Thor: The Dark World
As big and muscular as its titular hammer-swinging hunk, and equally short on sparkling repartee, ‘Thor: The Dark World’ is a sequel-by-numbers that slots neatly into the ever expanding Marvel Comics universe.
If nothing else – and there isn’t much else – Alan Taylor’s film is a master-class in brand recognition.
‘The Dark World’ squanders the strongest actors, including Tom Hiddleston as arch-villain Loki, in order to focus on the miasma of slick digital effects.
Screenwriters Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley bamboozle us with their cod-science, spinning a fantastical yarn about an alignment of worlds every 5,000 years which allows “an ancient darkness to strike”.
The film ricochets noisily between action, comedy and romance, punctuating set pieces with deadpan humour.
A couple of plot twists cause almost as much head-scratching as the use of wormholes to travel between the Nine Realms.
Hemsworth swings his hammer with gusto but there’s no obvious sexual chemistry with Portman and Eccleston’s chief villain doesn’t have sufficient screen time to become more than a minor irritation.
Star Rating: 2½
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 84%
As she approaches her 79th birthday, Judi Dench looks certain to be gifted a seventh Oscar nomination for her tour-de-force portrayal of a guilt-stricken mother in ‘Philomena’.
It’s a compelling performance of deep emotion based on a true story that deftly tugs the heartstrings without resorting to emotional manipulation or cloying sentiment.
Dench is complemented by Steve Coogan as a cynical and world-weary journalist, who initially scoffs at the suggestion that he should pen an article about the matriarch and her heartbreaking ordeal.
The tender and unexpectedly touching relationship that forms between these two characters from different generations and backgrounds provides Stephen Frears’s uplifting film with its emotional thrust, as the search for answers moves between continents.
Coogan’s script, co-written by Jeff Pope, is lean and peppered with earthy humour, whether it be the much abused heroine reliving the ecstasy of her first sexual experience or her encouraging the journalist to jump into the back seat of a rental car.
Directed with a light and assured touch by Frears, Philomena celebrates the power of hope to heal old wounds.
Dench is magnificent and Coogan jettisons most of his Alan Partridge tics in support, gradually warming to Philomena and her upbeat outlook on life.
Tears flow freely as the eponymous heroine discovers the fate of her boy, seizing upon every nugget of information, no matter how banal, as if she had just won the lottery.
We certainly strike it very lucky with Frears’s wonderful picture.
Star Rating: 4/5
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 93%
The Haunting In Connecticut 2
Tom Elkins returns to the director’s chair for this lacklustre companion piece to his 2009 supernatural horror, which chronicled the true story of one family’s brush with malevolent forces.
‘The Haunting In Connecticut 2’ also relies on spooky real-life events, relating the ghoulish goings-on in a station master’s house in Pine Mountain, Georgia, as seen through the eyes of two women and a little girl, who claim to be cursed with the ability to see ghosts.
But David Coggeshall’s script trades in hoary cliches.
Mild scares, which take the form of shadowy figures moving unseen behind protagonists, are repetitive and unlikely to jolt audiences out of a soporific stupor.
This should have been exorcised straight to DVD rather than haunting multiplexes.
Large portions of the film take place in darkness, in part to conceal workmanlike special effects.
Lind cries and whimpers up a storm – she is livelier than her older co-stars, who go through the motions, staring wide-eyed as doors blow open of their own accord.
Star Rating: 2/5
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 21%
Friends skate around their feelings in Joe Swanberg’s drama. Kate (Olivia Wilde) works alongside her best buddy Luke (Jake Johnson) at a Chicago brewery run by Gene Dentler (Jason Sudeikis).
Everyone can see that Kate and Luke are perfect for each other except that she has a sensible boyfriend called Chris (Ron Livingston) and he has a pretty girlfriend called Jill (Anna Kendrick).
Sexual tension between Chris and Jill unexpectedly boils over, forcing him to consider dumping Kate.
She salves her heartbreak by flirting with co-workers, which makes Luke angry and jealous, putting their friendship under intolerable strain.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 80%
Short Term 12
Brie Larson is a strong contender for an Oscar nomination as Best Actress for her compelling performance in Destin Daniel Cretton’s sensitively handled drama.
Grace (Larson) is a 20-something supervisor at a foster-care facility. Grace works alongside her long-term boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr) and shepherds newly arrived supervisor Nate (Rami Malek) through his first week.
A troubled teenager called Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) and a gifted yet volatile 18-year-old called Marcus (Keith Stanfield) test Grace’s patience to the limit as she wrestles with her own demons and chases redemption.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%