Movie Review: Thor

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Written By: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne (screenplay); J Michael Straczynski, Mark Protosevich (story); Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby (comic book)
Paramount Pictures/Marvel Entertainment, 2011
PG-13; 115 minutes
2 stars (out of 5)


This is how I envision Thor having been written: J Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5) sketched out the story on a napkin while spending a good deal of time at a bar, probably celebrating however much they paid him to do the job. All well and good until he set his drink on the napkin. Then some of what he wrote got a little blurry. And by the time Protosevich got hold of it, he could only read about half. He made some additional notes—that may or may not have had anything to do with anything JMS had written—then faxed the napkin to the screenwriters, but of course it got shredded by the fax machine. This left the screenwriters with no choice but to try to piece together what they could of what had probably been something decent if not brilliant but was now the screenplay equivalent of mincemeat. They threw in some filler for the parts they couldn't find or decipher. The end result: the mess that is Thor.

Truthfully, it's a textbook movie. It's so predictable one thinks it must have been written by film students who only just learned about plot and three-act structure. And it's streamlined all to hell—most character development has been cut in favor of action sequences. If we're supposed to believe there's some kind of chemistry between Jane Foster (Portman) and Thor (Hemsworth), well . . . Let's just say even my rather extensive ability to suspend my disbelief doesn't stretch quite so far.

As my husband put it, a lot of the movie is about a woman who doesn't drive very well. And I just had that "Rainbow Road" video from YouTube stuck in my head the entire time.

It probably didn't help that our cat's name is Loki. He would have made a much better villain, I think; especially if we got him that horned helmet and a cape.

All the scenes in Asgard look like cut scenes from a Final Fantasy game. And everything there is very shiny. Are Norse gods also magpies or something? They seem to really, really like shiny things is all I'm saying.

It wouldn't have hurt if Thor had had a tad more humor, either. I wanted a reason to laugh, even just once or twice, but most of the dialogue falls flat. That is to say, the stuff that maybe is supposed to be funny isn't, and none of it is unintentionally funny either, so the movie ends up feeling monotonous in overall tone.

As a whole, the feeling is they made Thor simply because they felt they had to in order to introduce the character in advance of The Avengers. If you do bother to watch, wait for the scene after the end credits; it was reportedly done by Joss Whedon (uncredited) and is in the style the rest of the movie should have been. Not that I don't love Branagh, and I'm sure he did the best he could with what he had for material, but . . . Seriously. Does Asgard really need to be that shiny?


Book Review: Becoming Jane Austen

Jon Spence
Continuum, 2007
312 pages
trade paperback


This is the book the film Becoming Jane was based on. Now to be fair, my husband and I had tried to watch Becoming Jane a couple years back and couldn't get into it, so we turned it off after 15 minutes. Maybe we were just in the wrong frame of mind, or maybe this is the kind of story that doesn't translate so smoothly. Dunno.

I picked up the book because at some point it occurred to me that although I like Austen's writing (and yet I haven't read all of her work, though I probably should), I knew very little about her as a person. So I got curious. And then I went to the library, and this was one of the most recent books they had on the biography shelf. I figured recent information was probably better than, say, books from the 60s and 70s, so . . .

Becoming Jane Austen is good. It's well written, thorough, but not dry. Very accessible. It's almost a shame there's not more concrete information about Austen's life, but Spence does very well with what's available.

And I have to say I find it a fun fact that Jane and I were born almost exactly 200 years apart, plus one day . . . I guess I'd better hope I don't die at age 41, though.

Bottom line is I now know more about Jane Austen than I did, which was the goal. And had a nice time learning, thanks to this book.


Television: Doctor Who finale

All right, let's start from the tippy top. My dad used to watch Doctor Who when I was a kid, and I'd sometimes sit with him (we only had the one television), but I never did follow what was going on exactly, and it all looked a bit silly to me. Still and all, when the program was rebooted in 2005, my husband and I tried it out. We didn't get more than a couple episodes in, however. Maybe it was that we had other demands on our time—our first son was born that November—and/or that, in the list of shows we had time to fit in, Doctor Who fell toward the end.

NOW, a few years later, with kids a little older and us having a bit more free time to ourselves (and our almost 6-year-old finding DW to be a treat), and also the advent of streaming video, we've had the chance to catch up. And as a rule I do enjoy Doctor Who. I could debate the pros and cons of Tennant versus Smith all day, I could delve into the darker side of the Doctor and his psyche, what-have-you. But I really want to focus on the two Smith finales, by which I mean that of the last series (what we in the States would call "last season") and this past one as well. Because they seemed remarkably similar in tone and execution, which makes me worry that Steven Moffat might be dipping too often from the same well.

Here's the thing: last year the finale was "The Big Bang," in which the Doctor was in the Pandorica, but then he wasn't, and then he was going to die in 12 minutes, but then he didn't, and they had to recreate the Big Bang so the world could go back to normal. This year's finale was "The Wedding of River Song," in which the Doctor was once again going to die on a certain day and time, but then he didn't, and that messed things up in the world, so he had to fake his death so time could go back to normal.

Point 1. In each case, at least part if not most of the tension was predicated on the anticipation of the coming death of the Doctor. If this is your go-to crisis for every series finale, something is wrong. How many times can he die, or almost die, but not really die, or else come back from the dead, before the audience ceases to care? The only time this works is (a) if the program is in real danger of cancelation and the audience isn't sure if it's ending, and/or (b) there's a real chance the actor is leaving and the audience wants to see if there's a new Doctor.

Point 2. In both these finales, the pseudo-science causing the problem was, er . . . Jumbled? Not compelling? The core plots seemed flimsy. They were excuses for the characters to have long-winded conversations about their emotions. If you pay attention, that's how Doctor Who functions: the science is rattled off at light speed while the soapy interactions are prolonged. I don't have a problem with this as a rule; I'm the kind of person who enjoys character development. And if any of these characters were actually developing, I'd be ecstatic. But they all appear to be a bit stuck in their ways, forms and functions these days. River Song will always save the day and Rory will always be the underdog, while Amy usually has to step in and help him. If Rory does happen to rescue someone or something, it's generally by accident, a happy byproduct of his own clumsy existence. For once I'd like to see River Song not so sure of herself. I'd like to see Rory put his foot down in a way that the others can't railroad him. It's not in his established character makeup for him to walk away, but what if he finally did? That would be interesting. Not only because it'd be new for the character, but because the situation that would cause such a fundamentally changed reaction in him would have to be fascinating in and of itself.

Point 3. This is a more general point, but I do wish Moffat and company would give the audience a tad more credit. I mean, the minute they started talking about "the question" (a few episodes back), it was clear to me that they meant the show title. And it's no stretch to go from there to the Doctor's name. (That's old school mythology right there: look at Isis and Set.) So when the question was finally "revealed" at the end of "The Wedding of River Song," it was really more of a confirmation. The excess of drama around it was unnecessary. It smacked of a smugness that was unmerited, rather like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat with an exaggerated flourish while the audience sits there and says, "Uh, yeah. We know. Rabbit. Duh."

Okay, so to sum up: I like Doctor Who and want to continue to like Doctor Who, but in order for that to happen, we need some real shake-ups as opposed to these sort of smoke-and-mirror tactics. Let's get out of the comfort zone here, people. Really surprise us. If he can do that—if he can make us go, "Holy s***, really? I never saw that coming!"—Moffat and his crew will have earned the right to pat themselves on the backs.