Sunday, November 24, 2013

Current Reels - Thor: The Dark World is a feast for the eyes and soul

Brains and brawn team up: image courtesy of Marvel, Inc.
The trouble with movie sequels is that they very rarely live up to the original in the qualities of aesthetic and storytelling. This seems to be the case particularly in the superhero genre. (Let's not even get started on the Tobey Maguire atrocity that was Spiderman 3).

Thor: The Dark World not only equaled but surpassed the quality of the original film, which, helmed by powerhouse directors Kenneth Branagh and Joss Whedon, was already pretty amazing. Director Alan Taylor, whose work on the HBO series Game of Thrones' influence is clearly seen here, and James Gunn teamed up to give our Asgardians (even the extras) a serious upgrade. The Lord of the Rings meets Star Wars aesthetic, introduced in the first and nurtured in loving detail in the second, is a strange concoction that is executed brilliantly. Everything is better - the ongoing character development, the plot, right down to everyone's hair. Loki's look in particular (Tom Hiddleston) was much improved over The Avengers, ditching the greasy gelled up villainous 'do and the helmet that looked like it came from a Halloween rack at Target rather than being forged in the smithies of Asgard.

Speaking of helmets, the ones belonging to Thor/Odin/Loki there were nary to be seen in this film. It somehow seems a fitting symbol for the theme of the plot, which is in the face of tragedy, one has to make him or herself vulnerable to what needs to be done despite the impulse to arm oneself with selfish thoughts and desires. Odin's wife Frigga (Rene Russo) gets significantly more screen time and even a chance to kick some serious butt. A pleasant carryover from the first film is the bemusing way the extraordinary fits into the ordinary world (aka: Earth) - one particular sequence that got some good guffaws out of the audience was when Thor enters a home and proceeds to hang Mjolnir on what my companion mentioned must've been "a very sturdy coat rack." This theme continues in the bonus footage at the very end of the credits, so sit tight!

Father and son time - image courtesy of Marvel, Inc.
It is those small, deft touches that adds depth and humanity to both the characters and the situations. Indeed, the movie fits in a ridiculous amount of plot in a compact package just shy of two hours. The expert pacing and balancing of spitfire dialogue  and inventive action sequences make sure the film doesn't lag or or get caught up in monologuing. The pitfall of many sequels is that the time they gain not having to introduce characters is often never used to its full advantage, filling in the holes of a mediocre plot with bad dialogue with gratuitous action sequences. (The only gratuitous sequence I can think of is a short scene where a shirtless Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is seen washing up after battle - which the actor reportedly objected to - but I for one am very glad that the deliciously good-natured Australian actor bit the bullet and gave us some fanservice.)

Where this film really shines is the plotline focusing on the strained relationship between Loki and Thor, and the tragedy that ultimately brings them together again. One fault in the otherwise enjoyable film - unless one is a fan of the Marvel comics or knows his or her Norse mythology - Loki's gift of shape shifting and illusion and the fact he gets those powers from his mum is a plot point that seemingly comes out of nowhere, seeing that it was given no real attention (that I can recall) in either the first film or in The Avengers. If I'm wrong, by all means, lay the truth hammer down on me! 

Toby sez: This movie; I like it. ANOTHER! *smashes water bowl*

Friday, November 15, 2013

AudioFile reviews visit England; catching up with Quentin Blake

Image courtesy of Penguin Audio, Inc.

Happy Friday dear readers! The latest bunch of reviews for AudioFile Magazine hops the pond into merry old England and the best of its British authors, Roald Dahl and E.V. Odle. I was very happy to see that my nomination of The BFG for the Earphones Award was granted! It is one of my favorite children's books and it was great to have revisited it in such a delightful way. It actually prompted me to investigate what Quentin Blake, a British artist who illustrated many of Roald Dahl's works, is up to these days. I was happy to find that he has a thriving online presence that includes links to a Facebook Page, Twitter feed, and free ecards! Inspired, I dropped him a note letting him know I was reviewing the revamped audiobook version of The BFG,and got a wonderful response back from his secretary, Liz Williams! Further proof to me that women named Elizabeth and any nickname variation of that tend to be awesome people. The correspondence is as follows:  

Dear Mr. Blake,
I recently reviewed the audiobook of the BFG by Roald Dahl narrated by David Walliams, and while it was lovely to listen to I couldn't help but call up in my head as I listened your wonderful illustrations that went along with the book when I first read it myself as a child. Now at age 30, I look back on your work and realize what an impact it had on me not only in my own drawings which I occasionally do for friends and family but also how your work was such a huge and important part of my childhood. I was wondering however, was there a particular Dahl book you enjoyed illustrating the most? In my mind, you seemed to have the most fun with Esio Trot, although my personal favorite is a tie between The Witches and The Twits.

Thanks so much for continuing to grace us with your wonderful talent!

 And the response! 

Dear Elizabeth,

Thanks for your message to Quentin.  He says he enjoyed illustrating all of the Dahl books, in very different ways.  But he does have a soft spot for 'Esio Trot', which he has just recorded in audio (in the same series as 'The BFG') - so you were quite right that he had the most fun with it!

What a joy to know what one the heroes of my childhood is still around and active, with a nice staff who kindly take the time to relay fan mail to him. Simply scrumdiddlyumcious.

Without further ado, the reviews!

Roald Dahl
Read by David Walliams

Versatile British actor David Walliams pulls out all the stops from his vocal repertoire to create a romping narration of this children's classic. There's no voice too big or too small for him, whether it's giving the Big Friendly Giant a deep, rumbling Cockney accent or endowing the queen of England with a prim and proper tone. Helping him along are well-placed sound effects sprinkled throughout--from the loud roars of evil giants to the soft tinkling of glass. The sounds enhance the wacky adventure, which only Roald Dahl could dream up. The four-plus hours whiz by with whimsy and inspired fun. Whether you're a child or a child at heart, you'll have a wopsy, splendiferous time. E.E. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine. 

To view the review on the AudioFile website, click here.

Image courtesy of Dreamscape Media LLC.
E.V. Odle
Read by Ralph Lister

Being a stranger in a strange land is never a comforting experience. Narrator Ralph Lister's animated performance captures all the bewilderment associated with that circumstance in this curious tale about a half-man/half-machine from thousands of years in the future who suddenly appears in 1920s England. Lister's voice moves from the stuffy accents of the British aristocracy to the high-pitched squeak of the Clockwork Man's machinery as it starts malfunctioning, along with associated beeps, buzzes, and, on one occasion, growling. Lister goes after it all with gusto and conveys the deadpan humor with skill. Despite the silliness, the story leaves listeners thinking about how much humanity must be sacrificed to create the ultimate being. E.E. © AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine.

To view the review on the AudioFile website, click here.