Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Middle-Earth Questions

I'm joining in on A Blog Party of Special Magnificence hosted by Hamlette over at The Edge of the Precipice! I'm a big Lord of the Rings/Middle-Earth/Tolkien fan, so I had to get in on all the Middle-Earth fun! Here are my answers to the questions...

1.  Have you read The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit? If so, how many times?
Yes, I've read The Lord of the Rings only once (it's a slightly daunting commitment, but I want to give them another go soon!) and The Hobbit, maybe three times. (Bonus, I've also read "Farmer Giles of Ham" and "Smith of Wooton Major," two short stories by Tolkien!)

2.  Have you seen any movies based on them?
Yes! I saw Peter Jackson's trilogy before I read the books, (but after I'd read The Hobbit) and I credit them with being the movies that made me love movies as much as I do now. I've watched them (extended editions of course!) more times than I can count. My only regret is that I was a bit too young to see them when they were in theaters. I've also seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but only twice so far on that one.

3.  Who first introduced you to Middle Earth?
My dad, he saw LotR in theaters, and then wanted to show them to us kids, but made us read The Hobbit first, so we'd understand the world and such. He almost made us read the whole Lord of the Rings series, but then decided it'd take too long. Turns out, I loved the movies so much I read the books willingly.

4.  Who are your three favorite characters?  (Feel free to elaborate on whys.)
This is the hardest question I've ever had to answer. Only three?? Okay... from the LotR movies only...

1. Would be Sam. He's absolutely the best, and the true hero of the story, and I love his bravery and loyalty. Frodo wouldn't have got far without Sam!

2. Boromir. I love him, he such a meaty, real character, has his moments as a bad guy, but is a hero in the end. Sean Bean plays him so well, and as per usual, has an amazing death scene. One of the best on-screen deaths I've ever seen. But even being dead, he still gets to be in the next two movies! That's how awesome he is.

3. Now is when I have to leave everyone else out, and it's a close call between the siblings, but I have to say Éomer. He's just so epic and cool. And Karl Urban. I wish he had a bigger part like I remember from the books! He and Aragorn were supposed to be good friends, and Karl and Viggo were actually friends, so it would have been neat to give them more time to develop that.

I feel so bad about leaving such great characters out though, so here's my runner-ups: Éowyn, Aragorn, Merry, Pippin, Faramir, Haldir... and Figwit!!

5.  What's your favorite Middle Earth location?
That would have to be the Shire. It's just so perfect there. I would move there in a heartbeat. I have to mention Edoras too though, because it's so breath-taking. But really, any location that shows off New Zealand is breath-taking, isn't it? Oh, Minas Tirith is incredible too.

6.  If you could belong to one of the races of Free Folk (Men, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Ents), which would you choose?
It would be a toss-up between Elves and Men, either an Elf of Rivendell, or an Man (woman) of Rohan. I have the hair for either, but the hard part would be deciding if I wanted to be immortal or not. Probably not... but then again I love the Elvish language. But then again, the Rohan theme is my favorite.
7.  Would you rather eat lembas or taters?
I'd love to try lembas bread, but I love taters already, so I guess it'd depend on if Sam had cooked them or not!

8.  If you lived in Middle Earth, what weapon would you prefer wielding?
I think a bow would be my preferred choice. I'm a decent shot, and don't have any sword training, and a sword would be my second choice, because it's just so classic.

9.  What draws you to Tolkien's stories?  (The characters, the quests, the themes, the worlds, etc.)
The characters, the world, the fantasy, and themes, yes... but I think most importantly, the heart. It's a rare, and incredible thing.

10. List up to five of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies.
1. Sam's speech at the end of The Two Towers: "It's like in the old stories Mr Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness, and danger they were, and sometimes, you didn't want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was after so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it'll shine out the clearer. Those are the stories that stayed with you, that meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr Frodo, I do understand, I know now; folk in those stories has lots of chances of turning back only they didn't. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. ... That there's some good left in this world, and it's worth fighting for."

2. Aragorn's speech at the black gate: "Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers. I see it in your eyes, the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come, when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day. An hour of wolves, and shattered shields when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bit you, stand, men of the west!" And then, "For Frodo."

3. Galadriel opening the first film:  "I amar prestar an. The world has changed. Han mathon ne nen. I feel it in the water. Han mathon ne chae. I feel it in the earth. A han noston ned gwillith. I smell it in the air. Much that once was, is lost. For none now live who remember it."

4. Boromir and the Ring: "It is a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt over so small a thing. Such a little thing..."

5. Yeah, I like the long/dramatic ones, and the oh-so-quoteable ones are great, and I'll end with a funny one:
Pippin: "What about breakfast?"
Aragorn: "You've already had it."
Pippin: "We had one, yes. What about second breakfast?"
Merry: "Don't think he knows about second breakfast, Pip."
Pippin: "What about elevensies? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn't he"
Merry: "I wouldn't count on it."

The End!

Monday, September 16, 2013


Thor. What to say? That the blockbuster accidentally created one of the greatest movie villains of all-time? Who is arguably more sympathetic than the film's hero? There is certainly much, much more to Thor than the beginning of Tom Hiddleston's Loki, but if I were to say this movie may be hard to review objectively, and ... rationally ... I'm sure you could sympathize.

"Seriously Thor, I swear I didn't know my army would be so BIG... or how crazy they'd be! ...should we run?"

Kenneth Branagh directs this take on Shakespearean Norse "gods" who are really aliens, and Marvel superheroes. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) the "god of thunder" and son of Odin, (Anthony Hopkins) the king of Asgard, is poised to succeed his father as king. He is strong, and handsome, and, oh yeah, has an ego the size of the nine realms. When Thor foolishly nearly destroys Odin's peace treaty with the Frost Giants, Odin does what every good king would do; he banishes him to a out-of-the-way world called Earth. When and only when he is worthy, will he be able to claim his hammer and his powers.

Immediately upon his arrival on earth, Thor runs into -- er, is run into by scientist Jane Foster, (Natalie Portman) her colleague Dr. Erik Selvig, (Stellan Skarsgård) and intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) as they track strange weather patterns. Jane doesn't know it yet, but the large, odd acting dude she just "grazed" with her car is the answer to all her questions. Back in Asgard, Thor's friends, Lady Sif, (Jaimie Alexander) and fellows Frandal, (Josh Dallas) Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) consider how to get Thor out of his banishment, while his brother, the "god of mischief" Loki, (Tom Hiddleston) eyes Thor's would-be throne with jealousy, while having a bit of an identity crisis.

"This is not funny, father, humans are so petty and tiny!"

Branagh is mostly known for his Shakespeare adaptations, so he was a very interesting, interestingly fitting choice to direct Thor. It may be sci-fi, but Asgardians know how to use their "thee's" and "thou's" and to never use contractions, and if the conflict between Thor and Loki and their father isn't Shakespearean, I don't know what is. Branagh does an especially impressive job with the latter of these. The most compelling conflicts of this movie are not physical ones.

But I do question some of his choices. Like, what is up with the angled shot composition? It's pretty distracting as I always feel like cocking my head. It only really works when it's a shot of Thor and Jane together -- that's the only way to fit Jane's head in without zooming way out, but that's it. Neither am I a big fan of Thor being a complete fish-out-of water on Earth. It did make for some amusing, some hilarious situations, but it's not practical for him to be that naive. I don't know if these are things Branagh really had a say about though... it could be more a producer/screenwriter problem.

It's not at all odd that Thor falls in love with the first human woman he meets, is it?

My thoughts on the scope of the film and the action of the film are very similar; I thoroughly enjoy, and am sometimes impressed by what I see, but there's sometimes something lacking. Asgard is beautiful and creative, and fills you with wonder, and just isn't used enough. And fight sequences -- particularly the one in the Frost Giant world -- don't have the snap and crackle they could have; they get generic. The most exciting action sequence is when Thor fights off highly trained humans as he goes to claim Mjolnir, it's epic, memorable and involving, perhaps because he's not super-powered at the time?

I wish Thor's four friends had more screen-time and development... which is a complaint and a complement since I liked them enough to want to see more. (Hoping for, and expecting more in The Dark World!) Their best bit of development was their being described as "Xenia, Jackie Chan and Robin Hood" but they left out Gimli! Hopkins as Odin is kingly and very solid; Dr. Selvig and Darcy do what they're meant to -- feed the plot, and add comic relief, but nothing more. Clark Gregg as Coulson makes an appearance, and shows up all the other side characters in awesomeness with ease. And Jeremy Renner has a short cameo as Hawkeye.

Jackie Chan, Robin Hood and Gimli.Fitting descriptions, I think.

As for the man himself, Hemsworth is a bit stiff at first, all proper and aloof, but we do warm to him as he learns humility and to be a true hero. He doesn't grow on you as quickly as is ideal, but since he's in multiple films now, it's a minor problem. He has some great one-liners and does physical humor very well, and once we like him, he's even endearing. Hemsworth's real strength as Thor though, is his appearance -- he is Thor, no question. Now, Jane, well... I don't like Jane. But that's personal, and really more of a dislike of Portman whose acting irks me. Her portrayal of Jane is fine, but there's nothing really special about her.

Okay, I left someone out, right? Who...  oh, right, the guy in green... what was his name...? Just kidding, I was saving the best for last of course! Loki! When I saw Thor for the first time, I tried to like the main character best. It's what you're supposed to do. I thought it was quite odd and sad that the bad guy was more sympathetic than the hero though. Since, I've developed a much more... avid opinion on the subject. Hiddleston's Loki breaks your heart. He does and tries to do some horrendous things, but his situation is so pitiable and Hiddleston plays him with so much charm and complexity and pathos and fervor and understanding, he becomes lovable in spite of his deeds, because we understand him as well. Yet, at the same time, he is an incredibly sinister villain -- but it's only a sneak peek compared to his full-fledged evil villain in The Avengers. I don't know how he managed the role so perfectly, but I'm delighted that he did. Tom Hiddleston is the man.

Does this even need words? No.

In case you haven't guessed it yet, Loki is my favorite. But don't get me wrong, I like this movie as a whole on its own merit, Loki's just a step above. This isn't a masterpiece, but there's a bunch more to in it to love than to gripe about; it's is perfectly cast where it counts, looks unique and stylish, is driven by fun and humor, but stays grounded in truth. It may not be realistic, (in fact it's can get downright cheesy) but its themes are. Thor is a colorful bout of glee and sincerity. And if the sequel keeps up the tradition, it will doubtlessly be a success, so, there's only one thing left to say: come on, Dark World!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Now You See Me

"... now you don't."

A common, if catchy magic show phrase, and title to a "magic trick" movie that aspires to be a way-beyond common, mind-bending trick of a movie. Does it succeed? Well...

Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg) is the classic magician, the leading man with all the charisma, Henley (Isla Fisher) used to be Daniel's "pretty assistant" but has since moved on to her own show; Merritt (Woody Harrelson) is a has-been mentalist who now mostly swindles people out of their money with his talents, and Jack (Dave Franco) is very talented in every way that sleight of hand and misdirection tricks can be used for dangerous and illegal purposes (i.e. he's a glorified pick-pocket) and he can pick locks too. These four talented but small-time magicians are brought together for a combined act by mysterious person for a mysterious purpose. And when they rob a bank, during their show, with the help of the unsuspecting bank owner, the strange case is assigned to FBI agent and skeptic Dylan Rhodes. (Mark Ruffalo) He and Interpol agent Alma (Mélanie Laurent) try hard, but always stay frustratingly a step or two behind "The Four Horsemen" as their master plan unfolds.

What a cast, huh? And I didn't even mention yet that Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman have roles. Ah, now I have. The cast is what drew me to this film, but when there are so many characters played by big names, someone's probably gonna get left out, and in this case, interestingly, it was... everyone. It's hard to identify with any of these characters, which is disappointing, because they are mostly a group of potentially interesting and unique characters, and enjoying characters is way more fun when their potential is realized.

Henley, Daniel, Merritt, and Jack, ready to (maybe-not) blow your mind.

The script is the villain here; I can't blame the actors for the lack of character. In fact, Harrelson does a great job with his limited time and ends up with the best role in the film. Perhaps it's because the role is a mostly comedic role that wouldn't have much depth anyway? Still. Eisenberg and Franco stand out only a little less; Eisenberg either because he's the leader and got more screen-time and lines, (he get the best part of the whole movie, right at the beginning) or simply because I enjoy the actor, and therefore paid more attention to him. The same with Franco (he's a novelty to me because I didn't know James Franco had a brother) except he got some great action scenes.

And when a movie is lacking in the character department, the next best thing is the action scenes. The action is well-done but not extraordinary and any way. (Though Franco does some fighting that looks like it requires a bit of real talent.) Most of the razzle-dazzle comes in the form of CGI during astonishing magic tricks... too astonishing for explanations to be viable apparently. While immersed in the movie it doesn't really occur to you, but afterward you feel a little cheated of really impressive trickery. The "magic tricks" put just a tinge too much emphasis on the magic part. Misdirection, however, is a real strong suit.

When action and magic is combined, the result is many chase-scenes featuring Mark Ruffalo not catching anything.

Okay, I've run out of things I want to mention that are spoiler-free. I'll tackle spoiler topics in a moment, but first I'll wrap up for anyone who hasn't seen the movie and don't want anything spoiled.

Ultimately, Now You See Me wasn't at all a bad movie. I'm simultaneously impressed and disappointed. It didn't have any moral or uplifting message to take away, but it was mostly clean (for today's PG-13 standards) and I did enjoy watching it, it was sparkling, amusing and diverting, but honestly, the trailer was just as deep as the movie, and the characters (other than Ruffalo who got next to nothing in the trailer) get no more development than what those three little minutes show. But a cheap trick still tricks, right? This movie succeeded in doing what it was meant to; the result just wasn't what most would hope for.

*SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers from here on!*

I shall reveal all!

In the end, all the strange character development problems finally makes sense (still doesn't work though). Throughout the movie "The Four Horsemen" are mysterious unrelatable characters, and Dylan is the relatable one chasing them. The twist reveals that Dylan is actually the one who brought them together. He's part of a mysterious magician society, and the whole scheme is to test the Four to see if they are worthy to join the society, and to take his revenge on Morgan Freeman's character. And that's all well and good, I didn't see it coming, blah blah blah, but it ruined the characters. Now, the Four are the tricked along with us, but we still can't relate, because they were never developed properly. And Dylan isn't relatable anymore because the person we identified with is suddenly all an act. And on top of that, there weren't even any clues to the truth -- the only way to guess the twist was to guess. They should have taken more cues from movies like The Prestige and The Illusionist, though I do give them credit for thinking the twist through; it's not flawed plot-wise as far as I can tell. I could watch it again, but it doesn't seem quite worth it. Once you see it's all a trick, the magic is gone.

One more picture to bookend the spoiler section. The End. Goodnight.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Upcoming Movie Roundup -- September

This month in mildly interesting movies I won't be seeing...

Sept. 6th; R
Vin Diesel is back as Riddick in the third film of this horror/sci-fi franchise. I don't really have much interest in this, but I imagine it'll be a big hit amongst fans of the genre and franchise. The trailer looks slick and stylish and scary and epic... but it's missing one thing. Karl Urban. He's the only thing that keeps me interested and the only reason I caught and enjoyed Chronicles of Riddick one day on the television. So where is he? He gets second billing to Diesel, but doesn't even make an appearance in the trailer. I'm confused. Oh well. That's all.

Sept. 20th; R
After his young daughter is kidnapped, everyman Hugh Jackman goes all "Taken" and sets out to get her back. This does look a bit like "Taken", except more serious, with more drama, less unrealistic action, more violence, and less chance of a happy ending. What does that say for it's success? Who knows. My interest comes from Hugh Jackman, who will, of course, be amazing as usual, and from Paul Dano, one of my favorite underused actors, who may or may not be playing the kidnapper. And Jake Gyllenhaal's character's name is Loki? Okay... hey, maybe he's the bad guy.

A Single Shot
Sept. 20th, Limited; R
The sensational Sam Rockwell stars as a hunter who accidentally kills a girl instead of a deer, finds loads of cash on with her, decides to keep it, and of course ends up in a heap of trouble. Think "No Country for Old Men" set in the town of "Winter's Bone." Sounds promising. Kelly Reilly also stars, but Rockwell holds all the draw for this movie. (But really, all this movie does is make me want to see him in "The Way, Way Back" even more. How sad is it that I still haven't seen that?)

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Sept. 27th; PG
Ah, this months' animated sequel. I can't decide if I'm adverse to animated movie sequels because they actually are bad ideas, or if I'm just tired of them being made. Anyway, somehow, our hero Flint's machine from the last movie that transforms water into food had survived being destroyed. Now the food it makes is... wait for it.... ALIVE! The first one wasn't bad, the monkey Steve, and some successful humor helped me enjoy it, and the trailer looks promising, in fact I might say it looks better than the first one. (Adventure always makes weird fantasy easier to swallow.) But unless this actually is better than the original I won't even think of bothering with it. Still, kudos to it for being the only mildly interesting movie this month with a decent rating.

Sept. 27th; R
Ron Howard directed and based on a true story of warring race car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, played respectively by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, and Olivia Wilde and Natalie Dormer also star. I predict this will be the most critically successful movie of the month. It has a great director and a talented cast, and looks like it's been immaculately crafted, but the plot doesn't really interest me. So I'm not too disappointed in the R rating. For now.

Have any of these, of other upcoming releases caught your fancy this month?