“John Carter” and His “Princess of Mars”

One hundred years after A Princess of Mars was first published, this classic adventure is still exciting, still beguiling.

Cover of A Princess of Mars.

Cover of A Princess of Mars.

It is the story of an Earthman, John Carter, who was transported to Mars and swashbuckled his way to win the heart of a beautiful woman, Dejah Thoris.

Many of the elements of A Princess of Mars will sound familiar if you are reading it for the first time. That is because it is the seminal masterpiece which inspired George Lucas’s Star Wars, James Cameron’s Avatar, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, and many more pop culture sci-fi favorites.

Despite the advancement of technology, the lead characters are sword fighters. The action takes the hero from one scrape to another, and he survives each one by the skin of his teeth. He encounters a variety of alien life forms, and some of them become loyal allies. He offends the object of his love–a Princess, but wins her in the end. This is the story of both A Princess of Mars and Star Wars. Even some of the terms from the novel have similarities, such as jeddak, padwar and sith.

Princess Leia of Star Wars

Princess Leia of Star Wars

And how about that Princess Leia outfit and the cover illustration of Dejah Thoris? There is no denying George Lucas’s homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs. He does not deny it either.

The earthman assimilates into an alien culture, helps them fight their enemies, falls in love with one of them–a Princess, becomes their hero, and chooses to live amongst them. Now I am referring to the similarities between the novel and Avatar. James Cameron himself acknowledges drawing inspiration from this, and other science fiction novels.

The native alien princess in Avatar

The native alien princess in Avatar

It is an old-fashioned good versus bad story where the characters are somewhat stereotypical, and the gender roles are outdated. A lot of the scenes are melodramatic. But after initially wincing at these anachronisms, I made allowances for the fact that this is over a hundred years old. It was then that I could dig in and enjoy John Carter’s adventures. I even shed a tear or two at some of the touching scenes, like his reunion with his faithful Woola (a creature hideous by our standards, but the equivalent of a dog).

I was so delighted with this Martian world, and wanted to know more of John Carter’s adventures, that I purchased the rest of the series–eleven books in all.

While reading them, it occurred to me that they have all the elements of a big screen production: handsome hero, beautiful princess, sword fights, various forms of gigantic aliens both hostile and friendly, armies of thousands engaged in battle, and a strange new landscape. Plus, the story is so wholesome that it felt like a family-friendly epic for Disney.

Apparently, Disney felt the same way, too.  They released its movie version, John Carter, on the 100th-year anniversary of A Princess of Mars. (The story was serialized in The All-Story magazine in 1912 with the title Under the Moons of Mars under the pseudonym Norman Bean, and published as a novel in 1917 under its current title and the author’s real name).

I don’t know why they decided to incorporate the first two books into the movie. They used a character from the second book to be the manipulator of events. The tampering was seamless, though unnecessary. The first book could stand alone.

They also added a dead wife of John Carter, causing Dejah Thoris to have to win his love. He just wanted to go back home the whole time. John Carter only fell in love with her in the end. This tampering weakened the plot somewhat. In the book, he was was unattached, and committed to both Dejah and Barsoom early on. This lent strength and credibility to his desire to return to Mars in the end.

It must have been due to some writer who thought he was better than Edgar Rice Burroughs; and better than a one-hundred-year-old classic. However, to be fair to this writer, he updated Dejah Thoris to become both a scientist and a warrior. In the book, she was just your typical princess whose only role was to look beautiful and get captured by the enemy.

But aside from those two major flies in the ointment of my enjoyment, I thought the movie was good. Taylor Kitsch and Lyn Collins lived up to their characters (though Lyn’s acting needs a bit of improvement), and Willem Dafoe as the voice of the Martian Tars Tarkas was shiveringly effective. Of course, it’s Willem Dafoe. All his performances permeate into the spinal column. The same goes for Mark Strong, who played the Thern–the manipulator of events.

Unfortunately, the movie was harshly critiqued. A lot of the flak had to do with the movie’s production cost of $250 million, the director’s resume of having done only animation movies so far, and the bad marketing (trailer and posters did not sell the movie well)–which has nothing to do with the movie itself. Other criticisms concerned the fact that the story was a rehashed plot of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Avatar. Well… one click on the internet and these critics would have realized that they made uninformed opinions.

But the movie also has its defenders, most of who caution the reader not to believe the negative reviews. One of the best-written is from Rolling Stones’s Peter Travers. There is even a petition for Disney to make the sequel, which I signed.

Disney and Andrew Stanton did not botch up the movie. It grossed over $280 million worldwide in cinemas, and more in DVD sales. There are just too many critics out there who want to present themselves as uber sophisticated such that classic old-fashioned hero movies are too juvenile for them. But if this is the kind of adventure that’s up your alley, then both the books and the movie will give you hours of enjoyment.

If you are interested in reading the book, here is a free eBook copy from Project Gutenberg, which you can read online, or download. For those with iBooks, the iBookstore also offers these books for free, as they are already considered public domain (expired copyright).

I give both the books and the movie four hearts out of five: ♥♥♥♥

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“The Avengers” and Its Wide Appeal

Pardon the cliché, but this is indeed fun for the whole family. Even if you are not a fan of action adventure films, you can still appreciate the simple story line and the numerous gags throughout The Avengers.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

This is not the kind of movie where you tense up during the action sequences. Just when you are beginning to hold your breath, the tension is broken by humor.

While discussing Loki, Dr. Bruce Banner observed, “You could smell crazy on him.” Thor cautioned, “Have care how you speak. He is my brother.” Black Widow explained, “He killed eighty people in two days.” Thor admitted, “He is adopted.”

Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk.

Mark Ruffalo as Dr. Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk.

 The Avengers is the story of how the team got together. Though it was preceded by movies of three of the members–Iron Man, Captain America and Thor–you need not have seen any of these movies to understand The Avengers. Unless you just wanted more fun, action and adventure. Each of these movies stand alone, each with their own brand of action and humor. The individual movies, though, have more serious action than this one. This is more fun!

Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man

Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man

Attending this shindig is Tony Stark (Iron Man) played by Robert Downey, Jr. He brings his conceit and his dry wit to the party.

Clashing with his ego is the demi-god Thor, hunkily played by Chris Hemsworth. Both Thor and Iron Man have their own ego clashes with Captain America, a.k.a. Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans. Ego or not, team or not, none of the three are spared the crankiness of the Hulk, a.k.a. Dr. Bruce Banner, played by Mark Ruffalo.

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America

By crankiness, I mean that all three have had an exchange of fist-blows with the Hulk. And with each other. But don’t worry. Whether they smash into rocks or buildings, they are basically indestructible.

Phil Coulson

Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson

None of them die. Not even the pleasant and shyly-handsome Agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg, who dies in the movie. He doesn’t actually die, as he emerges later in the TV series Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., where everybody greets him with, “I thought you were dead.”

Capt. America: We need a plan of attack.
Iron Man: I have a plan. Attack.

Two more members of the field team are Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner, and Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson.

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow

Scarlett is such a dish, even as she kicks a**. Her fighting style is uniquely balletic and beautiful to watch. And her sexiness is so effortless, as if she is unaware of it. She carries it so casually. As for acting, she can go from tough to vulnerable in a split second–very convincingly.

The Avengers get together to fight Thor’s brother, Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston. Tom does not look very villainous to me, what with his young, smooth face. But the movie-goers loved him, and he was immediately propelled into superstardom. The exposure earned him the title Sexiest Man Alive from People Magazine, MTV News, Empire Magazine, and so on.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

All I can say about him is that he is a good actor who is very suave, elegant and British. But, I repeat, he does not look like a villain. It’s a good thing his costume has horns, giving him a bit of an evil touch.

And thus, I highly recommend The Avengers to anyone and everyone, though I am aware that superhero flicks are more popular with boys. Even if your friend is strictly into chick flicks, she will not un-friend you for making you watch it with her.

I give this five hearts out of five. ♥♥♥♥♥

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Taking A Trip with “The Tourist”

If the love of your life were to change their face, will you be fooled into thinking that they are someone else? The Tourist is counting on that.

Alexander Pierce, white collar thief, is being hunted both by Interpol, and the powerful gangster he stole money from. So he underwent extensive facial surgery to be unrecognizable. To find him, his hunters trail his beloved, Elise Clifton-Ward (Angelina Jolie). Alexander contacts her, and instructs her to befriend a random tourist who has the same height and build as he does.

Angelina Jolie as Elise

Angelina Jolie as Elise

Enter Frank Tupelo (Johnny Depp), Math teacher from Wisconsin, and unsuspecting tourist. He fits the bill, and gets caught in the middle of this cat-and-mouse game that is being played in beautiful Venice.

Johnny Depp as Frank Tupelo

Johnny Depp as Frank Tupelo

Johnny Depp is very good at playing the fish out of water, as well as the willing victim. And who wouldn’t want to be a willing victim if Angelina Jolie is the one reeling you in?

Angelina Jolie is utter elegance and mystery. She is born to play the enigmatic woman with many secrets, while attempting to penetrate secrets herself.

Paul Bettany as Inspector John Acheson

Paul Bettany as Inspector John Acheson

On her tail are Scotland Yard inspectors played by Paul Bettany and Timothy Dalton, while Rufus Sewell haunts the background with a role that will only be revealed in the end.

The Tourist is not a full-out action thriller, yet it has elements of action thrillers. It is not a full-out mystery, yet it has elements of mystery. It is not a romantic movie, but it has elements of romance. Neither is it a comedy, though the comedic elements are worth a good chuckle.

“Buon giorno,” said the Italian police officer. “Bon Jovi,” replied the American tourist, Frank Tupelo.

Timothy Dalton as Chief Inspector Jones

Timothy Dalton as Chief Inspector Jones

The movie was actually panned for being neither here nor there, and for not having chemistry between the two lead characters.

A handful of critics, though, praised the movie for its entertainment value. I identify with the minority, for I am not fond of tensing up too much for suspenseful sequences. And I like the humor that breaks the tension.

Also, I particularly like the breathtaking beauty provided by Angelina Jolie, and the city of Venice.

"You look ravenous," said Frank Tupelo. "You mean ravishing," corrected Eise Clifton-Ward.

“You look ravenous,” said Frank Tupelo. “You mean ravishing,” corrected Eise Clifton-Ward.

This is a good film to watch for light action and light comedy. Purchasing the DVD is worth it, because after you’ve seen it, you have to see it again. The second time around, pay attention to the clues that will lead up to the reveal in the end. At first, you would think that many of the scenes are contrived so that the audience could get a background of the situation. But when you see it a second time, the seemingly contrived scenes end up making sense.

One of the screen writers is Julian Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame. Trust him to write scenes that tie up neatly in the end.

Forget the critics. This movie made almost $300 million because it is good entertainment.

My rating: Four hearts out of five ♥♥♥♥

 

 

 

 

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Let’s Play “A Game of Thrones”

Book cover

Book one of A Song of Ice and Fire series

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”–Cersei Lannister

This is a primer for the handful of holdouts who have not yet seen the HBO series Game of Thrones, nor read any of the A Song of Ice and Fire books on which the series is based. Now that I’ve finally read the first three books–A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords, I know why fans are gaga over the series. After reading the books, I just had to watch the series.

A Song of Ice and Fire has the elements that are common to all great stories, foremost of which is an interesting central plot. In this case, it is a fight for the throne.

Orbiting this central plot are unbelievably rich characters who you love, or love to hate, or both love and hate. I noted that the favorite of many is Tyrion Lannister, which is played by Peter Dinklage in the TV series. My favorite is Arya Stark. Other favorites that the author noted are Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen.

You may have heard that there are too many characters in this series. That is true. Along the way, you may wonder, “Who’s that again?” That person, or that family, may have merely been mentioned in passing, causing us to think that they are just part of the extras. And then, somewhere down the line, they turn out to have an important role to play. Okay, let me tell you now, if you intend to read the book or watch the series, do not dismiss the Martells, the Florents, Roose Bolton, Janos Flynt, the Tyrells, Ser Eric Dondarrion, and Ser Barristan Selmy.

Book two of A Song of Ice and Fire series

Book two of A Song of Ice and Fire series

The major characters are easy to remember, numerous though they are. That is because George R. R. Martin is very good at creating characters who feel so real that you cannot forget them. Take for instance how a man describes the very principled Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell. “You wear your honor like a suit of armor, Stark. You think it keeps you safe, but all it does is weigh you down and make it hard for you to move.” And right there, you wonder if you should respect him for his honor, or pity him for his inflexibility. Whichever way you feel, you will remember him for his integrity.

The author also shows a healthy respect for women and their abilities. There are ladylike ladies with cunning, or a sense of duty, or the wisdom to give war counsel, or elicit loyalty. And there are also fighting ladies who are strong, or try to be, or rise to the need.

But be cautioned. Do not get attached to any of the characters, noble and honorable they may be. Because one of the things that makes this series stand out is the fact that no one is safe. I mean it. No one. Though the setting is reminiscent of Arthurian legends, or Lord of the Rings, the similarity ends there. The storyline goes off into tangents more complicated than good versus evil. The life of any of the characters hangs on a knife’s edge, and can be kept or lost due to smarts, whim, or just random luck. So, get ready with your oh no‘s. Get ready to be shocked.

After all, this is war. This is the chaos that ensues after centuries of dynastic peace, when a bloodline spawns an unfit ruler, causing nobles to revolt, and powerful families to claw for power.

“It is no matter to them (the common people) if the high lords play their game of thrones so long as they are left in peace.”–Ser Jorah Mormont

Aside from having the most unpredictable storyline I have ever encountered in my long life as a bookworm, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books also has one of my favorite elements: wit. Most of it comes from Tyrion Lannister, the character half as tall as most men, but twice as smart. His life was under threat in an inn, when the innkeeper begged, “Don’t kill him here!” Which Tyrion followed up with, “Don’t kill him anywhere.”

As you go on to books two and three, or seasons two and three, more characters are getting in their own witty one-liners, all the better to break the tension of wars, intrigues and plottings that are going on.

Book three of the series

Book three of the series

And then, there is the author’s skill in weaving words into a picturesque tapestry:

  • A mountain that even mountains looked up to.
  • In the dawn light, the army of Lord Tywin Lannister unfolded like an iron rose, thorns gleaming.
  • glowing embers rising on the smoke, to float away into the darkness like so many newborn fireflies.

Oh, such elegant play of words. This is the kind of pleasure you can get only from reading books. Such artistry has no place on the screen, and is therefore sacrificed for visual storytelling (which has its own merits).

However, book or screen, gore is gore. Violence is violence. And sex is sex. I don’t relish any of these, and actually skip over these parts. The descriptions are very raw and gritty, detailing the pillaging, the raping, the killing, the coarseness and the vulgarity, the brutality and the cruelty. Okay, I read some of the passages, that is why I know. But while watching the DVD, I looked away.

Despite my weak stomach for such, I am well into the fourth book. I understand that the setting, though it is in some fantasy world called Westeros, is the equivalent of medieval times, when lives were valued only as far as they serve the crown, and knights were utterly loyal to the commands of their kings.

“Why is it always the innocents who suffer most, when you high lords play your game of thrones?”–Lord Varys

And forsooth, here be dragons. And magic. And wights, dark shadows, and skin walkers. But they are not central to the story. Though classified among the fantasy genre, the plot of Game of Thrones is carried by realistic human strengths and weaknesses rather than by supernatural forces.

Book four of the series

Book four of the series

The series may have been inspired by familiar all-time bestsellers, but the genius of George R. R. Martin is that non of it sounds re-hashed. Not once did I think that I’ve read this before, or that I’ve seen this before. The series feels completely fresh. Completely new. There is nothing I can compare it to. It stands on its own as a landmark series that others will be copying.

Book five of the series

Book five of the series

For a new fan like me, I can only be excited that there are to be two more books in the series, making a total of seven for the series. The last two have not yet been published, but they already have titles: The Winds of Winter, and A Dream of Spring. And in the event that something happens to author George R. R. Martin before he completes books six and seven, he has already shared with the HBO creators his vision of how the story will end. Oooh, precious secrets.

Despite my aversion to violence and gore, A Song of Ice and Fire is just so good that I admit to being a raving fan. Fifty million copies sold speaks volumes (pun intended). So does fifteen million viewers on HBO.

So join the game, and share our excitement as we all find out if our favorite character will die, or live to win the game of thrones.

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Science and Fiction Meet in “Physics of the Impossible.”

 

Bestsellers by Michio Kaku

Bestsellers by Michio Kaku

Fans of fantasy and science fiction, hear ye: the day may come when we can actually sword-fight with light sabers; or say, “Beam me up, Scotty.”

Maybe not in our lifetime. But the stuff of fantasy and science fiction is currently in development in laboratories around the world. Dr. Michio Kaku tells us what are possible, and what are not, in his bestselling book Physics of the Impossible (2008).

In the book, Dr. Kaku tackles Harry Potter‘s invisibility cloak, Star Wars‘s Death Star, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘s Infinite Improbability Drive, Bruce Almighty‘s psychokinetic powers…you get the picture.

Bruce Almighty

Bruce Almighty

In fact, you will get the whole picture. From the beginning. Dr. Kaku rifles through the closet of history to enlighten us about the first mention of these powers and weapons.

For instance, we will  find out that concentrated beams (laser) as a weapon goes as far back as 214 B.C., when Archimedes is said to have focused the sun’s rays against enemy ships. Its first mention in science fiction was in H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, and the first Hollywood film to feature a laser is the James Bond movie Goldfinger.

The laser machine in Goldfinger.

The laser machine in Goldfinger.

Trivia: Laser is an acronym for Light Amplification through Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

We will not get cross-eyed from complicated equations, because there aren’t any in this book. Well…the inevitable e = mc² is mentioned, but not because we need to solve anything. It is because Einstein and his elegant Theory of Relativity is the springboard of modern physics.

We will also learn about an inelegant theory that springs away from the Theory of Relativity, called the quantum theory. When Dr. Kaku discusses this, we are treated to his trademark wit, as he writes, “…so haphazard and supremely inelegant. Here was a theory only a mother could love.” Oh, how I laughed out loud at that line. In the subway. Reading a physics book, for goodness’s sakes.

And that, dear friends, is the Law of Attraction at work. Easy-to-understand language in a science book attracts readers. So does wit. And the stuff of fantasy and science fiction from your favorite movies and novels. Pretty attractive book, I might say.

Apple logo

Apple logo

But…and here comes the but…the book is just so dense with information that it needs to be read slowly, or more than once. It was only in my second reading that I noticed the factoid about Steve Jobs’s bitten Apple logo–that it is rumored to be a tribute to Alan Turing (who laid the groundwork of the computer revolution). Turing ate an apple laced with cyanide.

And because I am a Journalism major (no math subjects at all), with only high school physics as my foundation, I also continue to have difficulty understanding certain concepts such as the eleven-dimension string theory, which Dr. Kaku himself revolutionized. Prior to that, the highest dimension I have heard of is the Fifth Dimension–the singing group from the 70’s.

Dr. Michio Kaku

Dr. Michio Kaku

Still, I don’t have to understand curled-up dimensions to grasp much of what is contained in this book. From straight-up facts like the origin of the word “robot,” to somewhat complicated ideas like Schrodinger’s wave equation, Physics of the Impossible is a fun way to get smarter. (Or sound geeky).

Dr. Michio Kaku is only the third physics author I have read in my lifetime. The other two are Carl Sagan (Cosmos, Billions and Billions, etc.) and Stephen Hawking (A Brief History of Time). All three have a way of connecting with people using simple language and charming wit. Because of this, all three also have, or had, popular TV programs.

In fact, Physics of the Impossible gave birth to a TV series of the same name, broadcast over The Science Channel. But you may have seen Dr. Michio Kaku in numerous other documentaries dealing with futuristic subjects, or guesting in talk shows to promote his books.

His subsequent books, Physics of the Future (2011), and The Future of the Mind (2014), are also bestsellers.

If time travel does indeed become a reality in the future, and you happen to be from the future, reading this old article from 2014, please do drop by and visit me–and tell me all about force fields, and space warp, and anti-matter, and if we found the Higgs boson…

 

(This article is in response to a blog from Nerdophiles about showing off your geek space.)

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The Plot

I am a lover of literature and entertainment in any form.

Books used to be my favorite form of entertainment. I’ve read more books than seen movies. But when I worked as a copywriter in an ad agency, I learned about production values, which made me appreciate the silver screen — big and small. And with the advent of highly-sophisticated special effects, the movie and TV experience now offers something that the written word cannot.

I started this blog for four reasons:

  1. To give people an idea what the book, movie or TV show is about, based on the questions I am often asked when friends seek my recommendations;
  2. To write about things that professional movie and TV critics tend to leave out in their reviews, like the plot being insipid, or the violence too graphic, or the ending too depressing—things that I would have wanted to know so that I could have avoided the show instead of being reeled in (pun intended) to watch;
  3. To help people decide whether they should read the book before watching the movie or TV show;
  4. To discuss interesting elements in storytelling, such as casting, plot, stereotypes, and my favorite topic, celebrities.

I want to share with you what I think of these forms of entertainment, in a way that your friend would share with you. In fact, after reading my reviews, I hope you think of me as a friend.

Feel free to ask me any questions about my reviews, or suggest materials to review.

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The Cumberbitches of Benedict Cumberbatch

Embed from Getty Images

I am not surprised that Benedict Cumberbatch made it to the list of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2014. For the past year, the Internet has been abuzz over this supremely talented actor–he with the unconventional features and adorable stunts.

Cumberbombing U2.

Cumberbombing U2.

The most famous of his antics is photobombing U2 during the Academy Awards, which turned viral. His photobombing pose was subsequently superimposed on other photos, such as Harry Potter stills and even that of Britain’s royal family.

This unabashed comedic turn of Cumberbatch is in stark contrast to his most recent roles as the serious villain in Star Trek: Into Darkness; the serious Smaug in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; the serious Julian Assange in Wikileaks; and the serious slave-owner in 12 Years a Slave.

As John Harrison in Star Trek: Into Darkness

As John Harrison in “Star Trek: Into Darkness”

As Smaug in The Hobbit; The Desolation of Smaug

As Smaug in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

As Julian Assange in Wikileaks

As Julian Assange in “Wikileaks”

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Perhaps this is what caused audiences to sit up and notice. The somber-looking actor is funny! An unbridled kind of funny never before seen on the Oscars red carpet. The next thing you know, he is all over the internet, the small screen, and the big screen.

Anyone who has seen his guest appearances on talk shows promoting his five movies this past year were treated to his truly funny side. Take, for instance, his sexy rendition of R. Kelly’s Genius on Jimmy Kimmel. This deep-voiced British actor languidly reciting saucy hip-hop lyrics sent audiences squealing in delight.

Or, his very appreciative reactions to the otter memes that have been going around the Internet.

First otter meme.

First otter meme

assangememe

Julian Assange otter meme

 

 

 

And those who have succumbed to his charms would have joined the fan club who call themselves Cumberbitches (a word that has been in the Urban Dictionary since 2011).

But the Cumber man was not comfortable with the name, although it is obvious where it flows from. So, there was also born the Cumberbabes and the Cumberbuddies, which doesn’t really have the same ring to it as the Cumberbitches of Cumberbatch, eh? Thus, there are many who still stick to the original name.

But before all this international attention, there was a cult following for his portrayal of that most famous deductive detective, Sherlock Holmes, in the BBC series Sherlock. This show takes my breath away because the stars aligned to create a most mind-blowing genius of a script for a genius of a cast. Benedict Cumberbatch is totally convincing as a sociopath who merely tolerates mediocrity in others. His poker-faced one-liners are hilarious, and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson staunchly holds his own against this onslaught of tactlessness.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in Sherlock.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in “Sherlock”

But the first time I ever noticed Ben (oh, yes, he is “Ben” to me now) was way back in 2004, when he played Stephen Hawking in a TV movie entitled, well… Hawking. At the time, I had just read Stephen Hawking’s bestselling physics book A Brief History of Time. His brilliance was still buzzing around in my brain. The adulation I had for Hawking was conferred upon Cumberbatch by association.

Yet, more than just the transfer of adulation, I was impressed by how the actor got me very involved with the character. His portrayal of my idol made me feel Hawking’s triumphs and frustrations deeply. In the end, I knew that I had just witnessed the pivotal performance of one who should eventually be winning awards. I waited for the credits to roll, and memorized the name: Benedict Cumberbatch.

As Stephen Hawking

As Stephen Hawking

Not that I was actively on the look out for Ben’s subsequent performances. There are always other actors who are making splashes across our cinematic ocean, constantly vying for attention. Like Scarlett Johansson. She was the reason I was watching The Other Boleyn Girl, four years after Hawking. When I saw Ben appear on screen during that movie, my first reaction was, “Stephen Hawking! He’s alive!” He was very recognizable from four years thence. He has very unique lips, which break out into a very unique smile. He also has unusual eyes. I was not able to characterize his features then, until the otter memes came out. Funny.

I still wondered, though, why a super talent such as he has not yet broken into superstardom. Could it be that he himself is deliberately avoiding it? Is he choosing roles that are challenging, but not necessarily popular? Consider this: he has not yet had top-billing in any international blockbusters. Yet now, his carefully-selected meaty roles have brought him this far–all the way to Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2014.

An article from the New York Times tells it well. The Case of the Accidental Superstar. In it, the author Sarah Lyall presents Ben as “having progressed from everyone’s favorite secret crush to one of the most talked-about actors in Hollywood.” Bulls-eye! Until I read that line, I had not acknowledged my own secret crush on Benedict Cumberbatch. I noticed him. He mattered to me. But I did not put a name to it.

I would say that the first time I did acknowledge his attractiveness was when I became a great fan of the Sherlock series. I know he was just playing a script-written character. But what a character! Exceedingly intelligent, honest, candid, tactless (but eventually contrite) and vulnerable. He rubs you the wrong way, but without malice or intent to hurt. And I thought that if an actor can play a smart man convincingly, then he was a smart man himself. I was enamored of his intellectual qualities. When I saw his interviews on YouTube, I was not disappointed. (Sigh of relief).

As Van Gogh in Painted With Words

As Van Gogh in “Painted With Words”

These intellectual qualities were made manifest to me in the succeeding works of his that I viewed: Wikileaks; Van Gogh: Painted with Words; and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

And then, I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness.

I was speechless. Not because he was so good at being bad, but because he was physically sexy. Oh my! Especially that scene where he was single-handedly shooting at Klingons, wielding two massive guns, while the crew of the Enterprise was taking cover.

As John Harrison, with his two massive guns.

As John Harrison with his two massive guns

I never took him for buff. I never took him for an action star. But there he was, shooting at enemies, jumping through windows, wearing a tight shirt, having a fight scene with Dr. Spock, and having his mussed-up hair fall over his eyes.

As John Harrison in a tight shirt

As John Harrison in a tight shirt

John Harrison, Ben’s movie character in Star Trek, is physically and intellectually superior to other humans because he was genetically engineered that way. Hmmm. No wonder they cast him. Who else could pull it off?

But for me, Benedict Cumberbatch is already physically and intellectually superior, no genetic engineering required. So what does that make me? Call me a Cumberbitch, maybe.

 

Bonus: There is a shower scene which was deleted from Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Which other actor do you think could have played a genetically-engineered physically and intellectually superior human being?

 

 

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