“Thor: Ragnarok”: well, imagine a civilization built from landfill trash, among other things

I’m not an aficionado of comic plots or of Thor particularly, but it seems like “Thor: Ragnarok” (directed by Taiki Waititi) gives us a tour of the inhabited universe, where space travel takes us to ancient-like worlds of 50s Fox Ciinemascope spectacles (the film is from Marvel and Disney).  The director himself will play the voice of the fiery giant Korg at the end.

The Asgardian civilization resides on a planet I’ve seen before, with a huge spectacular harbor and a long “boardwalk” out into the sea for the spaceport.   I want a room in a Wyndam hotel with a harbor view.  Sorry, the spire palace will be destroyed.

From a distance, the planet looks like an annulus, so the physics of it isn’t very probable. The planet seems tied closely to another planet where the entire civilization (even the big cities) is built from landfill  trash and toy parts.

The film is a vehicle for a lot of big stars. The centerpiece, not necessary deserving, is Chris Hemsworth as Thor.   He’s all fit for a centerpiece gladiator battle in an amphitheater that could come from Rome (“Demetrius and the Gladiators“) or maybe from “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome”. That battle is with a new enemy, the Hulk (Bruce Banner) who in his other life is played by an aging Mark Ruffalo. But the arch enemy is the empress Hela (Cate Blanchett) who wants her fill of executioners.

There’s one scene, two-thirds the way through, where the maidenhead women prep Thor for his final battles by prodding his chest with hot irons to remove any hint of chest hair.  Such indignities for a man who will never be a 40-year-old virgin. But does he need to become a clone of Victor Mature?

The giant wolf appears on the boardwalk, without the loving care of Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

The movie is also grounded with some scenes in the Big Apple, like an earlier scene at a Bleeker Street bistro set up to look like La Poisson Rouge (one of my favorite haunts) and where Benedict Cumberbatch plays Dr. Strange, approprirately geeky and a seeming caricature of pianist-composer Timo Andres.  The people who made this movie have watched a lot of young stars rise.  The actual music score is by Mark Mothersbaugh and doesn’t seem that remarkable.

There is a piece by Ashkey Nkadi in The Root, shared on Facebook, “Why is society intent on erasing black people in fantasy and Sci-Fi’s imaginary worlds?” and she discusses the tokenizing of Idris Elba as Heimdall.  I’m not sure she accurately characterizes what goes on in comics or fantasy movies, but I need to be mindful of this in my own future writing.

Wiki of Yggdrasil and the nine worlds of Asgard .

Typical rocky extrasolar planet (wiki).

Name:  “Thor: Ragnarok
Director, writer:  Taiki Waititi
Released:  2017/11/3
Format:  2.35:1 Imax 3-D
When and how viewed:  2017/11/8 Regal  Ballston Quarter daytime small audience
Length:  130
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios
Link:  official 

(Posted: Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)

“Spider-Man: Homecoming”: Tom Holland plays the perfect teen nerd hero

“I am Spider-Man.  With great power comes great responsibility”.

An earlier film where Tobey Maguire played Spider-Man ended that way.  This time, with the new Marvel film “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017), directed by Jon Watts and written by Jonathan Goldstein et al, the franchise presents a teen super-hero who might be comparable to Clark Kent in the WB “Smallville Series”.

Peter Parker is played by young British actor Tom Holland, now 21 but probably 19 when the film was shot. We get to see his ultra-lean body a couple times when he changes into the spider suit (I though about Milo Yiannopoulos saying fat people hate thin people like Milo).  His best friend in his nerdy hdgh school science crowd is Ned (Jacob Batalon), the same age as an actor, but rather pudgy.  Ned does all the computer hacking and shell-scripting.

The film opens with its own embedded short film, as “A Film by Peter Parker”, in the old 1.37:1 aspect projected onto the much wider screen, of Peter’s boyhood.  Then we see Peter living in Queens with his Aunt May (Marissa Tomei) playing with his superpowers and accompanying his classmates on  a trip to a Washington DC hotel for an academic decathlon.  The physics an calcolus teacher (Tony Revolori, as if right out the “Art of Problem Solving” videos) seems to be their mentor up to a point.   When the vulture (Michael Keaton) threatens terror on New York and Washington (a not so subtle political hint) Peter spins his web into action (sometimes recalling Captain America), rescuing his classmates from the Washington Monument (remember the 2011 earthquake), and then from the Staten Island Ferry when the boat breaks in half.  There is a closing climax over Coney Island, perhaps near the old Seaside Courts on the boardwalk.

Peter turns to the Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr) as a kind of “mentor”, despite multiple detentions from school system that doesn’t understand he Peter can save everybody.

Holland seems to be creating a combined persona of some clean-cut youthful science heroes now in their early twenties, such as Stanford undergraduate Jack Andraka (who has been called “nano-man” in a little comics series on Twitter), and Taylor Wilson, who invented a fusion reactor at age 14.  (Peter says he is 15.)  The body language and speech similarity of Holland’s character and Andraka is quite striking.  Jack wants everybody to have nanobots in their bloodstreams to detect and knock cancer before it can start.  Is that the premise of another Marvel movie?  (Echoes of “Fantastic Voyage”).

Name:  “Spider-Man: Homecoming
Director, writer:  Jon Watts
Released:  2017
Format: 2.35:1, 3-D, Imax-compatible, prologue is 1.37:1
When and how viewed:  Tyson’s AMC, 2017/8/16 late fair crowd
Length:  133
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Marvel, Columbia Pictures (Spider-Man Marvel productions are distributed by Sony)
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2017 at 2:30 PM)

“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”: can a young man be a god and not know it for a little while?

Can a young man first born in the American Midwest to a seemingly average pair of young lovers find out that he is supposed to become a god and be immortal?  Can one be a god or angel  (or human-looking alien from another planet) and not know it until some initiation in young manhood?  Maybe Chris (or Christian, like in the Sibelius King Christian Suite) is the best name for such a character or the Hollywood star who plays him.  Donald Trump would never suspect a thing; his travel bans won’t apply to UFO’s from other planets.

That seems to be the gist of the new franchise sequel, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” written and directed by James Gunn (based on the Marvel comics series by Dan Abnett).

Minnesota-born (from the Iron range) Chris Pratt (remember him as the teenager “Bright” in the WB Series “Everwood”) plays the archtype superhero Peter Quill, or Star-Lord.  Chris, approaching 38, does look a little more weathered, and as I recall had at one time gained weight, which he shed. Now, well post-adolescence, there is a mop of hair decorating the middle of Chris’s chest, which is at risk from the laser probes through his bod toward the end.  (That also happened to the young Clark Kent on Smallville near the end of Season 2, resulting in a keloid scar for a few episodes.)  Chris’s character needs to add some art to his people skills: how about singing bel canto, playing piano, directing plays, and making short films.  He does carry others on his back.

After a prologue set against the disco radio music of 1980, we jump to 2014, when Peter (who, without relativity, would be the same age as Jesus during his ministry) visits the High Priestess (that was the name of a friend’s cat when I lived in NYC) on a golden throne in a golden palace in a city on some other planet looking like Dubai.  He’s sent on a quest to find his father and his ancestry. How he gets past the speed of light barrier is not explained.  Does he rent a digital holographic replica of his body from Hertz when he streams instantly to a new planet?  Oh, they show in him spaceships with a co-pilot Rocket, a talking raccoon with voice of Bradley Cooper.  And there is a little wood spirit (whose learning abilities play a critical role in the resolution at the end) with voice of Vin Diesel.

There are some other planets, like one with an open market in what looks like a town in Siberia, but he finally meets his real father, Ego, played by a foppish but aging Kurt Russell.  Ego has created his own living planet in his name, the size of the Moon – making us wonder how it has near Earth gravity. (Ever notice how these planets all have the same atmosphere as Earth?)  Ego wants to expand, so that the entire universe (or at least Milky Way Galaxy) becomes him.  The planet has wonderful scenery:  organix spires of plant material, with red and violet colors as well as the more common photosynthetic green.  Are any of these planets tidally locked?

We do see planets explode at the end, at least Ego.  And there is a scene where a blue mass (remember “The Blob”, which was pink) encroaches on a town (is that back in Missouri?)

And finally, after Peter is reassembled one last time it seems like he will become a god whether wants to or not.

Remember the pretext of the NBC series “The Event”, where Jason Ritter’s character saves everyone but doesn’t know he is an alien?

Wiki chart of sizes of exoplanets known so far.

Name:  “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Director, writer:  James Gunn
Released:  2017/5
Format:  2.35:1, 3-D, IMAX
When and how viewed:  AMC Potomac Mills, Woodbridge, VA, 2017/6/4, late, small audience
Length:  136
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Marvel, Walt Disney Pictures
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, June 5, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT)

“Logan” does his Run, in a comics film that, after the fact, pans the alt-right

After reading the (libertarian) Foundation for Economic Education op-ed “’Logan’ eviscerates War and Demographic Planning” by Dan Sanchez, I “gave in” and saw a late show of the Marvel film last night. Yes, even Anderson Cooper like the “X-men” franchise.

Sanchez summarizes the plot pretty well, and I’m not sure all of his parallels hold.  But it’s true, that the “corporate state” (Transigen) had created the mutants as weapons and now regards them as threats the way the all-right views both Hispanic and Muslim migrants.

Hugh Jackman(now 48) looks grizzled, and maybe ready to return from exile or retirement.  The plot of this 135-minute bash concerns Logan’s road trip to rescue his 12-year-old daughter Laura (Dafne Keen) with Wolverine-like powers.

Structurally, the film is a bit like my “Tribunal and Rapture” manuscript, a long road trip (finally leading to planetary evacuation on a spaceship) by a retired FBI agent, who finds he has some subtle powers of his own – I finally decided that this sort of story works better for me when told through the eyes of the younger heroes, whose “powers” aren’t usually obvious and whose appearance is wholesome (even if that idea betrays my own erotic prejudices).

The film journeys into Oklahoma, then sidetracks to Reno (I wanted to see Taylor Wilson make a cameo and pitch his plans to save the power grids), before getting to North Dakota, with some scenery that resembles the Teddy Roosevelt badlands – but actually a lot of the film is shot in New Mexico, with mountains in the background.  The mixture of old and new technologies is interesting (like the winch and pulley in the North Dakota scene.  The mutants, by blowing liquid nitrogen breath, can freeze opponents’ limbs and break then off.  So heads, arms and legs roll in this film. (In Dallas, Joe Bob would have said “check it out.”)

To appreciate the film, you have to know some of the pre-history, of characters like Trask, with their pre-occupation with the alt-right notion of “demographic winter” and the idea that “majority” people don’t have enough kids now.  (That’s why Vladimir Putin allows the persecution of gays.)  I’m reminded of Representative Steve King’s (T-IA) doubled-down comments that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies” (story).

Patrick Stewart seems to impersonate me (as he usually does) as Charles, and Boyd Holbrook is notable as Pierce.

I’m reminded of another escapist adventure, “Logan’s Run” (1976), set around the Zale Building on Stemmons Freeway in Dallas, a building in which I worked in the 1980s, where you wonder how the twenty year-olds know think they can eliminate the thirties without facing the same fate themselves soon.

I guess that “Logan”, directed by James Mangold with story by him, was largely developed before Donald Trump won the election, but it seems well conceived as a response to the growing appearance of the alt-right during the 2016 campaigns.  The distributor, Fox, is probably closer to Ayn Rand-style conservatism.

The show opens with a “short film” (“Deadpool: No Good Deed“) about a Logan-like man challenged by a nearby mugging and a telephone booth, in the City.  I’m reminded of Joel Schulmacher’s “Phone Booth” (2002), and even of Timo Descamps and his “Phone Call” or even “Like It Rough” videos.  the 20 Century Fix fanfare then follows, along with TSG and Marvel, before the “feature” starts.  This sort of reminds me also of Dimension Films’s “Grindhouse” in 2007 (embedded double feature and connecting short).  The two short stories in my “Do Ask Do Tell III” book (2014) could be presented this way in film.

Name:  “Logan
Director, writer: James Mangold
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1 and Imax
When and how viewed:  2017/3/14 Regal Ballston Quarter, late, low crowd after snowstorm
Length:  137 including short
Rating:  R
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Marvel, TSG
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 11 AM)

“Doctor Strange”: a neurosurgeon gets to see the Multiverse — and it’s a good thing that “he’th’mooth”

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Name: Doctor Strange
Director, writer:  Scott Derrickson
Released:  2016/11
Format:  2.35:1  Imax 3-D
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common 2016/11/16 small audience
Length 115
Rating PG-13
Companies: Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Productions
Link: official 

 

Doctor Strange” (or “Dr. Strange”,directed Scott Derrickson), as another Marvel franchise initiator, seems to rework some story concepts from “Inception”, along with some space-time ideas we just saw in “Arrival”.

This 115-minute fantasy follows the screenwriting conventions of a distinct middle, beginning, and end.  After a rather superfluous prologue where dark angels demonstrate they can make the streets of London fold over (Inception-style), we’re thrown into modern New York City, where a suave neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) plays Ben Casey a lot in a Greenwich Village emergency room.   Now Strange, even at 40, looks appropriately smooth (or “thmooth”), his arms almost hairless from repeated scrubdowns, and this will prove convenient later when he needs other operations.

Strange has a Trump Tower pad, and is quite cocky about his skills.  One night he goes on a call up the Hudson and flips his sports car after some distracted driving.  The resulting operations on his hands and arms mean his career as a surgeon is over.  His girl friend Christine (Rachel McAdams) tries to talk him into “changing” and he resists, when she demands an apology.   He meets a companion in a basketball playground who urges him to go to Nepal and learn meditation.

The middle section of this ternary movie takes place in Katmandu, filmed on location, and made to look like L’Himby in Clive Barker’s Third Dominion (if “Imajica” finally gets filmed).   Rescued from street robbers by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) he is led to a sanctuary run by guru “Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton, forced to go bald herself).  Pretty soon he finds himself in “The Library”, where certain Sanskrit books are off limits until he reaches certain stages.  The books, along with other magic devices (one looks like an astrolabe) can open up floating rings into the “multi-verse”.  There is also a concept of a room surrounded by mirrors.  Like events in dreams, events inside these rooms are not supposed to affect the outside world, but (as in “Inception”) these events certainly have a “Hawking radiation” effect.  One of the techniques to reach cosmic consciousness and obtain super-powers (maybe like Clark Kent’s self-teleportation) ironically is total submission, in the sense of Rosenfels-like psychological growth,

The “multiverse” is presented quite effectively, in 3D special effects, as a collection of floating dark spheres and illuminated channels.  Strange will revisit the Multiverse after returning to New York and then visiting Hong Kong (the third alpha city, besides New York and London, protected by the Guild) for a final showdown with the “Great Satan”, or whatever.

In the middle, in a multiverse scene, the script seems to refer to Lucca Rossi’s novel “The Branches of Time” (index).

And, oh yes, I saw the black-and-white “Dr. Strangelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” with a hairy Peter Sellers, by Stanley Kubrick (1963), in 1978 at a theater on 8th St. in the West Village with a friend.

(Published: Nov. 17, 2016 at 10 AM EDT)

“X-Men: Apocalypse” a Marvel plot, all right, and a bizarre idea for how the world could end if we are too sinful to notice

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Name: X-Men: Apocalypse
Director, writer:  Bryan Singer    (DGC)
Released:  2016/5
Format:  2.35:1, Imax, 3-D
When and how viewed: AMC Tysons, 3-D, EDS (medium crowd, Sat afternoon, 2016/5/28)
Companies: 20th Century Fox, Marvel Studios, TMG
Link: Franchise site

X-Men: Apocalypse”, directed by Bryan Singer and based on his own story line, based on Marvel’s series, gets pretty far into comic-book stuff indeed.  The plot is a hodge-podge, and the special effects are so off the wall that the whole concept isn’t  very engaging (compared to comics stuff closer to real character and reality, like “Smallville”).

Nevertheless, the 144-minute 3-D film had some concepts related to my own work.  First, let’s summarize the story, Apocalypse, or En Sabar Nur (Oscar Isaac) wants a new world order, after wiping out the old one, and will recruit his young X-Men.  The plan is to disturb the Earth’s magnetic field in such a way that most man made structures with iron in the world implode, but that’s only after tricking all the world’s military weapons to release their nukes into space.  (I’m reminded of the novel “The HAB  Theory” by Allan E. Eckert (1976).  Needless to say, his underlings must rebel.

The ring leader for the good guys is professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), who, from his wheelchair, runs his school for “mutants” in Westchester county.  (“Things are better. The world is better.”)  I thought about the Davidson Academy in Reno, NV for the profoundly gifted, where Taylor Wilson attended.  (One could wonder if Taylor, and perhaps Jack Andraka – already a comic book character on Twitter as a “nano-man” in a space helmet ready for “The Fantastic Voyage” (1966), are the real mutant-heros, or could be cast in a movie like this.)  Magneto is played by Michael Fassbender (of course), and the Beast with his heat vision (more dramatic than young Clark Kent’s in Smallville) by Nicholas Hoult – only the 3-D shades keep his beady eyes from annihilating others.  Jennifer Lawrence is the blue Mystique.

There’s a scene midway where the mutants visit Auschwitz, and destroy it.  The opening chapter of my novel “Angel’s Brother” consists of an encounter between a CIA agent and a gifted college student (not quite a mutant) at the Auschwitz site.  Here there’s a bit of an encounter but not much tension or subtlety. The movie also addresses another concept that my novel manuscript considers:  consolidation of instances of individual consciousness into fewer people (that is, the gifted and chosen “mutants
who are supposed to be better than the rest of us).

There is also a scene going through a tunnel from the Pyramids (after they implode in 3600 BC in an opening scene) to modern day, rather like the subterranean (by “Mobius subway”) migration in my “Epiphany” screenplay  from the angel’s space station on Titan to the “communes” in the rama-cyclinder where the “abductees” are trained before they in turn get to choose who gets to become a future angel.

The music score by John Ottman is post-romantic, and uses the famous Allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, which it repeats as a kind of “middle section” of a concert overture (ending loudly on one choral shout) played during the closing credits.

I can recall Anderson Cooper tweeting that he likes X-Men movies.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Mount Robson, B.C., a location of the film, by Rufus Hawthorne

(Published: Saturday, May 28, 2016 at 11 PM EDT)