Thor: Ragnarok-Movie Man Jackson

Ah-ah, ah! After the events of Sokovia, The God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), has been busy scouring the Earth for Infinity Stones. He’s been hell-bent on prepping his city of Asgard from a destruction known as Ragnarok, a feeling he possesses as a result of his reoccurring visions of this event. Believing that he has prevented Ragnarok from happening after defeating Surtur the fire demon, the hero returns home in good spirits.

But, those do not last long, as the defeating of Surtur wasn’t the catalyst to stopping Ragnarok. In truth, Ragnarok has already begun, and the Goddess of Death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), announces it with an impact arrival, obliterating Thor’s legendary hammer and banishing him, along with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to a foreign planet called Sakarr. Led by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), it’s a place where fatal battles are fought for entertainment, and Thor is forced to enter and fight an old friend in The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). To get back home and save his home, Thor must fight, and somehow get the help of Banner, Loki, and even a mysterious nomad by the name of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to drive out Hela.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if it’s fraying, re-coat it. Terrible similes aside, the two Thor movies showcasing the God of Thunder weren’t exactly broken, but the fact is, they are two of the more forgotten or rather, nondescript movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to fans, especially The Dark World (truthfully, yours truly is rather fond of 2011’s Thor). So with Thor: Ragnarok, director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) has certainly left behind a movie that won’t be considered “nondescript.” Has he left a movie behind that many are calling one of Marvel’s best? That’s up for debate.

The direction is certainly worth taking note of and remembering. The style the trailers promised is front and center throughout. Asgard has never looked better, but it’s the world of Sakarr—a trippy, futuristic hue of neon colors and post-apocalyptic feel—that stands out the most. It makes the somewhat bumpy first 20 or so minutes worth sticking around for. Waititi’s action, visual flair, and predominately 80’s inspired score/soundtrack coalesce to create something so unlike what has been seen in the MCU up to this point. Even the movies that Ragnarok will be most compared with in Guardians of the Galaxy volumes 1 and 2, the third chapter of Thor is substantially different than those.

One main thing Ragnarok shares with those movies is an appetite for humor. It wouldn’t be out of line to consider Thor: Ragnarok comedy first, action/adventure second. And for the most part, the comedy hits more than it misses. Seriously, there are some very funny jokes and awesome delivery found in all characters. But honestly, it can get to be a bit much. The story, while functional, kind of seems to be written around the jokes (apparently 80% of the film is improvised). Absolutely nothing is wrong with a lighter superhero film, though going so light while still trying to generate emotion can undermine some of the more dramatic moments of the production. In a few “big” moments, Ragnarok seems to struggle with this, wanting to immediately cut to the next visual gag or joke from something with a serious or vice versa.

With that said, one does have to commend those in charge who say they’d like to flip the script and actually achieve in doing it. Thor: Ragnarok isn’t a Jason Bourne, a franchise in which director and lead actor said they’d never do another unless they could do something else—only to proceed with doing the same thing they had done three movies prior. The changes in Ragnarok seem to revitalize the main holdovers from the prior installments in Hemsworth and Hiddleston. Both seem to really be having fun like never before, and the machinations of the story allow them to take advantage of their natural chemistry. Those who wanted more Hulk get their wish granted; the not-so-jolly green giant has a load of screentime and Ruffalo handles the two parts of the beast and Banner like only he can.

Newbie to the MCU Tessa Thompson brings a great new character into the fold as Valkyrie, the foundation and backstory being laid for her own potential standalone journey. As for other newbies, their characters don’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things, but in the ride that is Thor: Ragnarok, they fit right in. Anytime a wide-eyed Jeff Goldblum is cast (save for Independence Day: Resurgence), it can only amp the fun factor up. There are some disappointments, but not due to performance. The villainous Hela is introduced wonderfully and played up wonderfully by Cate Blanchett, only to be forgotten in long stretches of the movie. Karl Urban, always a joy to watch, is a little underutilized as a basic henchman. Taika Waititi probably possesses the biggest laughs lending his voice to Korg, a rock-based gladiator-turned-gatekeeper of the battle arena.

 

Thor: Ragnarok is a sugar rush in the most positive and negative of ways. But Marvel does deserve some praise for wanting to tweak its formula and try a few new things with one of its less beloved lead Avengers. No matter what…Marvel, uh, finds a way.

C+

Photo credits go to collider.com, polygon.com, and comicbook.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Vacation: Movie Man Jackson

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“The journey sucks. That’s what makes you appreciate the destination.”

Like father, like son. Over 30 years have passed since Clark Griswold took his family cross country on a Vacation to Walley World. Through hell, high water, and Aunt Edna, he got them there. His son, Rusty (Ed Helms) is now a father of his own, with a wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and two sons James and Kevin (Skyler Gisondo, Steele Stebbins).

Even as a domestic pilot, Rusty feels like he is becoming more distant from his family than he would like. What is the remedy? Certainly not the annual vacation to Michigan. No, this time, Rusty decides to load up the clan in a 2015 “Tartan Prancer” and begin the journey to Walley World. Genetics are passed down from father to son, and so too are vacations from hell.

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National Lampoon’s Vacation arrived in theaters July 29th, 1983, and it really served as the template for most, if not all, road trip movies following it. Exactly 32 years later, the 2015 version also arrives on July 29th. It occupies a middle ground of being a direct sequel, but from a story structure aspect, it is a remake. Perhaps a “requel” or a “semake?” Hybrid words withstanding, yours truly completely understands why some will despise this, which I’ll obviously get into. Vacation—not a shocker—does not come close to the simplistic brillance of the 1983 installment. As a 2015 R-rated comedy, however, worse does exist.

In 1983 NLV was a comedy that earned its R-rating, but mostly relied on smart writing and dialogue. There are moments in the new Vacation, written and directed by John Frances Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses 1 & 2), that are reminiscent of old, where the material is crude but delivered with the lightest of touches; implied and not overt. Also found are some fairly clever homages to those familiar with the Chevy Chase vehicle, but they work for those who have yet to see it also. But, there are equal moments of dumb, blunt, and slapstick crudeness that often weigh things down.

That may sound like I have disdain for lewd and crude R-rated comedies, but I like to believe I don’t. Honestly, a few of those dumb moments had me laughing pretty hard. But what is a surprise is the reliance on the vulgarity, which can at times be very dark (suffocation, underage sex crimes) and more uncomfortable than it needs to be for something in the Vacation series. The charm is just harder to be found in this one.

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To get to Walley World is the true goal of Vacation, but it can become lost, mainly because this film never makes Walley World feel important. Let me explain. In the first, despite everything Clark and company went through, it was clear that all wanted to get to the theme park. Who can forgot the Marty Moose national anthem to illustrate this point? This go around, only Rusty truly wants to go, and Walley World is hardly brought up aside from the beginning and the end. It makes the film feel cobbled together in its craziness instead of building to something substantial.

Enough comparing though, which yours truly hates to do but it is hard not to. The Rusty role, always filled by a different actor in each installment, falls to Ed Helms this time around. He does serve up a lot of the movie’s comedy, and Helms fans should be pleased. Applegate is OK as her character gets a lot to do, as are the kids, though they are written weakly, especially the youngest Griswold who is a pest with 60% of his dialogue being curse words. The performances themselves are fine, but taken as a family unit, the four never seem to give that family feel. At least they ride in a hilarious (fictional) vehicle of the Tartan Prancer, which also provides quite a few laughs. It pokes fun at today’s latest technology and stuff, not knowing what everything does or needing the bells and whistles in the first place.

Many side characters filled by notable actors and actresses make their way into the Vacation universe as well, none being better than Chris Hemsworth as Stone Crandall. For basically his first comedy, he is very natural and charismatic, using his sex appeal to generate humor. Easy for sure, but effective. And of course, Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo make their grand appearance for a brief period in the runtime, serving to link the past to the present. Pleasure to see them, certainly, but nothing more than fan service.

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Rusty says at one point in a meta-line that the new Vacation will stand on its own. It is admittedly hard to look at it that way, as this post seems to indicate. But if one is able to, the trip does provide a humorous experience in stretches.

Grade: C-

Photo credits go to nytimes.com, tfcar.com, and mirror.co.uk.

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Vacation (Red Band Trailer): Movie Man Jackson Analysis

Holiday road a-oh-oh-ohh-a-oh-a-oh-ohh! Some thirty odd years leater, an all grown-up Rusty Griswold (Ed Helms) decides to do what his dad Clark did when he was a youngster. Go on a cross-country trip to Wally World to reconnect with his sons and wife Debbie (Christina Applegate). Why aren’t they flying? Because getting there is half the fun, you know that.

Often imitated but never fully duplicated, the original 1983 National Lampoon’s Vacation still stands (in my opinion) as the best family trip movie that goes completely wrong at every stop. It is a template that Are We There Yet, RV, and Johnson Family Vacation have all tried to replicate but never got right. Remakes/reboots are often derided, but this has a natural progression that makes it feel less forced. We’ll see.

As trailers go, this is pretty average. If it makes for a better comedy by not spoiling the really good parts though, yours truly is all for it. All trailers should refrain from showing too much (though that rule is thrown by the wayside as of late), but for comedies, I believe it is more imperative to keep the cards close to the vest. Aside from the end with the mighty hammer of Thor, nothing stands out as amazingly funny, but I’ll stay optimistic. Ed Helms is a funny guy, there may be an attempt at meta humor, and who knows what cameos could be found here. Hopefully the kids aren’t too annoying.

Time to load up the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. Vacation arrives July 29th, 2015.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron: Movie Man Jackson

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“How is humanity saved if it isn’t allowed to evolve?”

How is it that striving for peace almost always seems to make things worse than they are? There is no assembling The Avengers this time around, the group is already comprised. In Age of Ultron, the good guys are back and a cohesive super unit. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye are doing their best to keep the world and humanity running smoothly. They are doing a great job, but as Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) states, they should be fighting in the hope that one day, they will no longer have to.

Enter the Ultron program, which Tony Stark is not able to build in a cave…with a box of scraps. Designed to be a global artificial intelligence defense that keeps unwanted intruders from entering Earth, Stark and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), decide to give another go. Unfortunately, the Ultron AI goes haywire, and “peace” in its mind involves the eradication of The Avengers and humanity.

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At this point, Marvel cannot lose, from a revenue sense at least. Maybe one day a huge loss will come that ends up changing the terrain of comic book feature presentations, but not yet. From a quality sense, Avengers: Age of Ultron is still a winner, but not to the extent that the The Avengers was. Don’t take that as AoU being a failure, take it as AoU being a functional blockbuster.

Director Joss Whedon has the job of once again bringing these popular comic book characters together, and he possesses a real talent in doing so. He wastes no time in reintroducing the audience to the gang in a frenetic, fun, and maybe too comic-book-ish (it probably is stupid to complain about this given the origins, but whatever) opening sequence. Whereas maybe one or two characters from the first movie had less total impact and screentime, this go around, everyone’s contributions do feel as equal as could possibly be.

There’s even some notable depth given to a few of them that is totally unforeseen. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is more than the human archer, and yet he isn’t at the same time. Sounds confusing, but it makes sense when seen. But the real development occurs with the arrogant Tony Stark. Downey, in yours truly’s opinion, hasn’t been this good since the first Iron Man. What is being done with his character is a nice, long, slow burn heel turn, reminiscent of a wrestler who shows bad guy tendencies for months but never officially turns until way down the line. It should be great to see it culminate in next year’s Civil War.

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Not everything is handled expertly, however. It could just be a personal preference, but I’d prefer my Avengers films to be love-free. Not to spoil anything, but anytime two specific characters get doe-eyed and spout double entendres around each other, it is hard to stomach and the movie truly bogs down in pace. This is one of a few moments/side plots that are odd in their presence, adding to a story that at its base is somewhat coherent yet fragmented; not as complete as the predecessor. For what has come out with Whedon and the creative differences pertaining to AoU in various scenes, it will be interesting to see how things appear in the rumored extended cut once a home media release rolls out.

With a group this large and egos this sizable, you have got to have a villain to be formidable. Ultron (James Spader) is…just good. Visually, he looks menacing, and Spader gives a distinct voice to the character, but a belief exists that he could be so much more. His inclusion comes off as a tad rushed, as in it doesn’t even take a minute for the program to become corrupt. And, he falls short of being the badass he could be. The trailers painted him as a ruthless, sentient being, and he gets to about 75-80% of that. The other 20-25% is filled with hit or miss one-liners, which can be said for most of the film, and underdeveloped motivations.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron is still the definitive christening of the summer blockbuster season, and it is hard to be completely dissatisfied with what is present here. If a hunger for comic book heroes and villains exists, one will get their fill with this one. But instead of feeling like a unique event all in of itself like the original did, AoU ends up feeling like another cog in the Marvel machine.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to geekslife.com, io9.com, and comicbook.com.

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Marvel’s The Avengers: Movie Man Jackson

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 “Because if we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damned well sure we’ll avenge it!”

And this is the story all about how a little blue box turned the world upside down. Director of S.H.I.E.L.D Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) makes his way onto the Santa Fe headquarters of the agency one day during an evacuation. The fabled blue cubed Tesseract is beginning to act funny, and before the research team can figure out why, a portal to another realm opens, and out of it arrives Asgardian Loki (Tom Middleton). Having lost his rule over his homeland previously, Loki has struck a deal with an otherworldly race: If he seizes and gives the Tesseract to these beings, they will be under his control to rule over Earth.

With the powerful cube gone, Fury decides it is essentially code red. What is code read? The Avengers initiative. This is war, and not a war that can be fought singularly by Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), or the Norse God of Thunder. Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, and and others are going to need each other to take down this threat. Getting these guys on the same page, however, may be a tougher war than taking down Loki.

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No matter how many times it is watched, The Avengers still carries a feeling of astonishment, to yours truly at least. Whenever I think of this movie, I think of that semi-iconic scene where the camera does a nice pan around all of the heroes. It is a geek-out moment, and this is coming from a guy who isn’t a comic book nerd. The fact that director Joss Whedon can extract that feeling, or make it from nothing in some cases, is quite the feat.

That is to say that Whedon has made something in The Avengers that works well enough standalone, but the true magic is seeing how all of the other films tied to Phase 1 before it have built up to the specific moment. Some might have been better quality than others, certainly, but at the end of the day they all had enough linkage to each other to comprise the intertwined universe that Marvel envisioned.

It’s little things like, for example, hearing Tony mention to Bruce that Steve is the guy his father worked on. This intertwining gives depth, and also makes the rather simple plot of “taking back item X (the Tesseract) from the bad guy” a bit more substantial and meaningful because the object of attention has had a presence in many of the previous films.

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Where Whedon shoots for the moon and hits the target over and over again are the massive action set pieces. Aside from some lumbering and very stylized hand-to-hand combat, when it is time for buildings to crumble, planes to come down, and intruders to get hammered, blasted, smashed, or “shielded,” the movie dazzles consistently.

Even with the high quality of superhero action in this, the best moments, at least to yours truly, are the smaller moments among the heroes. Unlike some later films that really forced the humor (looking at you primarily, Iron Man 3), the humor here is natural, and comes from well-written lines and the simple clashes that come with these larger-than-life personalities.

Each alpha carries distinct traits that make them who they are for mostly better but worse when forced to assimilate in a group. Watching Captain America and Iron Man spar verbally with different ideologies (really planted the seeds early for Civil War), or Thor flexing his demigod status making it occasionally difficult to connect with others is compelling. One can tell there’s a real comfort level, whether a good guy/woman, a smaller side character, or bad guy, everyone has with their roles, which also applies to the guy who has the least experience with his superhero character. Mark Ruffalo absolutely nails The Hulk from appearance to personality, adding to the spot-on casting that Marvel always seems to bat close to 1.000 on.

Nothing said here about The Avengers by yours truly is groundbreaking, insightful, or newly eye-opening. But years later, it is still clear that Whedon has assembled many parts to create something very whole that will last the test of time.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to impawards.com, comicvine.com, and fanpop.com.

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