Blake HowardComment

Asgardians, Hulks and Space Bears, Oh My: "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Brigsby Bear" Reviewed

Blake HowardComment
Asgardians, Hulks and Space Bears, Oh My: "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Brigsby Bear" Reviewed

Since Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) last shirtless visions in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” he’s been traversing the galaxy trying to thwart the end of days. He discovers that Odin (Anthony Hopkins) has been banished to Earth and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has assumed his identity. As Thor, with a begrudging Loki in tow, they discover that Odin is willingly drifting away; he releases Hela (Cate Blanchett) – their hidden sibling - coming to conquer the Asgardian throne. After a tussle that sees him banished from Asgard, sent hurling toward the garbage planet Sakaar, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is imprisoned by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) to compete in gladiatorial games. In competition he discovers his “friend from work” Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) stuck in a two year long rage spiral that’s made him a celebrity, and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and begins plotting escape and a return to Asgard to reclaim the throne.

Waiting for his opponent, Thor starts to chit chat with a rock alien named Korg (voiced and performed by director Taika Waititi); “How did you end up here?

Korg replies; “Well, I tried to start a revolution, but didn't print enough pamphlets so hardly anyone turned up".

It’s undeniable; having Taika Waititi involved in your project will make it better.

Thor’s appearances to date throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been a constant search for the right tone. “Thor,” was a Shakespearian space opera. “Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” discovered that Chris Hemsworth’s toughness and comedic timing meant that he could ooze charm. “Thor: The Dark World” was stuck in an arm wrestle; on the one hand yearning to be a grisly intergalactic “Game of Thrones,” but having the inclination to be “Lethal Weapon 2” but swap out evil apartheid white South Africans for Dark Elves. “Thor: Ragnarok” in many ways was an opportunity; Ragnarok means the end of days and Waititi and Hemsworth saw destruction as a mechanism for a character rebirth.

Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost’s script creates the great framework for the film, but it’s clear that they created the spaces ripe for Waititi and his troupe to improvise again and again.

The intergalactic waypoint or garbage dump in Sakaar has more vibrant colour than a Nintendo 64 “Goldeneye” paintball mode. The space films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are the crisp, Jack Kirby comic book pages sprung to life. Waititi seems to grasp that the best way to lighten up these failing attempts to squeeze this candy coloured, Nordic mythology inspired space fantasy from the dramatic origins so-to-speak, is to take the living piss out of itself throughout. Beat after beat, Waititi does what has to be done, but never forgets that we and he was there to bring the much needed "Flash Gordon” weird to this franchise. If there are any flaws, it’s in scenes that feel like they’re doing service to its position in a now decade-long cinematic serial. Lip service to the destinations of previous films, including a visit to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cuttlefish - I think that’s it), provides rare moments where the film and the special effects fall in a heap.

Hemsworth’s skill as a comedic performer is as much in the way that he surrenders the stage to his co-stars around him as it is being the destination for the laughs. It’s the school of David Brent; extreme self-confidence to the point of over inflation except Asgardian gods require Hulks, evil siblings with horns and a short back and sides haircut that takes him down a peg.

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It’s no surprise to hear that one Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie delivers another memorable performance. This time it’s less about drama and more about straight up drunken swagger. Her introduction has all the bluster of a Capt. Jack Sparrow, yet none of the buffoonery that led to each subsequent entry into that ongoing bloated tiresome franchise.

Mark Ruffalo’s turn as the Hulk gives the character the additional dimensions that we’ve been yearning for in his outings as the angry green giant, but allows for some self-awareness. It’s hard to decide where Ruffalo has more fun, interplay with Thor or simply throwing shade at the size of Tony Stark’s appendage.

Loki is absolutely the weakest element of the film. His tragedy is that his descent to the series’ best big bad so far has now evolved into a Cher from the “It Turns Back Time” film clip.

The most sensational supporting role of the film goes to a motion capture rock monster portrayed by Waititi named Korg. Korg, who Waititi described as his impression of a Maori ‘bouncer’ standing out in front of a nightclub in Auckland, unceremoniously steals every scene that he’s in the movie. It must now be considered an irrefutable fact that saying things with the New Zealand accent is objectively funnier. Measuring the amount that you and your friends have seen the film quote Korg to one another is a strong indicator to his staying power.

With Waititi at the helm, “Thor: Ragnarok” is undeniably the best outing and stamps itself as one of Marvel’s best and most ambitious films to date. There are two kinds of kids, those who act out movies and stories with their toys and those who take the characters and start making them do all the things that they wished they would do in the movies and comic books. Waititi takes the characters in “Thor: Ragnarok” and makes them act in precisely the way he feels it’s worth his time in this sandbox. “Brigsby Bear” is literally about a guy taking the show that defined his young life (and ended on a cliff-hanger) and giving it the ending that he feels it deserved.

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The wrestle occasionally as a critic is that very rarely, you walk into a film knowing very little about the movie. Movie news, film twitter - there’s usually a steady tide of opinion to avoid or frivolously wade through. Rarely, you walk in knowing nothing (a title and country of origin at most), the lights dim and you’re exposed to a something completely fresh that’s equally rare and beautiful. Walking into “Brigsby Bear” at the Sydney Film Festival was that precise experience. Perhaps if you haven’t seen the film and you want an experience as I did; read no further than this final word. “Brigsby Bear” is a stunning, uplifting, hilarious and original film told with heart and warmth and so far it’s one of my favourite films of the year.

Director Dave McCary and writers Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney have created a ‘fish-out-of-water’ traveller from another world story in the shape of, well, every great Brendan Fraser movie (“Encino-Man” “George of the Jungle” and “Blast from the Past”) but with a dark twist. James (Kyle Mooney) lives in a desert compound with his parents Ted (Mark Hamill) and April Hope (Jane Adams). Restricted to the confines of his home for his protection, he spends his days consuming through an educational children’s program called “Brigsby Bear” - think “Star Trek” meets “Play School” for Australian readers. James’ entire experience is a façade. James has in fact been kidnapped and instead of abuse lives in a state of contrived isolation with a failed T.V producer and his ingenious mathematician wife, who create a custom television show for their audience of one. When he’s reunited with his family he must navigate the odd truth of being kidnapped and also the only trauma that he’s not going to be able to see how the show that defined his youth, ends.

Costello and Mooney frame the pop cultural paradigm of being able to contribute to a universe that you love (see JJ, Rian and the long line of new “Star Wars” alumni to follow as the examples) but the certainty that it cannot exist without you.  James, with the help of new friends and family, attempts to recreate “Brigsby Bear” as a form of closure. 

It’s hard to single out performances but McCary and co. bring this weird and wonderful fantasy about reconnection to life because of the sincerity of the performances. Mooney’s performance as James shines in his perpetual state of wonderment and his awkward fondness for his strange family life before being thrust back into the normal world. Greg Kinnear’s Detective Vogel, the sweet police officer taking the time to check in on James’ reintegration to society, can’t help but offer to audition for James “Brigsby Bear” project by spouting remembered lines from a Shakespearian performance in his youth. The delivery reeks of satisfaction and its reception from the sheltered James is awe; it is hilarious.

I’m actually not even sure if it is possible for me to articulate how wonderful the experience of “Brigsby Bear” was to me and for a large majority of the folks who saw the film alongside me. Comedies like “Brigsby” attempt the difficult task of blending weirdness, dark satire and straight out slapstick silliness into something palatable. “Brigsby Bear” manages to avoid becoming a toxic, rocket fuel moonshine and creates something that you’re willing to order back again and again.

 

“Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) Review  - Score: ★★★★

“Brigsby Bear” (2017) - Score: ★★★★★

 

 

“Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) Review

Directed by: Taika Waititi

Written by: Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost   

Starring: 

Chris Hemsworth   ...  Thor

Tom Hiddleston   ...  Loki

Cate Blanchett   ...  Hela

Idris Elba   ...  Heimdall

Jeff Goldblum   ...  Grandmaster

Tessa Thompson   ...  Valkyrie

Karl Urban   ...  Skurge

Mark Ruffalo   ...  Bruce Banner / Hulk

Anthony Hopkins   ...  Odin

Benedict Cumberbatch   ...  Doctor Strange

Taika Waititi   ...  Korg

Rachel House   ...  Topaz

 

 

“Brigsby Bear” (2017)

Directed by: Dave McCary

Written by: Kevin Costello and Kyle Mooney

Starring:  

Mark Hamill ... Ted Hope

Jane Adams ... April

Kiera Milan Hendricks ... Young Arielle

Kate Lyn Sheil ... Arielle Smiles

Kyle Mooney ... James Pope

Ryan Simpkins ... Aubrey Pope

Matt Walsh ... Greg Pope

Jorge Lendeborg Jr. ... Spencer

Greg Kinnear ... Detective Vogel

Claire Danes ... Clare

Andy Samberg ... Eric

Ellery Davidson ... Hannah Slice

Alexa Demie ... Meredith

BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.