Thor 2 The Dark World

Thor 2: The Dark World is big, brash and utterly pointless. Natalie Portman is back as Jane, she’s nice, and Kat Dennings cracks some one liners. Chris Hemsworth thunders plummily. But otherwise it’s all just aliens blowing shit up. I used to like this kind of stuff. I could care less these days. Some of the Earth scenes filmed in my old stomping ground of Greenwich. Even that was meh. Thor 2? A big So What?

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No Strings Attached

In No Strings Attached, Natalie Portman plays Emma, an emotionally fragile doctor who’s just way too busy for a boyfriend. Ashton Kutcher plays Adam, the budding screenwriter with a famous Dad, with whom she negotiates a kind of “friends with benefits” relationship. He wants more, she can’t handle more…..ah, you know the whole damn movie is about making her change her mind?

But it works, not just because of the cracking chemistry between the stars (which is palpable – Ashton is beyond his best here, and Natalie is, well, sublime – but because of a whole host of loopy supporting turns and zany scenarios that are by turns both ridiculously unlikely but completely right. It’s very LA too – one scene takes place outside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – somewhere I visited for the first time when stranded by the Icelandic volcano last year.

OK, I’m man enough to admit it: I really LOVED it. I thought it was smart, funny, sweet, sexy and completely ludicrous. I even laughed out loud a few times – which was a bit embarrassing on a 16-hour Emirates flight in the middle of the night.

Thor

Thor was a nice film. Entertaining enough. I liked Kat Dennings channelling Justin Bartha as the dry Riley Poole sidekick. I like Chris Hemsworth better without the hair. I love (of course) Natalie Portman. But it felt like watching a tv show. Nothing wrong with that per se, but I don’t see it being a thunderingly auspicious start to an Iron Man-esque franchise. It felt kind of shallow. I bet it’ll sell a ton of toys though. The town where the exiled Thor inadvertently crashlands for the very briefest of times, was purpose built in the scrubland outside of Galisteo, New Mexico. Strangely, I can’t summon the enthusiasm to write more than that.

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

This is what my Sunday afternoons have come to: Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Oh dear.

Now to be fair, this movie had a few things going for it. First it was written by Zach Helm, the same chap who penned the inestimable Stranger than Fiction. It’s exudes some of that same sweet and gentle whimsy. It’s also got Natalie Portman. I could watch Natalie Portman watching paint dry. For hours. She is simply sublime.

The tale features a frustrated musician, a lonely boy-genius, a bean counter, a magical Einstein who has decided to “leave” and a dismayed store that’s throwing a temper tantrum, so the elements are all there. Sadly, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium was written by Helm before he won fame with Stranger than Fiction, (apparently he bought his own script back so he could make it himself) and it sort of shows. Both Portman and Jason Bateman as the Mutant Accountant are clear precursors to Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal, and they are given much, much less to work with. It’s a sweet children’s film, but I think even the kids may expect more than this.

The Other Boleyn Girl

I’ve mentioned before that I’m something of a Tudor history buff; I didn’t perhaps mention why. I grew up in a remote part of rural England, in a small village that happened to be near the birthplace of the infamous Anne Boleyn. Anne is the first historical figure I ever really became aware of, and my entire childhood was steeped in stories about this glamorous, grasping woman who rose above her station, married a King, and suffered the tragic consequences of her social climbing. (Anne is a perpetual reminder of what it means to be British: class matters, you’re a whore even if you don’t sleep around, we’ll loathe you for your uppitiness but root for you for 500 years as long as you’re the underdog.) So Anne Boleyn has been with me since childhood, a kind of wayward sister, a symbol of all the immutable, closed-minded, stultifying things I always hated about the old country.

So it was with anticipation that I went to see The Other Boleyn Girl the other evening. I had of course read Philippa Gregory’s book (there’s a fascinating insight into her historical research on her website), and being completely in love with Natalie Portman, I was really looking forward to the movie. But what can I say? Three days later and Anne Boleyn is still with me, but the film – the film was something of a disappointment. 

For the “show – don’t tell” constructs of film making, it was always going to be difficult to turn Anne’s sister Mary – famous only for being a dim, passive pawn – into the lead figure of any movie. Scarlett Johansson does a good job, but ultimately, Mary is only ever going to be the other Boleyn girl in this story. This has always been about Anne, and Natalie Portman is great. But she’s ultimately let down by a script that attempts History 101, in scenes shot with too few extras and too few costume changes, and with raggedy, fast-paced editing that makes the film feel like a first draft.

Even the Kent locations don’t ring true; although the Tudor homes of Penshurst Place and Knole Park feature significantly, they always feel like sets, and the execution scene (kudos for the glum and unusual ending for a Hollywood movie) is played out at Dover Castle, rather than in the Tower of London, where Anne was actually killed and dumped in an unmarked grave. It kind of feels disrespectful. 

Fortunately, Visit Britain again shows that movie tourism does not need actual locations to generate visitor numbers – it can simply be “inspired by”……..

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