Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Monday, December 23, 2013

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

I haven't blogged, for me at least, in a while.  There are a few reasons.  One, since Thanksgiving, other than a movie review or two, I've been taking a break.  I've also taken a step back and have watched very little news, occasionally only checking the occasional wild meme or seeing who posts the Daily Currant, The Onion, or some other satire site as real news.  I've stayed away from the political sites and the incessant talk on the "War on Christmas" and "Obamacare."

 Instead, I've been watching reruns of The Supernatural, Bones and Castle.  I've been watching things like Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, A Christmas Carol, and Holiday Inn. 

Oh sure, I've followed with only amused interest Phil Robertson and the controversy even taking time to actually read the interview he is in trouble for.  My opinion, he is an old Southern white male raised in the Deep South in the pre-civil rights era, and I am not at all surprised by his attitude, which in the interview goes far beyond quoting the Bible. He is exercising his first amendment right, something those of you announcing we should never say "Happy Holidays" may want to remember.  A&E is exercising its corporate rights as well. No one said freedom of speech is without consequences. Finally, in regards to all the memes invoking Miley Cyrus in the same breath as Phil, Miley has nothing to do with it. She has no show to be suspended from and no good reputation to redeem. It is much ado about nothing and like Honey Booboo bound to end badly.

And you know what? The world has not ended.

No, instead, since the lighting of my Christmas tree and decorations, I've been remembering a time that may have never actually existed, but it is nice to think it did.  I am remembering a time when we didn't know so much about the people on TV nor did we want to.  I am remembering a time when the Grinch had his heart enlarged while the voice of Tony the Tiger sang "You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch" and Boris Karloff narrated the story, and that was a good thing. I am remembering a time when Charlie Brown hung a single ornament on a sickly tree as Linus quoted from the New Testament Luke.  I am remembering a time when people read O. Henry's story "The Gift of the Magi" and a gruff newspaper man named Francis Pharcellus Church wrote the immortal lines "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

Is it all a bit Pollyanna? Perhaps.  Sometime in the next couple of days, I will watch George C. Scott in A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life. On Christmas Eve, I will have dinner with my family, go to the Candle Light Service and spend a few moments alone at home videoing this year's Christmas decorations. After the service, I will sit with my wife and various family members and watch, as we have for the past several years, White Christmas.  On Christmas morning, we will gather and open gifts, and I will miss not having small children who we must stuff back in bed at 4 AM because Santa has arrived.

So, here it is. No matter what celebration you follow at this time of year, I hope that you too have some special  memories and moments you share and remember.  I hope you "have yourself a merry little Christmas."

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Dragon, a Hobbit and A Dwarf Walk into A Cave: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is the second in the trilogy of movies based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit or There and Back Again, which was originally considered more of a children's story than its adult brother Lord of the Rings.  I am not an absolute purist when it comes to film adaptations.  I got over that phase of my life.  I came to terms with the idea that Peter Jackson was including appendices materials into his adaptation, to actually make three movies out of the book.  That said, what Jackson has done is not strictly speaking adding parallel stories from the appendices, but also he has begun to mess with the original storyline in ways that were never in the books.

There was a joke on the internet that after the completion of the third movie a special edition editing out all things not in original Hobbit will be released.  It will be two hours long. The second installment is actually eight minutes shorter than its first installment, which many critics complained about as being to "talky" and not having enough action. Well, part 2 has plenty of action and a lot less dialog.  It also leaves the plot several places.  It is interesting, and I enjoyed the movie, but this is not The Hobbit we first read.

To be fair, Jackson clearly wants to take the children's story and make it more along the lines of The Lord of the Rings. I still recall when LOTR came out someone asked Jackson about doing The Hobbit and his response was why would they do the children's story when he had done Rings? The answer was apparently money and the right to take the innocence and humor of the original story and place it on the level of his Lord of the Rings.  I do miss the dichotomy of the two different stories so the question is did Jackson go too far?

Smaug is awesome. The fight sequences are fun and exciting.  It is an easy movie to enjoy and watch.  You don't feel the need to check your watch.  Still, it seems to me to be missing something.  The sets are as always stunning as are the effects.  The acting, as always, is believable.  Perhaps, now five films at 2hours and 45 minutes on average we've become too familiar to the wondrous and magical world created from Jackson's native New Zealand.  The magic has worn off, but to me it's more than this.

Don't get me wrong, I liked the movie a lot.  The added material from the appendices answers questions like where does Gandalf go when he just disappears for chapters at a time in the novel and how are the characters from The Hobbit related to those in the LOTR story? Some things though are just out of place.


Jackson's desire to include actors and character from the first trilogy exceeds his grasp.  It's not the council of the White that appears in Unexpected Journey, which is an appendices story; it is the developing love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel, and Fili.  As riveting as the chase of the Dwarves by Orcs is, it really is out of place in the movie and is purely a creation of Jackson and not Tolkien.  The triangle detracts from the character of the Wood Elf King, Thranduil who is an important player in the book.  The three Dwarves staying behind in Lake Town to help the wounded Fili while the rest of the party go on to Lonely Mountain-also not a part of the book- is out of character for all of them, even Fili. The arrival and attack of Orcs in Lake Town and then Legolas and the Jackson created character Tauriel seems out of place.  The battle is fun and exciting, but as a subplot really serves no purpose, except so that Orlando Bloom's Legolas gets more screen time, and the audience gets more of evil Orcs and fantastic battling Elves.

The other issue I have is a small one in terms of plot, but an important one in terms of character and the universal theme of becoming a hero. In the novel, Bilbo's greatest battle is with himself in the tunnels of Lonely Mountain before he first faces Smaug the dragon.  He must find his courage to face the unknown danger for in that moment, he is truly alone. In the movie, however, Gandalf turns to Bilbo and simply says he has changed.  Bilbo is tempted to tell the wizard of the ring he found, but instead he announces that in the goblin tunnels he found his courage.  It is hardly the defining moment in the book.  I had to wonder how Jackson who had so brilliantly captured Frodo's moment of decision to go alone, breaking the Fellowship,  could miss such a defining moment Bilbo's character.

Did I mention that Smaug is awesome? As an action captured CGI, just as Andy Serkis as Gollum before him, Benedict Cumberbatch breathes life into the mighty and egotistical worm.   While when Bilbo removes the ring so Smaug can see the burglar, I had to wonder why he didn't kill Bilbo then and there.  This was not something Bilbo did in the book, just in the movie.  I do get that Smaug is toying with Bilbo and that it sets up another sequence for a battle that did not occur in the book between the Dwarves and dragon.  Again it was an amazing sequence, just more Jackson than Tolkien.

While neither Hobbit film has measured up to the wonder and accuracy of The Lord of the Rings movies, the second is a good movie and easily holds the audience's attention.  With a few walk on characters like Stephen Colbert as a Lake Town spy and even Jackson in the opening sequence, the movie is a fun watch.  Perhaps I am being too much of a purist, since I know that people who have not read There and Back Again have no idea about the changes and additions Jackson has made, or perhaps it is the attempt to make a much lighter story into a much heavier equal that affects the movie, but overall, it is still worth the time and ticket.  And yes, please, more Beorn in the extended edition. I will buy the DVD.

Monday, December 9, 2013


Anna and Elsa are sisters.  Elsa has inherited her father's curse/gift to cause the world around her to become frozen.  Anna is normal like her mother.  Mom and Dad die. In order to protect the world and keep Elsa's secret, she is locked away, but it is eventually revealed. Elsa flees.  Anna sets off on a quest to bring back her sister with the loveable rogue, Kristoff and his reindeer and a snowman named Olaf, and then she intends to marry the charming Prince Hans.

During the course of the story, there will be fun and predictable turns, some songs and the classic Disney fairy tale ending. In other words, the Disney formula of princess on a quest with a lovable scalawag and an unusual side-kick is alive and well. What is more, it still gets us right where our heartstrings are.  Frozen is classic Disney "happy ending" storytelling with magic and music.

Anna, who is voiced by Kristen Bell, is a sweet and precocious character who we immediately care about. What is more, Kristen Bell can sing which is fortunate because she has to back her voice up to Tony award winner, Wicked's Wicked Witch Idina Menzel who voices her sister, the Queen, Elsa.  And no, Elsa is not evil, and I am not going to tell you who the bad guy is.  The story works even if it is formulaic, but, hey, that's what Disney animation does.  I did like the songs for this cartoon musical, something that has not been as strong in recent productions.

Olaf the snowman is like all other cute magical sidekicks who come with a risk.  It's the Scrappy Doo effect.  Olaf is clever, funny, has a great song, and works as well as any dopey creation ever worked.  Not only that, he gets to deliver one of the best lines in the story, "Some people are worth melting for."  The rock trolls is another fun group of characters who have a fun song and like Olaf, are not over-the-top.
There is definitely an eye on making sure that this cartoon too will be adaptable for the stage.  Overall, Frozen is fun, and entertaining.  The two elementary age boys I was with sat rapt by the music and story and so did the adults.  I didn't see it in 3D, but it is clearly animated with that in mind.  I think you'll like it, unless you have a frozen heart.

I will buy the DVD.