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Hammer Time

Boring Thor and an easy afternoon at the theater

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Thor
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THOR. The conventional wisdom in Hollywood these days would seem to signal the impending doom of the screenwriter. More and more, big studio movies scrape together stories from old material. Remakes abound, as do usually pallid resurrections of old comic book characters. Maybe it speeds up the development process, or maybe good scripts are just too darned expensive. Whatever the rationale, streamlining the filmmaking process by truncating the single most important element -- the story -- is a fool's errand. Only rarely can a director rescue such thin material from mediocrity. Unfortunately, Kenneth Branagh doesn't appear to be the man for that job, and Thor never manages to rise above the morass of uninspired, second-rate comic book reboots from whence it came.

For starters, it feels too long by about half. There are only a handful of real action sequences for punctuation, and the dialog scenes are either overly expository and monotonous or jokey and glib. That dichotomy defines one of the central problems: The movie never finds a tone that suits the material. Without the road map of a well-constructed script, it plods and meanders and blusters along, with the immortals of Asgard (Thor's home-realm, all wood fire and burnished metal) periodically launching into dramatic, ultimately boring speeches about power and responsibility and how war can really cause problems for people.

The plot could hardly be simpler: Odin (Anthony Hopkins) banishes his arrogant, hotheaded son Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to Earth for jeopardizing the fragile peace he brokered with their long-time enemy, the Frost Giants. He falls into the New Mexico desert out of a big space cloud and into the path of astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). The U.S. Government wants to capture Thor, Thor wants his hammer back, Jane wants love, Thor's brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wants to make a power grab. For two hours.

If approached differently, this could have been a smaller, grittier, much more interesting movie. Instead, it's bloated, so fascinated by the computer-generated images that fill almost every frame that scenes often fail to really advance the story. It looks like the filmmakers imagined that they could conceal the lack of story and character development with tens of millions of dollars of effects. And it doesn't quite work. Asgard, as imagined in the film, looks fake and processed, rather than majestic or mysterious. And Branagh doesn't seem to have much sense of how to shoot and edit action sequences, or how to pace an action movie.

To avoid being completely negative, I will say that Kat Dennings (The 40 Year Old Virgin) brings some refreshing and much-needed levity to her portrayal of Foster's mismatched, taser-wielding intern. Too bad she only gets a handful of scenes to work with. 130m. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence. In 3-D at the Broadway and the Fortuna, in 2-D at Mill Creek and the Minor.

SOMETHING BORROWED. Another case in point: an adaptation of a best-selling novel. Why bother buying and developing an original screenplay when you can just option a book, pay someone a nominal fee to convert it into screenplay format, then watch the money roll in. That's probably a little cynical. I actually enjoyed Something Borrowed more than I expected to. Truth be told, I halfway expected to loathe it, so the bar was set low, but on balance it wasn't as unpleasant or shallow as it might have been.

In brief: Rachel White (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a hardworking young New York attorney who has lived her life by the book. Her longtime best friend Darcy Rhone (Kate Hudson) is a boisterous narcissist with a megalomaniacal streak. Darcy is engaged to Dexter Thaler (Colin Egglesfield) with whom Rachel went to law school and shared an unspoken mutual crush. After Rachel's birthday party, she and Dexter happen to end up in bed together. An examination of infidelity, friendship, and obligation ensues, seasoned liberally with bed- and barhopping in Manhattan and the Hamptons.

All in all, this is pretty insubstantial material, and the movie spends a lot of time in well-trod territory. We've all seen at least a few "lifestyles of the attractive and upwardly mobile" rom-dramadies, and this one is rather run of the mill, but with a few touches of verisimilitude that almost make it something more, (Dexter's mom suffers from crippling bouts of depression, for example). Those brief moments aside, everybody looks good and has a good income and happens to be in love with the wrong person at the wrong time.

Movies like these lean heavily on the cast to carry the plot, as only in very rare cases are they structured uniquely or directed with a distinctive visual style. The leads in Something Borrowed pull it off, with Goodwin and John Krasinski effectively plying their cute, white-bread charm. I was continually distracted by Egglesfield because he looks like a clone of Tom Cruise with some minor variation in the double-helix. And Kate Hudson manages to make Darcy insufferably self-centered and bitchy, which seems a strange choice. The character is intended to be a little meanspirited and selfish, but man, played this way, she's the villain of the piece. I was rooting against her when there wasn't even anybody else to root for.

There's nothing revelatory here, and it doesn't add much to the cinematic canon, but there are worse ways to nurse a hangover on a Saturday afternoon. 103m. Rated PG-13 for sexual content including dialogue, and some drug material. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Fortuna.

--John J Bennett

Coming:

PRIEST. 3-D vampire Western based on a Korean comic, in turn inspired by a video game. Paul Bettany stars as the Warrior Priest, a ninja-esque vampire killer with a cross tat on his face, out to rescue his niece (Lily Collins) from vamps with help from her boyfriend, the Wasteland Sheriff (Cam Gigandet). 87m. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and brief strong language. Opening at the Fortuna in 3-D, at the Broadway and Mill Creek in 2-D.

BRIDESMAIDS. Would-be The Hangover for chicks stars Kristen Wiig (SNL) as Annie, asked by her BFF Lillian (Maya Rudolph, SNL) to be maid of honor for her wedding. You guessed it: The bachelorette party is in Vegas. 124m. Rated R for some strong sexuality, and language throughout. Opening at the Broadway, Mill Creek, the Minor and the Fortuna.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI. You are once again invited to sip White Russians while watching the Coen brothers' cult classic with Jeff Bridges as bowler/slacker Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski forced into action as a bumbling sleuth. Thursday at the Arcata Theatre Lounge.

DAWN OF THE DEAD. Sequel to George Romero's zombie classic Night of the Living Dead moves the action to a suburban mall where the living fend off the undead. What better way to spend grad night? Note: This is the 1978 version, not the more recent remake. Saturday at the Arcata Theatre Lounge.

SCI-FI PINT'N'PIZZA NITE. Atomic post-apocalyptic theme: THIS IS NOT A TEST from 1962 has folks using a truck trailer as a nuclear bomb shelter. A BOY AND HIS DOG, based on a novella by Harlan Ellison, is set in post-apocalypse ruins where wild boy Vic (a young Don Johnson) searches for canned food with his telepathic dog Blood who also helps him get laid. Sex and death ensue before Vic learns who is man's best friend. Next Wednesday at the Arcata Theatre Lounge.

--Bob Doran 

Continuing:

AFRICAN CATS. Samuel L. Jackson narrates this family-friendly documentary about big cats on the savanna. Rated G. 89m. At the Broadway.

FAST FIVE. Vin Diesel steals more cars. The Rock tries to stop him. Rated R. 130m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.

HANNA. A young girl is trained by her father as the world's greatest assassin and then travels across Europe kicking ass. Rated PG-13. 111m. At the Broadway.

HOODWINKED TOO! More CGI fairytale mashups! Rated PG. 85m. At the Broadway.

JANE EYRE. Based on Charlotte Bronte's classic novel. Rated PG-13. 120m. At the Minor.

PROM. The title of this film doubles as its synopsis. Rated PG. 103m. At Fortuna.

RIO. A domesticated Macaw named Blu believes he is the last of his kind, until he hears there may be another Macaw in Rio de Janeiro. Vacation! Rated G. 99m. At the Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek.

SOUL SURFER. True story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm to a shark. Rated PG. 106m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek

SOURCE CODE. A soldier wakes up in the body of an unknown man and discovers he's on a mission to find the bomber of a commuter train. Rated PG-13. 94m. At Garberville.

WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson fall in love due to their compassion for a special circus elephant. Rated PG-13. 121m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.

WIN WIN. Attorney turned high-school wrestling coach bonds with unlikely characters. Rated R. 106m. At the Minor.

 

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