Movie Review: “In the Heart of the Sea”

Starring
Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw
Director
Ron Howard

Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” might be one of the most boring literary classics ever published, yet that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from going back to the source material time and time again. Though Ron Howard’s “In the Heart of the Sea” technically isn’t an adaptation of “Moby Dick,” it is based on the non-fiction book by Nathaniel Philbrick about the real-life events that inspired Melville’s seafaring adventure. Sadly, that doesn’t make it any less dull. A well-intentioned cross between the nautical drama of “Master and Commander” and the against-all-odds survival elements of “Unbroken,” “In the Heart of the Sea” is an instantly forgettable movie that completely wastes the talents of Howard and his cast.

The year is 1850, and author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) has traveled to Nantucket to visit Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), the last surviving crew member of the Essex whaling ship, to find out if the rumors that it was capsized by a giant sperm whale 30 years earlier are true. Melville hopes to use the story as inspiration for his next novel, and although Nickerson is hesitant about disclosing any details of the harrowing event, he reluctantly agrees when his wife (an underused Michelle Fairley) reminds him that they desperately need the money Melville has offered in exchange for his time.

Curiously, the focus of Nickerson’s tale isn’t himself, but rather Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth), a master whaler assigned to serve as the first mate on the Essex’s upcoming voyage under the leadership of the less experienced Captain George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), who hasn’t earned his position through hard work like Chase, but through family ties to the whaling company that controls most of Nantucket’s economy. Though the two men immediately butt heads, particularly after Pollard’s rash decision to sail directly into a storm nearly gets the entire crew killed, they have much bigger problems to worry about when they find their usual hunting waters devoid of whales. Upon hearing gossip of large herds for the taking off the coast of South America, the Essex crew sails into uncharted waters in search of glory, only to encounter a mammoth, alabaster sperm whale that destroys their vessel, leaving the men stranded at sea in a struggle for survival.

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Movie Review: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Starring
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany
Director
Joss Whedon

Seconds into the film, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is already overdoing it. It opens with an assault on a Hydra base, and the team is kicking ass, but with the exception of a fantastic shot straight out of “Kung Fu Panda 2,” it’s underwhelming, a more elaborately choreographed and at the same time less thrilling version of the battle sequence at the end of “The Avengers.” The ‘bigger is better’ mentality is to be expected, but what isn’t expected, or appreciated, is the “Transformers”-like fixation it has with breaking stuff (as in entire cities) for no reason, and worse, there are no consequences for doing so. On top of that, writer/director Joss Whedon’s normally snappy dialogue is woefully lacking. Whedon has said that he’s walking away from the Marvel universe after this (Joe and Anthony Russo, who directed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” are taking the reins on the next two “Avengers” movies), and after seeing “Ultron,” it makes sense; from the looks of things, this movie killed him.

Inside the aforementioned Hydra base is a gold mine of military weapons, both mechanical and human, created by Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). He’s used Loki’s scepter to give orphaned twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively) superhuman powers, namely (and again, respectively) super speed and all sorts of telekinetic abilities. The Avengers do not get any of Hydra’s data, but they do acquire the scepter, and in studying it, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) gets the brilliantly stupid idea to convert the scepter’s alien power source into an artificial intelligence that will work to achieve world peace, an idea he’s had for years but has never been able to perfect. This time, it works, and the new consciousness, which he had nicknamed Ultron (James Spader), has a plan for peace on Earth. Unfortunately, his plan involves the extinction of mankind.

Wanda can get people to see things, namely their worst fears. We see the nightmares of everyone she touches, except for Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who goes on to do the most damage: he terrorizes a large city, the very thing he spent years of his life in exile in order to prevent. Of all the nightmares that the audience absolutely has to see, this is the one. Instead, we get Hulk’s reaction to his visions without context, which culminates in a ridiculous street fight between Hulk and Iron Man that does tens of billions of dollars’ worth of damage (though it admittedly has a good laugh halfway through). Everything about this is wrong, and the opposite of what Whedon normally stands for as a storyteller. Just one line explaining that Stark will pay for everything, or that the Avengers are losing the people’s trust, would do. We get neither.

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Movie Review: “Blackhat”

Starring
Chris Hemsworth, Wei Tang, Viola Davis, John Ortiz, Ritchie Coster
Director
Michael Mann

It’s been six years since Michael Mann’s last film (“Public Enemies”), and more than a decade since his last good one (“Collateral”), so it’s not very surprising that his newest movie doesn’t buck the trend, especially after Universal condemned it to a January release date. Mann is a director who not only seems wildly out of touch, but has come to care more about the look of his films than what they’re trying to say. To be fair, when the camera isn’t shaking around like it’s in the middle of an earthquake, “Blackhat” boasts some really gorgeous visuals, particularly the neon-drenched nighttime scenes. It’s just a shame that the story hasn’t been given the same attention, because while “Blackhat” is no worse than your standard Hollywood action-thriller, it would have been a lot more interesting to see Mann take a big risk and fail than to settle for such a safe, middling paycheck movie like this.

After a malicious hacker, or blackhat, causes a meltdown at a nuclear reactor in China and makes millions on the stock market by driving up the price of soy, FBI agent Carol Barrett (Viola Davis) is ordered to work with Chinese cyber-specialist Chen Dawai (Wang Leehom) to track down the person responsible. Chen notices that part of the computer code used in the attacks was co-written by him as a student at MIT, so he convinces the U.S. government to make a deal with the program’s lead architect, imprisoned hacker Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), in exchange for his help. Desperate to stop the elusive blackhat before the next attack, the FBI agrees to Hathaway’s demands, but when the investigation hits a dead end, he must decide between going back to prison and doing something illegal that, while it would keep the hunt alive, will land him in even more trouble if caught.

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Movie Review: “Thor: The Dark World”

Starring
Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddlestone, Natalie Portman, Christopher Eccleston, Anthony Hopkins, Kat Dennings
Director
Alan Taylor

The opening scene in “Thor: The Dark World” is very revealing, but not in the ways that the filmmakers intended. It tells an exposition-laden tale of a battle fought ages ago between Asgardians (Thor’s people) and the dark elves, who planned to use this mystical force called the Aether (pronounced ‘ether’) to distinguish all light. The scene is meant to shed some light on a plot that they must have deemed too difficult to follow, only it’s not. It’s a straightforward revenge story, and the audience would have figured out the rest in time. That they insisted on spoon feeding the audience shows a lack of confidence, and while “Thor: The Dark World” is not as consistent as its predecessor, the film has some truly great moments, including a spectacular climax. To see them acting so desperate is both unbecoming and unnecessary.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his band of merry marauders spend their days hopping from world to world as a peacekeeping force, while Thor’s stepbrother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is thrown in jail for the crimes he committed in “The Avengers.” Back on Earth, genius astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is still trying to get back to living a normal life, when her gear starts picking up some strange readings that lead her to an abandoned warehouse which houses a portal to the location of the Aether, which the Asgardians had hoped would never be found. Jane’s awakening of the Aether awakens Malekith (Christopher Eccelston), the dark elf whose efforts were thwarted in that ages-ago battle, and with the convergence of the nine worlds about to take place, Malekith plans on finishing what he started all those years ago.

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Movie Review: “Rush”

Starring
Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Brühl, Olivia Wilde, Alexanda Maria Lara
Director
Ron Howard

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Ron Howard and Peter Morgan love history. One look at their collective filmographies reveals several projects based on true stories and real-life figures. The latter, in particular, is responsible for writing some of the best historical dramas of the past decade, but sadly, “Rush” is not one of them. Though there’s a lot to like about Howard and Morgan’s latest movie – particularly the chemistry and performances of its two leading men – it’s not nearly as thrilling or fascinating as their last collaboration (“Frost/Nixon”). “Rush” teeters on the edge of being a really good film, but despite some fantastic source material, it never fully seizes the opportunity.

Based on the true story of the 1976 Formula One season and the heated rivalry between British playboy James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and reigning World Champion Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), the film begins many years earlier, when the two first meet during a Formula Three race. At the time, both Hunt and Lauda were up-and-coming drivers looking to seize their chance in the big leagues. When Lauda takes out a loan and buys his way onto a team, eventually joining Ferrari after showcasing his talent behind the wheel and in the garage, Hunt is desperate to follow suit. But despite the backing of a wealthy benefactor, Hunt’s F1 car simply doesn’t compare to Lauda’s first-rate Ferrari, and the cold and calculated Austrian ends up winning the ’75 championship. One year later, Hunt is offered the chance to drive for McLaren, and with the odds now evened, the two men pick up where they left off on the race track, resulting in one of the most unforgettable seasons in F1 racing history.

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