Tag Archives: Chris Hemsworth

The Hateful Eight: Worst Movies of 2015

In all honesty, “The Hateful Eight” has nothing to do with this post.

Director Quentin Tarantino’s latest is bound to be interesting, if not brilliant.

My apologies to Tarantino, but the title just fit. I couldn’t resist. While it’s great to revisit the best films of a given year, it’s even more fun to rehash the very worst Hollywood had to offer.

So without further ado, here are the eight most reprehensible movies I sat through in 2015. (In no particular order of atrociousness.)

Don’t bother streaming or buying them. If you let curiosity get the better of you, you’ll only regret it.

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1. Blackhat: Chris Hemsworth is woefully miscast as a basement-dwelling rogue hacker who also happens to possess Jason Bourne-like survival skills. Director Michael Mann lets the audience down in almost every way possible, from the ridiculous storyline and uneven pacing, to an unconvincing romance and lackluster style.

2. Jupiter Ascending: “Matrix” directors Andy and Lana Wachowski seem to get more and more out there with each film they make. This one is so cartoonishly bizarre, it’s hard to believe someone actually gave it the greenlight: Channing Tatum stars as a half-man, half-dog guardian being and Mila Kunis’ “chosen one” falls for him, while Eddie Redmayne hams it up as the baddie and hopes no one remembers this after seeing “The Theory of Everything.”

3. The Gunman: In a year that brought us Rey and Furiosa, not to mention dozens of other strong cinematic heroines, the oblivious sexism of this testosterone-fueled Sean Penn vanity project is too blatant to be believed. To make matters worse, the thriller is basically “The Bourne Identity” crossed with the extreme violence, silliness and international slumming-it of “Taken.”

4. Black Sea: A movie about a ragtag submarine crew on a secret mission to find treasure at the bottom of the Black Sea sounds awesome, right? Especially if the sub is manned by a crew of sturdy character actors, like Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn. Thanks to a script that piles on one ridiculous, relentlessly dark plot twist after another, this deep sea suspenser proves us terribly wrong, with a little help from Jude Law’s sketchy Scottish accent.

IAMCHAPPIE

5. Chappie: The stinky badness of Neill Blomkamp’s latest dystopian drama is harder to bear when you consider how much promise this project held. This is the visionary writer-director of “District 9” we’re talking about. The film features a robot protagonist whose creation is a marvel of visual effects and an endearing mo-cap performance by Blomkamp’s favorite partner in crime, Sharlto Copley. It stars first lady of sci-fi Sigourney Weaver for Ridley’s sake. And yet, “Chappie” is full of insulting stereotypes and just doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a monumental disappointment.

6. Terminator Genisys: James Cameron’s now classic saga of evil cyber villain Skynet and the scrappy human resistance group that fights back was amazing the first couple of times, but does anyone gives a T-1000’s patootie anymore? Apparently, not even the makers of “Terminator Genisys” cared enough to even try to make us care. Aging Arnold Schwarzenegger and his hair plugs are the only ones who bother to inject some life into this slog of a sci-fi reboot.

7. Fantastic Four: Despite an excellent young cast and an attempt to bring some gravitas to the classic comic book foursome’s movie mythology, studio meddling, a tumultuous production, and a troubled young director added up to an epic failure for the lucrative Marvel brand. (In fairness, the film was made by Twentieth Century Fox, not Marvel Studios.) This is going to be a tough mess for the quartet of superheroes to get themselves out of.

8. Southpaw: I’m not the hugest fan of “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua anyway. Subtlety is not his strong suit, but this maudlin mashup of sentimentality and thug-life machismo is his most laughable film yet. You can tell star Jake Gyllenhaal is gunning for an Oscar nomination, but despite his impressively beefed-up physique, he’s more than a little unconvincing as a boxer with a rough background and anger management issues who rises to fame, then falls from it, then rises again after a tragedy as contrived as the movie’s script.

HEADER Southpaw

 

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‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Full of Fun Surprises

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Three stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction; suggestive comments)
141 minutes

Thor, Captain America and Iron Man may be the flashiest, most popular Avengers but they’re also, arguably, the least compelling members of Marvel’s superhero collective.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has fabulous hair, a big hammer and wrestles with Shakespearean family drama.

Captain America (Chris Evans) is decent and square and also kinda sad that everyone he ever knew and loved is now dead.

Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, is Steve Jobs with better hair, nicer clothes, more charm and an obsession with technology that is both an asset and an Achilles heel.

These guys are great and all, but they’ve each starred in at least two solo movies apiece. By now, we know pretty much everything there is to know about them.

So it’s an unexpected pleasure that “Avengers 2: Age of Ultron” devotes its attention to characters who spent a lot of time lingering in the background in 2002’s “Avengers.”

At last, we discover everything we’ve ever wanted to know about Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), the stoic archer who skulked through the “Avengers” in a Loki-induced trance.

We also find out just what is going on between him and lethal assassin Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who piqued our curiosity with the tiny gold arrow she wore around her neck in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

The relationship isn’t quite what we expected and that’s half the fun of “Age of Ultron.” The movie brims with enjoyable little surprises, from cameo appearances by minor characters to clever winks to previous Marvel outings.

The Hulk finds romance. Black Widow gets to be vulnerable as well as spectacularly lethal. Maria Hill actually cracks a few jokes (only natural considering she’s played by funny-girl Cobie Smulders).

Jarvis the computer, who has always been one of Iron Man’s most sharply sketched personalities, thanks to Paul Bettany’s tart voice work, undergoes a delightful evolution.

If the Marvel movie franchise has become an almost impossibly tangled web, director Joss Whedon is a nimble spider, spinning off dozens of new plot threads, wrapping up neat, little moments for a vast ensemble of characters, deftly interweaving CGI spectacle and satisfying emotion. This is movie-making on an unprecedented, gargantuan scale. It’s no wonder the guy needs a break.

When it comes to theme, “Age of Ultron” doesn’t break much new ground. United, the Avengers stand. Divided … well, not so much.

The glories of the team’s combined might are illustrated in a prologue that sees the superheroes working in perfect harmony as they ambush a Hydra base in the snowy woods of the fictional Eastern European nation of Sokovia.

Our band of heroes emerge victorious with a new toy for Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to play with, containing one of the infamous infinity stones that Marvel villains are always after. They also acquire a pair of new enemies, eerily gifted Sokovian twins played by Emily Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

When Tony starts poking into the infinity stone’s properties, back at the shiny S.H.I.E.L.D lab — or at least the corrupted organization formerly known as S.H.I.E.L.D — he discovers alien technology perfectly suited to realizing his pet project: an artificial intelligence program powerful enough to enforce world peace.

Without bothering to consult the other Avengers, Stark talks the skeptical Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) into helping him create the super program known as Ultron. Apparently, these guys have never seen “The Terminator,” because the being they spawn is a malevolent, red-eyed robot who misinterprets his mission to disastrous effect.

Once again, the Avengers begin to doubt each other, especially as Olsen’s Scarlet Witch — a welcome new female presence in the testosterone-filled Marvel landscape — unleashes her witchy powers of mind control upon them, causing them to relive painful pasts and envision future fears.

Leading the clash of consciences are Stark and The Cap, whose dueling philosophies on power and peace put them deeply at odds. (Could this be the beginning of a certain Civil War?)

At this point, the Marvel universe has become so complicated — spanning multiple galaxies, planets, dimensions and eras — that plot almost ceases to be relevant.

While I enjoyed nearly every minute of “Age of Ultron,” I felt at times as if my grasp on the whole thing was slipping. Who could say exactly what was happening at any given moment?

I don’t think it’s just me and my sometimes foggy, sleep-deprived brain, either. My theory is that, at this point, only the Marvel script supervisors know precisely what is going on.

Still, there’s a familiarity that anchors us.

Elements of “Beauty and the Beast” can be found in the movie’s unlikely central romance, even if the coupling comes out of left field.

There are shades of the “Frankenstein” myth in Ultron, who proves to be one of Marvel’s more fascinating baddies, thanks to James Spader’s acerbic vocalization.

As lofty, and perhaps unachievable, as its ambitions are, it isn’t the money-shot action sequences that ground “Age of Ultron.”

The film is at its headiest and most thrilling when it puts the mayhem on pause for the sake of intimate interactions between its god-like heroes — trading war stories at a party, licking their wounds after retreating to a remote farmhouse.

The Avengers are most endearing when they are most human.

 

 

 

This Weekend, See ‘Sniper,’ Skip ‘Blackhat’

My fellow moviegoers, is there anything more depressing than the fourth weekend in January when Hollywood inflicts its questionable choices upon us in a three-day period we’ll spend the rest of the year trying to forget?

Yes, this Friday brings us a disconcerting assortment of future Razzie nominees, including “Mortdecai,” “The Boy Next Door,” “Strange Magic” and “Spare Parts.”

My advice? Forget this weekend ever happened. Or take the opportunity to catch up on films you may have missed.

If you’re brave enough to venture forth on this, the worst moviegoing weekend of the year, I salute you and offer one film to avoid like the plague and another to warmly embrace.

Godspeed, my friends.

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Blackhat
One and a half stars (out of four)
R (violence, language, and apparently the MPAA fell asleep during this movie because there’s a pretty obvious sexual situation, too)
133 minutes

You probably don’t need me to tell you not to bother with “Blackhat,” director Michael Mann’s cyberterrorism thriller.

According to Box Office Mojo, the film earned a paltry $3.8 million over opening weekend, making it the worst showing for Mann since 1986’s “Manhunter.” That’s also the one of the worst debuts of all time for a movie playing in more than 2,500 theaters.

Still, lest you be tempted to give it a shot …

Let’s start with the film’s star, Chris Hemsworth. The strapping, young lead of “Thor” and “The Avengers” is certainly an arresting presence, and 2013’s “Rush” proved he’s more than just a pretty face, capable of radiating cocky intelligence.

But I draw the line at “Blackhat’s” depiction of Hemsworth as Nick Hathaway, a rogue hacker doing hard time in a maximum security prison for past crimes. It’s beyond laughable that a dude who spends his waking hours in front of a computer screen would ever look as smolderingly sexy as Hathaway. It’s also highly unlikely he’d display the range of Jason Bourne-like skills he demonstrates throughout the film, including expertly firing a handgun in an insane shootout and infiltrating the site of a nuclear meltdown.

Sadly, the blatant miscasting of Hemsworth and the increasingly ridiculous situations he finds himself in are just two of the movie’s flaws. The film gets off to an excruciatingly slow start and its stakes are too vaguely defined for us to care much whether Hathaway succeeds in stopping a presumed cyberterrorist before he strikes again, creating international havoc.

Mann spends too much time on a completely unconvincing romance between Hathaway and the sister (Wei Tang) of a Chinese security expert (Leehom Wang) who happens to be the hacker’s former roommate. Meanwhile, more interesting characters languish in the background, like Viola Davis’ tenacious FBI agent.

As is his trademark, the director crafts several brutally kinetic action sequences, but on a visual level, “Blackhat” doesn’t rise to the gritty style befitting the helmer of “Collateral” and “Heat.” The movie is a letdown in almost every way possible.

AmericanSniper

American Sniper
Three stars (out of four)
R (strong and disturbing war violence, sexual references)
132 minutes

You probably don’t need me to tell you to see “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood’s biopic of Navy Seal and deadliest-sniper-in-history Chris Kyle.

The drama struck a chord with moviegoers nationwide, topping last weekend’s box office with a record-breaking $89.5 million. When I went to see it Monday, the house was packed, the audience remained in their seats through most of the end credits and a respectful hush fell over the crowd when they left the theater. Such a reverent response is a rare thing to witness at the local cineplex.

Perhaps the movie resonates because there have been few heroes celebrated in more than a decade of murky Middle Eastern wars. Eastwood’s take on Kyle’s life, deeds and philosophy has stirred controversy but the film is surprisingly complex, a celebration of heroism, yes, but one that acknowledges the shattered minds and bodies war leaves in its wake.

At the heart of the film’s success is a modest, truly magnificent performance by Bradley Cooper, portraying Kyle as a man of simple but strong convictions, a walking contradiction — a warrior ruthless and tender. Eastwood’s very first shot of Cooper isn’t subtle — he’s wearing a white cowboy hat — but it firmly establishes the character, a proud Texan who views the good and evil in this world in stark black and white.

There have been complaints that “American Sniper” glorifies an “unrepentant killer,” but Cooper has never been softer or more vulnerable than he is here, even as his burlier, hairier appearance makes him physically imposing in a way that’s startling. With his slick, shark-like charm, the actor isn’t known for disappearing into a role, but he does this time, powerfully channeling Kyle’s anguish at the disconnect between deployment and domesticity. This is by far the best performance in the career of an actor who has just begun to find his way, judging by his recent turns in “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.”

Some critics have faulted the film, and Eastwood, for declining to make a political statement about America’s messy involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but perhaps they’re missing the point. The director has always been adept at painting gripping portraits of men of violence. In “Sniper,” he delivers a series of graphic, suspenseful missions — some fictionalized — with considerable grit and technical prowess.

More compellingly, he engages in an unexpectedly bold and sensitive discussion of topics that remain largely out of sight and out of mind — things like PTSD and the suffering and neglect of wounded vets.

Is “American Sniper” a perfect film? No, but it is an important one.

Photos: wqyk.com, zdnet.com