Saturday, March 23, 2019

Iron Man 2

     Tony is back! With more snark, more trouble and infinitely more tech infused storylines. Iron Man 2 is probably the most emotional of the Iron Man trilogy. It delves into Tony's psyche and his personal pain of living in the shadow of his great father who Tony felt never really loved him. However, that couldn't be farther from the truth. Yet, with anything thats related to Tony Stark, the hard way is oftentimes the only way.

     "The truth is...I am Iron Man." And with that, Tony Stark launched himself into a new found fame. No longer Tony Stark the son of Howard Stark, the genius playboy. Now, Tony Stark, the Iron Man, the new, cool superhero. And of course, Tony is just soaking it all in. Not everybody is happy with it though. 

     First off, the government wants to take control of Tony's arc reactor armor and use it for military combat. Tony--ever the capitalist--refuses, mocking the government and his rival Justin Hammer who is desperate to outdo Tony in any way possible. 

     Secondly, Stark Industries takes a back seat with Iron Man (and not Stark) becoming the face of the company. So what does Tony do? Make his faithful secretary, Pepper Potts CEO of the company, believing that she is perfectly capable, which she is, but it's hard to run a company and babysit Tony at the same time. Things begin to look infinitely better for Tony when Pepper's new assistant Natalie Rushman catches his eye. But Natalie soon proves that she's more than a pretty face. Much more.

     Finally, Tony may meet his match when his rival hires an equally brilliant scientist, Ivan Vanko who holds a personal grudge against Tony and Howard Stark. Ivan's father worked with Howard Stark on the creation of the Arc Reactor, but Howard got all the glory while Anton Vanko was sent to the gulag (Communist prison), never receiving the full credit. Ivan has manged to build his own enhanced Iron Man suit and together with Justin Hammer, plans on taking down Tony and Stark Industries.     

     Life slowly begins to spin out of control for Tony. The constant use of the Iron Man suits begins to drain his health. Frightened of what this might mean, in typical Tony fashion, he tells no one and continues to have a good time. Yet, Tony can hide his problems for so long until they become catastrophic. After an attempt on his life by Ivan Vanko (Whiplash), throwing his best friend to the wayside, angering Pepper to her breaking point and completely going off the rails, Tony gets a visit from an old friend of his father, Nick Fury.

     Tony knew nothing about Nick or his relationship to Howard. Nor does he care. In Tony's mind, Howard Stark was a cold, emotionally distant, unloving father who cared more about building a better future than building a relationship with his son. Yet, Nick gives Tony an unexpected look into Howard's life, making Tony see that his father was still a man who only wanted was best for others. 

     Frustrated with his recklessness and what it has cost him as well as his failing health, Tony gets a long awaited message from his father. Although simple and to the point, it's enough to revive Tony to build upon what his father started and save himself. And by doing so, Tony can save his friends and his city from the impending danger brought on by his enemies and their personal vendettas.     

    If there was ever a character you can hate and love with equal measure, then it's Tony Stark. While the embodiment of good, Tony's lack of common sense and inability to properly communicate to others causes multitudes of problems. Yet, the world still loves him. It's hard not to love Tony. His obvious brokenness that was brought about by his distant father is irreparable. Just wanting to know that Howard loved him or was proud of him would have been more than enough.  

    Iron Man 2 was probably the most emotionally driven storyline from the franchise. Tony has to take a hard look at the past he's been running away from to try and survive his present state. His relationships with his best friend, James "Rhodey" Rhodes (who was recast by the wonderful Don Cheadle) and his secretary/love interest become his primary motivations to get himself under control and finally fight for himself. Not for Stark Industries, not for Iron Man or this crazy Avengers Initiative Nick Fury keeps going on about. Because face it, what would the world be without the irreplaceable Tony Stark to keep in interesting?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Goodreads Reviews: Cormoran Strike - The Cuckoos Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

J.K. Rowling now writes mystery?

How interesting!

And yet, how intriguing these mysteries are!

Cormoran Strike, an army veteran who lost his leg in an explosion, is now a private investigator, however, his own life is just as dark and twisted. The son of a famous rocker, Johnny Rokeby, and a super-groupie/model, Leda Strike; Cormoran spent most of his life in poverty, pulled around by an inept mother who subjugated both of her children to some of the worst living conditions imaginable. The army is what saved Strike and he rose quickly through the ranks to become an investigator for the Royal Military Police Special Investigation Branch. Strike was exceptional at his job, but when he lost his leg and was discharged, he decides to continue his career as a civilian. Yet, he might need a little help..

Enter Robin Ellacott. Bubbly, beautiful and happily engaged to her college sweetheart, Robin is ready for a challenging job. So when she is sent to Strike's office by Temporary Solutions to apply as a secretary, she has no idea what is really in store for or even he temporary boss.

After the suicide of a famous supermodel, Lula Landry, Strike is called upon by Lula's brother who believes that Lula was actually murdered. Strike sets off to investigate the possible murder and unexpectedly finds a trusty aid in his new secretary. Robin's sharp perceptions, quick thinking and natural investigation skills become essential in finding Lula's killer.

And not only does Robin help find the killer, she also saves Cormoran's life. Elevating her to becoming a possible partner in his agency.

What makes this story great isn't necessarily the mystery itself, but the characters. Both Strike and Robin are well written characters that are complex and broken, but not without hope either. I loved learning more about Strike's background (especially his mother) and meeting his wide variety of friends--Shanker being my favorite. Robin is undeniably sweet, but also possesses a toughness that not everyone sees. People tend to see her pretty face and not realize that she's stronger and more intelligent than they give her credit for. No one gets this more than Strike.

Strike and Robin, despite their polar opposite differences, get each other. Both have been through personal pain and injury in their lives. And due to that pain, they make an unlikely investigative team than seem determine to take on whatever crime comes to their door.

Iron Man

     In 2008, the MCU began with the origin story of Tony Stark, or otherwise known as, Iron Man. I know I probably should have reviewed the Iron Man trilogy years ago, but something always got in the way. After I saw Avengers for the first time, I was confused as to who the characters were as I had not seen the prior movies leading up to the film. So the first thing I did was grab my brother's copy of Iron Man and get properly introduced to Tony Stark. 

     Tony Stark, the son of famed scientist and weapons designer, Howard Stark, is more than just a brilliant mind and the head of Stark Industries. He's a charming party boy, with no sense of responsibility, humility or understanding. His secretary Pepper Potts and chauffeur, Happy Hogan try to keep him in line, while Tony's best friend, Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes tends to wonder if Tony will ever grow up. 

     While in Afghanistan doing a military illustration for his newest weapon, Tony is attacked and kidnapped by a terrorist group, the Ten Rings. Tony barely survives the attack and has shrapnel lodged in his chest due to an immense blast. He is saved by Yinsen, a kindly doctor who is also being held captive by the Ten Rings. The terrorist group have been using illegally sold weapons from Stark Industries for their own volatile activity, but now that they have Tony Stark in their possession, they want him to build a missile for them.

    However, Tony and Yinsen have other plans. Yinsen saved Tony's life by hooking his heart up to a battery generator to keep the shrapnel clear from his heart. Tony takes that same concept and with the mechanics of his own weapons, he creates the arc reactor which will not keep his heart safe, but will also aid them in their escape. Tony and Yinsen then proceed to make a power armored suit which will be controlled by the arc reactor. 

    Shortly before they escape, Tony and Yinsen have a personal discussion of family and what it means to have everything. Tony for all his wealth is alone with no direction or purpose, while Yinsen, although poor and humble, is a family man whose sole purpose is to return home. Unfortunately, he will never make it back. While Yinsen and Tony try to escape with the suit, Yinsen is shot down trying to save Tony's life. His dying words are for Tony to value his life and not waste it.

And with those words, Iron Man is born.

     Tony manages to escape with the arc reactor suit, but when he returns home, he is not the same. He immediately starts to work on a new highly functional suit with the help of JARVIS, his virtual household butler (and eventually Vision). When they're finished, an armored, arc reactor powered suit that is both weapon and tool is ready to be used. And Tony wastes no time in putting his suit to good use; first by going after the Ten Rings and then by stopping a closer, more dangerous enemy before all that Tony has is lost forever.

     This was a brilliant starting block for the MCU! Iron Man is fast pace, exciting and humorous in all the right places. Robert Downey Jr. has often been compared to Tony Stark for his similar sarcastic and fun loving nature. He was perfect for Tony Stark. While Tony tends to have an arrogant and self absorbed nature, there is also generosity and no small amount of courage inside him. Yet, it takes sacrifice for Tony to finally allow those qualities to come through. 

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

This gorgeous song tells the story of St. Patrick!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Bucky Barnes: The Prince from Brooklyn

     I'm watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War and I just remembered how much I absolutely love Bucky Barnes!!! Actually it was Bucky that got me into the franchise in the first place. Prior to May 2012, I had really no interest in the MCU at all. My brothers and sisters loved it, but I was more concerned about the drama at Downton Abbey. Shortly before The Avengers came out in theaters, my brother got Captain America and was watching it in the living room. Finding out that the movie took place in WWII, I was interested and decided to sit in. 

     At the beginning I thought it was pretty cool. Yet, I wasn't fully into it. Steve Rogers shows up all amped to join the war effort and I began to really feel for him, but unfortunately not everyone else felt that way. However, by the time Steve was getting his ass kicked behind the theater, I was actually beginning to fall asleep. And then he showed up...

And this is where I fell in love
     Tall, handsome, blue-eyed Bucky Barnes showed up in that uniform, protecting the little guy and proving himself to be the most loyal of friends. I was completely awake after that! I continued to watch the movie, was heartbroken when Bucky 'died' and relieved when Steve got his retribution in the end. Then of course all of this led to The Avengers and afterwards I became fully immersed in the MCU! None of it would have happened had it not been for Sebastian Stan and his wonderful portrayal of one of the most complex, but now beloved characters in the Marvel films. 

     While Bucky Barnes is most definitely very easy and enjoyable to look at, his character as the best friend to Steve Rogers/Captain America is just as enjoyable to admire. For years, it was Bucky that was the top man, the guy that all the girls were swooning for, the athlete, the favorite. And through all that, Bucky could have had his choice of any popular friends, but instead, he chose scrawny and sickly Steve Rogers to run around Brooklyn with. Bucky was handsome, intelligent and popular, all qualities that could have made him a bully, yet he befriended the outsider instead of pushing him around. 

I  am absolutely in love with this GIF!!!***
     One of the best lines in Captain America is when Bucky is completely ignored by Agent Peggy Carter and says to Steve, "I have become you. This is a nightmare." Hey, only a real friend is really that honest! Despite his teasing, Bucky is genuinely happy at how far his friend has come. He shows no jealousy or animosity toward Steve and courageously follows Captain America into the jaws of death throughout the rest of the war. 

     Bucky's death is something that Steve never got over. The only person in his life who never let him down, who was always there to pick him up, who showed him that he had value when the rest of the world saw uselessness. Bucky's death wasn't the death of a friend, it was the death of a true brother. So, when Steve finds out that Bucky is alive, even as the infamous Winter Soldier, it's understandable why he fights so hard for him. In Bucky, Steve sees his former life, all his memories  buried so deep inside. He wants that history back. He wants the person who knew him as he was, before Captain America. The person who fought for him and believed in him and set his heart on the path to becoming the famous super soldier.  

Till the end of the line
     And Steve's impact on Bucky is clearly just as strong. After 70 years of brainwashings, it takes one word, one name, to make the Winter Soldier do one thing he could never done before. Think for himself. To ask questions. 

"That man on the bridge...who was he?...but I knew him..." 

     Then it comes down to a choice. Bucky has the smallest glimmer of free will, to choose for himself, either the man or the mission. He chooses to act upon his free will, to allow this man's words to seep into his heart and rescue him from drowning. While also rescuing himself.

     You must be a pretty extraordinary person indeed if you have a friend who is literally willing to go to war for you. To sacrifice his own friendships and good name. And the truth is, Bucky is worth fighting for. Just as he saw that dorky Steve Rogers was worth fighting for. Just as Bucky saw the true worth in his small friend, Steve Rogers sees the same worth in the notorious Winter Soldier. 

Finally at peace
    In stories the prince is meant to be the paragon of true goodness and nobility. The prince usually does more than save the princess. He will slay the dragon, battle the enemy, protect the poor and fight for his kingdom. The prince is meant to inspire all that is right and just. Yet, the prince can also be broken. Sometimes by a spell that can turn him into a beast, sometimes blinded by cruelty and selfishness, or is completely alone. Does that take away from who he is or what he represents? No. Surely not. The prince is human, can be broken and damaged, but not irredeemable. 

     I find Bucky Barnes to be the absolute definition of a true prince because of his values and morals of protecting the weak, never compromising and seeing the worth in others. In many ways, not to different from Thor, but vastly different stories and backgrounds. And while Bucky may not have had a princess to rescue, he did have a brother by his side. A brother to walk along side of, to fight to the ends of the earth and till the end of the line. 

***Supposedly the director had asked Sebastian Stan and Chris Evans to laugh about something and told them 'to act like friends' for a vintage film shot. Both of them literally busted up and Sebastian said, "We are friends!"

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

First Knight

     Possibly one of the most beautiful renditions of the famous Arthurian love triangle ever written. First Knight is a family favorite and has every element you would want in a film about Camelot. This had a more realistic and historic storyline-similar to how Ever After was done-and steers away from the magical aspect; Merlin does not appear in the story. While sorcery may be out of Camelot, no small amount of battles, swordplay, famed knights around the equally famous Round Table, maniacal villains, treachery, kidnapping, and of course the primary characters of noble, but aged King Arthur, roguish Lancelot, and beautiful Guinevere takes it place.

     After years on the throne of Camelot, King Arthur is now facing a harder battle. His age and lack of a spouse, which makes for the lack of an heir. He has brought peace and prosperity to Camelot, but peace is never certain anywhere. His former First Knight, Maleagant, has betrayed all that Arthur has instilled in his knights and his kingdom. Maleagant has begun to raid small towns and villages in hopes to gain power to eventually take over Camelot. 

     Refugees left over from Malegant's attacks travel to find safety in the small island kingdom of Leonesse which is partially ruled by the high spirited Princess Guinevere. Beautiful, but strong willed, Guinevere shows no fear in Maleagant's cruelty and will do whatever it takes to protect her kingdom. Even it means marrying a king twice her age. However, Guinevere has always put her duty above herself. She agrees to accept King Arthur's proposal of marriage, in the hope that by uniting Camelot and Leonesse, both kingdoms can withstand and take down Maleagant. 

      Meanwhile, a handsome swordsman, simply known as Lancelot makes his away across the countryside, living by his sword. He earns money by entertaining people not just with his brilliant skill and talent, but also his charisma and kindness. A loner since childhood, Lancelot lost everything as a boy when his family was killed in a raid by Maleagant himself. Since then, Lancelot has separated himself from the world in order to avoid heartbreak and loss. 

     While Guinevere is on her way to Camelot to prepare for her wedding, she and her party are attacked by Maleagant. She barely escapes, but is rescued by Lancelot who was just passing through the forest. Withholding who she truly is, Guinevere becomes intrigued by this mystery man who is knowledgeable in survival and wonders why, with so much talent, he isn't a knight. Lancelot is charmed by this young woman who seems so capable to fight for herself. Before they part, Lancelot promises that he and Guinevere will meet again. However, Guinevere has more things on her mind.

     Lancelot's promise to meet again comes true in a matter of days. As Arthur and Guinevere begin to find love for one another through the love of their countries and their people, Lancelot's love for Guinevere becomes his one true passion. Stronger than his skill with his sword, but more dangerous than Camelot's worse enemy. Time and again, due to Guinevere, Lancelot continues to appear most unexpectedly, impressing Arthur and the Knights with his quick thinking, daring and his swordplay. 

     Soon, Guinevere finds herself conflicted for her feelings for Lancelot and Arthur. She loves Arthur out of duty, but loves Lancelot out of true passion. After Lancelot saves her from Maleagant's kidnapping, he is made Arthur's First Knight. Now Guinevere has both men in her possession and her once iron will that has ruled her whole life begins to crumble as she wrestles with her fiery love for Lancelot. A love that could destroy all of Camelot.

    This movie is so so beautiful! I mean, that's the only word to describe it! It has your typical villain who is out to to destroy Arthur and Camelot (because that's the plot to all Arthurian stories, right?), a wise, formidable king, a loner who is also moral and compassionate, and a very complex, three dimensional young woman who doesn't stand around waiting for things to be done. With the rich costuming, beautiful settings and wonderful score, there is a simplicity in the story. It's about these three legendary figures and how war brings them together, but peace can tear them apart. Like with Ever After, the reality of the plot makes it so intriguing that one would wonder if there is some truth behind the mythology.

May God grant us the wisdom to discover right, 
the will to choose it, 
and the strength to make it endure.

- Arthur's Round Table prayer

Monday, February 25, 2019

Lovely Blog Party: Arthur & Gwen

      Considered to be one of the greatest, but tragic love stories in literature. The dramatic, romantic, advantageous love story of the Once and Future King of Camelot, King Arthur and his enigmatic consort, Queen Guinevere, who would be the downfall of both Arthur and Camelot.

     In the BBC show Merlin (2008-2013), the writers took a very different approach to Arthur and Guinevere. Unlike the original story, where Arthur is taken by Merlin and raised as a ward in a loving foster home, in the show he's a spoiled and rash crown prince. Rather than Guinevere as a young princess from Lyonesse, she's a ladies maid to Princess Morgana. At first you would think that's there is absolutely no hope of any possible relationship between these two. 

     The whole basis of Merlin is actually getting Arthur on throne. He needs Merlin to guide to him, Morgana to challenge him and of course Gwen to support him. As the show progresses in season 1, Arthur becomes somewhat influenced by Gwen's devotion to her work as a lady maid, her friendship with Merlin and her loyalty to the people she loves. He as a prince shows fear at the idea of becoming king, yet Gwen shows utter courage when it comes to facing death for a crime she didn't commit. While their relationship in the beginning is primarily master/servant, Arthur begins to see a person  that could rule beside him as a queen.

      Throughout the show Arthur and Gwen fight their feelings for one another due to their social status' in Albion. However, (with Merlin's help) they come to the understanding that for Camelot to need Arthur, he is going to need Gwen. He needs her practicality, compassion and generous nature to balance out his stubborn and at times reckless personality. Through Gwen, Arthur begins to exhibit traits of a merciful and noble king. She is someone who can walk alongside him and he can walk alongside her. And no rules or laws will stop Guinevere from sitting on the throne next to him. 

     However, Arthur is not Gwen's first love. In season 1, she is swept away by the handsome and gallant Lancelot Du Lac. A brilliant swordsman who lives by his trade. He himself is taken with the lovely lady in waiting. Yet, Lancelot never stays for long and soon leaves Gwen, but with a possible promise of returning. When he does return later on in season 3, Arthur and Gwen are in an established relationship with each, which he fully supports. Yet Morgana finally reaches into the deepest recesses of her dark mind and uses their former love to tear apart Arthur and Gwen. 

     Gwen is put under an enchantment by a powerful bracelet and commits an affair with Lancelot the night before her wedding to Arthur in season 4. She is banished from Albion for her betrayal to Arthur. While Arthur tries to forget about Guinevere, he cannot undo years of friendship and love between him and the woman he hoped would one day be his future queen. 

     True love is only its truest when challenged at every turn. Whether by dark magic, lies, deception or even war. Arthur forgives Gwen and asks her to stay; while neither one of them ever knew about the enchanted bracelet or that is was Morgana who had plotted this tragedy. I was always annoyed at the fact that no one ever figured out that Gwen had been enchanted. Arthur and the rest of Albion may always see Gwen's infidelity as a slight against her character. Yet, it also shows Arthur's forgiveness for a personal crime against him giving his character growth and maturity as well. 

     He was a prince he needed someone to set him straight. She was a servant girl with the heart of queen. In most Arthurian tellings, Guinevere is usually written as haughty, vain and shallow. So seeing this Cinderella take on her character in Merlin was very different. I enjoyed it though. Arthur and Gwen's journey from master and servant, companions, friends, lovers and ultimately King and Queen of Albion is paramount to Merlin's own journey to becoming the legendary sorcerer. 

      Their love united a kingdom, strengthened a people, defeated an ultimate evil and was eventually left to the most unlikely person imaginable. Upon Arthur's death, Albion rests in the hands of a former servant girl, who possessed the goodness to look beyond a spoiled, young prince and call out the Once and Future King.