Processing Endgame IV: Thor (2011)

Please note that this is one a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

“Shakespearean Drama.” If you read any articles about Thor (2011), it’s hard to miss the choice of Kenneth Branagh, an acclaimed Shakespearean actor, as director. I had been expecting something of the sort when I watched the movie, but as it was happening, I realized that I didn’t really know what that meant.

It seemed to me a very human story, an uncomplicated story of youthful brashness and foolhardiness, leading to a fall from grace, redemption through discovering selflessness. A nice uncomplicated origin story (with one of a thousand faces)[1].

But so well told. It felt good all the way through, it made sense all the way through, the blending of magic & science worked all the way through. This is perhaps because of the way the character was originally conceived:

“Thor, at his best, has always had a classic bent in terms of his history, the way he speaks and the often Shakespearean dramas that surround him. That kind of dialogue and character needs someone who comes from a classically trained background in order for it not to sound forced or artificial. Branagh is the perfect choice.”

—J Michael Straczynski, co-writer of Thor, on Kenneth Branagh

“Thor’s powers are godly, yes … But at the end of the day, he’s a man … Odin sends him to Earth because he’s not perfect. He’s brash, arrogant. Even over-confident … he also bleeds. He struggles. Life kicks him where it hurts the most … You want to feel Thor’s rage when he rages. You want to see him fight like hell, and take as much as he dishes out — maybe more. You want to have a visceral reaction to the guy, and what happens to him. You don’t want his adventures to be clean and antiseptic. You want to see the dirt, and grime and blood. You want to feel every bone crunching moment of every fight. And when he unleashes the storm, you want to feel like you’re seeing the power of a GOD at work.”

—Ashley Miller, co-writer of Thor, about the project

Yes, world-shaking and family-shaking[2] Shakespearean Drama, all in one accessible package. That’s Thor (& his family).

The film opens with Thor triumphant[3], on his way to being named heir to the throne of Asgard, but the jealous younger[4] son Loki organizes an interruption to embarrass him, setting off the chain of events that cascade through most of the rest of the MCU Phases 1->3.[5]

The film does an interesting bait and switch, setting up the frost giants to be the antagonist, but even though Colm Feore[6] does a fine job as Laufey, I never particularly felt threatened by them (perhaps because I had seen the movie before, and we were watching it on a small screen). They could have used more time/space to set them up as a more believeable adversary.

But the bait and switch still worked, as it didn’t occur to me until later, that it was indeed Loki who had orchestrated the original break-in (even fooling the all-seeing Heimdahl), to embarrass his brother. It wasn’t until a little later, that he tipped his hand and fully became the overt antagonist.

But was he really? You can say that Odin had the best interest of the Nine Realms in mind when he kidnapped Loki, to raise him as Asgardian[7], but ultimately, he didn’t do it well enough, perhaps because he didn’t know about the idea of ‘Sevastokrator‘, a power-sharing agreement to help younger children work together with their older siblings (You could also see the ceremony of naming Thor heir being this type of ceremony, but he must have known, after hundreds of years of raising him, how Loki would react…).

So, maybe the real antagonist of Thor (and Phases 1-3) was Odin’s inability to emotionally communicate and connect with his family[8]. This eventually ends the movie, with Loki, unwilling to accept that he has failed his father, voluntarily letting go and falling off the Bifrost into oblivion[9].

But there’s other aspects of toxic masculinity, not just Odin’s inability to communicate, or to defuse competition between his children, there’s the aftereffects of this, Loki’s mocking Thor being ‘soft’ for caring about Earth, because he cares for one of the people there, even trying to turn it against him, to try to get Thor to stop trying to prevent Loki’s genocide of the Frost Giants, by saying ‘you’ll never see her again’ if he breaks the Bifrost bridge[10].

As far as other characters in the movie, we were surprised that Coulson was such a hard-nosed, by-the-book agent (although he did vote for science in allowing Thor to try to wield the hammer), and not really a likeable character (Perhaps J.J.Abrahms made all the difference there, in ‘Avengers’.)

Natalie Portman got to be a strong, intelligent woman, to be the first to really understand what is going on with the Einstein-Rosen (bifrost) bridge[11]

It did feel kind of like an odd couple, with Thor being so massively muscled. It was nice, that he did remember to steal her notebook on the way out, as he had promised.

Darcy also showed indications of how she would be stealing the show in Thor:The Dark World, especially with little comedic timing gestures like getting her taser[12] ready as they’re talking about going to find Thor again.

Later in the movie, we have a touching moment, where Erik Selvig comes to rescue Thor in custody (and pretends that he is ‘Donald Blake'[13], in a fun comic callback). Remembering Thor calling Erik Selvik ‘He is a friend’ when they discover he is under control by Loki has so much more poignancy when you see the scene where he is the one to go drink with him, where Thor opens up about how he is truly feeling about being cast out, that Erik is the one who was there when he needed someone the most.

I also enjoyed the ‘Son of Coul’ moment, where Thor declares himself an ally of Midgard, and promises to return. (Not to be confused with the cute Coulson moment, where he confronts the Destroyer with a megaphone.)

So, what did Thor learn in this film? That he had more to learn…that some humility is in order, that he does not always have the answers, and that his decisions can get people killed. Perhaps some sense of the responsibility of defending all nine of the realms, not just Asgard. Maybe even the sense that even when he is cast out, and at his worst, that there are people who will care about him, just for himself.

There’s also always the danger that every time you surmount another unsurmountable foe/obstacle, it’s another opportunity to become arrogant? This is a common human failing, and also allows second movies (such as Iron Man 2), but is perhaps not as well understood as a concept, and is perhaps why those second movies fail more often[14].

What defences against Thanos fall in this movie?
– The Destroyer (would not have stood up to Hela, but would have perhaps allowed some help vs. Thanos’ minions)
– S: “It could rotate like that, because there’s nothing inside.” As a design, it’s a really interesting piece of machinery, and bespeaks some really good industrial design in Asgard’s past.
– The unity of Thor & Loki (really, Loki) as protectors of Asgard & the Nine Realms
– Odin has to enter the odinsleep
– Frost Giants are no longer really possible allies

What alliances/defences are forged?
– Thor & SHIELD/Jane Foster

[1] It might fall under ‘Voyage & Return‘, but it is for sure a ‘Hero’s Journey‘.

[2] I think the key here is to have the world-shaking events, but to also have the family-shaking events happening at the same time, having the family-shaking events be almost a synecdoche or accessible proxy for the world-shaking events.

[3] Well, it starts with him being hit by a van, but that’s beside the point…

[4] ‘Younger brother'[15], the trope of so much fiction (and history), caused by the flawed practice of Primogeniture. Like many older concepts, it might have been one that humans had to pass through on the way to greater enlightenment. Perhaps better than Partible Inheritance[16], but only a stepping stone towards modern republics & representative democracies[17].

[5] One could argue that Loki letting the Frost Giants past Heimdahl, leading to Thor’s overreaction, leading to Thor being banished to Earth, leading to SHIELD increasing activity to deal with external threats, leading to Loki being cast out, to working with Thanos, to the invasion of Earth, to Tony’s PTSD, to Ultron, to the Sokovia Accords, to the Civil War, to the death of Frigga & Odin, to the unpreparedness for the Infinity War, to the eventual resolution, is the main arc of the series. I feel like it is still a point of contention as to whether this was a ‘best’ (or even good) way for this to turn out, but 1 in 14,000,605 should tell you something.

[6] I first heard of Colm Feore as being that famous person performing in Toronto musicals. I’m glad to see him doing so well. 😀 Also, he had a super-interesting note about the power of ‘Shakespearean Shorthand’:

“He said the Shakespearean training he shared with Hopkins and director Branagh helped keep production moving briskly, saying that “during the breaks, Tony, myself and Ken would be talking in Shakespearean shorthand about what the characters were doing, what we thought they may be like, and how we could focus our attention more intelligently. These were discussions that took no more than a few minutes between takes, but they allowed Ken, Tony and [me] to understand each other instantly without Ken taking an hour away to explain to the actors exactly what was going on. So that was enormously helpful.”

[7] So much colonialism in this movie, that I don’t have the chops to fully dissect.

[8] Made explicit in conversations between Loki & Thor in Thor:Ragnarok.

[9] Well, ‘Avengers’.

[10] I really enjoyed the portrayal of the Bifrost bridge (the bridge to the sphere where the Bifrost emerges from) as some sort of conduit from some power source in the heart of Asgard to the (probably dangerous) sphere that emits the Bifrost. (Interestingly, there are electrical discharges when making the Bifrost happen, which might be dramatic license, or they may be associated with Thor’s power (or indicate something fundamental about the connection of Thor’s power with the power of Asgard), or they may be something that falls out of Wormhole equations.)

[11] I have all kinds of questions after Thor:Ragnarok & Infinity War about where Thor’s power comes from, and how the Bifrost works after Asgard has been destroyed, even if Stormbreaker is made of Uru metal.

[12] I always took the fact that Thor was susceptible to tasers to be an indication that he had lost his powers (or at least confidence, similar to Thor:Ragnarok, with the control chip).

[13] Interestingly, Marvel seems to really enjoy taking people who have or feel a duality, and then doing the gedanken experiment of ‘what if they were separate people?’, or ‘what if they grew apart?’ We see this with Hulk’s story arc, and apparently it happened in the comic books with Donald Blake.

[14] This could also be selection bias, where 80% (made up number) of all movies fail, so having 80% of sequels fail is not unexpected.

[15] “Loki’s like a comic book version of Edmund in King Lear, but nastier.” (Edmund being an illegitimate son.)

[16] I became most aware of this concept from a problematic book I read a while back, which talked about the Partition of Poland (1138). Others might use more classical examples, such as Clovis, or the Partition of Babylon (or Triparadisus).

[17] One could make an argument here for an analogy with Polytheism -> Monotheism -> Atheism, but that would be outside our scope here.

Processing Endgame IV: Iron Man II (2010)

Please note that this is one a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

After the somewhat disappointing The Incredible Hulk (2008), we turned to the next movie in the MCU, Iron Man II (2010). I had low expectations for this one, not remembering a lot of it from 9 years ago, except that it wasn’t an origin story[1], and that it would have to deal in some way with Tony’s narcissism (as all of the Iron Man movies did). I couldn’t shake the memory that Robert Downey Junior had started to get bored with the movies (although that might only have happened in Iron Man 3), and I was expecting it to be not very good.

I was quite pleasantly surprised.

From the beginning, they set up the premise of the movie, that Tony was dying from palladium poisoning (from the arc reactor in his chest, that was keeping him alive). Somewhat similar to his brush with death in the first Iron Man movie (in the desert in Afghanistan), it humbled him somewhat, making him think about what his legacy would be, how he would be remembered. He thus set out to recreate the Stark Expo, perhaps to make his father proud[2]. Of course, this inner humbling had to be outwardly avoided, at all costs, by huge stage shows, large parties, and public drinking to excess.

This led to his actual first low moment, where he let ‘Rhodey’ take his Mark II armour[3], perhaps as part of a legacy, perhaps because he knew that he really was actually out of control.

Scarlett Johansson makes her first appearance here, going undercover in the legal department of Stark Industries, then as Tony and Pepper’s personal secretary. She gets to show off her badassery, first sparring with Happy, then breaking into Hammer Industries. She also gets to show off her creative understanding of computer systems, where, after she and J.A.R.V.I.S. both being unable to break into War Machine’s system, she manages to reboot it, restoring Rhodey’s control.

She felt like she was used as a supporting character through most of the movie, but that makes sense, given her cover[4].

Overall, the movie felt like the ‘A’ plot was Tony trying to save his own life, by developing a better arc reactor. The fights against Vanko and the Hammer drones seemed almost too easy for Iron Man (totally unprepared, he suits up in his weakest, portable armor, and wins reasonably handily on the racetrack[5], and the Hammer drones are only a threat because of the civilians nearby. (The last battle sequence with Vanko is also incredibly short[6].)

Along the way, he got a bit closer to his father, and solved the ‘B’ plot of Vanko[7] & Hammer.

He solved some of the problems (but not all) of quick field deployment of his armour (The Mark V was much quicker (about 15 seconds), and doesn’t require specialized equipment. He learned a better appreciation for his father, and got some emotional support from him. During the movie, he added electrical resistance and the new arc reactor to his Mark VI armor, which was otherwise mostly unchanged from the Mark III[8].

However, he triumphed mostly over himself. His external adversaries (Hammer, Vanko, that senator) were not substantial enemies for Stark & Iron Man. He even managed to defeat them with no bystanders being harmed. This would only fuel his narcissism, which would not be adequately countered until much later[9].

The movie held up quite well. It felt well paced (all of the ‘best of’ scenes on Youtube were connected by scenes that seemed to make sense, and went on for reasonable amounts of time), all of the characters were believeable (Justin Hammer wonderfully punchable villain, and Vanko was well-devloped, and quite in character[10]). All of the rest of the cast were believeable, and made sense.

How did I feel about it? I felt that I understood Tony as a character better, I understood where I knew Black Widow from, and why I wanted to see more of her as a character. I wanted to see more interactions with technology, more world-building in that direction, more Tony making better amour, or other things. (Making Black Widow’s devices would be pretty cool.) I appreciated the interactions with Tony’s father. Justin Hammer perhaps spoke even more to me, as he channeled an ’80s movie villain. I understand more of the dual challenges of Tony fighting with himself, vs. fighting with others, and how this varies over time.

How did this help me process Endgame better? Perhaps it showed me that Tony was at his most interesting and effective when he was right on the edge, or that he wasn’t, and it was all about giving him time to be apart and get into ‘flow’, to solve large intractable problems. It helped me understand his arc better, and how him coming face-to-face with his mortality, and tempering his narcissism were key (although he always had the drive to protect those around him, which always seems to have included all civilians, which seems to have been a constant part of his character).

This was perhaps best personified in the “C’mon!”, where he’s desperate to make a difference (and survive), and save people, but he needs others to do help him do it[11], and being so frustrated when this is difficult.

Stay tuned for next time, when we watch a movie with a totally different feel, the Shakespearean[12] drama Thor!

[1] I still have a soft spot in my heart for Iron Man’s origin story.

[2] The dealing with his distant father issues were done in (I thought) an understated and tasteful way, focused on a few scenes of introspection

[3] To be refitted and ‘weaponized’ into the ‘War Machine’ armour. Interestingly, he calls him ‘War Machine’ explicitly in the film, before this happens. Also, it’s pretty obvious that off-screen, he had allowed Rhodey to play with the armour.

[4] I really hope that her movie gets into her origin story with Fury…

[5] Vanko suggests in the jail cell scene that he was deliberately just trying to make Tony bleed, not actually trying to kill anyone, which would agree with how no civilians seem to have been harmed in the Stark Pavilion battle.

[6] Vanko mentioned in the jail cell scene that once you ‘make god bleed’, then ‘there is blood in the water’, about how now that he has shown that Iron Man is not invincible, others will come after him. Some[13] have suggested that this is related to the ‘All that for a drop of blood’ line in Infinity War. I interpreted that line straight, that even with the benefit of surprise, and a pretty good plan, Stark was not enough to defeat Thanos head-on.

[7] Although it’s never really explained exactly what happened to Vanko’s father, we only have Fury’s word on it.

[8] The ‘arm lasers’ are a noticeable exception.

[9] It was a work in progress, but it could be argued that his PTSD arc after Avengers, and his defeat in Infinity War are the keys.

[10] Apparently Mickey Rourke did a substantial amount of work to prepare for the part, and it showed.

[11] A substantial part of the character growth may be Tony learning that others are not subordinates, but can be full partners in what he needs to do. Promoting and giving Pepper control of Stark Industries may have been the first step here, then Rhodey, and finally letting Cap call the shots in New York…

[12] Why else would you choose Kenneth Branagh to direct? Fun factoid: He also directed the post-credits scene for Iron Man 2, where they discover Mjolnir.

[13] Sorry, I can’t find the reference. 🙁

Processing Endgame III: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Please note that this is one a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

Music playing: Still “Avengers Theme Remix”, remixed by ‘Approaching Nirvana‘.

CW: suicide

We had originally planned to skip The Incredible Hulk (2008), as many do, but after thinking/hearing about all of the controversy regarding the arguments between Edward Norton & Marvel about scripts, we decided we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

The movie opened with a strange choice: The film’s editors decided to put the usual character origin story into a short montage at the beginning[1]. S noted at the time that she felt cheated of the best part of one of these superhero movies, the part where they discover themselves for the first time, when they go from zero to one.

The rest of the movie just seemed a bit off. It’s hard (for me) to put my finger on exactly what the issue was. I’m sure part of it seemed to be that the Hulk character seemed a bit inconsistent with the later portrayal, with Norton’s silent & brooding fugitive contrasting with Ruffalo’s more comedic take, some of it was the on-screen depiction of the Hulk, seeming scarier and more visceral, but I think I could have dealt with that, and found my peace with the film, accepting that Banner and the Hulk were learning about each other, and that this movie was all about acceptance of one’s inner Hulk…

…except they never really talked about that. There was a deleted scene in Norton’s edited screenplay that showed Banner trying to commit suicide to get away from the Hulk (a similar scene alluded to by Ruffalo’s Banner in Avengers). This was supposed to be the opening scene, and it might have gone a long way towards justifying an arc through the movie of Banner slowly coming to terms and accepting the Hulk as part of himself, where after trying to remove him, he finally accepts the necessity, in order to defeat Abomination[2].

Some things that were done really well: The chemistry between Tyler & Norton was fantastic, they were really believeable as long-lost lovers (apparently they spent a lot of time discussing their backstory, even though they didn’t talk much about it in onscreen), and Tyler’s character was pretty badass, in one scene, leaping on top of the Hulk to try to save Banner, in another, taking them out of a cab, to reduce Banner’s stress level.

The rest of the characters…well…it felt like they never really fit into the story. I always find it difficult to figure out what drops me out of my suspension of disbelief in a film. Is it the editing, that makes the time between comments feel unnatural? Is it the script? Is it the actors not living their parts? Whatever it was, Thunderbolt Ross felt unnatural, the scientist ‘helping’ them felt absurdly over-the-top, and I can’t even remember the rest of them[3].

The one other shining star was Ty Burell’s Samson, who felt believeable all the way through. You could just picture him understanding Tyler’s character, feeling her inner torn-ness, and choosing to let her go.

Overall, the movie felt like Banner trying to find Betty Ross (eventually successfully), while trying to control and suppress/expurgate the Hulk part of himself. Along the way, he eventually accepted that the Hulk was part of himself[4][5] (which is a long way from liking or trusting the Hulk[6]).

But overall, it didn’t really deliver. It might have been because Norton and the editing team had different ideas about the character, or what movie they were making. It might just not have been put together well.

In my head-canon, I see The Incredible Hulk (2008) as being an alternate universe explanation of how the Hulk came to be, and not really part of Earth-199999 (unless there are cross-overs), and not really informing the Hulk’s (or Banner’s) character moving forward[7]

I would recommend this film only for completionists, or those who like Ed Norton (or Liv Tyler).

Next up: Iron Man 2! Purported to be ‘not as good’ as the first, but we’ll see how well it’s held up.

Other random notes:

Much of the film was shot in Toronto, leading to some interesting cognitive dissonance for the scenes shot on UofT campus, as the terrain/buildings really didn’t connect well with each other. (It’s difficult to know how much of this is because I know how things connect, and how much is because they had a grassy meadow with no buildings visible in the distance right beside a university building with a treed circle and cars.)

(Contrast with Avengers, which had regular establishing shots[8] with Stark tower in the background)

[1] Apparently, there was a test screening where viewers found the original plan (a reboot with flashbacks) too similar to Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003), and that is why they made this decision. 11 years later, it just seems like an odd design decision.

[2] This might also have helped a lot with explaining the ‘leap of faith’ that Norton’s Banner took near the end of the film, to try to transform into the Hulk in mid-air. I didn’t feel that there was anything in the movie that showed that Banner felt guilty enough about being the Hulk to take that action.

[3] Looking at Wikipedia, to check part of this post, I realized that I had forgotten Tim Ross’s Abomination. I felt during the movie that I never really understood where he was coming from. Yes, he said that he a survivor, that wanted to keep fighting (very likely some form of PTSD), but it was a bunch of ‘tell-rather-than-show’ moments, and some sort of flashback would have been much more effective for this character.

[4] This would eventually lead into the ‘Hulk is feeling taken for granted’ storyline from Ragnarok->Infinity War->Endgame

[5] Also, random note. They changed the ‘>200bpm -> Hulk’ to ‘letting yourself be angry’ after this movie, likely for storytelling reasons, but it’s a super-interesting ‘science’ part of the film.

[6] There was a final scene, where Banner is off somewhere hiding, and you see him almost gleefully going to ‘days without incident: 0’, which could have been a super-interesting ‘addicted to Hulk’ story.

[7] I’ll have to wait until Ultron to decide, but I feel that it is unlikely that Banner’s romance with Ross in this movie is consistent with his later romance with Black Widow.

[8] Thanks Ty Templeton for his fantastic Comic Book Boot Camp, which taught me about Establishing Shots, and many other important things!

Processing Endgame II: Iron Man (2008) [SPOILERS]

Please note that this is one a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

Music: “Avengers Theme Remix

First on the list to watch was Iron Man (2008). I had watched a few of the ‘best of’ scenes on Youtube, including the really impactful opening scene, and when he first takes the Mark II out for a spin.

A lot of the hagiography about Tony Stark talks about how he has a lot of features that make him an effective superhero. They talk about him being a futurist, super-smart, and handy. This movie perhaps emphasizes his handy-ness more than any other, with the extended scene of him building an innovative new Iron Man suit while a prisoner in a cave.

But what I think people perhaps forget is while he goes through a character development arc, his armor perhaps goes through even more of a change. His perhaps greatest ability is to learn from experience, and adapt by changing his actions and the tools he builds.

In this first movie, we see three versions of his Iron Man suit: The first, iconic grey suit that I remember so well from his first appearance in comics in the ’60s[1], the redone silver-coloured Mark II, and the familiar red & gold Mark III.

The suits go from working for a few minutes (Mark I), to almost being able to beat altitude records (Mark II) in what is probably a few weeks (or months).

And that’s when disaster almost strikes[2]. The suit ices up, and Tony has to manually de-ice it[3] in mid-fall. Luckily, he survives, and with this survival comes a small bit of learning.

This learning is used when making the Mark III, and is an important point in the final battle scene.

This learning from experience will be shown in later movies, but looking at it here, from Mark I->Mark II, the suit is streamlined, focus is placed on being able to fly (presumably because if it had been able to fly, Tony would not have had to walk out of the desert), and most of the weapons are removed (apparently because it was a flight test model). Tony also adds an automated way to don the suit[4], perhaps because his friend and compatriot[5] in building the Mark I dies to give him the time required to finish donning it and charging it up.

This learning from trauma, perhaps a source of his perfectionism is another theme that is consistent throughout the series.

From the Mark II to the Mark III, there’s the aforementioned de-icing package, along with the re-addition of some weaponry, as Tony was planning in a semi-revenge fashion to go destroy all of the weapons that bore his name that had made it onto the black market.

But there are two other things that make a huge difference. From the Mark I to Mark II, Tony integrated his home AI J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany) into his suit. It’s difficult to describe how much of a difference it would make to have an AI companion riding along with you, vs. a mere targeting computer with Heads-Up Display. Part of the reason to have it there is very effective in movie terms, as it gives Robert Downey Jr. someone to argue with and be snarky with (also a super-important part of the Iron Man character), but even for someone who is great at multi-tasking, having a separate intelligence there, ready to sort through all of the data to tell you what is important *right now* is invaluable in a life-or-death situation[6].

The second (and perhaps even more important than anything else here) thing that makes Tony different is his willingness to embarrass himself. You see him videotaping himself testing all of his experiments, presumably so that he can watch the replay and learn from it.

Can you imagine Thor, or Captain America experimenting with repulsor boots so that they flip over and land unceremoniously on the ground? It’s totally out of character for them. Perhaps this is different, because we actually see into Tony’s practice workshop, and we never got the chance to see Thor first learning how to wield Mjolnir.

Next up: Iron Man II, one of the less-well known (and lower rated movies), but we’ll see how it goes on a re-watch!

Other notes: Pepper Potts’ ‘proof Tony has a heart’ moment was really poignant, and the interactions between the two of them were fun and meaningful to watch. I especially liked her bravery, and when she stuck up for herself and gave as good as she got.

Messages: How easy it is to fall into the mental trap of believing that your actions are not hurting others or having unintended consequences, if you never see them… #chardev

[1] I was lucky enough when I was growing up to have access to a few cardboard boxes of old comics from the late ’60s. I still remember the first Iron Man story, I think from before he had his own comic series, the first story where he builds his first suit, and before he paints it. It’s difficult to separate how I felt then about it then from the movie adaptation, and how much of it is from a soft place in my heart, vs. just feeling familiar[8] from childhood….

[2] There are so many places in these movies that disaster almost strikes, that there must be alternate timelines for each of them. Earth-199999 feels super-lucky.

[3] Well Chekov’s gun-d by the ‘cool suit-up montage’ (great multiple-use of a scene) showing the demo of all of the control surfaces.

[4] There are a number of iterations of this, with so many different ways to don the suits, or otherwise adapt to situations, that it almost deserves its own post.

[5] Shaun Toub‘s Ho Yinsen was the most poignant part of the movie for me, as I knew he was going to die (because I remembered enough of the plot), but I had forgotten that he was willing to die partially (or mostly) because his family had already been killed by the group that had captured him and Tony. There’s something here about the necessary sacrifice of good people to thwart evil, and from the (likely deliberate) casting of an an Iranian-American actor, about how people of all races and backgrounds can be good people, and we should be working with them.

[6] And your house robot will bring you your spare arc reactor, so you can put it back in your chest and save your life… 🙂

[7] This ability to give a voice command and have it followed intelligently will become super important later in the first Avengers movie. #staytuned

[8] I wonder how much of it is that Tony falls into the ‘scientist/inventor’ category of Marvel Superheroes, that speaks to me, or spoke to me especially when I was growing up, and that was how I saw my life/career unfolding.

Processing Endgame I: Preludes

Please note that this is one a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

People talk about the cultural phenomenon of Avengers:Endgame, but I don’t know if it’s been fully addressed how the movie, indeed the culmination of the series has, and is continuing to affect viewers.

Trying to avoid lines (and get reasonably good seats), we ended up seeing Avengers:Endgame the Tuesday the week after opening. For various reasons[1], we decided to take the afternoon off to watch it. I laughed, I cried, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I left the theater with a feeling of satisfaction, knowing that they had done the movie justice, that (aside from a few issues[2]) it was a satisfying conclusion to a 22-movie series.

So, it took me a while to realize what was happening in the subsequent weeks. I found myself watching analysis, and re-watching scenes from old MCU movies (mostly Avengers:Assemble), especially scenes of Iron Man. It wasn’t until I watched a youtube video about how Endgame actors reacted to the movie, and read Dave Bautista’s tweet about how he was still processing, almost a week after viewing the movie.

I realized that I was still processing. I also realized that Iron Man was quite my favourite character[3]. It took me a while to notice that I might have been grieving, and re-watching ‘All Iron-Man suitups’ videos wasn’t going to bring him back.

So, perhaps as a way of processing, perhaps as a way of getting closure, perhaps as a way to notice all the things we didn’t see the first time[4], S & I independently came up with the idea of re-watching the MCU, in order[5].

So, please enjoy this series of reviews/processing/introspection.

[1] We really like afternoon movies, as you can fully react to them, then, while still processing, go outside and walk in the sun, perhaps get some dinner. Also, it was much easier to get good seats during the day on a weekday.

[2] I’ll get in to this later, but I was most bothered by the treatment of Black Widow.

[3] Maybe since my youth, but I know I def. recognized him from comics I read when I was growing up. I might have liked Cyclops more growing up, but the X-Men movie version of him was pretty unengaging.

[4] I would mention the Infinity Stones here, but my understanding is that they didn’t intend for all of the movies to be about them, until about GotG:Vol1.

[5] Starting with Iron Man, and probably skipping Hulk, as neither of us are particularly interested in it (even less than Thor:2, that S slept through[6]).

[6] In her defense, she may have been sick, and Dayquil:SEVERE may have been involved.

Spell It Out! Sneak Preview! (and last chance to buy before Christmas!)

As many of you may know, I’ve been working on my new ‘word-spelling deck-building’ game: Spell It Out! You may have seen some of the unboxing pics of my production proof copy, such as:

Spell It Out!: What comes in the box!
Spell It Out!: What comes in the box!

This is a quick post to let you know that the production copies will be arriving late this week or early next week, and this is your last chance to purchase for delivery* before Christmas!

Buy it here: https://cmsigames.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage/products/spell-it-out

I’ll be starting my designer blog later this month, but I wanted to put out a quick note, as I know there are a few people who said they wanted it to give as a gift. More soon! 🙂

*I can guarantee delivery before Christmas for downtown Toronto. Further than that, we are subject to the whims of Canada Post, but if you really need it fast, we can work something out.

My Grandfather never talked about The War

I never really knew my grandfather[1]. I’m sure some of this is because men[2] of his generation were not expected to interact with children in the same way as they are now, and some of it is because he was extremely old when I was born. Near as I can tell, he was born before the turn of the century in or near Ternopil[3], during the time it was Polish, but occupied.

Sometime during this time, he was conscripted[4] into the Polish army on the side of the allies, which likely means under Russian control.

After the war, he somehow managed to escape to France[5], and perhaps seeing that war was brewing again, he moved to Canada, where he met my grandmother.

My first, and perhaps only memories of him are of him being extremely old, in his late eighties, and seemingly upset with the infirmities that age thrusts upon a person. I regret that I never knew him when he was younger, or ever heard his stories.

My mom said that he never talked about the war, nor apparently much about his time before he moved to Canada. Apparently, he wanted to make a fresh start, and/or there was too much hurt or trauma back there.

As you’re reading this, it will have been 100 years to the day since the Armistice of November 11th, 2018, which is still remembered in Canada as Remembrance Day. This armistice was largely between Germany and the Allies in the West, though. The situation on the Eastern Front was significantly different. The war had taken a turn with the collapse of the Russian Empire, followed by two revolutions and civil war, which raged for four more years after the armistice in the West.

I don’t know what part he played in all of this. I don’t know how he managed to survive all of the chaos of war and revolution and civil war, never mind the subsequent Polish-Russian war. I do know that he worked as an orderly at Sunnybrook later in life, perhaps working with veterans, to what end I’m not sure. I like to think he gained some measure of peace from it.

This spirit of remembrance and peace that we celebrate today is based on a very important moment in history, where the guns fell silent for a time in one part of the world. We should also remember though, that despite this, a related war still raged for years afterwards, not very far away.

[1]My mother’s father.

[2]I have great memories of time with my grandma, interestingly, the most acute ones seem to revolve around food. Her delicious cabbage rolls, fresh-picked strawberries or corn from her backyard garden, fruit (bananas?) and Neapolitan ice cream, she even managed to make boiled peas a fond memory for me.

[3]Interesting things from this article: “In 1544 the Tarnopol Castle was completed and repelled the first Tatar attacks. On 20 January 1548 Tarnopol was granted legal rights by the King of Poland Sigismund I the Old which allowed the town to hold three fairs annually, and the weekly trades on Mondays.” I think we don’t fully understand the extent to which peoples’ lives were regulated, where a town had to be granted to right to hold a fair.

[4]Given what I know of politics in the area and at that time, I think conscripted is the best guess.

[5]I know there must be interesting stories here, some of which I have heard parts of, but they are outside the scope for today.

Japan in Pictures 2012: November 3, Darts, Parks, and Tokyu Hands!

When we last saw their intrepid heroes, they were Out and About Near Shinjuku. They then continued their journey towards Ikebukuro, along the way S captured the Essence of Subway:

#capturingtheessenceofcapturingtheessenceofsubway
#capturingtheessenceofcapturingtheessenceofsubway

The subway stations continued their impressively intricate maps of the subway building and surrounding area[1]:

They had these in all the subway stations.
They had these in all the subway stations.

First stop was a book store, where they found this incredibly useful artifact:

My English Atlas of Tokyo.  A lifesaver in many ways.
My English Atlas of Tokyo. A lifesaver in many ways.

Using this artifact, they successfully navigated around their first destination, ‘Ikebukuro’:

Ikebukuro, our first destination, it will forever have a warm place in my heart.
Ikebukuro, our first destination, it will forever have a warm place in my heart.

If you look closely at the map above, you can see Tokyu Hands (Tokyo HaNSu), and all of the other destinations mentioned in this post. See if you can track our heroes’ travels!

After obtaining navigational aids, our intrepid heroes continued to their excuse for exploring this neighbourhood, one of the female-oriented anime stores on Otome Road, likely Lashinbang.

Not finding exactly what they wanted, they wandered until they found a little park, where they spent a pleasant hour or two wandering and conversing with cats:

A large number of people (and cats!) seemed to be living permanently in the SE end of this park.
A large number of people (and cats!) seemed to be living permanently in the SE end of this park.

If you read the sign closely, you can see that it is called: “東池袋中央公園”, or “Higashiikebukurochūōkōen”, or “Higashi Ikebukuro Central Park“.

Next up was one of the famous ‘100 Yen’ stores:

In the 100Yen store, there were many examples of cuteness, such as this one.
In the 100Yen store, there were many examples of cuteness, such as this one.
I'll confess that I never discovered if this was true.
I’ll confess that I never discovered if this was true.

Followed up by their first (of many!) arcade visit!

An elaborate racing game in the first (of many) arcade(s) we visited.
An elaborate racing game in the first (of many) arcade(s) we visited.

Here, you can see S proudly showing off her bullseye:

IMG_0113 copy

And with that, it was time to wander again! Our heroes encountered this odd character guarding the entrance to a different arcade. Heeding his warning, they moved on:

We both found this character disturbing.
We both found this character disturbing.

And then it was time for Tokyu Hands! Possibly the most famous (at least to our heroes) of the ‘DePaTo’s (Department Stores), they encountered 6 floors of amazing sights:

Tokyu Hands!  Our new favourite Department Store!
Tokyu Hands! Our new favourite Department Store!
I can't help but think of Monty Python's "The Black Knight" when I see this.
I can’t help but think of Monty Python’s “The Black Knight” when I see this.
I don't know what game this is, but it looks like a classic.
I don’t know what game this is, but it looks like a classic.

(Upon reflection, this seems to be ‘Shogi‘, and is hundreds of years old[2].)

This was our first of many Lego experiences on this trip.
This was our first of many Lego experiences on this trip.
They had such a variety of phone cases at Tokyu Hands, I ended up buying too many of them.
They had such a variety of phone cases at Tokyu Hands, I ended up buying too many of them.
The word 'necomini' makes me think of cat ears, but I don't think that's what these are.
The word ‘necomini’ makes me think of cat ears, but I don’t think that’s what these are.

These were amazingly colourful little educational animal skeletons preserved in what looks like acrylic:

IMG_0130

Stay tuned for next time, when our intrepid heroes follow some oddly dressed people into a secret hideout in a park, and discover a fabulous secret!

[1]Where else do you see top view and side view maps in public?

[2]In its current incarnation, Shogi is ~400-500 years old, but its ancestors go back at least a thousand years before that.

Japan 2012 in Pictures: November 3, Out and About near Shinjuku

When we last saw our intrepid heroes, they had just finished looking at various maps in Yoyogi, near Shinjuku. Today, we follow them as they explore small parts of that neighbourhood.

(Note: I found the sljfaq.org ‘multiradical’ character finder super-helpful, especially as I seem to have lost my ability to draw kanji.)

First, we see their favourite little store of the day. It seemed to be a textbook store, but it also had a wide selection of little stationary:

This was an amazing little textbook store, with all kinds of stationary.
This was an amazing little textbook store, with all kinds of stationary.

There were various ‘No Smoking’ signs. This one seemed to be expressing itself in a somewhat counterproductive way. Near as I can tell, it says “Walk journey/carry out consume/smoke smoke prohibition stop/halt[1]…Shibuya ward Smoking Rules” (Note that ‘Ru-Ru’ in Katakana transliterates to ‘Rules’.):

This picture is somewhat unconvincing about the uncoolness of smoking.
This picture is somewhat unconvincing about the uncoolness of smoking.

We saw a number of these little signs embedded in the paving stones. This one seems to say ‘electricity‘:

We saw this little sign on the ground.  Near as we can tell, it says 'electricity'.
We saw this little sign on the ground. Near as we can tell, it says ‘electricity’.

This one seems to say ‘weak electricity‘, perhaps suggesting that you should not dig here?[2]:

Another strange sign embedded in the ground.  "Weak Electricity" and an arrow.
Another strange sign embedded in the ground. “Weak Electricity” and an arrow.
I liked the contrasting shapes of these buildings in the distance.
I liked the contrasting shapes of these buildings in the distance.

The warning sign on the arm seems to say:

Large black characters: “Enter mouth“, or “Entrance
(Note that the smaller red characters were difficult to read, this is my best guess):
Smaller red characters:
“Pa/Ba- beam/girderRe SeNSa- ??Middle!!”
Hand Wo(of)?Re?To Fu(Bu/Pu/Wa)Ga?Ri ???Come out

Perhaps something about a bar sensor, and cars may come out? (Or perhaps the standard warning, that the bar may move seemingly of its own accord, and bonk you unexpectedly?)

Note the warning sign on the arm.
Note the warning sign on the arm.

When we were there, there seemed to be some sort of election going on. Here is a selection of various campaign posters:

The one on the top seems to be a person called ‘NaGaTsuMa‘, with “The Democratic Party of Japan“, which apparently has had an interesting recent history.

Oddly, it mentions in the top right corner his birth year (1960) and month.

In the center of the poster, just to the left of his face: “Me, the fight I continue“, or “I continue the fight/I keep fighting.”
In red, it says: “one round/month/perfection in any event, day true second birth

Interestingly, his name is in Hiragana, not the more formal Kanji, I’m assuming so it’s easier to read. At the time of the election, he would have been 52, I’m not sure if that would make him young or old for running for office (as to why he would include his birth month on the poster). Also note the prominent but understated wedding ring.

The next poster down is ‘Hideko Murakami’ (not to be confused with Murakami), who apparently had her face cut/vandalized out of her political poster. It’s difficult to tell what her party was, but the text at the top of her poster says: “East Capital Metropolis/all/everything (Tokyo) deliberation party deliberation leader / Metropolis/all/everything deliberation leader politics/government investigate/mediate/harmonize leader senior

Suggesting she’s the senior leader, or a negotiator/mediator? (I can’t find anything on her in Google, to suggest why she would be a target of such specific vandalism.)

The other two signs seem relatively normal. Tamayo Marakawa seems reasonably famous.

The green sign has ‘DaKaRa oneself people/subjects party/faction“, or perhaps “So what if one’s self makes their own party”, perhaps referring to the party that had split off from the Liberal Democratic Party, and was currently in power.

There seemed to be an election going on.  This is a selection of campaign posters.
There seemed to be an election going on. This is a selection of campaign posters.
Another campaign poster.
Another campaign poster.

“What do you want?” A very bold statement, especially with the English being given equal treatment with the Japanese language. Direct translation: “MiNNaGa Laughing Face DeIRaReRu (of could to be) NiShiTaI (to do)”

The statement in black reads: “Me, I Act

The person seems to by Fumiaki Matsumoto. Note that the person making the poster helpfully spelled out his first name ‘FuMiAKi’, probably to help people vote.

An advertisement for a place to live.  Can't tell if it's a rental or purchase.
An advertisement for a place to live. Can’t tell if it’s a rental or purchase.

Stay tuned for next time, when our intrepid heroes visit the mythical Department Store ‘Tokyu Hands’!

[1]In some ways, these repeated similar words remind me of the words around the ‘Utwig Planetary Engineering Tool’, or Ab’s commentary about the ancient weapon[3]. Also similar to many sci-fi novels’ ‘translations’ of alien languages, putting multiple words to represent one alien word, to show that their concepts are grouped differently than they are in English.

[2]Google seems to agree, for what it’s worth.

[3]It’s written in dozens of different languages, but they all translate to ‘Boom’.

Japan in Pictures 2012: November 3, More Map Reading While Exploring Near Shinjuku by Day

When we last saw our intrepid travelers, they had just finished decoding part of a map inside Shinjuku station. They decided it was time to go out and explore the neighbourhood[1].

As they ventured onto the back streets, away from the bustle of the station, one of the first things they noticed was maps that looked like this:

The first neighbourhood map we documented.
The first neighbourhood map we documented.

As you can see, this is a map showing where various commercial establishments are in the neighbourhood. (The specific neighbourhood seems to be between Minami Shinjuku and Yoyogi Stations.)

The green label on the top looks like it reads “ShiBuYa (ward in Tokyo) YoYoGi (neighbourhood in Shibuya ward) T-38-3 RD7″.

The large green label on the left reads: “MaChi Wo Mi ShiKu!!” or “Town/Neighbourhood (of) Beauty District”.

This would make sense, given the prominent advertisement for ‘Hair & Make & Photo Studio”. There seem to be a number of restaurants, such as the ‘YaKiToRi ToMaRiBa’ (or Yakitoi Haunt)

There are a number of things I can’t decipher, such as: “FuaMiRi- Ma-To”, and “(TeNTeN)”, which might be a cool bar with a difficult-to-search name, or perhaps an eyebrow salon.

“TeRuRuMoBaIRu”, possibly a mobile phone store, but also turned up this in a google search.

There’s also “SaNKuSa YoYoGi …” “Sankusa Yoyogi bundle opening store” But ‘Sankusa’ is in Katakana, meaning it’s a loan word from somewhere, Yoyogi is the neighbourhood, and the last three words seem to be describing it as some sort of store. If we were there, it would probably be easy to find out. 🙂

The last one is in the lower right corner: “DaNSu SuTaJhiO M&S Company”, which sounds like a Dance Studio! 🙂

The previous map and the next map were beside one another on the street, suggesting that they referred to the same or similar neighbourhoods. At the time, we had figured that these maps were some sort of neighbourhood directory, but I had thought that the one above was commercial, and the one below was residential.

A zoomed-in neighbourhood map.
A zoomed-in neighbourhood map.

At the top, in blue on white, it seems to say “INTa-NeTo”, beside a ‘DoKoNeTo’ ad, suggesting it’s an internet company ad. Beside it is a pointer to a QR code, which I will ignore, because QR codes are silly.

Looking at some random establishments, we see:

– “INSaITo”
– “MaGuNa” (The smaller characters are difficult to read, perhaps SuChiIToANa-?)
– “Yoyogi ZeMiNa-Ru”, “Yoyogi Seminars”? beside:
– “Yoyogi A-To GiyaRaRi-” Which seems to be ‘Yoyogi Art Gallery”
– Beside what looks like a large building titled “BaRo-Ru Yoyogi MaNShiyoN” or “(something) Mansion Yoyogi”, which has such establishments as:
– “AHAHA LAND”
– “TeNMa”
– “HeA-SuTaNO” (Perhaps ‘Suntan’ or spa?)
– …

And many others I can’t make out. How many can you find/translate?

This next map seemed somewhat the worse for wear:

This neighbourhood map seemed a little worse for wear.
This neighbourhood map seemed a little worse for wear.

I can’t make out too many words in this one, perhaps a ‘KuRi-Su’, there’s a JR station on the right side of the map, ‘SaSaNiTaWa-‘, and many others I can decipher even less about.

What can you figure out? I feel like this has helped me with a lot of Katakana practice (and Yoyogi-recognition practice), but I still have a long way to go. It’s also interesting to see how many different neighbourhoods that we had heard of were so accessible to each other, often just by walking at random.

Stay tuned for next time, when our intrepid travelers, now that they’re oriented themselves, start actually experiencing the city!

[1]Some of their explorations from that first day, related to the design of the city and various objects, were captured earlier in ‘Thoughts on Design in Japan‘.