Monday 28 October 2013

Thor: The Dark World review

Thor: The Dark World (12A/PG-13, 112 mins)
Director: Alan Taylor
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Now that we’re firmly into Phase Two of Marvel’s plan for total cinema domination, the titles are coming thick and fast.

The next Captain America will be along in the spring, and in a year that’s already brought the terrific Iron Man 3 we now have this sequel to Thor, a movie that was bright, funny and carried along with a real zip by director Kenneth Branagh. This first return to that world doesn’t quite measure up, thanks to some uninspired storytelling, but it’s still a breezy and fun couple of hours.

After the events of Avengers Assemble, Norse god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is busy keeping peace across the realms. Since almost all the necessary introductions were made first time round, we can get straight to it, something that also allows characters slightly down the cast list to get their moment to shine.

The main bit of setup required is a prologue that goes all Lord of the Rings on us, as we learn about the Dark Elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). He’s after some cosmic goo called the Aether, which will allow him to get up to no good when the nine realms align for the first time in 5000 years, something called the Convergence.

Back in Asgard, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has had to answer for his crimes in Thor and Avengers Assemble, and left to rot in prison until the plot requires him. Meanwhile, on earth, Natalie Portman’s scientist, Jane, is trying to adjust to life after Thor. But she gets dragged back into events when she’s alerted by her colleagues about some sort of portal they’ve found. Through a vague and confused bit of plotting, she comes into contact with the Aether via the portal, and gets somehow infected by it.

Thor brings her to Asgard in an attempt to cure her, but don’t look for much sense during this stretch that also brings an attack from Malekith that makes a mockery of the supposed Asgardian defences.

It’s one of two or three key sequences that, while never exactly botched, just point to a lack of directorial craft and poor editing choices. For all its story, and backstory, the writing isn’t the strong suit here. The big picture is often little more than gibberish, but individual scenes please and are still capable of moments of wonder.

Much of what draws audiences in comes from its technical brilliance. Glorious production design is used to realise Asgard and the other worlds we visit. Then of course there’s the action, generally rousing if a little repetitive at times. Thor swinging his hammer at a monstrous foe is enjoyable, but there’s only so many times we can watch that before it becomes monotonous. But come the Convergence, a grand finale awaits that makes the more sluggish passages worthwhile.

But the real selling point is the humour. Where the first film largely was largely comprised of Thor’s fish out of water antics, this time everyone gets the opportunity for a one-liner or two, and most comedies wish they were as funny as this.

It’s on a modest scale compared to the Avengers, but then so is almost every movie, but Thor: The Dark World will do very nicely until the next one of those comes along.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Ender’s Game review

Ender’s Game (12A/PG-13, 114 mins)
Director: Gavin Hood
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Though it begins with the usual guff about aliens attacking earth years before, this sci-fi adventure continues with a sturdy and serious tone and actually ends being rather thoughtful. In anticipation of the aliens attacking again, the military is training up youngsters, and the fleet commander (Harrison Ford) has his hopes pinned on Ender (Asa Butterfield), whom he thinks can one day destroy their enemies. It’s Star Trek with kids, except not in any way juvenile, with the first half or more taking up by training, and though there’s a lot of stuff we’ve seen before in Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, it does provide moments of brilliance. But when it finally gets down to it, Ender’s Game proves itself to be surprisingly weighty in its tackling of military foreign policies, as well as providing a commanding character in Ender and some cracking action to boot.

Bad Grandpa review

Bad Grandpa (15/R, 92 mins)
Director: Jeff Tremaine
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Part the bone-worrying stunts of Jackass, part the hidden camera windups of Sacha Baron Cohen, this crude comedy caper never finds a happy middle ground. After his wife dies, 86-year-old Irving (Jackass frontman Johnny Knoxville in old-man makeup) must transport his young grandson across the country to live with his father. But along the way they stage stunts and pranks to shock or embarrass the unwitting public, such as Irving knocking over the coffin at his wife’s funeral. The main sticking point with the lack of laughs is that, unlike with Baron Cohen, it’s not the ignorant or the bigoted being targeted here, but members of the public who are generally being kind and helpful to an old man a little boy, so there’s little to be gained from seeing them duped.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Escape Plan review

Escape Plan (15/R, 115 mins)
Director: Mikael Håfström
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Sylvester Stallone stars in this slice of action daftness as a breakout expert who finds the weak points in prison security.  Asked to test out a new top secret facility, he finds himself banged up in a glass box, under constant surveillance and with no escape seeming possible, realising someone has set him up. Luckily his, and the film’s, secret weapon comes in the shape of fellow inmate Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the pair cook up an escape plan. Aside from brief moments in two Expendables movies, we’ve been waiting 30 years for a proper Stallone-Schwarzenegger match-up, though for all the nostalgia this provides, it’s sometimes just a wee bit tired. Don’t come for the banter, which is largely dire, or even the action, which is uninspired, but the mechanics of the escape plan are fairly diverting. It’s incredibly silly, no doubt, and that’s a good thing, but it’s the sort of malarkey that should rattle along in rip-roaring style, not lumber for almost two hours towards a generic action finale.  Mostly though it’s about the pleasures to be had in watching two of the most iconic stars of our time share the screen, and that’s just about good enough.

Friday 4 October 2013

The Kings of Summer Blu-ray review

The Kings of Summer (15, 93 mins)
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Unsatisfied with their home lives, teenagers Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) venture out into the local woods to build their own house. They're joined, for reasons never quite explained to either them or us, by the distinctly odd Biaggio (Moises Arias), and the boys spend their days hunting and enjoying their freedom, while the search for them continues at home. Treated rather shabbily on its UK cinema release, The Kings of Summer cries out to be discovered on the home market. At first glance it’s a very well constructed coming-of-age tale, but what separates it from many of its ilk is a surprisingly zany tone, which often sends it spinning off into surreal moments of comedy, and the results can be very funny indeed. The three young leads are great, but with all the adults played by comedians, it’s here that many of the biggest laughs are to be found, with Nick Offerman especially memorable as Joe’s uncompromisingly foul-mouthed father. But the comedy doesn’t come at the expense of the emotional investment, and these are characters we really come to care about over the course of what is a first rate indie drama.