Movie Reviews—Thor: Ragnarok and Lady Bird

Movie of the moment, possible movie of the year.

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Thor: Ragnarok is about half of a pretty great movie. Whenever Chris Hemsworth is flexing his comedy chops; or Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange is arching a punctilious eyebrow; or Jeff Goldblum, with blue fingernails and sparkly gold-lamé robe, is looning about as an evil whackjob from Planet Disco—whenever these people are onscreen doing these things, the picture is a blast. (Oh, and Valkyrie, too—we'll get to her in a moment.)

But whenever these characters are not in full effect, we're left with little to contemplate beyond the exhausted clichés of the Marvel Universe—which is to say, chasings and racings and blowings-up beyond number. (There's a battle scene with Thor and Hulk that goes on so long, you'd think even the gods of boredom might be moved to call time.) I hope New Zealand director Taika Waititi, a Marvel newbie, had fun deploying these expensive effects (the movie's budget is reported to be in the $180-million range); but really, it's his visual wit and respect for the rhythms of comic badinage that the movie could use more of. Maybe next time.

The picture opens with some good-natured genre nonsense. We see Thor in chains, with a flaming Hell-beast called Surtur towering above him. "I know what you're thinkin'," Thor says, launching into a series of wisecracks that showcase Hemsworth's matey way with a good line. But once Thor escapes his classically dire situation—and it's the work of moments, as you might imagine—the musty plot clanks to life. Thor needs to find his dad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), but discovers that he's no longer extant on their homeworld of Asgard. (Although Matt Damon is—don't ask.) Thor makes his way to Greenwich Village to have a beer with Doctor Strange, who tells him to try Norway. This he does, along with his trickster brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who's also back on the scene. They find Odin, who warns them about their long-lost sister Hela (Cate Blanchett), who went bad multi-millenniums ago and is now plotting to institute a global fashion trend for big black-metal antlers and to trigger Ragnarok, the destruction of…well, pretty much everything. If she makes it to Asgard, everybody's doomed. Can she be stopped? (Kidding—not a question.)

Now the Valkyrie part. Thor comes under the control of this booze-swilling battle chick (played with exemplary sass by Tessa Thompson), and is soon transported by her to some fringe planet run by the batty Grandmaster (Goldblum). Next Thor finds himself in a gladiator stadium facing off against…good grief, it's Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)! He's been enslaved here ever since Avengers: Age of Ultron ended, two years ago. Thor brings his old partner up to date on a number of fronts (including the news that some people have always secretly referred to him as "the stupid Avenger"), and then, with Valkyrie fully on their side and ready to rumble, they're off to Asgard to save the world.

Director Waititi's comedy skill set (he worked with Jemaine Clement on Flight of the Conchords and the urban-vampire flick What We Do in the Shadows) is the only thing that makes all this shopworn superhero commotion tolerable. He also personally inhabits the role of a new mo-cap character called Korg—your average buncha-boulders fantasy individual, but pretty droll in the riffing department. Chris Hemsworth is enormously appealing, as always (who wouldn't want to share an eternally self-refilling glass of beer with him?); and Cate Blanchett demonstrates that she can go full-ham with the best of them. As for Tessa Thompson, her Valkyrie is already worthy of a spinoff. Hope she doesn't have to wait in line behind Scarlett Johansson to get it.

Lady Bird

Saoirse Ronan gives a sensational star performance in Lady Bird, a new comedy written and directed by indie eminence Greta Gerwig. The movie is set in 2002, with Ronan playing Christine McPherson, a prickly senior at a Catholic high school in godforsaken Sacramento ("the Midwest of California," she grumbles). Christine calls herself Lady Bird, insisting that it's her given name ("Given to me by me"), and there's not much more to say about that. People tend to humor her.

As the movie begins, Lady Bird is nervously awaiting replies to the application letters she sent out to three fancy East Coast colleges. Her mother (Laurie Metcalf), whose mission in life is to drive her daughter completely mad, wishes she'd consider some non-fancy schools nearer by, especially now that her dad (Tracy Letts) has lost his job.

Meanwhile, Lady Bird has met a boy, a theater nerd named Danny (Lucas Hedges). They've recently passed the first-kiss frontier, but who knows if that'll lead anywhere. Especially now that she's also pinged the radar of a smoldery hipster named Kyle (Timothée Chalamet), who plays guitar and comes from money. Not that he has any interest in money—he wishes we could all live by barter—but he comes from it. As do his well-off friends, all of whom are very unlike Lady Bird and her ever-present best pal, the sweet, plus-size Julie (Beanie Feldstein). It's agreeably complicated. And prom's coming up, too.

Gerwig's script is a dazzling piece of work, not least because she's a Sacramento native who knows whereof she writes. ("Anyone who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento," she has Lady Bird say.) The film is basically a coming-of-age story, but it keeps surprising you. We see Lady Bird and her mom in a weekend ritual, making the rounds of high-end open-house real-estate showings, where they fantasize about what it would be like to live a plusher life. A coach with the school's sports department subs for an absent theater instructor and runs the class like a gung-ho locker-room strategy session. In a moment of glowing eloquence, the school's head nun (Lois Smith) tells Lady Bird that the secret of love might not be a lot more than just paying attention. Most memorably, in a movie that's memorable in just about every regard, there's a compact sex scene that illuminates a whole interior world of desire and values.

The heart of the movie – the real love story at its center—is the relationship between Lady Bird and her frazzled mother. Ronen and Metcalf operate at the top of their artistry in every scene they share, and we see that their characters do have a bond. (At one point we watch them tooling along in the family car listening to an audiobook of The Grapes of Wrath—talk about California illusions.) But their connection is subject to sudden squalls of incomprehension. In a department-store fitting room, failing to elicit an encouraging parental word about a prom dress, Lady Bird asks, "Do you like me?"

"Of course," Mom says, "I love you."

"But do you like me?"

Yes, she does, even if that message doesn't always carry through their crossed emotional wires. "Your mom's hard on you," Danny says, trying to commiserate. "Yeah, well, she loves me a lot," Lady Bird says.

NEXT: Opioid Commission Mistakenly Blames Pain Treatment for Drug Deaths

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  1. Reason needs a music and video game reviewer. There. I said it.

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    1. They probably shouldn’t be one and the same

    2. I question why most magazines have movie reviews much less video games and muzack. I guess magazines with a political focus do because of the shitty way politics and propaganda creeps into everything. Either that, or the editors are trying to attract a particular market to their magazine and are hoping others will get bored and go away.

      1. Politics creep into a movie? You mean like making Norse God’s multi-cultural and insisting the female characters are stronger/smarter than the men? Could never happen.

  2. Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok and Lady Bird

    Movie your readers may actually see, movie your readers may be dragged to by their liberal acquaintances

    1. Lady Bird is neither explicitly nor implicitly political. It’s just a great movie….

      1. I think I’ll see it. Sounds fun AND interesting.

        1. When did you start hating America, SR&C? Were the pleasures of bald eagles and the AR-15s we fire them from just not *good enough* for you?

      2. “Meanwhile, Lady Bird has met a boy, a theater nerd named Danny (Lucas Hedges). They’ve recently passed the first-kiss frontier, but who knows if that’ll lead anywhere. Especially now that she’s also pinged the radar of a smoldery hipster named Kyle (Timoth?e Chalamet), who plays guitar and comes from money. Not that he has any interest in money?he wishes we could all live by barter?but he comes from it.”

        Great movie or not, that storyline is clearly lifted directly from Chelsea Clinton’s high school composition book.

      3. I think I’ll see it. Sounds fun AND interesting.

        1. I knew my ISP was slow but this sets new records!

  3. Not sure I can manage many more mediocre Marvel movies. (Alliteration FTW!)

    Thor movies have always been especially ho-hum to me. But the other characters you mention might get me to take my young boys to see it.

  4. with a flaming Hell-beast called Surtur towering above him

    Probably wouldn’t kill you to look up a little Norse mythology.

    1. They might also find out that Hela was Loki’s daughter and not his sister.

    2. I just did. Wikipedia entry describes Surtr as having “a flaming sword” and being “stationed guarding the frontier of the fiery realm M?spel,” which in turn is described as “a bright and flaming region.” It’s also thought he might be a “volcano demon” with a “charred appearance.” That pretty much describes the opening scene of this movie.

  5. called Korg?your average buncha-boulders fantasy individual

    Probably wouldn’t kill you to look up a little Marvel Universe mythology.

    1. I just did. Wikipedia entry describes Surtr as having “a flaming sword” and being “stationed guarding the frontier of the fiery realm M?spel,” which in turn is described as “a bright and flaming region.” It’s also thought he might be a “volcano demon” with a “charred appearance.” That pretty much describes the opening scene of this movie.

  6. I’m happy that Taika Watiti is getting more recognition and Cate Blanchett is my favorite actress, but goddammit I’m sick of superhero movies

    1. I haven’t seen a superhero movie since Batman Begins, unless Birdman counts. [climbs on pennyfarthing, rides away]

    2. People mock DC movies, but recently the Marvel movies have been just plain lame. Okay, Spiderman Homecoming was good overall, but where it lagged was where it tried to be more Avengers like. Funny quips are great, witty repartee is great, but it a movie needs more than that. Stuff happens in Marvel movies just because the Marvel formula says something is supposed to happen at this point in the movie.

      Meanwhile, DC movies manage to give motivations to its characters. Maybe you still don’t have to take your brain into the theater with you, but at least there is characterization and plot and motivation. The Dark Knight trilogy still runs rings about the studio that gave us the the original Hulk movie and all three Fantastic Four movies. Wonder Woman rocked. Even Justice League was great, if you don’t listen to the paid Marvel shills.

      1. Stuff happens in Marvel movies just because the Marvel formula says something is supposed to happen at this point in the movie.

        Exactly. Ant Man was the last one where I sat through to the end because it was somewhat funny and I like Paul Rudd, but it was still so damn formulaic.

      2. Spider-man was a trainwreck of epic proportions. I’m wishing they stopped after the first Avengers movie.

      3. Justice League was great?

        Was?

        That’s pretty amazing for a movie that hasn’t hit theaters yet.

  7. “the Midwest of California,”

    So the only place without insane taxes and regulation and where everyone isn’t a psycho douchebag?

    1. No. It’s a politician’s utopia stuck in the middle of farm land. It’s a tiny bright blue dot in the middle of vast tracks of red.

      It’s the Hollywood vision of what rural America should be: progressive elites in their towers and edifices looking out over the yokel serfs.

  8. Fun fact: “Lady Bird” was Citizen X’s nickname in college.

    1. ‘Cause the ladies were always flocking to me, homeslice.

  9. I imagine Thor is ok. I’ll be passsing on it, however, because Marvel and Disney are at the forefron of pushing SJW nonsense, and they replaced a blonde Scandinavian valkyrie with Tessa Thompson. Plus, I don’t find her sassy, I find her obnoxious, and have since Dr. Who.

    1. I’ve heard from a couple friends that Marvel is taking quite a beating for running full speed ahead down SJW road. Comic sales are way way down supposedly.

      1. I endorse this behavior. The beatings, not running down a dark road.

    2. She was on Doctor Who?

    3. A black Valkyrie? Isn’t that cultural appropriation?

  10. I’m a sucker for Marvel (yeah I said it) so I’ll be seeing Thor soon. Plus I loved Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. But I’m really happy for Gerwig and hope her film does well. I’m born and raised, and still living, in Sactown, so I have to root for my fellow Sacramentan. Plus it will be cool to see a lot of familiar places on the big screen. Kind of bummed now that I didn’t go to the premier at the Tower Theatre downtown.

    1. I’m born and raised, and still living, in Sactown

      *rings cowbell*

  11. Lady Bird sounds insufferable.

    Middle class American life is terrible, blah, blah, blah.

    1. It’s actually not like that at all….

      1. Sorry, when one if the first things you tell me about a movie is that Sacramento is described as “the Midwest of California,” which is clearly meant to be disparaging, it immediately makes me classify it in the category of American Beauty, Pleasantville or any movie featuring Juno Temple with an American accent — filled with dog whistles about the crushing banality and ugliness of life in middle America.

        Even when that is not the focus of the film, Hollywood marinates films like these in a sauce of contempt for flyover country.

        1. True dat. What little I’ve seen of California didn’t enchant me. But then I don’t suffer from affluenza, at least not to the extent that people from San Fran seem to.

      2. Sorry, when one if the first things you tell me about a movie is that Sacramento is described as “the Midwest of California,” which is clearly meant to be disparaging, it immediately makes me classify it in the category of American Beauty, Pleasantville or any movie featuring Juno Temple with an American accent — filled with dog whistles about the crushing banality and ugliness of life in middle America.

        Even when that is not the focus of the film, Hollywood marinates films like these in a sauce of contempt for flyover country.

        1. A good enough comment to be worth posting twice.

  12. Going by the latest Thor trailers, they sound like they’re hoping to get a few oscar nominations, but I guess Kurt Loder is feeling the pressure, and he resents it. Can’t blame him. At best, just about all films I bother to watch are weekend DVD rentals a year or two after they arrived in the theaters, long after the hype cycle has come and gone.

  13. I actually don’t like the superhero movies.I’d give this movie 8 points.Very good scenario. Decent Actings.Classic popcorn movie :-).
    Designs are awesome.

  14. The anarchist/libertarian.

    Korg: Well, I tried to start a revolution, but didn’t print enough pamphlets so hardly anyone turned up. Except for my mum and her boyfriend, who I hate.

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