Movie reviews

THOR (12A) has all the hallmarks of a movie made not for its own sake but for the purpose of establishing a franchise.

Its main storyline follows the eponymous hero, played by Chris Hemsworth, who is about to be crowned king of Asgard when he is banished, for arrogance, by Odin (Anthony Hopkins).

Pitching up on Earth, Thor learns the wisdom of humility from a group of scientists led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), which virtue allows him to return to Asgard and confront his scheming half-brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

Loki’s thirst for power represents one sub-plot, the romance between Jane and Thor another, and then there’s the ongoing cosmic civil war waged between the Norse gods and their bitter enemies, the Frost Giants.

That director Kenneth Branagh shoehorns all these disparate elements into a cohesive story is no mean feat, but even he struggles to maintain an even tone: the Asgard scenes are shot through with preposterous architecture, high camp and noble speeches, while the scenes on Earth are characterised by laconic cynicism and a downbeat authenticity that’s as close to realism as any Marvel comic adaptation is likely to get.

Hemsworth makes for a convincing celluloid god, and there’s a passable chemistry between he and Portman that gives their burgeoning romance a piquant twist.

The film also boasts a pleasing line in self-sabotaging humour, most of which comes courtesy of Jane’s assistant, Darcy (Kat Jennings), whose instinctive scepticism and offbeat one-liners help to root the fantasy in our contemporary world.

It’s as flawed, portentous and self-eulogising as you’d expect any film about an Earth-bound god to be, but Thor succeeds as old-fashioned swashbuckling fun.

ANY self-respecting horror fan will have seen all the elements that comprise Insidious (16s) before, but director James Wan is a veteran of the early Saw movies and he brings just enough invention to the genre’s conventions to make it worth the trip.

Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) haven’t even unpacked after moving into their new house when their young son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), falls into a coma.

When Dalton recovers months later spooky goings-on persuade the family that their house is haunted; but after they move house again, and fail to shake off the demon, they conclude that Dalton is possessed.

Shades of Poltergeist and The Exorcist, then, but the characterisations are strong enough to warrant sympathy and to excuse Wan’s theft-cum-homage. It’s Wan’s expert timing of his various bumps and frights that give the film its edge, rendering Insidious a solid addition to the horror canon.

DORKY insurance salesman Tim Lippe (Ed Helms) gets a taste of big city life when he goes to his first convention in Cedar Rapids (15A), an experience that strips Tim of his innocence as he is introduced to booze, drugs, infidelity and chicanery by a combination of co-conventioneers Dean (John C. Reilly), Joan (Anne Heche) and Orin (Kurtwood Smith).

In theory it’s a gross-out comedy of embarrassment, but director Miguel Arteta’s gentle tone suggests that a subtle parody of that particular kind of humour is what is intended.

A failure to commit to either style of comedy means that the story evolves into a rather tame parable for doing the right thing regardless of the personal cost. Helms, Reilly, Heche and Isaiah Whitlock contribute likeably offbeat characters, but the ill-defined tone means they struggle to convince. Ultimately, what happens at Cedar Rapids may well be mildly diverting at the time, but it isn’t necessarily worth broadcasting to the folks back home.

KGB middleman Colonel Grigoriev (Emir Kusturica) undermines Soviet Russia by passing on vital state secrets to the French in Farewell (12A), a slow-burning Cold War thriller based on real events. Director Christian Carion offers us a decidedly unheroic hero in Grigoriev, emphasising his faults and foibles.

The pace is slow, the action almost non-existent, but patience is eventually rewarded with a thoughtful, intense psychological study of a complex man at a critical juncture in history. IFI and selected cinemas.

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