Tag Archives: Thor

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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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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