Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Enemy of My Enemy

Riddick: written and directed by David Twohy, based on characters created by Jim and Ken Wheat; starring Vin Diesel (Riddick), Katee Sackhoff (Dahl), Jordi Molla (Santana) and Matt Nable (Johns) (2013): Vin Diesel loves his anti-social space fugitive very, very much. Thus this film, which he and writer-director Twohy basically financed themselves before finding a distributor.

After the bizarre bollocks that was 2004's Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick returns its titular anti-hero to the more familiar, monster-fighting ground of the first Riddick movie, Pitch Black. Diesel and Twohy also give Riddick lots of people to fight, with bounty hunters lining up on the planet upon which Riddick is stranded to collect the price on his head, and double the price if Riddick is dead.

It's all competent stuff, and the assorted CGI landscapes and monsters are entertaining enough. As in Pitch Black, we appear to have an ecosystem that produces an endless number of predators without there being any naturally occurring prey in the vicinity. Stupid planet! One's enjoyment of Riddick, which runs a bit long, mostly depends on how much one likes Vin Diesel. I like him fine, but I really wish he'd get better dialogue. Lightly recommended.

Thor: The Dark World: based on characters and concepts created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, and Walt Simonson; written by Robert Rodat, Don Payne, Stephen McFeely, Christopher Markus, and Christopher Yost; directed by Alan Taylor; starring Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Christopher Eccleston (Malekith) and Kat Dennings (Darcy) (2013): Five credited writers and Odin knows how many more uncredited script doctors (including Joss Whedon, I'm pretty sure) manage to turn writer-artist Walt Simonson's terrific Thor comic-book Surtur Saga of the early 1980's into an ungodly mess.

The whole thing remains enjoyable because of the performances of its leads -- Hemsworth and Hiddleston in particular, squabbling as reluctant brothers-in-arms Thor and Loki. Unfortunately, the writers have dumped a giant crap-load of ridiculous exposition on top of the movie. Where originally one had a comic-book epic derived from Norse mythology's end-times and Thor's desperate attempts to prevent the last battle, now we have pseudo-scientific babble derived from too many viewings of The Lord of the Rings.

Yes, Tolkien. Because once upon a time, a bad dark lord made a thing which he could use to conquer the universe. But Thor's mighty ancestors defeated the Dark Lord. They didn't destroy the weapon, though -- they just buried it. Will someone find the weapon, thus drawing the dark lord into the light so he can grab the weapon for himself? Will we get a fiery, boat-riding Viking funeral for somebody? Will everybody speak in vaguely British accents? Why the hell do the dark elves all speak in a language that has to be sub-titled?

I hope Christopher Eccleston got paid a lot for the role of the dark elf Malekith, because between the whole not-speaking-English thing and the heavy slathering of make-up and prosthetics, he's completely unrecognizable. So, too, the actor who played Adubisi on Oz and Mr. Eko on Lost -- as Malekith's right-hand man, he was so unrecognizable that I only realized it was him while I was reading the credits.

But, you know, superhero fun! Whee! I actually think the ponderous, often nonsensical fake mythology expounded upon in Thor: The Dark World may be worse than the similar gunk we had dumped upon us in Man of Steel. Hemsworth is noble as Thor, anyway, and Tom Hiddleston actually invests Loki with something resembling human motivation. Someone get these guys a better movie. Lightly recommended.


The Family: based on the book by Tonino Benacquista, written by Luc Besson and Michael Caleo; starring Robert DeNiro (Giovanni), Michelle Pfeiffer (Maggie), Dianna Agron (Belle), John D'Leo (Warren) and Tommy Lee Jones (Robert Stansfield) (2013): Vicious black comedy from French action-auteur Luc Besson plays with audience expectations and sympathies. As a New York mobster in Witness Protection in Normandy, France (!) with his family because he ratted out his comrades, DeNiro is surprisingly loose and funny. He's also playing a near-psychopath, as are all the other actors playing his family.

What is for much of its length a seemingly jolly (albeit violent) comedy takes a surprising turn with about half-an-hour to go. I don't think it's entirely effective, but the violence does serve a thematic and cultural point. Recommended.

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