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Worlds Without End Blog

Interstellar Teaser Trailer Posted at 9:12 AM by Jonathan McDonald


Not a lot of footage from the actual film, but it sure looks ambitious.

Godzilla Teaser Trailer Posted at 12:08 PM by Jonathan McDonald


This is looking surprisingly good. But what else would you expect from the director of Monsters?

Thor: The Dark World Review Posted at 5:41 PM by Jonathan McDonald


Thor: The Dark World

Thor might be seen as the stuffy older brother of the Marvel film franchise family, but Thor: The Dark World proves that there’s plenty of adventure and jolliness to be found in stories about a Norse space god. I enjoyed the first film in the franchise well enough, but like many others I found it to be a bit too origin-heavy and melodramatic. I suppose The Dark World has more than its share of melodrama, but the many lighter asides help balance that out.

You have to give Marvel credit for going whole hog with their goofy cosmology that they’re lifting almost verbatim from the comics. The idea that the Norse cosmology of Nine Realms connected by the World Tree Yggdrasil is in any way comprehensible in conjunction with modern astronomical systems is absurd, but I have a wry admiration for the producers who insist on keeping this conceit going. In The Dark World the Nine Realms are under threat of annihilation by the Dark Elves, a race from the Realm of Svartalfheim, who existed before the current universe, and yearn to plunge all the Realms back into the primordial darkness. The Dark Elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) was the leader of the last attempt at darkening the universe by using the artifact known as the Aether, and he was driven to the stars by Odin’s father Bor in a military campaign. Every five thousand years or so the Nine Realms align, giving Malekith the opportunity to try destroying the universe again. It just so happens that this alignment is beginning right now…

Thor has been busy keeping the Nine Realms orderly after the events of the first film. When the rainbow bridge-slash-wormhole device Bifröst was destroyed in Thor, the Realms ceased to benefit from the Asgardians’ beneficent ruling power, and began a quick descent into civil unrest. Thor and his armies are run ragged putting down rebellions of monster armies, and he hasn’t had time–or permission–to visit his human lover Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). That changes when Foster happens upon a hole in reality, one that transports her to another world, where the Aether is waiting to be released. This is the first of a few overly convenient plot devices that get things moving in the film, but when you compare this to the thin gruel of characterization and plot in The Avengers, this movie almost feels like Shakespeare. Which is ironic, considering that Kenneth Branagh is no longer involved with the franchise.

Actually, the comparison to Shakespeare is not without its merits. The Dark World is a melodrama operating on multiple levels: the grand and courtly paradise of Asgard, and the ridiculous comedic realm of Earth, with some dark fantasy realms in between. It’s not unlike many Elizabethan tragedies in the way it transitions between the “high” and “low” players on the stage. On Asgard and the other space worlds, we see betrayal, family conflict, jealousy, battles, and political intrigue. On Earth we have light comedy, romance, humiliations, and screwball humor. It’s surprising how well it all works together. Not that The Dark World is actually anywhere close to the level of Shakespearean drama in terms of artistry, but it’s good that the filmmakers have ambitions.

Chris Hemsworth is solid as Thor, with plenty of opportunity to flex his dramatic and comedic muscles, in addition to his, well, actual muscles. Natalie Portman is decent as Jane Foster, who was sort of a bland character from the beginning, and basically becomes a plot device in The Dark World. Tom Hiddleston has little to do as Loki in the first half of the film, but his interactions with Rene Russo as his mother Frigga and with Anthony Hopkins as Odin are a strong highlight. Christopher Eccleston is surprisingly bland as the movie’s villain, considering some of the more flamboyant roles he has played in the past. Kat Dennings as Foster’s assistant Darcy Lewis gets more than a sidelined role this time, and provides the bulk of the movie’s laughs.

Thor: The Dark World is fun, ambitious, ridiculous, spectacle-ridden, full of plot holes, and a pleasure to experience. Your mileage may vary depending on how serious and logically consistent you want your superhero movies to be, but for what it is, The Dark World is not a bad movie. I would love to see more attempts at creating superhero films that don’t rely so much on silliness and melodrama, and with Hollywood recognizing the financial potential of the genre, maybe some day we will. There are plenty of good superhero comics just waiting to be adapted, after all.

RoboCop Trailer 2 Posted at 12:54 PM by Jonathan McDonald


Almost not bad. Almost not bad at all.

Ender’s Game Film Review Posted at 8:20 AM by Jonathan McDonald


Ender's Game

There’s a lot to love and little to hate in Gavin Hood’s adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. I’ll keep this short because there’s not much to say except that this is an entertaining and worthwhile movie. Most people on WWEnd have read the novel, if our new list is any indication, so a rehash of the plot is probably unnecessary. It’s a classic for a reason, and far more memorable than its many sequels.

Hood’s most recent directorial work was 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This may not inspire much hope, but even apart from his recent disclaimers about the X-Men film, Hood proves himself many times over with Ender’s Game, for which he also wrote the screenplay. The film retains most of the novel’s central plot while dropping most of the earthbound intrigue of international politics exacerbated by Ender’s siblings. In fact, his brother Peter only appears once, and briefly, enough to ensure that the audience understands that he represents Ender’s dark side and capacity for cruelty.

Asa Butterfield (Hugo) is great as Ender, managing a strong screen presence despite sharing it with Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley. His sister Valentine is played by Abigail Breslin (Zombieland, Little Miss Sunshine), and she gets plenty of screen time as the ideal person Ender wishes he could be. Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) makes a great Petra, and one wishes she could have had more time on screen. The other child actors are also surprisingly good, considering how many of them there are.

The special effects often went beyond serviceable to hauntingly beautiful. What we saw in the trailer wasn’t much beyond the final simulations, which necessarily have an artificial feel to them. The battle room was especially well-conceived, in a way that makes far more sense than I was ever able to imagine while reading the novel. It’s a great thrill to see the battle room games realized so well on screen. The mind game sequences necessarily feel like a video game, but they are inventively stylized and would probably actually make for a great game.

The only part of the film that didn’t quite work for me was the ending, which was slightly rushed and which collapsed a few plot elements. I’m unsure if this is a real problem with the pacing of the film, or if I’m just insisting on having things the way the novel told them, but it didn’t feel entirely right to me. In any case, all of the major themes remain intact throughout.

Ender’s Game is still a timely story about the cruelties of war that often flow from our insistence on war’s necessity–the cruelties towards our enemies as well as the cruelties visited upon our own.

Month of Horrors / Hell is Adaptations: Hannibal Rising Posted at 5:09 PM by Jonathan McDonald


Month of Horrors: Hannibal Rising

To say that Hannibal Rising is the worst of the Hannibal Lecter films is not necessarily a derogatory statement. After all, the Lecter films range from surreal and thrilling (Manhunter), to profound yet action-packed (The Silence of the Lambs), to baroque and experimental (Hannibal), and finally to popular yet solid (Red Dragon). While Hannibal Rising seems like the least necessary film in the series, it’s easy to forget how much call there was for this story to be told. After the hints of Lecter’s past in Hannibal the novel, there was suddenly a market for a Lecter prequel of some sort, but especially one that fleshed out the horrific experiences of the doctor’s early childhood.

For those who haven’t read the novel, Hannibal delves deeply into the cannibal’s psyche, showing us that he makes use of a classical-medieval mental technique known as the Memory Palace. First explained by Cicero, the Memory Palace is a mnemonic device that associates facts and memories with a physical structure that one creates within his mind. (The BBC series Sherlock makes use of this device, as well.) This is to help explain Lecter’s superior intellect and mental capacity, but also to give the reader hints of his formative years. While walking through his palace in search of a memory, Lecter has to be careful to avoid certain places that contain memories that can harm him, especially memories of his young sister Mischa, who died under grotesque circumstances during World War II. These come to a head at the climax of the novel, when he attempts to brainwash Clarice Starling into becoming his sister, and he can’t help but remember that Mischa was eaten by Nazi deserters trying to survive a harsh winter while avoiding Soviet forces.

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Month of Horrors / Hell is Adaptations: Red Dragon Posted at 3:25 PM by Jonathan McDonald


Month of Horrors: Red Dragon

Considered at the time to be the black sheep of the Hannibal Lecter cinematic family, Red Dragon retells the story of Thomas Harris’ first Lecter novel. That’s not quite fair though, because Dragon wasn’t Lecter’s story, but Will Graham’s. It’s an important point to make, because even though Lecter would quickly take over as the most interesting character in this shared fictional universe, Red Dragon the novel is the story of Will Graham, an FBI agent and profiler who excels because of his ability to empathize with just about anyone, even serial killers.

Unfortunately, his special abilities are put to use in solving the Chesapeake Ripper case, where the killer has apparently been removing random organs from his victims. Except that these organs were actually being chosen with great care to prepare various dishes. And when the trail leads Graham to Dr. Lecter’s office, he is nearly disemboweled before managing to shoot Lecter and call for help.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past Trailer Posted at 8:37 AM by Jonathan McDonald


This looks more impressive than most of the X-Men movies so far.

Month of Horrors / Hell is Adaptations: Hannibal Posted at 2:32 PM by Jonathan McDonald


Month of Horrors: Hannibal

After establishing a solid crime thriller formula with Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, novelist Thomas Harris took a chance and tried something entirely different with his wildly popular Hannibal Lecter character: he set him free. Harris’ fans had been wondering for some time what the cannibal psychiatrist would be like in the wild, as it were, out of captivity and free to roam as he pleased. Written eleven years after Silence the novel and eight years after the film, Hannibal is the gory, violent, and disturbing followup to his increasingly popular series. Did it live up to its promise?

It’s hard to say. The next Lecter novel had two very difficult tasks: to tell a story centered for the first time around Dr. Lecter that did justice to everything his readers had learned about him in Dragon and Silence, and to write something that would please the many fans of the film. Even the choice to write a novel with Lecter as a main protagonist must have been a difficult one. It would have been much easier to keep him as a secondary character with Clarice Starling or another FBI agent in the foreground. Harris had built up the mystery and abilities of Dr. Lecter so greatly that it would seem impossible to actually write a story that lived up to what it was claimed he could do when not imprisoned.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier Trailer! Posted at 11:06 AM by Jonathan McDonald


Looks much better than the first one, I must say.