Review of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”

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In 1968, science fiction cinema history was revolutionized with the release of “Planet of the Apes”, based on the book “La Planète des singes”. It brought us thought-provoking themes and makeup effects that are impressive even to this day. In the following years, the series had four mediocre sequels and a really bad remake,ultimately causing the decline of the series. Then, in 2011, the “Planet of the Apes” series came back in a big way with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. Instead of a massive story, “Rise” told something more intimate. It focused on one ape, Caesar, and all of his pathos. It featured a captivating ,and maybe even Oscar-worthy, motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis. The film blew the viewing public away. Now, after a director change, a sequel has come out. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” has emerged as the next film in this epic series.

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But the question that stands is whether or not this film is a worthy sequel to its outstanding predecessors. The answer is…yes. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” matches the deep emotions of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, then exceeds it with spectacle. The film is beautifully directed by Matt Reeves of “Cloverfield” fame. The action sequences are smooth and polished(I mean,who doesn’t love monkeys on horses with machine guns). Yet, this movie works best in the quiet moments. Nuanced emotion starts to arise in the more intimate scenes of the movie. One that comes to mind is a scene where the human characters stumble upon an abandoned gas station that has gained electricity. There is very little dialogue. The scene is just a group of humans, celebrating. It comes across as genuine.

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The real drama, on the other hand, comes from the apes. Matt Reeves made the right decision to keep the focus of the movie on the apes. They are the ones who make the story actually have weight. Andy Serkis gives his most realized and nuanced performance in this film. In this, Caesar is filled with family morals and obligations as leader that was not shown in the first film. He is a deeper character, and the story reflects it. Serkis plays the role in a brilliant and regal way. This film gives Andy Serkis another role to add to a running list of roles that deserve Oscars. There is another major standout performance in this film in the form of Toby Kebbell. He plays Koba in this movie to great extent. Koba is a power-hungry, violent psychopath. The movie does a great job to make you hate him. Yet, you can’t stop thinking about where he came from. In the first film, he was a subject of many animal tests, giving him his many scars. He never saw the kindness of humans, causing him to want to kill them. His motives were not out of line. The character just goes too far to accomplish them.

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The special effects were amazing in this movie. Weta Digital keeps getting better with every movie they work on. In this project, each and every hair on every single one of the apes come across as lifelike. There was never a time when I thought an ape looked too much like a computer-generated thing. They looked like real apes. Overall, my problems with this movie were few. I felt that there was too much focus on the human story. There wasn’t much, but there were just times where I felt that the human story was dragging a bit. The human story was still well-done. The ape story was just more interesting and captivating, making it the more captivating storyline.

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This is the best movie to see right now. It is beautifully directed and acted. The writing is tense and dramatic. The emotions are genuine. It’s just a damn good action film in a summer with a lot of great movies. I’ve seen the movie twice now, and I may see it even more. Rating: 4½ starswpid-535px-4.5_stars.svg_.png Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox (c)2014

Review of “Jersey Boys”

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“Jersey Boys” tells the story of classic singing group The “Four Seasons”. Centering mainly on the main singer,Frankie Valli(played by John Lloyd Young), the movie chronicles the group’s rise to fame, then shows their demise through family troubles,issues with loan sharks,and tensions within the group. It is based on the Tony-winning musical of the same name. It is directed by acclaimed actor-director Clint Eastwood.

I went into this movie with very low expectations. I never got around to seeing the stage musical,even though it has come to Boston around every other year(It may not be that often, but I feel that I have seen “Jersey Boys:Back By Popular Demand!” SO many times). What even made me consider seeing this was the directing choice. The director of Mystic River and MIllion Dollar Baby chose as his next project…a jukebox Broadway musical! It just seemed odd to me that Clint Eastwood, in all his manly chair-talking ways, decided to direct a movie-musical about about an early boy band. Yet, when I saw it, I realized that the movie was… OK, I guess.

Obviously, the best done part of the movie was the music. A lot of the Four Season’s music has become classic rock/pop songs, such as “Walk Like A Man”,”December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”,”Big Girls Don’t Cry”, and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. There really wasn’t anything done to reinvent these songs, but that was not the intention. The actors,John Lloyd Young,Erich Bergen,Michael Lomenda, and Vincent Piazza do a great job in imitating the original sound of the group, and that’s all a jukebox musical-biopic needs. They looked, sounded, and acted like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, creating a convincing performance.

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Yet, what made the movie ultimately fail was the script. The story felt melodramatic and over-the-top. The story would fit very well as a Lifetime movie. You could divide it up into three very obvious sections. The first section was the beginning of the movie, which was the “Godfellas” section. It filled with narration and mob-cliches, basically trying to imitate the Scorsese classic. It came off as unoriginal. The second section was as the band was getting big, which became the “Walk The Line” section. This part of the story was probably the best written, showing the road tensions. Yet again, it was the same story dynamics seen in the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk The Line”, creating another unoriginal section. Finally comes the third section, which is where the movie really started to suck. This thrid section introduces a subplot about Frankie’s daughter Francine and her delinquency. It was unneeded, written like crap, and stalled the band story lines, which were much more interesting.

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Clint’s direction was OK. No scenes really stood out to me as incredibly bad. There was one scene on the road, but I’ll let that slide. Honestly, this was just average. It had great music but terrible plot. The acting was enough. Christopher Walken was kind of shoehorned into the story, but there wasn’t any other major stars, so he was needed. The movie is good for a fun, music-filled romp, but there is nothing more to it. See it as a nice break from action movies this summer, but there is not much else it is good for.

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I apologize for all the grammar mistakes in this. I typed this and put it up without editing.

All photos courtesy of Warner Brothers Studios (c)2014.

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Top 10 Films of 2013

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     It was about time that I put out my to 10 movies list. Just as a note: I have not seen The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, or Her yet, so they wouldn’t be on my list. Anyway, hope you enjoy!

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)

1.Iron Man 3 – The movie that kicked off the summer. While the scripting was a little too funny and the twist was terrible, it still was a fun popcorn flick with lots of thrills and laughs.

2.The Way Way Back – A coming of age tale about a boy who is forced to spend the summer at his mother’s boyfriend’s beach house. It features great acting performances by Sam Rockwell and Steve Carell, as well as hilarious writing and direction by Nathan Faxon and Jim Rash, the writers of my favorite 2011 movie, “The Descendants”.

Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Liam James and Zoe Levin in The Way Way Back 

3.Much Ado About Nothing – It’s f**king Joss Whedon directing Shakespeare. Whedon takes a classic comedy and adds a contemporary twist to it. The result is a slick, suave comedy that is a great follow up to 2012′s “The Avengers”. Hilarious acting performances by the whole cast. 

4.Saving Mr. Banks – A star-studded look into the making of Mary Poppins. While it was drab at times, there is a lot of light in this flick. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson shine in their respective roles.

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks

5.The Kings of Summer – Another coming of age film, this time, a story about three boys who decide to run away from home and live in the woods. It is a funny little independent film that also shows a lot of teen angst.

 Top 10 Films of 2013

10.Elysium – Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to “District 9″. While it may not have been as good as its predecessor , it delivered lots of sci fi action with an added message about immigration. The special effects were outstanding, and the art design had lots of great grit. Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley have standout acting performances.

Matt Damon and Sharlto Copley in Elysium

9.The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – I have to admit that I was not the biggest fan of the first Hunger Games movie. There was too much shaky-cam and not enough character development. However, Catching Fire takes all the good parts of the first (The books) and reforms all of the mistakes, making a great film. Jennifer Lawrence once again shows off her acting chops, and proves that she is one of the best new actors in Hollywood.

8.Pacific Rim – In terms of story and acting, this film is pretty bad. Yet, the special effects and art design more than make up for it. I just love watching giant robots beat up giant aliens. There is just an inner part of everyone that just loves some good destruction.

The Jaeger,Gypsy Danger in Pacific Rim

7.Star Trek Into Darkness – This was my favorite film of the year all the way up until Oscar season. It delivers tons of fan service and features a great performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, one of Hollywood’s other rising stars. I was raised as a Trekkie, and therefore have a love for all things Star Trek. Star Trek Into Darkness is a great action sci-fi movie.

6.Mud – This movie caught me by surprise. I got it on DVD from the library, and loved so much about it. It features Tye Sheridan, a child actor who does not stink, Matthew McConaughey as a dark title antihero,and Reese Witherspoon in a small but important role as Mud’s girlfriend. The writing and directing is strong, making for a powerful independent film.

Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland in Mud

5.The World’s End – The funniest film of the year.Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and director Edgar Wright make for a powerful team. The film covers growing up and dealing with maturity, all while fighting robot aliens. It is the darkest of the “Cornetto Trilogy”, a series of films featuring “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”. It walks the line between funny and serious, making this a great comedy.  Martin Freeman also features in it. Enough said.

Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan and Simon Pegg in The World’s End

4.12 Years a Slave – This film made me feel depressed for hours after viewing. It shows the dark tragedy of the American slavery epidemic. It has many powerhouse performances, and superb direction. See my review for more information.

3.All is Lost – For a movie that is just Robert Redford and a boat, it tells a pretty gripping story. You are engrossed as the protagonist struggles to stay alive in a series of Job-like struggles. Redford deserves an Oscar nomination for the role. Frankly, everything in this film deserves an Oscar nomination. It all just works.

2.Gravity – Every year there is a film that pushes the boundaries of science fiction, and this is that film for 2013. It beautifully captures the awe and scope of space. Sandra Bullock, much like Redford, is alone for much of the movie. Yet, her performance, the cinematography, the special effects, the sound design, and the overall feel keep you engrossed for the 90-minute thrill ride.

Sandra Bullock in Gravity

And finally…

1.Inside Llewyn Davis – If you read my review of this film, you saw this coming. Everything works in this film. The Coen Brothers tell a depressing story about failure in show business. Oscar Isaacs is a great leading man. The supporting cast really works hard. It had me caught up in the film all the way from the CBS Films logo at the start to the final credit. See my review for more information. 

Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis

Thanks for reading. Photos courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Warner Bros. Picture, Roadside Attractions, Focus Features, and CBS Films via IMDd.com.

Die Hard: The Best Christmas Movie Of All Time

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Bruce Willis in "Die Hard"

Since it is Christmas Eve, I would like to write about one of my favorite Christmas movies. When one is asked what their favorite Christmas movie is, they are drawn to answer with a classic, such as “It’s A Wonderfull Life” or “Home Alone”. However, I have a different opinion. I feel that the greatest Christmas movie of all time is the 1988 action classic “Die Hard”.

For those who don’t know, the plot is as follow. Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a New York cop who visits Los Angeles to see his wife at a Christmas Eve party in Nakatomi Plaza. However, the party takes a turn for the worse when a group of German terrorists take control of the building and hold everyone in it hostage. John McClane manages to avoid capture an dmust attemp to free the building with only a handgun and his wits.

One does not initially consider “Die Hard” a Christmas movie. After all, its initial release was in summer. Yet, there are a lot of classic Christmas aspects that allow this film to fit into the genre. There are brightly lit Christmas trees present in many backrounds. The music is filled with Christmas songs such as “Winter Wonderland” and Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis”. At one point, McClane suprises the terrorists with a corpse wearing a Christmas hat. This is enough Christmas crap to make it seem like the holidays.

However, it is not the setting that makes it a great Christmas film, but the arc of John McClane. In the beginning, John is a gruff, jerky character who yells at his wife for using her middle name. Yet, by the end of the story, McClane is bloody and wartorn. His wife is shocked by how bad he looks. McClane sees some things over the course of the movie, bad things. He becomes tired, yet also a lot nicer. This change of character resembles another Christmas protagonist, Scrooge.

Overall, Die Hard is one of the greatest action movies of all time. It has guns and explosions, as well as lots of humor. Whether or not it is a Christmas film, that is up to you. However, in my book, it is one of the best in the genre. John McClane learns the true meaning of Christmas through the plot, and becomes a better person.

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“Die Hard” is available now in many formats. All photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Review of “Inside Llewyn Davis”

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“Inside Llewyn Davis” stars Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis, a folk musician in 1960′s Greenwich Village, struggling to live day-to-day. The film shows a week in Llewyn’s life, watching him stay on an endless slew of couches. He works to make ends meet, while still trying to keep his dreams of being a musician. His partner has committed suicide, and Llewyn is trying to adjust to being a solo act. He takes a trip to Chicago with a silent poet (Garrett Hedlund) and a loudmouthed jazz musician (John Goodman) in order to perform for a prominent manager (F. Murray Abraham). Other supporting cast members include Jim and Jean(Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake), a folk duo which consists of a bitchy woman and her naive husband, Troy Nelson(Stark Sands), the quintessential country boy, Al Cody(Adam Driver), a folk singer with a deep bass, and Joy(Jeanine Serralles), Llewyn’s disapproving sister. The film is written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen.

I was really excited for this film. The Coen Brothers are two of my favorite directors. “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” is one of my favorite films of all time. The movie got a lot of buzz after its debut at the Cannes Film Festival. The soundtrack of this movie was being produced by T-Bone Burnett, who previously collaborated with the Coen Brothers on “Oh Brother”. It is sure to be an Oscar contender this year. I had high expectations for this film.

This film met my extremely high hopes, making one of the best films of the year. It was brilliantly made. Everything from the writing to the editing is spot on. All the acting performances are great. Oscar Isaac is great as the jerky Llewyn Davis. His character is a terrible person to uses everyone he meets to his own personal advantage. Yet, he is still able to convince the audience to feel for him. Isaac’s performance has a charisma that almost makes you forgive all of Llewyn’s terrible actions. He walks the line between a nice guy and a complete a**hole.

Every single actor is trying their hardest to make this film great. John Goodman is hilarious as a man who can never shut up (That man deserves an Oscar nomination and win eventually). Stark Sands plays his best Kenneth Parcell-esque character. Adam Driver’s sound effects makes “Please Mr. Kennedy” the funniest song in the film. Jeanine Serralles provides a contrast between the showbiz world and real life which is needed for the film.

Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan play off each other really well. Timberlake is the one who is never home, forcing Mulligan to have conversations with Llewyn. While Mulligan appears to be an angel when on the stage, offstage, she bitches and yells at Llewyn about how terrible a person he is. Mulligan’s character also sleeps her way around the city, and even gets pregnant, while Timberlake is unaware.

Llewyn also has a cat who comes in and out of his life throughout the movie. This kind of storytelling is what we have come to expect from a Coen brothers film. The human-cat dynamic is very quirky in this movie.

The Coen brothers directed this film so perfectly. All of the visuals perfectly capture the look of the 1960′s. The entire film has a dark color palette, which perfectly captures the struggles in Llewyn’s life. The script is beautifully written. In usual Coen brothers fashion, it walks the carefull line between comedy and seriousness. The cinematography was stunning. The Coen brothers departed from their usual choice of Roger Deakins,in favor of Bruno Debonnel. Debonnel uses subtle amounts of shaky-cam, not crazy amounts (cough,cough, HUNGER GAMES, cough,cough) , but just enough to add a sense of realism to the film.

The music may be the best part of the picture. As stated above, T-Bone Burnett produced the score for the music. However, there is little background music up until a performance. This adds depth to all of the songs. The songs are all strongly performed. All of the actors do their own singing, and they are truly great musicians. The songs vary from the melancholy “Death of Queen Jane” to the hilarious ” Please Mr. Kennedy”. The Coen brothers use music to help tell the story, with each song adding to the mood of a scene.

Honestly, I cannot think of a flaw for this film. There were minor things, but nothing worth noting. This movie just spoke to me on a deeper level. It told a deeply emotional story with much gravitas. I see it as a very good companion piece to another Coen film, “A Serious Man”. That movie tells the story of a Jewish man whose wife leaves him as his life falls apart. They both feature a character going through Job-like trials of life and are shot in a melancholy fashion.

Overall, “Inside Llewyn Davis” may be a perfect film that I want to return to see multiple times.
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“Inside Llewyn Davis” opens everywhere this Friday. All photos courtesy of CBS Films.

Review of “All is Lost”

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“All is Lost” stars Robert Redford, and only Robert Redford. The film is the story of an unnamed man,lost at sea, who must try to survive on his own and to find rescue. It was the sophomore effort from director J.C. Chandor, after his 2011 Oscar-nominated debut, “Margin Call”.

I had not seen “Margin Call”, but “All is Lost” recieved a 10 minute standing ovation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. I am a big Robert Redford fan, with “All The President’s Men” being one of my favorite performances of his. I also love fims such as last year’s “Life of Pi”, with one to two person casts against nature. However, I did not have a drive to see this film until I stumbled upon a showing at my local theater. My dad went to see Ender’s Game (A film I have problems with) , and I picked this to stall the time after my showing of “Thor: The Dark World” ended.

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However, I was blown away by how well this film was made. Robert Redford gives a brilliant performance in this film. His performance is almost silent, with only around 45 words. Yet, what he lacks in dialouge, he makes up for in pure acting talent. Redford’s character is one who has seen the hardships of life and is near the end of his days. He has a vibe of gravitas radiating from him. Throughout the movie, you find yourself rooting for this man the whole time. You become engrossed in his tale and want him to survive. Redford’s stoic character is the main reason to watch this film.

The film is directed brilliantly. J.C. Chandor is truly able to capture the beautiful stillness of the the ocean at certain parts, yet the dangerous ferocity of a storm in others. The sound design was also very well done. In a film with no talking, the sound effects have to be strong. The film accurately captures the sounds of water and wind that really gave an ambience of the sea. The music was fitting, but not necessary to the film. The music does not play for much of the film and in this case, sometimes the stillness of the ocean works best.
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There were few things that I disliked about the film. I felt that despite the 106 minutes running time, the film felt a little long in pacing. There were multiple places where I felt that the movie was coming to the end, yet there was still more left in the film. The end itself was actually pretty interesting, which was left ambiguous.

Overall, I think that this film is one of the best films of 2013 so far. Robert Redford deserves to win the Oscar for his performance, as well as the sound designer and cinematographer. This one-person survival tale is a story that has been told before, and there is nothing specifically new about this one. However, the acting and directing makes this one of the best in the genre.

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“All is Lost” is playing now. It runs for 106 minutes and is rated PG-13 for strong brief language.

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Images courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment

Review of “Thor: The Dark World”

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“Thor: The Dark World” stars Chris Helmsworth returning to his role as the thunder god, Thor, after last year’s “The Avengers”. The film also features Natalie Portman, Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, and Anthony Hopkins returning to their roles from the first movie. Doctor Who’s Christopher Eccleston joins the cast to play the film’s main villian, Malekith, a dark elf who wants to plunge the universe back into darkness. Game of Thrones showrunner,Alan Taylor, directed this film.

If you don’t know me, I am a super-nerd. I read lots of comics in my free time, and I own every Marvel film on DVD. I found the first Thor film mildly amusing. It had some nice sets, good action sequences, and was an overall cun time at the movies. However, this sequel was lined up to be even better. All of the set photos made it look like an epic Viking fantasy film, unlike the first, which was kind of sci-fi. I like Game of Thrones, so the director seemed fine. Thor was never really one of my favorites, so I wasn’t excpecting this to pop like a Batman or Ant Man movie.

I found the sequel mediocre. It did its job of being a fun,popcorn action movie, but nothing more. Helmsworth was fine, or at least as good as you can be when playing an interdemensional space god who throws a hammer. Natalie Portman did her job of being eye candy. Anthony Hopkins continues to play the strict Odin. Kat Dennings still plays the comical assistant, Darcy, an unneeded character.

However, one actor shines far more than the rest, and his name is Tom Hiddelston. His performance of Loki was both menacing and hilarious at the same time. His acting is far above any of the others (except Anthony Hopkins, one of the best actors of all time overall). He can play both the Machiavellean criminal we all know and love, yet can just as easily switch into a depressed wreck of a demigod.

Sadly, the film still had many flaws. The main villian, Malekith provides no threat to the story. Christopher Eccleston does a good job playing the role. The character is just not written well. His powers are not very powerfull, and his army is smaller than Loki’s in “The Avengers”. There was never a time where I thought that this guy may win. He was even beat up by (SPOILERS) Thor’s mom, Frigga, with a dagger. He was an easy challenge.

The film also had a little too much humor for my taste. Marvel has made it a signature to have lots of light tones, but it felt a little too much in this movie. Kat Denning’s character of Darcy was only in the story for laughs, and she was even given an intern,Ian, for more comedy. These two characters had no other real purpose besides laughter. The writers tried to mix comedy with the dark elements of the story, and those things don’t mix.

Overall, if are a fan of Marvel’s past films, you will not be disappointed. There are lots of comic nerd jokes for the fans. However, if you aren’t a fan, you may not get a lot of the references.

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I now want to talk about the end-credits scene. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading now.

In the scene, Two of the Warriors Three bring the Aether (Malekith’s main weapon) to Benicio del Toro’s character, the
Collector. The refer to it and the Tesseract as “Infinity Stones”. The Collector smiles and states “One down, five to go”. What he is alluding to is the Infinity Gaunlet, a weapon used by Thanos in the comics. When all of the Infiniy Stones are assembled together on the Infinity Gauntlet, the wielder controls space,time,minds,souls, and power (Each power is a stone). We first saw Thanos at the end of “The Avengers”. He will appear again (possibly) in Guardians of the Galaxy,next August.

While I appreciated the setup for future movies, I did not like the way it was shot. All of the art design made the film look like a wacky Terry Gilliam film. It’s not like I don’t like his films, it just felt out of place in a Marvel film. Del Toro’s character did lots of random hand gestures, and made him come off as a wacky Space Liberace. It does not boost excitement for “Guardians of the Galaxy”.

“Thor: The Dark World” is currently playing everywhere. It is rated PG-13.

All photos courtesy of Marvel Studios and Disney Pictures.