Fargo (1996)

Film: Fargo
Release: 1996, theatrical
Starring: Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, William H. Macy
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: A man wanting to cheat his wealthy father-in-law out of a large sum of money plans a fake kidnapping scheme that goes horribly wrong.

Hans' thoughts:

Written, Directed, Produced and Edited by the phenomenal Coen Bros. we have Fargo, the story of what too much greed and do to you. Conman and car salesman Jerry Lundegaard finds out he needs a rather large sum of money and so he arranged a fake kidnapping of his wife so he could get money out of his wealthy father-in law. To do that he hires two crooks, Carl Showalter played by Steve Buscemi and Gaear Grimsrud by Peter Stormare. Everything seems to go fine, but when the psychopathic Gaear shoots and kills a traffic patrol officer followed by a likvidation of witnesses the two kidnappers are now at the receiving end of a manhunt. The officer in charge is the kindhearted, highly pregnant detective Marge Gunderson played by Frances McDormand. The film is a lonely one, while all the characters have people they interact with on a daily basis throughout the movie, they all ultimately end up alone in their key moment of the film. Marge Gunderson is a happily married woman, but when she finally catches up to the bad guys she does so completely alone. Jerry Lundegaard is also finally captured alone, and the two crooks that become the driving force behind the event of the film all ultimately meet their fates on their own in some regard. 

Gunderson, our main character, is almost a Christ or Maria character. Being kind and forgiving to everyone she meets she never displays anything that remotely looks like a dark side. She's a lover, not a killer and she simply cannot comprehend the kind of darkness that defines so many of the characters in the film. This could very well have been a very bland character, if not for the excellent performance by McDormand that makes this character seem infinitely believable - like the way a child would see their mother. Kind but firm. A lot of the shots of the film are done from very far away, in the infinite cold landscape of Middle-America where the film takes place. Large empty sceneries with singular characters walking through a very empty world. The snowy environment makes us focus directly on the action, while also providing a sad empty atmosphere. In stark contrast, you have most of the scenes with Marge Gunderson be in company with someone else, either questioning people for leads on her case or being home with her husband. All these shots, with the exception of when she's at the scenes of darkness like the chases or the crime scenes, have warm indoor colours. However all of the police character treat the murder much less dramatically than you usually see in these kinds of stories. Saddened by the loss but with a professional restraint and objectivity - they're at their workplace. It's a very nice change of pace from what you usually see in the genre where characters will become personally involved.

Completely polarizing from Marge you have the silent giant Gaear Grimsrud. Gaear is a taker of life instead of a giver and while Marge will likely make kind idle conversation with other characters Gaear is a man of ultimate materialism. He doesn't interact with others except when completely necessary and he clearly has a very cold darkness inside of him, comparable to the unkind snowy landscape that surrounds the movie. The one that suffers the ultimate punishment however is the movies tour de force, Jerry Lundegaard. He's almost comically tragic in how everything just goes wrong for him at every turn, the same can be said for Steve Buscemi who's in tip top shape doing what he does best in the role of Carl Showalter. He's a fast-talking unlucky man that like Grimsrud takes pleasure in materialism but doesn't stop at the little things. While Grimsrud finds pleasure in a TV-show and a small dinner, the despicable Showalter wants everything that's best in life, women food and alcohol. Some of the best moments in the movie comes from Buscemi as everything just falls apart around him in what should have been an easy bit of money. 

Fargo is not for everyone, the films main driving force is it's celebration of the simple things and it's intimidating atmosphere. It may feel too slow for audiences used to more actiondriven stories about remakable people. For the rest of us, here is a sweet story about a mother-to-be trying to comprehend the significantly darker world around her and her little family. 


Doctor Who: The Day of The Doctor (2013)

Film: Doctor Who: The Day of The Doctor
Release: 2013, Theatrical
Starring: Matt Smith, David Tennant, John Hurt
Directed by: Nick Hurran
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: In 2013, A strange man in a blue box is brought to the royal british gallery to receive a letter written by Queen Elizabeth the 1st. In a time forgotten, another strange man in another blue box is contemplating a horrible sacrifice for the sake of the universe.

Hans' thoughts:

50 years running, the science fiction adventure series Doctor Who produced by BBC has made a roaring comeback after it's series revival starting in 2005. The Doctor, of course, is a timelord - a super-intelligent alien from an ancient race with remarkable life-spans and technology. Throughout his adventures he's fought countless of strange beings and universe threatening catastrophe, somehow being personally connected to planet Earth and always bringing along one or more human companions to show them the wonders of time and space. When a timelord dies, he regenerates and gains a completely new face - which is the core reason for why the show has run this long. Whenever an actor felt it was time to find new ventures, he could be replaced by someone else and as such The Doctor has become comparable to James Bond. Everybody has their favorite incarnation and companion, everybody has their favorite villain and adventure. Everybody has a 'first' Doctor. Personally I was very late to the party, not jumping on the series till the introduction of Matt Smith in the 11th incarnation. He's the current Doctor (slated to be replaced this Christmas by Peter Capaldi) and the movie revolves around him meeting the 10th incarnation played by David Tennant, and a previously unknown incarnation played by John Hurt. Having such a strong legacy, it's no wonder that this is probably one of the most anticipated events of 2013 - with the special even being screened in cinemas worldwide. So how does this actually hold up?

Because of the announcement that some of the classic Doctors would not make an appearance despite the movie being announced to have different incarnations meeting each other I went into this with some degree of wariness. Fortunately, I was legitimately surprised by how good some of the moments and how overall great this movie turned out to be. It is not often you have something that builds up a great amount of hype and actually manages to live up to expectations. I found all actors involved to do a great job, Matt Smith is tried and true as the Doctor and David Tennant was able to jump straight back into the role in spite of the time between now and his last appearance as the adventurous timelord. Newcomer is of course John Hurt, portraying an all new incarnation of the time-lord and playing a character with a lot of weight on his shoulder - who exactly he is, and where he fits in would be too much of a spoiler to disclose here but suffice it to say that he makes for a really good incarnation more than living up to the series. The one I feel did the best job of portraying The Doctor is Matt Smith, channeling this fun loving yet weary character much more strongly than the goofball adventurer of David Tennant but that also has to do with the difference between their characters (Yes, The Doctor is one character yet more at the same time). 

Companion-wise we have the return of Clara, played by Jenna Coleman. We have recently seen her introduced as "The impossible girl" and she does a very good job her, while I understand why she's included (this serves as special episode and fits into series continuity after the episode "The Name of The Doctor") she thankfully takes a backstep to let us have fun with the interaction between The Doctor and his other selves. We also have a return of Billie Piper in an unexpected appearance, she was announced to appear in the episode months ago but I don't think anyone would've expected her to show up in this version. Piper, I have to say, does a much better job in this than I feel she has done in any other of her appearances. I was never a fan of the Rose Tyler character so I was pleasantly surprised that she doesn't become the focal point of the story and has a much more reserved performance than the highly emotional Rose from her initial run on the series. The supporting cast, while sparingly utilized all do a very good job at portraying their individual characters but I feel the movie definitely would have benefited from instead using more established characters as opposed to introducing new ones - there are characters long time fans would quite frankly be baffled do not show up to assist our time-travelling heroes. However, there exists room to expand upon some of them in the future so I'm hoping they will make a return to more traditional episodes so we can actually get to know them. On the story side there exists a bit of a schism when it comes to kind of high stakes we're used to, while fans of the series will recognize The Time War as being a great event that very much defines the character there is not much in the way of urgency when it comes to the danger our characters face. While there are certainly shots of Daleks encountering civilians and causing distress the foes that dominate the film are the alien shapeshifters known as the Zygons, a minor monster race that has only appeared once or twice in an episode many years ago. 

I certainly like the creatures but one can't help but think that Daleks, or indeed any other more well-known Doctor Who villain would make much more of an appearance in this 50 years anniversary special. Cybermen, The Master or The Sontaran race is not included at all and you have to stop for a moment and wonder if, aside from the actual Time War event, any of these dangers couldn't have been handled by a single incarnation of The Doctor. The Day of The Doctor takes some time to get up and running but once it finally gets going there is fun and games all around, Tennant, Smith and Hurt have surprisingly good ping pong between them and, while sparingly used, the other actors of the movies all turn in a very good performance. I recommend this to fans only however, if you are only passingly acquainted with the series you will have a hard time keeping up with who's doing what and why their lines are significant, references to 50 years worth of sci-fi is spread throughout the movie so if you don't know who The Doctor is you'll likely be a tad confused. However, for fans this is a loving tribute to what has become an icon of the genre and one that I hope we will continue to follow for years to come.


An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)

Film: An Adventure in Space and Time
Release: 2013, TV
Starring: David Bradley, Jessica Raine, Sacha Dhawan
Directed by: Terry McDonough
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: The new head of drama at BBC Sidney Newman wants to implement science fiction in an empty 25 minute spot. To produce the new program he promotes his former assistant Verity Lambert, and the young indian Waris Hussein is put into the directors chair - both of them the first of their kind they face numerous challenges in an industry dominated by middle-aged male traditionalists.

Hans' thoughts:

Made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the longest running science fiction on television, BBC has released this dramatised version of the events surrounding the creation of the program up to and including William Hartnell's departure from the series as the first Doctor. Starting in 1963, we're introduced to BBC as a highly traditionalist institution: Our main character is a young woman promoted to a leadership position at a time where such a thing was pretty much unheard of. If you've seen the 50's drama series Mad Men, you know what kind of environment I'm talking about. Middle-aged and Older men in leadership positions who scoff at anyone who doesn't belong to their own group. Her director for the series is the young Indian Waris Hussein, and together they pretty much represent the young generation that would become more and more commercially relevant in these years. Unfortunately the dramatic potential for their struggle to actually put out the series feels very lightly brushed over. It is touched upon that they would run into a number of problems, departments not taking them seriously, horrid shooting conditions and other such things but instead the movie shifts focus to the actor playing the Doctor and hurries to go over some key moments from the years where Hartnell would have the role. 

Fortunately they have a very strong actor actually portraying the late Hartnell in the form of David Bradley. Most people will remember Bradley from prominent role as the nasty janitor Argus Filch at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films or his supporting cast role as the perverted Walder Frey in the HBO fantasy series Game of Thrones. Both are very off-putting characters and it only speaks to the man's talent how polarizing his portrayal of Hartnell is to the others. He shows definite, strong and believable range here not seen very often even among the most famous of actors. I expect even non-Doctor Who fans will find something to enjoy in his performance, because while the movie definitely plays on it's role as "The film we're watching until the 50th anniversary special" it also more than stands it's ground as being a well-written dokudrama about the major changes the sudden rise of awareness from companies on the teenagers and kids audiences would have on business practices and programmes. 

Being an insightful story about the creation of that wonderful alien in his big blue box aside, it is overall very well-done period drama for fans and non-fans alike. Everything shot on the set looks like you could have travelled back in time to the era it took place, and of course it has nods to some of the most iconic villains and aspects of the show. Between heartbreaking moments, really good acting and just a good story this is was a treat to watch all the way through.


Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Film: Oz the Great and Powerful
Release: 2013, theatrical
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams
Directed by: Sam Raimi
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: A stage-magician and conman is transported to the magical kingdom of Oz, where he's believed to be the prophesied great wizard that will rescue the land from an evil wicked witch that murdered the king.

Hans' thoughts:

Functioning as a prequel to one of the greatest childrens stories of all time, Oz the Great and Powerful give us the backstory of the man known as Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs - Oz to friends and audiences. He's played in this film as a fast talking womanizing fortune-seeker by James Franco, whom audiences might recognize as Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man trilogy also directed by Raimi. I have to admit I was not a fan of his performance in the Spider-Man movies, but that is mostly because I felt they were "too mopey", focused too much on drama than on actual superhero stuff. Which is why Franco really surprised me by his performance in this film, although he carried over one or two elements he is generally a lot more energic and animated in this than he was in the Spider-Man films - then again, Oz and Harry Osborn are two radically different characters in many ways. The other main actors in the film are all female, each of them stunning in their own right I have to admit the one out the three I felt did the best job was Mila Kunis. While she is very reserved throughout most of the film, when she finally steps into character you can tell that she tries to give it her all in her performance. Mila Kunis plays the role of the withdrawn and naive Theodora, and her arc in the movie serves as the origin story for yet another of the big name Wizard of Oz characters. Her and Franco's character arcs almost mirrors one another in a way, and when you consider the big weight that's put on their shoulders they do a pretty good job with what they're handed. As good as any of the performances in the film may be though, Weisz is a good schemer, Williams makes for a good pureheart and Franco is a fun hero to follow, Kunis completely steals every scene. The film obviously has a lot of key moments it wants to present to the audience, and unfortunately that means it rushes from moment to moment in an attempt to get as much "stuff" in the film as possible. This means that aside from being archetypes, none of the characters are given the time they deserve to be fleshed out more. We certainly end up rooting for the good guys and wanting the bad guys to fail, but I feel that it really could have helped if the audience was given a breather to actually get to know the characters before moving on the the next big story-changing moment. 

Why they decided to do it like this is anyones guess, this film while a prequel to the Oz tales is not based on any of the original books, much in the same vein of the popular musical Wicked, which also gave it's own take on giving us an origin story for the state of affairs in Oz before Dorothy arrives. Reusing the method from the MGM picture, The Wizard of Oz, the film starts off as black and white and then turns vibrant and colorful when we get to the magical land. This is a very nice nod in the direction of the classic, but the large amount of "okay, we gotta get through all this stuff" made it so we don't spend so much time in Kansas meaning the method is kind of squandered on the piece. In the film which it mimics, Kansas is shown with a pretty somber tone and it becomes a huge contrast to all the lively stuff that happens in Oz. However in this, the mood change is practically non-existent, it seems like even in Kansas, Oscar Diggs was a energetic conman on the run from one situation to another and as such there is not much new under the sun when he comes to Oz and continues his behaviour. Visually, the film is absolutely beautiful. While I'll rally the call for more practical effects just as soon as the next guy, I simply cannot deny how much I loved the look of both the animated characters and environments. It is obvious however, when the audience was supposed to be wearing 3D glasses as there are several moments where the environment and characters "pops out" at the audience. I watched it in 2D, but the film still remains beautiful all the same. The color green (representing the Emerald City, no doubt) is a recurring factor in much of the films visuals and it works to great effect. The most beautiful part of the film however is the character known as The Little China Girl. A small living porcelain doll that makes for one of our main characters required sidekicks - this is an Oz tale after all. She is an incredibly sweet character and she is stunningly animated, perhaps even better than that of Gollum from Peter Jackson's Lord of The Rings films.

The film is much more of a classic fantasy tale - with Oz being the "chosen one" fighting against an evil army only armed with his ingenuity. It's been done to a children's tale before, many will probably remember the Tim Burton movie "Alice in Wonderland" where the titular Alice character would end up fighting The Jabberwocky. Thankfully however, this film doesn't try to make the story particularly dark or heavily stylised. Whereas the Burton picture almost revelled in the potential for using the directors knack for bizarre imagery, Instead it shows exactly why this film is an Oz tale and not an attempt to mimic the likes of The Lord of The Rings, much more like Raimi's other work it feels almost like a living comic book - the characters are all easily recognizable and the shots are akin to that of comic book panels. This feels like a live-action cartoon, and it very much makes a childrens story feel like it has very high stage without trying to cater to adults. This is childrens film in some regard, and one that follows the Don Bluth proverb "Children can be submitted to pretty much anything as long as there's a happy ending" and it really seems to that train of thought to heart. Our characters go through some very dark moments, without revelling in making the imagery dark as well. It is fully aware that it's possible to convey dark consequences and events without having to show horrifying imagery. When it needs to be sad, I genuinely felt it was up there with moments like the sinking of Artax in The Neverending Story, coincidentally also a childrens fantasy film with both dark and lighthearted moments. Honestly, being able to make things like the notion of a green-skinned witch and flying monkeys seem like a genuine threat again is a feat that I feel have scarcely been pulled off successfully since the original. Yes, as seen in the trailers The Wicked Witch of the West is indeed in this film and I was surprised by just how threatening Raimi was able to make her. Once she finally shows up on screen, you can feel a lot of atmosphere lifted fromhis love of horrors and from his Evil Dead roots.

A genuinely good fantasy film that both adults and children can enjoy and be thrilled by is becoming more and more of a rarity in a post-Harry Potter age and honestly I feel that this film manages to become one such movie. Sam Raimi's mix of serious moments, spectacle and genuine fun works so well for him in this particular case. Much like how he managed to update a 60's comic book character to the big screen without updating him to be far too dramatic in the original Spider-Man, here he manages to take a an early 20th century children's story and update it for modern audiences while keeping the spirit of the original intact. If you loved the original MGM picture I urge you to revisit the magical world with the yellow brick road once more as we're told the story of the greatest con in fantasy history. This is a fantasy adventure when told by a storyteller who doesn't deliberately attempt to recreate any of his former successes like it seemed was the case with Burton's "Alice in Wonderland". It's almost like Raimi sat down and saw Burtons picture, then went to work with the thought of "time to show them how it's done" - and man did he show.


Story-liners: Lego Marvel Super Heroes (2013)

Game: Lego Marvel Super Heroes
Release: 2013, Retail
System: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PC
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, John Eric Bentley, James Arnold Taylor
Directed by: Mark Hoffmeier
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: When The Silver Surfer is shot down on his trip to earth, his cosmic board scatters into powerful cosmic blocks. It becomes a race against time, when Earth's Mightiest Heroes are fighting the greatest villains in the Marvel universe, led by Doctor Doom, to stop them from using the new blocks for their nefarious purposes.

Hans' thoughts:

Lego Games. Starting with the Lego Star Wars games, the game company Travellers Tales has managed to turn simple retellings of movie storylines into both a major marketing success and a series of genuinely well-made childrens platformers. This game is the third of their licensed to be based on an original tale, following the two Lego Batman games. The game is pretty much the same formula from the previous Lego games overall, carrying over the open world hub and voiced cut-scenes from Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes. Thankfully, while the appearances of other superheroes in Lego Batman 2 amounted to not much more than cameos (save for the case of Superman) Lego Marvel Superheroes benefits from it's title not being bound to a single character. Besides the "must show" characters made popular by The Avengers movie, we have a surprising amount of lesser-known characters making an appearance in the game. I was actually baffled by how little the game banks on using characters and situations similar to the films. Of course you can't go completely without it and jokes like Nick Fury constantly eating Shawarma, or animations like Hulk throwing his enemies in a similar fashion to his most memorable moment in The Avengers can be found throughout the title, some of running gags are based on exaggerating the characters which means that they can become kind of grating on the nerves after a while. There are only so many times you want to hear Captain America make a pun based on his patriotism. Characters having a large part in the story is mainly that of Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America.. and then out of nowhere: Reed Richards aka. Mister Fantastic. While not too obscure, it has been quite a while since The Fantastic Four made a major appearance in contemporary media. It just goes to show that the writers has not allowed themselves to be held back by a memo from the marketing depart which, considering the state of the competition over at DC, is really refreshing. The game even has some boss fights featuring lesser known Marvel villains. 

The look of the game, as you may have guessed, is entirely based on Lego's. In the former titles it could look very much off a times but thankfully this time around the higher quality graphics has really helped in making the game actually look and feel like you're looking at the toys interacting with the environments. The voice work of the game is, while not quite up to snuff at times, never too bad. The best one is Clark Gregg, once again reprising his role as Agent Coulson. I have to admit that I have never been much of a fan of the character but it is nice to have him around none the less. There is the occasional line from the others, especially the female actor for Maria Hill, that is read rather mechanically, but it never to the point where you are pulled out of your engagement in just how fun the simplistic controls for the game is. This is a major strong point for the lego games, when you have completed the main story once you're able to unlock tons of well-known characters and collectibles. There are hours to be spent on the game if you're going after 100%. A new addition to the game is additional side-stages, all narrated in comic book fashion by the fan-favorite character Deadpool, who sadly doesn't make an appearance in the main story aside from a small cameo. In the side-stages, you're exposed to mini-stories like The Vulture & Howard The Duck attacking Marvel Studios. These small amounts of Deadpool are at the very least fun to listen to, and of course he's also available as a unlockable character once you've completed the storyline. 

This game, while not encompassing ALL of the Marvel universe (Let's face it, that would be a 50+ hour game) it does manage to make the characters very approachable to even the untrained fan. For the bigger true believers, there are fun meta-gags scattered throughout the game which I'm sure you'll pick up on right away. To me, this was the game at it's finest. Jokes about recurring character tropes, fun (if repetitive) banter from bystanders and a story which managed to only become better and better as the story went along. All the major Marvel villains make a noteworthy appearance, and while it's kinda obvious what the end-game of the villains is, it still makes for a great moment when the jig is up and our heroes have to fight the big bad that's been looming over the story ever since before the title screen. The twists and turns the story makes to include as many well-established Marvel locals as possible also makes for a welcome surprise. There are a few places I would've loved to have seen (such as the African nation Wakanda) but on the other hand, forcing such places into the story would probably have made it suffer from it. As it is, most of the story takes place in the hometown of most of the Marvel superheroes: New York city. While I very much doubt that the interpretation of the city is accurate at all (I've never been there), the map is big enough to make it feel like you're actually making your way through a big city. MArvel Superheroes manages to give a quick introduction to a beloved group of characters, while still telling a fun story. the question "I wonder who's gonna turn up next" is probably gonna be on your mind as you play through this simple, yet enjoyable experience.


Scooby-Doo Meets Batman (1972)

Film: Scooby-Doo Meets Batman
Release: 2002, Video
Starring: Casey KasemDon Messick, Olan Soule
Directed by: Joseph Barbera, William Hannah
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: This is a DVD release of two films from the series called "The New Scooby-Doo movies". In "The Caped Crusader Caper", Mystery inc. is enjoying a nice trip to the woods when they run into The Joker & The Penguin who have kidnapped the bumbling professor Flakey, trying to steal his newest invention. In "The Dynamic Scooby-Doo Affair", Mystery Inc. are on their way to a mystery club meeting when they run upon a counterfeit money operation being investigated by Batman & Robin. 

Hans' thoughts:

Let's turn back the clock to the 1970's, a time of more light-hearted superhero tales. Hannah-Barbera ruled the animated TV-industry, the defining version of Batman was starring Adam West, and Robin had yet to wear pants. During this time, one of most popular animated characters on TV was Scooby-Doo, and in 1972 this was celebrated with a TV-series consisting of 40 minute movies where Mystery Inc. met celebrity guest starts. People such as The Addams Family, The Harlem Globetrotters or as in this case: Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder! This is a double-feature, consisting of the two movies where Scooby-Doo would team up with the heroes while fighting The Joker and The Penguin.

The Caped Crusader Caper:

All of the Scooby-Doo movies play out basically like a longer episode of the original TV-show. Mystery Inc. is out on a camping trip in the woods as they run upon The Joker & The Penguin. Something you'll quickly notice is the huge difference in how this version of the characters look compared to how they look in modern movies and TV-shows. This was made way before Batman: The Animated Series which would come to define the Batman franchise with it's art deco noir-esque art style. Gone is the gothic scenery. In it place, we have the Batman characters very similar to how they looked in "The Adventures of Batman" and "The Superfriends", which were by the way also animated by Hannah-Barbera. As far as the classic "whodunit" goes, this is pretty much thrown out of the window immediately as The Joker and The Penguin is seen in one of the very first shots of the movie. This is kinda sad, as both Batman and Scooby-Doo are detective stories in their own right so a mystery that would require both of them could have held high potential for great writing. Instead we're treated to a lot of, sadly, bad running gags and really painful puns. That and alliteration, they really went overboard with the alliteration. Almost all of Penguins lines. What little funny jokes there are, are few and far inbetween and consists of physical comedy: one of Scooby-doo's strong sides. Why they decided to focus on sight gags is anyones guess, but it's a shame when you consider how strong the two properties were even then. Animation-wise the characters also tend to fall off model when making new facial expressions. This is particularly obvious with Scooby who seems to get almost a new look sometimes. IF you only have the attention span to watch one of these movies, I'd say this one was the one to skip.

The Dynamic Scooby-Doo Affair:

This is much more like it, opening once again like a classic Scooby-Doo episode this entire episode also feels much more like a story that befits both of the properties. Mystery Inc. is on their way to a Mystery fair when the Mystery Machine breaks down (mysterious, huh?). Coincidentally they stumble upon a group of counterfeiters and meet Batman & Robin, already on the case to stop them. This movie actually keeps around the actual mystery, though it may be a little easy to guess who the main culprit is, what exactly is going on and how The Joker & The Penguin is involved is a lot better. It's like a perfect balancing act between an old-school Batman action tale, and a funny Scooby-doo cartoon. The jokes are better, the lines are less repetitive and the slapstick is just great. It it such a contrast to the other movie and of such higher quality. The animation of the movie is also a lot more on character, while most of these shows were done with reused character cells (part of the marketing for Hannah Barbera cartoons was keeping a low budget due to reusing cells and backgrounds) there are also a lot of new art in this film, which keeps up with the original pretty well. Clearly a lot more effort was put into this piece than in the former. I also felt the voice work in this film was far less grating, in "The Caped Crusader Caper" one of the main characters is the bumbling professor Flakey whose gimmick was a really annoying speechpattern where he kept misspeaking. This film toned down the speechpattern jokes quite a bit asnd instead focused on one-liners and visual gags ("Sure Shaggy, we have Bat Milk and Cookies at the Bat-cave!" "..Bat-Milk?!")


Story-liners: Batman: Arkham Origins (2013)

Game: Batman: Arkham Origins
Release: 2013, Retail
System: Playstation 3/Xbox 360/PC/Wii U
Starring: Roger Craig Smith, Troy Baker, JB Blanc
Directed by: Eric Holmes
Previous in the series: Batman: Arkham City
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: For two years, rumors has spread across the city about a mysterious vigilante known as "The Bat" - though no official pictures or recordings exist to prove his existence. Fed up with losing men to him, the powerful crime boss known as Black Mask sets a price on The Bat's head on Christmas Eve. Anyone who would care to try is given one night to cash in on the reward of 50 million dollars - if they can.

Hans' thoughts:

Continuing the best-selling game series about the worlds greatest detective, Arkham Origins give us a prequel to the events of the previous titles. Batman has only been active for two years and has yet to meet most of the now iconic supporting cast of his stories. This game marks a couple of firsts, this is the first game in the Arkham series to not be created by Rocksteady - instead the title is handled by by Warner Bros. Games Montréal and Splash Damage Studios. This is also the first title in the series to not have Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy play The Joker & Batman respectively. Conroy and especially Hamill have been voicing these characters on and off since the hugely popular Batman: The Animated Series that ran in the early 1990's and have become iconic in their roles. This leaves a huge gap to fill out and I'm glad to say that both newcomers, Robert Craig Smith as Batman and Troy Baker as The Joker do a really good job at filling out their shoes. Especially Smith sounds like Conroy from time to time and Baker, while channeling Hamill's performance, does a more reserved version of the voice that, honestly, works really well for the character. The other voices also do a pretty good job of conveying their characters, though I have to stress how easily it becomes to recognize the same voiced when you hear them again and again - I'm of course talking about the nameless flunkies that appear throughout the game. Special type characters have special voices, such as the big musclebound ones but when the ones you hear mostly all have the same three or four voices it quickly becomes routine to hear the same banter over and over again. I understand why this was done, voice work is hard, good voice work is even harder and there's only so much time and resources you can put into the unnamed characters - however it bears mentioning all the same.

Arkham game fans can rest assured however, the gameplay is pretty much copied directly from the two previous titles with only minor tweaks in the form of new combo's for new types for mobsters. We also have two new gadgets in the game, giving room for new interesting puzzles. Unfortunately, like with Arkham City most of the puzzle solving comes from the Riddler side-mission. Find the unlockable, solve the challenge, on to the next. It's pretty much a thing for the completists among you. A positive improvement is a fast-travel system, made unlockable by solving some of these side-missions so at least that's a carrot for the rest of us. Design-wise the game is very much "same old". Since it takes place on Christmas Eve, it's once again a snow-filled landscape and therefore the creators have ported some of the environments directly from Arkham City. The old church, the courthouse and other such locations are all present and accounted for. Thankfully, there are new areas added to the mix as well but the old environments still take up about half of the game map. The designs of the characters are, on the other hand, pretty good. A younger Bruce Wayne, bearing a much heavier armor makes one think of the Dark Knight Trilogy, yet it isn't a complete copy most notably coloring-wise. This made me, personally, breathe a sigh of relief as I'd like each iteration of the Batman to be it's own separate thing (And frankly, I've never been a fan of any of the cinematic Batsuits). The character designs for other characters are, as they should be, a lot less colorful and outlandish than in previous titles. Keep in mind that this story takes place prior to the public knowing that the caped crusader exist and therefore Batman is mostly found dealing with "normal" criminals this time around. This also serves to enhance the few present colors more than ever, which the designers thankfully have used to their advantage making the presence of colors either restricted to billboards or to the special events.

This brings us to the story. As is tradition for the series, the writers have tried to incorporate as many well-known Batman characters as possible. Unfortunately the set scenario makes some of these cameos extremely unplausible compared to the other games. Both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City took place in prisons, which is why it made sense that Batman would have to deal with all the big names from his rogues gallery. However, in this game we're expected to believe that Batman would have his first encounter with several of his most well-established villains all in a single night. The most immediate threat in the story is that of the assassins out for the 50 million dollar bounty on Batman's head, fortunately the writers has kept the assassins down to, at the very least, character who are known to be mercenaries in the comics as well. Lesser known characters like Firefly, Electrocutioner, Deadshot and Lady Shiva all make an appearance, some more well-known than others but all definite C or D-list villains, in spite of the recent appearance by Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, he's also normally considered a lesser known Batman villain. But then we're also exposed to The Joker, The Penguin and even The Mad Hatter. While they all are done excellently, Mad Hatter especially makes a much bigger appearance than he did in Arkham City, you can't really help but question the validity of all this taking place in a single night. The game becomes way too crowded, and some of the assassins are only finally dealt with in optional side-missions. This is actually a pretty big problem, as I found myself being more interested in solving the optional missions than engaging in the story. At the very least, the ending of the story is a lot better than the outlandishness of the ending of Arkham Asylum, staying a lot more true to classic Batman form. The game also sees the return of the more outlandish scenes, similar to the Scarecrow sequences of Arkham Asylum. We get an interesting and trippy look into the mind of Batman on more than one occasion.  Sad as it is though, I don't expect casual Batman fans to get much out of the game compared to previous entrances in the series - while the voice acting is excellent, the story is just way too crowded with characters and events and it makes a lot of the struggles in story seem like they have little to no impact. Not to mention the obscurity of some of the characters only serving to make them sideshow characters once the more well-known villains show up to play. It has some very cool moments, but they're far in-between. If you just want a Batman sandbox game however, the side-missions are very entertaining and the higher focus this game puts on actual detective work is a refreshing change making the game at least the turning point for an entertaining weekend.


Planes (2013)

Film: Planes
Release: 2013, theatrical
Starring: Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Carlos Alazraqui
Directed by: Klay Hall
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: When a crop dusting plane qualifies for a round the world racing championship on a technicality, he does anything in his power to prove that you can do more than what you were built for

Hans' thoughts:

The Cars movies turned out to be one of Pixar's greatest commercial successes. The tale of the up and comer learning to remember the simple pleasures is cute enough, but basing it around talking cars proved once again how much little boys love cars. So why not try the same thing, but with Planes? I'm sure this isn't far off of the actual pitch that were done to make this movie happen - how they worked in the "Not actually animated by Pixar" and still got greenlit is anyones guess, though I suspect whoever Disney executive were in charge expected to make back the revenue on toy sales anyway. Okay, I cannot really be more frank than this: This film, though entertaining, is a very obvious marketing ploy by Disney to sell some toys. Just as was the case with the G.I. Joe cartoon or Transformers cartoon of the 80's, the film pretty much amounts to a very well-made toy commercial. The movie takes place in the same universe as the Cars movies, meaning all vehicles talk and have faces. If you can't look past this and watch the movie then you will not get any enjoyment out of the experience whatsoever. Let's get on with it.

That's about where the connection to the original two movies stops, this isn't a sequel to the Cars movies and our main character Dusty Crophopper is a bit different from Lightening McQueen. While yes, Planes is a racing movie just like Cars was but I'd argue this movie is actually more about racing than Cars. Dusty is a young crophopper who's tired of his lot in life, for years both him and his best friend the fuel truck Chug have been fans of the annual "Wings Across The World" race. Despite being warned that his engine wouldn't be able to handle the strain of going through such a thing, Dusty competes for the qualifications and just barely makes the cut on a technicality. To have a better chance of winning, he seeks out reluctant help in an old WWII fighter who used to train planes in the army. At this point in the movie it seems very reminiscent of Cars once again, but as I said the "arc" that McQueen and his trainer went through in their movie is barely, if at all present this time around. Dusty isn't an accomplished airplane not wanting to take advice from others and Skipper really isn't an embittered fallen star who's become disillusioned with the world. Instead we don't spend all that much time on the ground, focusing instead on making the movie about the actual race. 

The film has some funny moments, but they mostly based in "pun" territory. As an adult, I question how much you will actually do more than snicker at it but I expect kids to love it. Jokes like "Does a Giga bite?" "Not if you pet it nicely" are what we're dealing with, basically. At least we have some genuinely fun characters to go on the adventure with, I'm especially fond of the Mexican racing plane El Chupacabra, who becomes completely infatuated with one of the other contestants. To be honest, this subplot turns out to be very cute and actually written a little better than the main story. Thankfully our main character has a love interest, but it doesn't take the focus at any point in the film. While they do share a scene or two together, focus is thankfully kept on winning the race. Our main villain is not all that well written however, he's your typical "rest on his laurels" type character that becomes unnecessarily cruel to the others in a desperate attempt to win the race. I fully expected him to menacingly twirl a mustache and tie an innocent girl to some train tracks.

While not the most advanced childrens cartoon out there, some good animation, beautiful visuals and fun little characters keeps the idle viewer entertained and at the very least chuckling for the duration. It is not art or even un part with most Pixar movies. Disney has made better 3D animated films themselves before this movie and hopefully they will continue doing so in the future as well. Until then, there's a fun little movie without much consequence out there making the rounds. Trust me, there exists far worse animated films out there, if that's any sort of consolation.

Vertigo (1958)

Film: Vertigo
Release: 1958, Theatrical
Starring: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: A newly retired police detective with a crippling fear of heights is talked into shadowing the wife of a wealthy shipbuilder for the sake of her safety - and falls in love with her in the process.

Hans' thoughts:

Dealing once again with his core traits, we have the Hitchcock film Vertigo. Possibly one of the strangest additions to his filmography, Vertigo maintains a very strange balance between your average romantic drama, and an odd crime/ghost story. I don't how much I actually "got" this film, at the surface it seems like a straight up crime drama starring John Stewart as the stand-in for your average person - as he has done in so many other Hitchcock pictures. However the story is about him being hired to follow a woman whom is believed to be possesed by a ghost, and we are quickly wrapped up in the city's local history and actually a pretty good story. Then, by the halfway point, the story makes a major tonal shift. It goes from being a "what's going on" mystery to being a romantic drama, and then once again by the final act of the film, we go through yet another tonal shift into something very dank and depressing. It kinda follows the three major steps of young love: The first discovery, followed by the period where they're wrapped up in being lovey dovey and then finally, the depression following the break-up. It's made a point from the get go that our main character has a crippling fear of heights. 

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain"
However that fact doesn't really come into play in the movie before the end of the first act. For a period, the audience is actually sort of "coaxed" into forgetting that it was a character point at all. Instead we're following the focus of our main character, whom besides his fear of heights is pretty much a blank slate. Of course as with all Hitchcock characters, he has a very fleshed out background, some would say perhaps unnecessarily so. We are given chunks of information in throwaway dialogue that has no bearance on the plot at all, but to it's credit it does make some of the lines seem a bit more natural (Why would anyone only talk about things that are extremely important?). James Stewart as well is, unfortunately, far from his best in this film. He seems either extremely typecasted or extremely bored with the movie, not straying too far from his performance in any other Hitchcock film I've reviewed for this site. I actually forgot which Hitchcock movie I was watching for a moment, thinking I had popped in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" by mistake. 

In this film we actually have two female leads, one is pretty well written and has some funny lines. The other is the one we spend most of the movie with. That sounds harsh, but it actually annoys me that we saw so little of the characters Majorie "Midge" Woods, played by Barbara Bel Geddes.  Of course as was custom for female characters written in the 50's, they both swoon over our main character. But whereas Geddes' character actually has grounds for doing so, the romantic sub-plot with our other female lead played by Kim Novak kind of comes out of nowhere. I sound bitter, but I had much preferred if this film had taken a completely different route than it ended up doing. There's not much to the love story element in the movie and yet it almost takes over the picture from the halfway point onwards. Leaving behind great potential for a mystery. It actually comes to the point that the final tonal shift of the final act comes completely out of left field. However, the devil is in the details and I admire how much work was put into each type of movie that's in the film. The tonal shift isn't just in the plot, no EVERYTHING about the film changes. From the way the movie is shot, to the use of sound. The First and latter halves of the film feels like two completely different films. That's to be heavily applauded.

I don't know why, and I feel terrible for saying this but I just didn't care all that much for this movie, it felt like a rushed version of what could've been a truly interesting examination of either one of these three major plot elements. Between the ghost mystery, the psychological aspect and the love story either one of these could probably have been good movies either on their own or only combined with one of the other parts. As it is, none of the parts really come into their own because of a lack of choosing to go down one particular road with the story and it turns out to be a case of "too many cooks spoil the broth". It's not a problem contained to this movie however, not knowing what to focus on in a movie is actually comparatively a very modern problem. Take, as an example, the third Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie that suffered highly because of the large number of major enemies and plotpoints that were scattered throughout the film to the point that it just didn't come together for a satisfying conclusion. The same can be said for this film, the ending came out of nowhere and it feels like the writer either didn't know where to go with the story next or realised he had hit the running time for the piece. 20 minutes of wrapping things up would've been a welcome addition to the film. There's just a lack of confrontation after the big reveal that leaves a giant gap in the film.


The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985)

Film: The Adventures of Mark Twain
Release: 1985, Theatrical
Starring: James Whitmore, Michele Marianna, Gary Krug, Chris Ritchie
Directed by: Will Vinton
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher become stowaways on a magical airship piloted by the famous American author Mark Twain who attempts to catch up with Halley's Comet.

Hans' thoughts:

Famous for it's bizarre imagery and concept, The Adventures of Mark Twain is based entirely on a quote by one of the most talented authors of the latter half of the 19th century. In it, we follow his most famous creations of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher as we're taken on a journey through both his works and his influence on American culture. When trying to describe exactly what this movie is, I keep coming back to the word "bizarre". The film takes place on a magical airship, Tom Sawyer wanting to take over the place because of his sense of adventure, Huck Finn being simple as ever doesn't really know what he wants and Becky just wants to go home. The pilot, Mark Twain, is in the last year of his life. For whatever reason, the creators decided that almost every line he speaks in the movie be a quote of the original author the character is based on, whether it's to push authenticity of the portrayal I can't say for sure, but the voice actor who plays him (James Whitmore) does so with much authority in his voice and with everything being well thought-out. The movie even opens with a reference to the quote that inspired it: 
I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year (1910), and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together. - Mark Twain, (1835 - 1910) 

Perhaps the most famous segment of the film is the adaptation of
the unfinished book "The Mysterious Stranger".
Curiously enough, the man actually got his wish and passed away the day following the passing of Halley's Comet. The film also makes little effort to conceal the actual political views of the historical figure, most of the writings adapted for the movie showcased his great disregard for organized religion. A member of the presbyterian church, he wasn't an atheist but he had written some pretty controversial works about the subject, three of which are in the movie. The most famous segment of the movie is one of these, an adaptation of a part of The Chronicles of Young Satan, one of the only finished chapters in "The Mysterious Stranger". It's famous for just how outlandish the tone of the scene is compared to the rest of the film - While most of the film is a mostly child friendly tale, this particular scene triggers 3 or 4 other short, but oddly depressing moments in the film. While I can certainly see the merit of exploring one of America's most famous authors, I have to say I highly question the decision to do so in an animated movie so far removed from reality rather than make it an actual biographical picture. The film is structured much like a package movie (ala Fun & Fancy Free). A main story arc following the kids and Twain, interrupted at times by these weird segments, or as in the case with two of his stories (Letters from Earth & The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County) retold in their entirety and narrated by James Whitmore. 

"The Diary of Adam & Eve (Letters from Earth) is
one of two Twain stories that's been recreated
in it's entirety throughout the film.
While certainly a weird choice, Animation-wise is actually where the movie truly shines. There's not a lot of things that can beat well-done claymation and this film shows exactly why. The fluid nature of the material is used to very good effect throughout the film in several moments amd I actually question whether some of these shots would've packed quite the same punch had they been done with traditional animation or live-action actors. I'm also a big fan of the artstyle of the piece, something about the weird atmosphere it creates in the movie just kept my interest throughout. Strange looking locations, odd creatures and just plain imaginative imagery is probably the films defining points. However there is a problem when it comes to some of the human characters, while all the caricatures are fun and interesting to look at, I could not help not being simply creeped out by the, at times, soulless plain look of Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher in the film. They just look like living dolls at times and are so out of place compared to the rest of the characters and creatures in the film that they really become polarizing to everything else that's going on.

Voice acting in the film is average at best, while Whitmore does a well-enough job at making Twain seem like a larger than life figure most of the other voice actors are well, passable. I really liked the performance of Michele Marianna as Satan in the Mysterious Stranger segment, but we mostly hear her in the role of Becky Thatcher and there she's just unnoticeable. The voice actors of Tom Sawyer of Huck Finn both do a very stiff performance as their characters, as none of their lines feels natural or filled with any sort of emotion at all. They're just your average "kid voices" in the movie. This is a big problem, as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are actually the two characters besides Twain himself who has the most lines - meaning a good chunk of audiences will probably be bored by large parts of the movie. The soundtrack is, mostly talking and sound effects. There is almost no music in it and it kinda takes away from some of the more dramatic moments - on the other hand, they serve to make the bizarre moments really have a thick and intriguing atmosphere.

A weird look at an outspoken author, The Adventures of Mark Twain still serves to give a glimpse of insight into a very well-spoken man and his career. I probably could've picked several other historical figures more fit for an animated childrens movie but for what it's worth the amount of ambition behind the piece certainly served to shine through the faults and hold my interest as well as spark my interest in knowing more about the author. If this was the original intention of the film then I would say "Mission Accomplished!". 


Series of Events: LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload (2013)

There's no cover for this release!
Series: Lego Marvel Superheroes: Maximum Overload
Release: 2013, Online
Starring: Laura Bailey, Dee Bradley Baker, Troy Baker
Directed by: Greg Richardson
Website: Link opens in a new window
Description: Bored by what's on TV in Asgard, Loki the god of Mischief decides to amplify the superpowers of the Marvel villains by using a mysterious force called the Nornfrost, 8 out of 9 realms don't recommend it.

Hans' thoughts:

A surprise entrance to the animated TV world is that of Lego, the well-known building blocks. While definitely varying in quality, Lego has had very good success in it's licensed video game series. The next release coming up is "Lego Marvel Super heroes" and taking an early step into the franchise we have a comedic mini-series, released for free on Marvel's own youtube channel for anyone to see, as well as being cut together into a 20 minute movie on Netflix. Every episode varies around the 5 minute mark and features Loki "overloading" a Marvel villain from his hidden palace in Asgard.

The series showcases a short, but sweet look at the kind of writing that's probably to be expected in the upcoming video game. As with Lego Batman: The Movie: DC Super Heroes Unite they're animated based on the Lego mini-figures. While an obvious ploy to make people buy the video game and by possible expansion they toys it's based on, I would be lying if I said the series was "bad". No, it's actually pretty funny. While nothing too advanced (as I said, it's 5 very short episodes) I found myself being kind of invested in the plot nevertheless. Most of the series focuses on the antics of Loki in his palace and curiously they've decided to give him Chitauri henchmen. While very generic in The Avengers, the chitauri becomes the center for some of the funniest moments in the series. Another focus in the series is Spider-Man, seemingly voiced by the person who voices him in the Ultimate Spider-man TV-show. He does a well enough job, however you can tell that the writers decided to focus more on making fun of him rather than have him be funny himself. Most of the other Marvel characters are given mostly what amounts to cameos, some larger than others. 

Short, sweet, funny and best of all: Free! Marvel Super Heroes: Maximum Overload is recommended  for anyone who wants a funny little Marvel fix to hold them over until the release of the upcoming video game or those who just wants a laugh overall. It knows exactly what it is, it doesn't try to hide it by somehow being serious and it doesn't overstay it's welcome.


Miller's Crossing (1990)

Film: Miller's Crossing
Release: 1990, Theatrical
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro
Directed by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
IMDB page: link opens in a new window
Description: The advisor to a prohibition-era crime lord becomes the only person holding back an all out war between the competing families.

Hans' thoughts:

1919-1933, the consumption and dealing of alcohol is prohibited throughout the United States of America. Ironically, the men and women who were involved in creating the now notorious underground bars and smuggling passages has since then become national folk heroes. Like so many other movies, there is "Miller's Crossing" - a straight up crime drama following men with more vices than can be counted on a hand. Our hero is Tom Reagan, a classic mobster with ties to an Irish crime family that runs the city he lives in. He's considered one of the top advisors, second only to the boss himself. It's said that he's "always got the angle" on what is going on around town. Of course that isn't as true as it would first seem. While our main character certainly seems self-confident and always on top of things (played excellently by Gabriel Byrne) it quickly becomes apparent to the audience that he might have bitten off more than he can chew. He's a character that's been seen before, reminiscent of main characters from detective noir films. He's very much a "man's man", keeping his stoic demeanor in the face of a life threatening situation and always with a quick line to throw at others. This is also where we see one of the main qualities of the Coen bros., if I had to pick only one thing they do well it would be their way with words. 

Now a short admission is in order, I have not seen all that many Coen Bros. movies. This is not because I dislike their movies or because they only dabble in genre's that fall outside my personal preference. No, instead it simply wasn't in the cards. Watching this movie, I can certainly see what I've been missing out on. Between memorable characters, funny lines and just plain beautifully done shots I cannot believe I didn't wise up to these guys sooner. Gangster movies set in this era is one of my favorite sub-genres. I love the way they talked, the look of most of these films with the pinstripe suits and the tommy guns, and I just love how folksy the silent respect between even notorious crime lords were - according to these kinds of movies at least. If you were hoping for a super realistic look at prohibition-era crime syndicates, this isn't the place to look. This very much rehashes the tropes of the genre. This isn't to say that that's necessarily a bad thing, in fact I'd say this is one of the best crime syndicate movies out there. Our main character of Tom Reagan is also a bit more relatable than that of The Godfathers' Michael Corleone. I say "main character" and not "hero", because while Tom certainly tries to prevent a war in the criminal underworld, there is not much in the way of good deeds in his repertoire. The man has a end game, and it seems like he may be a bit more ambitious than he first lets on. What exactly he's actually up to during all this is of course up to you to find out by watching the movie.

Our other characters are pretty good as well, there is no one in the film that I would characterize as the "main villain". None of these people are good guys and everybody is in for themselves in the end. The actors all do a terrific job, but I wouldn't feel right if I didn't mention the very minor but memorable appearance of Steve Buscemi as the nervous fast talking Mink. He talks so fast in the one scene he shows up in that it was actually kinda hard to follow what he was saying, though I am pretty sure I got the general idea. As for our female lead, I'm sad to say there is not much to her. She seems like your average 30's femme fatale who does bad things to get along in a man's world. This is not to say that she's not interesting at all but she does come off as a tad too generic and one-off, which is sad when you think about how good the writing is in almost all other areas.

Jon Polito as Johnny Caspar
Our two crime bosses in the movie are played by Jon Polito and Albert Finney. We don't get much face-time with Finney as most of the movie takes place in the Polito camp, but what we see is pretty good. Finney's character gets one of the movie's few action scenes and it is very well done, from the sound work to how well the events are strung together Finney really makes an impression, like Buscemi, in spite of how little we actually see of him. Polito plays a much larger role in the movie, and for what it's worth I found him funny as the character of the up and coming boss Johnny Caspar. Though I have to say for whatever reason, and this might be the comic guy in me speaking, I couldn't stop picturing him as a new take on the Batman villain The Penguin. His methods are very akin to the character and had it not been for Polito's character being a lot more dignified it would have been an almost perfect live-action adaptation. I very much doubt that the Coen bros. had the Gotham City crime boss in mind when they wrote the character, but I just feel I have to put it out there.

The plot of the movie is, unpredictable to say the least. Every time I thought I knew in what direction the movie was going a new event comes in and changes the goals of our main character, if only temporarily. One moment the movie seems like it heading in a Romeo & Juliet-esque direction and the next everything is about something completely different. Unlike the main character of Tom Reagan, the audience is never let in on him "knowing all the angles". He seems to be able to predict most of the events that are coming long before they do and when he's actually surprised - so is the audience right along with him. You never know what the characters are going to do because unlike so many other movies you are never let in on their secret plans or their actual motivations. Things happen just as they would in the real world and it seems at times like we are right there observing it from a safe distance. We're also left completely in the dark about certain things, what is the name of the city? What is the last name of one of our crime bosses? What exactly is the balance of power in the city? We're never told that because we don't need to - focus is kept quietly on following things from the eyes of our main character and nothing is mentioned without it sounding natural in dialogue. From the Fox logo, the very first sound we hear is that of ice cubes in a whisky glass and from then on we are shown a tale of a life in the criminal underworld during the prohibition. 


Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Film: Thor: The Dark World
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins
Release: 2013, theatrical
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Previous in the series: Thor
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: Picking up 2 years after the events in New Mexico, Thor is busy keeping the peace in the nine realms. Meanwhile on Earth, a disillusioned Jane Foster stumbles upon a dormant power from the time when the universe began.

Hans' thoughts:

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the best way to make a good sequel is to take the established setting, expand upon it and amplify everything that's great about it without rehashing the plot-points of its predecessor. Thus we now have Thor: The Dark World. 

So our villain this time is the old race of dark elves, lead by the world-weary King Malakith played by Christopher Eccleston, he plays a very troubled character . As far as villains go, the dark elves are very cool. The Frost giants of the first movie were very much just big blue monsters but the dark elves actually seem like a genuine threat. No one is prepared for their actions and they are completely untraceable - able to strike whenever they would please. Overall, the movie is just much larger in scale. Instead of setting most of the movie in the New Mexican desert with just one big baddie, most of the action film consists of war-like battles, with footsoldiers on both sides. Something they have, perhaps thankfully, toned down is the humoristic aspect. A lot of Thor was him being a fish out of water in the human world and the comedy came from people reacting to him or him misunderstanding the nature of the world he was thrown into. Don't get me wrong, The Dark World certainly has some comedic moments but I felt they worked a lot better this time because they weren't so predictable or thrown in so abruptly. There's not much winking at the audience going "get it?" in this movie.

Most of the film doesn't take place on Earth this time around, instead we are given a much more insightful look in the land of Asgard. This is great because while Asgard certainly looked cool in first movie, most of what we got to see were throne rooms and chambers from Odin's palace. Here we are taken on a small tour around a bit more of the world. This movie also shows us some of the other realms besides the ones we've already seen. The scale feels much grander this time around and It's possible the movie has taken cues from the likeness of Peter Jackson's "Lord of The Rings" movies. Imaginative combinations of science fiction and fantasy as well as some pretty cool designs for the villains our hero encounter, even the minor ones look fairly interesting. In stark contrast is the scenes taking place on Earth. Jane Foster has moved from the desert to the city of London, meaning we also get something at least a little more interesting to look at than in the previous film. All the supporting characters return from the previous film, including the humans who actually gets something to do rather than commenting on the things that transpires around them.

This is one of the best changes from the former movie, while there certainly were a supporting cast in the film they didn't get all that much to do. Most of the original movie were about the characters of Thor and Loki and their sibling rivalry. In this movie the other characters become involved in the adventure, Jane Foster becomes one of the major driving forces for the plot and the relationships between the characters also feel more believable. Tom Hiddleston returns once again as the villain Loki and once again he steals even scenes where he isn't the main focus. We explore more of his relationship with the rest of the family and as with the other movie, this also factors into the events of the film. That isn't to say that he's the only great actor in this piece, Chris Hemsworth has really grown into the role of Thor and he really hits it out of the park in some of his scenes. This is probably due to a much more reserved performance, Thor is no longer the boastful prince of Asgard and for those of us that's followed him throughout all his appearances it is easily recognizable that he has gone through character development. Just like with the Iron Man films, the character development isn't over by the end of the film but you can easily see a change from the beginning of the characters first appearance and to his current adventures. This kind of slow but steady character development is what makes these characters interesting to follow even after several movies. 

Speaking of the other movies, it was a breath of fresh air after Iron Man 3 that the movie didn't rely on everyone having seen The Avengers. One of Iron Man 3's greatest weaknesses was it's constant references to "New York", referring to the climax of The Avengers. Here, the event is definitely mentioned but no more than one or two times. An unfortunate lowpoint however is the reliance on the audience believing the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster. The former movie took place over the span of three days and then they were suddenly in love, akin to what one could call the "Disney Princess romance". This is sort of repeated in this film, while I certainly like the pairing of Thor and Jane I would like their relationship to be expanded upon a little more than is the case in both of these movies. Compare it to the how well done the relationship between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts is done in the Iron Man movies, Tony repeatedly makes mistakes and has to make it up for Pepper in the Iron Man films, whereas in this case it seems the romance between Thor and Jane is way too perfect. Anyone who've been in a relationship with the same person more than once could tell you that the pieces aren't picked up quite as easily as this movie would have you believe. The film seems somewhat self-aware of this though, as a comedic jab at those kinds of love stories are made later in the film. 

If you were bored with the pacing of the original film, rest assured that Thor: The Dark World is a much bigger movie and better for it, albeit much information is thrown at you during the movie it manages to keep focus on the main plot, and keeping all the different strings together in one place. If you liked the former movie, I'm sure you'll enjoy this one as well: We get more facetime with each character and we learn much more of the nature of the setting of the story. With higher stakes, deeper characters and much more action, Thor: The Dark World may very well end up being one of the better movies in the shared universe franchise.

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