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Reviews for July 8th, 2022

Documentary Round-Up

      Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel lives up to its title, but only in the literal, most superficial sense. Co-directors Maya Duverdier and Amélie van Elmbt bring viewers inside the iconic Chelsea Hotel as it undergoes renovation while longtime residents, many of them artists, refuse to move. The filmmakers opt for a laidback, laissez-faire approach similar to the fly-on-the-wall filmmaking style of Frederick Wiseman. They include footage of the residents as well as the staff who work at the hotel, so in that way, this doc is fair and balanced. Unfortunately, it states the obvious about the hotel without being profound, moving or revealing enough. Anyone who looks up Chelsea Hotel on Google would be able to learn about what makes it so iconic, or at least what made it iconic in the past: it's where artists/bohemians converge while paying very cheap, affordable rent in the heart of Chelsea. Not surprisingly, the residents who refuse to move fear that their rent will increase to the market rate for the area. The closest that the doc gets to insight comes from Rose Cory who makes the astute observation that artists can make art with very little money, and that the Chelsea Hotel helped those struggling artists. The filmmakers squander their opportunity to explore and expand that kernel of wisdom deeper, though, or to allow the audience to get to know the residents as human beings beyond just what their apartment looks like. At a running time of 1 hour and 20 minutes, which feels more like 2 hours, Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel is a tedious, shallow and underwhelming documentary. It opens at IFC Center via Magnolia Pictures.

Thor: Love and Thunder

Directed by Taika Waititi

      Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has retired from fighting and has been living a relatively tranquil life. His retirements gets interrupted when Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) goes on a murderous rampage killing gods with his powerful sword called Necrosword. He joins his cancer-stricken ex-girlfriend, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) along with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (voice of Taika Waititi) on a mission to defeat the evil Gorr.

      Based on the premise alone, Thor: Love and Thunder sounds like a very dark thriller that tackles heavy topics: a villain hellbent on killing gods, a woman dealing with terminal cancer, and a man in retirement while doing some peaceful soul-searching. Writer/director Taika Waititi and co-writer Jennifer Kaytin Robinson soften those darker elements by injecting some comedy and wit into the screenplay. When it tries to add emotional depth, i.e. with Jane Foster's cancer or with the romance between her and Thor, that's where the film squanders an opportunity to be more than just a harmless diversion filled with action and comedy. It's also a lost opportunity to get to know these Marvel characters as human beings instead of just mere plot devices.

      The plot already has enough tension, though, so why does it need the subplot with Jane Foster's cancer anyway if it doesn't even bother to explore it in a non-sugar-coated way. After Jane undergoes chemotherapy, she suddenly joins Thor and his team on their quest and doesn't really behave like someone who's getting treated for cancer would. She hopes that Gorr's powerful Necrosword can get rid of her cancer, a lot is at stake for her on an emotional and psychological level, too. Her inevitable action scene in the third act is thrilling, though, although one of the lines that she says during that scene fails to be surprising because she mentioned earlier that she wished to say that line. Of course, she ends up saying it, but it feels contrived and tacked-on. A speech toward the end between Thor and Gorr also fails to hit its notes as it tries too hard to be wise and poignant concurrently while ending up preachy and schmaltzy. Then there's a flashback that spoon-feeds the audience and insults their intelligence in the process because it assumes they forgot the prologue scene. If just seen as a sci-fi action comedy, Thor: Love and Thunder is at least fun and entertaining when it doesn't take itself too seriously.

      Thor: Love and Thunder is slightly elevated by its terrific, charismatic cast, especially the always-reliable Natalie Portman. Any bit of emotional depth comes from her performance, not from the screenplay. There's also a great soundtrack with an interesting use of the ABBA song "Our Last Summer" which makes you feel like you're watching a music video, but at least it's a well-shot and captivating one. Christian Bale is mesmerizing in his role as the villain and really sinks his teeth into the role. Gorr's make-up design is top-notch. The same can be said about the CGI effects which are nothing short of dazzling. At a running time of 2 hours, Thor: Love and Thunder is a funny, entertaining and harmless sci-fi action comedy. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Walt Disney Pictures and Marvel Studios.
Opens nationwide.