Beloved singer Etta James has died at age 73, according to reports from CNN and her manager, Lupe De Leon. The singer was famous for such songs as "Something's Got a Hold on Me" and of course, "At Last." She was suffering from leukemia, dementia, and hepatitis C and she passed away at a hospital in Riverside, Calif.
James was born Jamesetta Hawkins in Los Angeles in 1938. She suffered from a patchy home life. She was raised without knowing who her father was and was bounced around to various legal guardians, one of whom beat her and forced her to sing for guests. Throughout her life, being commanded to sing was difficult for her. But from traumatic beginnings, came a soulful, rich voice that touched the world from the time she had her big break with “Dance With Me, Henry” in 1954, to the 1960s when she released songs like “All I Could Do Was Cry” and “At Last.” Despite her battle with a drug addiction and alcoholism, she continued to churn out hits through the late 1970s, eventually racking up six Grammys. James’ growly, jazzy style is credited for bridging the gap between Rock and Roll and R&B, and her long list of titles reflects that. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame, and the Grammy Hall of Fame. She also holds spots on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and 100 Greatest Artists of All Time lists. When she made her comeback in the 1980s, she was received by music lovers the world over with open arms.
But it wasn’t just her voice that we all fell in love with. She was an outspoken spitfire, known for her overt sexual witticisms and raunchy onstage behaviors that led many venues to require audiences to be at least 18 years older to watch her performances – even up until her early 70s. And despite her numerous challenges – not limited to her early home life and problems with drugs – she rose from her troubles and left an incomparable mark on her fans, the music world, and entertainment in general. Even today’s biggest artists know the importance of James’ career; Adele famously praised the singer to The Observer, saying “Everything she sings -- you believe her, even if she never wrote a word of it herself.” And while James clashed with Beyoncè after the singer portrayed her in Cadillac Records, the singer later faulted her dementia for the harsh comments.
James spent her remaining days with her husband and two sons at her side. She will be missed by friends, family, and of course, her multitudes of fans from every age and walk of life. I first listened to James with my mother and her song, “Sunday Kind of Love,” has always been my favorite example of her legendary voice and style. So, in honor of her long and memorable career, I leave you with one of her greatest songs.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.