Briefiew of Thor: Ragnarok (with the kids)

There are no plot spoilers in this review! Only a sprinkling of lines/character development appreciations…

The whole family went to see Thor:  Ragnarok on Sunday morning, and it was super fun! Jack and Nonie and I were all always excited for this one, but Kitty mostly only wanted to go because Idris Elba was in it (with a decent sized role, for a change; oh, and Cate Blanchett, too!); and she was very pleasantly surprised (even going so far as to say she now, finally, wants to see the other ensemble cast Marvel films, like The Avengers, with me). It was laugh out loud funny, and there were many “YES! KICK BUTT!” moments to boot.

What was so great about it? Let’s ask our team…

Nonie (11 year old geek girl) says she really appreciated Hulk’s character development. “He was his own character this time, with his own thoughts and feelings, separate from Bruce Banner’s.” Ruffalo’s Hulk, especially when bantering (possibly via improv) with Hemsworth’s Thor, really got a lot across, with minimal words. I always thought that the Banner/Hulk storyline was the best part of the first Avengers film, and this film continues that story, along with others, showing how Banner and Hulk begin to appreciate each other’s complementary parts. And that Wisconsin-born Ruffalo is a fine actor.

Jack (9-year-old boy wolf) says his favorite part is when Blanchett’s character, Hela, challenges Thor to the core (“What are you the god of again?”), and the latter thinks back on his upbringing, his father, his goals and aspirations, what make him Thor (hint: it’s actually not his hammer), and calls up thunder so the good guys (god guys?) win. It’s a nice story, and done well.

From my side (middle-aged art nerd), it was the easy sense of the relationships, the improv, the further development of a lot of already fairly developed characters (22 films or something like that now?). Thor: Ragnarok’s stories and jokes refer to earlier in the film itself (classic improv), but also to the comics, to previous films, to pop culture… but you don’t need to know all the references (or any of them) to enjoy it.

I looked it up, and apparently Hemsworth felt like Thor 2: Dark World tried too hard to be serious, and lost sight of some of what he wanted from the character. He spoke it over with the director, with Marvel, and others, and… they totally went for his ideas, scrapping and re-booting on some level. We used to think of Thor as this long-haired, cape-wearing, hammer-wielding hero, who takes himself pretty seriously. Now? We think of Hemsworth. So… Hemsworth had at him! He tore his cape and tossed it, cut his hair off (hilarious scene, with Stan Lee), lost his hammer, and very often took the piss out of himself. The chemistry between him and Hulk (and separately, Banner), him and Tom Hiddleston’s AMAZINGLY AWESOME (as always) and even more developed Loki, him and Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie, etc, etc. … It’s just obvious they had so much FUN making this film. And I admit: I was even surprised at the end!

Kitty (most beautiful woman in the universe – inside and out) really appreciated… Loki. We love to hate him, hate to love him. He often does good, but we can never trust him.  Also? Idris Elba. Also? Now she likes Chris Hemsworth (I am going to watch the new Ghostbusters with her). Also? We don’t want to give any (more) of the jokes away, but… after you see it, say to yourself…. “we’re not doing get help.” Overall what Kitty really liked was that in addition to this fun and funny super hero film, she was able to engage with her own childhood passions surrounding Norse mythology, which is so rich and complex. Also? The sound track. So eighties!

Thor: Ragnarok’s plot is fun and interesting, there are a lot of awesome tangents and cool-but-throwaway “catch up with the Marvel story” lines – and it all holds together, both from beginning to end, and in relation to MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).

All four of us recommend this film!

Review: Greg Martens’s Out From the Darkness at Grove Gallery

Greg Martens holds a very special place in my heart.

He was a traveling salesman who dropped out of college and married the love of his life with whom he raised three children, eventually becoming a cobbler out in Wauwatosa, WI – where his whole family helped fix shoes in their busy little shop. At the age of 46, Martens was diagnosed with very aggressive bone marrow cancer, and given two years to live. He shut down his store, proclaimed the love his family certainly already felt, said his goodbyes, and prepared for what he was told would surely come. At the 11th hour, he was offered an extremely experimental surgery that “may or may not work,” and figured, “It can’t get any worse.” After several surgeries, transplants, being in and out of the hospital all the time, financial ruin to the point of bankruptcy, and foreclosure… Greg went into remission. He was given, he has told me many times, a new lease on life. Literally.

And then? He went back to school to study visual art.

ink on paper self-portrait by Greg Martens

This is when I met Gregory Martens: as a non-traditional, working class, undergraduate printmaker in his fifties, happy, and making, and chatting almost all the time – dedicated to telling the stories of machinists, cobblers, and his blue collar peers, all performing their livelihood, and finding their place in the New American System. I watched and participated as he finished that degree, and then a Masters, exploring everything from celebratory woodcut portraits of his fellow Milwaukutians (I am told that this is not a word, but I am going to use it because I like it better than Milwaukeean) to photography and storytelling around his own journey with illness. He now teaches printmaking part-time in the Peck School of Arts at UW-Milwaukee, and works in his own Hip Joint Press studio.

“Out From the Darkness,” Greg’s solo exhibition, recently premiered at Grove Gallery – run by current UWM grad student and entrepreneur, Adam Beadel of Team Nerd Press. According to the artist, the “darkness” he is coming out of (and I’ll admit I have some mixed feelings about this) “refers to letting go of the influences and pressures of academic training” (ha!), as he is “just trying to channel the teenaged kid back in the 1970’s who loved drawing for endless hours while listening to rock and roll on the 8-track.”

update! The artist emailed me, re:above

Regarding the theme of my show, “Out from the darkness” using “darkness” to describe academic training and influence does seem a bit counter-intuitive, but ever since I entered the art world as a maker, the brass ring has been the New York market, Art Basel, and Documenta. Global, intellectual, heady ideas shaped into visual brilliance. Work worthy of the attention of Artforum, Art in America, and Hal Foster. Work that demonstrates a fully realized appreciation, mastery, and relevant commentary of art history, art theory, and art criticism. But aspiring (and failing) to reach these heights left me in a dark place. The heart of it all for me is drawing, and upon reflection, my purest experience drawing was as a long-haired “freak” in high school in the mid 1970’s. So, I have tried to recreate that experience in my studio and the results are the work in this exhibition. No strategy, no expectations, no pressure.

In Distractions, above, we see the artist on an accordion, behind a drum set and guitar, a baby (his grandkid?), monsters, and skeletons, and more. He is in front of a library, and beside a poster for a production (his studio, maybe?)… but that studio is on the move, transporting good(s) via truck. Honestly, his distractions and work both sound a lot more fun than my own bureaucratic, academic emailing and paperwork; heck, I’m having more fun writing about his distractions, and I suppose blogging is one of mine.

As is his usual, odd and graphic style, there is a combination of homage and darkness in all the drawings, paintings, prints, and sketchbooks-as-anthologies on show, which depict, he says, “demons, comics, snakes, skeletons, monsters, crying babies, bad boys, and cool cars,” with a sense of often political humor.

Sadly, I only made it out to Martens’ exhibition today, the last day – and there was some confusion about gallery hours… so the above shot is the utterly glorious window, and I was able to view only this and what I could see beyond, as well as what is on the two sites linked to above. But it, along with what I already know, is enough to recommend curators and galleries consider his work, and artists and art appreciators visit his site, or any other upcoming exhibitions (he’s also got a few pieces on permanent view on the ground floor of the Engineering building at UWM – where I helped to arrange some purchases!). And… definitely speak with him (or Adam about his gallery and print shop!) if you get the chance. Greg is an inspirational person and artist!

Why make it elusive?

He's our guy... entity... talking-thing... to do the job

A while back I listened to the audio version of Steve Martin’s biography of his time as a standup comic, Born Standing Up. In it, he talks about getting a whole new kind of reaction from the audience by passing on the stand-up’s standby: the punchline.

So I started kicking this idea around. Could Steve Martin’s idea of humor… that is, basically, of never letting the air out of the balloon, be adapted into comics? Maybe.

I decided to try it. So, allow me to introduce my comic: Eat the Babies. It’s about a walking talking TV. There is no continuity to it, other than the fact that the TV does have friends. The two most frequently recurring friends are Woody Guthrie and John Maynard Keynes. It veers into social and philosophical issues a lot, but mainly its concerned with using the TV’s confusion about humans to create a humor that is elusive.

It means to be elusive.

The idea is you’ll get to wanting to look for it and find it in your own places.

I don’t know if I’m quite getting there, but if the comics don’t make sense yet it is because that is what I am looking to do. To explain my thinking behind strips would be to defeat the purpose, but let me point you to a few favorites so far.

TV gets mugged.

TV talks to Woody Guthrie about songs.

Woody explains adulthood.

TV is a talking head on tv (my personal favorite so far).

If you’ve seen the Charles Schulz tribute site, 3eanuts, that’s the best example I can give of what I want to do so far, though it’s not quite there. Well, it is there. It is awesome at what it is. It’s just not quite what I want Eat the Babies to be. But it’s close!

For the hardcore arts crowd, there are genuinely avant-garde webcomics out there. You should check them out. I don’t think I’ll be going to any conferences with those guys, as much as I might like to. So, if you’re interested in seeing someone try something, that’s the trick I’m trying. Feel free to click any of those links above and, you know… come see.