Thor: Ragnarok

I don’t profess to be a comic book purist or Marvel aficionado, instead I take each movie at face value. I compare within the genre, and examine each film within the context of superhero film history. I’m not familiar enough with the source material to assess authenticity from that perspective; I’ll leave that critique to others. However, as we march toward Marvel’s epic culmination Infinity War, I thought it was the perfect time to round out the Marvel family. Thor: Ragnarok, the third installment in the series, was a fun ride, and significantly better than its predecessor.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Ghostbusters) has been a rather likeable hero, but besides being obvious eye candy, he is also a rather formidable opponent for most foes. When we find him in Thor: Ragnarok, his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins, Transformers: The Last Knight) has been exiled by Loki (Tom Hiddleston, Kong: Skull Island). The destruction of his home planet Asgard is imminent, as Ragnarok looms. Ragnarok is a kooky word describing the destruction of the 9 realms, including Asgard. Enter Hela (Cate Blanchett, Carol), Odin’s first born and elder sister to Thor and Loki. Blanchett smolders as the deliciously evil Goddess of Death, a nemesis the likes of which Thor hasn’t seen. In a stunning display of power, she crumbles Thor’s mighty hammer, gleefully letting it sift through her fingers like sand.

Loki and Thor don’t have much of a fraternal bond, with Thor justifiably wary of his sibling, given Loki’s history of betrayal. As they devise a plan to thwart Hela and save their home planet, they face assorted obstacles along the way, including a stay at the circus-like home of the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, Independence Day: Resurgence), where he bumps into an old friend. Thor also finds an unlikely ally in Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson, Creed), so nicknamed in honor of the Asgardian defenders from whom she descends. With the help of new friends such as Valkyrie and old ones like Heimdall (Idris Elba, The Mountain Between Us), Thor treks back to Asgard to face Hela in a showdown to save his home planet.

The word “Ragnarok” sounds silly to me, and the previous Thor movie left much to be desired. As a result, I wasn’t particularly enthused about this latest installment – but I stand corrected. Writer/director Taika Waititi infused the movie with the perfect blend of action and humor. I hate corny, forced laughs and I’ve found it to be a common cinematic trick, in what I suspect is an attempt to appeal to kids. Ragnarok refrained from that, relying instead on Hemsworth’s natural charm and comedic timing. Thor is like the hot, cool guy who is surprisingly down to earth and doesn’t take himself too seriously. In other words, he’s perfect. Hemsworth displayed good chemistry with Tessa Thompson, and the actress was an effective foil and compliment to his character. Anthony Hopkins elevates anything he’s in (even if you think it’s beneath the Oscar winner), and Cate Blanchett is incomparable. She is becoming one of my favorite actresses, and her work here evinces an adaptable versatility. This was just a fun, well-executed movie.

Grade: A


Rough Night

If I want to see a movie, I’m going to see it no matter what – I’m not dissuaded by negative word of mouth. I’ve gone to see movies that I knew would be awful, like Soul Plane. When I saw the trailer for Rough Night, it struck me as a knock-off of Bridesmaids and very similar to the forthcoming Girls Trip. However, I still wanted to see it despite it seeming derivative. Moreover, I like Scarlett Johansson (Ghost in the Shell) and Zoe Kravitz, (Mad Max: Fury Road), who star alongside Jillian Bell (Fist Fight), Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters), and Ilana Glazer (The Night Before) as a group of girlfriends reuniting for their friend Jess’ (Johansson) bachelorette party in Miami.

Once a hard-partying co-ed, Jess is now an uptight political candidate, a far cry from former beer pong champion. Alice is a teacher, Blair is a wealthy divorcee and mother, and Frankie has become one of those “crunchy,” annoying social justice warrior types. Jess’ fiancé Peter (Paul Downs, Broad City) is a nice guy, but he is about as exciting as a jar of mayonnaise. Alice is especially close with Jess, spearheading their weekend shenanigans. Rounding out the bunch is Jess’ Aussie pal Pippa, amusingly played by Kate McKinnon.

Writer Lucia Aniello borrowed a page from Bridesmaids, with Alice as the friend who is jealous of her best friend’s new buddy, in a familiar subplot. The crew gets wasted throughout the weekend, as emotions bubble to the surface. Frankie is secretly in love with one of the gang, while Alice and Jess have some unresolved issues that have cropped up in recent years. Friendships evolve, they wax and wane as we mature and dynamics change. The movie touched on the ways in which friends can become distant, but find their way home to each other in the end. The camaraderie and bond of friendship strengthened the movie, but make no mistake: this movie is best viewed at home on the sofa in the absence of sobriety.

Rough Night is not a movie to be taken seriously. It’s probably a good move for the likes of McKinnon, but I imagine Johansson was just bored and maybe thought this would be a fun movie to make. The movie’s major plot point involving a would-be stripper was nothing short of ridiculous. Like, Weekend at Bernie’s levels of stupidity – but without the charm. Demi Moore (Margin Call) makes a cameo, but it only serves to heighten the absurdity of it all. I knew it wouldn’t be good, but I didn’t mind paying the five. You’ve been warned! Grade: C

Sausage Party

Do you smoke weed? Seth Rogen clearly does. How else could he concoct a story like Sausage Party? I’ll bet he was toking up one day, and after one especially gnarly bong rip, he got the munchies. As he stared down at his bag of chips, perhaps he thought – what if they were alive? Thus Sausage Party was born. And in case the R rating didn’t clue you in, let me caution any parents out there: this animated flick is NOT for children.

Shopwell’s Grocery Store is filled to the brim with food items, from hot dog buns to lemonade. Well, imagine that all of these items are alive. Sausage Party gives distinct personalities to common food items, with the grocery store serving as its own little world. Each food item, from the snacks to the meat, desires to be chosen by a human shopper, taken to what is known as “the great beyond” – the world outside of the store. Some esteemed actors lent their voices to the project, from Edward Norton (Birdman) to Salma Hayek (Grown Ups 2), but the movie stars Seth Rogen (The Night Before) and Kristen Wiig (Ghostbusters), as Frank the hot dog and his sweetie pie Brenda the bun. Frank and Brenda long to travel to The Great Beyond and are overjoyed when they are finally tossed in a shopping cart just before red, white, and blue day (Independence Day).

Frank’s joy is short-lived when he finally discovers the truth about The Great Beyond. Honey Mustard (Danny McBride, Rock the Kasbah) made it there, only to be returned to the grocery store, where he warns his food brethren. He tells them that The Great Beyond is hell, and they will all be murdered. Of course this is true, as we boil, burn, fry, steam, cut, and (at the very least) chew our food! The whole plot was silly, but I got a kick out of it. Frank is the only one persuaded by Honey Mustard’s tales of horror, and he is determined to get the proof he needs to convince the others. He sets out on a quest to find Firewater (Bill Hader, Trainwreck), a wise old bottle of liquor who can verify Honey Mustard’s claims. Frank must traverse the grocery store while steering clear of Douche (Nick Kroll, The League), the supermarket bully who blames Frank for not making it to The Great Beyond.

Sausage Party was a fun movie, and what you see is what you get. I was surprised at the modest but sizeable matinée crowd in my theater. I judged everyone as either a stoner or a person with an immature sense of humor – but we all had a good time, that’s for sure. The dialogue was funny and raunchy, and I think Rogen delivered. The last five minutes will make you blush, so if I haven’t stressed this enough: don’t take your kids! This movie is meant for a specific audience, and I think you know who you are. So spark up and enjoy! Grade: B.