Film Review: THOR: RAGNAROK (USA 2017) ***

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Thor: Ragnarok Poster

Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization.


Taika Waititi

The third THOR film, the sequel to THOR:THE DARK WORLD and the seventeenth (not that anyone can really keep count) film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the massive $180 million production arrives with all the extravaganza expected.  With a host of top Hollywood and British stars, lots of characters and action super heroes and tons of special and visual effects, THOR: RAGNAROK should please fans of the MCU but for the more serious cineaste, it is quite the chore to watch.

To recap who this Thor (Chris Hemsworth) person is…  Thor is the crown prince of Asgard based on the Norse mythological deity of the same name, who has become a “lone gunslinger” while solving universe-ending perils in his search to learn more about the Infinity Stones.

The filmmakers have decided to make a few changes to the THOR universe.  Immediately recognizable is Thor’s new look which includes his shorter hair and new outfit.  He is more vulnerable in the third film with him plunged to the ground many times including the loss of his hammer.  His enemy and half-brother Loki is now his aide and friend as also seen in the last scene when they ponder on how Earth will accept both of them when they arrive.

When the film opens, it is two years after the Battle of Sokovia,  Thor’s quest for information about the Infinity Stones leads him to the fire demon Surtur, from whom he learns that his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been impersonating their father Odin (Sir Anthony Hopkins) since the Dark Elf conflict.  Surtur taunts Thor with knowledge of the coming Ragnarok, the foretold end of Asgard that Surtur will bring about when he unites his crown with the Eternal Flame that burns beneath the city, but Thor defeats Surtur and claims his crown, seemingly forestalling the prophecy.  And this is just 5 minutes into the film.  Thor then returns to Asgard and exposes Loki’s treachery, before travelling with him to Earth to recover Odin.  The story goes on and on with Thor’s eventually battle with his sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) and his saving of his people.  What is good about the script by Eric Pearson and the writing team of Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost is that it can be complicated that one can have a fine time dissecting the story, or one can totally ignore it and still enjoy the grandiose battles in the film.  Pearson ties into the picture a multiple of other action heroes that include the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Skurge (Karl Urban), Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Heimdall (Idris Elba) among others. 

A fair share of the budget must have gone into the CGI and special effects.  It shows!  The film looks amazing and is visually stunning.  The music is by Mark Mothersbaugh and the soundtrack is not too loud to give anyone a headache.

The film is predicted to  take in $100 million plus the opening weekend and to eventually gross domestically a goal of $250 million bringing Disney and Marvel a hefty profit.  So that it is a big win against the serious cineaste who basically can be told to take a hike.


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Film Review: KONG: SKULL ISLAND (USA 2017) ***

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kong_skull_island.jpgDirector: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Writers: Dan Gilroy (screenplay), Max Borenstein (screenplay)
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson

Review by Gilbert Seah

 There have been already too many films on King Kong. The first and most memorable one for me was the 1962 campy Japanese version entitled KONG KONG VS. GODZILLA where audiences were treated to the climatic fight between the two monsters executed by actors in monster suits. The KING KONG films have been improved in terms of special effects. Even Peter Jackson had a go at it in the horrid 2005 version with an overlong attack by Kong on NYC. This latest edition is a reboot with two writers Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and a new director Vogt-Roberts whose only other film is an indie called THE KINGS OF SUMMER. But this new version takes a bit from each of the previous King Kong films, in fact the best from them, resulting in a satisfactory adventure film filled with special effects, action and much more humour.

The film begins very oddly in the year 1944 when a Japanese and American pilot are both shot down on Skull Island in the South Pacific (hints of HELL IN THE PACIFIC), They fight each other, only to be interrupted by the appearance of the giant Kong. Flash forward to 1973

when former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) is hired by government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) to guide an expedition to map out an uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean known as “Skull Island”. Randa also recruits the Sky Devils helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) to escort them to the island, and the group is later joined by pacifist photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who believes the scientific expedition to be a cover for an illegal military operation and plans to expose it. There, they find Kong as well as the American pilot, Marlow (John C. Reilly) now older, having lived there for 28 years.

The island is also the home of other giant creatures, the most fearsome being the Skullcrawlers, the biggest one of which battles Kong at the film’s climax, similar to the fight between King Kong and Godzilla. The other action segments involve the characters battling other monsters including a spider, ants and flying pterodactyl-like birds. The characters are trying to get to the north of the island in order to be rescued.

The Conrad and Mason characters form the boring romantic couple of the story. Fortunately, Vogt-Roberts treats their romance as slight. The more interesting characters are Packard portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, obsessed by his aim to kill Kong. There has hardly been a single film in which Jackson has not uttered the words mother f***er. So wait for this special scene. Reilly also steals the show as the comical Marlow who saves Kong.

The new take on the King Kong story actually works. At least the audience is spared from Kong being brought back to American to climb the Empire State building. But Kong still has the ‘hots’ for Brie Larson.

But most important is to stay till after the end credits. In the comical post-credits scene that primes the audience for a sequel, Conrad and Weaver are detained by Monarch and informed that Kong is not the only monster to roam the world. They are then shown archive footage of cave paintings depicting Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah.



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Interview with Director Ben Wheatley (HIGH-RISE)

Chatting with director Ben Wheatley on the phone in the midst of his press junket for “High-Rise” gave me a brief insight of who he is. He gives a lot of thought to the questions you ask him (even if he’s been asked a similar question dozens of times by reporters). He really loves his wife (see answer to final question). And he really likes directing films. 

benwheatley.jpgInterview with Ben Wheatley, promoting his film “High Rise”:

Matthew Toffolo: When did you first read the novel HIGH-RISE? Did you ever imagine that you would be the director of the film version.

Ben Wheatley: I first read the book when I was 16 years old. It stuck with me. Directing the film version, or any film in general, was the farthest thing on my mind then. Directing came later in my life.

MT: Tell us about your collaboration with screenwriter Amy Jump. From developing the script to editing the film together.

BW: She wrote the script and then passed it to me. There was no conversation. I gave her zero notes and zero feedback after I read it. I took the script and began the process of making the film. She knows me and what I’m capable of. And she knows the budget. So it was a seamless handoff.

After the film ended, we began to edit the film together.

MT: Was she on set? Did she watch the dailies?

BW: No. She first saw the footage when we began editing.

MT: How does your editing relationship work? I can’t think of another film where the writer and director edited the film together?

BW: I operate the machine, I guess like a traditional editor. She sits and has a conversation with me about what moment we’re piecing together.

Even with the credits in the film, we share the first title together. We are equal collaborators. We each have a job to do and our jobs are equally important.

MT: Producer Jeremy Thomas has wanted to make this film for over 30 years. What was his contribution on the film?

BW: He’s chafed that it’s completed. We (Amy and I) actually went to him, he didn’t come to us. We knew he had the rights to the novel and we were interested in doing it. We had no idea how long he was trying to get it made. From the day we spoke with him for the first time to the final product, it was about two years.

Amy’s weird in that she doesn’t like to take money to write. She told him , “I’ll write the script on spec. If you like it, then let’s do it. If you don’t, no problem.”

She did that, wrote the script and he did the rest to have it made.

MT: The film has a striking Production Design. How was your working relationship with Production Designer Mark Tildesley?

BW: I storyboarded the entire film. We drew together to set up certain scenes in pre-production and had a good relationship. We made a low budget film look expensive. We were very meticulous in how we set up each scene.

PHOTO: Tom Hiddleston stars in HIGH-RISE

MT: The film has a very claustrophobic feel to it. Like we’re also trapped inside of this building and can’t get out. Was that your cinematic intention?

BW: The general sense of any movie is to wrap the audience in the film. So I wanted the audience inside that building relating to the characters. Yes, that was my intention.

MT: You like to present themes of the class war system in all of your films….

BW: Yes. The class system is all around all of us. Class is not just about money. It’s about the pressures of succeeding. And the misery of not succeeding. This around all of us, no matter what society we live in. I think everybody has issues with class, no matter what country you live in.

MT: What film have you seen the most times in your life?

BW: Blade Runner. I’ve seen it 30-40 times.

MT: Who would you love to have dinner with, dead or alive?

BW: My wife. It’s miserable being away from home. I miss her. (Ben’s wife is Amy Jump, the writer/editor of High-Rise.)

MT: Can you give us a sneak peak of your next film “Free Fire”?

BW: It’s set in America, but the process of making it has been the same as before. It’s a genre action/crime film, so it was fun to make. The film is wrapped and edited and ready to be released. So stay tuned! It stars Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, and Armie Hammer.

Read Gilbert Seah’s Review of HIGH-RISE


Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Movie Review: HIGH-RISE, Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller

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high-rise.jpgHIGH-RISE (UK 2015) ***
Directed by Ben Wheatley

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elizabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Sienna Guillory

Review by Gilbert Seah

HIGH-RISE is a much anticipated film among cineastes. The rights for J.G. Ballard’s (best known for his novel CRASH directed by David Cronenberg) book had been snapped up by producer Jeremy Thomas for decades and a number of directors were slated to make the film, among them Nicholas Roeg. But director Ben Wheatley, British new film enfant terrible snatched the prize after directing two art-house low budget hits A FIELD IN ENGLAND and THE SIGHT-SEERS. Ballard’s book on a dystopian society set up in a 1970’s tower block (film shot in Northern Ireland) where the higher classes occupy the higher floors with better privileges such as parking spots and facilities usage like the summing pool, is a difficult one. The social strata eventually breaks down following a string of building malfunctions.

HIGH-RISE opens with a Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) at his high rise building flat apparently roasting and eating a dog’s leg on the balcony. The film flashes back three months earlier to the events that led to this odd state.

Dr. Lang arrives and occupies in the centre section of the building – reason not given. He meets the building’s architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) who lives in the penthouse and various other occupants including Charlotte, Royal’s aide (Sienna Miller) and a nasty documentary-maker (Luke Evans) who ends up creating a lot of trouble including wanting to take down Royal. Wheatley’s film charts the downfall of order and the rise of anarchy in the building. Finally, the residents stay in and do not venture out to work, waging wars with each other. Wheatley has directed films with similar themes. THE SIGHTSEERS sees the volatile and violent breakdown of the relationship of a new couple while A FIELD IN ENGLAND featured a battlefield among warring factions.

The Korean film SNOWPIERCER two years back featured a similar premise. The last inhabitants on Earth are stuck on a train travelling around the Earth forever with the lower working classes at the back of the train and the richest at the front. The workers revoke and move up the front of the train.

But HIGH-RISE fails to engage the audience despite the Ballard’s difficult novel. It should be noted that Ballard used to hang around with William Burroughs whose NAKED LUNCH with Ballard’s own CRASH ended up as one of the most unlikeable/difficult films ever made. Given that Amy Jump’s script and Wheatley’s direction make little attempt in tying to make their film more coherent or engaging. When Dr. Laing first meets Chartlotte, her comment is on Laing’s body being almost a perfect specimen implying a detachment of human nature.

The rise of the building’s anarchy is also not well orchestrated. Wheatley appears more interested in the film’s sets and images than anything else. To the film’s credit, the production values look great with the film having a past future feel and a look like the old 70’s futuristic films like Joseph Losey’s MODESTY BLAISE. Whereas films like SNOWPIERCER relied on action to grab the audience’s attention, HIGH-RISE consists of a whole lot of cinematic/dramatic set-ups with too much left to the audience to decipher as to what is happening.

Hiddleston delivers a good nuanced performance appearing out of place and finally connecting with the anarchy just as his confident behaviour at the start of the film breaks down to insecurity. Still Wheatley’s film is an intriguing one and one that shows his ability to set his imprint on a story, whether it be successful or not.


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I SAW THE LIGHT, Movie Review

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isawthelightI SAW THE LIGHT (USA 2015) **
Directed by Marc Abraham

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Maddie Hasson

Review by Gilbert Seah

The biopic of hank Williams I SAW THE LIGHT begins with Williams saying that he is impervious of what people think and that he does what he likes. The first scene then shows Williams sucking up to his marriage judge on how he loves his newly bride when the judge tells Williams how he gets up early and la-de-da-de-dah. The conflict of what is perceived and what is revealed on screen is the start of the problem of the film. The script says one thing and the film says another.

Running at over two hours, the film shows more of the bad and uncontrollable character of Hank Williams than his genius. His hard drinking, his disregard for tolerance of his loving wife overshadows his genius and talent. And it is this genius ad talent that is what audiences who come to see this film want to see.

Hank Williams had a short life. He died at the young age of 29 of heart failure due as the film informs to his hard drinking. The film shows and emphasizes much of the drinking with Williams always holding a bottle of beer, particularly in the early hours of the morning. He does not say much, but downs his beer.
Though his life was short, the film dos not reveal much of the singer’s musical background or work. The film appears more determined to show his personal life. His song writing, rehearsing and performances take second fiddle to his problems with his marriage and drinking. The film traces the difficulty of Williams getting into the grand old Opry, which is an important part in the singer’s life.

The film spend some time with interviews of Williams’ publisher Fred Rose (played by Bradley Whitford) though not much information is disseminated during these segments, that are shot in black and white.

Director Marc Abraham has made better films like the unforgettable CHILDREN OF Men and the remake DAWN OF THE DEAD. He is clearly good at demonstrating drama and this is evident in I SAW THE LIGHT.

It is an odd choice to pick British actor Tim Hiddleston to play an American country singer. One can only imagine the hard work Hiddelston and to undergo to speak with a southern western accent less to imitate Williams’ mannerisms and behaviour.

It is rare that the film shows Williams and his wife, Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen) performing. The segment (at the film’ s start) shows the reason both are an item together and how they bond despite marital problems. Again, the fight that ensues is paid more importance than the band’s performance.

The western atmosphere of the film is effectively created as are the sets and performances. But the film is a tad boring and no one really wants to spend two hours learning of Williams faults.

The title ironically called I SAY THE LIGHT fails to reveal Williams’ work and genius. The film only takes off when his songs are played, particularly during the end credits.

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