Chris Hemsworth

Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase 1

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Regular readers of Taking The Short View can hardly have missed my many mentions of how far behind I have fallen in my viewing ot the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. For the record, those are the 22 movies to date that have been produced by Marvel Studios in-house since 2008, as opposed to those made under license by other companies such as Sony’s Spider-Man entries and Fox’s X-Men, Deadpool and Fantastic Four films.

After falling off the MCU wagon very early on, I was never quite able to catch up and climb back on. I always intended to do so when I had the time, but the longer it went on the bigger the task became and the more I put it off – especially when the films accelerated from at most a couple per year to the current three or four in rapid succession. The latest, Avengers: Endgame came out just six weeks after Captain Marvel while its predecessor was still in the UK Box Office top three.

Locked out of the main continuity I limited myself to watching those films such as Guardians of the Galaxy that didn’t connect directly into the overarching MCU narrative. But they became few and far between, and when I finally totted up which of the MCU films I had seen, the situation was even worse than I had realised: of those 22 films, I had seen … Four. Ouch. Or epic fail, you might say. Clearly something had to be done! So the last few weeks I’ve been trying to address the situation, viewing an MCU film on average every other week with the aim being to get through the first six films which between them comprise what is currently referred to as Phase 1 of Marvel’s remarkable franchise.

And now I’m here to send dispatches from the front line of that ongoing catch-up campaign. I should add that there are spoilers, but given that these films are so old that they are practically historical texts I dare say that this won’t trouble any up-to-date reader. Read the rest of this entry »

Blackhat (2015) [DVD]

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blackhat-posterBack in the 1980s and 90s, Michael Mann was one of the best and most exciting directors working in Hollywood. His canon of impressive work includes Thief, Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider and Collateral. In the last decade however he seems to have been semi-retired, unwisely revisiting his TV glory days with a big screen version of Miami Vice in 2006 and then having slightly more luck with Public Enemies in 2009. The new global cyberterrorism thriller Blackhat is his first film in six years, and the rust shows – badly.

When your opening sequence involving a nuclear reactor going into meltdown after being remotely hacked ends up feeling dull and anti-climactic, you must surely know that you have a problem. For the first half hour a witless plot is perfunctorily sketched in with no detail or conviction, while the Mann we knew and loved of old seems startlingly absent. He’s apparently content overseeing some electron microscope FX scenes of packets of information scurrying across microchips and down cable wires that might have been eye-catching 20 years ago but which now just seem dated and tiresome. Read the rest of this entry »

Rush (2013) [Blu-ray]

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It’s surprising that despite any number of action films featuring high speed car chases over the years, the genre of motor racing movies has never really taken off. There’s John Frankenheimer’s gold standard Grand Prix in 1966 and Steve McQueen’s Le Mans five years later; the comedic The Cannonball Run in the Eighties and early Tom Cruise vehicle Days of Thunder in 1990. The less said about Sylvester Stallone’s witless Driven in 2001 the better – at least the kid’s CGI animated Turbo was intentionally laugh-out-loud funny. But overall that’s still very meagre pickings for five decades of motion picture making, compared to six entries in the Fast and Furious franchise alone since the turn of the millennium.

Formula 1 also has a particular problem gaining traction in the box office by virtue of being something of a non-entity in the all-important United States, where it’s all about the stock car racing these days. The excellent documentary Senna was something of a niche hit stateside a couple of years ago, but Rush proves that the US still isn’t ready for a full F1 blockbuster,. Despite very good reviews it failed to do great business in the US even though it stars Thor star Chris Hemsworth and is helmed by A-list director Ron Howard. The film did everything it could to be open and accessible to all and not just to petrol heads, but sadly the crowds remained resolutely disinterested.

Their loss, the rest of the world’s gain, because this is a terrific movie – not just for motor racing geeks like myself, but for anyone who likes a well crafted film with a top notch script focussing on two compelling, flawed and completely contrasting personalities. Read the rest of this entry »

Thor (2011) [DVD]

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When I originally heard that Kenneth Branagh had been selected as the director of a Marvel Superhero film, I thought it was a very odd choice indeed. Still best known for his Shakespearian productions (both on stage and on celluloid), Branagh is hardly the person you would expect to be doing a big-budget all-action summer Hollywood blockbuster.

Having finally seen the end result this weekend, all I can say is that he still seems a very odd choice for it. But ‘odd’ is by no means necessarily a bad thing, and there are certain aspects to Thor that play impressively well to Branagh’s strengths and which few other filmmakers could have pulled off nearly as successfully as he does; but at the same time there are other parts of the film where his apparent lack of interest in empty bombast and action for its own sake really does tell, leaving some oddly hollow sections.

First the good stuff: the film’s version of Asgard, the legendary home of the Norse Gods, is truly spectacular. Beautifully and imaginatively designed and exceptionally well captured by Branagh, his director of photography and the SFX team, this was one of the most convincing and jaw-dropping creations I’ve seen on screen for many a year. The architecture is epic but moreover cohesive, and it has a real sense of grandeur to it while also looking like a true work of art. Read the rest of this entry »