Perilous undertaking to save Middle Earth

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) ***** Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm. Director: Peter Jackson. I watched this film at the 171min length (DVD Widescreen Edition) Originally 178 minutes There are also the 208min length (Special DVD Extended Edition) and the 228min length (Blu Ray Extended Edition).

At school, we had to listen to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings being read. I never liked the book much. It was a bit unusual and strange with its epic themes somehow devoid of reality and a cast of strange characters of elves, hobbits and conjurers. The Lord of the Rings is now a film and a blockbuster at that. This makes all the difference to someone feeling foreign to the book.

The journey through Middle Earth could have felt like tedium, arduous for viewer. Yet the first part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy works and progressively ups the stakes.

The story is set in the world of Middle Earth which is undergoing a seismic upheaval as Sauron’s denizens the Ringwraiths seek a ring that in Sauron’s possession will control Middle Earth under an oppressive spiritual darkness.

A diminutive hobbit, the earnest, honourable Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), gets possession of the ring and on the advice of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), a wisely, well-beared wizard, Frodo must take the ring out of his homeland, the Shire. If he does not leave, the Ringwraiths will track Frodo down to the Shire and kill Frodo and take possession of the ring.

Frodo and fellow hobbit, the faithful, good-humoured Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) embark on an escape, without knowing anything much of the details of their journey onward. Yet with a mental road map of where to go next and one thing in mind: don’t let Sauron get possession of the ring.

Keep away from the roads, says Gandalf. Frodo will take the country. The Ringwraiths, dark and foreboding, who succumbed to evil but were once men, are tracking Frodo down on horseback and the danger makes for action, suspense and excitement.

Writer and director Peter Jackson doesn’t make it look easy for the hobbits. Even so there are some things that require one to suspend disbelief.

The film may get one thinking about the deeper meaning.

Like when Arwen (Liv Tyler) appears “out of nowhere” to assist Frodo, I thought that’s hard to believe because Frodo should have died. But thinking about it more, Arwen helps Frodo despite the dark or sinful influences, the “poison”.

The outcomes of Gandalf’s hopeless plight on a tower in Mordor will also make you think twice, in unbelief, but also awe.

The powerful scene of Gandalf trying to escape the demonic clutches of Sauron’s right-hand man Saruman (a deeply resonant Christopher Lee) leads up to it.

The middle breaks at Rivendale for the introduction of the fellowship of the ring, where representatives of the tribes of Middle Earth meet and join Frodo on his quest to eliminate the ring.

At Rivendale, there is time to explore, in this very long movie at almost three hours, the characters. Not necessarily a bad thing in slowing down the action, as the moments with the characters are rich, but may be aloof nevertheless.

I think The Fellowship of the Ring is better when it moves along with the action and creates meaning out of those actions, out of miracles, daring escapes, and facing conflict and evil.

The Fellowship of the Ring gets better and keeps on getting better, making this a vivid, panoramic tale where it is indeed a perilous undertaking to journey Middle Earth to save it.


The end of this episode

In the novelization of Return of the Jedi, the Empire’s end felt a little underwhelming as if it should have felt more resonate, more grave, more underlined. But the next trilogy of books, the Aftermath, carry on the Empire’s story. I suppose someone thought like I did. Something’s a little amiss in the delivery and the end of the Empire needs a better send off.

Apparently, in terms of story (rather than tone or feel) there were loose ends to the Empire’s end that needed to be done up. That wasn’t apparent in the book version of Return of the Jedi. In the book there is no moment allowing for the possibility of a sequel. There is not a moment in Return of the Jedi that sets up the Aftermath trilogy. However, we were given a sketch of what has happened following Return of the Jedi in the marketing of Aftermath and I guess fans have speculated on it for a long time before.

So I’m getting around to seriously read Aftermath soon. In the meantime, I think back to what I liked about the final chapters of Return of the Jedi. Again there is sentiment which I felt was overdone when Luke’s father is dying and he tastes Luke’s tears and is pleased by them. But what I liked is that the battle scenes at the end of Return of the Jedi is exciting and Luke and Vader’s confrontation echoes. But, as I said earlier, that in the novel of Return of the Jedi, the gravitas is missing at the end, but the Empire’s end deserved a tone of gravitas because the Empire’s end is profound. However, the tone of the Empire’s end has been left to the Aftermath trilogy.

Swells to a drama that is riveting

A Passage to India (1984) ***** Starring: Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft. Director: David Lean.

A Passage to India is a fine film. One becomes immersed in the grand sweep. One surrenders to it and hopes it doesn’t become spoiled by some off-putting scene that ruined the lot. The characters, their lives in the old British India, the roles the actors play, and the handsome production swells to a drama that is riveting.

Central to it is young British woman Adela (Judy Davis) who is meeting up with her fiancé in India, who is a magistrate. Along with Adela is his mother Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft). Adela is caught up in the romanticism of the country and is keen to discover more—details like this are so natural and true to life that one can immediately relate.

The Indian country is keenly observed and wanting to be discovered by Westerners. Adela and Mrs. Moore are immensely involved in the search. They are not proud that they are English and don’t look down on the locals. They don’t consider their privileged place in India because of her son being a magistrate as much to be boasted about.

The young woman is distraught, though, when she claims rape by an Indian guide, in a moment that seems uncertain and vague. The guide, Aziz (Victor Banerjee), who is a respected doctor, has the Indian people behind him who are upset by the claims.

East and West meet romantically, but also comes with a hefty dose of realism where East and West clash–the doctor is caught up in a scandal and controversy erupts, casting a blight on the British. The result of the scandal is grief and soul searching with a more abstract issue to consider, but also quite real: forgiveness.

A holiday which turned dramatic and where no one wanted it to. The larger meaning is the relationship between England and colonial India. The human meaning is underlying prejudice and fear of the unknown.

A Passage to India is based on the E.M. Forster novel of the same name, which was published in 1924 during the days of colonial England. The film is beautiful and grand, wonderfully acted, and larger than life-like characters engage vividly and vitally. It is especially recommended for thoughtful audiences and fine film aficionados.

More sentimental than the book

Sentiment appears to be easier at the movies: just add music to intimate material

In Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker is about to reveal a family secret to Princess Leia. This is a warm hearted family scene, a scene of family connection. It is naturally warm and sentimental scene.

The scene couldn’t have a tone of gravitas. That would be too grave. There was no other way to tackle this warm hearted family scene.

Can the sense of breadth of warmth and sentiment that’s in the movie be in the book?

I did get the sense in the book of family connection, which is the point of the scene, but not up to the same level of emotional tone that’s in the movie.

Books and movies do the same content of the same scene quite differently.

Too much

This was too much in the final analysis, when it goes too far and too strange. Let me set the picture.

I’ve been reading a scene from the novelization of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi that works as a transition to the next phase of the story. It’s important for setting up what follows.

In the movie it is a very sentimental scene as the rebels try and convince the natives to join them on their mission. The scene is also about Luke Skywalker walking into his destiny, to face the villain, not that he’s there yet, but it’s coming.

The book is longer in describing how the rebels try and persuade the natives (The furry ‘ewoks’) to come on board, but this detail is not in the movie, an appeal to the natural environment of the ewoks. If it was included in the original screenplay I can imagine why they decided to leave it out of the movie. I found it almost laughable. Too much. I like trees, but Princess Leia telling the ewoks, do it for the trees, was the last straw.


Keeps one off-kilter

Frantz (2016) **** Starring: Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stotzner, Marie Gruber. Director: Francois Ozon. Loosely adapted from the film Broken Lullaby (1932).

Frantz is not a straightforward film, from beginning to end, one is more off-balance at the end than how it started. The premise is instantly off-balancing, but the progression of the story more so.

Paula Beer is subtly magnetic as Anna, a grieving fiancé who is taken by the mysterious stranger to her fiancé’s grave. One does not know why he is placing flowers on Frantz’s grave, but when Anna invites him back home, his story is so plausible that Anna’s in-laws are given some catharsis over the death of their son.

But is he telling the truth? Adrien’s body language and sometimes evasiveness may give him away although he works himself into their hearts—with Anna’s heart the most receptive.

This refreshingly good black and white, sometimes colourised film from France is essentially about finding forgiveness post-World War I, but keeps one subtly off-kilter, like the characters in the story.

The off-kilter effect infuses the theme of the consequences of guilt and what it does to people.

Edouard Manet’s painting Le Suicide, which depicts suicide, is referenced in the film, quite uncomfortably in a sense, but also thoughtfully in the resolution, which doesn’t appear to condone suicide.

Frantz may put some off because it is by nature not straight forward and is disorientating. But the dramatic tension builds, and the performances are memorable.


That special one

I’ve been musing on what Star Wars film I like best, while reading the original trilogy based on the films. This is not a review of any particular film or book in the Star Wars lexicon. I still rate them the same. But I wondered, on reading Return of the Jedi, which was better? The Empire Strikes Back was a better story. But there’s something special about the original, A New Hope. It seemed everything else in Star Wars was supplementary and not even necessary compared to the first one. For years I thought The Empire Strikes Back was the best one. But although it’s very good, it has that supplementary or add-on feel to the original. Star Wars A New Hope is, for me, that special film and story, the one that no one needed to add to.

Rubbing off in New York

Revised from the original published at Entertainmentnutz, 2004. 13 Going On 30 (2004) ***½ Starring: Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Kathy Baker, Phil Reeves, Andy Serkis. Director: Gary Winick. Warnings: some sexual content and brief drug references and some coarse language and one profanity.

Though it’s quite good, the problem with 13 Going on 30 is that it doesn’t quite get it right. By the end, one may be uncommitted to believing it could have happened. Movies are illusions, but making them believable is one of the tricks, leaving us with that satisfied feeling by the end. However, 13 Going on 30 is a sweet, good-natured fantasy comedy.

Shows what teens will do to be popular, but what if that wish came true? It is seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl in a 30-year-old body. Jenna Rink, the girl, is awkward, gawky, but innocent and sweet, she wishes to be the popular girl and she gets her wish with the help of some magical dust.

She is transformed into a thirty-year old who is cool, successful and popular. Yet her 13-year-old-self remains intact with its unworldly lack of sophistication, making her life in New York as a successful magazine editor difficult.

The beauty of her new life, is that the characteristics of her 13-year-old self are still present. Her sincerity, lack of worldliness, and spontaneity rubs off in New York, though mostly everyone else is playing by the world’s rules.

Thematically, seems to be saying that if you’re a nice girl it’s better to be yourself than selling yourself out.

Her first love Matt has moved on, but Jenna doesn’t know that. She comes knocking at his door, wanting someone in her new reality to connect with that she knows.

Mark Ruffalo as Matt works a charm. Matt’s a friendly, down-to-earth friend in her time of need, who comes on board though they haven’t been friends for years.

Jennifer Garner, as the older Jenna, extends her range convincingly from butch chick (in Alias and Daredevil) to naïve 30-something. One may even expect a Golden Globe nomination for comedy actress next year.

Support includes Andy Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings) as Jenna’s boss and Judy Greer who plays Jenna’s friend and co-worker.

The soundtrack is like a best of 80s collection and it’s a coup to have Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield.

Though the leap from girl to woman feels at times confusing, and the premise does not fully ignite, 13 Going on 30 is still worthwhile, endearing, human, and involving.


A brisk read

I like film-book tie-ins and linger over them like an adoring puppy. Or in other words, they are one of my favorite type of books. So revisiting the film-book tie in  The Empire Strikes Back was easy. It’s a brisk read like the pace of the movie. It doesn’t linger long on scenes. The longest are the action sequences which are very well written, probably the best writing in the book. With the memory of the movie, it probably makes a better experience as a novel. However, some scenes which take liberty with what’s actually there in the movie are jarring and unconvincing like some moments on the planet Dagobah where Luke is in training with a Jedi master. All in all it’s a novel suitable for young adult audiences that’s entertaining and engaging, especially for Star Wars aficionados, young and old.

What the future could hold and what it means for humanity and artificial intelligence

Revised from the original published at Entertainmentnutz, 2001. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) **** Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Warnings: Disturbing thematic elements, violent content, and sex-related material.

All quite speculative is A.I., but artificial intelligence is coming to a world near you or your great grandchildren’s. Would it look more like Terminator or A.I.? The question it poses is what does it mean to be artificial and human in a real world?

In the future, some parents have artificially intelligent children because it’s better economics than having your own children in a world where climate change has decimated many cities of the earth. A couple who have lost their natural-born child are given David (Haley Joel Osment), an A.I. who can love. Mother wants something from David that he’s programmed to give: love. The problem is David wants to be loved unconditionally as well, but mother is put off by this unreal, artificial “life form”.

David’s human need for love is frustrated and he hopes the “Blue Fairy” (a character in the book Pinocchio) will grant him his wish of being a real boy so mother will love him unconditionally. It takes him on a journey through the new earth to find what he’s looking for, along with his robotic teddy bear and another artificial intelligence programmed to be a gigolo.

The problems with artificial intelligence are apparent in A.I. Some are made too closely to human likeness, but people can’t reciprocate the A.I.’s need for love. After all, they are still artificial and unlovable because they are robotic. Real humans may not relate to them.

As an aside: How does referring to the Creator who made us change or reinforce perceptions of humans creating other forms of life? Is artificial intelligence made in man’s image and not God’s image? Are A.I.’s valid forms of life if not made in God’s image? Can God meet their needs like God can meet a human’s need?

The movie shows that the needs of artificial intelligence can possibly be supported. So, A.I. is hopeful that their needs can be met. A satisfied artificial intelligence is like a satisfied human being. Both have needs that should be met to function in the world and the future world, together. There are other speculative elements to the future world with the emergence of alien life forms settling on earth.

A.I. is quieter and more clinical than most of Steven Spielberg’s films. The cold first half has those disturbing themes the censor’s note told you about—themes like a creepy brother, and boys being cruel to someone different. That someone different is David.

However, in the second half, it is better to go through life with someone kind by your side. The critics didn’t like how the film is split in two, between cold and warm, between cerebral and ‘fairy tale’.

However, it manages to get across well what it’s about, it is an important film about what the future could hold and what it means for humanity and artificial intelligence. it is a film of resplendent cinematography, production design, and visual effects, but also some quietly effective performances, those being Haley Joel Osment, Frances O’Connor and Jude Law, who don’t come on always strong, but are conveying vulnerability. The robotic teddy is a nice, congenial companion.