Fan-girls, Sexy Dwarfs and Reading The Hobbit (Finally)

As you may have gathered from previous posts I have made here, I really look forward movie/book tie-ins. In anticipation of the forthcoming release of The Hobbit (2012), I would like how I came about getting to the point where I felt I HAD to read the book.

By reading The Hobbit for the first time at this point of life I clearly passed up the opportunity to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic as a youth. In fact, I had no desire to read it despite being a nerd growing up. In fact it is not that the world of fantasy and sci-fi was something lost upon me (I was a huge Star Wars fan), but I simply was not a voracious reader.  In fact, for the most part, I found reading to be a taxing process.

Fast-forward several years later and my attitude toward reading changed dramatically. And I have the movies to thank for that. In high school I got into classic films big time. I then started to notice that many movies I was watching were based on works of fiction. As a result, I started to gradually get more into reading. In fact, if not for Alfred Hitchcock, I would have missed out on reading one of my all-time favorite novels, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

After completing my university studies and entering the workforce, I was able to return to my newfound love of pleasure reading thanks to daily train commutes to work.

Also during this time, the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) films were released. Part of me certainly felt like I was missing out on details found in the source material, but I concluded that the time had passed to read the books – they WERE kid’s books after all. Thus, I appreciated the spectacle of LOTR as purely cinematic events.

That all changed with Harry Potter. Until I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (OOTP), I was content to not bother reading J.K. Rowling’s books. However, after watching OOTP, I was left feeling like I was missing a lot of details. This feeling was amplified when I discovered OOTP was not only the LONGEST book but that it had one of SHORTEST running times of the film series.

Armed with that information, I immediately went to the bookstore and started reading all the books. Since completing all of the books in the series, I have been rewarded with a satisfying trip to the movies. At this point it is safe to say that I am on the periphery of fan-girl status. Not sure I am ready for Comic-Con just yet.

With the HP franchise concluding this summer, my “enthusiasm” has naturally gravitated towards the next epic book-to-film adaptation – Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, Parts I and II.

I was all the more delighted when I started to hear the casting news coming out of the production. I recognized the names of Martin Freeman (The Office, Sherlock) as Bilbo Baggins (Richard Armitage (North and South and MI-5) as Thorin Oakenshield and Aidan Turner (Being Human) as Kili.

Remember at this point, I have NOT read The Hobbit so even knowing the names of Thorin and Kili meant nothing to me; the only Hobbit characters that had any resonance with me with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf. I was not even sure which other characters crossed over from one book to the next.

Aren't we some hot dwarfs?

Imagine my surprise in discovering the characters of Thorin and Kili are DRAWFS! John Rhys Davies was my “Middle Earth” vision of what a dwarf should look like. And with all due respect to Mr. Davies, Armitage and Turner are quite attractive so the thought that they are dwarfs (dwarves), left me a little perplexed.

Apparently many dyed in the wool Tolkien fans were equally perplexed by the casting choices. Simply type in the words “sexy/handsome dwarfs and The Hobbit” into Google to see what I am talking about. I will not elaborate here but I will say I trust Peter Jackson and his team.

So instead of putting me off the idea, I was more interested in The Hobbit than ever. And that is where I am at the moment. I am currently in the thick of the novel and hope to finish the novel by the end of the month. And then the countdown begins – 18 months (or more) and counting!

"But in the book" … and more musings from book snobs

My most recent inspiration to read a novel that is being presented on the silver screen has been The Time Traveler’s Wife. For as long as I can remember, there have been movies that inspired me to read source material. I can recall that after seeing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I ran out purchased all of the books and over the course of the next two months read each book in the series.

I fully appreciate that films cannot cover all the material in detail found in the source text(s). I am perfectly okay with that.  This leads to the point of my post. The expectation that some readers have when a favorite novel of theirs in adapted for the screen just downright boggles the mind. Nowhere is this observation more apparent than in one of my current favorite TV shows, True Blood). The discussion boards for this show are littered with folks going on and on about “how in the books, this or that happened,” or “the show is SO NOT like the books,” etc. You get the point.

In one respect I guess I generally get where the text fans are coming from. After reading something that you find yourself totally engrossed in, you bubble with the excited of actually seeing it on the screen, only to think afterward, “Well that isn’t exactly how I pictured it.” That leads to the obvious in my opinion. THAT is the very point of reading – you create the movie in your imagination. There is no way that any movie can match the human imagination. By our very nature there are details and biases we interpret from our reading. That is what makes reading and discussing with others such a wonderful social enterprise.

Take Confessions of a Shopaholic for instance. Prior to watching the film, I knew that many of the elements that made the film so much fun to watch had been altered. Moreover, I refused to let that alter what I had imagined when I first read the books.

So going into watching the film, I figured that my having read the books served of little use, except I knew the story arc. Sure enough, that is exactly what I experienced. This is perfectly fine. Granted, for me the movie served as “passable” entertainment. I probably could do without watching the film again for many reasons, least of which was the adaptation from the source material.

On the other hand, take the following two Jane Austen adaptations from 1995: Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. I love these both novels and the film versions of these works, although I was not a fan of the choices made in the casting of some of the key roles. Given that, I was deterred from appreciating both media as forms of art.

Now back to The Time Traveler’s Wife. One thing that interests me is that after reading the film and watching the trailer, I think they did a good job of casting, especially with Eric Bana as Henry. Will that be enough for me to enjoy the film? Probably not. The most I hope for is a well-made movie based on a story that I am familiar with due to my reading the source. Nothing more. If I get more, that will be the icing on the cake.

For another, articulate take on this dilemma, read this article on the Saint Louis Today.

The Thing About Woody is …..

woody-glasses

Let me start by saying I am not a huge Woody Allen devotee. At the same time, I have not intentionally avoided his work … sort of. I have had plenty of opportunities to watch his movies on Reel 13 or on any of a plethora of cable channels. I have been told that films like Interiors, Annie Hall, and Manhattan are “essential cinematic viewing.” Most of these films of course mark for many Mr. Allen’s “artistic peak.” So part of me feels like I am suffering from Monty Python Syndrome, or MPS, as I call it. MPS is a self-described condition in which I am unable to understand the humor presented. In other words, I just do not “get” it. I really tried to see what my dad sees in The Holy Grail. Because of this condition, I conclude that the humor must simply be over my head and I am not in on the joke. For the majority of my movie going adult life, I ascribed this condition to Woody Allen’s work.

That is until rather recently. The first Woody Allen movie I saw from beginning to end was 2005’s Match Point. I really liked this movie; the London set pieces were a major appeal for me but I also appreciated the central thesis of the narrative. My next Woody Allen feature I watched was Scoop. Overall, the movie was flat on many levels. This however did not stop me from examining some of Allen’s recent work further. In 2004’s Melinda and Melinda while there were moments I found unconvincing, I LOVED the concept of telling a story about someones life from two disparate angles.

Last year, I ventured to the Angelika and saw Vicky Christina Barcelona. I had heard a little bit of buzz generated for the picture and decided to check it out. I am glad I did. The film was largely anchored by Penelope Cruz’s fantastic performance.

Fast forward to yesterday. Almost a year to the day I saw Vicky Christina, I was back at the Angelika to see Allen’s latest outing, Whatever Works. The most I was looking for was a mildly diverting comedy. What I discovered was an enjoyable and funny movie.  I therefore concluded that for me, the winning Woody Allen formulae are when:

woody-glasses = writer/director = picture I like

AND

woody-glasses = actor = picture I probably will not like

The latter formula may be a sacrilege to some but it is my experience. I am willing to disprove these formulas by watching his earlier work, including those films featuring him as an actor. That is what Netflix is for…

In the end, I feel I have benefited from being able to watch a Woody Allen film with a relatively fresh set of eyes. Maybe upon watching his earlier work, my perspective will change. However, I see that as a gradual process. One thing that watching these films from his later years has shown me is that I should give myself a chance to “discover” his work.

Films currently in the public domain

Admit one to your computer screen!

Admit one to your computer screen!

One of the fantastic things about the internet is the availability of streaming videos out there. Any film scholar can tell you that issues of copyright and ownership often got confusing at times. For example, many of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, most famously Vertigo, were in the courts for years as the legal system was asked to determine ownership. The result was an unfortunate one; one in which we the viewing public were not able to enjoy these films. Another consequence was that the prints were at times left to deteriorate due to neglect. Fortunately for us, many of these treasures have been identified and properly preserved or are in the process of being so.

Another fate suffered by older films is that motion picture companies who own these films hold the films in their vault and debate whether to release them for sale or distribution.

Thankfully, many groups holding these films in either case have come up with a solution to satisfy film fans everywhere – make these films available in the public domain. Take hulu.com, for instance. A click on their Movies (Full Length), will display a plentiful supply of classic titles, enough to whet any movie lovers’ appetite. There is some Hitchcock (39 Steps, Lady Vanishes); His Girl Friday; Orson Welles’ The Stranger and more recent films such as Broken Flowers, The Last Days of Disco, Your Friends and Neighbors, etc. You can spend some time looking at the feature films and documentaries.

The one suggestion I have is to check the offering often. A couple of months ago I watched Otto Preminger’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. When I recently checked the movie list, it was not there.

3D: Old/new Wave of Future?

In the film community there has been a lot of talk surrounding the future of 3D in cinemas. A favorite film critic of mine, BBC’s Mark Kermode, has talked at great length about 3D and the issue of piracy. I have embedded one of his video blogs that discusses that very problem:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/markkermode/2009/04/piracy_240409.html

Meanwhile I had the pleasure last weekend of seeing the sixth installment of the Harry Potter film series (Half Blood Prince or HBP) in IMAX 3D. The Lincoln Center cinema was one of a handful of theatres nationwide showing HBP in IMAX ahead of the July 29th nationwide release in this format (click here to find out why).

I will spare you an actual review of HBP since I am an unapologetic devotee of both the books and the movies. I will however comment on the “IMAX 3-D” experience. Simply stated the best experience for me was watching the trailer for the Disney IMAX 3D version of A Christmas Carol, starring Jim Carrey.

As far as the feature presentation goes, the 3D was reserved for the first twenty minutes. Wow! There was a lot of deatheater flying, and swooping down alleys, across bridges and in narrow alleyways. The result left me a little light headed. For my movie-going companions, the experience was a bit more extreme; the experience bordered on nausea. At first, I thought it was just me but was I glad to find out I was not the only one.

At the end of the twenty minutes, I was more than happy to take off my 3D glasses at the prompting of the flashing of the red glasses on the cinema screen. The whole process of being instructed to do something in a movie theatre was a little disconcerting.

Another observation is that in a few scenes there was a weird ghostly/shadowy thing going on. Maybe it was just the print (hmm?).

My conclusion? Just give the IMAX experience if you want to get me excited about going to the movies – 3D is for the birds.

The Tudors on Film

tudors pic

The season three finale of The Tudors aired last Sunday.  Frankly, it left me a little disappointed. Not because of the historical inaccuracies, mind you.  In fact, I fully respect the creators’ decisions are made mostly for the sake of entertainment and not to inform or teach.  That is why I have tuned in for the past three seasons. Overall, the season felt like a holding pattern for the telling of the closing chapters of Henry VIII’s life.

As I reflected on the show over the past week, my thoughts diverged and expanded to the treatment all aspects of the Tudor dynasty have received on film.

My first recollection of watching a film about the Tudors was when I was in high school.  Our European History teacher thought it was a good idea to integrate films with our history lessons.  As a result, I saw Anne of a Thousand Days (1969).

Beyond that, I created a mini Tudor filmography of films that standout for me.  This list is definitely not inclusive; I am just featuring those films that resonated with me in capturing the spirit and intrigue of the Tudor dynasty.

Lady Jane (1986):  a very good solid dramatic piece that showed nothing was sacred in Tudor England., not even the life of minors.  An interesting bit of trivia:  Helena Bonham Carter, the lead of this film would 17 years later portray one of Henry’s wives, the infamous Anne Boleyn in a 2003 television adaption (starring Ray Winstone as Henry).

The Private Life of Henry VIII (1932):  a bit stagey but Charles Laughton is worth watching.

Elizabeth (1997): Richly produced gave a wonderful glimpse into the life of a youthful, vibrant Queen Elizabeth I, a sound departure from the prevalent and popular portrayal of the “Virgin Queen.”

Young Bess (1953):  Another film that looks at the early life of Elizabeth I, as portrayed by Jean Simmons.  Not much is said about this film.  Nevertheless, I like it if for nothing more than the central performers, Ms. Simmons and Deborah Kerr’s turn as Catherine Parr, Henry’s sixth wife.

Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939):  An entry from Hollywood’s Golden Year of 1939.

One recommendation of a film I did not see in full:  A Man for All Seasons (1966).  I fascinated by the idea of martyrdom, especially in this case since More and Henry so admired one another.

The above listed movies are good in their own right; however, my favorite Tudor adaptation is the television miniseries of Elizabeth I (2005) which aired on HBO.  I feel that the story of the Tudors is much better told in a serialized format (mini-series, television series or documentary).  One possible reason is that the historical record of the drama and intrigue in the Tudor court is so rich.  As a result, in a feature length film, a lot of information is either glossed over or simply omitted due to the compression of time required of movies.  In serialized formats, there is enough time to cover the details in a manner satisfying to the viewing public.

One benefit of watching all of these shows/movies is that I started investigating the real history of what happened from 1485-1603.  In fact, a simple Google search yields many websites that have looked at the history of the Tudors in cinema and television.  One article of note is provided courtesy of The American Historical Society.  I recommend that you look at this.  In addition, Tudors and Stuarts on Film: Historical Perspectives is a collection of essays edited by Susan Doran and Thomas S. Freeman, and is currently available in hardcover.

A Fan's Appreciation of Kate Winslet

kate

During this year’s awards season, with each award bestowed upon Kate Winslet, observers were less than impressed at time with what they considered her blubbering, drama-fraught acceptance speeches. They were primarily reflecting on the Golden Globes and the Oscars.  When I watched the speeches back, I see something very different.  I felt what the audience saw on stage was a cathartic release of sorts.  After years of being risky and taking less than conventional roles, she was finally rewarded for her efforts.  Yes, she has won awards and plaudits throughout her career but let’s face it, after being the perpetual bridesmaid, one must hope to receive the brass ring someday.

My appreciation for her body of work precedes Titanic.  Her performances in 1994’s Heavenly Creatures (directed by a pre-LOTR Peter Jackson) and 1995’s Sense and Sensibility left me in amazement of what that a person not much older than me (less than a year separate us) could accomplish.

After the out of this world success of Titanic, she could have easily gone Hollywood and become America’s English Sweetheart. Instead, she chose a series of atypical, often unglamorous roles in films such as Hideous Kinky, Holy Smoke, Quills, Enigma, Little Children, and Finding Neverland. One of my personal favorites is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which is quite simply one of the finest, most imaginative love stories I have ever seen.

Her Emmy-nominated turn as not quite herself in Extras displayed her bawdy side as well as her ability to have a laugh at her own expense.  Ironically, during this episode she laments to Ricky Gervais’ Andy Millman that the only way she is going to receive the Oscar that she so covets is to play in a Holocaust picture.

In every performance, what comes through is an individual that gives her all and does not hold back.  This is what her fans love and appreciate about her.

Shoutout to the TCM Underground!

tcm underground

Over the past several months, I have found myself watching several movies from the TCM Underground that I have recorded due to their late airings.  From what I can gather, the goal of the Underground is to showcase cult films.  Previously I reviewed Two Thousand Maniacs on this blog – it was also shown on the Underground.  These films cover the gambit from your Plan Nine from Outer Space, which by all accounts is just bad on all levels, to Night of the Living Dead, a quintessential well-made cult classic.  Therefore, you can see that all the films do not necessarily have to be bad.  I am just making it a goal of mine to see a few of the really awful ones.  The way I figure, you really do not know how good a movie is until you have sat through a poorly made movie.

An innocent girl! A life destroyed!

An innocent girl! A life destroyed!

It is in that spirit that I viewed 1934’s Road to Ruin.  Reading the movie synopsis on my guide I was certain that it was in the same vein as Reefer Madness and other exploitation cautionary tales made at this time.  Over the course of the next 60 minutes, I knew I was not watching high art but I would be lying if I said the film’s concluding scenes did not a little sadden me.  It just goes to show that any movie, even a turkey, can elicit a visceral response from your audience.

Visit the TCM Underground for more information, including schedules, video clips, wallpapers and more fun stuff!

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To read more about cult cinema, there is a great series of articles in the December 2008 issue of Cineaste magazine.  These articles cover a wide range of topics related to cult films.

Fright Fest – my “tales of terror.”

This past Monday night as I prepared myself to watch a replay of the new HBO series True Blood, I was watching the preceding program, Shadow of the Vampire from the year 2000.  It was my first time viewing this film about a fictionalization surrounding the filming of 1922’s Nosferatu.  Overall is made for great viewing but it got me thinking, “In my mind, what qualifies a movie as ‘scary’ or even ‘terrifying’?”  After some thought I concluded that this definition for me is very broad.  That is why I use scary and terrifying interchangeably as you will find throughout the passage.

To me, the goal in creating a good it is not merely about the shock-value – although that can go a long way when executed properly.  What is truly scary or terrifying to me are films which upon their first (and hopefully subsequent) viewings to a “mind mess” with me.  In other words, to truly feel terrified or scared, I want to leave the cinematic experience playing with various scenarios of what I have just experienced in my head, almost to a troubling degree.  My television equivalent of what is most terrifying is what the very best of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone had to offer.

In previous entries I have stated my love of (all) things Alfred Hitchcock. For the purposes of this blog entry I will exclude these titles – although I must admit when I think of scary and terrifying I do not immediately think of Hitchcock for some reason.  I do find them suspenseful and full of dramatic tension but around this time of year I do no feel a special need to place his titles in a heavier DVD rotation.

So as we near All Hallow’s Eve this Friday here is a list of what MAY be playing in my queue.  This is not an all-inclusive list I am sure.  A couple that are not on the list but in my collection is The Orphanage ( il Orfanato) and Hard Candy – we’ll see if they have what it takes to make my list!

Meshes on the Afternoon (1943) – a Maya Deren short which has produced a couple of nightmares in my lifetime
Dead of Night (1945) – I really hope that this film gets a proper digital transfer to DVD – this is one for the collection, a real keeper.
Brazil (1983)
Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
The Shining (1980) – sterility and coldness literally sends shivers up my spine; Kubrick was very effective at capturing that.
The Others (2001) – Who cares if you were able to figure out the plot twist before the big reveal?  My unsettledness had a lot to do with the other-worldly atmosphere.
Heavenly Creatures (1994) – a terrific pre-LOTR adaptation by Peter Jackson.
The Third Man (1949) – part of what makes the visualization and imagery disturbing in this film has to do with its connection to the aforementioned “Heavenly Creatures.”

A Mighty Fine Fella – An Appreciation of Paul Newman


Of course I did not know Paul Newman personally but his presence on and off screen made you feel like you had a personal connection to him. When I was on my train Saturday morning and my dad called me to tell me the news, my heart sank. I felt like someone a friend was gone from my life. Additionally as a dear friend of mine said when I informed her of the tragic news – he was someone for us who represented someone that we thought we would never see pass – despite our 50 plus year age difference. He was a timeless, one-of-a-kind individual whose work and life are an example for all who succeed him.

In being an “everyman”, an “ordinary” man if you will, he was extraordinary. There was the unprecedented charity work that made giving to those in need really, really cool. Butch Cassidy/Cool Hand Luke for goodness sake! The almost mythic for Hollywood 50 year marriage to Joanne Woodward is stuff o’ legend – you CAN make it.

His screen persona (as already noted in several places) was striking, disarming and oh so appealing; “The Long Hot Summer” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” immediately spring to mind.  The defiant, affable rogue/rascal of “Cool Hand Luke,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Sting” captured audiences.  Granted I speak as a 30-something person who was not even born when the aforementioned films were out in theatres.

One film that I WAS release in my lifetime is one I watched when I was in high for religion class; “The Verdict” showed a real pathos and journey of discovery in my opinion – the troubled man who finds himself crusading in a sense to do the right thing.
It is a credit and privilege that we were able to see this progression of man throughout his career in several stage through the roles he portrayed over the course of over 50 years.

In closing, I refer to a song sung by another man known for his dazzling blue eyes; I feel like this captures the essence of a life that is lived to its fullest:

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
Ill state my case, of which I’m certain.

I’ve lived a life that’s full.
I’ve traveled each and evry highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets, I’ve had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried.
I’ve had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.

To think I did all that;
And may I say – not in a shy way,
No, oh no not me,
I did it my way.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows –
And did it my way!

Farewell and rest in peace, my friend.