There’s something disquieting (to put it politely) about movies that sentimentalize Nazi Germany, reassuring the audience that good people sternly disapproved of Hitler and cared about the fate of the Jews.
“The Book Thief,” directed by Brian Percival from Markus Zusak’s popular 2005 novel, tells the sad but comforting story of little Liesel (Sophie Nelisse), whose persecuted communist mother has to give her up.
She’s adopted by an adorably aging couple: an old softy (Geoffrey Rush) who plays the accordion during air raids and his mean-mouthed but big-hearted wife (Emily Watson).
They hide a Jew (Ben Schnetzer) in their basement and generally do the kind of decent things we would all like to think we’d have done in their situation.
The nostalgic art direction appears to be the work of lunatics. Swastika flags wave gaily above sparkling cobblestones; the book burnings are so golden-hued and picturesque that you could almost wish you’d been there.
The movie, like the book, is narrated by Death, and if Death speaks this platitudinously, then it truly is something to fear. As if another layer of schmaltz were needed, the music is by John Williams.
“The Book Thief,” from 20th Century Fox, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: * (Seligman)
Marvel Studios hammers out yet another semi-leaden bit of comic-book bombast with “Thor: The Dark World.”
It’s the second big-budget blast of CGI devoted to the franchise’s goofiest superhero.
Chris Hemsworth, with a torso more impressive than all the FX in Hollywood, returns as the golden-tressed, mallet-tossing Norse god, this time doing battle with both his nasty adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and a resurrected race of evil-doers called Dark Elves.
Like Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 original, director Alan Taylor’s sequel mixes hifalutin Tolkien density (“I am Odin, King of Asgard, Protector of the Nine Realms!”) with gods-among-us gags (Thor rides the London tube).
After a small universe of Marvel crossover films (Thor and Loki were last seen in 2012’s “The Avengers” and this film’s best bit involves a fellow franchisee’s surprise cameo), the series is feeling as uninspired as Natalie Portman’s dozy performance.
The “Black Swan” actress plays astrophysicist (uh-huh) Jane Foster, Thor’s star-crossed human crush, who gets infected with a long-buried, universe-destroying red plasma substance called The Aether.
As the nine realms of the world are about to undergo a mega-rare Convergence, ancient Borg-like Dark Elves scheme to snatch The Aether and suck all the realms into a black hole, I think.
Director Taylor has said he and production designer Charles Wood desired a realistic look, but the locales of 3-D “Thor” seem more illustrated than constructed. The Asgard skyline of Thor’s amber-hued home planet is no more convincing than Emerald City spotted across the poppy field.
The film’s most impressive trick is its realm-hopping battles, with digitally created warriors of various breeds careening, mid-fight, from Earth to Asgard and back again.
The slithery Hiddleston, his lanky black hair pulled from a pasty face, once again steals the show, while an eye-patched Anthony Hopkins gnaws the galactic scenery as top god Odin.
Here on Earth, the do-gooders are less interesting, particularly Portman’s one-joke brainiac (she’s a face-slapper). Kat Dennings invades the realm with her grating “2 Broke Girls” hipster persona.
A mid-credits coda (keep your seats, fanboys) sets up the inevitable third “Thor,” and reveals a character (and actor) that might freshen a franchise that could use it.
“Thor: The Dark World,” from Walt Disney Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ** (Evans)
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
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