01 July 2017

A Bonus Tom Hiddleston Trio

A Bonus Tom Hiddleston Trio
by Kristin Battestella

Call me crazy, but I prefer actor Tom Hiddleston's non-comic book fare to his work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gasp! Here's a batch of pictures for your Loki perusal – ranging from a little bit of Hiddy to a whole lot of Hiddy, depending on your dramatic or superhero mood. 

Archipelago – Writer and director Joanna Hogg's (Unrelated) 2010 second film featuring Hiddleston will be too dry and too slow to many. This is a very British, very white tale of rich people on vacation who have problems. Fortunately, young Thomas with the windswept noodle hair once again does daddy issues like nobody's business. His Edward is at a quarter life crossroads but his father is absent for this island last hurrah. Birds are chirping, beautiful waves are crashing – the Tresco, Scilly locations should be idyllic but the dirt roads are around the bend unknowns and the blustery coastal freedom contrasts the silent, congested interiors. Mother and sister mention childhood memories of this same getaway, but the isolated rental house is a beige slate drenched in uncomfortable awkwardness. Our tall son hits his head on the attic eaves rather than say the room is literally too small, and siblings bypass one another without acknowledgment. Wine is at the ready, everyone talks over each other about food or the weather, nothing that should be said is, and nobody means what they say. Bleeding heart Edward wants input on his forthcoming AIDS charity endeavor, but his white savior righteousness is misplaced – it isn't about the cause, just his need to do something meaningful. Nobody agrees much less cares what's going on with anyone else because they are too into their own issues and have no idea what they are doing with their lives. Let's talk about the most humane way to boil the lobster instead, yeah! Their chef can speak of her late father, but the family can't mention their absentee dad, preferring to waste an entire conversation on where to sit in an empty restaurant and complain about the food. Whether she morally agrees with the cuisine or not, their chef has a messy hands on job to do. Do you treat her as the help or include her? It's easier for Edward to flirt than converse with his mother and sister, who said his girlfriend couldn't come on this so-called family only escapade. The camera stays still in the common areas as people just shout from another room, interesting blocking that allows the audience to observe while mirroring the confined but disconnected. Maybe long ago the whole family could stay here, but now their dynamics have outgrown and suffocated any nostalgia. Small mundane moments reveal their solitude and boredom – four people can sit in a room and say nothing, remaining formal even with family. The ladies' local painting instructor isn't blood either, but his wisdoms relate to more than the canvas. Painting takes training and particular tools to perfectly capture the environs yet gives such emotion and free form expression if you let it – unlike dad's argumentative, one sided phone calls. Casting a real life painter to paint the landscape within the movie also adds a life imitating art meta even as the camera remains an arms length witness. Only one real conversation is framed in the traditional two person edit and the few close ups include one embarrassed mother and her son walking into a medium shot when his toughness on following his passion is questioned. Most of us must take our lives as is and like it no sabbatical in sight, and it's ob-la-di for the locals whether these rich guests eat pheasants, hug, and get over it or not. Nothing much happens here, there's no real plot to speak of, and those looking for stylish filming will find this plain. Some symbolism is too obvious, and the story could be sharper. We want to know how it got to this or what happens next, but they go on and so shall we, answers or not. The natural constructs create a raw and realistic nuclear social study where nothing is settled – a refreshingly frank change from the polished and trite family happiness so often seen onscreen. 

 Midnight in Paris – I am not a Woody Allen fan, and I was surprised to see this lighthearted 2011 tale won Best Original Screenplay amid other awards acclaim. A mid life crisis writer learning today is better than a glorified past is a pretty straightforward lesson, and Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers) is both himself and a bumbling Allen placeholder. Ladies Lea Seydoux (Spectre) and Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) are rival younger women ideals while Rachel McAdams (The Notebook) is a typical bridezilla. The terrible in-laws, adultery, detective, and hotel slapstick are unneeded as are uneven annoyances in the present and scenes away from the protagonist. The trying to be natural, on the move conversations through the amazing Franco tours feel like snobby set pieces with forced intellectual comedy. Yes, they are supposed to be mocking nostalgia shops, but why can't they just say antique store like the rest of us? This is an adult fantasy rather than Bill and Ted, but the plot is too obvious in being for audiences of a certain age who want to see the sentimental novelty – which goes directly against the moral of living in the now rather than a rose colored past, toeing the saccharin line with each I see what you did there excursion. Ironically, it's the stellar cast including T. Hiddy as F. Scott Fitzgerald to Alison Pill's (The Newsroom) Zelda, Corey Stoll (The Strain) as Ernest Hemingway, Kathy Bates (American Horror Story) as Gertrude Stein, and yet more famous intelligentsia that make the eponymous period segments the best parts of the show. The divine past patina, Parisian locales, scenic snapshots, vintage cars, and quality jazz are worth the artistic nominations, yet the film seems caught in a pretentious embarrassment of riches over whether the past or present is its star. Let's “Vogue” as many famous people as possible and see how many the audience knows! The punchlines and excellent one-on-one past wisdoms are strengthened by the actors' deliveries, yet more time is wasted on fictitious muses. How is Gertrude Stein a major character but Alice B. Toklas merely opens the door to their salon? Why does it take the aptly named Pender so long to realize what he needed was right – or should I say write there all along? While the fantastic travel simply is and there's no overt technology, our writer never has his novel in progress handy, doesn't carry a pen and paper, and is never seen actually doing any writing. Should he have been alone, drinking, dozing, and doubting if these escapades really happened or if that question matters? Why not spend one vivid night in the past with present bookends instead of meandering between who's who vignettes? This ninety minutes comes off as both stretched overlong and yadda yadda yadda glossing over what actually makes it interesting, losing steam despite some pleasant twists and unexpected moments. Though refreshing to mature viewers with comfortable familiarity compared to busy blockbusters, the superficial, flawed structure largely gets by on the novelty of the historical big names and the impressive actors filling their shoes. Can Hiddleston please play Fitzgerald again in a full on biopic ASAP?

Thor – Kenneth Branagh directs this pre-Disney 2011 Marvel escapade with the titular Chris Hemsworth, Our Man Hiddleston as the mischievous Loki, and Anthony Hopkins as Odin leading a fine saga ensemble including Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Rene Russo, and more. Back then this was a new cinema property, so the need for humorous fish out of water plots tied to contemporary earth is understandable despite the earthly shoehorn's distraction from the out of this world Asgard. Opening crashes and New Mexico comedy with Mary Sue perspectives are unnecessary, and the mostly telling rather than showing prologue may seem too easy along with dated CGI panoramic zooms, busy for the sake of being cool action, and small scale Asgard interiors. I wish Thor wore his helmet more, too, for the little girl in Adventures in Babysitting was happier to wear hers. Fortunately, there are fun costumes, a heroic score, a sweet Rainbow Bridge, and great galactic visuals creating a recognizable space fantasy without placing the spectacle over the frosty enemies, precious relics, and traitors in the House of Odin – unlike many recent blockbusters putting style over substance. These characters also change as Thor learns how to be a hero and Loki becomes a scene stealing villain. No, this isn't really “Loki: Brother of Thor” as some spiffy fan re-edits claim, but the deleted scenes should have been kept for even more sibling rivalry. The Destroyer showdowns match Loki's petty deceptions and tears real or crocodile as well as the side eye, face palm, and “TELL ME!” that launched a thousand GIFs. It's easy to forgive superhero movies as popcorn fun that aren't supposed to be Shakespeare, but Branagh layers the drama with subtle details well paced with action set pieces to heighten each act. This indeed elevates Thor with an extra touch of Bard – unlike the phoned in fan service and tedious interconnections that would otherwise allow Thor: The Dark World to be ignored. Subsequent appearances also reset Thor's lessons learned, leaving his solo movies feeling like they are about everything but what happens to Thor. Thankfully, references to Stark, Fury, and SHIELD are implied pleasantries here – fun moments to audiences in the know rather than a booked through 2020 requirement to consume every single thing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That's what irked me about the nineties comic book boom/fallout and still annoys me greatly about the MCU now. With the family friendly parable, brotherly angst, unexpected twists, and great explosions, this Asgard debut doesn't fall into that mind numbing, all comic book movies are the same trap. There are choices to be made for good or ill, a relatable villain, and time for reflection before and after the wild finale. Despite not going full on Asgard, overall this trusts its fantasy and likable characters, keeping this picture fun for repeat viewings. That RadioShack joke, though, ten years from now no one will get that o_O

You Make the Call

I Saw the Light – This 2015 Hank Williams biography is very disjointed, fading in and out from scene to scene with no narrative flow. It's tough to tell which moments are significant or mere transitions, for some vignettes feel shown just because they might have really happened but serve no other purpose in the film. I wasn't flicking away during commercials yet took two and half viewings to assure I hadn't missed anything – save for the half of the picture apparently on the cutting room floor. The artistic spotlights, silhouette schemes, and larger than life stature angles on the man as myth should have been used more alongside the vintage reels, home movie patinas, and black and white interchanges with manager Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) to anchor each chapter instead of the piecemeal time stamps. It's not in media res when you skip half the man's life with little rhyme or reason as to why. Although this is such a rich post-war era with deep Southern culture and lively tunes, there's little flavor here as recording session snippets, a verse or two on stage, mentions of “Jambalaya” being number one, and only two full-ish Opry performances don't make up for this ironic lack of songs. Imagine if King Creole skipped the club scene performances and just referred to them instead! The patchwork writing, directing, and editing seem like there's nothing much to tell – Hank wrote songs, loved his mother, women, and booze but not pain, then he died. Unfortunately, mother Cherry Jones (24) deserves more, and baby mama Wrenn Schmidt (Preservation) and second wife Maddie Hasson (Twisted) are treated insignificantly with a handful of deleted scenes still not nearly enough time. It's also tough to assess Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) – sometimes fittingly forties and other times a modern girl playing dress up – as the unlikable first wife who can't sing, which isn't an easy thing to do. The Luke the Drifter scene is also confusing if you don't know about the pseudonym, and The Drifting Cowboys musicians are a compulsory who is who. Maybe its cliché to have a fictional composite band member/driver as an audience avatar losing his rose colored glasses of Hank, but we need more than this detached, arms length approach. And I say that as someone who isn't really a Hank Williams fan thanks to my Alabama grandmother's ironic use of his lyrics for insults, i.e. “Hey, Good Lookin'” when at your worst. The sad part here is that Tom Hiddleston gives a fine performance. He fits the period hats, suits, and flashy fringe by changing his entire physicality to match the dialect and singing. One would not know he is a British RADA graduate here, yet the plot doesn't give him much to do nor does the camera stay still to make the most of his onscreen zing. He obviously put a huge effort into becoming Hank Williams, and this movie is really only worth watching for his transformation.


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