Boys vs. Girls at the Box Office — and the Winner Is …

From “Thor” to “Something Borrowed” to “Hobo With a Chainsaw” … um … “Shotgun”

 

It was boys vs. girls at the box office this weekend and, sorry ladies, but the boys won.

“Hobo with a Shotgun” pits a septuagenarian against a family of psychopaths.

“Something Borrowed” is a comedy so bad that it’s reason to revoke the First Amendment.

“Thor” is a comic book movie with Shakespearean undertones and some super-heavy hardware.

With all the beheadings and bloodletting, many will consider Jason Eisener’s grindhouse comedy, “Hobo with a Shotgun” too gory. Lucky for them it’s not called “Hobo with a Chainsaw.”

If this movie were a straight-ahead crime drama, such gore would be decried as reprehensible. But one wink at the audience and it’s all in good fun. When did black humor become license to portray the most sadistic imaginings possible in a movie?

Rutger Hauer makes a welcome return to the screen as a hobo who steps off a freight train in a remote northern city where violence and mayhem are the order of the day.

He takes on a crime boss and his two sons who have made the town their own private chamber of horror, employing barbed wire for decapitating victims and administering beatings with baseball bats embedded with razors.

Fed up with it, Hauer picks up the eponymous weapon and serves up justice, as the poster’s tagline puts it, “one shell at a time.”

There is no pretension behind “Hobo with a Shotgun,” it is precisely what the poster indicates. If this level of violence is too much for you, then stay away. It is a movie that demands to be taken on its own terms. And on its own terms, it is terrific.

Less terrific is “Something Borrowed,” based on the bestselling novel by Emily Giffin. This saccharine-laced turd blossom follows a group of horrible young new Yorkers in their quest for fun and romance.

Kate Hudson is in this movie, and that says all you need to know if you’ve seen anything she’s been in since “Almost Famous.” While she is meant to be the obnoxious overbearing friend, if you’ve seen Hudson in interviews, you can’t help but feel she’s playing herself here.

“Something Borrowed” is another of these bastardized screwball comedies that has women defining themselves based on their relationship to men.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Katharine Hepburn and Spenser Tracy. Their three classic screwball comedies, “Woman of the Year,” “Adam’s Rib” and “Pat and Mike,” included strong, independent women who, yes, loved their man but had other things going on in their lives.

Those films had wit, satire, social commentary and progressive female characters, elements lacking in contemporary screwball comedies. In short, the studios have forgotten how to execute this genre. (never mind the western, film noir and other genres that once were a staple but have since faded from our repertoire).

One genre they seem to know all to well is the superhero movie, but with “Thor” there were doubts from the very beginning.

First of all, he’s hardly the brightest star in the Marvel universe.

Secondly, Kenneth "Bard" Branagh was hired to direct it. What’s a classical theater guy doing taking on a comic book movie? (Julie Taymor, anybody?) Worst of all, he spoke repeatedly to the press about finding Shakespearean themes in the comic book. Leave it to an intellectual to muck it all up, right?

Wrong. Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor” is terrific.

Branagh has shown himself again and again to be a deft director of actors in movies like “Hamlet” and “Much Ado About Nothing,” where he elicited superb performances from actors ranging from neophyte to classically trained. He does no less here, with everyone hitting just the right note.

If there are problems with “Thor,” they lie in the screenplay by Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz. The audience finds itself well ahead of the material in the set up as we’re introduced to two young princes and told only one of them can be king.

When “Thor” begins his life on earth, there are laughs and some chemistry between Hemsworth and Portman but with the hero stripped of his superpowers the movie tends to drag.

No, “Thor” is not a perfect movie; it’s not even a great one. But it is at times sublime. It is wonderfully directed with a visual sumptuousness rivaled by few. Performances are strong and Branagh does a good job mixing tones between hyperbole and humor.

If “Thor” is successful, maybe it will mean that Branagh is welcome in Hollywood again. In his hay day, he was the foremost purveyor of Shakespeare at the box office. Yes, there was a time when Shakespeare was a name that could sell and it wasn’t that long ago. Fifteen years. Seems like an eternity. 

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