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Thor: Ragnarok

I finally got to watch Thor: Ragnarok, and as a guy who grew up reading Thor comics, I found things that I liked and disliked.

Thor #150
Thor #150

Hela was great. She made a great villain, with her knife-y powers that enabled her to take on giants or entire armies. In the original comics, she wasn’t as formidable, or at least not that I recall; I think she usually just commanded armies of the dead to fight for her. Which she also did here, but not to that extent.

Much was said, upon the film’s release, about Valkyrie not being a strictly white woman. I can certainly understand the concern. The Valkyries are kind of emblematic of the whole Norse mythology thing, and when one hears Wagner’s signature tune, one doesn’t usually picture a multiethnic group riding down from the sky on winged steeds. Still, despite my usual dislike of politically-correct casting decisions, I thought it was fine here: after all, the Asgard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a cosmic city-state that had conquered dozens of worlds in the past; and it would only logically follow that they would integrate various races into the larger Asgardian society, especially through the auspices of the military. Look at the character of Hogun the Grim: in the films, he was portrayed by the great Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano. The Hogun of the comics wasn’t overtly portrayed as being non-white, but it was kind of hinted at, especially the way his eyes were usually drawn. I always just figured that he was part of a conquered race; why wouldn’t the Valkyrie be also? Barbara Norris, the Valkyrie of the comics (especially Defenders), was never that interesting anyway. And the actress who plays the character in this film is gorgeous.

Speaking of Hogun, I didn’t at all like the way that the Warriors Three went out like punks; I don’t think any of them had more than two minutes of screen time, except for Hogun, who had a slightly larger role. I’m surprised the original actors agreed to come back for such walk-on parts. In any case, as a fan of the comic, I didn’t like how they were dispatched in so ignominious a manner. That’s war, I guess, but they deserved better.

Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster served the plot well enough, but of course the original character was much more enigmatic, almost god-like in the way he tossed around powerful heroes and villains for his games. Goldblum’s character was just a guy who managed to set himself up as a warlord in a hostile environment, played more for laughs than anything else.

It’s great to see Karl Urban in absolutely anything, and his portrayal of the Executioner here was fine, Cockney accent notwithstanding. The original Skourge was never that interesting a character, more to fill a space when a team of villains such as the Masters of Evil were getting together; it’s nice that he redeemed himself here, although it also means we’ll never see that character again. (Urban is the king of sci-fi/fantasy film series – he’s now made appearances in the Marvel films, Lord of the Rings trilogy, and even bagged the role of McCoy in the Star Trek reboot – hey Karl, save some characters for the rest of the actors, huh? Oh, and he gets to go home to girlfriend Katie Sackhoff. FML.)

We also finally got to see Surtur, the Fenris Wolf, and even Ragnarok, things which were alluded to in the comics as far back as probably 1965. It’s a shame that the plot called for Asgard to be destroyed, and Ragnarok, such as it was, didn’t end up in a cinematic free-for-all with Asgardian warriors duking it out with frost giants, trolls, demons, et al. (Heck, the frost giants weren’t even really mythical beings, but an alien race.) I guess I’m just underwhelmed by the Twilight of the Gods, which had always been hyped as this impossibly momentous event which would sweep away the old gods in a cataclysm of fire and bloody death.

Oh well. Despite its flaws, it was a fun film. Nice to see some of these characters on the big screen, even if in altered or diluted form. It’s only been, what, 50 years since many of them were imagined by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee? This was the sort of movie we comic book readers dreamed of seeing when we were kids, so who am I to complain now?

The Girl From Ipanema

“The Girl From Ipanema” is one of the classics of 20th century music, esp. of the ‘easy listening’ variety (it was #1 on Billboard‘s Easy Listening chart for 2 weeks). It is one of the most-recorded songs in history, and is easy recognizable to most people over a certain age, even if many of them don’t quite remember the title.

The greatest and most celebrated recording of the tune comes from the 1964 album Getz/Gilberto, a collaboration between jazz saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist Joao Gilberto, as well as input from Brazilian composer and performer Antonio Carlos Jobim (who had written the music for the song). Gilberto’s wife Astrud, who wasn’t a trained singer but had a working command of the English language, was chosen to sing on this track.

“The Girl From Ipanema” was released in late July 1964 as a single, a pared-down version of what existed on the album. It reached #5 in the U.S. as well as becoming a hit in several other countries. A classic was born.

The shy-but-authentic Astrud could be seen singing her hit in the teen comedy Get Yourself a College Girl:

Since then there have been a few variations on the theme….

Vladek Sheybal and Dobby the House Elf: Separated At Birth?

Now, please let me be clear: I am a big fan of the late Vladek Sheybal’s work. He was a very engaging actor, and although his looks and accent made him a great villain (such as Satan in The Apple), he was also very engaging in roles where he played a more sympathetic character (such as Dr. Jackson on UFO).

The man had a good career in some really interesting films and TV series. He was in the 1967 Casino Royale; he was a chess master in From Russia With Love. In fact, his face and voice made him perfect to play Cold War villains, and he did so on a variety of TV series in Britain, where he moved in the early 60’s.

Offscreen, he was a badass. He was actually a member of the Polish underground and fought Nazis – captured twice, and put into concentration camps, from which he escaped – again, twice.

Nevertheless, one can’t help but notice a certain similarity of features between Mr. Sheybal and Dobby the House Elf of the Harry Potter film series. Please tell me I’m not the only person to have noticed this.