50 Greatest Star Wars Scenes

50. The Arena

The Scene: In Attack Of The Clones, Anakin, Obi-Wan and Padme are all tied to towering stone columns in a colossal colosseum. Then giant monsters are released into the arena. To think Russell Crowe only had to fight tigers…

The Awesome: It’s Episode II’s Rancor moment, and a neat little set-piece that includes Padme saving herself instead of waiting for the boys to rescue her.

49. Torture

The Scene: In The Empire Strikes Back, Vader and his evil minions hold Han Solo hostage and torture him with very pointy things. His screams will give you chills all over.

The Awesome: There’s no end to Vader’s evil, and this is just one example of how far he’s willing to go in order to acquire information.

In A Better World (2010)

It’s been six months since this involving Danish drama swung by the Oscars on its way to our shores, stopping to whisk away the Best Foreign Language statuette. On its journey it also nabbed a new English title – preferring In A Better World over the original translated Revenge – and scooped further accolades across the globe. So what’s all the fuss about?

Directed by Susanne Bier (whose Brothers was remade with Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal in 2009), A Better World follows Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), a Swedish doctor who travels between Denmark – where his ex-wife and two sons live – and a Sudanese refugee camp where he treats the victims of a demented war lord. Meanwhile, Anton’s 12-year-old son Elias (Markus Rygaard) befriends Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen). Christian’s recently lost his mother to cancer, and ends up being a destructive, dangerous new force in Elias’ life.

Unflinchingly direct, A Better World wrestles expansive themes in a typically Scandinavian way – by confidently striking right at the heart of the matter. Certain things will always be lost in translation. English-speaking viewers, for example, will miss out on the fact that Anton only ever speaks Swedish while in Denmark, which only serves to maximise his dislocation from the condemning Danes around him.

However, A Better World remains heartbreakingly affecting because it grapples with universal themes that transcend language. What is it to be a man? A father? A worker? Bier dodges right and wrong in favour of searching questions – questions that Persbrandt tackles head on with a rough and ready performance. At times the director’s philosophical posturing leans a little too close to melodrama, but with its refusal of easy answers, A Better World remains a daringly robust drama. The kudos is well earned. 4/5

Via Out In The City.

TF Review Of The Half-Year 2011

Best Movies

The King’s Speech
The Film:
Oscar-clutching history lesson starring Colin Firth as stuttering monarch King George VI.
TF Says: “The dialogue’s lightness of touch pervades the whole film, turning what could easily have been a stuffy slog of a period piece into well-oiled entertainment. Neither does it feel like a TV movie, thanks in no small part to high-class production values, from Danny Cohen’s lush cinematography to the suitably precise sound design.”

Black Swan
The Film:
Demented ballet horror movie following Natalie Portman’s increasingly hysterical dancer.
TF Says: “Set in a cloistered world full of pitter-patter feet and stomping egos, Darren Aronofsky’s fifth feature starts off hysterical and raises the barre from there, fusing genres (psychodrama, horror, backstage musical) and masterpieces (The Red Shoes, All About Eve, Suspiria, pretty much all of Polanski’s early work) with spirited, nay, reckless aplomb.”

Blue Valentine
The Film:
Emotionally-draining drama about the dissolution of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling’s on-screen marriage.
TF Says: “Gosling may get to be the devoted romantic while Williams can appear distant and cold. But Blue Valentine doesn’t play the blame game: love and its loss are never rational. You might feel like averting your gaze at times, but don’t – performances this penetrating are a sight to see.”

Animal Kingdom
The Film:
Crafty and cool Australian crime thriller.
TF Says: “With his anthropological eye recalling early Scorsese, Michôd synchs the simmer of dread to character and setting, a suburban jungle of parched interiors and colourdrained exteriors where the strong prey in packs on the weak.”

True Grit
The Film:
Coen Brothers remake introducing newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as a young girl searching for the man who killed her father.
TF Says: “In the plum role of Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges can’t totally resist the temptation to ham it up a bit (though a lot less than Wayne did). But given such a richly larger-than-life character, who could blame him? Bridges lends the Marshal a deep, throaty, mellowed-in-whiskey voice that gives full weight to his hard-bitten pronouncements.”

Thor (2011)

Watch out DC, Marvel just upped their game. After teething problems with the likes of Fantastic Four, Hulk and The Punisher, Marvel Studios have a definite game plan, and they’ve set it well and truly in motion with Thor.

Whereas DC’s Green Lantern adap has been mucking around with silly CGI suits gone wrong and truly apathetic responses to early footage, Thor knuckles down and gets on with it. That’s not to say it doesn’t have ambition – it does, in spades – but the brains behind Thor know what’s important; story, character and, yes, visual spectacle.

Marvel’s real genius here was hiring Kenneth Branagh as director. Though he’s new to the big budget CGI scene (save for that ‘90s Frankenstein adap he directed), it’s clear that Branagh’s strength resides in his ability to craft compelling family drama – something he’s honed through the course of his numerous Shakespearean adaps.

So where lesser superhero movies might paint their domestic drama in the laziest of broad brush strokes, Branagh tackles it with the courage of a true Bardian, infusing family fractures with the kind of Earth-quivering gravity that the story of warring gods deserves. When characters argue, they BELLOW. When they’re angry, they SEETHE. When they’re downtrodden, they’re BROKEN.

Barrelling out of the starting gate, Thor plummets us headfirst into the godly world of Asgard, where the Norse rulers of legend all live. In a breathless 30 minute segment entirely set amongst the stars, we’re introduced to their world, their leaders (Anthony Hopkins’ Odin, his two sons Thor and Loki), their enemies (the Frost Giants), their protectors (Idris Elba’s brilliant Gatekeeper) and everything in between.

It’s a boggling, pulse-raising opening that, though action-packed and overloaded with theatrics, makes sense in the greater context of the film. Once Thor’s been banished to Earth, stripped of his godly powers, the film settles into a more talky mid-section that’s handled with Iron Man-like wit.

Tone was always a concern. How do you reconcile the high camp setting of Asgard with the gritty real-life Earth segments without tipping the scale too far either way? To Branagh’s credit, he manages it with few niggles. Though Asgard is at times more ‘CGI epic’ than truly breathtaking, there’s no faulting the stunning production design. A glimmering green and gold paradise, there’s no doubt this is a place built for heavenly beings. Meanwhile, Branagh cleverly infuses even the Earth scenes with a comic-book kilter, keeping his lense half-crooked even in the most serious of moments.

Crucially, Thor has time for its characters. Though it’s busy, stirring in everything from references to The Sword In The Stone, a cameo from Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and even a Terminator 2 nod, we rarely feel short-changed. The trio of scientists comprised of a spirited Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård are a delight, championing keen chemistry and a fun sense of dry humour.

As for Hemsworth, he is Thor; built like a Viking, massive in every sense of the word. His Thor is a sort of amalgamation of other superheroes, bundled into a He-Man, Superman, God-like mass of flesh and charm. His fish out of water moments are truly hilarious, and when he gets his “fuck yeah!” moment, you’re punching the air alongside him.

Most enticingly, we know we’ve only got to wait another year to see Thor back in action. With Joss Whedon’s The Avengers currently shooting, Thor acts as a compelling prologue to that epic adventure. Unlike Iron Man 2, though, Thor also stands completely as its own entity. A thunderous, magnetic, often warmly tongue-in-cheek thrillride, it has the power to awaken the fanboy in us all. 4/5

The Making Of Thor

When you’re drawing up a list of potential directors for a big, nay, massive sci-fi action adventure film, Kenneth Branagh – better known for his period romps – is probably not the first person on your list. He’s probably not even in the top 50.

But then, that’s what makes Marvel Studios so unique. Having taken the producing reins on the movie adaptations of their prized stable of comic book heroes, they’ve consistently paired odd-choice directors with their properties to thrilling effect.

Jon Favreau and Iron Man. Louis Leterrier and The Incredible Hulk. Both courageous couplings reaped surprising, entertaining results. And now Marvel wanted to do the same with one of their most high profile characters – Norse god Thor. So who did they call? Well, Kenneth Branagh, of course…

Natalie Portman – "Wow, they’re not just trying to hot me up!"

“Real, grounded, a down to earth kind of woman.” Add the words brainy, svelte and enchanting to Natalie Portman’s description of Jane Foster, comic adap Thor’s bright spark, and you’ve got yourself a pretty accurate portrait the 28-year-old performer herself.

Meeting Total Film during the San Diego cyclone that is Comic-Con 2010, where she’s promoting said hammer-hoofer, Portman is ever-so-slightly timid and, yes, breath-catchingly beautiful. Not that you’d know from Thor. “It was a rare opportunity to be the girl in one of these movies who’s a woman and who has a career,” articulates the elfin one. “I remember after the hair and make-up test, before we started shooting, they said, ‘No, no, no it’s too much make-up, tone it down.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, they’re not just trying to hot me up!’”

Though, really, it doesn’t take much. Attired today in a perfect marriage of smart and casual, pairing (very short) flesh-coloured shorts with a breezy pale-pink blouse, she’s effortlessly dazzling. Small wonder that the gossip rags report Portman had both Demi Moore and Angelina Jolie flustered when their respective partners co-starred with her in up-and-comers Friends With Benefits and Artifacts. (Brad Pitt declaring Portman “cute as a button” can’t have helped.)

Perhaps they suspect what we already know: intellect is incredibly sexy. And Portman has grey matter in spades. A Harvard psych grad with her own Erdős–Bacon number (think six degrees of Kevin Bacon for nerds), the Jerusalem-born actress is the spiritual love child of Albert Einstein and Audrey Hepburn. Black Swan co-star Mila Kunis surmises: “Nat is like every guy’s dream. She’s a nerd’s idea of heaven.”

Clearly Portman’s in demand, with countless projects clamouring for her attention. A spot of spring-cleaning, then… The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake? “Nope. I really like the books, but I’ve not been approached at all. Any of that is pure rumour.” Directing? “I directed two shorts a couple years ago, and I hope to be doing more. It was a really great experience.” How about raunchy clinches in racy ballet flick Black Swan? “It’s not raunchy – it’s extreme!”

Whew, we’ll get back to the latter in a bit. But yes, near everybody loves Natalie Portman, and it’s not hard to see why. Briefly contemplating every question we put to her, she springs back with considered, expressive responses (sample dialogue: “Jane is a well-loved character, but also one who is really open to finding new colours”). And the multi-lingual lovely has established herself as more than just a brain with boobs. She’s one of the few actresses whose appeal is unrestricted by genre, engaging equally with fanboys (V For Vendetta), ladies (Brothers), and bog standard movie-lovers (Garden State).

Which brings us to the genre-baffling Thor, a theatrical mash of comic book flamboyance and Shakespearean melodrama. Her second foray into the Technicolor whirlpool of comic movie adaptations, Portman credits her involvement entirely to one man: Kenneth Branagh.

“It was sort of actually not something I was dying to do,” she explains, “not Thor in particular, but a big movie. When I heard Ken was doing it, I said, ‘Wow that is a daring and interesting idea.’ Then I met Ken and he was someone I was extremely interested to get to spend three months with. It was probably the first, or one of the first times, that my expectations were actually exceeded.”

Anybody with a doctorate in subtext might read the name ‘George Lucas’ into that, though Portman is far too polite to elaborate. But it’s telling that, despite her Star Wars run-ins with the dreaded blue screen, it was Brit director Branagh’s pull that had Portman itching for a second pop.

“Working with blue screen and that whole universe is something that is a skill and something that you really need to learn and practice,” the actress muses. “If acting schools were created today, that would be a technique that you would learn. And getting to experience that with Ken’s guidance – who’s the master of attacking text and character from every angle – was a new way to approach blue screen acting. It was an exciting challenge to go at again.”

That challenge also extended to her character, a scientist exploring the theory of inter-dimensional space. Portman seems genuinely elated that the role, which could easily have suffered the saucy love interest kiss of death, didn’t involve “you know, the sort of sexy cleavage, glasses kind of thing”. In fact, she’d be happy to return should Thor merit sequels – just don’t expect to see her pitch up in hero mash-up The Avengers: “I’m not in The Avengers, but I am in the future Thor films if and when they happen.”

Before Thor, Portman’s pirouetting in Black Swan is guaranteed to spin heads. Opening this month at the Venice Film Festival, it’s directed by Darren Aronofksy and has been steaming away on the backburner since 2000. “The fact that I had spent so much time with the idea allowed it to marinate a little before we shot,” the actress says. “[My character] Nina is someone who’s trying to find her own artistic voice, and she has to lose everything to gain that vision and that sense of self. It’s very hard to describe.”

Not only has the thriller – about two competing ballet dancers performing in Swan Lake – bred buzz thanks to Portman’s lesbian love scene with co-snog Kunis, it’s also the first time she’ll be appearing in the buff. No biggy, though. “Previously I was figuring out my own sexual identity, likes and dislikes and all that stuff,” she says, shrugging off her former reservations, “and it’s weird to be doing stuff on film as you’re figuring it out. Also, being a sexual object when you’re a kid is really uncomfortable.”

Flesh of another sort will be flashed in the actress’ next project, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies (“we just got a new script from David O. Russell; we’re hoping to make it this coming year, which is really exciting”), while Portman will also be mixing things up with a little medieval comedy (Your Highness) and a producing credit on Spencer Susser’s indie hit Hesher.

With that irresistible combination of glam and geeky, Portman is out to conquer the globe. But she’ll always have a place in her heart for comics. “I think they have such classic epic themes,” she says. “V For Vendetta was an amazing experience. Like Thor, I think you could make a small independent film with the same themes and it would be really interesting. This is just on a larger scale. It’s a total thrill.”

Via Total Film