Review: Thor – The Dark World (Dustin SanVido)

Review: Thor: The Dark World

thor the dark world poster

Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Jamie Alexander, Kat Dennings, Stellen Skarrsgard, Rene Russo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Zachary Levy, Idris Elba, and Ray Stevenson

Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely (and a little help from Joss Whedon)

Directed by Alan Taylor

Marvel has certainly taken other comic-based film properties to school in the last 6 years (I’m looking at you DC) in terms of product, marketing, and a focused long term goal. As a fan of this world of characters, I’m astonished that Marvel has successfully developed their brand into a cinematic Juggernaut and basically dared every other company out there to try and compete with them. This trend happily continues in the disjointed but more often-than-not satisfying second entry in the series starring our favorite Norse God, Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Thor: The Dark World follows the prototype that Marvel has used in every film they’ve produced, misses the mark on a few key targets, polarizes a limited amount of their audience with needless 3-D, but delivers the thrills and spectacle that you’ve come to expect from the Marvel universe.

I don’t feel any need to summarize the narrative for “Thor: The Dark World” as it is no different from the other films in this serialized Marvel universe. They all have the same generalized story and are merely a continuation of one another, the EXACT cinematic manifestation of the comics many of us read when we were young and expected to see onscreen. The story is quite simple: Continuing after the events of the first film and the superhero orgy that was “The Avengers”, we catch up with all the characters we missed, a new villain with simple motives is introduced, a McGuffin is presented that will grant unlimited power to the wrong individual who can harness it, a secondary conflict between our protagonist is briefly touched upon, death is foreshadowed, and away we go! It doesn’t get any more difficult than that and frankly it doesn’t need to.

Much like Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth has come to a point where he is synonymous with the titular character and not such a douche this time around. Although his performance in September’s “Rush” is vastly superior, I attribute his performance in T:TDW to script doctoring and an un-interesting central conflict. He still fully embodies the Norse God with the biggest guns around, and plays well off every other performance in the film, it’s just his only conflict of the film is one we have already explored (Loki) and his philosophical musings on the prospect of being King of Asgard. The simple plot keeps us from really exploring the psychology of these personal struggles, but then again we didn’t come here for a lesson in Psychology, we came for Hammer Time!

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Tom Hiddleston once again acts circles around every other talent in this film. H’s the most interesting character in the series, by a wide margin, and an argument can certainly be made that he is the lynchpin to the entire Marvel cinematic universe. Once he or Robert Downey Jr. inevitably steps away from this world for greener pastures, there will be a dimensional-portal sized hole that will need to be filled.

I feel as though Natalie Portman’s Oscar-level talent is again wasted in this series. Much like the first entry, there are a few genuine moments that convince me there is effort being given, but I have deduced she wasn’t too pleased with her story arc this time around. For the majority of the film, her world-renowned astro-physicist is relegated to “Damsel in Distress” clichés instead of using her scientific knowledge to rationalize the more fantastical elements of the narrative. There is an attempt at this very point on a few occasions, but it’s merely for moments of comedic relief and to give the audience a reason for her place in the final set piece.

Due to the lack of thematic balance in “T:TDW” we are left with a very one dimensional villain who could’ve used said additional supportive exposition to strengthen his motivation, as opposed to beating us over the head with basic information when multiple characters all state what we already know…”Malekith is evil, Malekith wants to return the universe to darkness, Malekith is very cool looking, and did we mention he’s evil?”

His motivations are never fleshed out or understood, his small army of minions are nothing more than cannon fodder as dangerous a threat as the single henchman Michael Caine deliciously monologues into submission in the third Austin Powers entry, and his biggest weapon is his accent. His primary henchman Algrim, who becomes the last Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) illicits modest enjoyment, but this is a rare instance where I would have enjoyed the use of CG to make him larger and more imposing,  instead of the practical effects that made him more NFL Defensive End then otherworldly killing-machine. He honestly could’ve been Detroit Lion Ndamakong Suh and I wouldn’t have been the wiser! I enjoyed watching Malekith’s CG effects, practical make-up, and actions unfold on-screen, but he is nothing more than a second-rate Bond villain in this film. Larry David is a more convincing villain than Malekith and his army.

With the criminal exception of Hogun (Tadanobu Asano), a member of the Warrior’s Three, the secondary characters in T:TDW are still underused, but a concerted effort is made this time around to include everyone and that effort services the narrative well. All are given moments to stand out and leave an impact on the story, just some more than others. If the titular hero had any sort of personal struggle or conflict aside from those I mentioned before, I probably wouldn’t have noticed the under-usage of such a fine cast. But I digress, the film gets more than enough right, or just enough to distract my inner child that my minor nit-pickings subside.

Aside from the opening battle that feels disjointed, rushed and frankly more of an excuse to remove 3 important secondary characters for much of the first half, there were several action-oriented moments of awe in “Thor” that I’ve only felt a handful of times in the Marvel films. The special-effects driven sequences are clear and easy to follow, and really serve the direction of the narrative, instead of being a distraction. The last 35 minutes of the film moves at breakneck pace and not only helps the viewer forget the middling first act, but provides grand spectacle in showcasing Thor’s different combat abilities and power of flight. I knew they had nailed Thor’s many comic-rooted action beats by the excited fanfare in the form of dozens of fan-boys behind us in attendance. Because just like them, I’ve been reading and imagining a cinematic world in my head for almost 25 years where superheroes like Thor, and to a lesser extent Iron Man, use the power of flight only seen on paper and ink. We’re in a golden age folks, so enjoy it!

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Although there is much to like in T:TDW, the weakest point this time around is the script. It seems some of the production controversy and gossip surrounding the Marvel’s lack of confidence in the director seems warranted, no more obvious then the multiple moments in the film that forcibly tie “Thor” into the Marvel Wheelhouse. There are just far too many tongue-in-cheek moments where I KNOW Joss Whedon doctored the script and inserted dialogue to keep a film that could have presented a more dramatic and serious tone. This time around I would have preferred that tonal shift as a direct continuation of the events of “the Avengers”, much like the third Iron Man touched upon a handful of times throughout the film before finally being wrestled into the prototypical Marvel film we’ve come to expect.

Not much else needs to be said concerning the direction from Alan Taylor. His debut feature proves he can make a functional action film from lesser writing talent using the experience he learned from his many years directing several cable series on HBO. I like his work on the smaller screen much more, but did appreciate the few call-backs he made to his work on “Game of Thrones” (Flaming arrows!). From a technical standpoint, I was neutral in the look, sound, and feel. At this point, there are a few certainties in this universe we can look past. Marvel films look fantastic. The glossy look of Asgard was missing this time around, but it didn’t bother me. Marvel films also have great rousing scores that’s use of horns and crescendos slighter differ based on which fighter’s corner we happened to be standing in. My favorites to date are still the scores from “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3”, but I’m a sucker for Alan Silvestri. The music and sound in T:TDW is operatic and theatrical in nature, and it served the film well.

I watched T:TDW in IMAX-3D and in several instances removed my glasses and noticed almost no difference in image. The 3D in T:TDW was never intended, the film wasn’t shot with it in mind, and the director himself openly stated his distaste in its use. That being said, strong advocates of 3-D will be happy to know the brightness has been cranked up to support the loss that occurs in the 3-D transfer but aside from that, I will only recommend the extra cost for the privilege of seeing an extended sequence from the upcoming “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. I’m still salivating from that scene and next April can’t come soon enough.

To briefly touch on what we’ve come to expect from a Marvel Film, the teaser scenes in the credits do their best to both set up the future story-lines for all Marvel properties, and offer a humorous finish much like “The Avengers”. Tying up plot holes is something we as an audience are rarely treated to in this particular world and it was a nice touch.

While I’ve made it clear that T:TDW does have its fair share of issues, it’s an ultimately satisfying entry in the Marvel series and successfully captures everything that’s great about the character. A badly foreshadowed but highly entertaining ending leaves the series on sure footing, making me excited for the inevitable third entry. Till next time…

Toronto Underground Cinema – Rep Cinema’s Latest Fallen Warrior (Kirk Haviland)

I must start with the fact that I have been very torn about writing this article. With the news now out that the Toronto Underground Cinema will be closing its doors for good on Sunday Sept 16th, my prediction from when the Cumberland went away in May has unfortunately come true: another member of Toronto’s immensely populated Repertory Cinema scene has fallen, and this time it’s personal. The main reason as to why I have struggled with what to say is that the Underground is not merely a cool little place in the heart of the city with tons of history and an awesome vibe – it’s also populated and run by friends.

Opened in 1977 under the tent pole of the Golden Harvest film production company, the Golden Classics cinema as it was then known, highlighted the best in classic Golden Harvest Kung Fu films in a very crowded marketplace on Spadina in the heart of Toronto’s Chinatown. Thriving from the late 70’s through to the early 90’s, the Golden Harvest eventually ran into financial woes and had to close its doors. After another failed attempt that lasted less than a year, the theater languished for 15 years before another attempt to change the house into an experimental film/live performance hall proved unfruitful. Then three young cinema enthusiasts banded together and approached the owner with the idea and concept behind the Toronto Underground Cinema.

From left to right: Charlie Lawton, Nigel Agnew, and Alex Woodside

Under the new management of Charlie Lawton, and Bloor Cinema alumni Alex Woodside and Nigel Agnew the theater re-opened as the newly christened Toronto Underground Cinema. Utilizing fellow former Bloor Cinema employee Peter Kuplowsky to help program and book the films for the theatre, the cinema got off to an auspicious start, documented in The Rep web-series, but quickly grew to prominence due to themed events featuring the likes of directors Kevin Smith and Edgar Wright. When the Bloor was shut down for almost a year for renovations it was the Underground that stepped forward to host event nights like the ‘Dream Date with Freddy Krueger’ in conjunction with Toronto’s Fan Expo. The Underground also became the new home for Rue Morgue Magazine’s Cinemacabre nights, and, in what may have been their most profitable partnership, they hosted the 2011 version of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.

But sadly the theatre itself had started to show its age; some major issues, which had been skirted for years, needed to be resolved. The guys had known all along that there was work that needed to be done, but convincing the people that matter, the ones with the money, turned out to be a goal that never came to fruition. So after closing in July in hopes of starting the renovations that never happened, the guys have since decided to close the doors and move on. I will truly miss the great times and friends of the Underground, some of the after parties are now legends. I wish the boys all the best in whatever they do next.

That said, the guys have decided to go out on a high and have stacked the last two weeks of the Underground’s existence with some excellent counter-TIFF programming. Starting Sept 6TH the theater will host it’s last Film Festival, with the 2012 version of the Toronto Indie Film Festival, the highlight of which is another chance to watch the excellent My Father and the Man in Black on Sept 13th at 9:15. On Sept 8th at 11:50 pm (yes that’s ten to midnight) the boys will host one last cinematic grindhouse blowout from the crew at Vagrancy Films. If you have never been to a Vagrancy show they are a not to be missed events and this time promises to be no different with the screening of Emanuelle Around the World in 35MM! Then comes the final night blowout on Sept 16th with two 35MM film presentations: 1984’s cult classic, Night of the Comet, and the fitting finisher of The Band’s concert film, The Last Waltz.

So if you have been an avid supporter of the cinema or have never been, there are plenty of reasons to get out there and check out the cinema before it’s too late. Goodnight dear Underground, hopefully your slumber is short lived.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Fan Expo 2012 Coverage (Kirk Haviland)

Fan Expo 2012

So another Fan Expo is in the books and it’s time to do some reflecting. This year was my first time with a media pass for the fest and thus I attended two of the four days, Thursday night and Sunday afternoon. Thursday became my walkabout day as the main hall was pleasantly less crowded and easy to maneuver, while Sunday was a work day as I attended some panels and conducted some interviews. The interviews will be along very shortly but for now we’ll start by focusing on Day 1.

My first stop after attaining my pass was to go directly to visit my great friends at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and find out what their first 10 films announced for the 2012 festival would be. The announcement should be live online at the link above by the time you read this, but at this time it was still under wraps. I’ll simply state that this is an extremely strong first wave lineup, and it contains a lot of films that I’ve been tracking for a while. Adam Lopez and company have not failed to raise the bar once again. On top of this, Toronto After Dark has released a limited edition T-Shirt/Poster by renowned artist Gary Pullin. It’s a beautiful poster and since Gary was gracious enough to sign all copies for free I managed to get an autographed copy that I’m sure will end up framed on my wall at some point.

Next stop was the Anchor Bay booth where I acquired some goodies: a walking dead bag and some mini posters. It was there that I bumped into Justin McConnell, director of The Collapsed and curator of the Litttle Terrors Monthly Series that until recently was held at the east end rep cinema house, The Projection Booth.  But as of September 19th the series will be re-launching in its new home in the heart of downtown, the Rainbow Cinemas Carlton. To celebrate they have instituted a ‘Best Of Little Terrors’ tour that launched at Fan Expo with two sold out standing room only showings on Friday and Saturday. I will have more on this tour and the films associated with it in the near future.

Next I wandered through the multitudes of displays and vendors with standouts including the Frankenweenie exhibit, the free pic on a comic book cover from the DC booth and free Lego Darth Maul figure from, of course, the Lego booth. Along with running into some friends and getting my picture taken behind the wheel of an exact Back To The Future replica Delorean it was a fun day.

My second day started off with the Dead Before Dawn 3D panel with cast members, including Christopher Lloyd himself. Along with being fun and informative it was also research for what would come later. After another quick stop in at the Toronto After Dark booth to check in on the boys and the Underground Peep Show gang across the way, I was back on my way to Anchor Bay. After arriving there, and managing to snag a sweet full sized copy of the amazing Excision poster, I was lining up with some other critics to interview the cast and director of A Little Bit Zombie. The interviews were great fun and featured Casey Walker, Kristopher Turner, Shawn Roberts and the stunning Crystal Lowe. All of them were really great to talk to. Ending it off with a signed poster from the gang minus Crystal, who had taken off to go do her own shopping for graphic art (love this woman!), it was off to my next interview of the day.

Upon reaching the Dead Before Dawn 3D booth I noticed a very long line for autographs, probably spurred on by the film’s other star, Devon Bostick, autographing for free. Initially I was unsure how we would be able to fit the interview in. But the Writer Tim Dorian and Director April Mullen were very accommodating in talking to me as I had the interview booked with them but still managed to get in a few words from another cast member to boot. You should be able to read both those interviews very soon here on Entertainment Maven.

After some more roaming around and picking up some more schwag, I ended the day by sneaking into one of the smaller panels to get off my feet and hang with some friends. Earlier in the day I was almost bowled over by a passing Lou Ferrigno, so it seemed only fitting that my day would end standing shoulder to shoulder with Christopher Lloyd himself as he passed by. And with that my adventures at Fan Expo 2012 came to an end.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance Review (Kirk Haviland)

Photo Courtesy of VKPR

Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance

Written and Directed by Bob Hercules

Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino were the two visionaries behind the creation and innovation of the Joffrey Ballet. Narrated by Mandy Patinkin, Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance tells the history behind the Joffrey Ballet and the story of these two men. Through archival footage and interviews (both men have passed on) director Hercules attempts to lay out the history of the influential ballet company.

Co-founded in 1956, the then titled “The Robert Joffrey Ballet” was a touring company of six dancers traversing the US in a borrowed station wagon with Joffey choreographing and Arpino as lead male dancer. Eventually Arpino would move into the choreography role himself as the company grew in size and talent. The to men started a school of dance where they insisted on classical ballet proficiency but would then add many other contemporary styles into the routines of their dancers, making them adaptable and pushing the boundaries of traditional ballet. The Ballet took on a backer in Rebekah Harkness in the early 60’s who eventually tried to commandeer the entire group. Unwilling to re-title his company “The Harkness Ballet”, Joffrey and Harkness parted ways, with Harkness taking 90% of the dancers under contract to her foundation and leaving Joffrey and Arpino with two dancers and a school of students to restart. Convinced that he could do it again, Joffrey proved it as the ballet flourished and grew larger than ever before. Surviving yet another financial crisis and a move out of New York to Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet remains a vital and boundary pushing company of dancers and choreographers to this day.

Photo Courtesy of VKPR

Probably the most lasting fact to come from this documentary is the amount of former Joffrey dancers/proteges who are now major forces in the dance world, acting as company heads and/or head choreographers across the United States. Through tons of archival footage and interviews with these influential grads mixed with the aforementioned archival interviews we have the entire history laid out piece by piece. Even with the rare footage we are given the opportunity to see, the film comes off as flat. Director Hercules manages to fill our heads with stats and glorious imagery but fails to give a personality or a ground-breaking presence to his film. With the inspirational subject that is the backbone of this film, it’s sad to realize that we don’t get much inspiration out of this film.

Dance enthusiasts will probably revel in the archival footage, as they should, but as a complete film I cannot rate Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance anything more than a disappointment. Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance is a mild non-recommend.

Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance starts an exclusive run at the Bloor Cinema starting Friday July 27th.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto.

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Shinsedai Cinema Festival 2012 – Tentsuki Review (Kirk Haviland)

Shinsedai Film Festival 2012 (Toronto)

Tentsuki

Starring: Taku Manabe, Natsumi Seto, Ryuzaburo Hattori and Akaji Maro

Written by Masafumi Yamada and Takeshi Miyamoto

Directed by Masafumi Yamada

Tentsuki is a strange little film. Clearly inspired by the likes of David Lynch and the more obscure works of Takeshi Miike, Yamada’s Tentsuki takes place in a rural part of Japan that is inhabited by the quirkiest of characters and scenarios. But is there enough of a cohesive plot to carry the film forward?

Noburo (Manabe) is having quite the string of bad luck. After losing his job when his boss closes the company and runs away during the night, Noburo goes back to the company office and breaks in as he now needs a place to live. Shortly after breaking in Noboru receives some visitors in the form of the local Yakuza looking for their payout. Seeing Noburo in the office they assume he is a delegate of the company and demand their money. Noburo manages to escape and runs away to the country where he has a friend who acts as a building landlord. After setting up in one of the apartments Noburo meets the strange inhabitants of the building including the beautiful but mainly catatonic Miyuki (Seto). Miyuki seems to be content to drink away most of the days and can be seen in her catatonic state all over the building – oh and did I mention that she in convinced the “growth” on her back is actually a set of wings breaking out to the surface? Nobuoro starts a job as a safety guard, basically keeping people clear of construction areas which are inhabited by even more quirky characters. As Noburo and Miyuki’s relationship develops and the Yakuza start to close in, more details come to light from Miyuki’s past that might just send Noburo off and running again.

Manabe and Seto manage to execute this script to the best of their ability. Noburo comes off as apathetic and bumbling through most of the film, but this is probably the intention of director Yamada. Seto is adorable and safely steals every scene she is part of. Seto is truly the standout of Tentsuki. Another standout is the senior guard that teaches Noburo the ins and outs of the job, a nice piece of comic relief. Yamada’s direction is a little all over the place as I feel he got lost in worrying about atmosphere more that plot. The film meanders way too much and even at a reasonable 96 minutes feels very long in places. The film does look great though as most of the scenes are staged well and the backdrop of Kyoto shines.

Ultimately Tentsuki did not work for me very well as its meandering nature and my perceived feelings of a lack of direction and depth left me wanting. I cannot recommend Tentsuki, but I am fully aware that there is a whole audience out there who will probably disagree completely.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto, including the rest of our Shinsedai 2012 coverage. 

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Contact me at moviejunkieto@gmail.com

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