Teen romance goes apocalyptic, Thor hammers, and KC mob doc premieres

The supernatural-inflected teen romance genre butts uncomfortably up against an apocalyptic survival story in “How I Live Now,” which opens this weekend at Liberty Hall. The journey from bratty to maturity is a quick one for the film’s main character, and it’s brought about by — what else? — her desire to be reunited with her new boyfriend.

In the near future, an angry American teenager named Daisy (Saoirse Ronan from “Hanna” and “The Lovely Bones”) is sent to live in the English countryside with her distant cousins. A worsening worldwide political situation turns violent when a nuclear bomb is detonated in London and the kids all become separated.

Director Kevin Macdonald ("The Last King of Scotland") can’t quite bring the different tones of Meg Rosoff’s award-winning young-adult novel together. Daisy’s initial steadfast resistance to life with her British cousins doesn’t last long, freeing her up for an unconvincing and brief romance with eldest cousin Eddie (George MacKay). This relationship forms the basis for Daisy’s burgeoning self-confidence, as she follows some sort of psychic connection (not to mention her own nonstop self-help inner monologue) in the hope of reuniting with Eddie again.

Telling the story from the perspective of a self-absorbed teenager is both a blessing and a curse. When World War III happens, it’s shown only on the periphery, forcing the audience to fill in the blanks about the bigger picture of global chaos and focus on Daisy’s situation. As her conflicts become more typical of the genre (which was especially crowded this summer), however, there aren’t any new insights to unearth.

Ronan is prickly and her portrayal is unusual, lending a certain amount of angsty authenticity to Daisy, but “How I Live Now” borrows too many bad habits from end-of-the-world movies and heavy teen romances to become a convincing coming-of-age tale.

As Marvel’s cinematic universe extends into its second phase, “Thor: The Dark World” finds itself sandwiched between movies seven and nine in the franchise (or one and three, depending on how you look at it) with the dual responsibility of opening up the story to include other planets, while also bringing back characters from the first “Thor.”

After a good 20 minutes of pretty laborious setup, the film finally gets to move forward. When it does get going, it’s the charisma of the actors (especially Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s scorned adoptive brother Loki) and the film’s sense of humor that keep it afloat. That and a creatively staged final action scene, which adds a new twist to the portal-between-worlds concept that was introduced in “The Avengers.”

“Thor: The Dark World” — directed by Alan Taylor, who helmed several “Game of Thrones” episodes — borrows a page from “The Lord of the Rings” playbook, in that an ancient evil race that almost achieved world(s) domination years ago is reawakened to get revenge by reclaiming the lost object that will seal the deal. It’s not a ring, but rather one of those annoying amorphous CGI effects so prevalent in fantasy films these days — a floating spidery liquid called “the aether.”

I guess that makes scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) Gollum, because she is the one whom the aether finds and bonds with. It would have been more fun to have Jane lose most of her hair and skulk around hissing at her boyfriend Thor (Chris Hemsworth), but that might have taken us into some “Black Swan” territory.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki in "Thor: The Dark World."

Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki in "Thor: The Dark World." by Eric Melin

In “Thor,” we were introduced to the frost giants. Now we have the dark elves to contend with as well, and their piercing eyes and creepy-looking masks illustrate a welcome willingness of the series to break out of its more dominant medieval production and costume design. Thor rekindles his relationship with Jane as they try to find a way to stop the aether from destroying nine worlds, so you’ll have to forgive the movie for not concentrating enough on their relationship. There are more pressing matters, after all.

Kat Dennings’ role as Jane’s sidekick was reportedly beefed up, which is a good thing, since she supplies the film with much of its self-mocking humor. Hiddleston again impresses with his love-him-and-hate-him portrayal of Loki, which can go from subtle to scenery-chewing in a single moment and still be credible.

It’s not an easy task to be one of many middle children, and although “Thor: The Dark World” starts off bumpy, it delivers exactly what you would expect by the end. Marvel’s formula of blending humor into its increasingly labyrinthine comic-book universe is proving to be a smart one. Like the rest of the movie, the end-credit sequences strike three very different tones, all of them entertaining, while teasing the chapters to come.

Martin Scorsese’s 1995 gangster drama “Casino” was based on a real-life story with a pretty serious local connection. The investigation that eventually broke the Mafia’s hold on Las Vegas casinos actually began in Kansas City as a parking dispute turned ugly—and the new documentary “Gangland Wire” tells the story with firsthand accounts and access to the actual wiretaps.

“Gangland Wire” was produced locally by retired Kansas City Intelligence Unit detective Gary Jenkins, who found the mob-boss wire recordings buried deep in a government archive. The movie, presented by CinemaKC with proceeds going to the local nonprofit, will run for one week at the Screenland Crown Center starting Friday November 15.

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