Take 2

Tamara Dunn is a card-carrying cinephile and the assistant city editor at the Standard-Speaker. Her writings here have earned her a Pennsylvania Women’s Press Association award in 2017. Her favorite films are “Bringing Up Baby” and “Moonlight.”

Rebecca Kivak considers herself a representative of the average filmgoer. She is also a copy editor for The Times-Tribune. Her favorite films are “The Illusionist” and “The Avengers.”

MoviePass vs. Cinemark Movie Club: Which service is better for you?

MoviePass vs. Cinemark Movie Club: Which service is better for you?

Do you go to the movies once a month? If so, you can get more for your money by joining either MoviePass or Cinemark’s new Movie Club.

The subscription services are like Netflix for theaters. By paying a monthly fee, customers can reap the rewards by seeing movies and/or saving on concessions.

The average price of a movie ticket in the U.S. is $8.93. With an annual subscription, MoviePass costs just $7.50 a month, while Cinemark’s Movie Club costs $8.99 a month. This means if you’re seeing at least one movie a month in theaters, it’s to your advantage to join one of these subscription services.

But what are the differences between them? Which one may be better for you? Let Take 2 help you figure that out as we break down the benefits of MoviePass and Movie Club.

MoviePass

MoviePass took the movie-going world by storm in August when it slashed its monthly fee from $45 to $9.95. In November, the subscription program dropped its price even further by offering subscribers a pre-paid option. Members can pay $89.95 upfront for a one-year subscription, which costs just $7.50 a month (accounting for a $6.55 processing fee).

What do you get for that monthly fee? MoviePass allows members to see one movie a day each month at participating theaters. Yes, I said that correctly: a movie a day! The monthly program excludes 3-D and IMAX showings.

How does MoviePass work? After a subscriber signs up at https://www.moviepass.com/auth/session, he or she is mailed a debit card. When subscribers are within 100 yards of a participating theater, they can check into the movie showing of their choice on the MoviePass app. The cost of the ticket is loaded onto the debit card, which the subscriber then presents as payment at the ticket booth. The debit card is used like any other debit or credit card.

In Northeastern Pennsylvania, theaters that participate in the MoviePass program include R/C Movies 14 in Wilkes-Barre, Cinemark 20 in Moosic, Iron Horse Movie Bistro in Scranton, Regal Great Escape 14 and IMAX theater in Dickson City, the Regal in Hazleton, and the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock.

Cinemark Movie Club

This week, national theater chain Cinemark launched its own monthly subscription service, Movie Club, as a rival to MoviePass.

Cinemark’s Movie Club costs $8.99 a month. The monthly subscription allows members to see one movie a month, excluding 3-D, XD and IMAX. Unused tickets can roll over. Members can add additional tickets for $8.99 each and save 20 percent on concessions.

Movie Club can also be used in tandem with Cinemark Connections, the chain’s movie rewards program. Cinemark Connections allows members to collect points from buying tickets and concessions. Members can redeem them for digital downloads, movie memorabilia, trips and contests.

Subscribers can sign up at https://cinemark.com/movieclub. Locally, the Cinemark 20 theater operates in Moosic.

Which one should I choose?

Basically, it depends how often you go to the movies and which theaters you attend. But the deeper you dig, a clear winner emerges between the two services.

At Take 2, we both have MoviePass, so we can speak clearer to this program’s benefits. I switched from the $9.95 a month option to the annual subscription to maximize my savings.

As said before, a yearly subscription to MoviePass costs just $7.50 a month. As the average movie ticket costs $8.93, you’re actually making money by going with this service.

If you see more than one movie a month, MoviePass is the obvious choice. The monthly fee allows you to see a movie day for the entire month. That’s essentially unlimited movie-going!

On the other hand, Cinemark Movie Club’s monthly $8.99 fee only includes one 2-D movie a month. That means you still have to pay for any other movies you’ll attend that month. The 20 percent discount on concessions helps, but it doesn’t replace all those other showings you can get with MoviePass.

Before you sign up for MoviePass, make sure your local theaters participate in the program. You can do this by downloading the MoviePass app from iTunes or Google Play, and entering in your zip code.

It’s important to note that MoviePass can be used at Cinemark theaters, like the Moosic location, and other NEPA theaters, while Cinemark’s Movie Club can only be used at Cinemark.

MoviePass can also be used in conjunction with the reward programs offered at various cinemas. Locally, this includes the Frequent Moviegoer rewards at R/C Movies 14, Cinemark Connections and the Regal Crown Club. Just make sure you show your rewards card or rewards app to the ticket seller before you present your MoviePass debit card as payment.

Cinemark’s Movie Club does have one advantage: You can reserve your seats online or through its app. You cannot reserve seats through MoviePass; you do that at the theater when you purchase your tickets.

One last thing: If you lose your MoviePass card, it’s easy to rectify. Notify the help section on the MoviePass app, and the service will quickly respond. Just submit a verified mailing address and they will mail a new card to you.

Here at Take 2, we suggest going with MoviePass. But whatever you decide, we hope you get the most out of your movie-going experience.

Trailer Talk: Disassembling the “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer

Trailer Talk: Disassembling the “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer

“Avengers: Infinity War”

It’s finally here! Marvel Studios has released the long-awaited teaser trailer for its epic superhero team-up “Avengers: Infinity War.” The 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe brings together all its heroes from the far reaches of the expansive franchise.

Entering theaters on May 4, 2019, “Avengers: Infinity War” comes out 10 years after the MCU began with the iconic “Iron Man.” The Russo Brothers-directed film and its still-untitled sequel, set to be released in 2019, will usher in the end of the first three phases of the MCU and reset the film universe as we know it. This means some of the characters we’ve come to know and love over the last decade will meet their end by part 2 of “Infinity War.” (Gulp)

So let’s dive in! Here’s your warning for spoilers from some of the MCU films.

The two-minute, 24-second trailer opens with a voiceover by in-hiding S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson – who is not actually listed in the film’s cast) explaining the reason for starting the Avengers initiative, with Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), the Vision (Paul Bettany), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) finishing the sentiment. A secluded Vision, lovingly looking at the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), appears more human, and Black Widow, likely on the run after “Captain America: Civil War,” is now blonde.

Thanos (Josh Brolin), the big bad of the MCU, has been working behind the scenes of all the films to collect the six Infinity Stones. If Thanos gets all the stones, he’ll have unlimited power, threatening the fate of Earth and the whole universe. In the trailer, the Mad Titan drops into the forefront of the action, showing off his Infinity Gauntlet and the stones he’s acquired so far.

And it looks like that includes the Tesseract, or blue Space Stone, last seen in “Thor: Ragnarok.” The trailer confirms the mischievous Loki (Tom Hiddleston) swiped the Space Stone before fleeing a soon-to-be-destroyed Asgard. As “Thor: Ragnarok” ended with the Asgardian refugees interrupted by Thanos’ ship, Loki probably gives up the Tesseract to the Mad Titan.

But that’s not the only Infinity Stone we see. The Vision has been walking around with the yellow Mind Stone in his head since “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” putting him in mortal danger. In the trailer, it looks like Thanos or his minions have finally caught up to the Vision, trying to rip the stone FROM HIS HEAD. Did we just see the Vision get killed?!

“Avengers: Infinity War” appears to show the war against Thanos being fought on different fronts. In New York City, Iron Man and a crash-landing Hulk are with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wong (Benedict Wong) at the Sanctum Santorum at 177A Bleecker St. Meanwhile, Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s spider sense is tingling – an ability he didn’t have yet in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” We see him don the Iron Spider suit that Tony Stark gave him at the end of his solo film.

Over in the African nation of Wakanda, Black Panther/T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is trying to bolster his country’s defenses – and in my favorite line of the trailer, says, “And get this man a shield.” From the shadows enters a bearded Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Rogers). Now a government fugitive, Cap’s new suit has muted its patriotic colors. It also appears the Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) has woken from his induced slumber in “Captain America: Civil War” to join in the fight, with help from a flying Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).

On the ground in the Wakanda, the trailer reveals its money shot – and it’s a good one: Captain America leads the Winter Soldier, Black Widow, Hulk, Okoye (Danai Gurira), the head of Black Panther’s security force Dora Milaje, and Black Panther into battle. War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who was left paralyzed at the end of “Captain America: Civil War,” and the Falcon are flying behind.

If that wasn’t exciting enough, there’s more. The trailer ends with a weary and disheveled Thor – wearing an eye patch after losing his eye in “Thor: Ragnarok” – seemingly picked up by the Guardians of the Galaxy in space (presumably after Thanos targets the Asgardian ship). Thor turns to Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Groot (Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Drax (Dave Baustista) and says, “Who the hell are you?”

“Avengers: Infinity War” assembles the six original heroes in the MCU – Iron Man/Tony Stark, Captain America/Steve Rogers, Thor, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, the Hulk/Bruce Banner and Hawkeye/Cliff Barnes (Jeremy Renner) – with recent additions Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Black Panther/T’Challa, Doctor Strange/Stephen Strange and Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). For the first time, the Guardians of the Galaxy will mingle with Earth’s mightiest heroes.

What else did you take away from the “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer? Let us know in the comments below.

Review: “The Exterminating Angel”

Review: “The Exterminating Angel”

“The Exterminating Angel” 4.5 stars out of five.

Foreground from left: Iestyn Davies, Sally Matthews, and Lucas Mann in “The Exterminating Angel,” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Oct. 23, 2017. This adaptation by the composer Thomas Adès is a riff on Luis Buñuel’s 1962 film of the same name, a surreal, bleakly comic yet disturbing fantasy about a dinner party gone to hell. (Emon Hassan/The New York Times)

Before Nov. 18, I had never seen an opera. I had some classical vocal training when I was a teenager, and I grew up with musicians and singers who would eventually perform on national stages. I had the pleasure of seeing mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves perform live, whose rendition of “The Habanera” from “Carmen” brought me to tears. I knew how to dress for one, yet I had never been to a full-out opera. However, when I learned that the Metropolitan Opera in New York was performing a new production based on one of my favorite films, I had to make an effort to see it.

The Met kicked off its 2017-18 season with the American premiere of “The Exterminating Angel,” based on the 1962 surrealist film by Luis Buñuel. Composed and conducted by Thomas Adès and directed by Tom Cairns, the opera takes place during a dinner party of the upper class following a night at the opera. Due to an unknown supernatural force, the dinner guests find excuses not to leave the room. Secrets, animistic behavior and desperation take over as the guests stay inside for days.

From left: Sally Matthews, Amanda Echalaz, Rod Gilfry, Christine Price, and Audrey Luna in “The Exterminating Angel,” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Oct. 23, 2017. This adaptation by the composer Thomas Adès is a riff on Luis Buñuel’s 1962 film of the same name, a surreal, bleakly comic yet disturbing fantasy about a dinner party gone to hell. (Emon Hassan/The New York Times)

Talk about a meta day to remember, I watched this live performance at Cinemark 20 and XD in Moosic. The experience reminded me of the path for “Hairspray” – it was first a John Waters cult classic that was adapted as a Broadway musical that was adapted for the screen that was broadcast live on network television. I had wanted to see “The Exterminating Angel” live at the Met, but once The New York Times gave it a stellar review, tickets were scooped up fast. Having the “Live at the Met” series available at local theaters brings culture within the masses’ reach, so I appreciated the feeling of a live performance without having to don fancy clothes and a pair of opera glasses. I could freely watch high art unfold while slurping on a blue raspberry Icee.

The translation from celluloid to stage keeps Buñuel’s satirical commentary on the bourgeois intact. With fashionable mid-century furniture and extravagant attire, the stage is set up for disintegration as clothes and upholstery are ripped to shreds. At the start, the servants flee the house out of fear as Edmundo de Nobile (Joseph Kaiser) and his wife, Lucia (Amanda Echalaz), are about to host their upper-class friends for a grand, late-night dinner in honor of opera singer Leticia Meynar (Audrey Luna).The servants are much like a chorus in a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy, but the dinner guests are oblivious to what is about to happen.

Audrey Luna on stage in “The Exterminating Angel,” where she performs in a vocal range so high that had never been sung in the 137-year history of the Metropolitan Opera, in New York, Oct. 23, 2017. Archivists said that Luna’s ability to hit A above high C — a combination of genetic gifts, rigorous training and psychological discipline — is unprecedented. (Emon Hassan/The New York Times)

Just about every society title is represented with each guest, and with 15 principal performers, not many of the performers have individual moments. It really feels like a greater force is preventing this high-society crowd from leaving their setting. An exception to the group mentality feeling is saved near the end as the audience hears what makes Meyner a great singer. Luna projects exceptionally high notes, and they sound so naturally good in this setting.

The music behind the opera is equally spellbinding and nightmarish, as tiny violins cut through the tension, crazy percussion keeps the time, and a haunting ondes Martenot – an early 20th-century electronic keyboard that sounds similar to a theremin – is enchanting.

My only complaint would be that the opera is in English. Granted, Cairns and Adès are British, and the cast is composed of British, Canadian and American performers. However, the opera’s primary source is Buñuel’s take on Spanish and Mexican society during the Spanish Civil War. Character names maintain their cinematic heritage, and the turbulent times of the 1950s and 1960s are still there. But honestly, English is not the best sounding language in song.

Frederic Antoun and sheep in “The Exterminating Angel,” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Oct. 23, 2017. This adaptation by the composer Thomas Adès is a riff on Luis Buñuel’s 1962 film of the same name, a surreal, bleakly comic yet disturbing fantasy about a dinner party gone to hell. (Emon Hassan/The New York Times)

Nevertheless, if you are a cinephile, an arts fan or both, you should see “The Exterminating Angel” for its combination of style, chaos and beautiful music.

An encore presentation of “The Exterminating Angel” will screen Wednesday at Cinemark 20 and XD and at Regal Dickson City Stadium and IMAX.

A special month for cinephiles

A special month for cinephiles

November is a special month for cinephiles. For movie collectors, it’s time for the sale of the year, a chance to purchase special editions of some of the world’s best titles. It’s also a time when fans of films with dark themes and dramatic crime stories engage in their favorite genre. When these two happenings collide, well, let’s just say some of us will be low on dough by Dec. 1.

The Criterion Collection sale is underway at Barnes & Noble, in store and online. All titles and box sets are 50 percent off, a sale that only happens twice a year. This one is closer to Christmas, so if there’s a movie fan on your holiday shopping list, you can find a DVD or Blu-Ray that is perfect for them.

November symbolizes many observances, from Movember to American Diabetes Month, and for #FilmTwitter it is time for #Noirvember. The hashtag celebrates film noir, a genre that was in its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s when a man was a man and dame was a femme fatale. Illegal activity places center stage with the leading man playing the arm of the law. He is a little rough around the edges and he doesn’t always play by the rules. Or it could be a criminal mastermind at the forefront. The perfect crime goes horribly wrong when greed and jealousy get in the way. And the women are just as tough. They can be the lady beside the ringleader or the double-crosser. She can be an angel or a wrecking ball.

Combine the Criterion sale with #Noirvember and you have a happy crowd. Here are some of the film noir titles included in the sale:

“Gilda”

Gilda” (1946)

The cover alone calls for attention. Rita Hayworth is playing with her hair with gloved hands with typography evoking the old Hollywood style used in this classic’s trailer. This may be a title that I will purchased because I have terrible luck trying to catch it on television. Hayworth plays the flamboyant and beautiful wife of a gangster (George Macready) and has a past with his associated (Glenn Ford). Hayworth’s role is the prototype of the femme fatale – independent, dangerous and seductive. Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann discuss the impact of “Gilda” as part of the title’s extra features.

“They Live By Night”

They Lived By Night” (1949)

Director Nicholas Ray, best known for helming “Rebel Without a Case,” made his debut with this outlaws-on-the-run thriller. With Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell, it’s the classic case of man breaks out of jail, hops into a young woman’s car, and the two fall madly in love. Their bond is tested as they run from the authorities and hoodlums. The title includes a 2K restoration and videos analyzing the film.

“In A Lonely Place”

In a Lonely Place” (1950)

Back in college, I was introduced to this film starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in an art history class. It was paired with another Bogart noir flick “The Big Sleep.” I preferred the film Bogart starred with in Laura Bacall. It was fun to watch, but “In a Lonely Place” is a more artful, dark movie. This is another Ray entry, with Bogart as a Hollywood screenwriter framed for murder. Grahame is his neighbor who gets tangled up in his situation by serving as his alibi. A documentary on Ray and a radio adaptation of the novel from which the film is based are included with the title.

“Rififi”

Rififi” (1955)

Film noir was a term coined by French critics describing the gritty American films of that time. American director Julius “Jules” Dassin fled to France after he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Having already made tides in the genre with “The Naked City,” inspired by and working with famed photographer Weegee, Dassin released this French title about a group of criminals who pull off a jewel, but the aftermath becomes their downfall. The two-disc set includes an English-dubbed version and set design drawings.

“The Killing”

The Killing” (1956)

This is my favorite Stanley Kubrick film. Starring Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jr. and a cast of crazies, a squad of thugs of various talents try to take the winnings at a race track. Loose lips, hidden agendas and bad timing get in the way. Included in the title is a restoration of “Killer’s Kiss,” a riveting thriller that clocks in at an hour. You get two movies for the half-price of one.

“High and Low”

High and Low” (1963)

Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa is best known for directing epics like “Seven Samuri,” “Rashomon” and “Throne of Blood,” but the auteur takes what seems like a detour with “High and Low.” Toshiro Mifune, a frequent star in Kurosawa’s films, plays a wealthy executive at a shoe company whose son is the target of a ruthless kidnapper. The police procedural shows how film noir is borderless and not limited to only Western filmmakers. The title includes a behind-the-scenes documentary and a rare interview with Mifune.

“Following”

“Following” (1998)

Nearly anything that has film noir elements that is not set in the times of Orson Welles and fictional character Philip Marlowe and was made after 1960 is considered neo-noir. Movies like Erik Skjoldbjærg’s “Insomnia” and Michael Mann’s “Thief” come to mind. Christopher Nolan made his directing debut with “Following” about a young writer (who is only credited as Young Man) who follows random people in London in hopes of finding inspiration for his first novel. He becomes intrigued by a man named Cobb and gets too deep into trouble. At 70 minutes long, it packs in so many twists that it will leave you had spinning. When I first watched it, I immediately had to see it again. Alternative edits and a short film are included with the title.

For more film noir titles, see this list at the Criterion website.

Review: “Thor: Ragnarok”

Review: “Thor: Ragnarok”

From left, the Hulk, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie and Tom Hiddleston as Loki in a scene from, “Thor: Ragnarok.” (Marvel Studios via AP)

Rebecca’s Take

The long locks are gone, but it’s more than Thor who gets a makeover in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Marvel’s latest comic book film bursts with color and humor, keeping the 17th film in its growing cinematic universe fresh.

The intergalactic comedy is an enjoyable departure in mood and aesthetic from the previous Thor films as indie director Taika Waititi puts his light-hearted stamp on the franchise. With eye-popping action, vibrant visuals and intriguing characters, “Thor: Ragnarok” delivers out-of-this-world fun.

“Thor: Ragnarok” brings the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) back into the MCU fold after he was last seen in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” The third “Thor” film finds the son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins) racing to save his home world, Asgard, from its prophesied destruction, known as Ragnarok.

After reuniting with his mischief-making brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the brothers must contend with their banished sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. After pulverizing Thor’s trusty hammer, Mjolnir, the power-hungry Hela casts her brothers into space.

Thor and Loki land on the trash planet of Sakaar, run by the flashy Grandmaster (a delightful Jeff Goldblum). Now hammerless, Thor is captured by the hard-drinking Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a former Asgardian warrior, and forced to fight his fellow Avenger, the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), in a gladiator ring. But the fate of Asgard and its people are hanging in the balance as Thor looks for a way back to his planet.

2011’s “Thor,” one of my favorite MCU films, thrived on its Shakespearean drama and endeared itself to fans through its fish-out-of-water charm. But 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World” threatened to strand the franchise in mediocrity.

“Thor: Ragnarok” rights the ship. The neon-colored sequel cruises right along, making the most of its wacky and wonderful space setting. The action dazzles from Asgard’s rainbow bridge to Sakaar’s bustling streets. A thrilling Mjolnir sequence pops in 3-D. The film perfectly stages key sequences to Led Zeppelin’s rousing anthem “Immigrant Song.” And the arena battle reunites two fan favorites for some “Hulk Smash!” thrashing. The distinctive synth score weaves everything together.

This is the funniest “Thor” movie yet. Waititi imprints his whimsical sense of humor on the franchise, providing Hemsworth with a fitting showcase for his comedic talents. But it’s not a laugh-a-minute, which is a good thing as the film has some heavy lifting to do.

“Thor: Ragnarok” charts a new course for its lead character after his previous solo outings. Stripping Thor of his hammer makes him vulnerable, pushing the titular hero to rediscover himself outside his comfort zone. Hemsworth gives a nuanced performance as the seasoned warrior is forced to cut his hair, change his armor, and be a hero without his magical weapon.

Loki, the greatest villain in the MCU, has often overshadowed Thor in the hero’s own franchise. But “Thor: Ragnarok” realizes Thor should be its coolest character and treats him as such. Hiddleston still gets his time to shine as the egocentric trickster straddles the line of helping his brother while looking out for himself.

Returning as the Hulk/Bruce Banner, Ruffalo adds a previously unseen depth to the “other guy” with a solid motion-capture performance. But Thompson is the film’s revelation as Valkyrie. The strong yet suffering warrior is nonapologetic as she struggles to come to terms with her tragic past.

As refreshing as “Thor: Ragnarok” is, it’s not a perfect film. Blanchett is a lot of fun as Hela, but the villainess doesn’t appear in the movie enough. Some of her action scenes contain questionable CGI. The film doesn’t always strike the right balance between its humor and more serious moments. During one major event, a funny albeit ill-timed joke undercuts the weight of the scene.

“Thor: Ragnarok” continues Marvel’s hot streak while injecting new life into the “Thor” franchise.

4 out of 5 stars

This image released by Marvel Studios shows Cate Blanchett in a scene from, “Thor: Ragnarok.” (Marvel Studios via AP)

Tamara’s Take

When the first “Thor” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was released in 2011, late-show host Conan O’Brien had an ongoing joke claiming that Marvel hired the wrong actor to play the God of Thunder. In clips from the film, Chris Hemsworth’s voice was replaced with a high-pitched, cartoonish voice that didn’t fit with the muscular Australian armed with a mighty hammer. It was a funny bit in small doses during a time when superhero flicks were taking themselves very seriously, especially with “Thor.” In 2017, things have been shaken up for the better, and that O’Brien twist seems very tame with a director new to big-budget tentpoles offering a new take on comics with “Thor: Ragnarok.”

Thor (Hemsworth) has been pretty low-key as MCU has expanded a few times since his last major role in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and his cameo in a post-credits scene in last year’s “Doctor Strange.” His brother, the trickster Loki (Tom Hiddleston), is not doing well making sure that their land of Asgard is in good hands and having sent their dad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), away. But things about to get worse when Odin reveals that the feuding brothers have a banished sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), who will seek her place back in the kingdom. It’s all part of a prophecy about Asgard’s downfall and how she leads to it. In trying to defeat Hela, the goddess of death, Thor and Loki get transported to a lawless, garbage planet (there are trash chute “portals” that spit out spaceships and random beings) where Thor is forced to fight in gladiator-style matches and Loki in all his Lokiness makes the most of his time. Running things is the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), a character fans of “The Hunger Games” may call a carbon copy of Stanley Tucci’s The Gamemaker. Will Thor make it back home to save Asgard?

That question doesn’t matter so much because all we, the MCU money-throwing audience, just want to see is Thor fight the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). After their absence in “Captain America: Civil War,” a Thor-versus-Hulk match was in the wings. What we didn’t know we needed to go with the punching and smashing was some clever humor from director Taika Waititi. Up until “Ragnarok,” Thor’s lines were examples of macho-chauvinism that made Thor the weakest of Marvel’s character arcs. Tony Stark is snarky, Captain America is clean-cut, and Bruce Banner is sensitive and boring when he’s not angry. Thor was just eye candy, in a way. However, Waititi employs some of his signature sarcasm found in his New Zealand-set indies that breathe fresh air into Thor’s character. It also made Hemsworth funnier; he doesn’t do a lot of comedies outside of the “Ghostbusters” reboot.

It’s not all about an Avenger reunion either. Waltzing into the scene is Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a former Asgardian warrior-turned-bouty hunter for the Grandmaster. Her past loyalty to protecting the crown is a burden and a strength.

Waititi brings along much of the quirks he used in his earlier films and television shows like “Flight of the Conchords,” “What We Do in the Shadows” and “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople.” The women perform just as many comedic and physical stunts as the men, and much of the laughs seem natural. However, some of the funny bits are too long and parts of the storyline is obviously a potpourri of Thor comics. I’m not a Marvel comic book reader, but I could tell that this hodgepodge would upset die-hard fans. And as much fun it seemed that Blanchett had playing a villainess after years of heavy, dramatic roles, it didn’t feel natural.

Thor needed a revolution, and if Marvel continues to find directing talent from the independent world like it did with “Thor: Ragnarok,” expect more enjoyment in the superhero genre.

4 out of 5 stars

 

 

Review: “Blade Runner’

Review: “Blade Runner’

Ryan Gosling, left, and Harrison Ford star in "Blade Runner 2049." (Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Ryan Gosling, left, and Harrison Ford star in “Blade Runner 2049.” (Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Tamara and Rebecca tackle the long-awaited sequel to the sci-fi/noir classic, “Blade Runner.”

Tamara’s Take

Denis Villeneuve, I have a complicated love-hate relationship with you. Sometimes, you’re capable of making a movie in two hours or less, with complex characters and stunning visuals. I like those movies, specifically “Sicario” and “Arrival.” And then there was “Prisoners,” the 2½-hour lie of a thriller that I solved in the first 20 minutes and wished I had taken a nap during the rest of it. Where does “Blade Runner 2049” fall into these two extremes? Let’s say that if there’s a sequel, I’m taking a blankie.

“Blade Runner 2049” takes place 30 years from the original “Blade Runner” and 20 years after a blackout wiped out a system and made most of the old computer files wiped out. In the meantime, improved replicants have been created by the Wallace Corp., mostly to obey every command a real person will give them. A newer replicant K (Ryan Gosling) is a young blade runner who investigates a case that is linked to the earlier film. K uncovers a secret that will upset the natural but unstable order of the gloomy, lacking world that can’t even grow plants.

K answers to Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), who doesn’t see any human qualities in her slave labor. He lives in a nondescriptive home where he has a nonemotional relationship with Joi (Ana de Armas), a Wallace Corp. hologram who becomes whatever its owner wants. K’s find pits two forces against each other – the humans represented by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Wallace Corp. with its head honcho Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his right-hand replicant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks).

What unfolds is K’s struggle to figure out where he belongs in this world. If he doesn’t have a soul, like Joshi says he doesn’t, then why does he have conflicting feelings? His relationship with Joi becomes more complex as K’s quest to figure out what his discovery means, and his mission becomes unnecessarily longer.

That’s right. If you’re one of those people who can solve a “Law & Order” episode just by reading the guest starring credits, this movie is not for you. K’s role in dark and gloomy Los Angeles is front and center as to what the secret is. If you watch carefully, even in the first two minutes, you will have an idea of what it is. “Blade Runner 2049” is very much Villeneuve’s vision – no hints of the film noir elements that made the first cut of Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” one of my favorites. I don’t remember the exact minute I solved everything, but I remember that it was way, way before when the audience is reintroduced to former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). By then, Deckard isn’t half interesting.

But what may keep people in the seats are the visuals. Cinematographer and Villeneuve collaborator Roger Deakins lenses bleak landscapes, a radioactive wasteland and a rainy Los Angeles without a flaw. Large, holographic women actually seem approachable as K interacts with all forms of Joi. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to keep an interest in a plot with such little pull and so much punchless acting. Leto’s performance – more like a fancy cameo – is stale and not authentic. His Niander is more of a robot than of a man. Speaking of androids, Gosling’s acting is close to that of Michael Fassbender’s takes in the recent “Alien” prequels. While his wooden performance is fitting for a corporate product, it can be painful to watch. Has Scott, who serves as an executive producer here, trying to destroy the two beloved vehicles for the sake of bloated movies and more money?

Just wait for 2049 to come if you want to see the future. By then “Blade Runner 2049” will actually end.

1.5 out of 5 stars

Film Review Blade Runner 2049

Ryan Gosling plays K in “Blade Runner 2049.” (Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Rebecca’s Take

Ridley Scott’s visionary “Blade Runner” has achieved legendary status in the 35 years since its underwhelming release. Now its long-awaited follow-up, “Blade Runner 2049,” this time under the creative direction of Denis Villeneuve, tries to replicate its predecessor’s dystopian atmosphere and thematic depth. But the sequel only partially passes the test.

“Blade Runner 2049” is a feast for the senses, with spectacular visuals and dazzling cinematography. But the sci-fi sequel is not as deep or emotional as the original. Its long run time and plodding pace try the audience’s patience.

The sequel is set three decades after the events of “Blade Runner.” In a still-grimy Los Angeles, police officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a blade runner who hunts down replicants – genetically engineered androids that look just like humans. Newer, more obedient models of replicants can move around freely in society. But the older, harder-to-control models are targeted for “retirement,” or extermination.

When K uncovers a secret that threatens the world’s future, the blade runner finds himself in the middle of conflicting interests. His commanding officer, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), orders K to do whatever it takes to prevent the secret from getting out. Meanwhile, creepy genius Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the head of the corporation that makes replicants, wants to get his hands on the secret.

As K himself becomes the hunted, he starts to question his existence as he knows it. His investigation leads him to Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the hard-boiled blade runner from the original film.

“Blade Runner 2049” showcases breathtaking landscapes and stunning special effects. The film still utilizes the night-engulfed LA streetscapes, this time with colorful, virtual billboards that can reach out and touch you. But the sequel allows in the rays of daylight during K’s search for the truth, helping to lift the curtain on what’s real and what’s not. Roger Deakins’ cinematography expertly plays with shadows and light.

“Blade Runner 2049” continues to explore the themes of humanity, artificiality and identity established in the original. But while the 1982 film dives deep into questions such as what does it mean to be human, “Blade Runner 2049” doesn’t go deep enough. After a 35-year gap between films, “Blade Runner 2049” doesn’t incite new ideas like its influential predecessor as much as it rehashes ideas from properties that came after.

K’s virtual girlfriend, Joi (a terrific performance by Ana de Armas), drives an intriguing storyline about whether artificial intelligence can transcend its programming. But a love scene involving the two is too reminiscent of 2013’s AI romance “Her.” The potential of artificial creations to reach consciousness also sounds like the storyline in HBO’s hit series “Westworld.”

“Blade Runner 2049” features mostly great performances by its talented cast, but an uneven amount of screen time. As K, this is Gosling’s show. The sensitive Gosling gradually opens up as he strives to solve not only the case he’s assigned to work on, but his own origins. Ford looks right at home as the tough but vulnerable Deckard, but he’s not in the film long enough. When the two are onscreen together, they make a fun pair.

The sequel lacks complex villains like Rutger Hauer’s sympathetic replicant Roy Batty. The disappointing Leto shows up briefly to deliver mostly monologues, and nothing along the lines of the famous “tears in the rain” speech. His right-hand replicant, the ultra-violent Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), is the film’s closest thing to a villain, but she’s given little motivation.

At nearly three hours, there’s not enough substance in “Blade Runner 2049” to justify its run time. It plays more like a lumbering police procedural. While “Blade Runner” thrives on ambiguity, the sequel includes plot holes that detract from its story. A reveal in the final act may make audiences feel like the rug was pulled out from beneath them.

“Blade Runner 2049” is worth seeing for fans of the 1982 classic, but it doesn’t measure up to the original model.

3 out of 5 stars

Award Chase: Always the bridesmaid

Awards Chase

Each Wednesday through the week of the 2018 Academy Award nominations on Jan. 23, Take 2 is handicapping the Oscar rush with The Award Chase.

Roger Deakins

Roger Deakins

Thirteen – that’s the number of times British cinematographer Roger Deakins has been nominated for an Academy Award. That’s 13 times his name has been read off a teleprompter, but it has never appeared in the envelope. In a two-decade span, Deakins has probably stayed seated in a cushy, velvet chair surrounded by the rest of Hollywood’s brightest when a presenter did not say his name. Will his luck change in March with his work in “Blade Runner 2049?”

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows a scene from "Blade Runner 2049." (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows a scene from “Blade Runner 2049.” (Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Deakins makes plantless landscapes and a gloomy Los Angeles dazzle with his choices of light and color in the Denis Villeneuve sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi, film noir epic. In a film where the world is on the blink of destroying itself for the umpteenth time, Deakins wrestles replicants and real being with dark and light, deserted landscapes with spectacular visualizations. It’s not like any of the other films he has lensed. Let’s take a look at some of his other nominated films:

Teaming with the Coen brothers

Deakins is like the brother from another mother with Bruce and Joel Coen, having worked with the American filmmakers starting with “Barton Fink” in 1991. Deakins was nominated for his work in five movies, the crime dramedy “Fargo,” the black-and-white, noirish drama “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” the Southern odyssey “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and westerns “No Country for Old Men” and “True Grit.” Whiskey-stained grounds and crisp portraits bring the stories to life. In 2008, Deakins competed against himself, for “No Country” and another title in the next segment, but he lost anyway. Many insiders thought he would get a nomination for the 2016 comedy “Hail, Caesar!” but it didn’t happen.

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”

The mighty West

If a movie requires a wide shot, like most westerns, Deakins is the man to hire. In addition to “No Country” and “True Grit,” he was nominated for and competed against himself for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.” While some critics were unkind to director Andrew Dominik’s take on the American outlaw, they spoke highly of its photography, as Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips described as “often breathtaking without settling for being pretty.”

Working with Villeneuve

Like his partnership with the Coen brothers, Deakins is crafting a beautiful working relationship with the Canadian filmmaker. He was nominated for the small-town kidnapping drama “Prisoners” and the drug-cartel thriller “Sicario.” For much of “Sicario” Deakins worked with natural light and required many to trust his vision for some of the darker shots. “Blade Runner 2049” is a bit of departure for the director and cinematographer with emphasis on holograms, weather and a dystopian world. On top of this, there is a 3-D version on the film, capturing depth and textures on top of everything. The Academy doesn’t seem to favor fantasy films and bloated movies that perform poorly at the box office, so Deakins’ chances for a nomination may be down a little. However, Deakins is well-respected and loved by his peers that he may even get a win this time.

Other observations

FILE - In this Nov. 23, 2011 file photo, producer Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of The Weinstein Company, appears during an interview in New York. Weinstein faces multiple allegations of sexual abuse and harassment from some of the biggest names in Hollywood. (AP Photo/John Carucci, File)

FILE – In this Nov. 23, 2011 file photo, producer Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of The Weinstein Company, appears during an interview in New York. Weinstein faces multiple allegations of sexual abuse and harassment from some of the biggest names in Hollywood. (AP Photo/John Carucci, File)

 

 

Not invisible anymore: Latinx in comics, movies

Imagine a superhero who looks like you, speaks in the words of your language and sports locks of hair like yours. If it’s easy for you to find a movie or a comic book that matches your description, chances are you are not a minority. For the Latinx community, only in recent years have there been characters that reflect their heritage. This is something that Alexis Sanchez knows too well. As the co-founder of Latinx Geeks, Sanchez has kept up with trends in comics as a fan and as an observer, from the panels to the big screen.

A few years ago, Sanchez saw no Latinx panels at New York Comic Con, a popular event for comic and sci-fi fans. Seeing what Jamie Broadnax of Black Girl Nerds has done to increase awareness of women of color in a genre that has mostly catered to white males, Sanchez formed Latinx Geeks to show that Latinx individuals are also an active community in the comic world.

Upon seeing what other groups have accomplished, “I was thinking, ‘You know what, I can do that,” Sanchez said in a Take 2 interview.

While public events are opening up to more representation, comics have been slow to reflect it. Sanchez, who identifies with the gender-neutral term Latinx, got into the comics growing up with “X-Men: The Animated Series” from the 1990s. Receiving a copy of “The X-Men Encyclopedia” as a gift further increased her interest, and she picked up a few comics here and there over the years. However, the genre featured very few Latinx characters, and those who were included were littered with stereotypical and over-the-top features compared to their Anglo counterparts.

“In comic books, at least for Latinx, it’s been a long road,” she said. It wasn’t until about “five or six years ago were there characters who look like me,” Sanchez said.

That includes Miles Morales, the black Puerto Rican teen who debuted as Spider-Man in 2011, and America Chavez as Marvel’s Miss America. However, Sanchez said, comics must go further in having characters who are also Latinx in identity.

Michael Pena in "Ant-Man"

Michael Pena in “Ant-Man”

The same goes for film portrayals. While casting has become more diverse in Marvel and DC Comics movies, stereotypes still persist. Sanchez pointed out Michael Peña’s role as Luis in 2015’s “Ant-Man.” Peña, whose Hollywood career spans two decades, was still in a Latinx sidekick with one “immigration joke,” she said.

“That wasn’t the character I wanted to see,” Sanchez said. Latinx actors are sometimes limited to alien roles as well, she said.

Sanchez also points out the need for more representation behind the scenes to develop a fuller character.

“You can have (a Latinx) actor, but if the character reads white,” it doesn’t work, Sanchez said. “You need that culture identity.” A character who is fully developed is Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez, portrayed by Natalia Cordova-Buckley in the ABC series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”

There is plenty of room in the comic book universe for Latinx characters, and Sanchez said there is one she would like to see on film – a superhero.

With influences from her Bolivian roots, Sanchez’s vision is of a hero with superpowers related to nature and the country’s silver mines. The moves and costumes are inspired by caporales – a traditional dance from Bolivia. Her hero’s mission is to deliver help where needed.

“I always that that it would be awesome on screen,” she said. “In my mind, it looks really cool.”

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Rebecca’s Take: “It”

Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in "It." (Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in “It.” (Brooke Palmer/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)

“It”: 4 stars out of five. In theaters.

Evil exists. It lives in the rage of bullies, the inaction of adults and in a clown’s blank expression.

“It” is a nightmare come to life. The disturbing and gripping film based on Stephen King’s best-selling horror novel blends a tale of terror with a coming-of-age story. A group of kids take on a shape-shifting demon whose evil has permeated their small town.

The biggest strength of “It” is its phenomenal cast of child actors, who form the Losers Club of misfits. The group of seven must deal with heavy subjects such as mourning, bullying, illness and victimization while being hunted by a malevolent force who feeds on their fears.

The standouts are Sophia Lillis as the brave and long-suffering Beverly, Jaeden Lieberher as the determined Billy, and Jeremy Ray Taylor as the sensitive Ben.

Unsettling camera angles, creepy imagery and justified jump scares ramp up the tension as the sinister clown Pennywise torments the town’s children. A menacing Bill Skarsgard taps into the otherness of Pennywise, a supernatural predator who relishes hunting his prey.

Each scare effectively builds up to the next, creating a palpable sense of dread throughout the film. A frightening scene involving a projector remains burned onto my consciousness.

“It” is not without its flaws. While some of the children are fleshed out, others are little more than bystanders. The film also shows too much of its monster right off the bat, generously revealing Pennywise’s true nature instead of doling it out throughout the film.

But the haunting quality of “It” is the realization that the real monsters are the adults. Parents are absent and neglectful, willfully turning a blind eye. Their inaction feeds Pennywise, perhaps even more than his chosen prey. That’s the true horror of “It.”

“It” is a new horror classic, certain to haunt your dreams long after the credits roll.

Award Chase: When campaigning begins way early

Awards Chase

Each Wednesday through the week of the 2018 Academy Award nominations on Jan. 23, Take 2 is handicapping the Oscar rush with The Award Chase.

It’s hard to believe that this marks Take 2’s third edition of The Award Chase, and although it started a little later than usual, it’s still keeping an eye on what titles are gaining momentum during awards season.

Frances McDormand in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

Frances McDormand in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

In the closing weeks of fall film festival runs, the jury awards have been handed out and movie fans are taking note of performances to watch come January and February. However, more and more each year, award campaigning can begin at any moment. This holds true for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Starring Frances McDormand, the dramedy earned the People’s Choice Award at last month’s Toronto International Film Festival. Such an honor has served as a predictor for future awards, having worked for recent best picture winners “The Hurt Locker” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” Yet, “Three Billboards” could suffer the same fate as not-nominated musical “Where Do We Go Now?” Well, it has one factor going for it, and it has not nothing to do with the festival circuit.

Trailers for “Three Billboards” began to appear in March, including screenings for the sci-fi flop “Life.” It may not have been one of the most splashy trailer debuts of recent history, but the early drop gave movie audiences a chance to consider it. By the time it had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in early September, critics were paying attention McDormand’s performance as the tough-talking, grieving mother who wants justice for her murdered daughter. A few days later, Toronto audiences fell hard for this film. Look for its wide release Nov. 10.

Meryl Streep in "The Post."

Meryl Streep in “The Post.”

While March may be an early campaign start, it pales in comparison to the Steven Spielberg-helmed thriller “The Post.” Starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, the film was already up for Oscars when the script topped the annual Black List for best unproduced screenplays in December 2016 and when production was announced in March. Much of the attention has been on the Academy Award-winning leads and director and the subject matter – the government versus the Washington Post. It hasn’t been to any film festivals, no trailer is out and less than five stills have been released. Perhaps it may debut this weekend with the release of “The Mountain Between Us” or later this month with “Thank You for Your Service.” “The Post” will have an Academy-qualifying run starting Dec. 22 and will open wider in January.

Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening in "American Beauty."

Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening in “American Beauty.”

But nothing beats the earliest campaign start in recent memory. Without a trailer or a still, DreamWorks entered the awards race in 1999 when the previous year’s season was taking place. At the 1999 Golden Globes, actress Annette Bening was introduced to the audience as the star of “American Beauty.” The next year, the Sam Mendes-directed film would win three Golden Globes and five Oscars.

Other observations