Monthly Archives: November 2013

Thor: The Dark World

thor the dark world posterI have literally just returned watching Thor: The Dark World at the local theater and let me tell you something: all the reviews I read that said it was mediocre at best were wrong.

That’s right.  I said it.  Wrong. Because it was one of the most awesome superhero movies I’ve seen.  Also, the last one I watched was Man of Steel which, let’s be honest, was a total waste of 2.5 hours.  But I’m not here to whine about Superman.  I’m here to tell you that you need to see this movie.  Now, where to begin?

The film starts with an explanation of just who the Dark Elves are and of the existence of the Aether.  For those of you who read The Bone Season (or my confused response to it), that Aether, which is somehow related to the existence of the Reph things, is not like Thor’s Aether.  This Aether is a weapon which grants huge amounts of power to the host in whom it resides.  In this case, the Dark Elves want it, but then Thor’s grandfather decimates them in battle and the Aether is buried/put aside because it can’t be destroyed but the Dark Elves are all dead.  Except, of course, that they’re not.

Dark Elves.  Creepy as hell.

Dark Elves. Creepy as hell.

We also get a nice return of Jane Foster, Darcy, and the intern (a.k.a. Ian).  As usual, they’re funny and searching for science-y stuff and since Thor hasn’t returned to contact Jane since Thor (to be fair, he was a little caught up during the whole Avengers New York situation and lately he’s been working on other issues in the 9 Realms) she’s all mopey and trying to see other people but is incapable of doing so successfully.  Some priceless scenes follow but then – GASP! – Jane is somehow sucked through a portal thing and gets the Aether all up in her veins and it’s not looking like a good situation.

When she’s in Aether-land, Heimdall (Mr. Guardian of the Universes) notices that he can’t see her, so by the time he tells Thor and our favorite Norse god gets to Earth, she’s returned through the portal but the Aether is still in her.  Oops.  This is going to be a pretty big problem, isn’t it?

The whole storyline of trying to get the Aether out of Jane/out of the hands of Dark Elves is essentially a big excuse for giant fight sequences, lots of destruction of major cities, and some pretty emotional moments.  Translation: super cool series of intense battles.

thor-the-dark-world-loki-and-jane-fosterOh, and did I mention that Loki makes a big, beautiful return?  Because he does.

Remember, this is the first time we’ve seen Loki in action since he wreaked havoc on NYC in Avengers, so our re-introduction to the god of mischief is while he’s in shackles and answering to Odin about his crimes.  Basically, he’s going to be imprisoned for life and Thor is going to become king and there’s nothing anyone can do to change Odin’s mind.  Even Frigga (Momma Bear of Thor and Loki – even though he’s not biologically hers) can’t change her husband’s mind completely, but at least Loki is alive.

After the first intense battle for the Aether, something really awful happens (for the sake of keeping this as major spoiler free as possible, I’ll just say it’s pretty brutal for so early in the movie) and Thor realizes that he needs Loki to help him get Jane away from Asgard so that they can fight the Dark Elves and save the universe.

All in a day’s work, right?

Here’s where I’m going to fangirl a tiny bit (read: lots and lots and lots).  I love Thor and Jane and Darcy and Intern and Erik – they’re fantastic characters and they keep the movie light, meaningful, action-packed, and wonderful.  I mean, there’s a scene where Thor, having fallen through some crazy portals, winds up in the London Underground and has to ask how to get to Greenwich, at which point the girl who’s clearly starstruck tells him to get on the train for three stops.  It’s hysterical.  And the ending is, of course, poetic and beautiful and meaningful, too.

But Loki.  My God, Tom Hiddleston can act.  I’m sure this is one of my less coherent reviews simply because I’m in awe of his performance.  There’s a brilliant moment of dialogue between Odin and Loki at the very beginning of the film that made me worry about every character for the next 2 hours.

Odin: We are not gods.  We’re born.  We live.  We die.  Just like humans do.

Loki: Give or take 5,000 years.

It’s so simple, so elegant, and yet so packed with potential tragedies.  And Loki takes it all in stride.  He wants so desperately to rule, but he can’t.  Meanwhile, his brawny (not brainy) brother is going to inherit the throne even though all he wants is to get back to Jane.  It’s tough on a guy.

loki-thor-the-dark-world

Loki reveals himself to Thor – but is this just another illusion?

After the Really Awful Thing happens, we keep getting images of Loki as composed and cool in his cell, but when Thor says he doesn’t want any more illusions, Loki reveals himself.  He’s in turmoil, the cell is overturned, and he looks like a broken man.  And his illusions play a huge role throughout the film – do we ever really know Loki?

There are really deep moments between the brothers, but there are also some absolutely Oscar-worthy scenes of outright humor.  The scene where Thor tries to pilot the giant Dark Elves spaceship thing and Loki is the most obnoxious backseat driver ever is perfection (I want a Loki GPS for my car right now), as is the escape scene in which Loki creates more illusions, including himself as another Avenger (and let me tell you, I laughed so hard popcorn almost came out of my nose).

And here’s how I can describe my experience watching just Loki’s scenes: laugh, laugh, cry, laugh, snort popcorn out my nose, laugh, scream, gasp, sob hysterically, and eventually punch the air with joy and wonder at how they managed to wrap everything up.

If you watch the movie, you can’t tell me you don’t have a significant emotional response of some kind to Loki.  In fact, I’m thinking of starting some sort of social media campaign for Tom Hiddleston to get an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  I wouldn’t expect him to win (the Academy seems to choose those “profound” movies with lots of serious content over superheroes) but I think he deserves to be recognized for the breadth and depth he brings to the character.

Thor-The-Dark-World-Movie-2013-Review-Official-Trailer-Release-Date-1Of course, I’d love for this movie to be nominated for loads of Oscars, so I hope that actually happens.

Ultimately, I give this movie two thumbs way, way up because it’s just awesome.  Of the Avengers’ movies, I think this may have just dethroned Captain America as my favorite.  What a movie, what a cast, what a beautiful experience.

Also, as in all Marvel movies, be sure to stay after the credits.  Not just the one scene in the middle of the credits.  There’s also one at the end which, while not absolutely necessary to any plot, is totally worth it.

Be sure to check out Thor: The Dark World at your local theater!

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The Cartographer of No Man’s Land

51tUAsZa1ML._SL500_AA300_I admit that I first picked this up because I thought the cover was gorgeous.  In a land of beige and white (seriously, look at the trend in fiction book cover colors), the greens and blues and yellows and the sepia of the photograph – wow.  And I loved the title.  So by the time I read the inside flap, I was already sold on reading it.

P.S. Duffy’s novel is, without a doubt, an impressive debut.  Set during the Great War, it focuses on one family’s experiences both at home and in the trenches.  Angus McGrath, our brave hero, is a brilliant sailor who also happens to possess a talent for art.  His paintings are his emotional connection with nature, a connection he seems to be lacking with his wife.  He married Hettie young and since her brother Ebbin headed to the front, they’ve been even rockier.  Now, however, Ebbin is missing and Angus decides to enlist in order to be closer to more information on his brother-in-law’s location.  He is promised a place as a cartographer in London, but due to the overwhelming number of cartographers, he’s shipped out to the front.

Meanwhile, back in Nova Scotia, Angus and Hettie’s son Simon Peter is struggling to understand what is going on with the war.  His grandfather, Angus’s father, is a pacifist and seems incapable of supporting his son’s decision to go to war.  Hettie is distant, worrying about her brother and her husband.  And Simon Peter’s teacher at school, Mr. Heist, happens to be of German descent.  The community turns on Heist and Simon Peter is left alone to navigate circles of society, far more dangerous waters than the ocean upon which he sails.

As the novels plays out, we watch Angus and Simon Peter trying to cope with the changes in their lives without each other.  Simon Peter does not watch men die in front of him, but he does meet George, a young man returned from the war with a severe case of PTSD.  While he keeps clipping articles and propaganda, Simon Peter can’t ignore the facts: the men returning from the front are damaged, sometimes beyond repair, and there is no way anyone who has not shared the same experience can even try to sympathize.  In Europe, the men with whom Angus has been since his dispatch to the trenches slowly die off, and, just as in the war itself, the story at times becomes a list of names of the dead.  As horrifying as it is, it’s powerfully done.

When I started reading this, my only hope was that Angus made it back to Simon Peter (and I’ll spoil this: he does).  As I got further, though, it wasn’t so much about getting home alive and well, but just getting home.  The repeated Homeric motif worked well for the father-son storyline, with different characters on the front reading The Iliad or Heist suggesting Simon Peter read The Odyssey (“Simon had chosen the battle, even though Mr. Heist had claimed the journey home was equally if not more entertaining.”).  We wait for our Canadian Odysseus to finally return to Ithaca, where his Penelope and Telemachus are waiting for him.

I was most impressed by Duffy’s ability to capture the war on both the European and home fronts.  There are large portions of text devoted to explanations of battles or location or events, but it blends effortlessly in with the story itself.  There was no point where I felt that I was reading a textbook (but, to be fair, I’m also a History major, and I think the Great War is one of the most fascinating periods of world history).  And to be able to capture the emotions and actions of a historical war without droning on and on, that’s pretty impressive.

Now, here’s my only trouble with this book: is it geared toward men or women?  And I’m not trying to be sexist, but most books are clearly aimed at one or the other.  Things like The Hive are so obviously woman-books that I feel like I can’t really recommend them at any point to a man.  Things like Double Cross (THE BEST BOOK EVER) are pretty clearly man-books.  (I know – I’m saying it’s a man-book and then I’m saying it’s the best book I’ve ever read, but frankly it’s a pretty masculine book.  If you haven’t read it, READ IT.  It’s about the group of spies during WWII who worked with MI5 in order to ensure the success of D-Day.  Absolutely fascinating.  But now back to my dilemma.)  So where does The Cartographer of No Man’s Land fit in?

It walks the line between woman-book and man-book, and here’s why.

For female readers, it pays great attention to the emotional consequences of war for both the soldier and his family.  There is also the element of romance for both Angus and Simon Peter.  Like, will Angus and his wife work things out or will he find comfort in a Frenchwoman’s arms because she understands life on the front?  And will Simon Peter and Charlotte be able to connect in an innocent love?

For male readers, the whole story is based around father-son relationships.  Angus and his father are at odds because of the war – Angus intends to go to war against his pacifist upbringing and his father’s advice, and Duncan cannot find it to be vocal in his support of his son.  Angus and Simon Peter are both floundering in their relationship because Simon Peter needs guidance and Angus is lost in his own world.  And Simon Peter and Duncan butt heads over Angus’ role in the war – Simon Peter is proud of his father and can’t understand why his grandfather refuses to be.  It’s complex and powerful and painful to watch these three men dealing with the emotional baggage they’ve collected over the years.  And also, there’s war, which is a pretty obvious point in the man-book category.

So here it is: the romance doesn’t overwhelm the story, but neither does the violence.  It’s a beautiful story that everyone should read.  It captures how families work and how to face adversity.  And it’s so well constructed it’s just a joy to read.

Two thumbs way up for The Cartographer of No Mans’ Land – great cover, great story, great conclusion.

For more on the book, check out the W.W. Norton website and be sure to look for it at your local bookstore.

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