Thor 2 Brings The Thunder(ous Laughter)

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HEIMDALL!

Right.  Now that I’ve gotten my oddly compulsive enthusiasm for Heimdall out of the way, I can get on with reviewing this movie.

Thor 2 may be one of those cases of too much of a good thing; I love it so much that I’m really not sure where to start talking about it.  All I can tell you is that I cackled repeatedly in the theatre despite being surrounded by strangers, and that I would happily see it again soon (though preferably without paying through the nose for my tickets, thank you very much Loews Boston Common).

I haven’t had this much fun in a movie theatre since I went to see The Avengers.  Heck, I think Thor 2 might be even more fun than The Avengers, though they’re competing in different categories.  See, The Avengers is one of the serious episodes of the superhero series, while the Thor movies are the comedic relief.  They have their serious moments of course, but it seems like everyone involved recognized the first movie’s comedic potential and decided to run with it for Thor 2.  And holy shit did they ever succeed.

On that note, I, um, have to have another shout out:

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Darcy sizes you up for her next laser-guided comedic strike.

Darcy is hilarious.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but do you recall how she totally stole the spotlight in the first movie?  I hardly paid any attention to poor Natalie Portman in the first Thor, despite the fact that I usually love her characters.  I think Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster got far more attention this time through, which was good, but you should still keep your eyes on Kat Denning’s Darcy.  Every scene that she was in became funnier, just by virtue her presence.  She was flat-out one of my favorite characters, and her simultaneously accepting and no-nonsense reactions to all of the truly ridiculous things going on around her only made her scenes better.

I’m a little worried to be talking too much about this movie.  I seriously don’t want to give anything away.  It’s everything that I had hoped for from a superhero movie, and it does it all with a particular attention to dramatic comedy that will leave you with a grin plastered to your face.  It is an unapologetic superhero flick in high form, and (as I’ve come to expect from Marvel’s tightly woven movie universe) sets up perfectly for more fun and excitement in the future.

Now, before I go on to talk about things that might be considered spoilers, I just have to say: stay for both of the post-credit sequences.  As with Avengers, there are two of them.  Oh, and if you want to read someone else’s excellent take on why Darcy is so cool, check this out.

Right, so here there be *SPOILERS*.

I’m not actually going to say very much.  What I really wanted to talk about was the fact that they managed to find an excuse that let them have a climactic set piece battle with callbacks to other previous challenges faced by Thor.  I thought that that was very cleverly done, and I was glowing with admiration from one storyteller to another for how they had managed it.  Could they have done more with it?  Probably.  Did they need to?  Not at all.  It was wonderfully done as it was.

Oh, also, my overweening enthusiasm for Heimdall was well and truly paid off in this film.  I liked him in the first film because I thought he was simply cool.  His actions in the the second movie cemented my impression of him, given his careful maneuvering of his obligations to simultaneously do what he saw as necessary and right while still maintaining his loyalty to Asgard.  Who would have thought that I would like someone so stoic and terse?  Oh, right, everyone who’s seen me watch a Spaghetti Western.

Watch this movie.  If you’ve ever been at all tempted by a superhero story, it’s truly a treat.

 

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My Apologies to Iron Man: Why Power Armor Doesn’t Make Sense

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The contents of Iron Man’s suit after the third explosion.

My argument is somewhat more elaborate than this, but the gist of it is thus:

  1. Place monkey in tin can.
  2. Shake can vigorously.
  3. Remove pulped monkey from can with preferred utensil.

***

What’s the deal with power armor?

I love science fiction, and I often enjoy seeing science fiction become science fact (even if it is scary at times).  Plenty of things that we’ve dreamed up in our stories eventually come to pass in real life, whether it is because they inspired others to make them or because they were the product of careful forethought on the part of an author.  But what about power armor?  It’s been a staple of military-oriented science fiction for decades.  For the sake of simplicity, I’ll assume that power armor is an armored exoskeleton which offers its onboard human operator enhanced strength, mobility, and protection (sounds pretty cool, right?).  Yet while I’m usually pretty excited about science fiction becoming reality, I’m not so sure about seeing power armor become real.  Let me explain.

The Army’s TALOS project is now pushing for an armored exoskeleton, something which is essentially power armor.

R&D has a reputation for being a little bonkers sometimes; people fixate on really cool ideas and try to make them work, regardless of whether or not the ideas are practical or have any clear application.  That’s perfectly alright, in my opinion, as we never know where such things might take us.  Military R&D often turns that fixation up to eleven, which becomes a bit more problematic.  Sometimes the things we develop are impractical or nonsensical to implement (like 747s mounting lasers to provide missile interception), sometimes the tactical or strategic role intended for a weapon disappears before it is completed (as with Japan’s WWII submarine aircraft carriers), and sometimes the intended capabilities don’t make very much sense in the first place.  In the case of power armor, it all has to do with these things called “bodies.”

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Playing Hooky

Sorry everyone.  My post for today is just the news that I am once more utterly consumed by Worm.  If you want to hear why, you can read my first post on the subject.  It turns out that the later arcs are also extremely compelling (and no, I’m not actually surprised).

If you want something else of mine to read and you haven’t yet read my Monday post, check that out.  I’ll have more for you next week!

And Then You Die: A Good (Character) Death

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Bye bye Boromir.

I love Boromir.  I know I’m not the only one who does.  And however much I like Boromir when he’s alive, there’s something that’s almost even more (tragically) appealing about him dead.  This is less because I like his ruggedly handsome corpse, and more because of what Homer touched on thousands of years ago: in his death, because of how he died, Boromir becomes something more than he was in life.  Boromir had what we might call a good death.  Key to this, Boromir dies before he truly succumbs to the power of the Ring, and in his death he tries to make up for some of the mistakes that he has made previously.  His act of self-sacrifice protecting the Ring-bearer is a fairly hefty weight in his favor on the scales of Judgement, making up for some of his earlier errors.  Interestingly enough for such a perilous setting, he is also the only member of the Fellowship to die and stay dead.

It turns out that that single heroic death is pretty standard.  Most stories, like most role-playing games, don’t have lots of character death.  In reality, people engaging in the same activities that most adventurers and main characters pursue with wild abandon have a fairly high casualty rate.  People are killed while fighting, they’re permanently injured, they get sick… and in many cases, their deaths and debilities feel meaningless.  For every handful of people that die doing something we would idolize as heroic, far more are killed or injured in an almost banal fashion.  Would we feel the same way about Boromir’s death if he had, I don’t know, been killed without having a chance to fight back?  Stepped on a landmine?  Slipped in the shower and broken his neck?

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The Attraction of Games: Why?

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This article is honestly me cheating a bit as I would have preferred to write a true analysis or something more comprehensive than a question, but I’m busy!  So this is what you get.  But don’t fret, I think this question is actually extremely interesting, and very important.

Why do we play games?  I ask this because I recently got into a debate and one participant countered criticism about a game’s setup with, “I hear people play games for the story.”  Now this very well may be true since many games have fun stories, but so do books and movies, and you don’t have to fight your way to the next bit of stories in those.  You don’t have to spend hours jumping from one plot point to the next.  So why do we turn to games for story when we have books and movies?

To me I think the answer is “participation.”  Games allow you to participate in the story.  But it is with this answer that I then begin to question certain games which don’t let me actively participate in the story, but instead just force me to do task after task that holds no real meaning in the overall narrative.  Along this vein, should we forgive games with great stories for their bad gameplay?  I could go on, but I actually wrote a bit about this previously in my article about games and art, but I think we can go further into this question.

Since I need to get going I’ll leave the floor open for you to counter, explain, extrapolate, divulge, or what-have-you in the comments below.

Julia Griffin’s Retelling of The Snow Queen

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Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Julia Griffin’s Snow Queen.

I admit it: I’ve long been a fan of pretty pictures.  It’s no surprise, then, that I’m a fan of Julia Griffin’s work.  For example, I just cannot get over this kid’s hair.  The fine detail, the shimmer of light, and the delicacy of each strand seems incredible.  And the Snow Queen’s fur stole is similarly impressive; I feel like I’m looking at the fur of one of my ferrets.

Done entirely in colored pencils, this is just one of many images created by my friend Julia Griffin for her retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen.  She’s been working on this project for the past three years, and the time has finally come for her to turn her collection of images into a book.  If you like that picture, or if you like stories about young heroines, or even if you just like the idea having a pretty picture book, you should check out Julia’s Kickstarter project.

You want to see more art?  There’s more good stuff where this came from:

6c776f78a3e3e8b3da6790fd04c21dc3_largeI continue to be amazed by the semi-stippled effect she’s created, as well as by her impressive attention to detail.

You know, I was going to wax loquacious about how cool I think this stuff is, but I think I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.  You should totally check out Julia’s work, and take a look at Julia’s Snow Queen.

You can see some of Julia’s other work here.

A Mighty Fortress, by David Weber

Funny how these things work.  I was going to write an article about this book for last Wednesday, but then I was caught up by Worm.  If you haven’t read that article already, I strongly suggest that you do.  The truth is, I’m still torn by the temptation to just fall back into reading more instead of writing this.  But A Mighty Fortress deserves its dues, and it’s best for me to write about it before all recollections of my previous life are completely washed away by Worm.

A Mighty Fortress returns to the world of Safehold, with all of the previously established intrigue, religious strife, and budding world-wide warfare that David Weber has thrown together into this meaty fictional stew.  At the end of the previous book in the series, I was feeling a little let down: it wasn’t that the book was bad, it was simply that it followed my expectations so completely that I didn’t feel inspired to immediately grab the next book.  But now I’m glad that I did; while it wasn’t some magical honeymoon moment, like the first denouement of a radiantly new setting, it was most definitely a lot of fun.  Still true to form and somewhat predictable, but totally worth the read.

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Worm, a superb story about supers

Lock up your doors, close your shades, phone in sick.  You’re about to disappear, pulled down by the rapturous embrace of another internet fic.  It will keep you up late, and get you up early.  For those of you with a hankering for excellent stories and an intelligent treatment of what happens when the superhumans come home to roost, I have to share the new drug in town.  As with all good drugs, the first hit is free.  Unlike most, the other hits are free too.

I was jonesing for more Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality yesterday (you know, that fic that I liked so much), and thought I’d check in to see whether there was a new post.  While I was out of luck on that front, the author, Eliezer, did post a new note on November 1st.  Better yet, he recommended another piece of internet-based fiction: Worm.  The name isn’t much, I know, but bear with me.

Worm is excellent.  As I write this, I’ve just lost an hour and a half of my afternoon to its charms, and I’m only pulling myself away because I absolutely have to force myself to write something.  As soon as I have enough of this written that I can put off finishing it until Wednesday morning, I’m certain I’ll dive back in.  It is compelling and appealing, and I really don’t want to stop.  I don’t want to write my own material, I just want to read more Worm.

Whew, ok.  That was all I got down before I fell back into the fic.  If you want to know more about the story that’s grabbed me, read on. Continue reading

The Lone Ranger: Better Than Expected

Another plane ride, another unexpected movie review.  I seriously hadn’t planned on watching The Lone Ranger, but boredom plus free makes for some powerful incentives.

I didn’t watch the film in theaters because it just didn’t seem worth $10 – $12.  I’m still not sure whether it’s worth that much, but the movie passed the “acceptably fun” test for being stuck without other entertainment on a plane, and it didn’t explode with the offensiveness I had expected.  That’s not to say that others won’t find it offensive, since some clearly already have (Hanay Geiogamah, for example).  In fact, coming around to it, I had such low expectations for the movie that it can’t help but have exceeded them.  Please bear this in mind.  I’ll do my best not to spoil anything too much, and I’ll warn you before the spoilers get hot and heavy… but some are inevitable.  Read on as you see fit.

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