26 April, 2011

THOR: One Thunderous god

So previews for Thor started last night in the UK, and how on earth could I NOT go?! Superheros and pre-release and supernatural awesomeness... oh my!

Firstly, there was a trailer for Captain America, and I've just been hanging onto that blog post. I was able to visit the set of Captain America in November, but I had to sign my life away and am sworn to secrecy until its released... sorry! But it was super exciting to see on the big screen, mostly to see some of the scenes that I saw being filmed but now with all of the finalizing and special effects added in. It looks amazing.

Right, so that was fun, but back to THOR! I had absolutely no preconceptions, which I'm starting to love when going into a superhero movie. I knew Branagh was directing (weird, right? From the otherwise classic Shakespearean-type actor), Natalie Portman was the girl, and Thor looked hot. Plus he was Chris Hemsworth, the guy from the beginning of Star Trek, and I'm a fan of that.

So initial reactions? It was bloody brilliant! I like the more fantastical/mythical elements of this story (grounded in Norse myth; Iron Man can't quite vouch the same saga-esque beginnings), and the parallels of the fantasy world with the known world-- i.e. a Portal Fantasy.  The film was fun, with great timing by the actors with comic jokes and good pacing from the script writers; the characters are well-developed and fun from the headstrong Thor to his goofy but loyal friends, and the tortured good/bad Loki; there were shiny costumes involving cloaks, ab-plates, and flannel, beautiful special effects (I loved the rainbow road, the traveling between worlds, the clouds, and the cosmos), and overall it was a fun, escapist but satisfying way to spend an evenint!

Favorite things:

Characters- Thor was bordering on hysterical genius when he was first stuck on Earth.  Bumbling through a hospital, smashing a coffee cup on the floor of a diner and demanding another (in true Viking style), and his slow but steady journey to worthy and good god/leader.

His buddies at the window when they arrive to help him cracked me up... Erik (Stellan Skarsgard) of course is the stereotypical casting choice for anything involving Norse/Viking backgrounds, but it works a treat and I loved him after he and Thor went drinking.  Classic. 

The Hammer- It would have been so easy to make that bit of wood and metal look cheap and cheesy, and it was awesome. I was reminded of Captain America's shield and I know the work that went into that, so I assume it was a similar process for the hammer. It rocked! Super badass, I loved that it had a loyalty to its owner and power in the hero's hand (similar to Sting, Excalibur, sword of Gryffindor, the million other mythical weapons), and when he whirled it around to make a cyclone-- kickin'. 

Set Design- the town in New Mexico was atmospheric, and realistic, but looked dressed enough that it allowed you to suspend some belief. The distressed signs were a little too quaint, the barber shops and cafes a little too designed so that you could believe it was an easy lead-in to a replica in an amusement park. Contrast to that was the stunning world of Asgard.  It was like Rivendell, but more blingin'. Lots of gold, silver, prismic glass and technological aspects that were more Star Wars than Middle Earth. It was hard to tell where the set ended and the CGI began, and that is a feat unto itself.

Storyline- I liked how so many elements were handled, how loose ends were tied up, but also how small elements were referred to and introduced that we know come from the Marvel universe and could lead into The Avengers.  There was a reference to Stark Enterprises weapons technology, Samuel L. Jackson appears, as does SHIELD and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) who we know will be in The Avengers

Music- I'm a sucker for a good score, and whilst I think some of the soundtrack choices are a bit off, the themes and background score from Patrick Doyle (HP: GOF, Eragon, Calendar Girls, etc.) were lovely.

Not so Favorite Things:

I have to say the only real negative I have is the women in the film.  Yes, one of his pals was a kickass woman, Sif (Jaimie Alexander), but she still had to wear a teeny miniskirt (lame) and played backup to the other four men in these scenes; and Natalie Portman was a genius astro physist-- great! Really, she's got brains, good, cool, nice... but then she goes gooey within ten seconds of seeing Thor, compromises herself for him, abandons self preservation and the potential future continuation of her work by taking him to the SHIELD-covered site where his hammer is located, and she continues to be a bit panicky, weepy, pathetic/in need of rescue. Blerg.... So close, Marvel, so close...

That's all I'm gonna say at this point. I've gotta see it again, and don't wait to give any spoilers before my friends can see it; they may kill me if I reveal too much.

In the meantime, Joss Whedon and co. are starting up with The Avengers now (oh, and by the way, make sure you stay through the credits at the end of Thor-- it's worth it), and that shall be the next major excitement/goal post for Superhero movies I think :) Win! 

12 April, 2011

Travel, Jobs, Writing... sanity? What's that?

The view out of my window at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

I'm summing up me in a few lines, then will move onto other interesting bits, so skip this part unless you really do fancy hearing about my nutso life at the moment! I'm currently working about six jobs, and they're all kicking my ass. I'm loving and committed to them all at the moment, however, so I shall deal with the insanity for a few more months whilst I finish this blasted PhD and then winnow down to two jobs.

So, jobs: International Welfare assistant, Central's International Program assistant, student warden (like an R.A.), PhD student, International Student Ambassador, and head of development for Elfin productions (Yes, it's official!).  The last three are the real time-consumers, and the last two are the ones that will most likely become permanent. I won't be an 'ambassador', but I'll still travel to the US to discuss UK education as I'm really committed to sharing the opportunities, particularly at Bangor, of studying in the UK, and I'm absolutely committed to development for Elfin. It's my dream job; reading scripts, finding talent, making stories better, considering ways to strengthen characters and aspects of the story, finding dream projects to add to the list of eventual adaptations and discover hidden projects from talented individuals... I love it.
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel- like the Tower of Terror :)

SO... what have I been up to right now? I'm traveling the US on behalf of Bangor University attending fairs, talking to students, teaching classes about film adaptation and how to get into film, and catching up with family and friends. Love. Oh yeah, and writing my thesis in every spare second.  I started in LA, then San Francisco, Portland OR, New York, now I'm in Boston, and up to New Hampshire on Thursday before returning to Wales. 

Ahhh iconic
In LA I had a few film meetings, met some prospective writers, discussed potential films and projects with producers and companies... it was really interesting. It was definitely inspiring, but you can also see how much work needs to happen before anything can more forward. I'm quite used to the UK system, well, at least the UK system that I've been exposed to, that what you propose, you actually plan to move forward with.  Some of the meetings I absolutely believed that sentiment. The participants were committed, deadlines would be met, and this could happen... others it was a 'who are you and wouldn't it be nice if we could do something...' and I feel like many people in the industry could spend their entire lives in meetings... with no production! Hours and hours of script development, treatment creation, meetings, coffees, chats, ideas, thoughts, funding prospects... very, very few things are a done deal. Ever. But honestly, it's okay.... it's all part of the process :)

Me and the professional Disney-goers
In this random, somewhat scattered post, I'm gonna throw out my thoughts that came up about a film's adaptation and my trip to Disneyland. So I'm going to Harry Potter world this summer for Leaky Con, I've certainly been to Disney World many times whilst growing up, and I realized a childhood dream by going to Disneyland for the first time EVER two weeks ago.  It was SO much fun. I had a meeting that morning with a producer who has done a few Disney and Disney-esque productions so I was already in the mood from being inspired to making feel-good films, and the gang I went to the park with were professional Disney-goers. They knew the layout, we had goals, a plan, we could recite the elevator monologue at The Haunted Mansion, and there was a scheduled churro time. Love it. It was amazing. SO much fun. We did Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Indiana Jones (loved it... particularly the boulder part), Pirates (weird to see Johnny Depp on the ride, as I haven't seen it since the post-film refurbishment), The Matterhorn, and, my favorite, The Haunted Mansion.

Haunted Mansion. Love it.
So let's break these down: The Haunted Mansion was made into a film, although a somewhat unpopular one. It mad a ton of cash (made $178 million on a $90 million budget), Indiana Jones was a film first and then a ride where Harrison Ford appears in the ride, telling you what to avoid and what to do during your adventure, and of course, the fabulous chaos that has exploded from the very successful Pirates films. The pirates ride was just as lovely as I remember it from my childhood trips to Disney World, but this time there were four Johnny Depps around, a teeny story line about trying to find and catch him throughout the ride, and a quick flash to Davy Jones. I can handle those minimal changes to my childhood memories. Much like a decent adaptation, I understand the evolution of the story to incorporate new fans, and the expanding necessities that come along with a visual media (film) affecting other remediations of that story... there are different pictures in people's minds when they think about Pirates of the Carribean, so the ride should reflect that; so whilst it was new and weird... it was also okay.

But aside from the big shiny rides, you can't help but notice some of the other bits and bobs... and changes... that have happened. There was a new Tangled Ride, A New Orleans type area that was straight from The Princess and the Frog, and The Swiss Family Robinson house (a film I grew up on, and it was vague-enough that I could truly lose myself as a child in this magical tree house) is now Tarzan's tree house. Awha?? Apparently kids don't know about The Swiss Family Robinson anymore... harsh. 

There was something so lovely about an entire place that allows you, as a "grown up" to completely lose yourself in a story, in a set, in props, paint, fake cobwebs or facsimile mine shafts and succumb to giggles, shrieks, laughter, and just a darn good time with friends, in a lovely location, experiences rides and shows based off of films and stories from other walks of life. It's a remediation of a that you can participate with and experience as a player in the story (Indiana Jones) or as a tag-along observer (Pirates, Haunted Mansion). There's a sublime pleasure in that!

So I'm stoked to see Harry Potter's Wizarding World, particularly during Leaky Con, with thousands of the most focused and die-hard fans around, when the final, FINAL film is released. It's most definitely going to be an experience, and I'm ready to hang up my analytical, PhD hat for a smidge and just be a carefree goon again, but also to see a different remediation of a beloved text (yes... there will be some minimal analysis) :)

Sorry, that's it for now! Need to go to bed! I'm doing a NACAC fair in Boston tomorrow and Wednesday all day, then teaching at Waltham High School and Wellesley College on Thursday, then heading up to New Hampshire for some serious thesis work and teaching at Plymouth State and Dartmouth on Monday. Win! Busy as bugger, but it's super fun. It's nice to talk to students about what I've done, what I'm doing now, and  how I didn't have a plan for any of it... I just kept following my gut and bliss (to quote Joseph Campbell) and it's taken me somewhere I love, with projects I can pursue, be proud of, love and create, but also pay the bills, travel, and look beyond the shiny veneer.  

Things I'm contemplating discussing here (feel free to weigh in):
Hunger Games (casting, my work with the series, etc.)
How books are found by filmmakers
Thesis writing (not likely until the bugger is done; I don't really want to spend a ton of external time pondering it!)
The Twilight Illustrated Guide
My co-edited Twilight Anthology of Essays (with the publishers finally!)
Superman (new film coming out)
Captain America, Thor, Avengers... those are stewing
Cult Projects (With ComicCon coming up I've been thinking about cult films: Rocky Horror, Dr. Horrible, Boondock Saints...)
Controversial Adaptation: Atlas Shrugged; why some are made, and made in a certain way
Development: What goes into it

The musings continue... my next few posts are bound to be random, scattered, or reactionary... that seems to be all my brain can handle! At least for the next six months or so whilst this blasted PhD is finished!

To finish, a site that brings me sanity... the Oregon coast. Siiigh :)