Tuesday, May 31, 2011

(Belated) Memorial Day at the Nerdery

This is a bit late, obviously. The beloved spawn is to thank, as he decided to throw a ship-fit like none other to inaugurate his first Memorial Day. To get the authentic feel for the creative cauldron that crafted this article, put the nearest piglet in a hot bath and occasionally stick a table fan up to your ear. That will approach the level of painful distraction the drooling dear fostered for my day off.

It's Memorial Day today, a United States holiday dating back to 1865, when freedmen decorated the graves of Union soldiers. Throughout the rest of the 19th century and into the 20th, Decoration Day was a time to specifically honor the sacrifices of Union soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War. After World War I, it became a time for Americans to commemorate all their fallen soldiers, and the term Memorial Day became more and more prevalent. In the 1960s, Congressional bills formalized the holiday's title as Memorial Day, and established it as the last Monday of every May.

So now you're here on a three day weekend, reading a blog. Maybe you watched a parade today, listened to a ceremony, and are having a barbecue. The kids are running around, playing in some of the first hot, sunny weather the midwest has seen this year. Dogs are getting disproportionate amounts of exercise today, and the chittering robins are back on your porch, flitting around from branch to deck to feeder in their ever-bobbing daily routine. Routine. It's a summer holiday--the summer holiday, really--ushering in warm weather and that comfortable summertime pace of life when you saunter from one air-conditioned environment to another before dipping into a pool or breathing in some affirming grill smoke.

And where are the decorations on the graves of soldiers? What are you remembering today? Did you wake up and think of the sacrifices of others today, or did you rush to get that chicken marinade started?

I'm a firm believer in the power of entertainment. What we enjoy in our leisure time, and why, informs the choices we make, the mental habits we feed, and the lives we lead. Being a nerd isn't just a vapid way to spend disposable income and fill free time. It's about exciting the mind and the heart in a youthful, exuberant way that ultimately uplifts and edifies. So today I have a selection of nerd-approved media--games, books, and movies--to help jog your Memorial Day into something more than the first barbecue of the summer.

Some of these pieces of entertainment will doubtless seem trivial, almost crassly so, compared to the others. They are not selected on equal footing, either by appropriateness to my purpose or by overall merit. Instead, they are selected as a cross-section of media that can all be used to help stir your thoughts towards the true purpose of today. Every nerd should be intimately familiar with at least a couple of these, but everyone--nerd or not--should be able to read and appreciate the import of at least one item on this list. They aren't necessarily cerebrally concerned with sacrifice or Memorial Day itself, but they all lend themselves quite well to introspection on this day of remembrance.

Ken Burns: The Civil War (documentary mini-series)
Since 1990, Kens Burns' nine part series on the Civil War has dominated the subject, and for good reason. Presented with a deliberate pace, evocative sound and visuals, it takes viewers through the five years of the war with a careful attention to the personalities of both the famous figures who defined history and the average men and women who made history. In its constant wealth of quotes, journal entries, and memoirs from Americans throughout the war, few documentaries do such a great job of making history and the sacrifices of our forebears real.

Memoir 44 (board game)
Few board games are both so accessible and so historically concerned as Memoir 44. A board game by Days of Wonder, the makers of the family classic Ticket To Ride, Memoir 44 is a wargame that recreates the seminal battles of World War II. Each scenario for the game starts with a paragraph or two of description of the historical setting, which frames each game in concrete terms that helps to bring the key moments of the war to life. The rules are extremely intuitive and straight-forward, allowing kids as young as 8 to play, and games rarely last more than an hour and are frequently much shorter. These two factors mean that Memoir 44 can not only be a keystone family night game, but it can easily serve as a valuable illustration to children when they are first learning about World War II. And for the rest of us, it's a vibrant reminder of the moments that laid the groundwork for our modern era, which we forget all too often.

Captain America (comic book series)
The origin story of Captain America, both as a character and as a comic, is a story of enduring patriotism. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby a full year before the United States of America entered the war, their comic was met with a mixed response at first. Depicting a staunchly political, war-oriented plot, the comic predicted America getting pulled into the war a year before Pearl Harbor, and anti-war groups sent the pair hate mail and threats for it. Time and events proved them right, though, and Captain America became one of the most popular superheroes of all time. But beyond being another story of a guy in tights, Captain America is--and always has been--about personal endurance in doing what is right, a symbol of the generation that created him and the soldiers he leads in the comics' plots.

Halo (video game series)
The Halo video game series is about the personal sacrifices of soldiers. It gets overlooked in the vanity of the FPS(first-person shooter) genre and the spectacle of the science-fiction settings, but its story is a tribute to the sacrifices of soldiers throughout history. The main character is a class of soldier that invokes the Spartans of Thermopylae, the Fall of Reach parallels the Battle of the Alamo, and the celebrity of the main character evokes a general patriotism in humanity that smacks of Captain America himself. The games Halo 3, Halo: ODST, and Halo: Reach in particular all feature narratives that give sensitive honor to these themes, and the novels (especially those by Eric Nylund) elaborate on them by emphasizing the personal grotesqueries the Spartans have endured and the casual apathy they receive from the people they regularly protect.

Red Dawn (movie, soon to be remade. Spoiler alert)
This soon-to-be-remade classic from 1984 is literally a memorial movie. Virtually all the movie's protagonists die over the course of the movie, not all nobly, but the determination and gung-ho violence of the movie is just sensitive enough to make the film's ending shot of the monument to the resistance resonate on a real, gripping level. Considering it is an 80s commie-killing action movie, I am actually surprised that John Milius exhibited the restraint he did in making such a dramatically even-handed film, relatively speaking.

The Things They Carried (book)
Tim O'Brien's book The Things They Carried is a life-changing, heart-rending book. A series of short stories about 'fictional real events', the book is a series of endearing, disgusting contradictions that help to illustrate but not explain the trials and depth of personal loss those who served during Vietnam endured. It's a tough book to get through, like so many truly great stories, but the emotional fatigue I felt when I put the book down is priceless. There's a vague sense of enlightenment that comes from reading this book that always puts me in mind that this is what Memorial Day should always and ever entail.

These aren't substitutes--or even progenitors--of patriotism, pride, or anything like it. These are examples of how the things we nerds love and revel in have the capstones for introspection of all we owe to those who died for our security and freedoms--in times past and time yet to come.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thor, god of thunder, on the movie Thor

As mentioned previously, here is the lightning-bearing god's impression of his namesake movie, Thor. But beware, the keen-eyed god of butt-kickery does not obey the laws of mortal spoilers! Read at your own peril.

Behold, mortals! I have descended into yon realm of puny mortal-yet-immortal whiners, which has been whimsically dubbed 'the net', in order to intone on my latest exploit turned into cinematic theatre. Mayhap, this spring day might also have been the annual remembrance of my coupling with golden-haired wife Sif, and as a trip to the blasted, shrill, and petty world of men is vastly superior to dining by tallow light or appraising tapestries for our hall, I will recount this tale as a mighty victory at the hands of Thor and mighty Mjollnir! Never has either been bested--nor will be bested--by fair conjugal partner, though perchance she may be under such impression purely by my own guile. Ha! A cleverer god never did smite the heavens with his irrepressible hammer!

But lest ye should say I tarry away from the tale of my victory for too long, let it proceed hence, and be fairly noted that certain mortal eyes--with young infant clutched to bosom, would see the film hence:

Pity the poor, be-parented fools, who must view my glory from an awkward and intimate angle in order to more easily excuse themselves from the theatre at the babe's mewling cries! Pity them, I say!

Of the moving film I do first note a gross inaccuracy: Thor-Odinson, master of all martial challenges, is red-haired as the bloodied fields of Jotunheim. I daresay I do not hold it against playsmiths Branagh or Stracynski--nay, they are bound by an ignorant audience to misrepresent the mighty, far-ranging god of storms. I judge not them, but the race of soft-minded mortals who force their craft to such gross inaccuracies. Fear the day the thunder-god will reckon against you for your complicity in this crime against the all-father's Asgardian son!

In similar vein I note this bloody clot: that the rightly sprightly and stalwart Sif was also misrepresented in the color of her tresses, which were cast in a base dun hue. I would bemoan this injustice to my mistress more greatly, but verily I know that such decision was made to make Natalie Portman a fairer fixation for Thor Hopkinson--for justly shall I name him after the cinematic sire's casting as the Lector-performer--as maiden Portman could ne'er pull off the golden mane of my beloved, and thus throw an Asgardian spanner into the cogs of the plot and the mortal infatuation Hopkinson must inevitably portray. Compounding these sins, all Asgard is cast in metallic, organic shapes that appear a most brilliant aspect fit for the fiction of science. That the glorious heavenly leathers of my people or the noble yew-constructed homes of Asgard should be so spurned fills me with double portions of shame, and rightly I shall put my weight behind updating the vestments and domiciles of the Aesir quickly upon my return. Verily I want Hopkinson's costume to bedeck my fierce physique.

Further I did note this: the golden-haired facsimile of my divine self did fairly represent the bragging beater of beasts in the first act of his performance. As his fury drove him, mightily did he storm the frozen fortress of the frost giants and lay their most powerful foes low and cast them heartily down to Helheim. Woe betide the audience, though, as Thor-Hopkinson did hence lose his powers and his mettle proved fit for mockery. Mockery on the noble head of Thor, however dimly represented!

"Verily I want Hopkinson's costume
to bedeck my fierce physique."

Consider: depowered and confused by the effrontery of the stun-gun-wielding Kat Dennings, Thor Star Trek-borne awoke in a lowly hospital. Mightily enraged, the prince of Asgard did begin to beat a ruin upon the impudent medical staff, who set upon him with interns heavy numbering five and three. Scarce did he begin to lay into them, and taunt their feeble efforts against his martial magnificence, when the smallest of the apothecaries did unceremoniously insert a needle into Thor Hopkinson's Asgardian arse. Ignominy most foul! That bit of story-telling detail will indeed be held against playsmith Branagh when he seeks entry into my hallowed halls!

And truly, I was ne'er so compelled to feel base sympathy for the fiend Loki as I did while watching this film dance before my cloud-piercing eyes. Nobly acted and deeply portrayed, he did right align all his trickery beside a twisted-yet-esteemable excuse, though mayhaps I rightly do think he need be portrayed ever more sinister in succeeding films--which will follow with all the certainty of Ragnarok itself. If playsmith Branagh were to enlist my advice, Loki's return would be made all the more loathsome if he were to have his portentous split lips, given to him by the sons of Ivaldi. Naught be so fearsome and dreadful as a villain who proudly bears the scars of his own duplicity, and so shall be the base Loki in the Odinson's sequel to this quickened film.

Though chastened by the demands of plot progression, Thor Odinson did indeed want to see Clint Barton strike at Thor Hopkinson from high fastness. Fair may it be said that an unaware and unarmed Thor movie-borne would have been easy fodder for the greatest of all snipe-slayers(take that and writhe in ignominy, over-blown and ridiculous Mark Wahlberg vehicle--the innocuously-titled Shooter which would have done well to be dubbed Shudder). But, should the sharp-eyed bolt-thrower fail to fell the fair-haired Hopkinson, oh what a great duel would ensue! Verily would Hopkinson have to struggle through a hail of arrows, his body buffeted by bodkins as the soaked contest between heroes would end with a bloody beating the likes of which might fit the fighting ferocity of Sean Bean's last stand as the Prince of the White Tower. Greatly did I chortle as stout Clint appeared, but mightily would the thunder-wielder have laughed to see the champions clash.

As path-stones in the road, of course the heroes dubbed the Avengers will fight in their assembled glory. And when Hopkinson takes to the field of world-shattering conflict, I deem it meet that he should fly in the most epic of aerial battles. Stark the heart-perforated will fly around the sky in an aerobatic display, hurling flechettes and ranged-short bursts of plasma at the enemy, whilst Thor Hopkinson will grapple in mid-air brawling capable of crushing any krav maga master in a lightning-suffused attack attributed only to Aesir-combat! Oh, fair shall the sun shine on the day of release for The Avengers!

Speak I simply, that the simple mortals who read this stitch in the net might read and be edified by Thor's words, no less mighty than his hammer! Break, lightning! Roar, thunder! See the film that bears my name! Thor Odinson: Aesir-lord, the terrible, the one who rides alone, the loud rider, and protector of the shrine.

Get thee to a theatre hence, and see Thor!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thor: good, needs more archaic smack-talking

Nerdview: A good review is hard to find. A good review--that is, a quality review, not a positive review--seems to be even more rare amongst professionals and dedicated reviewers. Fortunately, the nerdery is helmed by a literary nut. Each review, whether it is a game, movie, book, or television series, will have the four elements: bias, appreciation, personal enjoyment, and general enjoyment. Put in food terms, these are odor, beef, gravy, and cheese.

This week was my third wedding anniversary, and the first as a parent. So, what did my wife and I do? A candle-lit dinner? Baby-sitter and a little romance? A trip to the theater to see the latest Marvel superhero movie, directed by the multi-faceted Kenneth Branagh, followed by a trip through Arby's drive thru?

That's right folks, and I didn't even suggest it--the wife did. Honest. The nerdery really knows how to pick 'em. So now you will get to treat yourself to another nerd-rant-cum-movie-review, or nerdview for those pressed for time.

Expectations 'Odor': I've been a Marvel fan my entire life. I remember having recess discussions in first and second grade about how Batman was cool, but Superman was stupid and too powerful to be interesting, whereas the X-men all had to struggle just to get by, but they still had cool powers and fought villains and stuff. I grew up watching Uncanny X-menSpider-man, and Marvel Action Hour. Heck, the 90s were a great time to be a kid hooked on Saturday morning cartoons, especially if you had Cartoon Network to get your retro fix, too. As I got older, my appreciation for superheroes became slanted towards the underdog and patriotic types--Captain America foremost, but I'd include the misfit contestants of Who Wants to be a Superhero? too. I've loved Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and The Incredible Hulk, and in my mind each of the new crop of Marvel movies brings me one step closer to watching Steve Rogers bash Nazi skulls in with his shield.

You'll note I haven't mentioned Thor yet. As a fan of Marvel comics, my appreciation of Thor has never really strayed beyond his membership in the Avengers. This might seem a bit incongruous when you consider that I like reading mythology and ancient folklore, and Norse mythology is some of my favorite in the genre. But for me, I didn't really connect with Thor enough--as a superhero, he's close to Superman's status of being too powerful to be interesting, and I felt certain the changes to the original myths would be too frustrating for a literary fan of the eddas like myself. But Thor was going to be part of the progression to Avengers, and so I decided I would dutifully see it when it arrived in theaters.

Then I saw that Kenneth Branagh would be directing the film, and I pretty much lost my mind. I've loved his directorial adaptations of Shakespeare's plays and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and I felt certain that he'd instill a good mix of high drama and comedy, and get the feeling of stylized language among the Aesir portrayed properly. The action and special effects would be awesome of course, but I was curious going in to see how well integrated they would be, since his other movies haven't contained nearly so much of either element.

But I was enthused when I went into the theater, expecting a good mix of drama and action movie about an over-entitled god becoming a reliable and consistent superhero.

Appreciation 'Beef': I was so right, but I was ignorant of one important fact that would've increased and maybe directed my expectations for the film: J. Michael Straczynski helped to write the story. As the proverbial head from which the fully armored and ready-to-battle Babylon 5 sprung, I could've expected an epic story that keyed in on the responsibilities of leadership and power. Adding to that Straczynski's powerful history writing for Marvel comics, especially the Thor series, you can be guaranteed this will be a solid script that doesn't unnecessarily dilute the characters. And so it is.

"Then I saw that Kenneth Branagh would be directing the film, and I pretty much lost my mind."

Thor's script is well-written and considered. More than most movies in this genre, Thor has the biggest hurdle to jump for its first installment. The initiating story for every superhero film has to be tempered by an origin story, which just about goes without saying, but it also needs to establish a sense of normalcy for the world. We need to get a sense of how unusual it is for a flying gold and red tin man to go around zapping bad guys, or we need to get a sense of what the metropolitan city is like before the animal-themed vigilante shows up. In Thor, the problem is we need to get two status quos at the film's start: Asgard and its connected cosmology, and Earth. In order to make this manageable, the audience gets a front-loaded introduction to Asgard. It might come off as awkward to some, as you get a large number of huge visuals as Anthony Hopkins as All-father Odin narrates that Asgard is a transcendent realm and had previously beat the frost giants of Jotunheim in a bloody war that he seeks to prevent. It's a minor hiccup in the first act of a movie, but the action and beautiful effects that are coupled with it help to address it. Throughout the second act of the movie, then, we get a solid and character-based sense of what the status quo is on Earth--or at least in New Mexico--and all of that comes off extremely well with a good amount of mystery coupled with the earthling women's affected reactions to the god in their midst.

The casting and acting in Thor are both superb. Each of the Marvel movies, from Iron Man and the successive films from their small studio, have had increasingly large star-studded casts, and Thor continues the tradition. With Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Colm Feore, Stellan Skarsgard, and more in scattered bit roles, Thor has a selection of stars in early, middle, and mature phases of their careers. Anthony Hopkins does a particularly great job of portraying the benevolent but fierce father figure of Odin, and in particular one of his key lines in the introduction is delivered with enough gravity that most people wouldn't stop to recognize it as a purely Straczynski line: "A wise king never seeks out war, but he must always be ready for it." It's a great little proverb that Straczynski injects into just about everything he writes, and it's marvelously effective when spoken with a pained timbre by a one-eyed Odin played by Hopkins.

The rest of the cast is great, too. Hiddleston plays the ignored but enthusiastic brother well, and his own conflicted emotions fall into the believable range of father-son rage that is just south of Commodus in Gladiator. Watching Loki plot, but not knowing to what end and being driven by assumptions based on the comics and myth made for a fun bit of tension--you don't know what he has in mind, but you can see in Hiddleston's truly mischievous acting that he is enjoying every obstacle that falls before his brother Thor.

I'd really be remiss if I didn't mention Colm Feore, who plays the frost giants' King Laufey. He casts a great antithesis to Anthony Hopkins. Like his Aesir counterpart, Laufey is trying to strike a balance between the desire for security by power and the desire for peace in general. In the first act, he shows a good deal more restraint than the protagonist, giving Thor a chance to take an insult on the nose and walk away without fighting. That sort of reasonable power-monger is rare in cinema and difficult to portray, but Colm Feore does it well even through obscuring makeup. Much like Ron Perlman, I almost wish they hadn't obscured his face so audiences would recognize the quality acting as his and not a prosthetic's.

The directing is fantastic, and shows in the integration of the setting into the story's themes. The setting of the movie covers three very different locations: New Mexico, where Thor and his hammer land under exile; Asgard, home of the gods; Jotunheim, home of the frost giants. Asgard is colorful and vibrant--the buildings are gleaming gold and silver, surrounded by lush gardens and beautiful mountains cast at tropical angles--which makes that realm feel like the actively supported haven for the Asgardians that it is: powerful, beautiful, and enduring. New Mexico features a color palette that is only slightly washed out, which helps to convey the pale beauty and fragility that we understand the gods attribute to earth. Jotunheim, on the other hand, seems to have some geographic and structural similarity to Asgard--large, sweeping vertical structures and angular mountains and canyons--but with a completely blue-grey icy palette. This makes the allusion that the frost giants aren't just bogeymen, but that they had a culture that was in some way comparable to Asgard before the war, helping to sell Odin's references to the desolation of war. Also, Jotunheim seems to be on a fragile plate of land, which hints that as an obliterated post-war society, they are in a delicate state in which an easily provoked war could well annihilate them despite their individual strengths.

The portrayal of these three places is distinct and important. New Mexico at the climax of the movie serves as a microcosm of the potential consequences of Thor's rash choices, and his recognition of his own culpability is what makes him worthy of his power once more. Seeing the supernatural force tear through the tiny town in the middle of the desert--evoking a showdown from an old western--helps to solidify this sentiment, and strikes a chord that Thor and his Mjollnir are the only defense for the innocent people caught in the middle-of-nowhere town. It's a neat little tie-in that next to the massive, epic, and fanciful realms of Asgard and Jotunheim we have a one-horse town of two thousand serving as the representation of earth. That, and Natalie Portman as Jane Foster--who capably plays being intelligent, curious, beautiful, both weak and strong in her own way--encapsulates the finer things of earth for Thor.

In addition to crafting the setting portrayals to fit the themes of the movie, Branagh's direction also helps to make the personal moments in the movie feel as epic as some of the action. Watching Odin's heartache as a father and ruler take its toll on him is so effecting that I thought it was a deliberate attack for a moment, and seeing the earthlings react to Thor's resumption of his rightful power is thrillingly portrayed as an emotionally exhilarating moment for them, which translates easily to the audience.

Personal Enjoyment 'Gravy': I wasn't expecting to be thrilled by Thor, but I was. I certainly would've liked the Asgardians' language to be made even more archaic--but what stylized language there is extends to the limits of being universally understandable. Anything more and I suppose some audience members would've gawked and scratched their heads until something blew up. But I would've enjoyed it immensely, and I frankly was just a little disappointed to have the language's richness be watered down. As such, my next article will feature more of the stylized language I was hoping to get: my gift to you.

Thor's action is fun and really well-plotted, but, even though I liked it, it feels a little inverted to many audience members. The first fight is awesome, wall-to-wall special effects and glorious super-powered combat. The second major action scene is completely un-powered, man-to-man beating, and the final fights are special effects-driven but much more subdued in terms of struggle and choreography than the first fight. If you're a little jaded with the formula of action movies, then this should be a breath of fresh air. The final fight is less a question of who will win--which is kind of moot in most super-powered movies anyways--but more a question of how much will be lost both personally and cosmically in the process. I loved it and felt it helped mirror an important and unique aspect of Thor relative to other genre movies: the title character is equally powerful at the beginning of the movie as at the end, but at the end of the movie he is a better person and better equipped to use his power properly.

The humor of the movie was also spot on for my taste. There are a few culture jokes, such as a mortal Thor charging into a pet store and urgently demanding a horse, a few jokes at the expense of the several over-confident characters, and so on. You won't be roaring with laughter, but if you're like me, you'll snigger about some of it on the way home as you reminisce about the experience.

"...in my mind each of the new crop of Marvel movies brings me one step closer to watching Steve Rogers bash Nazi skulls in with his shield."

And then there's the importance to the series of Marvel movies. This is huge for Marvel-nerds like myself. I loved getting a taste of Jeremy Renner charging in as Clint Barton(frakkin' Hawkeye! Woot!), or getting a feel for Hiddleston's interpretation of Loki as the grand schemer. Clark Gregg returns as Agent Coulson, and is as funny with his deadpan humor as ever. He is perfect as the straight g-man who jokes but never laughs, smirks but never smiles, and is always there when the slag goes down but never really throws down himself.

And make no mistake: this film can well be called Shakespearean. Not because it's a well-formed movie, with deep characters, or a character-driven plot. It has those elements to some degree, but those elements don't make it Shakespearean. Shakespeare's works are really about using people in obscure positions of power, privilege, and authority to represent much more mundane themes that relate to the common man. Romeo and Juliet are two spoiled brats of wealthy houses with personal servants, but their love is emblematic of the risks of heady infatuation and young lust. Macbeth is about a man who kills his way to kingship and then pays the price for it, but it's also about a man who greedily grabs for whatever is before him and then is crippled by guilt over what he's become. Hamlet isn't just about a prince avenging his father, it's also about the uncertainty of one's relationship with family and friends, the doubt of executing justice, and the tendency to personally hesitate to avenge wrong done to someone else. Thor, in turn, is about a god cast down to earth while the heavens circle the drain, but at its heart its about being worthy of the power and trust your parents give you, and about exercising your own authority responsibly when your friends and family rely on you.

Amongst my personal nitpicks with the movie: smack-talk and mythological accuracy. Thor loves to talk trash, and it's part of his identity as being a generally arrogant deity, but also a part of ancient Scandinavian and Germanic culture. In pre-Christian times, those cultures' heroes thrived on bragging about their exploits and abilities, as fame was considered the best wealth to have, and Thor is wealthy indeed. Even in Marvel's iteration of Thor, he does enjoy the trash-talk. Of course, since the movie is concerned with showing Thor mature into a less arrogant, more humble individual, the smack talk starts out at a moderate level and diminishes. It's a choice that serves the plot well, but I really wanted more lines paralleling, "You dare threaten me, Thor, with so puny a weapon?" For more(albeit slightly more foul-mouthed, but very funny) dissertation on Thor's smack-talking prowess, check out the ancient blog of Dave Campbell, here.

Mythological accuracy is definitely not a legitimate bone to pick with the movie, since it strives for accuracy with Marvel's interpretation of its pantheon, not the Norse myths that serve as the original source. But I hold a few details from the myths so close to my heart that noticing their change made me cringe a little. An example: Odin has one eye, and in the movie it is clearly depicted as a war wound from the war with the frost giants. In the mythology, though, Odin gave up his eye as a necessary sacrifice for his wisdom, and it was left at the source of wisdom as a sign that everyone had to pay the price for wisdom--there are no shortcuts for it. Obviously, the myth's rationale for one eye is not very conducive to super-heroes, so I can't begrudge Marvel or Branagh for the change.

General Enjoyment 'Cheese': Who will enjoy this movie? Comic-book fans, certainly. There are tons of tie-ins to the developing Avengers plot, and the after-credits scene(you know to wait for the credits' ending, right?) got me jonesing for more Marvel goodness when Captain America hits theaters this summer. Even if you're not waiting with bated breath for Captain America and the Avengers movies, there's a good deal of comic book fun to be had in this film. There's a lot of humor injected throughout, and the visuals are bigger and more beautiful than anything that currently comes to mind.

Who else? If you like diverse ensemble movies, Thor will scratch that itch. Even though its named Thor, there's lots of room for the rest of the cast to shine, and Hopkins, Hiddleston, Portman, Skarsgard, and Dennings all have their moments. And, though I'm embarrassed to say it, the ladies who go to movies like The Fellowship of the Ring and giggle over Legolas being so hunky(you know who you are; you almost ruined the second and fifth times I saw The Fellowship of the Ring in theaters) will enjoy the beefcake moments in Thor. There's a soft, under-played romance in Thor that never devolves into a cheap and steamy romp that I find more appreciable than the comparable connection in Iron Man 2, and so there's that, too.

"...Natalie Portman as Jane Foster... encapsulates the finer things of earth for Thor."

If you find that special effects movies distract you, or you expect the final fight of a movie to be more tense than the first--and will be incredibly disappointed if the climax is more emotionally and morally pitched than action-packed--you might not enjoy it. If you can't stand seeing myth be twisted to be more cinema-friendly(there might be one or two of you), you might not appreciate the Marvel brand of Norse mythology.

But if you're ready for fun, approach the film as an exploration of three worlds and one god-man who walks between the three of them, kicking butt everywhere he goes, then get thee to a theatre!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Day in the Nerdery: Baby Anecdotes

A Day in the Nerdery: Being a nerd is fun. There's a peculiar level of joy that can only be enjoyed by someone who knows how to properly visualize 'power armor-shattering pelvic thrusts', 'brace-for-impact bathroom breaks', or 'thing-foot'. I'm here to share that joy, whether you like it or not.

Yeesh, another long gap in posts on the blog here. Believe it or not, I am writing blog articles on a regular basis right now, but none of them has had that 'back to blogging' quality that I would like to have. So, I figured I would share a few real-life anecdotes of what life is like in the Nerdery. Specifically, what it's like for a certain baby who has warped my sanity with his pate-addling cuteness like a Chibi-cthulhu on a sugar high in a pillow factory.

My son is going to be a super-nerd, the likes of which has never been nor will ever be again, and he loves it. The first night home from the hospital, I put my wife to bed and sat up with my baby on my lap as we watched Monsters on Netflix. It's a steaming pile, and my son slept through the whole thing. If I weren't knotted up like an embroidered doily I would've done the same. But when did my boy wake up? To stuff his diaper with a gurgling doody right during the supposed climax of the terrible non-invasion movie--when the two Americans kiss after watching the alien squiddies dance and exchange rave light-shows. Thank you, son. That's a welcome distraction.

Later, my son watched Battle: Los Angeles with my parents, my wife, and I. Granted, most of the time my son was watching his mother's face and south, but he did spend a little time quietly watching the film. He made virtually no noise for the entire movie--probably still basking in the glowing praise he'd gotten over lunch beforehand--but at a tense moment in the third act of the movie, bright flashes of electric arcs caused him to suddenly raise his hands up in surprise. He didn't make any noise or move for a moment, but it was clear: he was ready to surrender to the alien invaders.

More nerd indoctrination. My son has sat through several RPG and board game sessions with my wife and my friends. Despite my fear that he'll spit up on my game pieces or ruin someone's character sheet, his interaction is to usually stare intently at the pieces in the middle of the board. One might say he's just spacing out, but that'd be an ignorant comment, as my son has now picked up enough to laugh with us during critical successes, and he enjoys providing ambient sounds when I turn on our iTunes for a gaming soundtrack. His favorite way to contribute? Wait for his daddy to make aggressive NPCs talk in gravelly, intimidating voices and punctuate that with "Whoooo...gla-la-hooooo..."

My son likes his daddy, sure, but he loves his mommy. That's because there are two functional differences between us. The first shouldn't need to be mentioned: if you can't guess, just keep reading the first sentence of this paragraph until you figure it out. The second difference is that my hands are normally cold due to the fact that they take forever to warm up. It's not uncommon for me to start a work shift in the winter and have my hands still be frigid when my shift ends and I go back outside. I'm used to this, and in fact I appreciate it when comes time to romantically antagonize my wife. My son, however, does not appreciate it. It's not uncommon for my wife to pass me my naked little clone who is hiccuping mad over something. He wails, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, his mouth puckered into a Winston Churchill expression, settling down even as he's passed over to me to be nestled directly against my chest. Soon he settles down, except for the hiccups, and begins making gooey eyes at me as he gives me a sheepish smile. I laugh as my wife says something to the effect of me being the baby-whisperer, and I pass him back, hands slipping beneath his shirt to touch his potato belly. Suddenly, Churchill is back and throwing an exorcist party, screaming red-faced at the icy touch. I laugh: at least his hiccups are gone.

Got to experience a new type of being 'spat up' on the other day. Winston Churchill seemed to have some gas, so I of course was in charge of burping him since the wife claims he never burps for her. I no longer believe this and think it's part of a vile postpartum plan, as after the little spud's second little burp I hear, 'glap!' I look at my chest to find a thick mass of puke the consistency of back-of-the-throat loogies, which is still hanging from my beloved son's mouth in a thick off-white tendril. I freak out just a bit, at which point my son decides that the regurgitation was so relaxing that he should just rest his little head...in the puke. The gummy gurge sticks to his face as I frantically try to shift to quickly get him out of the spit-up, but not before he gets a nice c-shaped cake of slime on his eyebrow and cheek. This, of course, is worthy of a cheerful giggle, probably in response to Ymir's grossed out facial expressions.

Babies are devious critters, and they are not innocent--they just have an impaired ability to offend, requiring cunning and dedication. Case in point: I was changing my son's diaper--an unrighteously ripe dump that he had squeegied around into his chubby thigh folds--when I notice that his normal funky jock-strap smelling head now smells like an old carton of milk. That means he's been spitting up, so I decide to change his rank onesie while I'm at it. My stripped son looks up at me happily, cooing as if to say, 'Thanks dad, that stuff was getting in my way...' He leans towards me, smiling in order to lull me into a false sense of security, swings his leg out--not making this up, he really did--and lets fly a torrent of pee onto my stomach, leg, and foot. Laughing all the while.