Archive for November 23rd, 2013

November 23, 2013

Bulletpoints: Thor: The Dark World

As ever, there are spoilers.


  • There’s very little that is new or startling about this movie, but it does have one scene that verges on revolutionary. An early scene is set on Vanaheim, where Thor and co. are bringing peace to the realm by hitting things (Sif is particularly good at hitting things). The battle ends when Thor explodes the biggest of his enemies (you’ve seen this in the trailer); Hogun tells Thor he’s planning to stick around for a while, and as the two men talk they walk past large barrels (urns? baskets?) filled with what look like spices. None of these barrels (tubs?) of produce has been overturned for effect during the battle.
  • No seriously, go back and read that again. I could not believe it.
  • It all begins with the voiceover from Lord of the Rings. We’re told of the evil of Malekith, the power of the aether (we’re not really told much about the aether, other than that it exists and is powerful), over scenes of battle. The Good (probably) guys get the aether, the dark elf army collapses, the good guys decide they can’t destroy this awesomely powerful thing (at which point one of the people I watched it with whispered “cast it back into the fire whence it came!”). It is all very familiar.
  • Other things are also very familiar. Asgard is a bit Rivendell and a lot Star Wars (I suppose this is unavoidable), a mid-credits scene is classic Star Trek.The aliens-crash-into-big-city-and-do-damage scenes are at least recognisably in London rather than some generic city, so that’s nice.
  • As ever, this wholesale destruction of Western cities makes me very glad that aliens rarely choose to stage cosmic battles in Delhi. (Think of all the overturning-things potential of Chandni Chowk though.)
  • arse-guardian“.
  • The whole thing feels rather unfinished. The music sometimes builds up to big climactic moments and sometimes forgets to, some of the dialogue has a distinctly *menacing speech goes here* placeholder-y feel to it.
  • Idris Elba has a tiny action scene where he chases an invisible spaceship and incapacitates it with a sword.
  • I think all this alien technology might not be as impressive as we’re led to believe? The excellence of Elba aside, if your large spaceship can be brought down by a single man with a pointy stick, you need to do better. Likewise, whoever’s responsible for Asgard’s security shield thing needs to ensure that it cannot be broken by someone throwing a punch at the controls. Meanwhile, Earth technology manages to turn an anomaly-detecty-thing into an anomaly-causy-thing in about two minutes, that strikes me as pretty good sciencing.
  • I love the Dark Elves’ armour, particularly the empty-eyed face masks.
  • I also love Christopher Eccleston’s elaborate hair. But this, as my friend Kate points out, raises the entire question of elven haircare–since Malekith probably isn’t doing it himself and most of his people are dead, do the remaining dark elves do one another’s hair? (I would read this comic)
  • As usual, tumblr is right in having the primary romantic relationship be between Jane and science. I’m not sure why Portman’s character has felt so inconsequential to me over these two movies–her badness at dating and sudden moments of science geekery almost made up for it here.
  • And they don’t sexualise her, or Darcy, or Sif, in any of the obvious places. Instead we get random shirtless Thor, which is so clearly put in as a “here you go, ladies”* moment.
  • DARCY.
  • Maybe it’s homesickness but Thor’s cloak (if that’s what it is?) reminds me of the draped shawl of an arty Indian man in a Delhi winter. Note to self: Chris Hemsworth is not a Bengali poet.


I’m sure I remember having other thoughts about this film. Hm.


*Straight and bi ladies who are into that sort of thing, and also anyone else who is into that sort of thing.

November 23, 2013

Tove Jansson, Fair Play

I’ve been feeling generally unenthused by most of what I’ve read lately; Fair Play made me love it and I feel like myself again. More quiet, queer romances with elderly women, please.

From this weekend’s column.


I spent a good part of last year rereading Tove Jansson’s Moomin books for the first time in far too long. The Moomins are a family of various-shaped creatures living in a valley in Finland who absorb into their circle anyone who needs to be absorbed, the books themselves are perhaps the most generous-spirited children’s books ever written. Jansson is less well known for her books for adults, though some of them (her novel The Summer Book among them) have been translated into English and are quite as fine as her work for children.

And then there’s Fair Play, which is either a novel or a collection of short stories about two women. Mari and Jonna are both artists, and they live and work on opposite sides of the same building with a long attic between them, except when they are in a tiny house on a remote island, or when they are travelling

It’s easy to read this as at least partly autobiographical—Jansson was an artist and writer herself, and lived for over four decades with her partner, the artist Tuulikki Pietilä (for Moomin fans, the inspiration behind Too-Ticky. The NYRB Classics edition (translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal) reinforces this connection further by choosing for its cover art a portrait of Pietilä by Jansson. At several points during my first read I found myself trying to work out who was who; which character was “meant” to be Jansson and which Pietilä. But I’m not sure that’s a useful way to read this book.

Very little happens, in the conventional sense, in Fair Play. Pictures are rearranged on the walls, arguments are sometimes had, movies are watched and grocery shopping planned, other people enter and exit the lives of these two women and sometimes their coming is an intrusion and at other times it is welcome. But through these quiet tales of ordinary life is built up the picture of a relationship that is real and deep.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of Fair Play is in the way it treats the process of ageing as normal. Women in their seventies speak of the relative youth of women in their fifties; men in their nineties dismiss women in their seventies. Mari and Jonna speak frankly of things of which they are no longer physically capable, and there is no panicked rush to hold onto what they have now.

Ali Smith, in her introduction to the book, speaks of work and love (Jansson designed her own bookplates with the motto Labora et Amare) and the way in which the two are intertwined there. The two women work separately, and when they are working seem almost to live separate lives. Space, both figuratively and literally (that long, empty corridor between their studios) is central to this relationship. “There are empty spaces that must be respected—those often long periods when a person can’t see the pictures or find the words and needs to be left alone”, says the narrator in “Videomania”. And the collection ends with Jonna’s being offered a studio in Paris and both women genuinely relishing the prospect of time alone. And it is a book about the process of art: of Mari’s photographs and Jonna’s tape recordings, of letters from fans, the valid criticisms of other artists and the frustration of living with a writer whose work isn’t going well.

A book so concerned with the process of producing art, Fair Play is also the result of that process. It grants to its characters the sort of space they grant each other, it leaves things unsaid, and perhaps one reason I’m reluctant to read it purely as biography is that that would be an intrusion.

I spoke above of the Moomin books and the sense of community within them. But beneath that community is a strong sense of individual characters as solitary figures in a vast universe. It’s in its recognition of this solitude, this part of us that is ours alone, that Fair Play becomes one of the finest love stories I’ve read.