On The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Just like pretty much everyone else in America, I saw the new Avengers movie this week. And now, for your entertainment, I present my spoiler-free take on the film.

First of all, if you can, go with friends. Movies are just more fun with friends. I’d say this is a good date movie but I’m not sure what that means. As with most movies, Greg grudgingly went along with me to see it because he knew I would never let him hear the end of it if he didn’t go. In his defense, he does like the Avengers. We also went with three other friends. The great thing about seeing Marvel movies with friends is that they are funny movies, and it’s fun to laugh with friends. I mean, I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much why I have friends. Right? Also, I like to talk about movies after seeing them, which is much more enjoyable if you’re with a group and you’ve all just seen the same movie together. Bonus points if you or at least a couple of your friends are some level of Marvel geek, because then you can have heated discussions about things like Civil Wars and Infinity Stones and explain minute points that either everyone already knows or no one cares about. And more bonus points if you get more than one funny look from the server at the restaurant you go to hang out at after the movie.

So anyway. The Avengers. Quick synopsis: The volatile crew of superheroes known as the Avengers (or as Greg likes to call them, the league of beautiful people) is working to recover Loki’s nasty scepter that caused so much trouble in the last movie. This becomes a problem, we eventually figure out why, there’s lots of drama, interpersonal relationship stuff, and a freaky mean sentient robot who decides that the Avengers are the world’s sickness and he knows the cure. Which is, of course, destroy the world (and humanity along with it). Since the Avengers are known for being rather fond of the earth (and humanity along with it), they figure they’d better stop him. It’s not a perfectly constructed, watertight plot by any means, but it provides a good backdrop for all the fun superhero antics that everyone is really there to see. That and the beautiful people. Because let’s face it, these people are superhumanly gorgeous. Eye candy, fun one-liners, and a really obnoxious villain who just needs a good butt-kicking are the essential elements of this film, and they deliver. I will leave the sarcastic criticism of various plot elements to the people of YouTube (HISHE, Screen Junkies, Cinema Sins, take your pick, there’s a bunch of them and they rule the Internet) and just say yes, it’s a fun movie. No, it’s not as good as the first Avengers movie, which is on my list of all-time favorite movies. No, it will not win any Oscars. And really, who cares? Marvel knows exactly how to part millions of us with our money: Keep making movies like this. It works.

On Guardians of the Galaxy (in 3D)

My eyes hurt. 3D is not my preferred format for watching a movie. This is because I am old-school, and I believe my on-screen entertainment should be viewed in only two dimensions, as it was originally intended. All this 3D stuff with things jumping out at you and making you think a knife is going to hit you in the face or whatever…meh. In the past they only made a movie in 3D if they knew it was so bad no one would ever see it anyway. “Sure, it’s a sequel to a horrible kids’ sci-fi spy action movie…BUT IT’S IN 3D, PEOPLE! You know you want to see it now.” I will say that 3D is better than it used to be, now that they actually film in 3D and IMAX to the max and all that, but it makes me dizzy, gives me a headache, and my vision is still blurry, hours later.

So. Guardians of the Galaxy (in 3D) is visually stunning eye candy that made me laugh and I think there was actually a halfway decent story in there somewhere. The characters are so flawed they are endearing, the plot is epic and ridiculous, and oh my word, it’s hilarious. So many fun lines and laugh-out-loud moments. I mean, this movie is stupid, but not so completely stupid that you want your money back at the end of it because you totally wasted two hours of your life. It’s just stupid fun, like me and my friends sitting around and being idiots and laughing at each other. That is, if my friends were aliens and tree-creatures and genetically-engineered raccoons.

If you never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy until this year and when you first heard about it you thought, “Eh, that’s a pass,” and then you started catching all the murmurings from the geek community and were intrigued enough to check it out, then you can understand how I felt about this movie. For the non-comic-book-geeks, like me, here’s a summary, based on what I know, which is sketchy at best: The movie is based on an obscure Marvel comic book series and it’s not like the Avengers, with superheroes and stuff. It happens in space and Earth is not really anyone’s concern. In some ways, it feels more like a space opera (think Star Wars) than a comic book, but it has that fast-paced, edgy Marvel action and humor that is just fun to watch. If you want to see an introduction to the characters, watch the previews on YouTube. They are a group of lost causes who initially all try to kill each other, maybe more than once, but ultimately come together for the very noble cause of saving a planet and also, incidentally, the entire galaxy. There are creepy bad guys and annoying government protocol and some ugly prison scenes. It’s very satirical and hard to take seriously. I liked it.

Please note that this movie is rated PG-13 and the content is not appropriate for younger audiences, or people who like good clean rom coms or family films. If you like sci-fi violence, with lots of weird-looking, seemingly pain-resistant and even regenerative creatures getting brutally beaten and dismembered and pulverized and stuff, you’ll like this movie. If you can stomach some ugly language and jokes and gestures mixed in with your fun in space, you’ll like this movie. If you like tree-creatures that can only say one line (spoiler: it’s “I am Groot”) over and over and occasionally beat people up but then turn around and do something sweet and beautiful, you’ll like this movie. If those things bother you, you won’t like this movie. As I said, I liked it. I’d be willing to see it again in two dimensions, but I’ll probably wait for Blu-Ray and the comfort of my living room to do that.

My take: Go see this movie, and go see it with friends who will laugh out loud with you, because the epic films of summer are just more fun with friends.

On the Star Trek Reboot

A couple of quick notes: If you’re looking for a blog that’s all up to date on current culture and stuff, this is not the one for you. When it comes to the metaphorical cultural party, I tend to come late and leave early. Although I actually did see both the movies that I’m about to talk about when they were in theaters, I have no new information about the franchise and I’m not an expert. Oh yeah that’s the other thing. I’m not a Trekkie. Like, at all. And I’m not really that into science fiction or space opera or spaceships or whatever. I just like movies, and I’ve watched Star Trek: Into Darkness, and Star Trek (2009) – yeah, in that order – in the last couple of weeks, and I have thoughts about them. That’s all.

For the sake of you AR types (you know who you are) I’ll go ahead and start with Star Trek. The 2009 reboot, not to be confused with the Original Motion Picture. One is a movie. The other is…um…how to put this delicately…forget it. The Original Motion Picture is crap. Making it was a waste of film and watching it was a waste of time. Two nights of my life I’ll never get back. So from now on, for the purposes of this blog, we will do ourselves a favor and forget it was ever made. When I say “Star Trek” I’m talking about the movie. And it’s a good one. It’s funny and campy but big-budget and big-action enough that you almost don’t notice unless you’re actually paying attention and not distracted by all of J.J. Abrams’ lens-glare-happy cinematography. It pulls what is, in my opinion, a really fun bait-and-switch where you think the hero of the film is one guy but in fact it’s the other guy. In case that seems confusing, I’ll clarify. And oh yeah, there are “spoilers” in the post because seriously, Star Trek is five years old and Into Darkness came out last year so at this point you’ve either seen them so the spoilers aren’t spoilers or you haven’t seen them and you don’t care. And if that’s the case, why are you still reading this? Anyway, there are all these character introductions and backstory and messing with the space-time continuum so it can get confusing and it’s possible the movie is about Jim Kirk but Spock is the hero. So in that sense I suppose it’s like other Star Trek movies of a bygone era. It’s not “classic” Star Trek, whatever that means. In many ways it’s much more like Star Wars, which is ironic for so many reasons. But the “fact” is, when you mess with the space-time continuum you get an alternate reality, and if you can’t figure that out on your own the characters blatantly point it out for you (thank you, Spock and Uhura, for that one). I mean, if you’re going to do a reboot, this is how to do it. Just mess with everything and reference everything else. And make it fun and beautiful. Who cares if it’s full of clichés and anomalies and plot holes and bad science? There are great lines and gorgeous effects and lens glare and come on, what more could you want? It’s a good movie, not a great movie, but it’s fun and there are some really great moments and it is absolutely beautiful on Blu-Ray.

Now on to Into Darkness, which is definitely my favorite of the two. In fact I’d rank it somewhere among my favorite movies ever. It’s the total package. Great plot, great hero, two ugly villains, one who is really mean and nasty and one who is all complex and evil and awesome and stuff. It kind of pulls the bait-and-switch with the villain. (Hey, it’s this guy. No wait, it’s this other guy. No, it’s definitely the first guy. Isn’t it?) With most of the character introductions out of the way, you get right into the action, which almost never stops. I joke that I didn’t breathe for two hours the first time I saw it. Oh and for the guys, you also get the token shot of a girl in her underwear. I don’t know why this is essential but apparently it is. Anyway. It stands alone as a good movie, in my opinion, but it’s also a great sequel. In Star Trek, Kirk thinks he knows everything and can handle any situation. In Into Darkness, he is forced into the realization that he doesn’t and he can’t. He can only do what he knows he can do, what he has to do. I love it when those moments happen for any character. I never liked Captain Kirk as a character before this movie. And don’t even get me started on William Shatner. Ick. Into Darkness is the kind of movie I can watch lots and lots of times and enjoy it every time. That’s the kind of movie I like best. Oh and there’s plenty of lens glare in this one too, and it’s also stunningly gorgeous on Blu-Ray.

So for any Trekkies out there who are still reading this, I apologize for my almost total ignorance and lack of respect for Star Trek canon. These movies are fantastic and I’d take them over any of the old ones, any cast, any day.

On STARDUST by Neil Gaiman

This month for my book club, I had the dubious privilege of picking our selection. Because I like to call myself a rebel, and I wanted to read something a little different and a little quirky, I picked STARDUST. It’s not a new novel, and it has been made into a strange little movie, and I thought it would be a fun read. It was fun, and surprising at moments, and largely satisfying overall.

STARDUST is a fairy tale for adults. Because of language, thematic elements, and the general tone of the book, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone younger than 16. Of course, this is coming from the same person who doesn’t think people should read Harry Potter books if they are younger than the characters in the books. So take that as you will. Still, there is a certain dark abstract feel to the story that I don’t think younger readers would find very appealing. And if you’re one of those “save the unicorns” types, you might want to think twice about picking up this book.

The premise of the story is what happens when you get your heart’s desire – whether or not you realize at the time what that is. It starts out with a young man named Dunstan Thorne – not to be confused with the main hero of the tale, who turns out to be Dunstan’s son, Tristran. Tristran sets off on a quest to retrieve a fallen star for his true love, and learns along the way that he has greatly misjudged the nature of stars (in the land of Faerie, at least) and of true love itself. There are villains, and helpful companions, and magic, and all the things that make a delightful fairy tale, including some moderately graphic details and a bittersweet ending.

The book has some faults. I found the style to be quaint and charming, but the modern writer in my head was counting off all the rules that the author broke in the telling of it. However, I don’t mind a few broken rules on the way to a good story, so this wasn’t a problem for me. It gets a little confusing at times, there are lost of strands that seem disconnected from the main story at first, but then Gaiman ties them all together so brilliantly that I was completely satisfied by the end.

Immediately after finishing the book, I made the mistake of mentioning that I might like to watch the movie sometime, so we ended up watching it that night. Do not watch the movie before reading the book. It will ruin all those abstract connections and the feeling of satisfaction when they all come together. That said, the movie isn’t terrible, and it follows the plot of the book for the most part, with some obvious license, until the ending, which is all completely made up by the filmmakers for additional drama.

So, if you’re an adult, or you think like an adult, or maybe if you think like a child but people think you’re an adult, and you enjoy fairy tales, I think you’ll like this book. I did, and I definitely fall into one of those three categories. I’ll let you guess which one.

Have you read STARDUST? Do you have any comments you’d like to add? Or any recommendations for what I should read next?

On Hobbits

After my last post on Twitter a few days ago (which, for this blog, was incredibly popular, thanks to my three followers on Twitter who actually read it) you may be trying to imagine how my mind has moved on to Hobbits. Do yourself a favor and stop trying. I actually could explain it, but you would either be bored to tears or contact my husband to encourage him to take me somewhere for a mental evaluation. That would be a waste of time. He knows I’m crazy, but thankfully he prefers my brand of crazy to any other kind.

So, yeah. Hobbits. I’ve actually been contemplating them for a while now. I’ve been playing LEGO Lord of the Rings on the Xbox 360, and the new Hobbit movie in December prompted me to ask on Facebook: Bilbo or Frodo? The response was pretty much unanimously in favor of Bilbo, with disparaging comments about Frodo to the extent that he is a weak character who perhaps should not have been included in the book at all. I’ve seen several places online where folks argue that Frodo is not the main character of The Lord of the Rings, and even my own husband has voiced his belief that Sam Gamgee is actually the hero of those stories. All of this puzzles me, because up until a few years ago, to my knowledge, Frodo was almost universally beloved. Like all Hobbits who feature prominently in Tolkien’s stories, Frodo is an ordinary little fellow who was thrust unwillingly into an extraordinary series of events. However, Frodo actually did something that no one else did: He saved the world. I hear you critics now: “No, he didn’t! He wanted to keep the Ring at the end! It’s only by accident that … (spoiler removed)” I would just like to point out that Frodo kept faithfully to his purpose through the entire story, and it was only at the last critical moment, when faced with the unrelenting pressure of Sauron’s power expressed through the Ring, that he wavered. It is my opinion that Frodo is the only person in all of Middle-Earth who could have successfully carried the Ring to the fire of Mount Doom without giving in to the temptation to claim it for his own. Which is why the Ring came to him in the first place. Because he was the hero.

Now, on to Bilbo for a moment. Bilbo is a delightful little Hobbit. He’s crafty, creative, can talk his way out of just about any situation, but when talking fails, he’s handy in a fight. When compared to Frodo, it’s not surprising that we tend to like him better. We sympathize with Frodo, we admire Frodo, we applaud Frodo, or perhaps we criticize Frodo, but we like Bilbo. He’d be much more fun to have a conversation with, I think. There’s all this drama that surrounds poor Frodo. All Bilbo had to do was sneak into a dragon’s lair and steal something. Saving the world was not on the agenda for his adventure, so he could come home relatively unscathed. Frodo came home broken. Bilbo’s story is fun. Frodo’s is epic, with all the triumph and tragedy that tends to go along with epic heroes.

So, Bilbo or Frodo? Or for that matter, Sam, Merry or Pippin? I don’t know that I could pick one if I had to. I will just say that I love Hobbits. They are one of the most intriguing little races of people that have ever been introduced into literature, and further proof that Tolkien was an absolute genius.

Feel free to comment with all your anti-Frodo feelings here. He’s not a real person. He won’t be offended.

Confessions of a Shopaholic – the movie

I decided to watch this movie on Friday evening while Greg was out of town. It had been sitting on our shelf for about a month and I figured I’d better watch it so that I could send it back to Netflix (or whatever they are now) and get something more interesting, like Thor or X-Men: First Class. So I popped it into the player and prepared myself for a slightly-lame, feel-good romantic comedy.

About 40 minutes into it, I was thinking, “I can totally see where this is going.”  I even posted that on Facebook, adding that romantic comedies are supposed to be cute, predictable, and awkward.  This one was living up to expectations.  The main character had woven such a tangled web of poor choices and deception that everything was going to unravel by the end of the movie, but somehow true love and the human spirit would prevail.  And that’s exactly what happened, but I was pleasantly surprised by the result. 

In Confessions of a Shopaholic, Rebecca Bloomwood is a less-than-perfect heroine who (pretty much literally) stumbles into a job working for a mostly-perfect boss at a finance magazine.  Rebecca, whose true ambition is to work for a fashion magazine owned by the same company, writes witty, down-to-earth financial advice from a fresh and vibrant perspective.  Trouble is, she’s up to her ears in debt and is being stalked by a collector because of her inability to pass by a clothing or shoe store without going in and buying something – or a lot of somethings.  As her column grows in popularity and her working relationship with her editor (played by the charming Hugh Dancy) blooms into something more, Rebecca’s double life becomes harder to maintain.  Eventually, she must deal with the consequences of her lies and lack of self-control.

I liked this movie because I thought it had a great message.  There are times when Rebecca is not a very likeable character, but there are other times when you have to ache for her because she clearly has no idea how to deal with the mess she creates for herself.  In the end, she learns an important lesson that I think is often lacking in today’s culture: personal responsibility.  The film is rated PG and is very clean, so I would recommend watching it with preteen girls (and older), and using it as an opportunity to discuss how Rebecca’s choices hurt herself and the people around her, and how she was able to turn things around and make it right.

One more note: This book is based on the Chick Lit novel of the same name, which I haven’t read.  I prefer to watch the movie before I read the book when possible, and now the book is on my “to read” list.  I may review it in the near future. 🙂

Why I love Jesus more than Harry Potter

I admit it: I am a Harry Potter fan. I am often skeptical of mega-hits, so it took me awhile to jump on the bandwagon. After recommendations from several different people, I hesitantly decided to give the books a try. So, in the spring of 2005, I purchased beat up old copies of the first four books on eBay, and immediately fell in love. I am now a die-hard fan – although not the type that dresses up and stands in line for midnight book or movie releases. However, I did participate eagerly in online reading groups and passionate debates on how the series would ultimately end. I remember reading the last half of the Deathly Hallows on a church van on the way to a mission trip, heart racing and oblivious to anything else around me as those final chapters unfolded. I have a Harry Potter wall calendar and a Harry Potter ringtone. So yes, I freely admit that I love Harry Potter.

If you have read the books, you are familiar with all the reasons to love Harry. If you have seen the movies, you probably have a pretty good idea. The Boy Who Lived is sweet, loyal, determined, a little stubborn, a little flawed, but ultimately one of those characters who leaps off the page and comes to life. Actually, all of the characters in the series are that way. That is part of the genius of J.K. Rowling. There are some you just can’t help but love, and others you can’t help but hate. Some of the good characters are hard to like, and some of the bad ones are just as hard to hate. And they all live in this rich, imaginative world where magic is a part of life and events are unfolding that will leave the world changed. It is one of those epic fantasy series that will be loved, hated, and debated for years to come.

But back to Harry. He is the ultimate hero. We meet him as a neglected eleven-year-old with no idea who he really is or what his destiny may be. Throughout the series, he grows into a young man who fully embraces that destiny and confidently leads his friends into battle. He has his rough moments. I actually didn’t like him much in The Order of the Phoenix, when it seemed like he spent half the book yelling at people and the other half pouting about his life and relationships and being treated like the annoying teenager he is…but it was at the end of the book when my heart really broke over him as he began to accept who he was and what he needed to do.

So, what does Harry Potter have to do with Jesus? Very little. Rowling wisely leaves religion alone, focusing instead on weaving a brilliant tale that touches on many of the truths of life under the overarching theme of good vs. evil. I believe, like C.S. Lewis, that every good story touches on something deep within us, reminding us that we do live for a greater purpose than the pleasure of today; that we are, in fact, destined for an eternity we cannot fully imagine but that we catch glimpses of on occasion. I do not believe that Harry Potter is “evil” because he is a wizard who is learning magic at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As much as I love fiction (and I do), I know how to distinguish fiction from reality. The world Harry Potter lives in is no more real than Narnia, Middle-Earth, or “a long time ago in a galaxy far away.” Witchcraft in that world and witchcraft in this world are completely different and almost totally unrelated things.

A few months ago, I started seeing previews for Part One of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and like all the other fans out there, I was practically jumping up and down in anticipation. And that got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great if people got as excited about church as they do about the next Harry Potter movie? The story of Jesus is every bit as exciting as the story of Harry Potter, and even better: it’s true. Yet you don’t see lines of people waiting outside the church building at midnight on Saturday, buzzing with anticipation about the upcoming morning worship service. That’s a little sad, but it’s just reality.

So, I’m a Harry Potter fan. I am not a Jesus fan. I don’t “like” Him on Facebook. I love Jesus with all my heart, soul, and strength. Harry Potter is fiction. Jesus is my reality. I’m excited about seeing Harry Potter this weekend. I look forward to spending eternity with Jesus with every fiber of my being. It isn’t just that I love Jesus more than Harry Potter. Nothing else compares with Him.