This weeks films reviewed by Paul Byrne – including THOR, Cedar Rapids, Insidious, and more…

THOR (USA/12A/114mins)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Cat Dennings.

THE PLOT: Banished to earth by his angry father (Hopkins) – after a sly plot by his jealous brother (Hiddleston) – during his time on our fair planet, Thor (Hemsworth) finds himself an object of some fascination, and gradually, affection, for astrophysicist Jane Foster (Portman). Now, if only he can get his beloved hammer out of that rock. And stop his megalomaniacal brother destroying Asgard…

THE VERDICT: This $150m, two-and-a-half-years in the making comic book adaptation is the latest in Marvel’s ongoing box-office onslaught, the idea being, by the time their various superheroes (including Iron Man and Captain America) unite for 2012’s The Avengers, the world will be just one big ComicCon convention. Well, Thor is one of those big blockbuster movies that neither entirely rocks nor in any real way sucks, being absolutely enjoyable without being particularly memorable. Hemsworth (who looks like Brad Pitt on some serious steroids) is solid as the God of Thunder, handling the comedy just as well as the action, but the CGI is weak, the mythical Asgard looking like Metropolis redesigned by Liberace. Which won’t stop it from taking a huge chunk of the summer box-office, of course. RATING: 3/5

CEDAR RAPIDS (USA/15A/87mins)

Directed by Miguel Arteta. Starring Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Sigourney Weaver, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root.

THE PLOT: When nice guy Tim (Helms) finds himself leaving his small hometown to represent his insurance company in the annual Two Diamond competition, it’s his first time flying. And his first time being flirted with. And getting legless drunk. And befriending a prostitute. And discovering that some upstanding citizens have dark, twisted secrets.

THE VERDICT: With The Hangover II just around the corner, and The US Office flying high, Ed Helms (who plays dentist Stu in the former, and would-be lothario Andy Bernard in the latter) is given his leading man break in this somewhat predictable but sweetly enjoyable American indie comedy. All you really need to know is that Alexander Payne produces. Reilly plays the asshole beautifully, and Heche makes for a fine kind-hearted hussy, and if this isn’t quite Tin Men or American Beauty, there are moments. Such as Whitlock’s character rhapsodizing about The Wire – a fine HBO series in which Whitlock happens to play Senator Clay “Shiiiiiit” Davis. RATING: 3/5

INSIDIOUS (USA/16/102mins)

Directed by James Wan. Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Andrew Astor, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey.

THE PLOT: Happy young parents Josh (Wilson) and Renai (Byrne) have their plans to settle into their new bungalow with their three little kids upended somewhat when things start to go bump – and others go missing – in the night. When their little tyke Dalton (Simpkins) lands in a mysterious coma, the couple soon have occult nut Elise (Shaye) and her two assistants traipsing through their seemingly haunted home…

THE VERDICT: Writer Leigh Whannell and director Wan (the splattered brains behind Saw) have cited such supernatural classics as The Exorcist, Poltergeist and The Innocents as major influences here, the main message once again being, little kids can be damn scary. And for the first hour, Insidious is pretty damn scary too, before the horror clichés takes a hold. Worth noting too, this has just been crowned the most profitable film of 2011 so far, by The Hollywood Reporter, with a budget of $1.5m and an estimated world tally of $90m expected. Then again, it is from the team behind Paranormal Activity. RATING: 3/5

MOVIES.IE’S ONE TO WATCH!

FAREWELL (France/12A/113mins)

Directed by Christian Carion. Starring Guillaume Canet, Emir Kusturica, Fred Ward, David Soul, Willem Dafoe.

THE PLOT: Moscow, 1981, and mild-mannered engineer Pierre Froment (Canet) realizes almost immediately that he’s in over his head when the French secret service recruit him to deliver the classified information gathered by idealistic KGB officer Sergei Grigoriev (Kusturica) for the west. As Reagan (Ward) fumes over the plans of new French president Mitterand (Philippe Magnan) to include communist ministers in his government, and both Pierre and Sergei suffer some domestic blitz because of their actions, the Cold War is set to for a major upset, or two…

THE VERDICT: A film that ostensibly deals with the files of others, and the lives of those who pass them on to the enemy, Farewell captures brilliantly the small details in this very big picture. Based on true events, Kusturica and Canet are compelling (both, incidentally, noted directors, the latter’s Little White Lies currently playing), whilst having the likes of Dafoe, Soul and Diane Kruger amongst the supporting players gives gravitas to the smaller roles. The choice archival footage sparks, the cinematography is daringly sunny for such dark days, and the script and direction cheekily breezy for such fatal political skullduggery. Hmm, I think I liked it. RATING: 5/5

LET’S GET CRITICAL!

Those nice people at the IFI are launching a new monthly film club called The Critical Take, wherein audiences are brought together with filmmakers, programmers and that most exalted of creatures, film critics. To, yep, discuss film.

First up, on Weds 27th April, at 6.40pm, it’s the turn of the IFI’s own superbad programmer Pete Walsh, along with Bl!nder Films’ producer Katie Holly and Jason Schwartzman lookalike film critic Paul Lynch. The films up for discussion are Herzog’s The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, Bertolucci’s Before The Revolution and Skolimowski’s Essential Killing.

Full details on ifi.ie.

MORE FILMS ABOUT BUILDINGS AND FOOD

Well, maybe not food, as The Fourth Wall season concentrates on architecture in film. You have to bring your own food.

Presented in partnership with the Irish Architecture Foundation, and curated by both its director, Nathalie Weadick and Samantha Martin-McAuliffe from the UCD School Of Architecture, season highlights include Wim Wenders’ 3D short If Buildings Could Talk, the Tilda Swinton-narrated, Patrick Keiller-directed The Dilapidated Dwelling (which explores ‘the predicament of the house in advanced economies’) and Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle.

Many of the films have never before been screened in Ireland, and the season kicks in early May, running from the 5th to the 15th. Full details on ifi.ie.

MIDNIGHT EXPRESS

Those clever clogs at the Screen Cinema on D’Olier Street are launching Midnight Movies, celebrating those cult classics that your mother really wouldn’t want you to watch. Probably because she’s in one of them.

Kicking off on May 13th with Russ Meyer’s classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (regarded by John Waters as “beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made”), the order of the day is grindhouse, Blaxploitation, exploitation, horror and underground. And the works of Rob Schneider.

Running at the Sugar Club, 8 Lower Mount Street, tickets are €9/€7 (for students), and, yep, it’s strictly over 18s. Doors open at 11pm, with a DJ till late following the screening. Full details from midnightmovienights@gmail.com.