FS, Contributing Writer
“Thor: The Dark World”
After his goofy but enjoyable 2011 screen debut and a supporting turn in “The Avengers,” Marvel’s favorite Asgardian returns in a sequel of his own, “Thor: The Dark World” (wide release).
The story, which has something to do with the thunder god’s effort to prevent a malicious villain from destroying earth, Asgard and all the rest of the Nine Realms with a WMD called The Aether – and to save his terrestrial squeeze Jane in the process – will be largely incomprehensible to anyone unfamiliar with the comic.
But the plot is brainless hokum anyway. The things that matter to the filmmakers are visual razzle-dazzle, action and sophomoric humor, and they provide all three in abundance. The CGI is almost non-stop, and the confrontations between Thor and the bad guys go on forever as they trade mega-blows and in the process turn whole stretches of the landscape into rubble.
About the only respite from the massive mayhem, delivered in 3-D to a bombastic soundtrack of noise and martial music, comes in the form of lamely jocular lines of dialogue, many delivered by the hero’s sarcastic, untrustworthy brother Loki, with whom Thor must partner to save the universe.
And if that’s not enough, Thor’s earthly helpers provide some additional cheesy gags, including a running bit about a fellow who goes around without pants.
The Dark World’s assault on both senses and intelligence is so unremitting that by the end you might feel you’ve been bonked on the head with Thor’s big, bad hammer.
Paul Greengrass, who directed the superb 9/11 airplane drama “United 93,” tackles another real-life hijacking in “Captain Phillips” (wide release), about the 2009 takeover of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates and the rescue of its captain by Navy SEALS.
The film once again demonstrates Greengrass’ command of the tools of what might be called simulated cinema verité, which he employs in this instance to bring a remarkable sense of authenticity and urgency to a story that recalls Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” as much as his earlier film.
The effect is enhanced by the casting of four native Somalis as the pirates. Though non-professionals, they compellingly convey the men’s combination of menace, desperation and vulnerability.
The spell is somewhat broken, however, by the presence of Tom Hanks as the captain.
He gives a fine performance, ably capturing the man’s thoroughgoing competence as a skipper as well as his cunning in hiding his crew and manipulating his captors into making mistakes. A late scene in a naval infirmary would alone be sufficient to earn him Oscar consideration. But he’s so familiar a face that he undermines the quasi-documentary feel Greengrass goes to such pains to achieve.
Still, Captain Phillips remains a potent piece of fact-based filmmaking.
“Dallas Buyers Club”
Matthew McConaughey’s emaciated appearance in “Dallas Buyers Club” (Angelika) is shocking – he lost forty pounds to play Ron Woodroof, a rambunctious, homophobic womanizer who’s diagnosed as HIV-positive during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. What’s not surprising – given McConaughey’s recent career resurgence ¬– is his electrifying performance.
The movie, based on a true story, is shaped as a parable of redemption in which Woodroof learns tolerance after he travels to Mexico to get unauthorized drugs to treat his condition, and sets up a business to provide them to his fellow sufferers as well. It also develops into a David-and-Goliath tale, since the operation puts him in the crosshairs of the FDA and the big pharmaceutical companies.
The result is a bit like a combination of “Philadelphia” and “Erin Brockovich,” but McConaughey is so good that he almost makes you forget how derivative it is.