Tag Archives: Chris Hemsworth

Who You Gonna Call?

New gender-flipping ‘Ghostbusters’ confronts critics—then gets down to funny business

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Ghostbusters
Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon & Leslie Jones
Directed by Paul Feig
PG-13

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?

The Ghostbusters, of course! But which ones? The latest, if you haven’t heard, are an all-female crew headed by Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, with Saturday Night Live cast mates Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones.

Months before the new Ghostbusters movie was finished, some people didn’t like the idea of anybody futzing with the iconic 1984 original, starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis—and especially, apparently, changing the gender roles. The first trailer for the film ignited a firestorm of online trolling and ugly sexist criticism, mostly about bringing women into an all-boy’s club.

The new movie confronts its critics head-on, in a scene where the new Ghostbusters see the doubtful—and hateful—comments underneath online clips of the first spooks they’ve ever captured on video.

“You’re shouldn’t even be reading this,” Abby (McCartney) tells her colleague Erin (Wiig). “You’re not supposed to listen to what crazy people write in the middle of the night.”

Melissa McCarthy;Kristen Wiig;Kate McKinnon;Leslie JonesThen it’s back to funny business—and girls busting ghosts.

Mixing fresh new gags with respectful retro riffs, director and co-writer Paul Feig lets his funny bone point the way, as he demonstrated in BridesmaidsThe Heat and Spy. And he’s working with a cast of comedic dynamos. Wiig’s delightfully dry, droll wit is a perfect complement to McCartney’s bigger, brasher, bawdy physical bravura. They haven’t teamed up for a project since Bridesmaids, and it’s great to see them collaborating again.

Chris Hemsworth

Chris Hemsworth

Leslie Jones gets plenty of laughs as Patty, a subway worker with a knack for Big Apple history who becomes the fourth Ghostbuster. Chris “Thor” Hemsworth seems to be having a ball as the gals’ office “himbo” receptionist, perhaps relishing the opportunity to parody his own macho movie image and the film’s flip of gender roles in general.

But it’s Kate McKinnon who practically steals the show. Her wacky, tech-crazy, live-wire lab-nut weapons wonk feels somewhat of a nod to Dan Aykryod’s character in the original, but she takes it to a totally new place in a unique role that may break her out beyond her hilarious SNL skits.

The plot: Yes, there is one, but it’s hardly worth mentioning. There are fleeting cameos by former Ghostbusters stars and other folks too, including Ozzy Osborne, who shows up at a heavy metal concert. So does a big, bad winged ghost demon. The audience loves it—rock and roll!

It all rises to a screaming crescendo, wobbles and then kind of falls apart, when all the ghosts come out to wreck havoc on the streets and there’s a big, swirling special-effects vortex, a bunch of goop and goo, a parade of giant ghost balloons and appearances by Ghostbusters Hall-of-Fame specters.

Definitely stay for the credits, though, and beyond, because this is one movie that’s not over until it’s over—completely over. And when it is, as the final version of the familiar theme music (this time by Fall Out Boy and Missy Elliot) plays out and makes your toes tap, the message is clear: For good, ghostly summertime fun with a strong dose of freewheeling 2016 girl power, who you gonna call? You know who!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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S’no Go

Muddled ‘Snow White’ prequel-sequel mash-up can’t find its way

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron

Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

PG-13

Hey Snow, where’d you go?

In 2012, Snow White and the Huntsman gave the age-old fairy tale a sassy new action-y feminist twist, with Kristin Stewart as the feisty, fair-skinned maiden—foretold by the Magic Mirror to be the loveliest in the land—and Chris Hemsworth as the evil queen’s “huntsman” ordered to take her into the woods and kill her.

Of course, things didn’t quite work out that way—and now we have The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a sequel. Actually it’s a prequel. Well, I think it’s a little of both, and a mash-up of several other things, too, and quite a bit of an all-around muddled mess.

Jessica Chastain

And Snow White seems to have wisely decided to steer clear from it all. So there’s no Snow in this Huntsman, unless you count the times she’s mentioned by name. But the movie certainly isn’t hurting for other talent. Hemsworth is back, and so is Charlize Theron as the wicked monarch Ravenna. Emily Blunt is newly aboard as Ravenna’s sister Freya, turned into a cruel “ice queen” by an act of heartless treachery. Jessica Chastain is Sara, who like Hemsworth’s rebellious Huntsman, grew up as an abducted child soldier forced to serve in Freya’s army of marauders.

British comedic actors Nick Frost and Rob Brydon, shrunk to wee size by the modern magic of digital effects, play a pair of dwarf brothers who provide most of the chuckles in this otherwise dull and dreary trek through a disjointed plot that feels like someone threw bits of Game of Thrones, Disney’s Frozen, Lord of the Rings and The Wizard of Oz into a blender with some crushed ice, black goo and gold flecks, then set it to puree.

Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron

If you’re into ornate costumes, you might dig the over-the-top duds in which Blunt and Theron get to vamp. In the couple of scenes they’re together, I kept wishing Cher would suddenly appear—maybe descending from the ceiling—for a full-on Las Vegas revue.

The storybook decor is lush and quite lovely, especially when the Huntsman, Sara, the two dwarves and their special-effect dwarf dates (Alexandra Roach and Sheridan Smith) take a day trip to Goblin Land, or something like that, to retrieve the purloined Magic Mirror, which looks like a huge polished cymbal from a music store. Some of the location filming was done in England’s Windsor Great Park, although I’m pretty sure you won’t find any big, blue ape-men, giant moss-covered snakes or tiny florescent flying fairies there.

Not campy and gonzo enough to be real fun, nor dark and dangerous enough to qualify as truly grim, this is instead a drab, disjointed stab by a first-time feature director who, bless his heart, can’t seem to find his target in all the icy, FX-laden glop. The best—and most amazing—thing about it by far is its all-star, A-list cast, all of whom who gamely give it their best in the service of something clearly less than “the fairest of them all.”

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Thar She Blows

‘In The Heart of the Sea’ is one whopper of a whale tale

HEART OF THE SEA

In the Heart of the Sea

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Brendan Gleeson & Tom Holland

Directed by Ron Howard

PG-13

No one who’s read Moby-Dick can forget when the stunned first mate, spying the great white whale for the first time, turns to captain Ahab, like he’s just seen a ghost. “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” he informs him.

No, wait—I’m confusing my culture and my pop culture. It’s easy to do. Director Ron Howard kinda-sorta mixes it up a bit, too, in telling the story of the (true) story that inspired author Herman Melville to write the (fictional) story that became the (familiar) story we all know as the biggest, baddest whale tale of all time.

Ben Whishaw as budding novelist Herman Melville

In the Heart of the Sea begins with a young Melville (Ben Whishaw, who plays gadget-master Q in the new James Bond movies) coming to visit crusty Tom Nickerson (veteran Irish actor Brendan Gleeson). The fledgling writer wants to coax from the old salt the truth about a doomed whaling ship, the Essex, its encounter with a legendary monster from the deep—an alabaster-white demon of a whale—and the adrift-at-sea horrors endured by the surviving members of the crew before they were finally rescued.

Chris Hemsworth

Nickerson was an orphaned lad (played by Tom Holland) when he shipped out on the Essex, to which we’re introduced as the movie switches into flashback mode as it prepares set sail in 1820. The capable Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) was promised he’d be put in charge, but a squeeze on whale-oil supply-and-demand pressure Essex company men to appoint their benefactor’s under-qualified, over- gentrified son, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), as captain. So Chase reluctantly signs on as first mate, promising his pregnant wife (Michelle Fairley) he’ll be home soon—maybe a year instead of two, in 19th century whaling terms.

Once the Essex hits the open water, the movie hits its stride—especially if you’re a fan of old-fashioned seafaring-adventure epics. The heavy canvas of the sails swells with the wind; ropes whip, whap and whoosh; metal clangs; swarthy men holler, hustle and clamber; and, of course, there’s water, water everywhere.

The whaling scenes are special-effect marvels. Howard melds the rush of adrenalized excitement, the ever-present, life-or-death danger, and the existential melancholy of slaying such magnificent creatures to provide oil to “fuel the machines of industry and move our great nation forward,” as a clergyman prays.

And heaven forbid you get stuck with blowhole-reaming detail.

When the gigantic white whale finally makes an appearance, well, it’s very bad news. And then things just keep going from bad to worse, to unspeakable.

It’s hard to look at Chris Hemsworth and not see Thor, the movie role with which he’s most associated, especially when the drama takes a deep, desperate dive into darker places. (Forget the harpoon—just break out your hammer, dude!) It’s hard not to sympathize with, or root for the whales, after seeing them impaled and bloodied with iron toggles, spikes and spires, and knowing that some of them have now been hunted now to near extinction.

And it’s impossible to miss the movie’s undertone, which eventually becomes its overtone: Yesterday’s whale oil is today’s petroleum, and humans are still driven to the ends of Earth to get it. Howard’s history-based high-seas yarn has a contemporary message about hubris, greed and resource exploitation that resonates today by land or by sea.

“We are kings, circumventing the globe,” boasts captain Pollard. “To bend nature is our right.” His first mate disagrees—we are but mere “specks,” Chase counters, compared to the vastness of the world, the unfathomable mysteries of the sea, and the monstrous majesty of a creature that can smash a ship into splinters.

They really do need a bigger boat—and sometimes, don’t we all?

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Rocky Road

New ‘Vacation’ a raunchy retread of a comedy classic

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Vacation

Starring Ed Helms & Christina Applegate

Directed by John Frances Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein

R

Thirty-two years later, it’s time for another Vacation.

The first one, for those of us who remember it fondly, was National Lampoon’s Vacation, and starred Chevy Chase in the now-classic tale of a family’s cross-country misadventures on their trek to visit the wacky theme park Wally World.

The “National Lampoon” is gone from the title, but the basic structure remains in this raunchy reboot. Ed Helms stars as Rusty Griswold, the now-adult son of Chevy Chase’s character. Rusty wants to recapture the memories of his childhood by giving his wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) and their two kids the same vacation experience he had as a youth.

His idea: Pack up the fam and head to Wally World!

“You just want to redo your vacation from 30 years ago?” asks Debbie, doubtful.

“The new vacation will stand on its own!” declares Rusty, rarin’ to go.

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Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo

If only. Everything about the new Vacation invites comparison to the old—and not for the better. The setup is the same, gags in the new movie are throwbacks to the original—a sexy babe in a convertible, the Griswolds’ uncool monstrosity of a station wagon—the peppy “Holiday Road” theme song from Lindsay Buckingham opens and closes the show, and Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, his co-star in the 1983 Vacation and three sequels, make appearances.

The new Vacation has moments of mirth, yes, but the most distinctive “stand” it takes, alas, seems to be in its determination to get dirtier, darker, grosser and more all-around ickier than any Vacation before. When the Griswolds take a dip in what they believe to be a natural hot springs and it turns out to be something much nastier, you’ll giggle, but you’ll also gag. And you’ll only get cold chills when a creepy truck driver (Norman Reedus from TV’s The Walking Dead) explains why he keeps a dirty teddy bear tied to the grill of his rig.

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Chris Hemsworth

At a stopover in Texas to visit Rusty’s sister (Leslie Mann) and her cattleman-stud husband, Chris Hemsworth hams it up with a prosthetic body part that can barely stay in his jockey shorts (and doesn’t, later). Rusty’s youngest son (Steele Stebbins) continuously pelts his older brother (Skyler Gisondo) with sexual putdowns.

Pop-up appearances by a host of celebrity guests—Charlie Day, Keegan-Michael Key, Nick Kroll, Michael Peña, Collin Hanks, Ron Livingston—are brief zaps and zings of gonzo electricity. And they’re the best things about the movie, which forces so much indignity and so many crass jokes upon its headliners, and which has so little of the wildly subversive sparkle that made its predecessor a classic.

It took two directors and a pair of writers to roadmap this rocky retread. It’s just too bad that, after all these years, it gets such disappointing movie mileage.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Super-Stuffed

New ‘Avengers’ is full of most everything—including itself

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson & Jeremy Renner

Directed by Josh Whedon

PG-13

Summer is when Hollywood rolls out its big guns, and this star-packed, superhero-stuffed eruption certainly starts things off with a bang.

The second movie in Marvel’s Avengers franchise, it’s full of just about everything, including itself. It’s got all six of the do-gooders from the first movie, plus a couple of newbies. It’s dense with character backstories, relationship dramas and plot points that zip and zing in every direction, including forward—to more movies to come—and backward, riffing on things that happened in previous ones. It begins with one extended mega-wallop of a fight, a castle siege in a snowy forest, and ends with an even larger one, on a crumbling island city in the sky. And it crams even more in between, including a dyna-whopper that rips up most of Manhattan.

I imagine insurance premiums for the Avengers are through the roof.

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James Spader provides the voice of Ultron.

Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) band together again, this time to fight an evil, smack-talking robot, Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who quotes the Bible and sings a ditty from Pinocchio as he goes about his mission of global annihilation.

Two new characters, the genetically altered twins Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), also come aboard—but only after playing freaky and fast for the other team first. Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Stellan Skarsgård, Anthony Mackie and Cobie Smulders return for cameos. Look—there’s Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings! Paul Bettany, previously unseen as the voice of Tony Stark’s computer system, Jarvis, materializes anew as a floating, red-faced uber-android named Vision.

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Paul Bettany

If you’re a Marvelite, you’ll probably be in fan-gasm heaven. Otherwise, you might find the constant, crashing swirl and whirl of imagery and the barrage of inside references overwhelming and exhausting.

The cast is top-notch, and returning writer-director Josh Whedon packs the script and the screen with cleverness as well as ka-pow. But even at a lengthy 141 minutes, things still feel jammed and crammed. All the busy CGI huffing and puffing make the quieter moments stand out even more, like a scene in which the other Avengers, a bit tipsy after a party, humorously try (unsuccessfully) to lift Thor’s hammer from a coffee table, or the romantic subplot between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner, in which she reveals a deep secret about her past and he painfully admits why his raging alter ego makes him less than ideal as a boyfriend.

It’s all part of the Marvel long game, a studiously crafted, mega-million-dollar maneuver in which comic-book characters are morphed from page to screen, connected, separated, then re-combined in various combos for a seemingly endless chain of box-office catnip. Coming up: Ant Man on July 15, a new Captain America next summer, the third Thor plus Dr. Strange in 2017 and another Avengers in 2018.

“Someone’s been playing an intricate game and made pawns of all of us,” muses Thor as Ultron draws to a close. True that, in more ways than one.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Life in the Fast Lane

Director Ron Howard’s ’70s racing rivalry is a hip, sexy crowd pleaser

Rush

Rush

Blu-ray + DVD $34.98 / DVD $19.96 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

Director Ron Howard’s thrilling recreation of the real-life rivalry between two 1970s professional racecar drivers, English daredevil playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and straight-laced Australian Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), is a hip, cool-running crowd-pleaser set in the daring, dangerous golden age of Grand Prix racing. Olivia Wilde has a knockout supporting role as a globetrotting fashion model, and generous bonus features on the Blu-ray combo include a several mini-documentaries, including one on how Howard and his crew created the illusion of filming all over the world while shooting mostly in the United Kingdom, and another on the movie’s sexy flashback style.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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It’s Hammer Time…Again

Super-fans will get their fix, but everyone else might feel like this ‘Thor’ is just ‘more’

thor251e6e6b3ae340Thor: The Dark World

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman & Tim Hiddleston

Directed by Alan Taylor

PG-13, 112 min.

It’s hammer time again as Marvel Comics’ mallet-wielding Norse god of thunder makes his third appearance on the big screen.

Chris Hemsworth returns to the starring role and strides confidently into the story, which builds on elements from the first Thor (2011) as well as the The Avengers (2012), in which Thor joined with his fellow Marvel do-gooders Iron Man, Captain America and The Hulk.

Superhero franchise flicks have become big booming business, in case you haven’t noticed. All the ones based on Marvel characters start with a “flip-book” montage of Marvel iconography and end with teasers during and/or after the credits promoting upcoming movies, and the plots of most of them are already working ahead, spinning threads on storylines in the making and setting up new characters.

In this movie, as he does in every movie based on one of his characters, Marvel’s founder Stan Lee makes his obligatory cameo, and an Avenger pops in for a cameo. And now there’s a TV show, The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., about characters spun off from the movies that spun off from the comic books.

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman

Maybe that’s why this movie often feels like one big, expensive promotion, and the main dramatic driving force of this Thor just seems to be “more.”

Superhero fans will probably get their fix, but everyone else could easily feel like they’re being hammered into submission by a major marketing plan.

The characters are the same as be-Thor…I mean before. There’s the blonde-haired astro-Nordic beefcake himself; Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), the beautiful, brainy Earth scientist who loves him; his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), the king of the cosmic kingdom of Asgard; Thor’s resentful step-brother, the treacherous trickster Loki (Tim Hiddleston); and an assortment of returning supporting players, including Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgård, Rene Russo, and Kat Dennings from TV’s 2 Broke Girls.

The story’s…well, if not the same, more of the same: Something catastrophic will happen if Thor doesn’t stop it. In this case, it’s an evil force called the Aether in the hands of Dark Elves who want to use it to seriously gunk up the universe.

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As the ensuing computer-generated battle rages across the vastness of space, and the story ping-pongs between Asgard and England, Middle Earth-ern bows, arrows, swords and shields mix with Star Wars-ish laser blasters, teleportation devices and anti-gravity beams, as if two sets of mismatched action figures somehow spilled out of the toy box and onto the play mat.

Think of it as Game of Thrones in a galaxy far, far away. Which isn’t too much of a stretch, given that director Alan Taylor’s impressive TV resume includes that particular HBO series.

Tim Hiddleston

Tim Hiddleston

But Hemsworth owns his role, and so does Hiddleston as the villainous Loki, who has certainly become one of the franchise’s strongest second-tier characters.

It’s Stellan Skarsgård’s nutty professor Selvig, however, that really intrigues me. He prances naked around Stonehenge, uses a pair of shoes to explain a complicated theory of planetary alignment, knows how to take the oomph out of Armageddon, and works without pants because he says his brain functions better that way.

Now, when is that guy getting his own spin-off?

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Life In The Fast Lane

Ron Howard’s real-story racing movie is a hip, cool-running crowd-pleaser

RUSHRush

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl & Olivia Wilde

Directed by Ron Howard

R, 123 min.

Released Sept. 27, 2013

The rivalry between two professional racers becomes the driving force in Rush, director Ron Howard’s dramatic depiction the 1970s competition between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

The racing world was captivated, back in the day, as Hunt and Lauda became superstars of European-based Formula One racing and vied for championship trophies in the first half of the decade. Not only were they passionate, prickly competitors, they also represented polar opposites: Hunt was a dashing, daring blonde-haired British playboy; Lauda was a straight-laced Austrian with an obsessive, calculating mind wired for speed—and a face, as Hunt used to remind him, like a “rat.”

The media loved them, the public loved them, and they loved—well, they loved racing, even though they knew it could kill them. There was a part of them that loved it because they knew it could kill them.RUSH

As Lauda (Daniel Brühl) points out, every time he climbs into his car’s cockpit, he’s aware there’s a 20 percent chance he won’t make it out alive.

“Staring death in the face, there’s nobility in that,” says Hunt (Chris Hemsworth). “It’s like being a knight.”

Brühl and Hemsworth are both outstanding, and it’s especially good to see Hemsworth break out of his Thor tights. Olivia Wilde shines in her role as the globetrotting fashion model who becomes Hunt’s wife…until another playboy, this one a famous Hollywood movie star, enters the picture.

RushMoviegoers who might be put off by the idea of a “racing” movie should know that while Rush revs up its story, it’s much more than a flick about fast cars. At its core are two men who happen to be racers, and the drama that builds around them as the years unfold. We learn how both Hunt and Lauda came to be both rivals and admirers, and how they were both “hulk-headed kids, scorned by [their] families, headed nowhere,” before finding their futures behind the wheels of the low-slung, super-fast cars on the Grand Prix circuit.

And we see how Lauda finds the will to recover from a horrific accident, and return to the track, by watching videotapes of Hunt continuing to win races.

Howard, the former child actor who grew up to become one of Hollywood’s top directors, adds another winner to his resume with this hip, cool-running crowd pleaser that’s also a terrifically made movie all-around. Each scene is meticulously constructed with careful detail, from the burnished, Kodachrome-esque glow cast by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (who won an Oscar for his work on Slumdog Millionaire), to the parade of ‘70s fashions and the soundtrack of retro tunes from David Bowie, Steve Winwood and Thin Lizzy.

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The racing scenes, whether on sun-dappled pastoral country roads in England or dark, rain-lashed sections of do-or-die championship track under the imposing shadow of Mt. Fuji in Japan, are thrilling, taking advantage of everything that modern movies can do with seamless integrations of live action and digital effects.

But the thing that Rush does best, however, is never let you forget about the two men—the two real men—who did the driving.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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