Monthly Archives: November 2017

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Doesn’t take itself seriously. More of a series of buddy comedies than a movie. Lots of fun.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is best thought of as a series of buddy comedies in which Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and an ever-changing buddy find themselves in and get themselves out of amusing situations through hijinks and shenanigans. Or maybe it’s actually a Dungeons and Dragons game with a series of quests eventually leading to the boss fight at the end? Hmmm… Either way, it’s a lot of fun!

This is a wonderfully entertaining movie filled with tons of characters across vast expanses of the multiverse. It can be a lot to take in, but it is grounded by some pretty fantastic comedic acting pretty much across the board, anchored solidly by Chris Hemsworth. Jeff Goldblum ties much of the story together playing Jeff Goldblum, er, Grandmaster. Even the director, Taika Waititi (yes, that’s really his name!), gets into the mix as computer generated bit character Korg.

As has become rote with Marvel movies, the main villain is played by an awesome actor who is completely underutilized and mostly one-dimensional. In this case, it’s Cate Blanchett as Hela. In the Marvel retelling, Hela is the sister of Thor, while in Norse mythology, she’s actually Hel and the daughter of Loki. Why they decided to change this bit of mythology is beyond me. The stuff they could have done with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Hela could have been epic. But nope, once again, they just wanted a disposable villain. Can’t blame them, as the formula has been proven to work, but man do I long for another Loki.

Every Thor movie that has come out has been better than the last. With “Thor: Ragnarok” being the third Thor movie, I think I can safely say that it is now the best standalone hero franchise in the Marvel universe, surpassing Ironman which started strong but has been weak. A lot of people dissed the first Thor movie, but I enjoyed its campiness which was very new at the time for a Marvel movie. It would be interesting to re-watch it and see if that holds up.

Movie Review: Justice League

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Didn’t suck! A mess of a movie, but fun. DC will live or die with the Wonder Woman franchise.

I had pretty low expectations going into “Justice League” because DC is really not good at making movies about their franchises. The previews for the movie didn’t help anything. Luckily, they actually did a pretty good job of introducing the myriad heroes and making them interesting. Well, mostly. Here is the definitive list of how interesting the “Justice League” heroes are:

  1. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)- Everything in the movie about Wonder Woman and the mythos surrounding her was awesome and DC is going to depend on her success for a long time, methinks. DC knows this which is why the Gal Gadot vs.serial harasser Brett Ratner contest resulted in him being removed from being involved with the sequel. A small victory.
  2. Cyborg (Ray Fisher)- There is some good potential here. His back story is interesting if not wholly fleshed out in the movie. I worry, though, that they’re going to stick with his “Justice League” intro as his complete backstory, which is a shame. I love the human side vs cyborg side of his character.
  3. The Flash (Ezra Miller)- Great comic relief. I’m not sure if there is a potential for a stand-alone movie or not with him, but he brings great energy to every scene he’s in. A Flash comedy along the lines of the recent Thor movie might work.
  4. Batman (Ben Affleck) – I am not a fan of Ben Affleck as Batman. He mostly comes off as an aloof jerk. Perhaps Batman is just too complicated of a character to fit in with the whole ensemble cast idea. This is a shame because Batman is without a doubt the most interesting character. This is especially true because he is also the only destructible character in the DC universe even if they liberally eschew what would actually kill him.
  5. Superman (Henry Cavill) – Superman is just not a compelling character despite Cavill having the perfect Superman look. Every problem can be solved by just calling in Superman. Boring.
  6. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) – Jason Momoa is lucky he’s hot because Auqaman has nothing going for him. The whole sarcastic Aquaman was a nice touch, but there’s really nothing there except super-hot Aquaman.

“Justice League” went for a lighter version of pretty much all the characters and their charisma together really showed. This charisma makes up for a messy plot that basically boils down to “send in Superman”. Sure, they did some “lets do this together” kumbaya crap, because that stuff is cool, but it still boils down to Superman at its core. It is definitely a fun movie, though, and if you are at all interested in the DC franchises, this is one of the better showings. That’s not saying much, but I would say that DC might be starting to learn from their mistakes with this movie and maybe there’s better things to come.

Book Review: Dawn by Elie Wiesel

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

The most shocking thing I discovered upon reading “Dawn” is how little I know about the history of the creation of the state of Israel. In my mind the narrative went kind of as follows: The world, feeling absolutely horrible about the mass extermination of Jews and their complicity of silence in not doing anything about it decided to partition Palestine into two countries so the Jews would have their own homeland. It didn’t happen like that. Like at all. Boy did our world history classes suck back then. And now. But we’re Americans, we like our history sanitized.

“Dawn” is not autobiographical like “Night” was, but it is still a very obviously personal novel as Elie Wiesel tries to put to paper his struggles both with his post-Buchenwald life and all the psychological horrors that go with it and with what the Jewish people had to become in order to make their state of Israel a reality. It follows a boy named Elisha whose background is much like Wiesel’s. Elisha is lost both physically and spiritually in Paris after being freed from the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. While in this lost state, he is visited by a man named Gad who works for what can only be described as a terrorist movement in Palestine that is trying to wrest the land away from British control and establish a Jewish state. Gad manipulates Elisha’s religiosity by behaving like the rabbinical messenger of fate, Meshulah. Elisha accepts and joins the Movement. I am not sure if Wiesel meant Elisha’s acceptance to be one of manipulation, but that is how I took it. Elisha is eventually tasked with the murder of a British officer named John Dawson whom they have captured in retaliation for the British capture of a fellow Movement member named David B Moshe. Moshe is scheduled to be hanged at dawn for his crimes. If the hanging goes on, John Dawson’s death will soon follow at the hands of Elisha. The book explores Elisha’s coming to terms with this very personal killing.

This is another very powerful novel by Wiesel. His use of the dead coming to visit Elisha is very effective, especially Elisha’s childhood self who “died” prior to being sent to the concentration camps. His dead mother’s (as well as other’s) use of the phrase “Poor boy!” to describe Elisha and the predicament he finds himself is haunting. “This is war”, is the refrain of his compatriots who do not envy Elisha’s task. Yes, it is war. But does it have to be? Is there another way? The novel asks those questions, but has no answers for us. How could it? Jews had a different answer for a very long time and look where it got them. It’s time to try something different. But at what cost? This fight for independence was the beginning of something or possibly the end of something. But what? I’m not sure Wiesel knows the answer, but he is very effective in asking the question.

I would not say that “Dawn” is quite as effective of a story as “Night” is, which again should be read by everyone, but it is a wonderful “coming to grasps with horror” novel. If such could ever be described as wonderful. It is certainly a novel that makes you think. About war. About life. About death.  And novels like that don’t come around very often.

Book Review: Night by Elie Wiesel

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

“Night” is one of those books that is very difficult to read because of the subject matter but is a must read exactly because of that subject matter. It is the biographical story of teenage Elie Wiesel’s time in World War Two and traces his time from the beginnings of World War Two in Sighet, Hungary, to the rounding up of the Jews in his town in 1944, to his travails in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, to his emancipation at the end of World War Two. It is important to be reminded again and again that this stuff happened. It is so far outside our experience that it’s very difficult to believe that it did happen. That it does happen in places we don’t care about. That it can happen. Even here. Even now.

I have, for a long time, been uncomfortable with the concept of good and evil and the battle of good versus evil with which a majority of humanity seems to view the world. Reading “Night” greatly reinforced that discomfort. I choose to view the world as comprised of those who have retained their humanity and those who have lost it or have had it taken away from them. Our humanity is a fragile and precious thing that can be snuffed out as easily as blowing out birthday candles. Luckily, we share a common interest in our own humanity and the humanity of those close to us. Sadly, we choose to retain the humanity of our own cohort at the expense of the humanity of another cohort. I use the word “cohort” on purpose because the big trouble comes when we become militaristic against another group of people. This is what happened to the Jews in World War Two. The Nazi cohort went against the Jewish cohort and systematically and effectively removed the Jewish humanity while maintaining a perverse Nazi humanity as justification. The Nazis definitely took it to the extreme, but war requires both a loss of one’s own humanity with regards to the “enemy” and a reinforcement of one’s own belonging. This is the central terror of Nationalism. And once the Jewish humanity was removed well past the stereotypical nonsense that still pervades society today, it became trivial to snuff their souls. Because they don’t have them. Look at them fighting for scraps. They kill each other for a piece of bread. I can beat this one’s father right in front of him and he will do nothing. Surely they wouldn’t participate in the killing of their own people if they were human. It is a mercy to kill them. They are suffering. You don’t feel bad for putting down a horse who is lame. Is the Jew who killed another Jew for his shoes evil? Is the father who shared his bread with his starving son good? No, one had his humanity stripped from him and the other was able to maintain it for at least a portion of the time.

Reading “Night” should be thought of as taking a journey of the soul. There are times when I was close to tears and I still well up in the eyes thinking about those times. There are times of such stark beauty that it is almost preposterous to believe that such things can exist in dark times and I still smile when I think of them. Well, smile and well up with tears. It’s an emotionally complicated book. My journey is continuing with Elie Wiesel’s other two books in the trilogy, “Dawn”, and “Day”. Do yourself a favor and read “Night”. If you’ve already read it, read it again.