Tag Archive: Christopher Eccleston


Thor: The Dark World: Grade: B-

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Directed by: Alan Taylor

Written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, & Stephen McFeely

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo

Until Thor: The Dark World was released, the only individual franchise in the Marvel Studio universe that had a sequel (and I am not counting The Incredible Hulk as being a sequel to The Hulk) was Iron ManThor: The Dark World is a bigger test for Marvel than Iron Man 2 was primarily because (1) audiences gravitated toward Robert Downey, Jr.’s defining performance so much that the actor alone ensured a huge box office in the first weekend alone; (2) a billionaire playboy who suits up in a electronically sophisticated flying robotic armor is more interesting than a mythological god whose only weapon is a fucking hammer and whose world looks like a poor man’s version of J.R.R. Tolkien; and (3) Tony Stark’s pop culture-infused sharp sarcasm is funnier than Thor’s old English dialogue. It is far less risky to have a wisecracking Robert Downey, Jr. in a real world setting than a Viking god from outer space, played by a relatively unknown actor.

With Thor: The Dark World, I am disturbingly finding myself walking out of the theater thinking once you have seen one Marvel film, you have seen them all.  These films are beginning to feel more like TV episodes (or I guess you can say issues of comic books). While I overall enjoyed Thor: The Dark World, I was disappointed to find that it was not much of an improvement over its predecessor.

In this sequel, Asgard is faced with a new threat in the form of the Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his minions, who are these ancient creatures called Dark Elves and who seek to return the universe back to eternal darkness. Malekith intends to accomplish his goal with the use of the Aether during the Convergence, an event that occurs once every like 10,000 years in which all of the nine realms of the universe align together. Thor: The Dark World takes place right after the events of The Avengers. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to Asgard and the villainous brother is condemned to spend eternity inside a dungeon. Thor remains busy bringing peace to the various kingdoms. In the meantime, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), his heartbroken love, continues her research into finding barriers between worlds. During her research, she stumbles across the Aether and is possessed by it. Thor finds her and returns her to Asgard to separate the Aether from Jane. However, discovery of the Aether reawakens Malekith, who descends upon Asgard to possess the powerful object.

If you can’t tell from my summary, Thor: The Dark World steeps itself a lot more into the fantasy Asgardian elements of this property than the first film. As one of the main directors of the hit TV show, Game of Thrones, director Alan Taylor is better suited to handle the fantasy aspect of the story than Kenneth Branagh, the director of the first film. This time Asgard feels more grounded and gritty and you get a sense that there are actual inhabitants outside of Thor, Odin and Loki. Taylor also does a fine job bringing back the humor the first film had and giving Thor: The Dark World a touch of lightness that the Marvel movies all seem to have. Here, it is obvious Joss Whedon exercised a heavy hand in many of this film’s humor, with gags and a great cameo from another Marvel superhero. Taylor also manages to avoid the typically dreadful third act climax/showdown that Marvel movies are sometimes plagued with (see Iron Man 1 and 2) – the final set piece is an inventive action sequence that, although not exceptional, is fun to watch.

However, despite the film’s virtues, Thor: The Dark World is held back by a number of elements. For one, Malekith is a woefully under-developed character, which is a real disappointment given how the very talented, charismatic, and versatile Christopher Eccleston (Mads Mikkelsen was originally cast to play Malekith, but he dropped out because of Hannibal) was cast to play this character. Aside from some decent design work on Malekith and his elvish minions, he doesn’t do a whole lot. Most of Malekith’s interactions occur with his henchman Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). He has one forgettable exchange with Thor and that is pretty much about it.

It is obvious that the studio decided to give short shrift to Malekith’s development in favor of allowing for more screen time to Loki, probably the most popular and memorable character in the Marvel movie universe next to Iron Man. Tom Hiddleston again proves himself to be indispensable to the enjoyment of this movie. He deftly combines a little boy vulnerability with his malevolent trickster traits. By now, Chris Hemsworth and Hiddleston have starred together in their third movie and you can see the two actors really hit their stride with these characters. At the same time, we are getting the same Loki that we saw in the first Thor and in The Avengers. There is no real character development here with him. The outcome with his character in this film seems to be setting him up for a third Thor film.

I have to say that I did not dig this more mature, noble Thor. I miss the cocky, impulsive, arrogant Norse god that we saw on display in the first film and in The Avengers. Now, he’s just some dull superhero who takes everything too seriously and much of the comedy he provided in Thor is gone (except for what Loki provides).

As for the rest of the characters, I was pleasantly surprised to find an expanded role for Rene Russo, who plays Thor’s mother. One of the best scenes in the film occurs between her and Malekith as she tries to protect Jane Foster from the dark elf. Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard also return to serve as more comic relief. For awhile I was expecting to see the story delve into an interesting love triangle between Jaimie Alexander’s Sif, Thor, and Jane Foster, but other than a few hints here and there, nothing comes of this sub-plot. Many have pointed out that Anthony Hopkins barely registers in this film as Thor’s father, Odin. I disagree and I found the performance to be far better and memorable than what Hopkins did in the first film.

I had the misfortune of seeing Thor: The Dark World in 3D. Reportedly, director Alan Taylor was not told that his film would be converted to 3D and it shows. The 3D make the whole image darker for one, and the technology was not utilized in the least bit. There is some very nice design work and landscapes in the Asgardian scenes and you totally miss it by watching it in 3D.

Ultimately, Thor: The Dark World is a fun, escapist romp that’s worth spending a nice Sunday afternoon in the theater to see (without the 3D). There is nothing original in terms of storyline, visual effects, or characters, but you weren’t really expecting that anyway, were you? Its unfortunate the talents of Christopher Eccleston are totally wasted, but at least we get a large dose of Loki instead, which is always welcome. Make sure you stick around for the end credits (like you should do with every Marvel film) for a nice teaser for Guardians of the Galaxy.

Elizabeth (1998): Grade: A-

elizabeth_ver4_xlgIs this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, and Amazon Prime? Elizabeth is not available for rent through Netflix Watch Instant, but it is available for rent through the iTunes Store and Amazon Prime.

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, Vincent Cassel, & John Gielgud

Directed by: Shekhar Kapur

Screenplay by: Michael Hirst

It would be a mistake to regard Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth as historically accurate, but I can see why people would be upset by the fact that it is not. Unlike a film like Inglorious Basterds, which is obviously not meant to be historically accurate, Elizabeth clearly gives audiences an impression that everything you see in the movie is true. I am pretty much ambivalent about the responsibilities, if any, a filmmaker has to his audience when it comes to depicting history. Oliver Stone received a lot of flack for JFK and how he presented his theory of who killed John F. Kennedy. Stone claimed that he never intended to make viewers think that his film was factually accurate, but I don’t think Stone had any obligation to his audience to explain whether or not his film was truthful. The film remained an engrossing conspiracy drama with great performances and a solid script. With the exception of documentaries, people should not expect movies to give them a definitive account of a historical event. For that, there are books and the internet.

Despite the liberties the filmmakers took in telling the Queen of England’s story, you should not allow this to prevent you from enjoying this engaging and entertaining biographical drama. Nominated for 7 Academy Awards (including for Best Picture and Best Actress), Elizabeth chronicles the ascension of Queen Elizabeth I of England (Cate Blanchett). The film opens with a young Elizabeth, who has been imprisoned by her half-sister, the Roman Catholic Queen Mary, for being a Protestant and thus, posing a threat to the Roman Catholic Church’s hold over England. Queen Mary then dies and, having produced no heir to the throne, Elizabeth becomes the Queen of England. However, the Queen soon finds that she has many enemies loyal to the Pope who desire to see her dead. Being inexperienced in dealing with the political machinations of the Pope’s friends as well as France and Spain, Elizabeth turns to the mysterious Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) to help her consolidate her power and root out her enemies.

In 1998, director Shekhar Kapur presented us with a new and fresh way to make a biographical movie. Elizabeth is told from a more contemporary standpoint that instead of simply stepping through the Queen’s life from birth to death, a single period of her life is focused on and her story is fashioned into a dark  and lavish conspiracy thriller with a strong feminist theme. Kapur and his screenwriter Michael Hirst eschew the dry, boring style of a typical costume drama where the focus would be on stately rituals and civilized grandstanding in favor of showing us melodrama, violence, and political intrigue.

Above all else, Elizabeth is a showpiece for the astonishing performance given by Cate Blanchett, who turned into an overnight star with this film. Blanchett effectively pulls off the Queen’s transition from a politically naïve girl to a woman who rises to the occasion and takes control of her destiny. In the film’s final scene where Elizabeth marches to her throne, Blanchett is stunning in the unspoken power she exudes from her sheer presence. Elizabeth is Cate Blanchett’s movie to own and she does so magnificently among a company of formidable peers such as Geoffrey Rush, Richard Attenborough, and Christopher Eccleston. Blanchett has a physical grace and eloquence that is truly admirable. I am still shocked that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to go with Gwyneth Paltrow for Best Actress instead of Blanchett. 15 years later, Blanchett’s performance still resonates while we have all forgotten about Shakespeare in Love.

The film’s other great performance is from one of my most favorite actors, Geoffrey Rush. Here he plays Elizabeth’s adviser and the mastermind behind Elizabeth’s entry into power politics, Sir Francis Walsingham. Machiavellian and worldly, Walsingham has no allegiance to any church and does not seem to believe in God so he does not have the moral scruples that Elizabeth does against killing those who may get in the Queen’s way. I love the strange relationship between Walsingham and Elizabeth as the Queen turns to Walsingham out of reluctant necessity. One of the best scenes in the film and where we get to see Walsingham’s cunning mind at full display is the secret meeting between he and Mary Queen of Scots where he seduces and then kills Mary.

I was less impressed by Joseph Fiennes’ character (NOTE: Both Fiennes and Geoffrey Rush also appeared in Shakespeare in Love, which came out in the same year) of Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Dudley is a cocky Romeo who has a romantic relationship with Elizabeth despite the fact that he is married. I was never able to emotionally connect with this relationship because the film begins with the two already together and so we don’t see the two characters grow into the relationship and see what it is that attracts one to the other. Fiennes seems to rely more on his good looks than his acting skills and consequently, his performance feels flat and two-dimensional.

If you have not yet seen Elizabeth, I highly recommend you check the film out on Blu-ray or in 1080p. Shekhar Kapur has put together a stunningly lavish production that should only be seen in the highest quality of picture. The film is beautifully shot by Remi Adefarasin (he also shot 2005’s Match Point, another beautiful looking film) and Kapur imbues the film with an Eastern influence thanks to Alexandra Byrne’s costume designs and John Myhre’s production design. Eye-candy fills every frame of the film and Kapur does a good job creating a claustrophobic feel throughout the story that complements the plot’s shadowy political intrigue.

Elizabeth generated quite a bit of controversy upon its release for being “anti-Catholic” and it was condemned for this reason by the Catholic League. I am not familiar enough with British history to know whether the actions the Pope takes in the film is what really happened. However, even though I am not a big fan of the Roman Catholic Church, I immediately noticed how every Catholic in the film is portrayed as being cruel and devious whereas the Anglicans are shown to be rational and caring. So for those devout Catholics out there who have not seen this film, I would probably recommend you stay away from Elizabeth if you tend to get a bit bent out of shape over criticism of the Church.