Thor, Ai Weiwei’s Sculptures and More Culture Recommendations

Each week, The Daily Beast sifts through the cultural landscape to choose three top picks. This week, the mighty Thor gets an inventive reimagining, Ai Weiwei’s spirit comes alive near Central Park, and new revelations about Cary Grant.

Photo credit: Zade Rosenthal / M

The Shakespeare Nut Behind Thor

Marvel Studios’ much hyped superhero film Thor is finally upon us. Released Friday, the flashy $150 million mashup of Viking lore and good old-fashioned caped crusading is being hailed by critics as a witty take on the typically overblown genre. So what’s the film’s secret to success? Moviegoers need to look no further than the director’s chair: hailed Shakespearean scholar Kenneth Branagh took a break from acting in the Royal Shakespeare Company and adapting the Bard’s classics for the big screen to direct the thunder God’s tale—and the unlikely marriage has paid off. Turns out that growing up in Belfast in the ‘60s, Branagh was captivated by Marvel’s The Mighty Thor comic book like no other cultural offering. He spent two years working with screenwriters to flesh out the movie’s fraternal rivalry between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and humanize the larger-than-life characters. In this week’s Newsweek, Chris Lee talked to the director about his superhero turn. “This is not meant to be pompous, portentous museum entertainment,” Branagh says. “To work in Hollywood, to work on this kind of scale? Nothing blasé in my attitude. The desire is to entertain, to be absolutely of now and in the moment, and to find balance and originality in that.”

Sculptures of a Silenced Artist

In the Pulitzer fountain in front of New York City’s Plaza Hotel, revolutionary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals: Zodiac Heads was revealed to the public for the first time on Wednesday. Presented by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a slew of prominent people from New York’s art and culture scene, the artist’s 800-pound bronze animal heads rose triumphantly from the fountain’s shallow pool to the delight of passing spectators and swarms of press. But the artist himself was nowhere to be found. Ai was detained in China on April 3 for his forthright criticism of the Chinese government and has not been seen in public since. Bloomberg called the unveiling “bittersweet” and spoke on behalf of the “millions of people around the world who are hoping that Ai Weiwei is quickly and safely released.” Lizzie Crocker reports from the public art space, and says the buoyant sculptures are a sight to behold—from the resourceful rat to the fertile pig, the dozen 21st-century bronze animals were inspired by zodiac symbols that allegedly crowned an 18th-century imperial fountain-clock until they were stolen by Europeans in 1860. Now they serve as a reminder of the daring artist who helped build China’s moneymaking “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium.

Remembering My Father, Cary Grant

Cary Grant was not perfect. Now we know. In her memoir, Good Stuff, his only child, Jennifer, reveals that he was always grumpy for several days before he traveled or before he had to make a public appearance. He liked Benny Hill. Oh, and he snored. Loudly. So much for the bad news. The delightful Good Stuff is the polar opposite of Mommie Dearest. Cary Grant at home was more or less the same man the public saw in movies: debonair, decent, and funny. By the time she was old enough to know him, Jennifer says in a phone interview, “he’d shaped himself into the person he was comfortable being.” She uncovered no dark secrets of her father’s past, writes Malcolm Jones in this week’s Newsweek. In fact, he was the consummate doting dad, capturing everything from bath time to story hour on film and audiotape. Good Stuff is a loving tribute to a man who came into fatherhood late—he was 62 when Jennifer was born—but whose accomplishments at home turned out to be just as important as those on screen.