Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

My housemates and I went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier yesternight. Having set some kind of precedent by reviewing Frozen two months after it came out, I’ve decided not to feel too weird about reviewing The Winter Soldier a month and three days in.

Spoilers aheadBE YE WARY.

Considering that it’s called The Winter Soldier, I felt that the Winter Soldier himself was not tremendously important. A good deal more time was spent on the question of whom to trust, how different it looks for someone like Steve Rogers to fight for the side of good nowadays, and what to do when everyone you know is trying to kill you.  Admittedly, it’s not like they could call it “Captain America: Second Head of Hydra” or something, since that would iron out a fair few plot twists.

Captain America and Black Widow: Bromance of Our Time

I’m rooting for Captain America and Black Widow: Bromance of Our Time

Whilst watching the STRIKE team’s mission to rescue hostages from pirates aboard the Lemurian Star, I was struck by the swiftness of it all. It isn’t shocking for me to think of SHIELD taking decisive action against threats, but the thought of Steve Rogers killing a couple dozen men as “janitor for Fury” gives me pause. Is this cognitive dissonance mostly borne out of semantics? Possibly. It was something of a relief to be distracted by the choreography of the fight scene between Rogers and Georges Betroc, which evidently involves savate or French kickboxing; it was so graceful.

Also graceful: the game of ultimate frisbee they've got going on

Also graceful: the game of ultimate frisbee they’ve got going on

That was a welcome reprieve before everything went to heck and all the shots were fired.  I was touched by the post-surgery bit. Don’t do this to me, don’t do this to me.  And then they went and did it anyway.  I guess I have not yet watched enough Marvel movies, because I believed them.  But no – that’s not how comic book stories work.  No one actually dies and stays dead, except for redshirts on both sides. This means you have to take a good bit of care when dispatching your enemies, because they might creep off and then infiltrate your ranks and take over everything.

“Taking over everything,” in this case, is partly about firepower, but mostly about information. Hydra’s algorithm, which sifts data about individuals in order to predict which will eventually prove an obstacle to Hydra’s goals reminded me, unsurprisingly, of Minority Report. Though the firepower of Project Insight’s helicarriers was removed, presumably the information still remains out there somewhere.  Eeeep.

Also out there somewhere: Bucky Barnes on a voyage of self-discovery and metal arm maintenance; thousands of tons of destroyed helicarrier (on one hand, a profound relief; on the other, such a lamentable waste of taxpayer money); and everyone’s favorite, alien technology in the hands of power-hungry scientists.  Age of Ultron‘s gonna be chock-full!

Other things I wondered about, because of course I did
– How long ago is Iron Man 3 in all of this?  How much time has passed since Thor 2: The Dark World?  Obviously they can’t just summon all the actors for every Marvel film, but you’d at least think they could allude to it, e.g. “These Insight helicarriers are great against insurgents and attacking Chitauri!”
– Who gets the royalties for putting the SHIELD eagle on everything, including their jump drives?
– How safe is it to drive with an eye patch? How safe is it when there aren’t a couple dozen people trying to shoot you?
– Wait, how did they acquire the Falcon wingpack, or Pierce’s phone to call Sitwell, or a magical Council disguise? Any one of those could have been its own subplot.
– Likewise: what exactly has Hydra done to Bucky? How many other people could they control in like manner? Maybe instead of killing all their threats, they should reprogram them.  Maybe they already are.
– What do the three replacement chips for the helicarriers do, exactly? Like, gosh-darned convenient for lovers of freedom and haters of Hydra, but why do they even HAVE that lever?

Overall, I’d say The Winter Soldier was a fun and interesting addition to the Marvelverse, and a good setup for films to come.  Have you seen Marvel’s latest?  What did you think?

Review Part 2: Disney’s Frozen

Now that it’s nearly two months since it came out, I went to see Frozen.  Twice.  It is still the season for it, after all, and it hasn’t left the theaters quite yet.  So it was my turn to be delighted by the magic of animation and music and storytelling.  Here are some thoughts about it, a few of them in response to Melpomene’s earlier post.  In no particular order:

The music is beautiful.  I particularly enjoyed “Frozen Heart,” the song of the ice harvesters at the start of the movie, as well as “Heimr Arnadalr,” the choral coronation piece which translates from Old Norse approximately as follows:

Worthy Queen of greatness
The heart of Gold shines
We crown thee with hope, love and faith.
Beautiful, stony land, home Arendelle
Follow the Queen of light/ the Queen’s light

Of course, it’s hard to sing a choral piece (or antiphonal yoiking) alone, so I’ve also had “Let it Go” and “Love is an Open Door” running through my head on repeat.  It’s lovely having a song of defiance against the Polar Vortex weather.

Hullo, unexpected poignancy.  “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” sounds so lighthearted, and then it struck me with feelings.  Even worse is the thought that Elsa and Anna didn’t need to spend so long isolated from each other; Anna trusted her sister all along, and the utter lack of communication didn’t protect either of them.

Pardon me while I go do some gross sobbing in the corner.

Pardon me while I go do some gross sobbing in the corner.

Nothing separates a guy from his reindeer.  Kristoff and Sven are precious, like a friendlier version of Flynn and Maximus from Tangled.  There were lots of moments that made me giggle, and those two probably accounted for most of them.

Someone finally said it.

Marry Prudently yallThank GOD.

Additional background would be groovy.  We don’t really need to know where Elsa’s power comes from, for the sake of the story, but I would love to know more about her as well as the erstwhile king and queen.  Is Elsa like a Muggle-born cryokinetic witch, or is Anna like a Squib who missed out on the elemental control?  Also, if I were a nerdier person, I would love to calculate how much energy is getting thrown around when, say, the entire fjord is frozen.  See a bit more commentary on that here.

Darlin’, I don’t know why you go to extremes.  My brother and I wondered if, perhaps, the well-intentioned Love Experts actually gave the worst advice: concealing the source of the problem and counseling Elsa to beware of fear in no way encouraged her toward the positive virtue of being more loving.  “Conceal, don’t feel” was never a viable option, and when Elsa does finally let it go, she swings to the other extreme so hard that editorials on the dangers of repression write themselves.  Thankfully things reach a sort of equilibrium; it’s fortunate (and kind of weird) that she is able to undo her enchanted winter quicker than Aslan brings spring to Narnia.

True love sacrifices.  Love is not summed up in kisses, but consists of all manner of heart-thawing actions.  Love forgives the pains one has suffered.  Love runs to the aid of the beloved, love throws itself between the beloved and the sword, and love binds people together whether they’re parents and children, siblings, romantic couples, or friends.

All in all, Frozen is a beautiful movie, and its depiction of sororal love the most beautiful thing about it.huggiiiiingNow, if only I could thaw the frozen wasteland outside with my own sororal love…

Review Part 1: Disney’s Frozen

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Did you read The Snow Queen? It is my favorite Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. And I grew up on fairy tales: Andrew Lang’s books, many beautiful picture books, and sundry collections of various folklore! (For some reason, Grimm’s fairy tales were not so big in my home. It might have been the R rating most of the originals have.)

Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, is a tale of true love saving an icy heart through hard work and sacrifice. I loved the edition my family had, as it was gorgeously illustrated, highlighting the sharp, biting beauty of Ice and Snow.

 

When I heard that Disney was “reimagining” Andersen’s tale, I was both worried and intrigued. Frozen premiered yesterday, and my housemate and I went to see it.

And I like it. Maybe more than “like”. The more I think about it, it gets higher on my list of favorite movies. I want to share it with people I love.  Starting with you. You should go see Frozen.

It is not perfect by any means, so I am wary of overselling.  But I need to talk about it! My compromise is to make a list of pros and cons for the movie. (If you are fearful of spoilers, read carefully. A few might slip in.)

 

The Story

Cons: It is not the original Andersen story. There are significant changes, mainly shifting the focus from a boy-girl pair to a pair of sisters.

Pros: It works. The heart of the story is figuring out what True Love is, and removing the possibility of romantic mushy feelings from the central pair certainly crystallizes our definition. 

 

The Plot

Cons: There are a few holes. Mainly, the sudden ability to control magical icy powers.

Pros: The holes are not in important parts. The magical abilities are a part of the setting, not the focus. And the story telling does a good job of making that clear.

 

The Art

Cons: It is a cartoon. Which means round faces and unlikely body proportions for all living things. Maybe I am spoiled, but I expect animated characters to make better use of  facial expressions.

Pros: It is a cartoon. Which means stunning closeups of snowflakes an ice and an ICE PALACE that will take away your breath. (Not to mention an ice dress.) And there are a few good faces. Also, there is a pretty scene of Anna imitating classical works of art that are hung around her palace.

 

 

The Music

Cons: It is not the Lion King. Or Prince of Egypt.

Pros: HARMONY! CHOIRS! SOARING NOTES! Songs than capture the moment and plot and emotions! Background music that works with the story so well I barely noticed it! Melodies that work with the lyrics, lyrics that appreciate pretty words! (“Frozen fractals”!!!)  But seriously, how long has it been since Disney actually used harmony and choirs? And lyrics that have united and developed the narrative themes and motifs? You can listen for yourself, if you wish.

 

Our Protagonist Sisters

Cons:  . . . . None

Pros: SISTERS! Their relationship is the center of the story, and . . . I can’t say more without spoilers. I really want my own sisters now.

 

The Side Characters

Cons: There is an annoying talking snowman named Olaf.

Pros: Other than Olaf, all the side characters are excellently crafted, acted, and used. Each has a purpose AND a personality. Even the snowman. (Supposedly he is the personification of the sisterly bond. But he is still annoying.)

The Wit

Cons: Not so witty. There is a tad bit of mild potty humor. And the kind of things that 5-year-olds find funny.

Pros: Fortunately, it has enough substance that it doesn’t need wit.

 

The Villain

Cons: There is no villain! There is a cad, but he is easily spotted, serves an important narrative purpose, and get his boring comeuppance.

Pros: There is no villain! Our two protagonist sisters face a true battle against FEAR. Yes, the real opposite of love is not hate, but fear. And this movie states that baldly. Which brings us to . . .

 

The Subtlety

Cons: Frozen has the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The themes, motifs and morals are so obvious, a five-year-old can identify them. Even the humor has big, blinking arrows pointing to it. (Not literally. But it may as have have.)

Pros: A five-year-old can identify the themes. Does a good fairy tale need subtlety? I have spent years looking at the art of literature, savoring the delicate images and tastes of humanity and truth. I appreciate those, but I recognize that sometimes bluntness is needed.

It is almost as if Disney is trying to reverse years of overly mushy ideas of romance and impractical ideas of love in one movie. It has the same theme as all real, important, fairy tales: True Love. It even correctly identifies the true opposite of love as fear! (I really can’t get over that.) The motifs (storms, doors, creation vs. control, etc.) are well chosen and well used.

To be fair, our modern society has stopped using or understanding  subtlety well. Those who do look for subtlety are the academics, most of whom tend to read their own insane symbols and agendas into the work. The frankness of Frozen does forestall this misunderstanding or misinterpretations.

While Frozen might have appealed to a more adult audience had it used subtlety, it adheres to the structure of old fairy tales and is accessible to all ages. It is blunt, but I can forgive that when it is blunt about Truth and gives the theological definition of love.

The Theology

Cons: Shockingly, there are no cons. There was a moment when I thought there might be, but then the characters very helpfully and carefully explained themselves, and all was well.

Pros: There must have been a solid Christian crafting this story. It is possible for  clever and thoughtful agnostic to have written it, but my instinct says otherwise. This movie not dares to ask and answer the question “what is love?” Their answer (as closely as I can remember) is “Love is wanting what is good for another person, and acting on it no matter what the cost for another person“. What does the Catholic Catechism say about love?  “To love is to will the good of another.'” Brilliant.

And because there is no subtlety, they even point out the in-movie examples. Just in case we missed them. But the examples are good, realistic, and, like all good theology, filled with common sense.

 

Conclusion

In his chapter, the Ethics of Elfland, G.K. Chesterton describes a fairy tale as being built on common sense and the ideals of eternal Truth and Reality. Frozen does fit this definition: it adhere to its internal logic, and is surprisingly well rooted in common sense. The characters ring true as portraits of humanity. The story is well crafted, if obvious, and holds fast to the heart of all good stories: love and sacrifice.

In short, go see Frozen.

And then come back and discuss it with me! When I have had time to percolate ideas, I will come back and expand on the themes and story telling. As obvious as it is, it might be a good teaching tool to point all those literary devices!

 

Library Guidelines

There is a meme making its way around the interwebs that declares, “I would marry the beast for his library!!!” Or something like that.

It sounds like a great idea.

There is even a facebook group for these brilliant and enterprising people.

At first I was amused and pleased by this sentiment. A library is marvelous, magical, mysterious place, and I see nothing whatsoever wrong with marrying in order to get material possessions books.

And then I remembered what this library looks like.

The Library of the BEAST!!!!*

And I cringed.

Oh, in theory it looks amazing. Millions of books, gracious curves, elegant stairs, long ladders, shiny marble, towering ceilings, etc.

But where is the familiarity? the comfort? the ease of finding your book? I get the feeling that even the librarian (do we meet a librarian in the movie?) has a hard time finding a specific book. Do we need to establish architectural rules for what makes a good library? I think yes.

So in reality, that library only has two attributes from list my for Good Library. Not a brilliant library, mind you, just a good library.

A Good Library

  • Books (Yeah . . . )
  • Some system of organization, so that you have an idea of where to find the book you want.
  • All books are within arm reach. I am not saying don’t have several floors or balconies (what do you call an indoor balcony?) but the ladders make things a tad ridiculous. Just add more walk ways!
  • Many cozy corners, with seats and windows, or maybe a window seat!
  • A friendly ceiling that does not threaten to echo every footstep or loom over you from such a cold distance. (Seriously, how did they keep that room warm in the winter?) High ceilings and open space is good, but not if it is overwhelming.
  • Colors that put you at ease, so you actually want to spend time in the library.
  • The atmosphere should be peaceful and relaxing, so you actually do spend time in the library.

I realize that this rather vague. Also, it is hard to find all this in an existing library. Most public libraries pick one, maybe two, items from this list, and discard the rest. And the old renaissance libraries are worst! They must have been the inspiration for the Beast’s library, as they tend more towards the grand than the comfortable.

Stiftsbibliothek, Admont Monastery Library, Austria. Would really want this in your house? Where would you read?

 

That all as my caveat, here is my list for my future dream library.

 

A Brilliant Library

  • Everything from the Good Library List.
  • Everything has organization, but it is okay if books get slightly out of order, or will not fit, or somehow mutiplyand suddenly you have books than bookcases and must start stacking on top of the neat lines of books.
  • Wood. Lots of wood. Wooden floors, wooden shelves, wooden chairs. Everything from oak to mahogany to ebony to purpleheart.
  • Because wood can feel cold, carpets. Possibly oriental carpets. And cushions on the chairs.
  • More window seats. A few must have a little ledge that can also serve as a desk.
  • A spiral staircase. Like in Henry Higgin’s library.
  • A fireplace. Like in Henry Higgin’s library.
  • Huge, plush, comfy armchairs. The kind in which a person can curl up. (There is no way to not end that sentence with a preposition. Sorry.)
  • This color scheme: —>
  • More windows. So you get good reading light. And you can get some idea of what is going on in the outside world without needing to leave your seat.
  • More books. You will find the room. And if you can’t, build more shelves! This is not hard. Books seem to breed; every time you turn around there are more!

 

 

The Beast’s library is too huge, hard, and cold. I would not even know where to start looking through the books!

 

The only public library that comes close (but lacks comfy seats!) is the Bodleian Library. In fact, I cannot find a photo of anything I would deem perfectly brilliant. But all of these below come pretty close.

The Bodleian, Oxford. So pretty, AND friendly!

Wood paneling and fluffy chairs. Yay!

What is with those knick-knacks? Get rid of them, and get more books! Otherwise, perfect.

Oooh! So awesome!

Not quite comfortable, but the piano is brilliant idea!

It needs more soft things!

And last but not least, Henry Higgin’s Library. Ideal. (Actually, it was filmed in the Groussay Library, and the comfy cushions have since been removed. But you can imagine them there!)

My dream library is in the body of an old lighthouse, carefully refurbished. The bottom floor would be the children’s books, comfy chairs, large desk, and fireplace area, and each landing up the hand carved wooden spiral staircase would have its own set of shelves and designation (poetry, lit crit, philosophy, etc.). The top, where the light would shine out, would be a 360 window seat, with very comfortable seats and an amazing view. As soon as I can figure out how to take photos of dream land, I will let you see it!

What is your dream library? Do you have certain guidelines for what you need in a library?

*Because saying “The Noun of the Noun” is so much better (read ” more pretentious”,) than saying “The Noun’s Noun”.

Disney Wars

By this point, I am pretty sure you have heard that Disney bought Star Wars.

My reactions to this news are mixed.

On one hand, I do have to agree with The Blimey Cow Brothers, here.

 

 

But on the other hand  . . . .

 

 

After all, Disney has already done this to THE Ultimate Space Epic.

 

 

 

What thinkest thou? Any visions of the future of Star Wars?