I’m not usually one for sex comedies, I’m more reserved about the subject matter overall, it’s just not my style and most of the ones they make these days are obnoxious as fuck and pretty terrible. However, having said that I caught Maggie Carey’s The To Do List the other night and I gotta say it was a great time for more reasons than just being hilarious, which it is. It’s probably about the best my experience will get in this sub genre and I think one of the main reasons why is Aubrey Plaza, who is so young here! I’ve seen her here and there mostly in supporting turns and cameos but never in dead on lead role, but she nails it here as Brandy, a terminally curious high school senior with no sexual experience and a burning desire to get some under her belt. As summer break starts she writes up a To Do List (or a Fuckit List, as one reviewer on IMDb so candidly put it) of experimentation ideas and sets out to check some boxes off, but her adorable naivety and unhinged overzealousness leads to some… fairly chaotic situational comedy. She encounters a brain dead jock douchebag named (I wish I was making this up) Rusty Waters and a sensitive good boy (Johnny Simmons), all while under the various influences of her hilariously repressed dad (Clark Gregg), secretly adventurous mom (Connie Britton) and spitfire sister (Rachel Bilson). The film is set over a portion of the summer in the 90’s, so not only is there a wonderful sheen of carefully curated nostalgia at play, she also works at an outdoor kids pool under the deranged mentorship of a hopelessly inebriated boss (Bill Hader) so the setting and atmosphere are lovely to hang out it. Plaza is such a terrific presence onscreen and this likely my favourite of her roles yet, she makes Brandy adorably clueless but also has this clumsy intuition where she stumbles into the most awkward sexual situations possible and then somehow manages to find her way out in ways that had me laughing a lot. It’s also nice to see a sex positive comedy from a girl’s perspective that does a nice job of blending the raunchier aspects with a really down to earth message woven into the narrative. Good stuff.
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!!