Friday, December 28, 2012

The Hobbit (Movie)

Photo: Movie poster, from its Wikipedia page

I'd heard (and read) a lot of negative reviews about this movie, so I approached it with great trepidation.  After all, who wants to pay $11.50 per ticket and sit through an almost-three-hour film if it's terrible?

I needn't have worried.  This one is, in some ways, superior to the first three LOTR films, though those did have a better flow and vibe.  The opening scenes with The Hobbit, and the scenes involving the riddles with Gollum, are very long, and noticeably so while you're watching them.  Yet, they are also very necessary, as the first sets up the characterization and spirit, while the latter shows how Gollum lost the Ring, which is hinted at in the LOTR films, but never fleshed out.  It is here.  I'm guessing Peter Jackson--who does know great editing and pace, so you have to assume his long scenes had a purpose in his own mind--let these riddle scenes go on a little because they explain Bilbo's entire purpose (in a very Star Wars-like, Zen kind of way) on this trip: He needs to come so that he can find the Ring and keep it away from Sauron, so that, of course, Frodo can drop it into Mount Doom later, thereby keeping evil out of the hands of Evil.  This is the whole point behind all six of the LOTR and Hobbit films, and so is therefore deservedly fleshed out, even if it is a tad overlong.  But that's an epic, right?  You appreciate it because it is so important, so...well, epic.  Epics are told on a grand scale, and some scenes are epic in of themselves if they're important enough.

But I digress.  Do not be swayed by the many bad reviews.  It is a story on a grand scale, complete in of itself, and not just a set-up for the other two films.  Does it set them up?  Of course.  But it's a set-up movie the way that Star Wars: A New Hope was a set-up movie.  Both are complete.

I told a few people that I liked The Hobbit more than the LOTR films.  I cannot completely substantiate this, but the feeling I get of trust, of kinship, of fighting evil, is much stronger here than in the LOTR films.  This is for a few reasons.  In the first three films, there were an expert sword-fighter/killer, an expert bowsman, an expert axe-man, an expert wizard--you get the idea.  These guys were Middle-Earth renowned for their already-superior abilities.  The whole point of the LOTR movies, which wasn't shown enough, is that it's the everyday little people--the Hobbits--who are the real fighters of true evil.  (Roger Ebert gave the LOTR films 3 1/2 stars, rather than 4, because of this point, that they got carried away with the epic battle scenes and lost track of this theme.)  The Hobbit exemplifies that point much more.  The film busies itself with Bilbo proving his worth to these otherwise taller fighters; by doing so, he exemplifies this ideal.

The Hobbit also has characters that are all less-established than the LOTR fellowship.  No actual kings here (though one should have been).  No famous fighters.  These guys are all losers in the sense that they got kicked out of their homeland--literally, they lost their home.  And not just in the sense of a country, or a house, but an actual feeling of belonging, of home, of being where you were meant to be.  We're told by good hosts to be "at home" in the sense that the word "home" is a descriptive, not just a place.  We're supposed to feel, after all, that "there's no place like home."

Lastly, there is more of an emphasis (though the viewer is never assaulted with it) on The Way, on Zen--on The Force, if you want to think of it that way.  Gandalf is constantly asked why he picked a hobbit to join this group.  Later, he says that he's frightened and that Bilbo (and, one assumes, Hobbits in general) give him courage.  But his first response was perhaps a much more honest "I don't know."  He's simply drawn to pick him; it's nothing more than being guided, than trusting your gut.  What creates gut decisions?  I mentioned before that it is necessary, in a Fate kind of way, that Bilbo be in the group because he needs to steal the Ring.  It shouldn't go unnoticed that Gandalf calls Bilbo "the burglar" throughout the film, much to everyone's wonder, including Gandalf's own.  Having Bilbo in the group really makes no sense; if Fate hadn't chosen him, nobody else would have.  But the battle of Good vs. Evil had already begun, unbeknownst to everyone but Gandalf: Sauron has already started to fool everyone (though the Elven Queen is catching on, I think); he's already looking for the Ring, already conquering lands and dispersing and killing the natives and the trees.  (There's an obvious comparison with Star Wars's Emperor Palpatine here, a plot device that Lucas must have stolen from Tolkein.)

These forces of Good and Evil are constantly at war, as if they were their own separate entities.  It's a common theme and belief--dating back to Zen's and The Way's origins, and certainly believed by the Ancient Greeks and by the Elizabethans, never mind Tolkein and Lucas--that we are often just pawns used and manipulated by these forces.  Who knows how this will show itself?  Here, it's when a dragon, who probably knows nothing of Zen, or Good and Evil, decides to attack a city for its gold.  If this doesn't happen, the native people don't get driven out, and they don't have to go on a quest to win it back, and Bilbo doesn't burglarize Gollum, and Frodo doesn't defeat Evil by dropping the Ring into Mt. Doom.

And so on.

The Hobbit brings this out more than the other three LOTR films.  And the visuals are better, too.

Go see it.  Go appreciate it's grand nature, it's epic storytelling of Good vs. Evil. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

YouTube Christmas Song List and Team You

 Photo: Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in Jena, Thuringia, Germany.  From Wikipedia's "Christmas" page.  Click on it for a bigger, more vivid picture.  It's worth it.

Here's my Christmas song list that will be playing Christmas Eve and Christmas Day:

1.  2000 Miles (It Must Be Christmastime)
2.  Same, because I like it so much I want to hear it twice in a row, cuz I'm like that
3.  Have A Holly Jolly Christmas
4.  The Little Drummer Boy (Original version; Harry Simeone Chorale/Peter Pan Caroleers)
5.  O Holy Night (Charlotte Church)
6.  There's Something Stuck Up in the Chimney
7.  The Little Drummer Boy (Bob Seger)
8.  Silent Night (Stevie Nicks)
9.  Baby Please Come Home (U2)
10.  Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree (Brenda Lee)
11.  It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
12.  All I Want for Christmas Is You (Vince Vance and the Valiants)
13.  Christmas Canon (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
14.  A Wonderful Christmastime (Paul McCartney)
15.  Happy Xmas (War is Over)
16.  All I Want for Christmas Is You (Mariah Carey)
17.  Do They Know It's Christmas?
18.  Same Old Lang Syne (Dan Fogelberg)
19.  Santa Claus is Coming to Town (Bruce Springsteen)
20.  Christmas in Sarajevo

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year, everyone.  May you be close to those who are loyal, friendly and caring.  (And may you not have to be close to those who are not on Team You.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fed-up, gun control, and two movies

Photo: A pile of confiscated guns in Kenya, soon to be set ablaze.  From Wikipedia's "gun control" page.  The caption with the photo is interesting:

"Pyre of smuggled weapons in Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi, Kenya. Original caption states, 'A cache of more than 5,000 smuggled guns ready to be set ablaze at Uhuru gardens (peace grounds) during the peace support effort between the warring countries surrunding kenya and the communities leaving on the porous boarders of Kenya. This was in an effort to bring peace and end killings in the Northern part of Kenya.'"

There's something very logical about burning confiscated guns (hopefully, with the bullets removed first).  After several hundreds of years of doing this, perhaps America could finally start controlling its guns.  

It's been awhile; you know how the holidays are--busy, busy, busy.  I'm still going to get to the posts about the guys in office who've said impossible-to-believe things, but, first, a few quick hits:

--I hereby serve notice that I am done with people who shout first and think second--if at all.  Relative, friend, co-worker--doesn't matter.  Life is too short to deal with such people.  Done.  I do not use to jest, as Lord Capulet said.

--Another Pawn Stars pet-peeve moment, of a person with a very valuable item who sells it to Rick for a pittance because he was too lazy and/or impatient to sell the item at an auction (and in Vegas, there are tons of auction houses): a guy had some authentic George Washington inauguration coins and buttons, appraised by an expert, valued at $12,000 to $15,000.  The guy sells them to Rick for $3,000.  Even if Rick is right and auction houses take half of the net worth--which I doubt; I think it's more like 15% to 20%, not 50%, and it's probably negotiable in this lousy economy--then the guy still could have gotten $6,000 to $7,500.  And this guy said he didn't need the money desperately, too.

--Maybe now, after the slaughter of the innocents, we can have a bit of gun control?

--And universal health care, specifically for the unstable who need it most?

--I read an article yesterday that said that The Shining is one of Stephen King's least-read books.  Hard to believe.  And that he was so dissatisfied with Kubrick's movie that he wanted the 1997 tv movie to air to show Jack Toarrance's true character arc.

--I have a few hours of wet-vacuuming of my pool cover to do.  There's a small pond on it.

--You hate to speak ill of the dead, or to blame the victim, but if I'm a parent of a boy with a history of personality disorders and instability, I don't own an extensive gun collection, locked up or not.  I'm not being a Monday-morning quarterback here, either.  This really is common sense.

--The movie An American Haunting is The Crucible meets The Exorcist.  Who would've thought to put those together?  Great visuals, even if they defy logic.  The movie really isn't about any of those other movie's themes, of course.

--Just watched the movie Ghost Story, a 1981 film based on Peter Straub's great book.  (One of the best and scariest books ever, in my humble opinion.  Roger Ebert, who 99% of the time writes things I agree with, said he could barely read the book.  But it's nice to know a famous reviewer reads the book before he reviews the movie.)  Anyway, the movie completely ignores the fact that the woman is a Shapeshifter.  In the movie, she really is just a ghost.  But how to explain that the woman, before she was put in the car, had not had a pulse, yet had not been dead?  And that she'd had, ummm, physical union with men seventy years after she'd been put in the car?  She still looked good, too.)  Didn't know ghosts could do that.  And it's odd to see Fred Astaire and John Houseman in a horror movie.

--Nothing good can ever come out of what happened in Newtown, but finally the media gave us something positive about teachers.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Movie Lovers

Photo: The Tree of Life movie poster, from it's Wikipedia site.  (See this film.  Roger Ebert, in this year's Sight & Sound poll, said it's one of the ten best ever made, world-wide.)

I must be a movie lover (technically called a cinephile) because:

1.  I sit through the credits.  I love to know who the cinematographer, director, and supporting actors are, and sometimes it's necessary to just let the whole movie sink in after it ends.  I was like this after the movie Lincoln recently.

2.  I do sometimes compare people to movie characters.  Actually, I do that all the time.  The real people hardly ever compare, even if the movie character was "bad."  I realize this is antisocial of me.

3.  I get giddy about upcoming movies by directors I like, such as a new Spielberg film.  I'm enough of a cinephile to get excited by the new Ed Zwick, Peter Weir, David Fincher, Terrence Malick, or Ridley Scott film, amongst the names of great directors that most non-fans don't know.

4.  I do relish intelligent film discussions, but not intelligent film competition, because when proving a point about a film, I definitely become obnoxious--and so does the person I'm talking with.  For example, when discussing a film, I actually use the word "film," not "movie."  Sounds elitist, I know, but the fact is that Schindler's List was a film, and Hangover was a movie.  Just because the point is obnoxious, that doesn't make it untrue.

5.  I understand the demographics, too--which is why I won't go see films geared towards demos I don't want to see movies with.  I mean that in the kindest of all possible ways.

6.  I definitely judge people by their favorite movies.  If your favorite film is one of the Hangovers, or one of the Saws (as good as the first one of each series was), and if you've never even seen (or heard of) 2001 or Schindler's List, then I'm out.

7.  I really appreciate movie memorabilia, but such things will just clutter up the house.  Or maybe I just don't decorate well.  Of course, should the actual real prop come my way, I'm all over it.  Who wouldn't want to have one of the rings actually used in the LOTR films?!?

8.  I complain about continuity issues and product placements all the time.  (But only after the movie, of course.  Belanger's rule #1 of seeing films at a theatre: You will not talk during the film.)  Drives people nuts.

9.  I don't remember dates or important things by films.  I'm a guy; I remember such things based on who I'm dating at the time.

10.  I haven't made out in theaters since I was a teenager.  Call me unromantic or lacking in spontaneity, but I'm not spending $11.50 per ticket just to miss most of the movie.  Hell, if I want to make out with a woman in the dark, I'll just invite her over after I've stopped paying the electric bill for a few months.