“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)

Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped” (1960 Disney film)

I think I read a young person’s illustrated version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “boys’ life” Alan novel “Kidnapped” (written in first person) in tenth grade, in the spring of 1958, about the time certain other interests were developing in my mind.  I remember typing the book report at home.  A lot of other book reports with this teacher were “in class”, but this one I remember doing at home.  We had recently read George Eliot’s “Silas Marner” and been tested on it.  That’s what sophomore English was like: grammar and literature, in alternation.

Note the original long title of the book: “Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751: How he was Kidnapped and Cast away; his Sufferings in a Desert Isle; his Journey in the Wild Highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious Highland Jacobites; with all that he Suffered at the hands of his Uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so-called: Written by Himself and now set forth by Robert Louis Stevenson.”

The Walt Disney Technicolor 1960 film (“Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped”) is ironically directed by Robert Stevenson (no relation) and aired on Turner TCM on September 11.  The plot is a picaresque adventure, as was common for some English novels of the time(1886).  An appealing 16 year old boy David Balfour (James MacArthur) is beckoned to a gothic estate when his father dies, but quickly finds his uncle is conniving (there is a scene inspired by Vertigo).  He is then drawn to a ship voyage, where he is shanghaied (essentially kidnapped) into servitude, and threatened with slavery.  He soon meets up with a Jacobite, Alan Breck Stewart (Peter Finch) and go on a long adventure together, after both are falsely accused of murder. Alan is a Jacobite rebel in Scotland, as both escape the British redcoats about the time of the American French and Indian Wars (and the James Fenimore Cooper novels).  Eventually they get back to David’s uncle and David gets his inheritance with a trick and his friend’s witness.

I do recall that the enduring idea of the novel, especially in its later passages, is “friendship”.  Having read this book may have helped inspire my controversial first theme in English at William and Mary in the fall of 1961, which would help precipitate the ironic events that would later lead to my expulsion in November 1961 (as in my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book).

MacArthur (who was 23 when this film was shot) seems quite mature and handles himself so well, as in that fight with the Gaelic highlander and other foes.  He seems like a low-keyed predictor of the superhero movies to follow a half century later. How many role model teenage boys like this do you meet in a lifetime?  I can think of a few.

Jacobite painting wiki.

The broadcast also included the 1938 Mickey Mouse cartoon “Lonesome Ghosts”, with “personal animation”.

Name:  Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Kidnapped”
Director, writer:  Robert Stevenson
Released:  1960
Format:  1.37:1 now 1.85:1
When and how viewed:  TCM 2017/9/11
Length:  97
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Walt Disney Pictures
Link:  TCM

(Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

“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)

“Born in China”: in an alien world, animals behave like people in a primitive civilization

Born in China,” directed by Chuan Lu for Disney Nature (obviously intended for large markets in both the US and China) takes us, for the most part, to the high mountain plateaus of western China, just north of Tibet, and very much giving the look of being on another planet.  In fact, traveling to China, for most Americans, would probably be as close as it gets to space travel to an alien world.

John Krasinski narrates intersecting morality tales of five wild animal characters, covering a spring to the following spring, a marathon effort to film (the filmmakers show how they did it in the epilogue during the closing credits of a 76 minute feature).

He actually starts with cranes in the lowlands, before moving on to the Tibetan antelope (chiru), a panda with her daughter, a snow leopard with her two cubs, and a young rebellious male in a close-knit sub nose red monkey family.

The female snow leopard lives in the most alien-looking landscape, right out of one of Clive Barker’s Imajica dominions (the Fourth, probably). In an early scene she faces off a competitor for hunting territory and prevails. But later he hurts her paw in a chase and is less able to hunt, as her two kids are just getting old enough to start hunting for themselves.  Out of desperation, she takes on a herd of chiru and apparently reaches the end of her career.

The little boy monkey is jealous of the birth of a baby sister, and with the gender-based social discipline of the family structure that rather resembles Islamic polygamy. (The film does not say what happens to the unattached males, but it probably is not pretty.) Failure to protect younger siblings can leave then vulnerable to their one enemy, a huge hawk that snoops down and takes his sacrifice. A bird eating a primate, very bizarre.

The monkey community lives on the verge of civilization. We understand how animals live in a world of survival of the fittest, but social organization, however authoritarian in moral tone, that assigns risks and responsibilities within the herd or extended family, is a step toward more complex social and political organization, as in human society.  This is what we would probably find on other planets.

Tibet scene similar to film (wiki).

Name: Born in China
Director, writer: Chuan Lu
Released: 2017/4/21
Format: 1.85:1
When and how viewed: Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/4/22, 6 PM, fair crowd
Length: 76
Rating:  G
Companies: Disney Nature
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, April 22, 2017 t 11:45 PM EDT)

“Beauty and the Beast”: in the end, “smooth” is still “desirable”

Beauty and the Beast”, directed by Bill Condon, has a simple enough moral:  physical beauty may be skin deep, but real love is soul-deep.  I’ve been there before.  I heard that speech in 1978.

The film is Walt Disney Studio’s remake of the 1991 play of the setting of the Broadway play, about 1990, by Alan Menken (lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. That in turn is based on the fairy tale by Linda Woolverton.  So, we have children’s literature.

When I worked as a substitute teacher, I did an English class (10th grade) where the assignment was to write a fairy tale.  One of the boys wrote a tale starting, “Once upon a time there lived a banana”.  Imagine where that could go.

In fact, for all the artistry surrounding talking teacups and living heirlooms in a dark castle in medieval France, this sort of classic works better for me on stage, like “Wicked”.  Yes, the songs are wonderful.

As for the morality tale, the prince (Dan Stevens) gets transmuted into a beast after he turns away a homeless old hag.  He’s really worse off than “the Rich Young Ruler” in the New Testament.  In nearby towns (or maybe Paris), Belle (almost out of “Days of our Lives” in the past), played by Emma Watson, has to fend off a suitor Gaston (Luke Evans), who warns her about the fate of spinsters – they drop out of eternity.  She runs away to the castle (the climate transmutes from summer to winter without much change of altitude, just like in “The Shack”) and meets the prince, and of course falls in love with him.

So she looks beyond the obvious.  I could just pretend that she is attracted to hairy men (after all, Caucasians evolved in colder climates, where that sort of natural selection of a cis-gender manly-looking secondary sexual characteristic might be logical).  Maybe he just looks Neanderthal (and it’s possible that Europeans benefited from the best Neanderthal genes, as they took over).  Gaston will follow her, with guide Maurice (Kevin Kline), and Josh Gad will play LeFou (sounds like the name of a government teacher).  In the final scene, though, Beast changes back.  It seems that “smooth” (or “thmooth” – that is, immature) is what is “desirable”, even for men, after all.  David Skinner (author of the 1999 essay “Notes on the Hairless Man”) will celebrate in the world of conservatism.

I do recall in the early 1970s, before “My Second Coming” (Chapter 3 of my “Do Ask, Do Tell I” book) a couple of women tried to encourage me to adopt an “alternative” appearance to appeal to them — head shaving, hippy beads, body art — as if I could cover up my physical flaws and get away with it. That confounded my own idea of virtue.

Name:  “Beauty and the Beast”
Director, writer:  Bill Condon
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1  Imax, 3-D
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/3/21, afternoon, small audience
Length:  129
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Walt Disney Studios
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 at 9:30 AM EDT)

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”: a “standalone” prequel to the original 1977 film, and an unfortunate metaphor for Syria today

Name: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director, writer:  Gareth Edwards
Released:  2016
Format:  2.39:1 Imax
When and how viewed:  2016, AMC Tysons, 2016/12/19; noon show, not crowded
Length:  139
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  LucasFilm, Disney
Link:  official

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, directed by Gareth Edwards and written with Chris Weisz and Tony Gilroy, is an immediate prequel to the franchise opener “Star Wars”, now known as “A New Hope“, in 1977.  That movie was considered “so good” and I remember seeing it on a big screen in midtown Manhattan.

The story gives us an uprising by the Rebel Alliance led by a young woman, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) after her mother (Valene Keene) had warned her dad (Mads Mikkelsen) about the Empire’s plans with the “Death Star”, very much a franchise icon.

The action happens on many planets (with only a Alcubierre hyperdrive to jump among the various solar systems), and it stretches credibility that the Galaxy would have so many planets with about the same gravity, same breathable atmospheres, and mild climates – and yet each planet would emphasize a single ecosystem (rather like the 4-world kingdom of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” and the 1984 film). But the plot focuses particularly on Jedha, largely desert with rocky plateaus, on top of one of which there is a model city looking a bit like Aleppo (to the point that the whole plot may come across as an unfortunate metaphor of current events in Aleppo) and Scarif, looking rather like lower Florida, with one huge Citadel Tower where the Empire holds its death star secrets. Much of the film was actually shot in Iceland, Jordan, and Maldives (for the low-lying tropical lagoon-and island landscape of Scarif).  There are also some scenes on the city-planet Coruscant with a lot of pyramid-like skyscrapers.  The Jedha plateau city, while looking Islamic, has more spherical buildings than would happen in the Middle East (even Jerusalem).

The film has many other appealing characters, including two pilots played by Diego Luna and Riz Ahmed.

The movie has an accompanying booklet from Entertainment Weekly that provides timelines and game board maps for the entire Star Wars franchise.  It’s interesting to see how so many plot threads are put together, and how new narratives can be inserted, without fraying into loose ends. LucasFilm calls this new movie a “standalone film”.

The LucasFilm franchise now is connected to Disney (it used to be Fox), and I don’t know when Disney will open its Orlando Star Wars Land attraction, to give visitors a chance for some virtual space travel (in addition to the Mars virtual reality ride at Epcot).

(Posted: Monday, December 19, 2016 at 8:15 PM EST)

“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)

“Queen of Katwe”: a young girl brings chess (and real economic benefit) to Uganda as a prodigy

matugga_hill

Name: “Queen of Katwe”
Director, writer:  Mira Nair
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, OM. 2016/9/30, fair audience for weekday
Length 124
Rating PG-13
Companies: Walt Disney Pictures (independent), ESPN
Link: official

Queen of Katwe”, by Mira Nair, tries to be a kids’ underdog human interest story typical of Disney, with a slightly independent look.  The basic storyline is that Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is found to be a chess prodigy, even though her family in Uganda doesn’t have enough money she can go to school.  With coaching, she enters tournaments, eventually plays in Russia and finally plays well enough at the FIDE level to earn a living (by her late teen years) and buy her family a nice house in better sections of Kampala.   She also founds a Chess Academy and Mentoring Center in a  poor section of Kampala.

The film makes many points about living conditions over there.  Kids have to support their siblings.  Families get tossed out in the street by brutal landlords.  Storms and floods wash away whole neighborhoods.  The IMDB credits list South Africa as a filming location, but the film credits say that some of the filming actually in in Uganda, in the shacks around Kampala.

Uganda is notorious for its bad record on human rights, especially for LGBTQ, and society is not pleased to see women beating men.

The chess coaching scenes are a bit corny.  In one early tournament, a little girl announced mate, and sees her male opponent take off her Queen and bursts into tears.  The coaching (David Oyelowo) is too generic to be interesting (it’s harder to make chess interesting in the movies than baseball, football, basketball, hockey, or especially soccer).  In a final championship game, Phiona plays the White side of a Queens Gambit Declined (not the Exchange Variation but the usual 4 Bg5).  Later she has a Queen side attack and advanced c-pawn that, by advancing, either wins a minor piece or forces mate after a sham sacrifice.  The combination on the board actually made sense.  Larry Kramer (a great proponent of 1 d4) would approve.  But Peter Thiel is a bigger proponent of 1 e4 than even Bobby Fischer (“Pawn Sacrifice”  or “Searching for Bobby Fischer”).

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The film opened in widespread release today after a limited release in less convenient locations one week ago.

By Wulman83Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37337865

Posted Friday: September 30, 2016 at 9:30 PM EDT (WP marks as Oct.)