The Agent Reviews Thor: Ragnarok – A Good Movie, Just Not The One We Wanted

To think, I almost had as much fun watching this as Thor did in this shot.
Source: Disney Video

So, I saw Thor: Ragnarok a while back but didn’t give an in-depth commentary on it because I wanted to connect with friends and peers that saw it in order to see if they noticed anything I missed. And in a truly rare moment whenever a discussion turns to film, we seem to agree for the most part; it was a good movie – amazing even. Unfortunately, for those dedicated to the heaps of lore that Marvel has been building up for decades, it didn’t resemble anything we wanted. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. We should discuss the actual film first.

Oh, and obviously, this is a very recent film so expect spoilers from here on in.

So, the film shockingly starts with Thor AVERTING the titular Ragnarok of the title by faining capture at the hands of the fire giant Surtur and locking his crown in the vaults of Asgard so no one else can use it to threaten his home. Upon returning, he finds his father Odin acting strangely hedonistic and correctly deduces what we already knew from Thor: The Dark World; Loki has banished Odin, taken his form, and is unjustly ruling in his stead. After forcing him to bring him to his exiled father back on Earth, Thor and Loki learn from Odin during his final moments that his disowned and forgotten daughter Hela, goddess of death is returning with the intent of using Asgard as her starting point to conquer the remaining realms. After, easily crushing Mjolnir in her hands, Thor and Loki attempt to escape on the Bifrost. But Hela follows and casts them both out into space while she makes her way to Asgard. Thor finds himself on the planet Sakarr and is forced to fight in arena battles for the amusement of a being known as The Grandmaster (yes, I thought they recast Jeff Goldblum as The Collector as well; Turns out they’re brothers – not that the movie explains that). The majority of the movie then consists of Thor gathering a small force to return to Asgard consisting of Loki, The Hulk (who crashed on Sakarr after the events of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron and has been stuck in Hulk form for the entire two years since), and a former valkyrie of Asgard living in self-imposed exile while occasionally cutting back to Hela to see what sort of hell she’s unleashing on everyone.

Did that seem like a lot? Well, that’s the first major problem with the film; much like how Sakarr is a dumping ground for cosmic debris, the first act is treated as a dumping ground for information to catch us up and understand everything that’s happening. After that, the second act pulls the drag chute for a bit to give us some good character moments, but it was a lot to sift through to get to that point.

But one of the major complaints I keep hearing from people- and I admittedly understand their frustration with – was the focus on humor over action and drama. It just doesn’t FEEL like any of the Thor movies leading up to it. The movies often bordered on Shaksperian at times (appropriate for a character whose dialog in the comics was full of thee’s and thou’s). On the surface, it almost feels like it’s trying to follow in Guardians of the Galaxy‘s footsteps to the detriment of a passable drama.

However, there are a number of ways I can justify this.

Firstly, I insist that, despite the title telling me otherwise, this is not Thor’s movie – at least not entirely. It’s much more geared toward The Hulk. One of the things that shocked me in the trailers was how they actually gave character development to Hulk. And I stress Hulk, NOT Bruce Banner. This is the first film where it honestly felt like they were two people living in the same head just as the comics intended them to be. As such, humor was needed because there are only two appropriate actions to take when Thor and Hulk share a spotlight: brutal fisticuffs or hilariously unexpected witty dialog from two of the biggest meatheads in the Marvel canon.

As for claims that the humor ruins Thor’s character, I have two rebuttals. For one, I feel this is something that has been building up for some time now. Much like how Odin grew to have an affinity for Earth in his exile, Thor loves Earth and it’s people. He’s been spending much more time with them than anyone else. So it makes sense that he might start emulating some of our characteristics such as our sense of humor.

For two, and please note that this is purely fan-speculation on my part, I don’t see the movie as ruining Thor’s character; I see it as ENDING his character. Think about it; he’s the king of Asgard now without Odin presiding. He needs to give up the superhero business and apply what he’s learned – including lightheartedness from his time with humans – to being a leader. It makes sense that the movie would want him to go out on a happier note in spite of everything falling apart around him. Plus, don’t forget that Avengers 3: Infinity War is coming up fast. In the comics, EVERYONE DIES. I doubt that will happen in the movies, but they likely will make most or all of the current Avengers inadequate. This means we’ll need some new Avengers to replace them. And that means we might be seeing the start of Jane Foster as the next Thor.

Besides, on its own merits, the movie is fun enough where, until I was forced to overthink it for review purposes, I could easily forget the continuity questions and focus on the chuckles. Jeff Goldblum is amazing as a sleazy, egomaniac (as always) and the minor characters are some of the best aspects of the film. Everyone seems to gravitate towards the stone man Korg with his lovable and friendly demeanor juxtaposing his rough exterior. But I’m all about The Grandmaster’s comedically serious, kill-crazy, right-hand woman Topaz who I can only describe as, “Miss Trunchbull in space.”

Overall, if you’re going into this movie expecting it to be exactly like the comics, you’ll be brutally disappointed. You’ll enjoy it much more if you just learn to appreciate the humor of the situation like the characters do.

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Sharing the Love and the Screams with Screaming Soup!

For those of you who never thought you’d see a skeletal cowboy, a humanoid catfish, a werecoyote, and a native american toilet paper mummy riff on bad movies over their favorite drinks – here you go.
Source: screamingsoup.com

 

As those of you who follow on Facebook and Twitter know, I’ve been getting a lot of love lately and I try to give it back with my #ThursdayThanks posts. But I wanted to give a special thanks to someone with big aspirations whose work I really enjoyed.

Not long ago, I got a message on Twitter about a horror movie review show called Screaming Soup! that seemed interesting. Normally, I ignore these door-to-door tactics, but I decided to check it out on a whim to see what it was about. I was not disappointed with the results. So, to show my appreciation and spread awareness for a fellow enterprising creative talent on the ‘net, I’m going to give a constructive critique in as close to the style of the show as a literary medium will allow.

Screaming Soup! seems to get it’s name from the now canceled show Talk Soup that spun off into simply The Soup. Just as those shows recap and review talk shows and general pop culture respectively, Screaming Soup! does the same with B-grade horror and monster films.

So what sets this show apart from other horror and schlock film critics? How about the fact that it features an animated cast? In other words, imagine The Soup revamped for horror films with a format akin to Space Ghost: Coast to Coast and hosted by Deadwest -a man that’s equal parts Ghost Rider, Jonah Hex, and Svengoolie. That’s Screaming Soup! in a nutshell.

Looking at the negatives of the show, or “the sours” as Deadwest would say, most of them fall on the show’s opening title sequence. Don’t get me wrong; the theme song is catchy as hell and I will catch myself headbanging to it if no one’s watching. But I do take some objections with it in some places.

For example, there’s one lyric in the theme that refers to “gay-ass monsters made of clay.” Really, dude? You’re using gay as an insult in 2015? I get that most of the humor of this show revolves around immature comedy that spoofs the man-childish glee of bad horror cinema, but there’s a fine line between immature and borderline insulting. I don’t think anyone involved with the show has a “God Hates Fags” sign in their closet, but it does make defending otherwise brilliant work that much more difficult.

Also, as awesome as the rest of the theme is, I feel it runs a bit too long. Episodes tend to run five to nine minutes and the title sequence takes up about a minute of it. If it was trimmed by half to make room for one or two more clever jokes and the lyrics were changed from “gay” to “lame”, I wouldn’t be bothered in the slightest.

Those jokes are a good jumping-off platform to the good parts of the show – “the sweets” if we’re still using Deadwest’s terminology.

As stated, the humor is very similar to Space Ghost: Coast to Coast tinged slightly off-color to reflect the nature of the types of exploitation horror that tend to dominate the line up. Recurring gags of this nature include the “Pissing Time” clock that counts the seconds and minutes of time where nothing happens in the movie and you can safely run to the bathroom, the “Bogus Scares” counter that tracks the annoying jump scares, an end movie body count, and a “Tit Counter” that tallies up the number of times the actresses go topless.

Another awesome thing about this show is how well characterized the cast is despite having just one guy, one girl, and a text-to-speech program for one lady to do all the voices. Everyone comes together to bring color to the setting of the Howl Inn. From Deadwest’s lovable invisible specter girlfriend Mandy to the urban hipness of the blaksploitation throwback monster Eb’nstein to the house sad-sack and Creature from the Black Lagoon parody Catfish, all of them add character to the show and help to keep things fresh (Sidenote: my favorite character so far has to be Peyote; the werecoyote trucker).

I mentioned before that the episodes run significantly shorter than the average review show, but I feel that works to it’s benefit. Animation, even simple animation like this, takes a lot of time and effort and you need to cut corners where ever you can. Screaming Soup! takes advantage of shorter running times by cutting out the plot-point by plot-point analysis style of other shows and removing the spoilers that they would have contained as a result.

Now, I’m not in the business of rating the films, games, and shows I talk about like Deadwest. But if I were, I’d have to say that Screaming Soup! is a solid four out of five that, with a little polish, could become a five out of five in future seasons. It’s inventive enough to stand out as welcome addition to the world of online film critics. I recommend this show to fans of Count Jackula and Diamanda Hagan who want something new, want fewer spoilers, or are just looking for something to enjoy during their lunch break.

But what do I know? Like Deadwest himself, I also like Killer Tomatoes.

Why Maleficent Doesn’t Work

I miss you, creepy green-skinned dark sprite.
Source: author-quest.blogspot.com

I’ve voiced my displeasure with Disney many times in the past. That said, I feel I’ve always justified my stance. It’s not that I enjoy ragging on them and their work, it’s just that I consistently find flaws that ruin them for me. In the words of Bennett ‘The Sage’ White, “I don’t hate from ignorance, people. My hate is sharp, honed, and well-informed – the better to cut the subject, you see.”

To that end, I’m sure I’m not going to make many friends when I say that I couldn’t enjoy myself while watching Maleficent. But, I can at least defend my position.

Firstly, this is not a review of the film by any means. My family begged me to give it 15 minutes to grab me, I gave them the kindness of 30 minutes, and it failed.

Yes, you can take this to mean that I walked out on it; a feat that only two other films – Earth Girls Are Easy and Redneck Zombies – have ever achieved. So, I can’t review it in good conscience because I didn’t finish it. But I can tell you why I left it.

First is the point that I sense most people will debate me on; I personally don’t find Angelina Jolie a compelling actress. Granted that, as far as A-list actresses are concerned, she was probably the best pick in terms of looks. She looks like Maleficent, she just doesn’t sound, move, or act like her. She had a very one note performance that was very distracting to me and prevented me from taking in the scene (seriously, I almost started laughing at her ‘cries’ of pain and betrayal when her wings were clipped in the beginning).

Secondly, it was a movie that I had seen already. It’s the retelling of a classic story that paints the antagonist in a sympathetic light. Look, Disney – my drama club colleagues forced me to see Wicked and I already watched and enjoyed Frozen before the music was overplayed to hell. I want to see you do something new.

The sad part is that I could have forgiven the reuse of this formula if it weren’t for the subject that it was being applied to. Wicked worked because most people only know the source material –The Wizard of Oz – through the 1939 film. Frozen worked even better because the source material is a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale that’s over a century and a half old and mostly forgotten by this generation. In both cases, there was little in the way of preconceptions to impede my suspension of disbelief.

Maleficent, on the other hand, has to contend with over 50 years of Disney hammering the notion that it’s heroine is a heartless, demonic, bitch who will do anything if it means furthering her power or paying back a minor slight (her original motivation was being snubbed an invite to Aurora’s christening).

And make no mistake, she IS Disney’s big bad. From leading the takeover of The House of Mouse in Mickey’s House of Villain’s to playing the master manipulator of the Heartless in the Kingdom Hearts games, Maleficent is always at the front lines of the enemy army cackling like a woman possessed. The only time she wasn’t the Disney equivalent of a final boss in a video game was the book series The Kingdom Keepers and that’s only because she was second-fiddle to Chernabog (you know, that devil-looking guy from Fantasia).

Bottom line, you can only make a person who was nominated for AFI’s 50 Greatest Villains and whose most famous line of dialogue is, “Now shall you deal with me, o’ prince… and all the powers of hell,” so sympathetic… and Angelina will not help you in that goal.

Three Very Good (Spoiler Filled) Reasons To See Disney’s Frozen

Any movie that I’m still talking about about three days after seeing it must be good.
Source: The Disney Wiki

Let’s get something VERY clear; I have had a grudge against Disney since 1989 at the mere age of five (We’ll get into why later, trust me.) So understand how amazing Frozen is to make me forgive Disney for what I have calculated as a near 77-year long sin.

I’m not spouting hyperbole when I say that Frozen is the greatest film Disney has produced – not counting anything Pixar or Marvel related – since The Hunchback of Notre Dame. So, in order to convince you to go and see this movie and enjoy it for it’s warts and all, I’m going to describe in detail the great things about this film.

The Soundtrack

For once, the best song in a Disney film isn’t from a villain.
Source: Flavorwire

Here’s the rub; normally, I despise musicals with a passion.

For one, actors rarely make good singers in my experience (Exhibit A: Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time”) and singers make even worse actors (Exhibit B: the opening moments of the “Imma Be” video). For two, it’s very distracting. Just as I get emotionally invested in the action on screen, I get cinematic whiplash as the characters break out into song. It’s just not what a normal person would do in a dramatic situation – it’s what you would do for cheap laughs.

All of this was true for me in Frozen, but I quickly realized that, taken on it’s own without the movie, the soundtrack is beautiful. This is especially true of the main song “Let It Go” preformed by Idina Menzel of Wicked fame who, incidentally, is one of the few people that can act AND sing (sadly, I’m still bitter because I’m convinced she deserved better then Glee).

If I can find this soundtrack on CD (yes, I still use CD’s), I will buy it just to flaunt it in the face of my friends who criticize me for not giving musicals a chance and say, “See! I’m NOT impossible to please now, am I?”

The Comic Relief

I love you, cold, moronic, ball of snow! *Sob*
Source: Inside the Magic

Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that my girlfriend convinced me otherwise, I would have given the whole movie a miss just because I misjudged the stupid snowman.

Olaf, the talking snowman, is actually far more charming than the trailers and adverts painted him to be. At first, I wrote him off as very similar to Claptrap from Borderlands – annoying and very quick to wear out his welcome.

But, as it turns out, I grew to love Olaf as much as Anna and Elsa did. Underneath his facade of comedy is a legitimately tragic and lovable character – a creature of ice and snow that desperately wants, but sadly can’t, experience warmth without melting. He can’t even get the “warm hugs” that he loves so much.

Trust me, you will feel for Olaf by the end of the film just as I did.

The Big Twists

Elsa’s about to blow your mind.
Source: Express.co.uk

Okay, this is where the BIG spoilers show up. So if you have not seen Frozen yet, stop reading this, bookmark it, go watch the film, and come back. Seriously, if you read beyond this point, the entire movie will be ruined for you. Go watch it first. Get it? Got It? Good.

So there are two amazing plot twists in the story that spit in the eye of Disney’s previous conventions of their Princess mythology. Those conventions are what got me to hate Disney Princesses in ’89. That was the year that The Little Mermaid was released.

In addition to getting the previous two aspects of a movie wrong (seriously, I don’t get the appeal of Jodi Benson’s singing voice and Sebastian has all of my hate), the movie baffled me as a child because I didn’t get why Ariel would sell her soul (voice and soul are thematically the same here) for someone she barely knew and hadn’t even spoken with prior. As an adult, I look back on this outdated patriarchal sensibility and realize how lucky she was that Eric wasn’t a total creep. Not to get too lurid, but throwing yourself at people without knowing them is a good way to leave yourself open to a VERY dangerous situation.

The two big reveals in the third act of Frozen defy this trope that has so long plagued Disney. The “good” princess Anna is accidentally cursed by her sister Elsa with a slowly freezing heart that threatens her life. It’s revealed that the only way to thaw her heart is an act of true love. Everyone assumes that this means a kiss from her true love Hans, the prince of the Southern Isles whom she had agreed to marry the same day she met him.

However, when Kristoff, the mountain man that had been guiding her returns her to the castle to get her kiss from Hans, he reveals that he only asked her to marry him so that he could eventually claim the throne since, being the youngest of thirteen brothers, he’d never rule the Southern Isles. It’s just as Elsa warned in the first act – “You can’t marry a man you just met.”

At this point now, you’d expect Kristoff to be the man to save the day and rescue Anna. Well, You’d be wrong again! In fact, it’s not a kiss that saves Anna at all. Instead, it’s Elsa’s tears. Her weeping for her sister shows that she truly cares about her – an act of true love from a source no one could have expected.

Also, there’s something touching about Elsa’s arc of childhood repression and delayed teenage rebellion. If I wasn’t disillusioned into thinking that a smaller section of the corporate whole wrote this, I’d think that Disney might be feeling guilty about what they’ve done to their former starlets.

Seriously, You Better Have Seen This Movie By Now

Like I said, Frozen is far from perfect. The music – beautiful as it is – is still distracting, Olaf – charming as he is – is still annoying, and the references to modern life fracture my beloved immersion in the old world Nordic story slightly.

That said, this is still one of the best things Disney has ever made and has insured that I’ll be following them very closely from here on out. You’ve raised the bar very high and very quickly, Disney; Maleficent better be life changing.