Sunday, June 24, 2012

Thor, Prince of... Denmark?

So, being on this huge Avengers kick right now, and not being able to go see it whenever I want to, I'm starting to watch the movies that led up to it.  I started with Thor (2011), which is totally out of order, but hey, it's me!  Obviously going to start with the stand-alone about my fave Avenger.

I spent the first section of it going, "Um, really?  I see."  It's much different than I was expecting, much more stylized and fantasy-based.  Which is not exactly bad, just not what I was expecting.  Once Thor hit Earth, I grooved on it much more, as I like Natalie Portman and I love fish-out-of-water stories.  Thor adjusts to modern life fairly quickly, and because he's a god, I'm okay with that.  (Not like in Kate & Leopold, where Leopold's adjusting so quickly annoys me and is the main reason I don't love a movie that stars three of my favorite actors.)  One of my favorite moments is when Thor's eating (and eating and eating, even though it's not shawarma) and tosses a coffee mug to the ground in appreciation of how tasty it is -- I love the culture clash right there, it made me laugh and laugh.

But anyway, after watching Thor, I had a blog post about it all planned out.  And then before I could write it, I had a revelation.  While sitting in the car in the grocery store parking lot, as a matter of fact.  And the revelation was that, although I was not fond of some of the FX, and there were parts that felt rushed, the movie as a whole appealed to me for one simple reason:  it's basically a retelling of Hamlet.

Okay, stop sniggering and rolling your eyes.  I know, I know, I'm a nut on the subject.  But let me list the similarities:

  • Thor's father winds up in a coma at the hand of Thor's adopted brother, Loki; Hamlet's father winds up dead at the hands of Hamlet's uncle, Claudius.  Loki's words sent Odin into the coma, while Claudius poured poison into King Hamlet's ear, but since evil words are a kind of poison, I say the comparison works.
  • Thor gets banished to Earth;  Hamlet gets banished to England.
  • Loki usurps the throne while Odin is incapacitated;  Claudius usurps the throne once King Hamlet is dead.
  • Thor returns from Earth to stop Loki from starting a war and claim his rightful place as King of Asgard;  Hamlet returns from England to avenge his father's murder and take his rightful place as King of Denmark.
  • Loki uses his silver tongue to get him out of trouble several times; Claudius uses his powers of persuasion to keep Laertes from killing him, to woo Gertrude, and to convince all the courtiers that him taking his brother's wife and throne is perfectly acceptable.
  • Thor's climax is a big duel between Thor and Loki;  Hamlet's climax is a big duel between Hamlet and Laertes.

Thor/Hamlet, Odin/King Hamlet, and Loki/Claudius

It's not perfect or complete, I grant you.  But there are a lot of plot similarities (and thematic ones too, which I may go into another time), and I'm wondering if they're what drew Kenneth Branagh to the project in the first place.  I have to say, thinking of Thor as a kind of retelling of Hamlet makes me like it a lot better, and now I really want to watch it again, to see if I can find other similarities.

EDIT:  I read an article that quoted Branagh as saying he thought of Thor as very similar to Henry V.  That works too.  Who am I to argue with Branagh?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Words, Words, Words (In other words, book reviews)

If you look at the top of my sidebar here, to the left of these words, you'll see a little thing called "Pages" now.  The "Home" takes you back to my blog.  The "Words, Words, Words..." takes you to a new page where I've collected all the books I've reviewed on this blog, my Huggermugger blog, and my Inscriptions blog.  They're alphabetized by title, and each title is a link to my individual post about that book.  I have forty-some books listed there now, and every time I post a new review here, I'll add it to the list.

I'd love to have a blog to collect all my book reviews in one spot, but for now, this oughtta do.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Earth's Mightiest Heroes

I went to see The Avengers for a third time last week, this time with my mom.  I finally have a chance, a week later, to write up my thoughts on all the characters.  I titled this after the Avengers themselves, but I'll do another post later about the other characters too.  Like Loki, cuz he's obviously an important component to the film.  And Pepper Potts, and Agents Coulson and Hill.  And Nick Fury, cuz if I left him out, S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopters would probably descend in my backyard and vaporize it.  Which I wouldn't mind so much if Wolverine was aboard, so please make a note of that, any agents who might be reading this and checking my ISP coordinates or something.

Except this is The Avengers, not X-Men, which means I need to stop thinking fondly of Wolvie and instead start thinking about Thor.  :-)  Nice work, if you can get it!

So anyway, this is Thor, the god of thunder:

There are some pretty obvious reasons why he's my favorite Avenger:  broad shoulders, great hair, kinda quiet and a little broody, deep and grumbly voice.  I'm not necessarily head-over-heels for Thor, to be honest.  I think maybe I need to see his movie from last year to send me over the edge, but all the same, he's hands-down my favorite in this.  And I just spent fifteen minutes downloading pics of him so I could bring you the bestest ones here.  I love his quiet presence, the way he's all protective of us unruly earthlings, and did I mention Chris Hemsworth is both tasty and talented?

Okay, I'll stop drooling and move on to my second-favorite in this movie:  Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk.

I loved Mark Ruffalo in this!  In fact, I consider his to be the strongest performance in the film.  He does these marvelous little twitchy things with his hands, like an alcoholic trying not to reach for a shot glass.  He hunches, he shuffles, he stutters and mumbles, he wears shabby clothes in dull colors -- all to try to blend in with the scenery and get ignored.  Every time he holds something small and breakable, like his spectacles, he looks like he's trying so very hard not to crush it.  I've never seen Ruffalo in anything before (an oversight I intend to remedy), so I don't know what his usual mannerisms are like, but I found him to be the best Dr. Banner I could ask for.  And a really fabulous Hulk too.

See?  Beautiful.  And very sad, which of course makes me love him and want to give him a hug.  Probably when he's not Hulked up, though, as a Hulk hug might be a bit dangerous.

And here comes a Big Surprise!  My third favorite character is Tony Stark/Iron Man.

The reason this is a surprise is that I really disliked Robert Downey, Jr. until I saw this movie.  Not sure why, he just annoyed me.  A lot.  Maybe he will still annoy me in other things, but he uses precisely the perfect blend of poetry and meanness to pull off this role.  See?  Look how snarky he is:

Also, Stark has the biggest character arc.  It's true that Thor goes from wanting to protect Loki from himself to being willing to take down Loki in order to save Earth.  And Bruce Banner goes from hiding from his inner Hulkiness to kind of embracing (or at least enjoying) it a teensy bit.  Cap'n Rogers is pretty much Grumpy the whole time, he just goes from Grumpy Loner to Grumpy Leader.  Barton doesn't change much by himself, and neither does Romanoff.  But Stark goes from being, as Cap puts it midway through the film, "not the guy who lays down on a wire to let the other guys crawl over him" to being willing to sacrifice himself not just for his newfound buddies, but for all those cowering strangers in Manhattan.

After those three, I kind of like the other three Avengers about equally.  Here they be:

L-R, those are Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Capt. Steve Rogers/Captain America, and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow.

I have to say, Cap is a little too white bread in this.  He's got this tragic backstory, he's got the fish-out-of-water thing going on, and he kind of just doesn't get to go anywhere with that.  But he's sweet, upright, and all about Truth, Justice, and the American Way, which is pretty much how he is in the comics.  However, I think Chris Evans had more fun playing The Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies, and I wish he'd been able to use a little of that playful spark here.  (Yes, I realize that makes very little sense:  I wish he was more broody, and also wish he was more playful.  I often make very little sense.)

Barton and Romanoff do a lot more with less material to work with.  In their meager scenes together, they manage to convey a huge amount of history just with looks and silences and quips.  Look at them:

Even in a still like this, you can see gobs of affection, a comfortableness in each other's presence, a camaraderie that's missing between the rest of the team.  They're also the only two fully human members of the team who don't have any armor or super powers or anything else.  Just them, their assassination expertise, and their spiffy weapons versus the bad guy hordes.  Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson rock in these roles, and I'd love to see a movie about their characters' history together.  Written by Joss Whedon, who understands the humans-caught-up-in-a-superhuman-battle thing oh so well.

Well, I think that about covers it.  At least, I've run out of steam and time, so tune in next time for Bad Guys and Minor Characters :-)

Friday, June 15, 2012

"Pirate King" by Laurie R. King

I've had another book review published on the Novel Book Ratings blog, this time reviewing Pirate King, the most recent addition to Laurie R. King's series about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes.  This is my favorite series from my favorite living author, and you can read my take on it here.

The next Russell/Holmes adventure is due out in 2013.  Woo!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen

Last summer, I bought a journal with Jane Austen quotes sprinkled throughout it.  It put me in such a mood to re-read Austen's novels that I went and bought a box set of all her completed novels.  In paperback, but they're trade paperbacks, not pocket ones, so good enough.  And then I never managed to start reading them.  But when I read P.D. James' Death Comes to Pemberley this year, I knew The Time Had Come to start my journey through Austenland.

I began with Pride and Prejudice.  Seemed logical, since I wanted to compare it to James' mystery.  I'd only read it once before, I think while I was in college and in love with the movie You've Got Mail, which references it.  I wasn't a big fan, and for years my favorite Austen novel had been Persuasion.  When I was in college, I watched the British version of P&P starring Colin Firth, and I did like the Keira Knightley/Angus Macfadyen version pretty well, as I mentioned here and here a few years ago.  But I didn't particularly love the story.

What was wrong with me?

In case you're not up on your Austen, this is the one where Elizabeth Bennet spends most of the book disliking Mr. Darcy because she finds him proud and cold.  Mr. Darcy spends most of the book trying to convince himself he shouldn't love Lizzy because her family is unsuitable.

What can I say about this book that hasn't already been said a hundred times, and said better than I ever can?  Not much.  I'm amazed by Austen's ability to make ordinary people so compelling.  I so admire her grasp of how details and small events build up to bring about important changes in hearts, minds, and lives.  And I'm intrigued by her ability to allow a book's events unfold slowly and yet keep me enthralled.

Also, I'm totally in love with Mr. Darcy now.  Just FYI.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Saturday, June 02, 2012

"The Avengers"

I went to see The Avengers again today.  I learned something important during this, my second viewing:  if you spend two hours and twenty-two minutes grinning, your face hurts for a while.  Teeth kinda ache a little too.

What can I say about this movie to make you, my faithful readers, understand how magnificent it is?  Where do I begin?

I hear music.

Where do I begin
To tell the story of how great a film can be,
A film I think that every boy and girl should see,
The simple truth about the joy it brings to me --
Where do I start?

Okay, I won't actually rewrite the entire theme to Love Story.  But only because I probably don't have time -- I am using precious and rare child-free time to write this.

I'm not as familiar with the Avengers as I am with the X-Men, Spider-man, Batman, and Superman.  All I knew about the Avengers prior to this movie, I gleaned from the occasional issue of the Spider-man Magazine that involved Spidey teaming up with one or more of this team.  My favorites were the ones that teamed Spidey with the Hulk, and of all the characters in this new film, he's the one I know the best. But let me hasten to add that I've never seen either of the Hulk's other movies (don't intend to), nor have I seen the four movies that led up to this one:  Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Captain America:  The First Avenger (2011), or Thor (2011).  Planning on seeing those four soon.

But enough rambling!  Because I haven't gotten to the good stuff yet!  And oh, what a motherlode of good stuff there is!  And much of it is due to one person:  Joss Whedon.

I love this picture of him.  Joss Whedon, our fearless leader, casually holding Captain America's shield while looking just like one of us, in sneakers and a faded shirt.  Only, of course, Joss isn't one of us.  He's the criminal creative mastermind behind so many genius things, from the well-known (Buffy and Angel and Firefly) to the oh-really-he-wrote-that-too (Toy Story).  His writing never fails to please me on nearly every level, from his quirky and fully realized characters to his never-predictable plotting to his zingful and twisty dialog.  And finally, finally, finally, someone has given Joss Whedon a whole lot of money and toys and set him loose to wreak havoc.  And by havoc, I mean blowing pretty much every other superhero movie ever out of the water.  And out of the sky.  And off the face of the earth.

I'm not going to recap the movie here.  You should go see it yourself, if you haven't already.  Go see it again, if you have.

Instead, I'm going to gush about the characters and themes for a bit.  Those are two things I enjoy most about any story (Plot?  What's a plot?), and they are what I 100% love about The Avengers.

What we have here is your standard Joss Whedon group of misfits and loners who need to learn to work together in order to avert impending doom.  Captain America (Chris Evans) spends more time wishing he'd died in WWII than figuring out how to live now.  Natasha Romanaoff/The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is an assassin who's a whizz at interrogation, not integration.  Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a spoiled little rich boy who alternates smarting off with showing off.  Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) specializes in archery, which is not what you might call a team sport.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is an alien deity bent on saving Earth even if he has to hammer the whole planet into smithereens in the process.  And Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is more afraid of himself than any one or anything else, and would rather be anywhere but here.

Honestly, these people make most of the X-Men look positively well-adjusted!

One of the themes Joss Whedon explores over and over and over is creating your own family.  The three TV shows I know him best for -- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly -- all involve disparate characters who probably wouldn't have anything to do with each other ordinarily, but thanks to the situations they wind up in, they forge friendships and surrogate families that bind them together long after the weekly danger has been averted.  The same thing happens here:  by the end of the film, the characters have bonded into, if not a cohesive whole, at least a functional set of friends.

Which brings me to another favorite theme of Joss's, the flip side of the friendship coin:  enemies.  Except in the Whedonverse, they're oh-so-often the same side of the coin.  Your friends can become your enemies, and vice versa.  On Buffy, season two's main villain?  Buffy's boyfriend Angel.  Season six's main villain?  Buffy's best friend, Willow.  Recurring villain Spike, on the other hand, wound up as one of the White Hats.  Here in The Avengers, who's causing all that murder and mayhem?  Why, none other than Thor's (adopted) brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston).  And our supposed ally, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), is being much less than forthcoming with the team.  Not to mention the fact that except for the two humans, Romanoff and Barton, the rest of the team can't stand each other for the first two-thirds of the movie.

Speaking of humans, we come to another theme Joss loves to explore:  heroism.  What makes someone, to quote Zoe from Firefly, a "big d**n hero?"  Is it superpowers?  Is it destiny?  Is it ancestral lineage?  Why, no.  Heroes, in the Whedonverse, are heroes because they are willing to make sacrifices.  They're willing to sacrifice their honor, their possessions, their reputation, their friends, their families, and even their own lives, all to save helpless, ordinary people who will generally be unappreciative, if not downright ungrateful.  Season five of Buffy culminated in Buffy Summers leaping into a portal between earth and a demon dimension to seal it up and save the world; The Avengers culminates in Ironman rocketing into a portal between earth and an alien dimension to seal it up and save the world.  Both Buffy and Tony Stark began their character journeys (several seasons/films earlier) as spoiled, popular, self-absorbed, pretty people -- both wind up willing to literally lay down their lives for not only their friends, but the whole world.  Big d**n heroes indeed.

I'm running out of time here -- I'll have to discuss things like acting and favorite lines and scenes that make me giddy in another post.  For now, I will just say that I loved this movie so much, that it's so completely good and awesome and delightful, that I actually kinda want to take my parents to see it.  Because it's an old-fashioned adventure story disguised as a spangly new supermovie.  Monsters and magic may abound (they're two of Joss's specialties, after all), but the real power of The Avengers is how personal it makes the mayhem.  The real 3D special effects here are the three-dimensional characters.  Somebody, please give Joss Whedon more money and toys so he can make a sequel!