Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thor 2 is a Dopey (But Fun!) Movie

I had to see Thor 2, if for no other reason that I used to like Thor comics as a kid.  In fact, when I was 8 years old,  for about two weeks I converted to the Norse religion due to Thor comics (true story).   You see, one time Thor's hammer got damaged, so he went to Pittsburgh, where they know about making metals.  I knew Pittsburgh was a real place, so I thought Thor might be real too.  

Thor interacted with real people even though he was a celebrity, kind of like NASCAR drivers do.   

I had a Thor T-Shirt and everything.  

This is the same Thor Tee Shirt design I had back in the day.  He could throw his hammer for miles, and by hanging on to it, he could fly.  I tried this by tying a rope to my Dad's hammer and throwing it, but it didn't work for me.  

Well that brings us to the Thor 2 movie. Great special effects, fantastic visually.  Individually the actors look the parts.  But together the team just does not mesh, and we fail to identify with any of the characters.  The bad guys are rotten elves from some other dimension, and we are told that there is some problem with the Nine Realms blah blah blah... But the movie just does not make us identify with any of this grandiose mythology nor does it seem very important.  In fact, I don't even remember the head bad guy's name or what he wanted other than he was bad and he was interested in the Six Realms.  Make that Nine Realms.  Yawn. 

At least Loki  looks and acts the part.  We get some teases about what makes him tick.  Still I think he would have been a better character if he would occasionally do something good rather than being in bad guy mode 100% of the time.  It's hard to understand why Thor has an affinity for his brother if Thor is always good and Loki is always bad.  On the other hand, Thor seems willfully ignorant about the extent of Loki's power, and the plot twists can occur mainly because Thor doesn't seem to take Loki's powers  of illusion seriously enough: i.e., Thor is dumb.  If it were not so, there would not be a Thor 3.
Loki is a sinister guy and has a lot of powers we didn't know about before, but Thor has known him for thousands of years, he should know better.  But he habitually forgets to keep an eye on his half brother.  Thor, you  dope!

However, the Jane Foster character is totally implausible.  In the comics, it made sense because Thor shared consciousness with mortal medical doctor Don Blake, who liked Jane.  But in the movie, there is no Don Blake, hence it doesn't make sense that Thor would be interested in Jane. I mean, compared to Jane, Sif is a goddess.  After all, she is, really!  But Thor and Sif have known each other for 2000 years and nothing happened yet, so maybe that is just not to be.  Additional proof that Thor is a dope!  

My theory is that they wanted Jane Foster to be kind of like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman--kind of kooky but very sexy and sympathetic.  Jane is kooky all right, but lacks the sophistication necessary to  have a boyfriend who is 2000 years older than her.
Jane Foster looks and acts a little like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, but with an IQ in the 200 range. But it doesn't quite work.   

Sif has the body of a Goddess because she is, in fact, a Goddess. Thor paid her no attention for thousands of years.  Thor really IS a dope.  

One of the goofiest scenes in superhero movie history comes when Jane meets Thor's mom, Frigga.  What do you say when your prospective Mother in Law is 5000 years old?  That is wacky.
"Oh let me tell you the story about when little Thor used to bring his magic hammer to Little League instead of using a wooden bat!"  "Gee, that's funny, Mrs. Odin."  "Oh, do call me Frigga!"

   The secondary characters are universally wooden, uninteresting and unmemorable.   Even Anthony Hopkins (shades of Marlon Brando's Jor El) fails to score big as Thor's Daddy.  He looks like a wimpy English actor, rather than King of the Norse Gods. Well, no wonder.  He IS a wimpy English actor.  

     Maybe the exception is  Dr. Selvig, who is a half-crazy scientist.  We can understand his frustration because he is the only one who knows what's going on, but he can't communicate with others because he is so eccentric that he scares normal people (can't coordinate his clothes because he is too wrapped up in physics.  I can relate).     

      Anyway, he hooks up with Jane's young interns who are just annoying rather than brilliant.
After shopping Wal-Mart on Black Friday, the professor and the two interns score big on discount toy thingamajigs.  But I'm not sure what these instruments do.  Costco has better ones, I'm sure.

     That is the central problem with the movie.  We don't connect well with the characters and we are not sympathetic with who they are and we are not interested in what they want.  I'm much more passionate about Obamacare, say, than the future of Asgard and the Seven Realms.  Er, Nine Realms. Whatever.  

     It's a movie just for special effects and some good comic relief.  It's okay to take your kids to see it, just keep your expectations low.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Should the US Make a Deal with Nuclear Iran?

   Articles on Iran tend to receive much less attention in the US than articles about Miley Cyrus's underwear.  But this could be one of the most important items for 2014.  

    On the one hand, US Intelligence Agencies still suffer from completely blowing the assessment of Iraq's supposed nuclear program in the 2003 time frame.  In actuality, Saddam had no facilities to actually design and construct nuclear weapons.  The Administration imagined that there might be some sort of secret laboratory with a criminal mastermind that would develop nuclear technology for weapons, much like Dr. No in James Bonds movies.  

Could a real life Dr. No have been making nuclear weapons for Saddam Hussein?  No.  

These paranoid delusions are now discredited, and the fundamentals of nuclear intelligence have been restored.  To make a nuclear bomb, a foreign country needs an entire organization to produce bomb-grade nuclear fuel; i.e., by operating high powered centrifuges running on uranium fluoride gas.  Alternatively they must have a special nuclear reactor suitable for producing plutonium.  They must also be prepared to test the nuclear weapons in special facilities with very thick radiation shielding.   Further, the military must have a delivery system, and they must train specific units on how to handle and operate the military system or systems.   It's not  just one scientist building  nuclear missiles in a secret laboratory.  

     Americans have grown weary of war with Afghanistan and Iraq, and further were disgusted with admonitions from the center-right and center-left that the US should intervene in Syria, Egypt, Libya and other places on behalf of this rebel group or that one.  

     On the other hand, the case of Iran is more dangerous.  Iran actually has centrifuges designed for producing bomb grade uranium.  We know exactly where they are located.  Israel is dead set against the Iranians having nuclear weapons, and if there is conclusive evidence that the Iranians are weaponizing, Israel will certainly destroy the centrifuges and any other facilities supporting such efforts.   The other countries, including the US, will complain and moan, but at the end of the day no one really wants Iran to have nuclear weapons.  Remember also that Iran is a mainly a Shiite country, and that most  Iranians are not Arabs at all.  So Sunni Arab nations are likely to oppose a nuclear powered Iran.  

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inspects Iranian nuclear centrifuges.
Unlike the fantasies about Iraq, Iran definitely has centrifuges suitable for enriching uranium to make bomb grade material.  

IRGC Rejects Report on Maximum Range of Iranian Missiles
Iran also has the capability to deliver nuclear weapons should the need arise.

    My take is that Iran is playing a very dangerous but highly profitable game.  As a major oil producer (about 4 million barrels per day worth), they have a vested interest in maintaining high oil prices. Every time they act irresponsibly the world oil price tends to spike upwards.  Hence they have a pragmatic reason to act crazy.   It is a good strategy to antagonize and threaten the West as much as possible, thus raising the crude oil price.  The nuclear program tends to destabilize world peace and to result in higher oil prices.  It's hard to estimate how much the fear factor is worth, but my feeling is that fears of Iran are wroth at least several dollars per barrel, or upwards of a billion dollars per year.    

All that is well and good, but the danger is that the game could get out of control.  If Israel or the US become convinced that Iran intends to create nuclear weapons, then there will be some sort of military intervention.   Israel will likely reduce Iraq's nuclear weapons facilities to piles of ruble.  

By the same token, it is certainly possible that the Iranians might come to take themselves too seriously and they might well attempt to actually make nuclear weapons, and thus necessitate the military intervention that the rest of the world hopes to avoid.  
In summary, I tend to think that the Iranians are not quite as nutty as they appear, at least for the most part.  But they are playing a very dangerous game, and if it gets out of control there may well be a real need for military intervention.    This needs to be watched very closely.