Weekend Viewing Roundup & My Top Fave Summer Movies

So the weekend just flew by… poof, that was fast! It’s actually been pretty hectic, back to the usual after a super mellow one last weekend as we recovered from our holiday. We saw Rango Friday night and yesterday, after a hot and humid day visiting a local art fair, we cooled off in a movie theater to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

I’ll have the reviews later this week but first I just want to share my thoughts of the Summer movies I’ve seen so far. It’s interesting that the movies which trailers didn’t impress me initially end up being the ones I enjoy more, ok with the exception of X-Men: First Class as I like both the trailer and the movie itself. The one that surprises me the most is the ‘Ape’ movie as I never had much interest in the ‘franchise’ if you will, never having seen the original with Charlton Heston. But after seeing this, I’m now curious to see it and I’ve added it to my Netflix queue. My husband said we actually rented the Tim Burton version a while go, but I completely forgot about it (maybe I fell asleep watching that? ahah).

Turns out that the Apes prequel to the 1968 film definitely um, rises to the occasion with $54 million, making it the box office winner this weekend. Per box office mojo, despite narrowly beating The Smurfs last weekend with $36 mil, Cowboys & Aliens fell to third place this time, losing out to the little blue people by about $5 mil (Ouch, that’s got to hurt Jon Favreau!)

Well, if I had to rank the Summer big-budget movies I managed to see this year (those released from May until now), it’d look like this:

  1. X-Men: First Class
  2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  3. THOR
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II
  5. Captain America

I’m kind of going back on forth between #4 and #5, I think I like both of them equally so both Captain America and HP 7.2 could easily be a tie. The only other movie I want to see in August is The Debt, which is scheduled to open on 8/31 but hopefully that is a wide release instead of a limited one.

Well, what did you end up seeing this weekend, folks? And how would you rank the Summer films you’ve seen this year?

FlixChatter Review: THOR

Summer blockbuster season has finally arrived with a thunderous bang. I can tell you right off the bat that Kenneth Branagh has set the bar for a highly entertaining superhero flick, not bad for a director known mostly for his Shakespearean works.

The gist of the story is this: A young warrior is stripped off his power (that is his powerful hammer Mjolnir) by his father for his disobedience and arrogance, and is banished from his home in Asgard to earth as punishment. Right away we’re introduced to three storm-chasing scientists on that fateful night when Thor falls to earth. Then the film swiftly gives us the rundown on the cosmic realm of Asgard, with Anthony Hopkins’ narration as the battle-weary and wise chief Odin, and the relationship of his people with the neighboring enemy, The Frost Giants. It’s a spectacular establishing scenes by Branagh, within a few minutes I’m already invested in their world and wanting for more. Though it may seem cheesy in the trailer, the world of Asgard with its shiny, pipe-organ-like skyscrapers look majestic and impressive in 3D.

The day Thor is about to be crowned king, a security breach prompts a reckless decision by the hotheaded warrior that inevitably re-ignites an ancient war, something Odin’s been trying to prevent. Thor’s impudent confrontation with his father lands him in a far away land we call earth, so the intro comes full circle when the team of scientists find him laying in the middle of the desert, all disheveled and discombobulated (perhaps the fact that he runs forcefully into an oncoming van might have something to do with it).

Total Film’s feature article on the film puts it amusingly enough, “Thor is part RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), all OMG…” 😀 What a fitting description. Branagh puts his Bard-training to good use — the complicated relationship between Thor and his father and brother Loki, as well as the people on earth, are handled well. He also infuse witty dialog and draw compelling performances from his actors, whilst still delivering satisfying special effects for fans of the superhero genre. All the fight scenes involving the all-powerful Mjolnir are super cool and get people like me to revel in its inherent geekiness.

Branagh decided not to set Thor in ancient Vikings realm, instead opting to inject the comical fish-out-of-water scenarios during his temporary banishment to earth. Not to mention the kind of shenanigans the hammer-stuck-in-a-rock brings about to the sleepy town, which perfectly calls for a gleeful cameo from Stan Lee. It’s a pleasant surprise how well the Shakespearean tone in Asgard actually meshes well with the um, grounded scenes and dialog of the earthly creatures. My favorite part is when he smashes his coffee cup in a small town café while shouting, ‘Bring me another!’ The one-liners from Kat Dennings are a hoot, it doesn’t feel jarring or annoying. Even the usually-serious Stellan Skarsgård drew riotous laughter in much of his scenes.

I was skeptical of Chris Hemsworth in the lead role, having been disappointed by the relative-newcomer leading men in Clash of the Titans and TRON: Legacy. But I’m glad to say Hemsworth doesn’t disappoints here, not only is he more expressive than both Sam Worthington and Garrett Hendlund combined, he’s also got charisma in spades (apart from that shirtless scene, mind you). He’s also got a pretty credible chemistry with Natalie Portman, the workaholic scientist who practically goes ga-ga over Thor the minute she lays eyes on him.

The rest of the performances are great as well. Hopkins’s gravitas as the wise king is to be expected, but it’s Tom Hiddleston who’s the revelation here by infusing the conflicted Loki with the right amount of sinister undercurrent and dejection. He’s not your typical power-hungry villain, in fact, at times I can’t help feeling sorry for his predicament. Idris Elba is also memorable as Hemdall, the loyal guardian of the Bifrost bridge that connects Asgard with the other realms, including earth. If I have to nitpick however, Rene Russo is hugely underused here, and the two out of the four friends of Thor practically weren’t given anything to do.

I also have to mention Patrick Doyle’s affecting music. The classically-trained composer has worked with Branagh before on Henry V and Hamlet and his soundtrack of Sense & Sensibility is one of my all-time favorites. I really enjoyed the glorious-sounding music, definitely worth buying I’d say.

Lesson learned, never judge a movie by its trailers. I felt the same way about Iron Man 2 trailer but ended up really enjoying the film. Alas, the opposite was true for Clash of the Titans. The ending is so satisfying and naturally set up for a sequel. It doesn’t seem forced at all, in fact, Branagh gives us much to look forward to. Alas, I missed the post-credit scene at the theater, but my hubby found it afterward on YouTube. Let’s just say I’m now mildly curious about The Avengers as well.

4 out of 5 reels

If you’ve seen THOR, what do you think of the film? For those who haven’t seen it yet, are you looking forward to it?

Top 10 Favorite Scenes from Marvel Superhero Movies

Summer blockbuster months is upon us and will likely be off to a thunderous start with THOR opening this weekend. I had been excited for this for a while mainly because of Kenneth Branagh’s involvement, that is until the rather cheesy trailers (and the subpar posters) kinda dampened my enthusiasm a bit. But after reading the stellar reviews (currently 91% on RottenTomatoes), I’m really curious to see if it’s indeed a ‘mighty Marvel entertainment’ as the critics say.

In any case, to coincide with the film’s US release this Friday, my hubby and I are revisiting other Marvel features from the past decade and list 10 of our favorite scenes. So, here they are in random order:

1. X-Men – Police Standoff

Just when the good guys think they almost capture Magneto, the tables are turned when Magneto takes control of the weapons of the entire police force. At the core of the X-Men story is the complicated relationship between two former friends Prof. X and Magneto. This very scene shows the contrast of just how far Magneto is willing to sacrifice human lives for his cause and how far Xavier would do to save them. The floating cars being slammed to the ground and the bullets stopping mid-air is just pure geeky awesomeness!

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2. Iron Man 2 – Race Track Fight/Briefcase Suit

The frenetic Monaco race track scene gets even more electrifying the second Mickey Rourke shows up a Whiplash with his cool cybernetic harness, with the whips coming off the arms. When he slammed Tony’s car and it went flying, the whole theater practically went ‘whoa!’ That scene was just full of crazy action, and as if the manic energy wasn’t already ricocheting through the roof, Pepper Potts frenetically threw the briefcase suit to Tony… and voila! It’s definitely the highlight of the entire movie for me.

3. Incredible Hulk – Hulk & Betty

This movie is chock-full of one intense fight after another. So this scene gives us a a chance to get our heart rate down a bit and take things in. It’s a deeply emotional scene with that iconic shot of the Hulk and Betty sitting together on a cliff (apparently this shot is a classic image from the Hulk mythology), and the rain helps set the melancholy mood perfectly.

Betty’s gentleness always does the trick in calming the giant creature and it shows just how much he cares for her and not wanting her to get hurt. He’s not just some hideous green monster, but that within him he’s still a regular Joe… er Bruce to be exact.

4. X-Men – Logan arrives at School of the Gifted

There are sooo many great scenes in the X-Men franchise, but my hubby insisted to include this one at the School of the Gifted as it’s quite a revelatory scene about Logan/Wolverine’s history, and it’s pretty darn funny as well. “What’d they call you? Wheels?” It’s an inventive and playful introduction to the who’s who of the X-Men which tells you that director Bryan Singer’s not taking this whole superhero thing way too seriously. Wolvey’s always been such a prick and obviously grumpy when he wakes up in a strange place, but it’s his snarly personality that makes him so fun to watch.

5. Spider-Man 2: Awkward Elevator Scene

Speaking of playful scenes, director Sam Raimi’s comedic chops work wonders in various scenes of Spider-man, but this one definitely takes the cake. Just the expression of the stranger going into the elevator with Spidey is priceless, but it just keeps getting better and better. “Rides up in the crotch a little bit, too.” Ha! It’s gotta be a fun day at the shoot filming this thing.

6. Iron Man – Cap. America Shield

The scene is known as the ‘Captain America shield in Iron Man 2 Movie,’ but I actually chose this scene before I even knew about the shield being in the scene! What I like about it is how Tony Stark often talks and scolds his robots, and as he struggles to come out of the suit, Pepper shows up with a bewildered look, “What’s going on here?”  To which Tony replies nonchalantly, “Let’s face it, this is not the worst thing you’ve caught me doing.” Robert Downey Jr.’s mischievous personality is just so perfect for the role!

7. X-Men 2 – Nightcrawler White House Attack/

Given the plethora of mutant characters with various unique abilities, Bryan Singer’s done an excellent job in introducing Nightcrawler in this action-packed scene. The setting itself makes it memorable, but the effects perfectly showcase the mutant’s unique teleporting ability. He fails to assassinate the President, but his “Mutant Freedom Now!” message perhaps won’t be easily forgotten by him and his staff.


8. Spider-man – Upside-down Kiss 

Yes, I’m a unabashedly romantic superhero geek. This scene just won’t be complete without at least one kissy-kissy scene 🙂 I love it so much I dedicated an entire post for it. After the many attempts to rescue her, Spidey’s rewarded by this passionate kiss by Mary Jane. Though according to actor Tobey Maguire, the extremely elaborate film shoot is more like a punishment, ahah.


9. Spiderman 2 – Train Rescue Scene

My hubby and I agree, this scene in the second installment is perhaps one of the best in the entire franchise. Alfred Molina as Doctor Octoppus is by far one of my favorite superhero villains (I smell another post coming) and his scenes with both Peter Parker and Spidey are the heart and soul of the movie. The fight scene involving a speeding train is downright spectacular it just left us breathless. But it’s the mesmerizing ending of that scene that packs such an emotional punch. After Doc Ock destroys the brakes, Peter uses everything he’s got to stop the train as his mask rips open. When the train finally stops, he collapses in exhaustion and helped by the passengers who finally discovers the hero is really just a boy. Powerful stuff.

10. X-Men 3 – Magneto’s Golden Gate Bridge scene

Another Magneto scene, this time he’s in his most bad-ass. He uses his metal-manipulating powers to rip the end of the Golden Gate bridge from its base and perch it onto Alcatraz to give him access to to give him quick access to that island. According to IMDb trivia, that scene cost $35 mil (a sixth of the film’s budget). As if it wasn’t awesome enough, Magneto’s witty quote seals the deal: “Charles always wanted to build bridges.” Brilliant!

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Honorable Mention

I’ve mentioned it in this thankful post that I love Stan Lee’s cameos in Marvel movies. He’s the Hitchcock of the comic world as far as cameos go, appearing in various movies based on Marvel Comic characters he helped create. Because of his affable nature, his cameos are a welcome appearance instead of being annoying or indulgent.

Well, certainly this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list given the copious amount of film adaptations out there. So please add your thoughts on our picks and feel free to list your own favorite scenes from Marvel movies.

This Just In! ET’s Four Minute ‘Thor’ Set-Visit Video

Last week, everybody was all abuzz over this photo of Chris Evans in Captain America costume, but frankly I’m I’ve never been a fan of the show when I was a kid. Well actually, neither was I on this Thor story, in fact I had no idea what the comic book was about. That is until I read that Kenneth Branagh is directing, and a slew of awesome cast is revealed that suddenly I was intrigued (read my Thor flix spotlight post for the plot/cast details).

Click to see the larger version
Chris Hemsworth in THOR costume

I hardly ever watched Entertainment Tonight as it’s mostly full of trashy and gossip-y stuff about pseudo celebs I’d never spend a minute paying attention to. But every once in a while we’ve got something worthwhile, and this one certainly is. WOW, I had no idea Chris Hemsworth was on Australia’s Dancing with the Stars show. Too funny! Natalie Portman herself was bemused, but the Aussie actor was rather proud of that fact, ‘… it’s much more prestigious in Australia…” He..he.. ok, we believe you, Chris! 🙂 Looks like another unknown rugged Aussie actor is plucked out of obscurity the way Sam Worthington was with Avatar.

Anyway, I wish they had shown more than a super brief glimpse of him in costume as the ancient God of Thunder, as well as Anthony Hopkins with his eye patch as his father, Odin. I was a bit baffled by the modern day setting (isn’t he supposed to be in ancient mythology world like Clash of the Titans?). Well, apparently according to this interview with Branagh, the epic will be split between the present day and the ancient world of Asgard.

At the center of the story is The Mighty Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. Thor is cast down to Earth and forced to live among humans as punishment. Once here, Thor learns what it takes to be a true hero when the most dangerous villain of his world sends the darkest forces of Asgard to invade Earth.

This is what Branagh said on the subject: “Inspired by the comic book world both pictorially and compositionally at once, we’ve tried to find a way to make a virtue and a celebration of the distinction between the worlds that exist in the film but absolutely make them live in the same world,”

We’ll see how he’ll pull that off come May 6, 2011.

Upcoming Flix Spotlight: Thor

Thor Cast
Branagh, Hopkins, Portman & Hemsworth

Is this a comic-based flick or another Hamlet adaptation? The cast for the upcoming Marvel comic adaptation Thor is is looking pretty high brow. First, we’ve got Shakesperean actor/director Kenneth Branagh at the helm. Second, the lineup includes the likes of Sir Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard and Samuel L. Jackson.

I’d never peg Branagh to be doing a movie like this, which is all the more reason I’m intrigued to see what he’ll bring to the table. Seems that more and more serious thespians are joining the comic-book bandwagon, just this week it’s been reported that Dame Helen Mirren will star in an espionage thriller Red, which is based on a DC comic. Now, some might think they are merely wanting a little piece of the superhero pie as one Cinematical writer put it. She also astutely noted that the quality of these genre flicks have been greatly improved over the years that if there ever was a stigma of being involved in those, it’s quickly eroding. I’d say it’s a win-win trend for everyone involved: the project gets some kind of prestige-boost, the actors get a heftier paycheck (as films of this genre usually get a relatively bigger budget), and we the moviegoers get to see higher-caliber acting alongside some kick-ass CGI. That’s definitely not a bad thing, especially the fact that with the continued success of both DC and Marvel projects, comic book flicks surely aren’t going away any time soon.

For anyone not familiar with the comics, here’s a quick plot summary from THR’s blog: The movie’s story sees the god of thunder Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions re-ignite an ancient war. As punishment, Thor is cast down to Earth and forced to live among humans. Once here, he learns what it takes to be a true hero when the most dangerous villain of his world sends dark forces of Asgard to invade Earth.

Hopkins will play the Norse god Odin, who is Thor’s father and ruler of Asgard. Newcomer Chris Hemsworth (who’s last seen as Capt. Kirk’s father in Star Trek) has been given the role of Thor and Natalie Portman will play his love interest.

The movie is set to be released Summer of 2011.