Weekend Roundup: Nov. 8th – 11th, Pt. 1

Okay, so like four movies I wanted to see came out this weekend, and I saw all of them. So instead of writing a full-on review for each one, because damn, I figured I’d do a series of ‘mini’ reviews for you guys and put them all in one post. So, without further ado…

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Mr. McGee apparently starts procrastinating like hell when a Word document looks like it’s gonna exceed three pages, so let’s just put up the first two for now, shall we? Check back later for the other reviews.]

Thor: The Dark World

We are officially balls-deep into Phase Two of Marvel Entertainment’s machinations to take over everything ever, what with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. currently on television, the recent announcement of five new TV series for Netflix, and Thor: The Dark World being the eighth film in their interlocking Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). And we’ve got three more films before Phase Three even gets started.

Though I’ve found all the MCU films to be entertaining, the first Thor was something of a mixed bag for me. It did have a quite funny fish-out-of-water story with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) being cast out of Asgard and dealing with mortals, as well as solid performances and action sequences directed by the one and only Kenneth Branagh. It also had an opening half-hour that was leaden with exposition and nonsensical terminology, as well as frost giants, which by the very nature of being frost giants are extremely difficult to take seriously. Oh, and the normally reliable Anthony Hopkins hammed it waaaay up, what with shouting gibberish instead of dialogue.

While Hopkins still isn’t always as restrained as he ought to be this go round, I found The Dark World to be a much more consistently entertaining film than the first one. That’s probably because there’s so damn much going on. Almost every major character has some sort of a subplot going on, from Thor to Thor’s squeeze, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), to Jane’s intern, Darcy (Kat Dennings), to Darcy’s intern, Ian (Jonathan Howard). Somehow, this all manages to not be a horridly confusing mess, though director Alan Taylor’s long career in television – namely the several episodes of Game of Thrones under his belt – might have something to do with it. In fact, the only characters who don’t really get anything interesting to do are Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun, a minor character from the first film who is conveniently deposited on his home planet in the film’s opening, and the film’s actual antagonists, the Dark Elves, who despite having some talented performers in their ranks (Doctor Who’s Christopher Eccleston as the leader, Lost’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje his main henchman), really don’t get to do much besides talk in some fantasy language about how they need to get the evil intergalactic goo to destroy everything because evil.

One could easily argue that The Dark World is even more leaden with exposition, but at least none of it is a boring or inherently silly as its predecessor’s. And all of this exposition does come back around to form what is easily one of the most fun finales I’ve seen in a blockbuster in quite some time. And nothing can quell the fun of watching Tom Hiddleston swarm his way through a scene as Loki, who between these two films and The Avengers has something of a personal trilogy going on. Sure, the stingers to this one suck, but that’s really a minor quibble compared to everything else.

If you’ve been keeping up with these films, you’ve already seen it. But if you’ve somehow managed to avoid any of the previous films, give this one a shot. You shouldn’t be too lost.

All Is Lost

J.C. Chandor has only directed one other feature film. That film was Margin Call, which for a debut feature managed to secure a doozy of a cast, with Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Jeremy Irons, and Demi Moore being but a few of the stars he managed to corral, presumably with a screenplay (written by Chandor) that would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award. It was an extremely talky, paranoid, claustrophobic Wall Street drama that following the employees of a major investment bank as it entered the early hours of the financial crisis that would sweep across the United States in 2008.

Chandor’s follow-up, All Is Lost, could not be more different. Its only actor is Robert Redford, who is credited simply as ‘Our Man.’ Our Man rarely speaks. He is on a boat. And that boat is sinking. That is all it is. And it is beautiful.

The film opens with a hauntingly gorgeous shot courtesy of Frank G. DeMarco, who does stellar work on this film. This shot is also home to the film’s only concentrated portion of dialogue: a bit of narration by Redford. Fortunately, it doesn’t go the familiar route of explaining who Our Man is, where he came from, and why he was out on the ocean alone. It is simply his last testament, and a beautifully written one at that, vague and specific and universal in all the right ways. “I tried,” he says. “I think you would all agree that I tried.”

We are then treated to a shot of Redford waking up in his hammock. Where his communications system used to be, there is now a giant hole, gushing water. He goes topside to find a wayward shipping container has crashed into the side of his yacht. What follows is an hour-and-a-half long game of one step forward, more like three steps back.

I hesitate to say any more than that, but know that this is a film that oozes confidence. Redford never falters in his performance, communicating his character’s decisiveness, his experience, and his weariness all in a single look. Similarly, Chandor never wavers in focus. Again, there’s no flashbacks or explanations here; just the document of one man’s struggle to survive, ably assisted by DeMarco’s cinematography, Pete Beaudreau’s editing, and Alex Ebert’s spare but magnificent score.

This film and its ending will mean many things to many people, but I ultimately found it to be a metaphor about the very struggle of being alive in and of itself. Ultimately, All Is Lost is fitting tribute for one of American cinema’s most enduring talents, and a calling card for one of its new ones.

If watching Robert Redford survive on a boat for 90 minutes sounds interesting to you – and by God, why wouldn’t it? – see this.

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One comment on “Weekend Roundup: Nov. 8th – 11th, Pt. 1

  1. […] wrote a review about this a while back where I detailed writer-director J.C. Chandor’s debut, Margin Call, and the utter […]

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