Month: May 2011

Link Sausage: 5/12/2011

Posted by – May 12, 2011

• Medill still owns the bulk of my time right now, but work has been interesting lately, what with today’s story about ChicagoQuest (a.k.a. Chicago’s new video game charter school), this video story I did about a teddy bear built to fight diabetes and other such things.

• Andersonville has a new comics shop, and it’s called AlleyCat Comics. It’s less than two blocks from my place, which is exactly what I need at this point in my life. The location kind of reminds of Neo down in Lincoln Park, but with out the big sign out front. use the alley between Starbucks and Potbelly if you get lost looking for it.

• Kiel Phegley and Ben Morse have been churning out an epic emo ballad of “Smallville” posts at The Cool Kids Table this week in honor of the show’s ten-year run. I’m a sap for reading any and all of whatever they post referencing our old lunch table conversations at Wizard or the ridiculous TV show that I screen-tested for when I was still in high school.

• A Reddit comment thread led me to this incredible video about how Swedes see Finns. If you speak neither country’s language, this may be utterly meaningless to you. But if you do, I assure you that it is amazing:

• Then there was this Atlantic photography feature about atomic testing. This was sobering.

• And then Geektrooper pointed me to this terrible real-world Deadpool story.

Review: ‘Thor’ (2011)

Posted by – May 8, 2011

Big budgets and special effects have not always been kind to Marvel movies. Ang Lee’s “Hulk” (2003), for instance, featured an utterly and profoundly abstract transformation by Nick Nolte’s character into a hodgepodge of Zzzax and the Absorbing Man. Jon Favreau’s ending for “Iron Man 2″ (2010) opted for a shock’n awe treatment that was visionally much more articulated, but it still felt tacked on. No matter how smoothly a Marvel movie seems to be going for the last few years, the final battle scenes tend to loom over my final critical opinion like a guillotine until the final credits roll. (Post-credits moments, by contrast, have never let me down.)

Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor” (2011) really set a new bar for structural integrity and balance, placing the best fight scenes at the beginning and in the middle, while letting the last scenes land organically. The phenomenal Asgard designs and renderings were already enough of a spectacle that attempting to pull off anything ridiculous would have definitely seemed like overkill, and I’m impressed that Branagh showed the restraint he did in letting the story work itself out.

This wasn’t a perfect beast by any stretch of the imagination. Natalie Portman’s character, Jane Foster, wasn’t the worst big female character to grace a Marvel movie, but despite a fine performance, Foster just wasn’t written into this film to be much more than a gushing babe who just magically becomes attracted to “Thor” when she looks at him and vows to use her science skills to find him again. The chemistry just didn’t seem to be there between them, and I think that mainly had to do with the writing.

The humor was wonderful, though. Kat Dennings fired off memorable one-liner after memorable one-liner as Foster’s assistant. And the barbarian meeting modern culture moments were amusing as well. Hemsworth played the noble brute role with charisma and valor, and the Warriors Three and Sif complemented him superbly.

As Rick Marshall pointed out with his “Thor” Easter eggs list on Splash Page, the fan service for comic book readers appeared all over the place. Jack Kirby’s art glistened throughout Asgard and even in the costumes. I also appreciated that the film didn’t bend over backwards to over-explain every element of backstory and mythos. It was refreshing to see a movie like this be true to its material and let elements like Odinsleep and Bifrost explain themselves for the most part.

They didn’t come anywhere near overdosing on the lightning, either, which was almost odd. Thor used his iconic powers as if Mjolnir required a half-hour recharge between energy attacks, which is much better than overusing them, but, I mean, this is Thor.

In the end, that seems to be the tone that defined the film for me. It achieved balance and practical restraint better than any of the other Marvel Studios projects thus far, and it owned its own aesthetic. Branagh and Marvel should both be proud. They didn’t break their genre’s mold, but they inhabited it as elegantly as anyone who’s come before them.

TV Reception: ‘Game of Thrones’ Episodes 1-3

Posted by – May 5, 2011

Three episodes into HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” I feel like I’m finally ready to have a fair opinion about it. The first two episodes, “Winter is Coming” and “The Kingsroad” really seemed to wander for me.

If you’re curious to know how the series deviated from George R.R. Martin’s original work, I recommend starting out with Sean T. Collins’ initial review; suffice it to say the series does take a few liberties, but none of them involve compartmentalizing plot for the sake of writing episodes that are much more thematically or structurally cohesive than the chapters they were plucked from.

Meandering story was a problem for me during Episodes 1 and 2, but as of this week’s installment, “Lord Snow,” the pacing of the adaptation seems to be more established, and the momentum and tension leading up to winter are lively and taught. All three episodes work much, much better as a whole, and I’m inclined to believe that when Season 1 is over, the same will be the case with future installments. That’s fine, and it’s probably fair to the books. However, it may keep the show from entering the same realm of TV masterworks that I consider “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” to be in.

The range of settings and landscapes that HBO has employed are incredible. Breaking down all of the drama and history that the Targaryens, Baratheons and Starks bring the story takes no small amount of exposition. The consequence of this exposition is that the very large cast cycles around on a sizable merry-go-round of storytelling turns, and the show spends more time focusing on characters telling tales to set up political and historical circumstances and getting bloated by lingering on sex scenes. By the third episode, the sex arc with Emilia Clarke’s character does makes a lot more sense, but it also seems to weigh the first two down.

The show’s greatest strengths thus far lie in its fully-realized world and strong acting from its leads. The bleakness of feudal existence in an unforgiving world of brutally long winters comes across, and by the time “Lord Snow” ends, the personalities and rivalries have been made much more clear than they were during the pilot.

As of right now, the wait has been worth it. I’m optimistic that the rest of Season 1 will be as well after the snow settles in.