Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Paper Towns

I didn't have a particular expectation as I got deeper and deeper into John Green's Paper Towns, but somehow I still found myself surprised at the end.  It's the kind of story that moves so slowly that you can practically hear it dragging its feet along the ground.  Yet all that time you're chafing for the plot to get a move on already, something else is forming underneath you.  By the time you reach the conclusion, you tear the paper-thin skin off and finally see the rich meat of the matter.  That, my friends, is what it's like to read Paper Towns.

To be frank, I didn't love Paper Towns as much as I loved Green's The Fault in Our Stars, but it had a theme that struck a particular chord with me.  All semester I've been thinking about subjectivity and how it's seemingly impossible to actually become another person or enter that person's perspective.  That tension becomes very present in the relationship between the novel's main character Quentin Jacobsen (AKA "Q") and Margo Roth Spiegelman, the object of his love from afar since childhood.  When Margo disappears and Q tries to piece together the clues she left behind, Q realizes how little he knew her, how little her friends knew her, and how little any of us know each other.  The "mirrors" metaphor I found especially illustrative of this point; I would explain it to you, but I think you'd have to read the book to understand it (hint, hint).

We also meet Q's friends Ben and Radar, both of whom are amusing in unique ways.  I believe I laughed the most and the hardest during scenes with Radar.  Whenever Q isn't off on his own to solve the Margo mystery, they are there to help him out and to banter the way friends do.  Y'all know how much I love me some witty banter, although there was not a whole lot in this book.  The characters overall were quirky and complex and lovable, which helped me through the story's slowness of pace.  Q's journey may not have been especially romantic or exciting or adventurous, but it did uncover the limitations of our own perspective (it's fitting that the book is in first-person) as we try to find out the book's most basic question: Who is Margo Roth Spiegelman?

Perhaps Paper Towns isn't your kind of book, but if you have time to think on an important question, then think on this: Is it really, truly possible to "walk in another person's shoes"?  Can you inhabit another person's consciousness and understand where they're coming from?  I'd be interested to see your answers in the comments below.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

When you have consistently snappy dialogue, actors with great chemistry, awe-striking special effects, and all the wonderful fantasy elements of the superhero film genre, it's hard to go wrong.  Especially when you're Marvel.  The sequel to the wildly popular The Avengers that premiered in 2012 has its faults, but moviegoers are still guaranteed a good time.  Perhaps as a diehard Marvel fan I was biased to love it from the get-go, but Avengers: Age of Ultron got a lot of things right for me.  Mild spoilers ahead.

After seeing the dynamic duo of Captain America and Black Widow competing for the championship in the Sassiest of the Sassy Competition--AKA Captain America: The Winter Soldier--I was prepared for plenty of witty dialogue from the whole ensemble.  I was not disappointed.  My favorite running joke was--well, I shouldn't spoil it, so I'll just say it has to do with Cap being the ole goody two shoes I know and love. I really liked all the interactions between the Avengers, sarcastic and otherwise, because I really got a sense of familiarity and camaraderie that the team didn't have in the first film.  The action scenes, of course, were mostly spot-on right from the beginning of the film, as the Avengers take down yet another evil HYDRA base.  There's a point where Captain America flips a motorcycle in the air and lands a perfect somersault.  One of my favorite moves.

I also enjoyed seeing two new characters: Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.  Scarlet Witch has the power to make others hallucinate into seeing their biggest fears and uses this on most of the Avengers.  Some of the visions fell through--I didn't understand what fear was behind Thor and Steve's visions--but others--like the Black Widow's--helped with character development.  Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch don't have a whole lot of scenes in the movie, but they make the most of what they have to show a tender sibling relationship between the two of them.  I love their ambiguous role as they initially team up with Ultron so they can exact revenge against Tony Stark (everyone seems to hate this guy, honestly).

The main antagonist Ultron, created by Tony with the help of Bruce Banner, is an AI who, like many other robots too smart for their maker, saw all the violence in the world and figured human extinction was the best way to peace.  A tad cliché, but Ultron managed to make it seem fresh.  I had expected him to remain the stoic and menacing villain from the previews for the whole movie.  He was that most of the time, and he had some great lines, but there were also moments where he sounded downright childish (as the "child" of Tony Stark, I suppose that makes sense).  I think those moments were supposed to be humorous and indicative of Ultron's inexperience with the world, but they didn't always work for me.  I've seen reviews about how this movie was supposed to be a Frankenstein metaphor, which I hadn't realized.  I feel ashamed of myself because I just read Frankenstein this semester and I really should have caught the similarity.

Overall, Ultron was a formidable (and badass) foe who did well in keeping me on the edge… y'know, when he wasn't singing a Disney song (There are no strings on meeeee!).

In other news, Bruce and Natasha have a fling.  I found their scenes quite adorable (I am, after all, a romantic).  When we first enter the sequel, Natasha calms the Hulk down with a lullaby, as she's apparently done many times now.  Throughout the film everybody talks about how it's SO OBVIOUS that they have a thing and it's been going on for a while.  Apparently I missed the memo, because when we last left off in the first Avengers, Natasha was simply dealing with a (not unjustified) fear towards the Hulk.   By Avengers 2, she's already moved into full-blown crush-mode and everyone but Bruce is on board with it.  I accepted it, but I also wished I could have seen their uneasy acquaintanceship from the last movie grow to friendship/romance.  You know what would have been a great place to put that?  A solo Black Widow movie.  Ugh, I'm so bitter that the only female Avenger up to this point hasn't gotten her own film.

Anyway, I could geek about this movie for hours, but I have to cut this review off at some point.  If you like Marvel movies, you'll find Avengers: Age of Ultron an exciting and entertaining addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It's full to the brim with great dialogue, cool fights, and awesome heroes new and old--which can make it feel overstuffed at times, but personally I'm not complaining.  Now, it's time to start the countdown to the next Avengers movie.