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ART & SIN: The ART OF THE DEAD Interviews by Kent Hill

Well it’s that time of year folks – when kids in costumes and horror movies walk hand in hand – and while it’s not a staple for folks at the end of October around these parts (it’s more the ropes and the reins, and the joy and the pain, and they call the thing rodeo time), doesn’t mean we can’t sit down together and watch us an awesome little horror gem…that’s quickly turning into my new beer and pizza night movie selection . . . . ART OF THE DEAD.

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Imagine if you will, being an artist . . . being a struggling artist. You just want to put yourself out there – be lauded by as many people as possible, carve you name on the tree of immortality as it were. Now . . . you’re this artist and in order to get what you want you make a Faustian deal, so that your name and the power of your work shall be enticing art lovers long after you have slapped on the wooden coat and bought the farm. Trouble is, it’s not really fame that you’ll receive at your end of this deal. No, the ancient evil that has served as your patron has a different kind of eternal damnation in mind…

That’s when we meet the Wilson’s. Boy brings his girlfriend home to meet Dad, Step-Mom and Co. Dad does really well, the house is amazing . . . plus he’s decided to collect some art . . . OH NO! The paintings are shamanistic depictions of the SEVEN DEADLY SINS. Y’all know them…? Anyways the maniacal painter responsible achieved a life beyond death by taking the power he sought and evilly won by inducing, in those who gaze for too long at the paintings, whichever sin is in.

What results is a funky good time at the movies…and I encourage you all to make ART OF THE DEAD part of your Halloween movie banquet. Come watch as the Wilson family, a supportive girlfriend, the sister’s nemesis, an unfortunate hooker and a bold and committed priest do battle against art, black magic and original sin!

I had a stellar time watching this…but…I have equal joy now in presenting the phenomenal cast and the genius writer/director of my new, favorite little B movie treat for All Hallows’ Eve . . .

AND NOW . . . MY FIVE DEADLY GUESTS . . .

ROLFE KANEFSKY (writer/director)

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Rolfe Kanefsky grew up in the suburbs of New York and attended Hampshire college where he studied Film. He began writing stories at a young age after his childhood dream of becoming a clown took the backseat to his interest in film. He has thus far written and directed 27 feature films and authored another 38 produced screenplays over the last 30 years. The cult flick “There’s Nothing Out There” was his debut at the age of twenty. Since then, Rolfe has continued to work in the horror genre with “The Black Room” starring Natasha Henstridge and Lin Shaye, “Party Bus To Hell” with Tara Reid, “The Hazing” starring Brad Dourif and Tiffany Shepis, “Jacqueline Hyde”, “Corpses”, and “Nightmare Man”. He was the winner of two Best Director awards for his horror flick, “Nightmare Man” at the Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy and The Supernatural Film Festival in Las Vegas & at the I.F.F.Y.N.T.X. Festival in Texas before the film went on to be picked up by After Dark and Lions Gate as one of the “8 Films To Die For: Horrorfest 2007.

Branching out into other genres, Rolfe wrote “Blonde & Blonder”, a comedy with Pamela Anderson and Denise Richards, “A Dog & Pony Show” with Mira Sorvino and Ralph Macchio, the western “Doc Holliday’s Revenge” starring Tom Berenger, thrillers such as “Tomorrow By Midnight” starring Carol Kane and Alexis Arquette and “1 In The Gun” with Steven Bauer and Robert Davi. Recent family fare include the animated “Space Dogs: Adventures To The Moon” with the voice of Alicia Silverstone “A Tiger’s Tail”, “Timber; The Treasure Dog”, “Puppy Swap” with Margo Kidder, “Jimmy’s Jungle”, the period crime story “Bonnie & Clyde: Justified”, and the musical “Adventures Into The Woods”.

Rolfe has also been making a name for himself in the Lifetime thriller world and has authored seven female-driven thrillers including “Killer Photo” aka “Watch Your Back” starring Annalynne McCord. “Deadly Sorority” with Greer Grammer and Moira Kelly, “The Wrong Babysitter” starring Daphe Zuniga, “Deadly Vows”, “Intensive Care” and “The Wrong Vacation”.

With 65 produced credits, Rolfe is a very active filmmaker/writer who continues to work in almost every genre in the business

JESSICA MORRIS (as Gina Wilson)

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Known for her portrayal of series regular Jennifer Rappaport on ABC’s “One Life to Live”, Jessica has cultivated her career as the leading lady in various television shows and independent films. Also making a memorable appearance in Universal’s theatrical success “Role Models”. Jessica has recently been the star of Lifetime TV’s hit movie “The Wrong Teacher” and has also had strong guest starring roles on popular Prime-time shows, including Fox’s “Rosewood” and TNT’s “Perception”. In addition, she leads the cast in Tom Six’s highly anticipated new feature film. Jessica stands out as an actress who conveys honesty and depth through all of the characters she plays and has also discovered her passion for screenwriting.

LUKAS HASSEL (as Dylan Wilson)

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Born and raised in Denmark, Lukas Hassel trained and graduated from the Samuel Beckett Theater School, Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

As a screenwriter, Lukas won the CineStory Fellowship for his top 30 Nicholl’s Fellowship script, “The Mechanic”. This has been optioned by director/producer Charlie Stratton and is in pre-production.

Lukas wrote and directed the sci-fi short film “Into the Dark” which went on the win multiple awards for acting, writing and directing and played in over 70 film festivals world wide. His latest award winning horror short film, “The Son, the Father…”, has screened in 50+ festivals and counting, and got made after winning the Hollyshorts Film Festival competition for best screenplay. Mighty Tripod and Evil Slave LLC produced.

He has appeared on TV in shows such as Blue Bloods, Limitless, The Blacklist, Elementary and more. Currently, he’s shooting “Art of the Dead” opposite Tara Reid in Las Vegas.

DANNY TESLA (as Dorian Wilde)

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Danny Tesla has starred in over 3000 live stage show performances around the world. 1000 of those shows has been his own one-man variety show that he created called “The Danny Tesla Show” He has been working in the entertainment industry for over 30 years.

Danny Tesla started performing at the age of 7 as the youngest member of “The Sunshine Singers” performing in shopping centers and theme parks like Dream World. He also worked in Productions with the Australian Ballet Company such as Onegin, Romeo & Juliet, Don Quixote, and Swan Lake. Throughout his school years he produced, directed and performed every month for 2000 of his fellow schoolmates. He studied with the best teachers in New York, London and Sydney in all aspects of performing from singing, acting, and dancing. One of his dancing teachers was award-winning choreographer Dein Perry who created “Tap Dogs” which lead to Dan being one of the Tap dancers in the Fox Searchlight movie “Bootmen” starring Sam Worthington and Adam Garcia. Which meant he was invited to perform with Adam as one of the lead tappers at the Opening Ceremonies of 2000 Olympic Games live in front of an audience of 100,000 people and telecast to 4 billion people worldwide.

He also performed in Productions on the finest cruises ships in the world. Whichever ship he was on its showcast always was voted number 1 in the fleet. He worked on Royal Viking Queen, Star Odyssey, Silver Cloud, P&O Fair Princess, P&O’s Artemis, Oriana.

A career highlight for Danny was when he was cast as Eugene in “Grease The Arena Spectacular” Which broke all box office records and still holds the record to this day. He worked alongside Australia’s biggest stars like Danni Minogue and Anthony Warlow and John Farnham. Because of his creative contribution to that production he was asked back into two other productions by the same company to reprise his role. Danny has now performed Grease over 300 times to over a million people around Australia and New Zealand.

Danny Tesla was invited to perform at some corporate events in Singapore in 2003 and since then has performed at over 750 events in Singapore. He decided in 2009 to make Singapore his home and became the Creative Director and founder of “Broadway Production Company Pte Ltd” which not only produced more shows for corporate events but also TV commercials and a Musical call “City Gym The Musical” which was staged at Jubilee Hall in January 2013. Danny wrote the script, music and lyrics to City Gym. He also directed and produced the production as well as starred in it. In 2014 Danny moved to Los Angeles and acted in many productions like HBO’s “All the way” starring Brian Cranston and ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. That same year he was asked to sing for the soundtrack for a new musical “Tesla The Electrical Spectacle” Inspired by Nikola Tesla’s story Dan Thompson made his stage name Danny Tesla and continues to work under that name winning awards like Best Actor in the film “Birthday in a Dark room” portraying Professor Ansel Adams and starring in other films such as “Surface Wounds”

Moving back to his roots in live entertainment Danny Tesla moved to Las Vegas and performed in Evil Dead the Musical for 6 months on the famous Las Vegas Strip and as a regular actor in the No. 1 escape room in the Country (the Basement) for 8 months. In 2017 he continued to pass on his experience by teaching Acting classes regularly for LA casting Showcase in Las Vegas and lending his acting skills to readings of “Shark Attack the Musical” at the Space and regularly singing at the Venetian. In 2018 he is set to play a lead role as Dorian Wilde in the Feature Film “Art of the Dead” starring Tara Reid.

Danny Tesla is an accomplished Actor, Singer and Dancer.

ROBERT DONAVAN (as Father Gregory Mendale)

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Robert Donavan dabbled with acting for some time before getting serious about the art. He began studying with Robert F. Lyons when he was 42 years old, and within two years started making films.

He continues to study acting to this day, having admittedly neglected his training as a young man. He has worked with such teachers as Lurene Tuttle, Harvey Lembeck, and James Best. Currently he is studying under Kimberly Jentzen.

He has worked with directors Wayne Kramer, Fred Olen Ray, Jim Wynorski, David DeCoteau, Rolfe Kanefsky, Thomas Callaway, and Elliot Feld.

The number of films Robert Donavan has appeared in is close to 60. They cross genres from comedy, to drama, to science fiction, the supernatural, and to horror. He has portrayed scientists, secret agents, border patrol officers, military officers, FBI agents, drug dealers, psychiatrists, morticians, cowboys, and disgraced priests.

The voice over industry has been a good fit for him, having voiced quite a few commercials, and was until this year, the voice of Yahoo Fantasy Football, and the Toyota Fantasy Football Hall of Fame.

Retirement is not in Robert Donavan’s vocabulary, and he has said he fully expects to work through lunch on the day of his funeral.

GET IT HERE (click on image):

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Vacation

This may put me in the doghouse but I found the recent reboot of the Griswold Vacation films to be funnier than the entire original Chevy Chase series combined. The National Lampoon series is a big, clunky, unwieldy beast full of hit or miss humour, really bizarre instances and comedy that has dimmed and dated a lot since then, they’re not my favourite films and I remember fondly only for sheer nostalgia because they’d always show up on TBS Superstation back when I was a kid. This thing goes and totally does it’s own thing though and ends up being fucking hilarious from start to finish, if you have the right sense of humour that is and are open to a severely offensive set of jokes and very R rated mayhem, which is the best way to get me interested in a comedy.

Terminally nerdy Ed Helms plays Rusty Griswold, the grown up kid of Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, who also turn up for third act cameos here. Rusty wants to recreate his childhood vacation to Walley World by dragging his wife (Christina Applegate) and two dysfunctional sons (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) on a chaotic road trip there, with everything naturally going completely wrong every step of the way. When I say it goes wrong though I mean that in every gross out, humiliating, cringey, scatological, immature sense of the word. The tone here is radically different from the old Vacation films and honestly I appreciated it, jived with it more. The screenwriters just want to make a balls out (literally), hard R, deranged comedy that happens to take place in the Griswold universe and I guess some fans couldn’t handle it.

So what’s funny about it? Well take your pick: Chris Hemsworth as a hysterically sexist cattle rancher with a ten inch cock clearly visible in his briefs, a hot-springs that turns out to be raw sewage dump filled with used needles, relentless sibling bullying, a shady truck driver (Norman Reedus in the film’s best WTF cameo) with a teddy bear hood ornament to lure kids in, a suicidal river rafting guide (Charlie Day), cows getting turned into road kill and much more. If none of that sounds like your picks the you were probably expecting something else and this isn’t gonna be your bag. This ain’t the whimsical, eccentric Vacation aesthetic from the Lampoon films, but that’s alright. My favourite joke involves the Albanian rental car Rusty procures for their trip, an impossibly inconvenient machine with a button that literally blows out all the windows and a NavGuide system that screams at them in Korean, which had me laughing so hard it hurt. Watch for fun cameos from Keegan Michael Key, Ron Livingston, Michael Pena, Regina Hall, Tim Heidecker, Colin Hanks and Leslie Mann as a grown up Audrey Griswold, married to Hemsworth and his magnum dong. This one was a huge winner for me, and while I can appreciate the hate thrown at it when compared to the original films, that didn’t bother me. If you just roll with this vision

-Nate Hill

Drew Goddard’s Bad Times At The El Royale

Although not quite the dense, delicious narrative feast I envisioned based on marketing, Drew Goddard’s Bad Times At The El Royale is an impressively mounted period thriller with gorgeous late 60’s production design, fantastic performances from a variety of players and a hard boiled, ultra violent storyline loaded with equal helpings of melodrama and pulp. Somewhere along the Nevada/California state-line lies the ornate El Royale, a retro pop funhouse with a giant chandelier, soda jerk sensibilities and and a jukebox that doesn’t quit. The rooms in California cost an extra dollar a night than those in Nevada because of course they do. A handful of strangers show up one fateful day in 1969, the motives, pasts and true temperaments of which are slowly revealed throughout the rainy night via an elliptical tale that weaves forward, backwards and flows past many perspectives and angles to show what is actually happening. Jeff Bridges is the salty preacher with memory issues, Jon Hamm the chatterbox salesman who moonlights as a clandestine federal agent, Lewis Pullman the dodgy hotel clerk, Dakota Johnson and a scary Cailee Spaeny two hippie sisters on the run and Cynthia Erivo in the film’s best and most human performance as a fledgeling singer just trying to survive the crazy night. Alliances shift, flashbacks sometime prove reliable and sometimes not, people are killed graphically, the rain pours down, intentions are laid bare and that jukebox keeps on keeping on. The soundtrack they’ve amassed is something else here, an old time collection of Mo town, sun n’ surf and heartfelt solos by Erivo that give the film a vibrant personality. And yes, Chris Hemsworth is in it too, playing a volatile, Manson-esque cult leader with a short temper, long hair and a button down shirt that conveniently never gets buttoned down (anything to fill those seats). The character is a bit much and sort of takes over the wheel in the third act, but Chris is too young to pull something that magnetic off as well as others could and I couldn’t help feeling like he was miscast. The film sort of suffers from what I call Hateful Eight syndrome a bit; when you have an Agatha Christie sort of tale to tell, the setup is always a tantalizing mystery that, once unravelled, has to feel worth the build and earn its revelations along the way. The payoff here is better than Hateful Eight and the film overall is stronger too, but I felt just a smidge underwhelmed once everything was laid bare and the wrap up rolled around. Nevertheless, this is a surefire piece of thriller entertainment with many elements that work terrifically, namely acting, dialogue and production design. Erivo seems to have come out of nowhere and also impressed me in Widows earlier this year, she grounds the film in reality and serves as the moral compass of sorts in this miasma of reprehensible human behaviour, I hope to see more of her and hear more of that singing voice in the future. Spaeny too was excellent, playing a pitch perfect acolyte with an unbalanced edge and a dead eyed stare that was truly chilling and definitely reminiscent of what I’d imagine a freaky ass flower power cult chick would have come across as back then. A fine piece of entertainment that wasn’t as deeply plotted as it could have been, but blasts by with admirable energy and streamlined ambition.

-Nate Hill

Kenneth Branagh’s Thor

People get a little aghast when I say that Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is my favourite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, but there’s something about the operatic, orchestral grandeur of Asgard contrasted with Thor’s deadpan, hilarious arrival on earth that is an irresistible flavour and calls back to classic adventure films of the 90’s that saw fish-out-of-water protagonists up to the same shenanigans (think the sea and feeling of Spielberg’s Hook, or the like). The world-building up there in the cosmic realm is still just some of the best eye candy the studio ever put out in their superhero romps, and no one blasted into the leading man scene quite like Chris Hemsworth did with his broad, knowingly silly and very heartfelt performance. The Avengers entries seem to earn all the love and they’re fun, but I like the solo outings that leave breathing room to focus on one of these heroes at a time, and really get to know them. Thor’s transformation from a proud, boorish and naive strongman who knows but one form of diplomacy (hit em with his hammer) into a wise, compassionate being worthy of the crown is just a great arc to see unfold. Throw in Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard and priceless Kat Dennings as the most utterly charming human ‘sidekick brigade’ the universe has to offer and the whole thing becomes an almost instant classic. Branagh is a Shakespearean veteran, and every hint of that instinct is on display in the theatrical showmanship of Asgard, in the performances of Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston as scheming Loki, Anthony Hopkins as godly Odin and terrific Idris Elba as celestial gatekeeper Heimdall, who steals every scene. On earth-side Natalie Portman is adorable and blooms with both romantic yearning and genuine smarts, Kat Dennings takes the concept of comic relief and runs with it so deftly she almost walks away with that portion of the film. Clark Gregg fleshes out his glib Agent Coulson character, Jeremy Renner does his first badass turn as Hawkeye, Colm Feore is icily menacing as Laufi, king of the fearsome Ice Giants, while Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas and Jaime Alexander fill in as Thor’s rowdy warrior entourage, mistaken for Robin Hood, Jackie Chan and Xena when they stroll down Main Street after arriving nonchalantly on earth to help the god of thunder do battle with a giant fire-stuffed tin man sent by spiteful Loki. There’s something so thrilling about this picture though, from the chemistry between Thor and Portman’s Jane to the camaraderie he has with Skarsgard’s Professor Selvig to the larger than life, tripped out and gorgeous visuals of Asgard set to a banger of a score by Patrick Doyle, it all just works so damn well and is the one chapter in the MCU canon that works best as a stand-alone film all its own. Another!!

-Nate Hill

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok

Taika Waititi’s Thor Ragnarok has got to be the most fun I’ve ever had watching a Marvel film. Trust Hollywood to make a sterling decision once in a blue moon, and hiring a deftly comic, renegade underdog subversive improv genius like Waititi to take the wheel is a smart, bold move. Now before I sing it’s praises to Valhalla, they don’t quite let him (he’s the Kiwi wunderkind behind the newly minted classics Hunt For The Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows) go completely bonkers, which he clearly wants to do, and although he’s kind of bogged down by a generic villain and a recycled point of conflict in plot, a lot of the time he’s allowed to stage a zany, uncharacteristically weird (for the MCU, anyways) pseudo space opera that is a blast and a half. Thor finds himself, after a brief encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange, carted off to a giant garbage planet surrounded by space portals (one of which is referred to with a straight face as ‘The Devil’s Anus’, which sent me into a fit) and lorded over by a certifiably loony Jeff Goldblum as the Grand Master, a demented despot who holds intergalactic gladiator matches for his own entertainment. There Thor is forced to fight his old buddy the Hulk, and somehow find a way to escape Goldblum’s nefarious yet hilarious clutches. He’s got just south of reliable allies in his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and an exiled Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) with an attitude problem, as well as rock-armoured warrior Korg, voiced hilariously by Waititi himself as the film’s most engaging character. Meanwhile back in Asgard, trouble brews when the equally dangerous and sexy Hela (Cate Blanchett, with enough authoritative, husky smoulder to make me weak at the knees) tries to steal Odin’s throne for herself, with the help of defector Skurge (Karl Urban, who gets a mic drop of an action set piece later on). Here’s the thing about Hela: Blanchett is in top form, a commanding, dark presence… but the role is as blandly written as a number of other MCU villains, and one wonders how they’ve managed to flunk out at creating engaging antagonists a few times over now. She’s stuck in a subplot that we’ve all seen before, one that’s stale and at odds with the fresh, humorous and wonderful storyline between Thor and Banner. Their side of things is like buddy comedy crossed with screwball fare and works charming wonders, especially when they’re blundering about in Goldblum’s cluttered trash metropolis, it’s just inspired stuff. Throw in a great 80’s inspired electro pop score and a cool VHS retro vibe (I’m all about the old school) and you’ve got one of the best MCU movies to date, and most importantly one that *tries something new*, which the genre needs more of, even if it doesn’t ultimately fully commit, this is still a gem we have on our hands.

-Nate Hill

Genre-Defining: An Interview with Shane Abbess by Kent Hill

Continue reading Genre-Defining: An Interview with Shane Abbess by Kent Hill

MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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The Avengers (2012) was the culmination of an ambitious project that was carefully planned by Marvel Studios over several years and spans several films utilizing characters, both major and minor, from each. While the notion of a shared universe with characters from one franchise appearing in another is a relatively novel idea in film, it is nothing new in comic books where costumed superheroes cross-pollinate all the time and even contribute to a larger story (see Secret Wars II). With Iron Man (2008), Marvel decided to do in film what they’ve been doing in comic books for decades. Its commercial success paved the way for subsequent adaptations of The Incredible Hulk (2008), Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), each one featuring a scene that hinted at something bigger and it has finally arrived with The Avengers, which features heroes from all of these films banding together to form a super team of sorts.

The challenge that Marvel faced was to find a director that could successfully bring all of these wildly different heroes together and also handle the movie stars playing them. Up to that point, Marvel had employed journeymen studio directors like Jon Favreau (Iron Man 1 & 2), Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) and Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger). But with Kenneth Branagh directing Thor, it was the first time the company had hired someone with auteurist sensibilities since Ang Lee and his fascinatingly flawed yet ultimately ill-fated take on the Hulk in 2003. And so, the hiring of Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers surprised some. With only one feature film on his resume – the cult film darling Serenity (2005), and known mostly for his television work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and sci-fi western Firefly, there was some question if he could handle a $200+ million blockbluster populated with movie stars.

Whedon got his start as a screenwriter and honed his chops over the years on T.V. sitcoms and as a prolific and often uncredited script doctor (Speed, Twister, etc.), but more importantly were his hardcore comic book fan credentials, having actually written a brief run for The X-Men, so he knew how they worked in terms of dialogue, plotting and depicting visual action – perhaps the most important criteria for The Avengers gig. It was a calculated risk that paid off as the film amassed an impressive box office result and received strong critical response.

The Tesseract, a powerful energy source that was featured prominently in both Thor and Captain America, has activated itself and appears to be trying to open a portal to outer space. Sure enough, exiled Norse god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives with the intention of using it to take control of Earth and enslave its inhabitants. To this end, he brainwashes brilliant physicist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and S.H.I.E.L.D. (a top secret government organization) operative Clint Barton a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) to help him do his bidding. This doesn’t sit too well with S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and he decides to enlist Earth’s mightiest heroes to stop Loki.

This includes Russian super spy Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) who quickly finishes her “interrogation” of Russian gangsters to approach Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), a philanthropic scientist now staying “off the grid” by working in the slums of India and trying hard not to unleash his Hulk persona, a being with superhuman strength that is off the charts. Captain America (Chris Evans) has been thawed out since being trapped in ice at the end of World War II and is still trying to sort things out with Fury’s help. S.H.I.E.L.D. also approaches Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), interrupting his work on a clean energy source. Norse god of thunder Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Loki’s adoptive brother, is the wild card, arriving out of nowhere to intervene when Iron Man and Captain America attempt to capture him, resulting in an impressive skirmish. This all builds up to a spectacular climactic battle between Loki and an alien army that comes swarming out of the portal created by the Tesseract and the Avengers.

With the unfortunate exception of Jeremy Renner, the entire cast gets a chance to flex their acting chops the best they can between massive action set pieces. Mark Ruffalo, the third person to play Banner after Eric Bana and Edward Norton, really nails the human side of his character, playing him as slightly twitchy and paranoid drifter. He appears confident (because, hey, he can turn into the Hulk) yet distracted – a jumble of emotions. This is easily the best representation of the Hulk on film, both visually in terms of CGI and also how he’s portrayed – as a rampaging monster – the Mr. Hyde to Banner’s Dr. Jekyll.

Not surprisingly, Robert Downey Jr. gets the lion’s share of the funny quips – he was born to spout Whedon’s witty dialogue. It is a nice return to form after the cluttered rush job that was Iron Man 2 (2010). Based on Whedon’s perchance for having prominent strong-willed female characters in his projects, Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow gets a beefed up role and proves to be an integral part of the team. Not only does she show off a considerable physical prowess but she also holds her own against the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo.

Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth carry on with their characters from their respective films without missing a beat, each adding their own unique flavor to the team. In particular, Evans does a good job when Captain America steps up and takes tactical control during the war in New York while Hemsworth has some nice moments with Tom Hiddleston as warring brothers who just happen to be gods.

The Avengers is chock full of eye candy for comic book fans, from the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier to actually seeing superheroes fight each other – something, oddly enough, you don’t see in most films but that happens all the time in the comics. It is pretty cool to see the likes of Thor, Iron Man and Captain America duke it out while engaging in playful superhero banter. Unlike the other Marvel films starting with and including Iron Man, Whedon creates a real sense of danger for our heroes. There’s a feeling that they might fail and this tension is thrilling because it is so rare in these kinds of films, except maybe The Dark Knight (2008). It also raises the stakes when Whedon’s film needs it because there is a real sense that the Avengers are fighting for something tangible. He gives them something personal to fight for than just the usual let’s save the world goal. This culminates in the climactic battle in New York City between Loki and his alien army and the Avengers in one thrilling sequence after another, each filled with large-scale slugfests. The choreography during this massive battle is top notch. There is never any confusion as to what is happening and where, which is quite refreshing. The end result is pure, unfiltered comic book geek nirvana.

avengers2The Avengers falls rather nicely within Whedon’s wheelhouse as it is all about a group of misfits that band together to save the world from a great evil, just like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and so on. It doesn’t get any more disparate than a Norse god, a billionaire playboy, a World War II super soldier, a brilliant scientist, and two spies. Like much of the aforementioned work, the heroes in The Avengers bicker and fight amongst themselves but when the need to step up for the greater good arises, they put their differences aside and make a stand together. Loki continues in the tradition of eloquent Whedon villains who are incredibly confident because, well, in his case he wields great power and knows it. However, Loki isn’t just out to rule the world. For him, there is a personal component – he seeks vengeance for the slights he feels were incurred in Thor. This film was a great way to kick off the summer blockbuster season in 2012 and is a potent reminder of what a filmmaker who knows how comic book works can do if given the chance. The result is a smart, witty film that is a throwback to entertaining, crowd-pleasing comic book adaptations like Superman: The Movie (1978) and Batman (1989).

J.J. Abram’s Star Trek: A Review by Nate Hill 

I’ve never really been a trekkie my whole life. Didn’t grow up with the television series and haven’t actively explored it later in life. When the announcement came that wonder-kid JJ Abrams would be taking on the lofty overhaul of a remake, I didn’t freak out or anything. In fact I waited quite a while before seeing it in theatres, dragged along by a buddy who talked it up quite a bit. Well, it was amazing, and still is. Nothing gets you pumped and makes your heart ache quite as much as that epic ten prologue, starring an intrepid Chris Hemsworth who selflessly saves the lives of everyone onboard his ship, including his newborn son, James T. Kirk. When your eyes flood with tears in the first few minutes of a film, it’s always a good sign. Abrams ushered in Star Trek for the new generation, and I imagine strived to keep core elements like friendship, cameraderie and wonder alive as well. Chris Pine makes one hell of a Kirk, but then he’s one of the best in his age group these days. Cocky, belligerent, dysfunctional, impulsive and recklessly brave, he’s the perfect opposing force to Zachary Quinto’s calculated, logical, no nonsense Spock, who goes through quite a wringer when his entire world is decimated by rogue Romulan extremist Nero, played by a sensational Eric Bana. Both Kirk and Spock are no stranger to loss, being affected and reacting to it in different ways. Their initial rivalry tangles into the beginning of a friendship, hinted at by Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime, visiting Quinto from far in the future (time travel, baby). The plot and character motivations are in fact mostly about loss and anger; Nero himself is driven by grief which has morphed into poisonous hatred, willing to inflict hurt a thousand fold in return for what happened to his people. Bana finds the wounded areas of Nero, and uses the trademark Romulun leer to cover them up in violent fury. There must always be comic relief too, and when the banter between the two heroes gets too dark, the spotlight shifts to chipper Scotty (Simon Pegg) and a brilliant Karl Urban as Leonard ‘Bones’ Mccoy, the ship’s neurotic doctor. Urban is cast heavily against type in the liveliest role he’s ever been thrown, and clearly loves every antsy second of it. John Cho makes a formidable Sulu, and the sadly departed Anton Yelchin charms the pants off of everyone with his priceless russian accent. Clifton Collins Jr. and Jennifer Morrison are great as well. Abrams loves to cast beloved actors from bygone eras in these things (I peed a little when Peter Weller showed up in the sequel), so keep a look out for terrific work from Ben Cross and Winona Ryder as Spock’s parents. Bruce Greenwood is nobility incarnate as Commander Pike, the kindly captain who sees the potential in Kirk and paternally attempts to clear the wreckage of his personality, dust it off and make something out of him. The special effects and set pieces are a dizzying dream of nonstop adrenaline. The opener I mentioned before, a show stopping fight scene atop a giant chain miles above the surface of a planet, the hair raising arrival of Nero’s ship (it looks like some horrific giant space beetle) and a chase across a snowy tundra pursued by an evil Yeti Muppet thing are highlights that demonstrate how effective and useful CGI can be when implemented properly. For all its razzle dazzle though, Star Trek is ultimately about relationships between different beings (human or other), the ways in which they deal with tragedy, love one another, learn to coexist, help those in need and most importantly, explore the wonders of the universe around them. I admire the fact that in a huge Sci Fi blockbuster such as this, those kind of themes and qualities come first. We are all made of stars, and inward exploration of the ones that reside in us and how they make us what we are is just as essential as the world’s that lie millions of light years away, awaiting our arrival. JJ understands this, and I offer him a well earned Starfleet salute for it.  

Ca$h: A Review by Nate Hill

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Ca$h has an obnoxiously tongue in cheek title, and a premise that could have easily run off the rails into the silly zone. But rejoice: It knows how to create a tense, unpredictable environment accented by the slightest bits of naturally occurring humour here and there, a winning combination indeed. Sean Bean doesn’t often get a movie to himself, or at least get to play the lead. Here’s he’s the top dog, and while most would argue that he’s the antagonist as well, I’m in the opposite corner on that one. Yes he’s a criminal, yes he goes to extreme lengths to get his money back, but he’s a rigidly disciplined and staunchly fair bloke, driven by a set of principles and operational tics that reek of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and trust me, it takes one to know one. Oh, and he gets to play identical twins as well, pulling a Parent Trap and acting opposite himself which is a delight to see. When reckless career criminal Reese Kubrick (Bean) dicks up a robbery, loses a bunch of money and gets apprehended, a young couple think they have hit the jackpot. Played by Chris Hemsworth and Victoria Profeta, they find the money and make that fateful cinematic mistake of trying to keep it for themselves. Before they know it, Reese’s brother Pyke (also Bean) comes looking for them, and believe me when I say that this guy is a dude who finds what he’s looking for. Fast. The young couple has already begun to indulge, and as Pyke barges into their lives he finds a great deal of the amount spent. He then buckles down and calmly,  coolly forces them to come up with every remaining cent of the ‘deficit’, as he calls it, even if it means doing a bit of illegal stuff themselves. Bean has a ball as the icy cool, ruthlessly efficiant prick who plays hardball with a glint in his eye. He’s karma manifest, a very real and very dangerous metaphor for the perilous risk of excessive currency and ill gotten gains. It’s a terrific role for him, both in the moments of dangerous serenity and the few rare instances where he loses his cool streak, which sting like daggers. Hemsworth and Profeta play their standard roles very nicely. An arbitrary bit of fun: the actor Glenn Plummer shows up for a hysterical cameo as a dude named, I shit you not, Glenn The Plumber, who receives a whollop of a verbal beatdown from Bean that serves as the film’s most lighthearted moment, and is a riot for anyone who gets the reference. Snuck into limited DVD release back in  2010, this one deserves more than the small shelf space it’s gotten. Fun stuff.