Cromwell's first of many subsequent hits, and Angelina Jolie caught the attention of some high school boys in Hackers.

Several actors did double-duty in 1995: Sharon Stone earned accolades for her performance in Casino and took aim at Gene Hackman in The Quick and the Dead; then-unknown Russell Crowe played good in The Quick and the Dead and evil in Virtuosity; Denzel Washington played a cop of the future in Virtuosity, a P.I. of the past in Devil in a Blue Dress, and an officer with integrity in Crimson Tide (also starring Gene Hackman); Brad Pitt lost his mind in 12 Monkeys and his humanity in Seven; Kevin Spacey played Dustin Hoffman's scientist pal in Outbreak and was interrogated by Chaz Palminteri in The Usual Suspects; Rene Russo played Hoffman's girlfriend in Outbreak and Travolta's girlfriend in Get Shorty; Tom Hanks provided his voice for a toy cowboy in Toy Story and played a real-life astronaut in Apollo 13; Robert De Niro played a tough eluding the law in Heat and a tough trying to go legit in Casino; and Nicole Kidman played Bruce Wayne's shrink in Batman Forever and Matt Dillon's wife in To Die For.

Here are some other noteworthy films of 1995.  On the plus side, we had Bad Boys, The Brady Bunch Movie, Dead Man, Dead Man Walking, Dolores Claiborne, il Postino, Leaving Las Vegas, A Little Princess, Othello, Sense and Sensibility, and While You Were Sleeping.

On the bad side, we watched the Batman franchise take a hit with the ridiculously named Batman Forever, a smart novel by Michael Crichton get turned into a stupid movie called Congo, pirates become pretty lame for a long time thanks to Cutthroat Island, David Caruso leave TV for the ill-advised Jade, Stallone camp it up with Rob Schneider in Judge Dredd, Vampire in Brooklyn forshadow the decline of Eddie Murphy's career, Kevin Costner's over-budgeted Waterworld tank, and then there was what may be the worst movie of the decade, Showgirls.

However, these were my favorite films of


12. Mortal Kombat

I’ve got to get my guilty pleasure out of the way first. Yes, the CGI is primitive and the film is a touch campy and there are moments that don’t make sense. However, this film did a pretty decent job of making something out of nothing more than a bloody button-masher – and it raised the bar for its genre in that it remains one of the few video game movies that are actually watchable (until Tomb Raider, it was the only one).

11. Apollo 13

What I love about the film Apollo 13 is it took an event from history that an entire generation or two knew the outcome of and managed to make it suspenseful. Not only that, but it communicated to the audience in very clear ways each problem they faced without getting bogged down in the science and math of it all. This is a film that turns something like keeping Earth visible through a window into a suspenseful moment. Director Ron Howard gathered an incredible cast: Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan, and a slew of recognizable character actors for what may be the best film of his career.

10. Before Sunrise

Have you ever met someone that you connected with so well you easily spent hours talking with that person shortly after meeting? Before Sunrise is a film for anybody who has – and really loves experiencing that level of stimulation with someone new. It is a film about nothing more than two people talking, but – like My Dinner with Andre – the dialogue transcends the mundane premise to an engaging experience. Much of the film’s success can be attributed to the chemistry between stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and their collaboration with director Richard Linklater. The film contains an open ending that was answered by a magnificent sequel, Before Sunset, which also left the fate of this couple open to interpretation. If you require your love stories to be cutesy and plot-driven then Before Sunrise is not for you. But if you appreciate a love story with great characters and feels authentic, you’ll love it.

9. Mr. Holland’s Opus

Here’s a film that is, at its heart, about something universal: to know your work made a difference and meant something to somebody. Being a man who has spent most of his life trying to find a passion worth pursuing that would matter, Mr. Holland’s Opus still speaks very strongly to me. At the time of its release, so strong was my emotional response to the climactic assembly scene (to which I still choke up) that I was inspired to become a music teacher. That lasted for about a week. Having watched it in recent months, I couldn’t help be annoyed by the anachronistic music choices during the montages. Regardless, this may be Richard Dreyfuss’ last great role and one of his best films of the nineties.

8. The American President

Every few years, I’ll check out The American President, half-expecting it to be a cutesy, precious rom-com. Every time, I am reminded that The American President is a damn good movie. It should come as no surprise since the script was written by Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network) and whose voice really stands out, directed by Rob Reiner (When Harry Met Sally), and stars Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, David Paymer, John Mahoney, and a bunch of other talented actors. The dialogue is dizzying when about bills and re-election strategies, but at other times incredibly witty and charming. Not only that, but it’s smart enough to realize the practical effects and cynical responses the public would have to situations such as the one presented in this film. Douglas and Bening are both hilarious and convincing as president and lobbyist, who date and get swept away by their fairy tale romance. The American President may be the smartest crowd-pleaser of 1995.

7. Clueless

I first saw Clueless at the drive-in with my parents. I was laughing my ass off at the clever humor. My parents didn’t get it. Maybe Clueless, a re-imagining of Jane Austin’s Emma for the 90210 generation, wasn’t made with the 40+ crowd in mind. Regardless, it hit on so many aspects of teen culture: the lingo, the need to impress, the social hierarchy, the constant phone calls, the misadventures of dating and relationships – most of which still resonate today – that I can’t help but appreciate the film. Plus, it helps that Alicia Silverstone stars, despite the fact several poor movie choices lead to her fading away by the end of the nineties. Clueless was directed by Amy Heckerling, who also directed Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and once again proved her deft understanding of teenagers.

6. Braveheart

Braveheart is probably one of the bloodiest epics I have ever seen. It’s also incredibly inspiring in its depiction of one man’s sacrifice in the name of (say it with me) FREEEDOOOM! The film’s final moments kill me every time I see it. Braveheart is also interesting because of its depiction of medieval British politics, dramatized to Shakespearian levels by Patrick McGoohan as the hateful, dying king and Angus Macfadyen as his more compassionate son. Braveheart may be long, but it is the best film of 1995 and Gibson’s best directorial effort.

5. Toy Story

Disney released Pocahontas in 1995 while Pixar debuted with Toy Story, a CGI milestone. Pixar became an animation giant afterward with A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, and Monsters Inc. Disney struggled with Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Dinosaur. Pixar is still trumping the Mouse House’s animation department. At any rate, Toy Story makes this list not so much for its historical significance, but for its creativity, sense of wonder, and emotional depth. This tale of plastic figures is anything but shallow kids stuff; it never patronizes – and that’s a rare thing in American animation.

4. Desperado

Like From Dusk till Dawn, I must have watched Desperado about half a dozen times with my friends back in high school. It had all the crazy action and colorful characters we craved – plus, this new girl named Salma Hayek. There are countless bad-ass moments in Desperado that make it the most enjoyable entry in Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi trilogy. Banderas is awesome, Hayek is smoking hot, and the rest of the cast is a Who’s Who series of walk-ons. Speaking of walk-ons, it’s worth noting that Desperado is also the first of many Rodriguez films wherein Cheech Marin gets killed. It may not be a great film, but Desperado is great fun – and remains among Rodriguez’s best.

3. Die Hard: Die Hard with a Vengeance

I know this is the worst-reviewed entry of the series, but I maintain it is the most fun and one of the best. Simon Gruber is a more memorable villain than whoever Die Harder’s villain was and could kick Live Free’s internet geek baddie up and down the New York City streets. Vengeance literally starts off with a bang, preceded by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Summer in the City’. And there are few things in the series more enjoyable than watching Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson bicker while on a wild goose chase. The original Die Hard may be a better film, but I love Vengeance for its unforgettable popcorn thrills.

2. GoldenEye

The James Bond franchise was dead for roughly five years. Then it came back with a bang! GoldenEye not only returned the franchise to theaters, but reinvigorated it with great casting and by hitting every Bond staple perfectly: the theme song (sung by Tina Turner, written by Bono and The Edge of U2), the credit sequence, the villain (Sean Bean’s 006), the henchman (Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp), the Bond Girl (Isabella Scorupco), etc. Plus, it had some great action sequences. Brosnan’s run in the franchise delivered diminishing returns with each entry, however, GoldenEye remains my favorite in the entire history of the franchise.

1. Seven

A serial killer preaches society’s sins one murder at a time and it’s up to two detectives to find him before his work is complete. Morgan Freeman plays the seasoned detective who has seen the horrors man is capable of and wants to retire while he still has a shred of humanity left in him. Brad Pitt plays the hot-headed new blood who is so concerned with proving himself or being patronized that he refuses to learn from his partner’s wisdom. The climax is diabolically clever and nightmarish, paced so deliberately that the suspense is nearly intolerable. Seven is a great film and my favorite of director David Fincher’s career.

So, that's the year 1995, a pretty good year for action movies and talent.  Did I overlook one of your favorite movies from that year?  What are your favorites?  Leave a comment below, on Facebook, or by email to  Also, don't forget to vote for your favorite films of 1995 in the poll to the right.

Next time on Film Faves: somebody gets medieval on your ass in the circle of life while Johnny Depp makes bad movies - ya know, for kids! - Jim Carrey talks out of his ass, Schwarzenegger leads a double life, and Keanu Reeves gets on a bus.  That's all I have to say about that.  It's 1994!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Marvel Hath a Hit with Mighty Thor

Over the past ten years we’ve seen a glut of superhero origin stories. These days it’s tougher to bring to the silver screen any hero who’s been in waiting in the wings all this time; you’ve got to keep it fresh and avoid hitting the well-tread tropes as plainly, otherwise the film becomes formulaic and fails to do the character justice.

Marvel Studios has been experimenting with translating the cross-over (a staple of the comic book medium where characters and events from one property shows up in others) to a series of movies that would culminate in a film about a team of superheroes, AvengersIron Man and Incredible Hulk pulled it off to the delight of fans, mostly with scenes tacked-on after the credits. Iron Man 2 was the first to try integrating all the elements of its own plot with pieces of a greater puzzle – and nearly buckled under its weight.

This year brings us Thor and Captain America. The latter will be released in a couple months, but the former, about a mythical Norse god of thunder, seemed the most difficult to translate into the world established in Iron Man (not to mention the potential cheese factor of a stoic hunk spouting Old English while bearing winged helmet and over-sized mallet).

It is with great surprise and pleasure that I tell you Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet), is the most enjoyable traditional superhero film since the first Iron Man. There have been better superhero films in recent years, including Iron Man, but especially The Dark Knight, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Kick-Ass, and Watchmen. After Iron Man 2, The Green Hornet, and Super, it’s refreshing to see a superhero movie that is actually fun to watch.

Thor is about a race of beings from another realm known as Asgard that has been mistaken by our Nordic ancestors as gods. These Asgardians are ruled by Odin (Anthony Hopkins) with his queen Frigga (Rene Russo, out of retirement for a minor role) and his sons Thor (Chris Hemsworth, a.k.a. Kirk’s father in the Star Trek reboot) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) by his side. Just as Odin is about to pass his kingdom on to Thor, their fortress is infiltrated by the Frost Giants, a race the Asgardians have held a tenuous peace with after years of war. Thor views this as a violation and gathers his friends and brother to travel to the Frost Giants’ world to investigate the why’s and how’s of the breach. Thor’s arrogance gets the best of him and ends up breaking the peace between the races. Ashamed, Odin strips Thor of his power and banishes him to Earth until he can prove himself worthy once again.

An astrophysicist named Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, both beautiful and brainy here) accidentally hits Thor with her truck immediately upon his arrival here. She becomes intrigued by the strange hunk and decides to help him. Foster’s research happens to be on the path to discovering the existence of Asgard. Thor’s mighty hammer, Mjolnir (mi-yol-nir), was also thrown to Earth by Odin and is found by the nearby populace. This attracts the international organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D., featured heavily in Iron Man 2, who then commandeer the area for their own investigation.

Meanwhile, Loki, who is known as the God of Mischief, discovers he was born a Frost Giant, conspires with the chilly colossi, and manipulates to take the throne of Asgard (his plan gets a bit confusing later on). Thor, who is clueless about Loki’s scheme, gives Foster’s research a nudge in return for her help taking back his hammer.

Branagh has plenty to juggle here and seems to have learned from the mistakes of Iron Man 2, because where the S.H.I.E.L.D. elements stitching all these movies together seemed forced in that film, here it’s integrated much more smoothly. Branagh responds to concerns over how to introduce the God of Thunder to a world established in Iron Man quite well: he keeps the otherworldly conflict and characters mostly separate from Earth. When they do cross over to our world, instead of downplaying their conspicuous fish-out-of-water nature, Branagh calls it out (that becomes a great source of humor in the film).

What’s more, Thor is different from your garden-variety superhero origin story in that both the hero is already a mighty superman when we meet him and there are some Shakespearian family issues between father Odin and the two brothers. This is what made Branagh a great choice for directing Thor, despite his inexperience with action-heavy blockbusters (he does handle action competently here, despite a few incoherent and tightly-framed quick-cuts seen so frequently in action films today).

If we look at the amount of plot elements being juggled here – a conflict on Asgard between two alien species, Thor’s banishment from Asgard and growth toward humility, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s interest in Thor’s hammer, Jane Foster’s research and interest in Thor, Loki’s scheme and transformation toward villainy, the Shakespearian family conflict, and the fish-out-of-water comedy – it is quite amazing how well Branagh and screenwriters Ashley Miller (Fringe), Zack Stentz (Fringe), and Don Payne (Rise of the Silver Surfer) pull it all off without being weighed down.

Unfortunately, with so much going on, there is bound to be a handful of characters that get lost in the mix. Rene Russo’s Frigga, who had at least one scene cut from the film, is one. However, the biggest waste here is Kat Dennings, who plays a tag-along intern named Darcy – a role she compared to a Scooby-Doo character. Darcy is clearly intended to provide comic relief, spouting lines about Facebook and iPods. Some of it works, but not nearly as much as the situational comedy in the film. Darcy exemplifies the superfluous character: one who could be cut from the entire script with zero loss to the story or comedic relief. It’s a shame because Kat Dennings proved herself to have an appealing presence in 2008’s Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Fans of her work in that film will be greatly disappointed to see her in such a disposable role here.

Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, on the other hand, give star-making performances as Thor and Loki. Hemsworth not only plays a hero we can get behind despite his arrogance, but also executes some physical comedy without being cheesy or ridiculous. Thor is made the fool by his own arrogance, yet earns our enthusiasm when fighting with hammer or fist. Hiddleston plays a role that is in the classic villain-to-be mold, yet avoids going over-the-top with it. Loki is sort of a larger-than-life character; however, being an actor of the stage, Hiddleston keeps his performance grounded in the familial relationships. It will be interesting to see what sort of mischief he creates in future Marvel films.

Thor momentarily lacks logic or clarifies the rules of its world. S.H.I.E.L.D. suddenly takes interest in Foster’s research after inexplicably connecting it to Thor’s hammer. Something happens to Odin that isn’t explained beforehand and initially causes confusion with some audiences. A bridge connects Asgard to an observatory / gate to other worlds, but it’s never explained what happens if one were to fall off the bridge. Would one keep falling? Float off into space? Or land on some random planet?

Yet all of that feels incredibly slight given the movie – and all its elements – work rather smoothly and enjoyably. Marvel Studios can confidently mark this as another success in their experiment – both on its own and as a part of a whole. They nailed it.

The film was shot in 2D, transferred to 3D, and released in both options. I saw the film in 2D, however I’ve heard reports that the 3D experience falls prey to the common issue of feeling like a veil is over your eyes; the brights are dimmer and the darks are darker. I recommend planning for a 2D showing.


Should you see it? Buy tickets (2D)

Thor is now in theaters in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Summer Movie Preview

Ok, so I know summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st, but according to Hollywood it begins in May and runs through August.

Last year’s summer season was pretty much a washout, made tolerable only by a small handful of films (namely Inception and Toy Story 3). This year hasn’t had a great start, but here’s hoping for a better summer!

Below is a brief rundown of some of the coming season’s approaching films, in order by release date with cast lists and trailers.

May 6:

Hobo with a Shotgun – Starring Rutger Hauer. Directed by Jason Eisener (The Teeth Beneath).
If you’re looking for a movie this summer chock-full of gory, one-man-army mayhem this appears to be it. Hauer stars as a slightly deranged homeless man who decides to clean up a depraved city. This film is based on a fan-made trailer from 2007’s Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse project. In a way, it’s incredible that we’re still talking about that project, even if tangentially. However, Hobo has so far received better reviews than the three other Grindhouse films (Planet Terror, Death Proof, Machete). Plus, the film was already released On-Demand, so it may turn out to be the most profitable yet. Not bad for a bum with a temper.

Thor – Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, and Rene Russo. Directed by Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet).
The God of Thunder finally hits the big screen. Thor is the fourth film in Marvel’s Avengers cross-over film series, which will include Captain America (see below) and culminate in next year’s Avengers. Marvel is reaching for a first in film history and time will tell how well the experiment will work as a whole. In the meantime, it remains to be seen how much general audiences are interested in the second-string Avenger from Asgard. So far, advance buzz has been overwhelmingly positive, which bodes well for comic fans and audiences looking for a fun time at the movies.

May 13:

Bridesmaids – Starring Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, Rose Byrne, and Melissa McCarthy. Directed by Paul Feig (The Office).
A woman pushes to be the maid of honor for her best friend’s wedding, of whom she’s jealous. A comedy with all that comedic talent – and Judd Apatow as producer – is sure to be worth a few laughs. Early buzz suggests this may give The Hangover Part II a run for its money as the hit comedy of the summer.

May 20:

The Beaver (expands wide) – Starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, and Cherry Jones. Directed by Jodie Foster (Little Man Tate).
Finally, Jodie Foster’s first directorial effort since 1995’s Home for the Holidays will be released. Mel Gibson stars as a family man who is emotionally broken. He finds a beaver puppet in the trash and begins projecting a personality through it, demanding those in his life to interact only with the beaver. In a way, three careers are riding on the success of this film: Jodie Foster, who hasn’t had a hit since 2006’s Inside Man; screen-writer Kyle Killen, whose TV series Lone Star was cancelled last fall; and, of course, Mel Gibson, who fell out of the public’s favor in recent years due to some ugly behavior. Advance reviews are praising Gibson’s performance, so perhaps The Beaver will be the breakthrough these careers needed.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Penelope Cruz, Keith Richards, and Judi Dench. Directed by Rob Marshall (Nine).
Jack Sparrow is back in the first of a new trilogy of cash-cows from Disney. The title of this entry comes from a novel about pirates searching for the fountain of youth. It’s no coincidence that the film follows Captain Jack on a similar quest. Are audiences tired of the series or will it be another summer hit? We’ll know soon enough and Disney executives certainly have their hands hovering over the green light for the rest of another trilogy.

May 26:

The Hangover Part II – Starring Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong, Mike Tyson, and Todd Phillips. Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover).
Who knew the 2009 hit was only one part of a greater saga? The executives at 20th Century Fox apparently did once they saw that film’s box office returns. It seems everybody is back for some misadventures in Thailand. Instead of pulled teeth, Ed Helms sports a tattoo on his face, while the trio encounters a monkey instead of a tiger. Will this be a retread or capture the fun of the original?

Kung Fu Panda 2 – Starring Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Gary Oldman, Seth Rogen, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Michelle Yeoh, Victor Garber, Dennis Haysbert, and James Hong. Directed by Jennifer Yuh (Spawn animated series).
Po must take on an old enemy.  This sequel is a bit interesting because, while the 2008 original was a hit, there has been zero hype or anticipation for the sequel from what I’ve seen. Animated films have been lacking so far this year, so here’s hoping Kung Fu Panda 2 changes that.

June 3:

X-Men: First Class – Starring Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Kevin Bacon, January Jones, Nicholas Hoult, Oliver Platt, and Ray Wise. Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass).
The second prequel to 2000’s X-Men (2009’s Wolverine was a spin-off prequel) tells the story of the friendship and fall-out of legendary mutant activists Professor X and Magneto. Judging from the trailer, fans of the comics and other films can kiss continuity goodbye. Beast, who appeared pre-fur in X-Men, turns as fuzzy as the Cookie Monster here and Emma Frost, who popped up in Wolverine, is now part of an underground club. Considering that and the fact that fans had a lot to complain about the past two X-Men films, First Class has more than just ‘60s-era prejudice to overcome. Will this be another The Last Stand? Or has producer Bryan Singer (X-Men) and director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) brought the franchise back to the days of X-Men United?

June 10:

Super 8 – Starring Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, and Noah Emmerich. Directed by J. J. Abrams (Star Trek).
A group of filmmaking kids witness the derailing of a train that just so happens to be carrying cargo from Area 51. A film directed by Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg that speaks both to their childhoods and their interest in sci-fi spectacle?! How can this not be awesome?! This is a project sure to please both film buffs and average moviegoers.

June 17:

Green Lantern – Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Starsgaard, Mark Strong, Michael Clarke Duncan, Geoffrey Rush, Tim Robbins, and Angela Bassett. Directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale).
DC comics is finally releasing a superhero film that isn’t about Batman or Superman (DC is owned by Warner Bros.). Green Lantern, about a pilot who is chosen to be Earth’s representative in an intergalactic police corp, is one of comics’ longest-lasting superheroes. Ryan Reynolds, a fanboy who has also been in talks to play The Flash and Marvel’s mercenary Deadpool, seems like the right guy to provide excitement and wonder to our galaxy’s defender. DC Comics could use the star power; if Green Lantern succeeds expect to see more of their heavy-hitters to finally reach the big screen in coming years.

June 24:

Cars 2 – Starring Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Bruce Campbell, Jason Isaacs, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro, John Ratzenberger, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Joe Mantegna, Eddie Izzard, and Cheech Marin. Directed by John Lasseter (Cars) and Brad Lewis (debut).
Maybe it was inevitable, but it seems Pixar, the animated studio known for being a house of endless ideas, has caught the sequelitis bug. Last year, Pixar released the second sequel to Toy Story, this year sees the release of this sequel to Cars, and a sequel to Monsters Inc. is coming down the pike next year. Will Cars 2 match the genius of the Toy Story sequels or will this giant of animation stumble? It’s tough to judge by the trailer, but for now, In Pixar I Trust.

July 1:

Transformers: Dark of the Moon – Starring Shia LeBouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Hugo Weaving, Patrick Dempsey, Leonard Nimoy, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, Frances McDormand, John Turturro, Alan Tudyk, Frank Welker, and Peter Cullen. Directed by Michael Bay (Transformers).
When we last saw these robots in disguise they engaged in a very chaotic and incoherent war. While widely considered one of the worst films of 2009, the film still became the summer’s biggest success. This time, Shia LeBeouf is in the middle of more mechanical madness, sans Megan Fox. It seems it may not matter if Bay learned from his last film’s mistakes and controversies (the film was accused of featuring racist and sexist content), these tin titans are positioned to rock your summer.

July 15:

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II – Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Felton, Bonnie Wright, Michael Gambon, Jason Isaacs, John Hurt, and Emma Thompson. Directed by David Yates (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince).
This may be the most anticipated film of the summer, if not the year. Harry and his friends must finish finding and destroying the horcruxes, those objects that hold parts of Voldemort’s soul. Meanwhile, everything is quite literally crashing down around them. Anybody looking for a good fantasy, a good family film, or just good entertainment will not want to miss this. Just be sure you’ve seen the rest of the series first.

Winnie the Pooh – Starring Jim Cummings, John Cleese, and Craig Ferguson. Directed by Stephen J. Anderson (Meet the Robinsons) and Don Hall (debut).
After years of disposable films, peppered with occasional hits like Bolt, Disney returns with a film that could take audiences back to the style of the classic Disney films. Details are vague, but the trailer would indicate Pooh and his friends are on an adventure close in feeling to the original A. A. Milne stories and told with a lot of warmth and basic 2D animation, with a few CG touches.

July 22:

Captain America: The First Avenger – Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Dominic Cooper, Hayley Atwell, Toby Jones, and Neal McDonough. Directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer).
Fingers are crossed for the second Marvel superhero film and the fourth superhero film of the summer. Being directed by a hit-and-miss filmmaker like Johnston – who has directed an early superhero hit (The Rocketeer) and a franchise-killer (Jurassic Park III) – leaves fans on wait-and-see status. Some relief came last month with the release of a new trailer, which seems to lean more toward The Rocketeer than the camp of the 1990 direct-to-video Captain America.

July 29:

Cowboys & Aliens – Starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown and Keith Carradine. Directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man).
Gunslingers have a close encounter with extraterrestrials in this adaptation of an obscure comic book. When you consider the concept of beings from another planet weren’t even grasped until the 20th century, the reaction these cowboys could have upon seeing an alien spacecraft could be very interesting. Having Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford as those cowboys can’t hurt either.

August 5:

Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Starring James Franco, Andy Serkis, Freida Pinto, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, and John Lithgow. Directed by Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist).
Here is a curious film: a movie that serves as a prequel to a film that is over forty years old – not the 2001 remake of said film. Who is the audience for this film? Fans of the original film series may recall that Conquest of the Planet of the Apes told the story of how the planet came to be ruled by those damn dirty apes. So, is this a remake of that film? Who was clamoring for a Planet of the Apes prequel anyway? Rise has its work cut out for it. We’ll find out soon if it can be considered a legitimate entry or another embarrassing cash-in.

August 12:

The Help – Starring Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, and Cicely Tyson. Directed by Tate Taylor (Pretty Ugly People).
This adaptation of the Kathryn Stockett best-selling novel about the conduct between blacks and whites in a 1960s southern town has become one of the most anticipated films of the summer (man, there are a lot of highly-anticipated films this season!). These sorts of movies are either simplified crowd-pleasers with paper-thin characters or truthful and nuanced performance-driven narratives punctuated by levity.  Check out the trailer below and see if you can determine which side of the fence The Help will fall into.

August 19:

Fright Night – Starring Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Toni Collette, and Imogen Poots. Directed by Craig Gillespie (Mr. Woodcock).
Colin Farrell steps into Chris Sarandon’s shoes as the vampire that moves next door to a suspicious teen who discovers his secret in this remake of the 1985 original. There’s been a glut of remakes of ‘80s films lately, especially in the horror genre. Usually the rule of thumb that Hollywood ignores is to only remake the bad movies. Fright Night was a modest hit, earning more than double its budget and still earns a 6.8/10 on IMDB. Yet most people who aren’t horror buffs may not remember it. I, myself, am only now catching up to it on DVD. Is this another example of a classic being needlessly exhumed? Or is this a film with room for improvement? We’ll see if Farrell, Yelchin, and the director of Lars and the Real Girl can offer a superior version.


August 26:

Our Idiot Brother – Starring Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Hugh Dancy, Rashida Jones, and Adam Scott. Directed by Jesse Peretz (The Ex).
An aloof idealist barges into the lives of his three sisters. Our Idiot Brother debuted at the Sundance Film Festival to decent – not glowing – reviews. The acting talent would indicate a lot of promise. Perhaps the writing and directing talent is what kept the critics from rolling in the aisles: screenwriters Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall have never written a script (Schisgall has directed two documentaries while Peretz makes her debut here) and director Jesse Peretz’s last film, The Ex, was an all-around failure. Will there be enough laughs and draw in the cast to close out the summer season with a hit?

Other releases:

5/6 – Last Night (Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington)

5/6 – Passion Play (Mickey Rourke, Megan Fox)

5/13 – Everything Must Go (Will Ferrell)

5/13 – Hesher (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

5/13 – The High Cost of Living (Zach Braff)

5/13 – Priest (Paul Bettany)

5/20 – Midnight in Paris (Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams)

5/27 – The Tree of Life (Brad Pitt, Sean Penn)

6/3 – Beginners (Christopher Plummer, Ewan McGregor)

6/3 – Love, Wedding, Marriage (Mandy Moore)

6/10 – Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (Heather Graham, Jaleel White)

6/17 – The Art of Getting By (Emma Roberts, Freddie Highmore)

6/17 – Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Jim Carrey)

6/24 – Bad Teacher – (Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake)

7/1 – Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts)

7/8 – Horrible Bosses (Jason Bateman, Kevin Spacey)

7/8 – One Day (Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess)

7/8 – Zookeeper (Kevin James, Rosario Dawson)

7/22 – Friends with Benefits (Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis)

7/29 – Crazy, Stupid, Love (Emma Stone, Steve Carell)

7/29 – The Smurfs (Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azaria)

8/5 – The Change-Up (Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds)

8/12 – 30 Minutes or Less (Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari)

8/12 – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce)

8/19 – Conan the Barbarian (Jason Momoa, Rose McGowan)

8/19 – Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World (Jessica Alba, Jeremy Piven)

8/31 – The Debt (Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington)

Wow, there’s a lot to look forward to this summer, especially if you’re a fan of superhero films or comedies! While not all of these movies are going to be great, I think it is safe to say we’re heading into a much more promising summer this year than last year.

What are you looking forward to most? Don’t forget to take the poll to the right or leave a comment either here, Facebook, or email to