Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Ten Favorite Superhero Movies

Probably not a lot of surprises on this list, other than possibly what order I put them in.  And yes, there are really just three sets of superheroes here, I know.  I love the X-Men, I love the Avengers, and I love Robin -- what can I say?

I waited until now to post this because I wanted to see The Wolverine a second time once it came to DVD, to decide whether or not I would include it here.  And I decided that although I have issues with the final act... it's Wolverine.  I love him too much to leave it off.

And before I get lots of outraged comments about the fact that the Dark Knight trilogy does not appear here, let me be clear:  I love Robin.  I merely like Batman.  Also, Christian Bale ain't no Val Kilmer.  Also, playing the Joker basically killed Heath Ledger.  So while I do own Batman Begins, I don't love it.  Remember, this is my favorites, not what I think the best movies are.

1.  The Avengers (2012)

Six talented people assemble to save the world from Loki's (Tom Hiddleston) desire to show Thor (Chris Hemsworth) he can be cool too.  And no one writes about groups of lost creatures like Joss Whedon -- this is what a superhero movie should be.

2.  X2:  X-Men United (2003)

Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), and their followers join forces to keep William Stryker (Brian Cox) from destroying all mutants.  Until I saw The Avengers, I thought this was what a perfect superhero movie looked like.  It's still magnificent.

3.  X-Men (2000)

The X-men help wandering mutant Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) rescue Rogue (Anna Paquin) from Impending Doom.  And to think that I refused to see this at first because I thought Hugh Jackman was all wrong for Wolverine!  What kind of fool am I?

4.  X-Men Origins:  Wolverine (2009)

Wolverine squares off against his half-brother Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber) and a younger Stryker (Danny Huston this time), and gains his adamantium skeleton in the process.  This is the origin story I've always wanted.

5.  Iron Man 3 (2013)

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) takes on a terrorist named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).  Also known as the movie where Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) finally gets to wear the Iron Man suit.

6.  X-Men 3:  The Last Stand (2006)

It's the X-Men versus Magneto's bunch again, with a back-from-the-dead friend turned into a foe.  Actually a better movie than X-Men, but I don't love it as much.

7.  Iron Man (2008)

Genius billionaire playboy philanthropist Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) escapes from captivity and hunts down the people who kidnapped him.  And builds a really cool flying suit that shoots stuff.

8.  Thor:  The Dark World (2013)

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) team up to save the Nine Realms from angry elves.  Not as twee as that sounds.

9.  Batman Forever (1995)

Batman (Val Kilmer) acquires a girlfriend (Nicole Kidman), a protege (Chris O'Donnell), and two enemies (Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey).  The first superhero movie I ever truly loved.  It looks dated and wacky now, but it was extremely cool when I was an extremely uncool fifteen-year-old.

10.  The Wolverine (2013)

A mourning, angry, lonely Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) goes to Japan.  I didn't mind the final act nearly as much the second time around, though why on earth he doesn't just slice up those arrows-on-ropes and get the heck outta Dodge still stymies me.  Oh well.

What do we learn here?  That the year 2000 ushered in the Golden Age of Superhero Movies!  Only one movie on this list was made before then.  Wow!

Interestingly, I love 5 of these movies mostly because of one character:  Wolverine.  Yeah.  He's that important to me.  And unlike the Avengers movies, where I love Thor the most, but really like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers and Bruce Banner so, so, so very much, in the X-Men movies, I mostly love Wolverine.  Oh, I'm quite fond of Professor X, Rogue, and a few others, but not at all to the degree that I like Stark/Rogers/Banner.  Professor X would come the closest, but would I watch a whole movie about him?  Maybe, but only if he was played by Patrick Stewart and not what's-his-name who plays the younger version.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"The Empty Hearse" (2014)

Ahhhhhhhhhh.  This episode is... precisely what I wanted.  In fact, it's now my favorite.  Which is a little crazy, cuz it's not the best episode, not the best mystery...  but it's got so much wonderful character development that I could care less about the plot, to be honest.  It's kind of like if I'd written a fanfic story about everything I wanted to happen (okay, I didn't want a near-kiss between two particular characters -- that was someone else's fanfic story.  I don't do slash), and then it magically turned into a real episode.  Is filming a fan's dream episode a good idea for most shows?  Probably not.  Is it perfectly fine for this show?  Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh, yeah.  (In my humble-as-ever opinion).


How do I love this ep?  Let me count the (non-spoilerific) ways.
I love it to the depth and breadth and height
Sherlock's coat can reach, when I search with all my might
For an ideal hiding place.
I love it to the level of every episode's
Use of character humor to remain light.
I love it devotedly, as Lestrade strives for right.
I love it happily, as John turns from life's lonely roads.
I love it with the passion put to use
For all my favorite shows, and with my childhood's delight.
I love it with a love I seemed to lose
When other shows disappointed me. I love it with the might
Of my smiles, my tears, of all my fan-girlish ways; and, if the BBC choose,
I shall but love it better when they promise me eps with no end in sight.

Yeah.  That much favoriteness.  I'm (re)writing sonnets here, for goodness' sake!  And I didn't even have to wait years for this episode like many fans, since I came so late to the fandom.  I can only imagine how giddy those who've been fans from the beginning must have been when they saw this ep for the first time.

Okay, so on to a bit of spoiler-ific reviewing.

First, this is a thing you probably don't know at all about me, but I have a great fondness for stories that involve torture.  Stop worrying -- it's not a weird sexual thing at all.  I am fascinated by how a character holds up under extreme pressure, how the character's core is revealed thereby.  Doesn't have to be physical torture, it can be terrible mental stress, and this episode has both.  It opens with Sherlock being beaten, but it ends with John convinced he's going to explode at any moment.  The way they both handle those extreme situations rocks my world.  Sherlock remains uber-observational and snarky.  John reveals his courage by telling Sherlock exactly how devastated he was by Sherlock's "death."  It's wonderful, isn't it?  The way the essence of a character is revealed under torture.  Marvelous.

Second, isn't it wonderful how Sherlock's becoming a bit more human?  Reminiscing about childhood with Mycroft (my favorite scene yet), getting annoyed that John isn't recognizing him through his markered-on mustache, smiling a bit when Lestrade hugs him -- I'm charmed.  Between being introduced to the idea of friendship by John and then being away from his usual existence for a couple of years, Sherlock here has grown a lot since we first met him back in "A Study in Pink."  And I can't express how wonderful I find that.  Too many shows (even some shows I love) have characters who really never grow and change over the years.  Not so here.  Sherlock has become more human.  John has become more resilient.  They have changed each other for the better, and I could cheer.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I did.

And John's reaction to Sherlock's resurrection?  So exactly what mine would be.  I'd want to punch the smirk right off Sherlock's face.  Repeatedly.  Beat some repentance into him.  And then I'd probably refuse to have anything to do with him for quite a while, out of some intense desire to hurt him the way I suddenly realize I've been hurt by him.  The big meany!  (And I mean "meany" in the most loving way possible of course, since I can't hate Sherlock Holmes.  Or, rather, if ever there was a version Sherlock Holmes that I hated, he wouldn't be Sherlock Holmes to me.  Okay, that probably only makes sense to me.)

The mystery here is kind of secondary, and I'm fine with that, since most of the time I don't read or watch mysteries so much for the thrill of the chase as because I want to spend time with my imaginary friends.  And I want to see order restored to the universe, which all good mysteries do.  And this fulfills both of my needs from fiction, so yeah, loving it.

As for Miss Mary Morstan (Amanda Abbington) -- wow!  I love her!  I love that she digs Sherlock and that they get along.  So full of shiny awesome.  She's level-headed and nice and helpful and non-needy.  Everything I need to truly like a female character..  I hope she's in the next two eps a whole lot!

Okay, I've gone on and on long enough, haven't I.  And I promise to post about something non-Sherlock in a day or two.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"The Reichenbach Fall" (2012)

Like my previous 5 reviews of Sherlock episodes, this is very spoilerific.  When I start watching season 3 (possibly this weekend?), I'll try to post actual spoiler warnings.  I figure that by now, everyone who wants to have seen the first two seasons has done so.

I loved parts of this one so much.  The way John stands by Sherlock and refuses to believe he's been lying.  Moments where Sherlock allowed himself to be human for an instant.  Small, small things.  The episode as a whole... had too much Moriarty to be thoroughly enjoyable.  I've come to accept that I am not a fan of this Moriarty -- he's too, well, silly.  He makes me laugh, and Moriarty should certainly not make me laugh.  And his mind is a bag full of cats, too unpredictable and wacky for me to be either truly scared or amused, so I'm left with annoyance.

Turning the world against Sherlock was relatively clever, but it didn't blindside either Cowboy or me, and... I was frustrated by how quickly everyone turned against Sherlock.  So frustrated.  I think I probably identified with John Watson more in this ep than I have in any of the previous ones -- I would never doubt Sherlock either, and I want to punch all doubters in the face too.  I rather wanted to go on a punching spree with John and deck the entire London population.

Again, a very effective ep, but not one I loved.  I will rewatch this one more than The Hounds of Baskerville, but only because it scares me less.  Besides being annoyed by Moriarty, I think that knowing the canon so well made this a little less effective for me.  I know what happened (and didn't happen) at the Reichenbach Falls in "The Final Problem," so I never had a gut-punch here where I thought Sherlock might actually be dead.  I empathized greatly with John, and felt so sad for him, but I didn't worry myself.

As a writer, I feel like it would have been so amazing if they had actually gone ahead and killed Sherlock.  Gone totally off-canon and absolutely stunned people.  As a viewer, I'm very happy they didn't do that because now we get more Sherlock!  In fact, I just read that season 4 will begin around Christmas this year!  Woo!  I hope that comes to pass.

So, in sum, I didn't love this episode, but I didn't expect to, so I'm cool with that.  And I did enjoy it a whole lot.

(Also, I don't believe Moriarty is dead.  But I sincerely hope he is so I don't have to sit through more of his nutty antics.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Playing in Middle Earth

I love playing the piano.  I'm not real great at it, though I used to be fairly good.  Back in high school, when I practiced for an hour every day, and had been taking lessons from my mom for twelve straight years.  Then I went to college and only played things I knew by heart on the piano by the cafeteria while waiting for people to show up for supper or whatever.  After we got married, my mother-in-law stored her piano at our apartment for a few years, but I only played once a week or so.  I had a full-time job working at night, and I didn't want to play late at night during my nights off because we lived in a duplex and I didn't want to bug the neighbors.  Then we moved away and left the piano with Cowboy's sister, who had room for it herself by then.  And I had no piano until we moved to Tir Asleen a little over two years ago.

When we moved here, my mom gave me her piano, which had originally been her mom's.  (And don't feel so sorry for her for giving up her piano -- my dad replaced it with the baby grand he'd been promising her for decades.)  And I was preggers with a giant belly in the way, then had a newborn... and it wasn't until this past spring that I started finding time to play again.  Usually just a few minutes in the morning while the kids finished breakfast after I was done already.  But my goodness, was I rusty!  I played for a couple months that way, then quit over the summer.  This is all The Lone Ranger's fault -- I listened to the soundtrack every morning while making and eating breakfast, which meant I wasn't playing music myself.

But then last week, I found The Lord of the Rings for Easy Piano on Amazon while searching for something else.  I bought it on a whim, got it early this week... and I love it!  I've slowly been playing through it, backwards because the last song is about Gondor and I was all sad right then over "The Departure of Boromir."  And this music is exactly right for my slowly-returning skills.  I can play the songs well enough to recognize them, but I stumble just often enough to make me want to truly practice them.  I'm almost done playing each song once, and then I'll begin at the beginning and work on one song at a time until I'm able to play them all well.

It has several songs from each movie, with most of my favorite themes represented.  I've actually teared up a bit as particular themes I love so much come to life under my own fingers.  So delightful.

So anyway, those are my happy Friday ramblings.  Have a lovely weekend!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Saving Mr. Banks" (2013) -- Initial Thoughts

Don't you love January?  I know I do.  All those movies that came out in December, that I really wanted to see but didn't have time for because I was busy baking and decorating and wrapping presents... they're all still in the theaters because nothing new comes out in January!  It's awesome!

Which means I got to see Saving Mr. Banks in the theater after all.  I was so convinced I would have to Redbox it or something, but nope!  And what a treat it is.  Particularly because, to be perfectly honest, I spent so much of my childhood wishing I was living in the 1960s.  (Or the 1950s.  Or the 1940s.  Or the wild west.)  I think it's because I watched The Parent Trap (1961) and The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and The Shaggy Dog (1959) and That Darn Cat! (1965) so often.  Especially The Parent Trap -- I used to imagine that Haley Mills' twin characters, Susan and Sharon, were my best friends, and that we'd have sleep-overs and go swimming and go to the movies together.  Come on -- Susan had a picture of Bobby Darin on the wall in that tent she had to share with Sharon in camp, so we would have been best friends, right?  Anyway, the majority of this movie was like me getting to step into a world I'd imagined so very often.  The cars, the clothes, the buildings, the slang, the hair, the fonts used for the names on buildings, for crying out loud!  I loved it all!

But the story is what really sucked me in.  You know what it's about by now:  the story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) charmed P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) into letting him make the movie Mary Poppins (1964) from her series of beloved children's books.  The amazing thing is that even though I obviously knew that he succeeded, since I've seen Mary Poppins many times (especially lately, as it's one of the few movies my kids all like), I was quite on the edge of my seat as to whether or not he could convince her to sign over the rights!  Very deft writing and acting as far as that's concerned.

So let's talk about the writing and acting, shall we?  I think one of the things I liked best is that the filmmakers didn't try to pit the audience for or against either Disney or Travers.  In fact, I felt like they worked very hard to make Disney not entirely sympathetic, and Travers understandable despite her fierceness.  I found myself rooting for both of them, oddly enough.  I could totally relate to Travers and her desire to protect her characters and her vision of their world, but I really wanted Disney to get to make that movie because I really like that movie.  Which doesn't make total sense, since obviously the movie did get made.  But you know what I mean.

Tom Hanks has played a lot of lovable characters over the years, and I think what's most remarkable here is that his Walt Disney is not all that lovable!  He exudes niceness and cheer, but it's that forced niceness and cheer that you often get from people who make their money by being friendly.  In fact, I started to kind of dislike him for a while, as he tries to find ways around, over, under, or through Travers' defenses.  But then, in a quiet moment, he confides in someone else that he understands what she's going through because someone once tried to convince him to sell Mickey Mouse... and I liked him again.

As for Emma Thompson, she plays P. L. Travers like a tangled ball of yarn.  Every time you think you know what's going on, that string you're pulling on snarls up with what seems like an entirely unrelated strand.  We get lots of flashbacks to her childhood in Australia, where her banker father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell), over-doted on her, and her mother Margaret (Ruth Wilson) struggled to survive her unraveling marriage to an alcoholic.  I did wish that Margaret would have gotten a bit more fleshing out, but the movie focused more on the father-daughter bond, and the mother remained mostly an enigma.

(Spoilers in the next two paragraphs.)

Also an enigma in those flashbacks is Aunt Ellie (Rachel Griffiths), who arrives to help Margaret manage her three daughters and ailing husband.  She's clearly the inspiration for Mary Poppins, but Travers Goff seems to dislike her, and young Ginty (as P. L. Travers is called in the flashbacks -- her real name was Helen Goff) blames Aunt Ellie for not saving her father.

Of course, Walt Disney finally convinces P. L. Travers to sign over the movie rights, and he does it by convincing her that by giving the father figure in the movie a happy ending, she will somehow be able to rewrite her own sad family history and give herself a happy ending too.  It kind of sort of makes sense, but whatever.  By that point, I was just all relieved that they would finally get to make the movie, and not worrying too much about logic.

(End of spoilage.)

The very best part of this movie, for me, is one small moment when Disney reminds Travers what it is that storytellers do.  He tells her that they "restore order" and "instill hope."  And I spent the rest of the movie repeating those four words over and over in my head.  Because that is exactly what I try to do with my own writing, only I'd never put it into words before.  Restore order and instill hope.  It was a revelation, an unexpected moment of clarity that has focused my writing energy like never before.  I'm going to print that up in huge letters and post it on the wall behind my computer.

And so a movie that I expected to entertain and amuse me for a couple of hours instead provided one of the greatest creative epiphanies I've ever had.  How unexpectedly delightful!

Anyway, is this a family-friendly movie?  Mostly.  There are 4 or 5 curse words, the "traditional" type.  There's a bit of smoking, quite a bit of drinking in the flashbacks, death, and (spoiler alert!) an attempted suicide (end spoiler alert!).  Not a movie for young kids, as it has some very serious things going on.  I was in tears several times.

Oh, and I even survived all the Colin Farrell parts!  I really do not care for him at all, but he played a slippery and imperfect father just fine.  Helped that he was only in the flashbacks.

And I was so excited to see Ruth Wilson again!  I liked her a lot in this, though not as much as in The Lone Ranger.  But now I'm quite determined to see her version of Jane Eyre soon.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

"The Hounds of Baskerville" (2012)

After mulling over this episode for a few days, I've come to realize that it's never going to be a favorite.  Which both saddens and surprises me, since, as I mentioned in my previous post, The Hound of the Baskervilles is my favorite Sherlock Holmes story.  But maybe that's precisely why I didn't love this episode?  Did it tinker too much with a beloved story?  I don't think so.  I'm not by any means a purist when it comes to books and movies -- as long as it works for the story you are telling, you can make any number of changes and I'm generally okay with that.  And the story here works just fine.

No, what I disliked is how horror-ific it got.  And this is a purely personal thing:  I don't deal well with horror.  I am terrified by horror movies and horror stories (unless they involve vampires).  I have a strong imagination that, for some reason, latches onto horror things and works itself into a frenzy over them (unless they involve vampires).  I have watched maybe five or six actual horror movies (not counting vampire movies), all of them ten years or more ago, and there are still images and scenes from them that freak me out.  That will convince me my house is coming alive to attack me, whatever.

I'm also afraid of the dark.

Specifically, I'm afraid of what lurks behind me in the darkness.  I don't know what it is -- call it a nameless terror -- but I cannot reason my way out of it.  Some of the most fervent prayers I have ever prayed have been along the lines of, "Lord, please keep me safe from whatever is behind me."

And this episode of Sherlock has stuff in it that preys pretty directly on my fear of nameless terrors in the darkness.  I'm not saying I'm going to have nightmares because of it.  But this is not an episode I'll watch again and again.

Which is sad, because it's a very strong episode.  The fact that I'm having such strong feelings about it points to its power, don't you think?  And I did love some things about it.  The Grimpen Minefield?  Genius!  Dr. Mortimer is now Henry's psychiatrist?  Love it!  And Lestrade showed up -- made me so happy.

I also really liked Henry Knight (Russell Tovey).  Very sweet, sympathetic character.  Though I kept yelling at him to just call Sherlock or John already during a bunch of scenes.  But still, great character.

And there was this moment:

That was probably my favorite moment.  Can never tell if this Sherlock is being sincere or playing you, but I think he was being sincere there.  Actually, that's the other reason I didn't like this ep as well as I'd hoped:  Sherlock was too mean!  The trick he pulled on John (trying to avoid spoilage for some reason) made me really mad at him.  Grr.

So.  All in all, a great ep, but one I didn't love for extremely personal reasons.  Oh well.

Hey, look!  Two back-to-back blog posts about two different screen adaptations of the same story!  I'm not sure I've ever had that happen before.  Nifty.