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REVIEWS: Thor: Love and Thunder; Stranger Things; apples; and RRR

REVIEWS: Thor: Love and Thunder;  Stranger Things;  apples;  and RRR

Jonathan W. Hickman reviews

Thor: Love and thunder

Assessment rating: 6/10

In wide cinema release

For laughs alone, “Thor: Love and Thunder” will not disappoint. This movie has funny bits, clumsy moments (the goats are crazy funny), a kicking jukebox soundtrack and a worthy villain. Yet it lacks the cohesive elements that convincingly pull the story together.

With a slightly shorter playing time than the previous “Thor” post, “Love and Thunder” begins with the title character (played by Chris Hemsworth) regaining fighting form as he joins forces with the Guardians of the Galaxy. After a difficult battle in which Thor saves the day at the expense of destroying the planet, Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), pulls the big guy aside and explains that he must find out who he is and learn to express his feelings on a healthy way.

What should have been an emotional, existential journey becomes a collection of disconnected comic sketches. The film almost tends to parody at times, reflecting the comic sensibility of director and co-writer Taika Waititi (Oscar winner for writing 2019’s “Jojo Rabbit”). What works in serialized form on the small screen in something like Waititi’s “Our Flag Means Death” does not quite translate to an MCU function. Something is missing here.

Thor gathers a team to take on a particularly nasty villain named Gorr the God Butcher (a very good Christian Bale). He is reunited with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), now the king of New Asgard, and she introduces him to the current owner of Mjölnir, the hammer that Hela destroyed in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok”. This is the mighty Thor, who happens to be Thor’s ex-girlfriend and nerdy scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).

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Jane Foster’s transformation into Mighty Thor offers some guilty pleasures. Portman conveys Jane’s joy at having the power of Thor, and she’s good at showing the nerdy way the egg-haired scientist handles her newfound talents. “Love and Thunder” needed more of these examples and less of, frankly, everything else.

Going for laughs only carries this film so far. In an extended sequence, a powerful Russell Crowe appears as Zeus. Again, any silly laughter we get in these scenes only undermines our emotional connection to the characters and their situation.

MCU phase four continues to have difficulty finding a foothold. This year’s “Doctor Strange” offered a bit of recurring horror nostalgia, and now “Thor: Love and Thunder” laughs at pathos. How all the different phase four characters could ever occupy the same movie for a possible team-up is beyond me. And as Thor shows us in this relatively weak excursion, it will undoubtedly be a herculean task.

Stranger Things (Season 4, Chapters 8 and 9)

Assessment rating: 6/10

Now streaming on Netflix

The Netflix flagship series, which helped maintain and expand its huge subscriber base, is beginning to reach a point of declining returns. While the inflated first part of season 4 suffered from three introductory episodes that fans barely hung on to, the last two episodes in odd length (pretentiously called “chapters”) move at a breakneck pace.

Unfortunately, the rapid presentation that relies on continuous action sacrifices a bit of the heart. The emotional revelations eventually take a back seat to the roller coaster sequences that involve battles in both the real world and the upside down.

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Highlights include the new season’s four characters Eddie Munson (breakout star Joseph Quinn) and newcomer Argyle (an Eduardo Franco with perfect distance). Although not everyone survives, season five, apparently the last, has been given the green light. And meanwhile, series creators Matt and Ross Duffer are preparing a spinoff series and even a stage play.

Apples

Preview

In limited cinema release

Given the boom of COVID in recent days, “apples” may strike. This Greek film takes place during a worldwide pandemic that causes sudden memory loss in the infected. When Aris (Aris Servetalis) gets the disease, he enters a program to help him recover. While coping with his memory problems and relying on some cassette tapes, he meets Anna (Safia Georgovasili), who is also recovering. As their relationship continues, major questions are explored about the importance of memories, identity and loss.

RRR

Assessment rating: 8/10

Now streaming on Netflix

“RRR” is the Tollywood blockbuster that beats all blockbusters. It is lively magnificent entertainment on an epic scale.

This lavish film was set in India in the 1920s. When a child from a rural tribe is abducted by a British governor and his wife, Bheem (NT Rama Rao, Jr.), a muscular Tarzan-type hero, travels from the jungle to the big city of Deli to bring home a little girl.

Meanwhile, the British rulers are having trouble dealing with the dissatisfaction of the locals. In an extended action sequence that must be seen to be believed, the Indian-born British soldier Raju (Ram Charan) jumps into a massive angry crowd and almost on his own repulses the mob of protesters. It’s simply amazing.

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When British authorities uncover Bhem’s mission, Raju volunteered to infiltrate the rebel force and bring Bheem to justice; Raju’s alliances are understandably divided. As he befriends Bheem and helps him romanticize a Briton, his loyalty to the British Empire and his home nation is put to the test.

“RRR” is a visual treat that will win over even those viewers who are not fans of foreign language cinema. Note that a “Tollywood” movie is a movie that is presented in Telugu or Bengali, as opposed to a Bollywood movie that is in Hindi.

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