Thor: Love and Thunder

Thor: Love and Thunder ⭐️⭐️ 1/2

Director: Taika Waititi -Cast: Chris HemsworthNatalie PortmanChristian Bale

While sitting down watching this latest “Thor” at a special preview screening in a packed Imax theatre, listening to the audience cheering and clapping, a worrying realisation started to creep up on me: maybe I’m getting too old for these type of film..

It is clear by now that what Marvel is doing is producing big-budget “serialised instalments”, within a sprawling bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which can hardly be watched on their own. Taken that for granted, it still creates oddly paced stories, which spend an awful long time picking up the pieces from previous films in order to dismiss them as quickly as possible so that they can tell the story they need to tell.

In the case of this film for example, the whole section with the Guardian of the Galaxy at the front is not just pure “fan service”, but also completely redundant for the development or the outcome of what the rest of the film is about.

Does that matter? Probably not, because Taika Waititi’s film, with or without the “Guardians” preamble, is generally all over the place anyway. But this kind of film is clearly NOT written for people like me or snooty old film critics, but rather for the millions of fans who crave this kind of stuff.

Just indulge me for a moment and look at the numbers at the box office if you need any proof of what I am talking about:

“Black Widow” for example, released in the middle of the pandemic, grossed around $380 millions worldwide and was considered one of the worst performing films of the franchise.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (a film which I really hated) is currently at around $952 millions.

The latest Spiderman released last Christmas stands close to $2 billions and finally “Avengers: End Game” the top grossing film in the franchise so far, is now close to $2.8 billions, just behind Avatar as the biggest film in cinema history.

And that’s without any income from streaming, DVDs and merchandising.

In other words, Marvel is sitting on a gold pile and cannot be bothered about what I may think or say.

Having said all that, I still want to talk about my feelings towards these films, mainly because, despite everything, I am still a movie fan, but more than that I’m an action film fan, a sci-fi fan and a comic book (casual) fan.

Thor’s character has evolved over the years, and even though his film trilogy boasts one of the least favourite among fans, his popularity has also increased.

Kudos to Chris Hemsworth’s charm of course, who’s managed to give a rather dull superhero (at least on paper) a swaggering personality. His look certainly doesn’t hurt and I’m sure people will be taking screenshots of his perfectly chiselled buttocks shown in this film for years to come.

Director Taika Waititi is now one of Hollywood’s new golden boys.. Well, not really a boy anymore, but with an Oscar under his belt for the screenplay of “Jojo Rabbit”, his name cemented in the Marvel Parthenon and now scheduled to direct the next Star Wars film, you can see why the “golden” part is correct. He completely upended Thor’s universe by taking the helm on its third film, by delivering an absurd, humorous and irreverent installment, which ended up being the most successful in the trilogy, Thor: Ragnarok.

With its funny one-liners, 1980s-inspired soundtrack and relentless wackiness, the film gave the undeniable jolt of energy to the superhero and fans seemed to respond to that.

So much so that Taika Waititi was called again for this latest film to bring some of that same style and sensitivity to it.

And so, once again rando 80s music plays out for no apparent reason if to make people to cheer.

The film is, once again, a chaotic mishmash of absurd irreverence, slapstick, cartoony characterisations, CGI-heavy and relentless action mixed in with emotional beats too.

Waititi’s ability to switch from farce to drama had proven to be a winning card with his Oscar-winning “JoJo Rabbit”, but I have to say I found the mix here a little bit more jarring, probably because of the pace required by these sort of films is by nature a lot faster, hence there is never enough time to take a moment to reflect on the emotional impact of some of what we are witnessing.

I have to be honest, despite the joyous atmosphere around me, when watching this, most of the irreverence seemed to wash over me. I found the jokes fairly cheap, rather predictable and, let’s face it, a bit puerile. Most of them hardly raised a smile on my face but most importantly I felt they completely undermined the emotional core of the story itself.

I mean, we actually a character who has cancer here, whose life is being drained out even faster by choosing to be a superhero. We also have a baddie whose daughter dies in his arms and is now looking for some sort of revenge by kidnapping other children (or at least I think that was his motivation… not too sure about that). I mean, if that isn’t recipe for high drama, what is? And yet, we seem to rush through all of that, as if the script was more a bullet point document than an actual written-down story, more concerned about hitting all the bits and throwing in a couple of cheap jokes in the process.

There’s a danger about making everything, including (and especially) your hero and your antagonist looking more and more like a parodies of themselves. It diminishes their characters, it cheapens them and it makes the stakes feel less threatening and less important.

I’m also afraid that in the long run it’ll hurt the franchise rather than revitalise it, as it’ll be harder and harder to come back from that.

I’m looking at Zeus, played by Russel Crowe, basically wearing a tutu as the epitome of all that. Hard to see how that character can be made scary again or even just be taken seriously when the new franchise about Greek Gods will be coming out in the near future (All that is hinted in the obligatory post credit scene).

The film relies a lot of Chris Hemsworth’s charming personality (he was really born to play this part, but also his comedic timing is undeniable) and Natalie Portman’s always reliable presence. She can make anything seem believable, though at times you can tell how even this Oscar-winning start didn’t really quite know how to take some of this material, switching from an ill-stricken human to an all-powerful goddess in the space of seconds.

Meanwhile Taika seems throw everything at the screen hoping that something will stick… and to be honest some does stick, but on the whole there seem to be very few rules and even those few are often broken. Characters show up and disappear when it’s most convenient, laws of gravity don’t exist (I know we are talking about superheroes, but even among superpowers there must to be some sort of boundaries), geography is meaningless and the action taking place is often so fast that even on a big screen like the Imax looked fairly confusing. Not to mention the cartoony look of the scenery, which looked more like out of the 80s Flash Gordon, than anything.

I’ve seen worse and suffered through much more terrible films of course, but in the end I can’t shake the feeling that I found this was a rather inconsequential instalment, which actually changes next-to-nothing in the big scheme of things, but also left me pretty cold throughout. But hey, at least they kept it under 2 hours. Hooray!


Rhino ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director/Writer: Oleh Sentsov. Cast: Serhii FilimonovEvhen ChernykovYevhen Grygoriev 

This is definitely the darkest and most hopeless film I’ve seen this year. And it’s probably not too surprising to see that it’s coming from director Oleh Sentsov, an Ukrainian activist who spent 4 years in prison after being charged of terrorism for speaking out against the Putin regime and Russian war in Crimea (He was actually sentenced to 20 years, but “saved” earlier by Amnesty International ).

His anger is clearly present in every frame of this film as he depicts Ukraine in the late 80s and early 90s, at the fall of the Soviet Union, as a place overrun violence and criminal activities. The film itself is full of graphic depiction, remorseless killings, and cold violence against all living beings, including women and children (though those are often unfortunate “casualties of war”). I had to watch a scene in a barn towards the end through my fingers, something I don’t usually do.

Sentov doesn’t seem too interested in making any political statement here, in fact to be completely honest, I’m still struggling to work out whether there is really any message to learn from this utterly depressing story

The plot itself feels very familiar, as it follows a young man, nicknamed “Rhino”, his rise (and fall) up the criminal ladder through a series of gangster bands. As somebody before me has rightly pointed out, this could be a Ukrainian version of the Italian Gomorrah.

It’s not an easy watch, not just for the violence itself, but also because it’s very hard to engage with Rhino, at least throughout the whole first hour. Despite his impressive physicality and threatening look, he’s not just a very unlikeable character as he moves from one unredeemable deed to the next and crucially he’s also rather unreadable for us the audience.

The film starts off with a sequence during which Sentsov shows off some some impressive film-making skills: in a seemingly uninterrupted take, perfectly choreographed, the camera moves around a house as we scroll through 20 years of the life of “Rhino” establishing his sad upbringing and the atmosphere of violence he grows up with.

It is a very showy beginning, which almost feels like a film within a film and sets the wrong expectations for the rest of the drama, which actually plays out pretty straight.

Despite of all of the above-mentioned shortcomings, this is still an undeniably powerful film, which I won’t be able to shake off too easily.

Out today on most of the major streaming platforms (GooglePlay, iTunes, Prime)


Severance ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2

Directed by Ben Stiller (6 eps) Aoife McArdle (3 eps). Cast: Adam ScottZach CherryBritt Lower , John Turturro, Christopher Walken, Patricia Arquette.

I’m a couple of weeks late to the party, but I’m happy to report that this series is really as good as everybody says it is!

Who would have thought that one of the slickest, most thought-provoking, audacious, satirical and innovative series would actually come from the mind of Ben Stiller?! Yes, you heard me right: the same guy who gave us “Zoolander”, “Night in the Museum” and “Meet the Fockers”. However funny those films might be (for some), I never thought he had this sort of stuff in him.

The title refers to a procedure by which employees of a big corporation called Lumon, “sever” their brains (by implanting a chip in them) so that they forget anything of their outside lives once they start working in the office and vice versa. So basically none of them has any idea who they are in real life and once outside they have no knowledge of the work they do… Until it transpires that things are even shadier than they appear…

This is one of those creepy mindbending mysteries that starts quite slow but then builds up to an unnerving finale. All drenched in an atmosphere that resembles a cross between an Orwellian novel and Kafkaesque dream and a hint of Beckett for good measure.

Clearly it is all a metaphor for big corporations and we as workers feel trapped in our daily (possibly meaningless) jobs. But I’m probably making it sound a lot heavier and boring that in fact it is. Part of the joy of this is learning little by little some of the secrets hiding behind.

This is what “Lost” should to be without the pointless padding and with a lot more style.

Unpredictable, intriguing, ambitious and constantly surprising, this is really the most impressive TV series of the year and possibly beyond.

Yes, it could be a bit tighter (most series could) and there were moments where it felt bordering on indulgence (especially half way through the season), but having seen it all and especially the gripping finale, I can hardly complain: I had a ball with it. My only complaint is that the cliff-hanger at the end made me want to wish I were one yes older so that that I could watch the season 2 straight away!

The amazing cast includes Adam Scott, John Turturro, Christopher Walken and a terrifying Patricia Arquette, I mean, do I need to say more?

After what felt like being slapped on the face by loud sounds and chaotic visuals from that mumbo-jumbo that was the latest Dr Strange, it’s great to be reminded of what real cleaver sci-fi is able to do.

This may not be a light watch, but it’s a compelling and ultimately a rewarding one! Highly recommended.

Annie (1982)

Annie ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: John Huston Cast: Albert FinneyCarol BurnettAnn Reinking, Tim Curry, Aileen Quinn

I must have seen this film more times than I wish to admit, but what better excuse to re-watch it with my son than its 40th anniversary?

Back in 1982 “Annie” was pretty much slashed to pieces by the critics, panned as a “a sluggish, stage-bound mess of an adaptation” and pretty much ignored by the audiences. Musicals rarely set the box office on fire, as even Spielberg’s West Side Story proved last year.

Today, possibly riding on that sense of nostalgia for everything that’s 80s, the film seems to have gained a bit of a forgotten-cult status. And why not? After all this is the work of a master director, John Huston, so it can’t be that bad. He did his best to infuse excitement, colour and verve into what is, let’s face it, a pretty straight forward script, with not a lot of surprises.

Along the way, there are some rather brilliant musical numbers: “It’s a hard knock life and “I think I’m gonna like it here” for example, with their large number of singers and dancer perfectly choreographed within massive sets, really give that glitz, shine and spectacle that only Hollywood can give.

But yes, there are also some pretty weak ones too, where it feels like Huston not quite knowing what to, let the camera running, and the actors doing their bit.

I remember as a child being a bit bored during some of the numbers. Indeed the pacing seems to be a bit off for what’s really a family film.

Having said that, all the actors (Albert Finney and Tim Curry among them) are at the top of their games, particularly Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan, who’s clearly having the time of her life here and manages to make her baddie so incredibly vicious that it’s impossible not to enjoy her presence and at the end (SPOILER ALERT, but I mean, the film 40 years old!!), when she’s forgiven, we’re all much happier for it.

A weak link for me, has always been little Aileen Quinn in the titular role of Annie. I’ve always found her, incredibly annoying: she always knows what to do, what to say, she’s good at everything… Hard to really feel sorry or root for somebody like this (except at the very end, in the only scene where she is actually in peril). But obviously she can sing and dance pretty well, and she does look the part, which is probably why she was cast.

Anyway, as a family fair, it’s a perfectly watchable one. Your kids will enjoy it and by the time it’s all over you’ll be sweapt away by its feel-good vibe and you’ll be shamely signing along “Tomorrow… Tomorrow, it’s only a daaaaay aaaaawaaaaay”.

Annie is available to rent/buy on all the major streaming platform (Amazon, Apple+, Google Play, Youtube)

Prayer for the Stolen

Prayer for the Stolen ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Tatiana Huezo Cast: Guillermo VillegasMayra BatallaAlejandra Camacho,

Rita lives with her young daughter Ana in a rural village in Mexico, which is often raided by members of the local cartels in search of young women to kidnap. In order to keep her daughter safe, Rita raises her to look more like a like a boy, cutting her hair short and trains her to hide in shallow grave-like digs in her own courtyard whenever comes looking for her.

Writer and director Tatiana Huezo has created a film which is almost plotless, looking more like a documentary than an actual drama. Her sensitive and naturalistic approach to film-making, with no music (expect at the end), great use of atmosphere sound and loose editing makes everything feel immediate and real, and even though the overall pacing of the film might be a bit slow for some, there is no denying that this is powerful stuff.

The acting of everyone on screen (particularly the children) is so natural that at times I did wonder whether there was any script all.

Huezo avoid the usual clichés of the typical cartel stories, in favour of subtly (maybe too subtly) showing the lives of the innocent people (mostly women) who are affected by all the trafficking and drug dealing happening in those remote regions.

Even though there is virtually no violence on screen, the atmosphere is always one of dread, tension and sadness. As a viewer you’re completely immersed in the everyday life of these people, in constant fear that something may happen at any moment.

It’s not an easy watch and definitly not for everyone, but even if the film seems to do very little, it will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

On Mubi from this week.

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