“Thor”: a second look



My friend Tab and I were having one of those meandering conversations the other day. We went from RuPaul to Laura Linney to “The Big C” to Idris Elba, the extremely versatile (and very handsome) actor who played Laura’s hotter-than-hell boyfriend in the first season of “The Big C.”  “I appreciate him,” I said. “Wow, do I appreciate him. It’s a shame they covered him up with so much fabric and costume jewelry in ‘Thor.’”




“Who was he in ‘Thor’?” Tab asked curiously.



“He was Heimdall,” I said, both proud of my knowledge and ashamed to show how much of a comic-book geek I am. “The guardian of the Rainbow Bridge.”



Tab giggled. “Rainbow Bridge,” he said. “Seriously. How gay can you get? All the gods and warriors are wearing accessories.”



I began to see his point. “Asgard’s sort of the biggest baddest gay club ever,” I said. “It fairly pulses with bad house music. And Heimdall’s the bouncer.”



“And,” Tab said, “do you remember that beam they travelled around in? I mean, my god, how phallic was that?”


“Also,” I mused, “Thor has a very big hammer. And he likes to hit things with it. Also he likes to go out drinking.”



(Side note: Thor does seem to like girls, or at least Natalie Portman. Natalie Portman is, however, a little – hm – boyish, especially with that short haircut. Also there’s a brief scene in the movie of Natalie and Thor serving their friends breakfast. Or could it be – gasp! – brunch?)



My god. Why didn’t I realize all this before?



No wonder I liked that movie so much.


Movie review: “The Avengers”


On Sunday, Partner and I finally joined the ten trillion people who have already seen the new “Avengers” movie. (We didn’t go on opening weekend because 1) we don’t like being trampled, and 2) we don’t like excited children screaming along with the movie.)



We both liked the movie very much.  Well, naturally I liked it: it contains a very large number of my imaginary Hollywood boyfriends. We get Robert Downey Jr. doing his wise-guy genius Tony Stark (although he lost a few points in my book for mooning over the gooey Gwyneth Paltrow); we get the mountainous Chris Hemsworth as Thor, everybody’s favorite thunder god; we get Chris Evans, with his huge shoulders and chest and arms and his hurt/childlike eyes, as Captain America; we get the rumpled cuddly Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner, who occasionally transforms into a very large angry green CGI creature called the Hulk; and we get Jeremy Renner, all muscled-up and deadly-looking, as Hawkeye.



This is not meant to demean the rest of the cast, who are just as good (if not quite as attractive as the above). Scarlett Johansson is the gymastically adept Black Widow, clever and funny and just as deadly as Jeremy Renner; Samuel L. Jackson is the steely Nick Fury; Clark Gregg is the shy-yet-forthright Agent Coulson, who’s been with us through all or most of the Marvel movies which have brought us to this point; Tom Hiddleston is the aristocratically evil Loki, Thor’s (adopted) brother and the cause of all our sorrows; Stellan Skarsgard (whom I loved in “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Mamma Mia”) is a scientist and old pal of Thor. Stan Lee (he’s 90 years old this year!) makes his traditional cameo, of course, and what would a Marvel movie be without that? (And even Natalie Portman, Thor’s girlfriend in one of the previous movies, makes an appearance via photograph.)



The movie has a bouncy plot full of government agents and alien invaders and renegade demigods. Never for a moment did I feel confused about the plotline: even when the fighting is going faster than the eye can follow, you can still pretty much tell what’s going on. It defies belief every few minutes: can you really hit the ground like that and not get hurt?  If a jet figher splits in half, would the pilot really have enough time to eject? If you’re flying a huge invisible gunboat/battlecruiser, don’t you think knocking out one of the engines would make you crash? But none of these matter. It’s fun. Just go with it.



Much of the credit goes to Joss Whedon (of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”). In this movie, he’s created a world where impossible people live and impossible things happen, but it all seems very calm and tranquil. A big chunk of Manhattan gets pretty brutalized in the movie, but – you know what? – Manhattan looks like that most days anyway, especially after a good parade, or after they have one of those big street fairs on the Avenue of the Americas.



(Apollonia and I were talking about the movie last week. She wanted to see it, mostly because of Jeremy Renner, who is one of her spiritual boyfriends too, evidently. Then she found out that Gwyneth Paltrow is in it, and this soured her a bit. But her big question was: “How much do I need to know before I see this one? I didn’t see ‘Thor,’ or ‘Iron Man,’ or ‘Captain America.’ Will I be completely confused?”



(I didn’t know the answer last week, but I do now. You don’t need to know a damned thing. This movie is self-propelled. All you need to know is that there all of these crazy-ass superheroes, and they’re all over the place, and they don’t get along so well, but in a pinch they do pretty well.)



I’d tell you to go see it, but judging by the box-office receipts, you already have.



So go see it again.



I just might see it again myself.



The Mighty Thor


Partner and I recently saw “Thor.” Frankly, after having seen the preview, you could not have kept me away from this movie with a pack of dogs and a taser. I mean, have you seen this Chris Hemsworth?



Actually, he’s not that handsome. He’s blandly handsome. He has one of those little-boy faces that looks out of place on top of a big muscular body. (Taylor Lautner has the same, um, problem.)



But, surprise surprise, Chris Hemsworth can act. He is expressive, and funny. And – well, you must know that the movie was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who knows from Shakespeare. The movie is staged in a split-level way: the gods up in Asgard with their riotous banquets and dramatic feuds, and the poor human beings down here in Midgard (Earth to you). Shakespeare often alternates scenes of the royals with scenes of common soldiers / mechanicals / townspeople drinking and arguing. And once in a while they come together, with great dramatic/comic effect. Just as they do here.



Hemsworth plays Thor as a natural nobleman. Thor is funny and kind and honest, because he doesn’t know any other way to be. He’s in a diner, eating a gigantic breakfast, and Kat Dennings (Natalie Portman’s comic-relief friend) asks him to smile for a photo, and without pausing he looks into the camera and gives her the biggest cheesiest smile you’ve ever seen.



He is the ultimate Happy Warrior. He’s not mean or bullyish; he goes into a fight with a cheerful heart, because he always knows he’s fighting for the right thing. Even when he goes out to die for his friends’ sake, he’s smiling. (Yes, he dies for his friends. And then he comes back to life. Hmm. This story reminds me of something, but I can’t think what.)



There is a brief scene in which Thor helps Natalie Portman serve breakfast to her friends. Sacrilege! all the fanboys screamed. The Mighty Thor would never serve anybody pancakes! But you know what? Of course he would. He is that perfect kind of nobleman who never reminds you that he’s superior to you.



And this is my very favorite scene:



Thor’s finally returned to his full Asgardian stature as God of Thunder. He towers over Natalie Portman gigantically, gripping his hammer. And she murmurs: “So this is how you normally look?” And he pauses slightly, and grins, and says, “More or less.”



And she pauses too, and grins, and says, “I like it.”



I like it too.



Beefy is as beefy does


I approached my work friend Apollonia’s desk the other day, cautiously, as I always do. (I never know how she might react. Sometimes she throws things at me.) She was looking at her computer screen with rapt attention. “What is it?” I asked.



She looked up at me with dewy eyes. “Seals tossing the caber.”



“Harbor seals?” I asked. “Or Navy Seals?”



She giggled. “Navy Seals, naturally,” she said in a little-girl voice. (Apollonia and I share an appreciation for the same kind of men, which explains her caber-tossing fantasies.) “Arms are good on a man,” she said dreamily. “Shoulders. And you know what else? Backs.”



“Display,” I said. “It means: ‘I’m big and strong. I can take care of you. I can protect you.’”



“Yeah,” Apollonia said. She looked thoughtful. “Whether or not it’s true. Looks can be deceiving.”



In his book “Sociobiology,” E. O. Wilson says that just about all animal behavior, from coral organisms through social insects to crustaceans and monotremes and mammals and yours truly, has a biological basis. I vaguely remember a Time or Newsweek simplification of the theory from the 1970s: they took the old Charles Atlas cartoon of the scrawny guy and the bully on the beach and changed the dialogue. When the bully kicks sand on the scrawny guy and grabs the pretty girl, the word-balloon over his head reads: “My genes are good! Mate with me!”



But there are other urges. Apollonia, you will remember, has a Robert Pattinson fetish. Yes, Robert Pattinson, who looks as if he were made out of pipe cleaners and construction paper. This, I’d say, is more of a protective-mother thing. This probably also explains why I do not share Apollonia’s depth of feeling for Robert Pattinson. I actually had the nerve to bring this up to her. “Robert Pattinson,” I said, “has neither arms, nor shoulders, nor back. And yet you love him. Why?”



She regarded me for a long time. “Oh, babe,” she said. “Those cheekbones. That chin.”






Here, to clear your palate after thinking of the scrawny Pattinson, is a New York Magazine slideshow of the biggest biceps in this summer’s movies. Chris Hemsworth, AKA Thor, is the clear winner of the contest.



He’s big and strong, boys and girls. He can protect you.



But remember what Mother Apollonia says: looks can be deceiving.




Captain America, Thor, and my cardiac well-being


Libby Gelman-Waxner, in her “Premiere” column, printed a letter from a reader who said: “I notice you only like movies if you think the star is attractive. That’s not what movies are all about.” Libby replied: “Oh yes they are.”


So I watched the trailer for the new “Captain America” movie. Oh my goodness. Chris Evans (the beefy Human Torch in the “Fantastic Four” movies) starts out weak and puny (CGI, naturally), but then Stanley Tucci (sporting a beard and a hilarious accent) puts him into a big metal sarcophagus, injects him with Grow Juice, and –


Well, the result is just breathtaking. One of my favorite moments in the trailer is when the woman scientist furtively touches his bare chest, just to see if it’s real.


I burst into tears and went into arrhythmia at the same time.


And then there’s “Thor.”


The title character is played by some blond monster named Chris Hemsworth. He’s more scruffy than handsome. But there’s a scene (see, Thor’s been tossed to Earth by the All-Father Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins, and he has to bunk with a nice human family for a while) in which he comes out of the bedroom wearing only pajama bottoms, and Natalie Portman scrutinizes him with frank admiration . . .


Oh my poor heart, I can’t take too much more of this.


But once again, Libby is absolutely right.


This is exactly what movies are all about.



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