Friday, January 31, 2014

Two Sentence Movie Reviews January 2014

I suppose it's about time for another round of two sentence movie reviews - the game where I review movies I've seen recent(ish)ly and give my summarized opinion of them. The past couple months have been pretty good as far as films go for me. So, with that said, enjoy!

Thor 2: The Dark World
I did like this movie, but I thought that Thor was in it way to much. It would have been better if it had been called Loki. 31/2 gods of mischief out of 5

Hobbit Smaug Poster
I'd been waiting for this movie all year - the dwarves, King Thranduil, THAT DRAGON! As a die hard fan I had high expectations and Peter Jackson (for the most part) did not disappoint me. 4 1/2 party elks out of 5

A Christmas Story
This was one of the weirdest movies I have ever seen in my life, and I'm really not sure exactly what I thought of it. There's a part of me that thought it was pretty funny, and another part of me that kept watching the screen in a horrified trance wondering what on earth was going on. 2 1/2 red rider bb guns out of 5????

I think it's a testament to the power and strength of this movie that I literally (and I mean literally figuratively) have not stopped singing the songs since I first saw it. This film had such a good plot and great characters and a wonderful message that I can't even... 5 icicles out of 5

Spirited Away
My Christmas gift to myself was just as good as I remember it being, even if no one else in my family thinks so (what do they know). Powerful storytelling from one of my favorite directors/ screenwriters/ artists. 4 & 9/10 soot sprites out of 5 

Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger
Another strange an quirky Christmas movie from jolly old England. I'm not sure whether it was David Tennant, the adorable children, the 'A Dickens Christmas' song, or the English accents, but even though this was one of the strangest movies I've ever seen, I loved it. 4 ridiculous Christmas songs out of 5

The Day of the Doctor
Even though season 7 didn't live up to my expectations, the 50th anniversary did not disappoint. The show got a new direction and David Tennant got to be the Doctor again - I loved it. 4 awkward 'moments' (see what I did there) out of 5.

I'm usually all for campy effects, ridiculous plot lines, and bad acting, but this cult classic was missing something for me. It just didn't have the same punch as The Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal or The Neverending Story, I could go on. 3 marshmallow puff men out of 5. 

From the director of your childhood favorite The Lion King comes this bloody Shakespeare tragedy based on Ovid. It was so ridiculously brutal and sadistic that I was traumatized - but I loved it. *Warning* I know that it's Shakespeare, but it's early Shakespeare and it's super R rated for just about everything you can think of. There's murder and mutilation and sex and rape and incest (??) and everything. It's great (and I don't say that lightly given everything else), but watch at your own discretion. 4 bloody stumps out of 5.

The Taming of the Shrew
Was it misogynistic? - That's open for debate. Was I laughing almost the entire time? - Yes, yes I was. 4 shrill screeches out of 5.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Against the Purists: The Desolation of Smaug

     So, it's been a while since The Desolation of Smaug came out, and it seems to me that it's been a bit of a polarizing film. People I know who've seen it either loved it or hated it. Of the people I know who hated it almost all of them are die-hard book fans - Tolkien purists. So, seeing as how The Hobbit is one of my top two favorite books of all time, I thought I'd defend the new movie from the rabid purists. I really do love The Hobbit. I've read it nearly twenty times, so it's not like I'm only sort of familiar with the story. I quote this book, man. In addition to The Hobbit, I've also read The Lord of the Rings multiple times and I own nearly every work Tolkien ever wrote (and I've read most of them too). If there is a club for die-hard Tolkien fans I think I should be allowed to be a member. And yet, I still loved the movie. How on earth could I do that seeing as how Peter Jackson changed almost everything (I say almost everything, but that's not quite true. Almost every line from the book is used in the movie, and it's still amazingly different from it's source material).

    If you are a purist the first important thing to keep in mind when watching the new movies is that they will not be like the book. If it were, it would actually be a terrible movie. The book's plot structure is more episodic than it is streamlined. If this were a mini series you would probably be able to follow the events in the book pretty closely, but in a movie you have to make each installment able to stand on its own. Each installment must be able to stand on it's own as a story, but still be able to connect to the other films. This is incredibly difficult to achieve, and Jackson had to add some things in to make it work. Having Orcs chase the Dwarves literally pushes the plot forward. It also makes the threat of the Necromancer more urgent. The Necromancer is not in the book, but his being driven from Mirkwood by the White Council is concurrent with the events in The Hobbit. Purists may understand that the Necromancer needed to be taken care of, but viewers who haven't seen the books need a more obvious reason. If the Necromancer is sending orcs to chase our heroes, you bet Gandalf needs to take him down. I think once purists get over the fact that things happen in the movie that don't happen in the Tolkienverse, it's pretty easy to see that some of the changes were necessitated.

     In fact, one of the changes that Jackson made I believed actually made the story better. At the beginning of the first installment Bilbo tells the story of the fall of Erebor. The tale has a very Medieval feel to it. Sure the Dragon came and ruined everything, but he came in response to a sickness that had grown in the heart of Erebor's king - Greed. Dragons themselves are mythological symbols of Greed, so the story of The Hobbit in many ways is the tale of the destructive power of greed. This is all in the source material, but I thought that Jackson did a better job of bringing this element out. Thorin inherits his grandfather's sickness, and we see it start to poison him in The Desolation of Smaug. Some of the liberties that Jackson takes allow him to more fully develop some of the themes of the source material.

    Now, that doesn't mean that I agree with all of the changes. I didn't mind Legolas being included (and in fact I thought his presence added a lot), but Tauriel drove me insane. It might have been fine to include an OC (original character), but I didn't like the way that she was used to inject unnecessary romantic tension. Because never, ever, ever, ever, ever *spoiler* ever, ever, ever, ever EVER would there ever be a romantic relationship between an elf and a dwarf... ever. There are canon reasons for this. First of all, elves are the true children of Eru and the Dwarves are adopted. The elves hold themselves as being inherently better because of this. Tension right there. Second of all, Tauriel is a Sindar elf, and Sindar elves hated dwarves, because dwarves literally burned down their great kingdom in Doriath and murdered Thingol, one of the greatest elves ever, and the Sindar king. Sindar elves hated dwarves. The whole Legolas and Gimli friendship was a big freakin' deal. Third of all, Kili would have grown up his whole life thinking that elves were gross because they didn't help his great-grandfather Thror. So the whole Kili/Tauriel thing was a load of crap. *Spoiler* However, this was a minor aspect of the movie and shouldn't have ruined it for people.
     There were plenty of reasons to enjoy the latest Hobbit installment, and many things that Peter Jackson did a fantastic job with. Bard the Bowman was a great character. He and his family added a bit of a human element that was missing. And please, can we talk about that dragon? That was literally one of the best dragons I have ever seen in a movie. No, I take it back. That was THE best dragon that has ever graced the silver screen. Smaug was beautifully animated. Every scene that he was in was simply stunning, and his voice work was magnificent. The dragon alone is enough to atone for everything that may or may not be wrong with that movie. The barrel scene was a lot of fun. They added Beorn. How many other film makers would have included Beorn? Also Beorn was awesome. They added things from the appendices. Movie goers have the opportunity to see how the events of The Hobbit influence The Lord of the Rings aside from just the finding of the Ring. It's an important tie-in that most directors would leave out.

     Peter Jackson took on an incredibly difficult task when he decided to make The Hobbit. He was, in essence, working backwards. The Lord of the Rings trilogy are unquestionably fantastic movies. They are also epics, and they were made first. Jackson, then had to take The Hobbit, a children's book, and try and make it fit with the epic scope of the trilogy without making it not The Hobbit. It's not easy, and he does mess up sometimes. Ultimately, however, I think the purists should be thankful. At the end of the day one our favorite books is getting made into a movie by someone who loves the book as much as we do. He's careful to try and make it accessible to those who haven't read any Tolkien, while putting in content and references that should excite old fans. Are there some things I would do differently if I were making the movies? Absolutley - but that's the thing. I'm not making the movies. Purists need to understand that Peter Jackson's Hobbit is an adaptation. It's not like Tolkien himself is making the movies (if he were they would never get done), they're made by a fan. So, don't go in expecting the version of The Hobbit that you had in your head, because that's not what you're going to get. Instead, go in expecting what is essentially a big budget fan-tribute. I don't think that lessens the value of the movie, in fact I think it raises it. In the end, these movies were made by people like us, people that love these books and are doing their best to bring to a wider audience.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Movie Recommendation: Whisper of the Heart

     I had an idea for a new series of posts: Movie and book recommendations! It's as straightforward as it sounds. I pick a book or movie that I really like and recommend it to the world (explaining why, of course I recommend it, and giving all the necessary cautions). Anyways, enough of this introductory nonsense - to the post!

     Alright, so I think it's official. Whisper of the Heart is my absolute favorite movie ever in the whole entire world. I want everyone to understand that this was not a light decision. I've literally been considering whether or not to declare this movie as my favorite for a long time (it's a big deal ok?). It is one of the best stories I have ever encountered. For those of you not familiar with it, Whisper of the Heart is an anime movie produced by Studio Ghibli (a Japanese film-making company that partners with Disney). It follows a middle school girl named Shizuku as she tries to discover both who she is and what she wants to do with her life. Shizuku lives a simple life, dominated by her love for stories and writing. One day she notices that all the library books she has have been previously checked out by the same person: 'Seiji Amasawa'. Curious as to who he is, Shizuku meets a boy her age whom she finds infuriating, but discovers to her shock that he is her 'Prince of Books'. As she grows closer to him, she realises that he merely read all those books to bring himself closer to her. The boy Seiji aspires to be a violin maker in Italy, and it is his dreams that make Shizuku realise that she has no clear path for her life. Knowing that her strength lies in writing, she tests her talents by writing a story about Baron, a cat statuette belonging to Seiji's grandfather. 

     The Ghibli movies are starting to gain recognition in America, but they're still not what I would call 'mainstream'. This is a pity because they're collectively some of the best movies I have ever seen. But for me Whisper of the Heart stands out as the best (most people like Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke the best, which is fine, but most people haven't actually seen this one). Now, let me tell you why I love this movie, and why you should watch it.

     It’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I love the characters and the way that it looks, but mostly I love what it teaches. It teaches that the people you love should make you want to grow, to be a better person. It teaches that they should not only support you, but you should also support them. It encourages you to explore, to take risks to discover not only who you are but also who you’re capable of becoming. And, most importantly, it shows that it’s not enough just to want something - you have to put in effort to see what you have inside of you, and, once you find what you have, to not expect it to be perfect on the first go. Instead you have to polish and refine it. It’s not just a beautiful love story, it’s a story about hard work and self-discovery, a story encouraging viewers to be as braze as Shizuku and Seji (the boy playing the violin), to improve both for the ones you love and for yourself. 

     As both a writer and an academic this hit home particularly well. Sure the characters in the story are middle schoolers, but I (and most people I know) share in their doubts and struggles. The whole 'what if I'm not good enough,' 'I don't know what I want to do,' 'if I did know, how do I know if I could do it?' struggles that most people deal with are central to the movie's plot. It answers all those doubts and fears in a very realistic and encouraging way. The whole point is not that you can do whatever you set your mind to, but that how do you know until you try? Sometimes you can't do what you want. Sometimes you're not good enough. Sometimes you have potential, and if you have potential it's important for you to do everything you can to help it grow, to refine potential into skill, to become better. It won't be easy, but the things that are most important never are. I think we need more stories like that.

I recommend this movie for all human beings everywhere. The only slightly objectionable content occurs when Shizuku's older sister is speaking with Shizuku and is about to take a shower. We briefly see her in her bra, but the scene is not meant to be sexual, and it's a very modest bra. Other than that it's 100% safe. Another thing to note, this is a Japanese movie that takes place in Japan. It may be a little hard for Western viewers to understand everything since it takes a lot of cultural things for granted. This movie follows a western plotline pretty well, and the cultural differences shouldn't be too distracting (I say this because people in my own family were initially turned off because it wasn't what they expected). I would, however, suggest watching it in Japanese. There is an English dub, and it's a good dub, the only thing is that this movie takes place in Japan and there are several plot points that make more sense if you watch it in the original language (Shizuku is working on translating the song Country Roads by John Denver from English to Japanese). Also, the English dub slightly changes the end, and I understand why they did it, but I didn't feel like the change was faithful to the themes that the film draws out. If you've never seen a Studio Ghibli film before this is a good place to start, and if you have, it's one of their best ones. So go, take this recommendation and follow it. You're welcome.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Journey of the Magi


The Journey of the Magi

     A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

     Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

      All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

— T.S. Eliot

This is one of my absolute favorite poems. Happy 12th Night and Happy Epiphany! 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Theological Musing

     This may be a stupid thing to post about, but I’ve noticed more and more recently that people refer to Adam and Eve’s innocence in the garden as mere naivety. They use phrases like ‘before Adam and Eve knew right from wrong,’ or ‘when Adam and Eve sinned they learned the difference between good and evil.’ This is simply not true. Adam and Eve already knew the difference between right and wrong, between good and evil. Good was acting in obedience to God’s commands, evil was disobeying Him. What they lacked was an experiential knowledge of good and evil. That’s why God placed the tree in the garden. Even if Adam and Eve had not fallen into sin they still would have gained the knowledge of good and evil, but it would have been a victory for them and not a defeat. If they really didn’t know the difference between the two then there was no sin and they were unjustly punished. The point is that Adam and Eve did know the difference between right and wrong. Their sin was intentional and deliberate and they failed the test God had placed for them. They gained an experiential knowledge of good and evil, but they gained in the defeat of sin.

Thank you for your time.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Frozen Review

I saw this movie a couple days ago and thought I'd post a review on it!

     Princess Elsa has wonderful, mysterious ice powers... that she can't control. After hurting her little sister Anna she cuts herself off from most human contact. Anna grows up lonely and sad that she and her sister are not as close as they once were. Eventually Else becomes the Queen of Arendelle , but her amazing powers soon get the better of her and cause trouble for everyone. Anna has to step up to save both her people and her sister. 

Spiritual Content: 10/10
     There wasn't much in the way of spiritual content, just some typical Disney magic. There was a Bishop that presided over Queen Elsa's coronation.

Violence: 10/10
     There wasn't really much in the way of violence. Some cartoony stuff. Nothing disturbing though.

Sexual Content: 10/10
     None. *SPOILER WARNING* Anna and Kristoff kiss at the end *SPOILER WARNING* 

Plot: 8.5/10
     I loved the story. It was a great re-imagining of Han's Christian Anderson's original story. It played a bit with the traditional fairy tale themes of true love and the role of fair tail heroines, but it was blissfully free of the trend to re-interpret fairy tails in a feminist light. Anna and Elsa were strong female characters without losing their own femininity or emasculating the men around them. I really appreciated that on the storyteller's part. It showed that they actually cared about the story more than any modern ideology. In the end, it was a fairy tail, and true love won (I don't think that counts as a spoiler... this is Disney after all), but not in the way you would normally expect (and it worked in terms of the narrative as well). *SPOILER WARING* The only part of the narrative I didn't think worked well was that whole think with the trolls and the ice in Anna's head. Why did changing her memories fix anything? That whole thing was too important to the rising action of the story to be left unexplained *SPOILER WARNING* Other than that I thought that the story elements of Frozen were expertly executed. 

Character: 9/10
     The character of Anna was very well developed. I thought she was great. She was the Disney princess that I've been wanting my whole life. If I were a princess I would be a less bubly version of Anna. 'Oh look how cool and beautiful I am' *Trips and falls* Yeah, she's pretty much perfect. Elsa wasn't developed so much in dialogue as she was in song, but you still got a pretty good sense of her character too. Olaf was adorable. Kristoff and Sven were great, but I wish they'd been give more of a back story (it's implied and described a little bit, but there was more that could have been done, plus also I loved them. Could this movie have just been about them please?). Han's was pretty well developed. Also, the trolls, I have no idea what was going on with those Trolls.  

Theme: 10/10
     Frozen carried the classic fairy tail there - true love conquers all. I love this theme. It's wonderful and true in the most beautiful biblical sense. The love of God conquered death on a cross, and an act of true love save the day in Frozen as well. *SPOILERS* However, Frozen's saving act is unlike your typical fairy tail. This story is not so much about eros as is is about philos, or however that word translates when applied to sisters. There is romantic love in the story, but that love is not central. This story isn't so much about saving the kingdom of Arendelle as it is about saving it's Queen. Anna and Elsa love one another, and it is a familial act of true love that saves the day. Romantic love is important too. Kristoff certainly loved Anna, and it's implied that his kiss would have saved her, but in the end it is Anna's act of self-sacrifice for Elsa that breaks the spell. It's a different take on the power of true love, but one which I think is desperately needed in this world where familial relationships are just as shattered as romantic ones.*SPOILERS* I loved the direction that this movie took; it kept the old tried and true fairy tail theme, but reinterpreted it in a different, but just as important way. There was also a kind of sub-theme that explored the importance of duty and obligation both to family and to country that was really well executed (as it turns out, you can't just drop all obligations to everyone. There is no such thing as an unattached individual. Everyone owes something to others).

Overall Conclusion: 9/10
    This was a wonderful movie, one of the best I've seen all year. The music was stunning (the fact that Idina Menzell played Elsa probably played a part in that). The story was wonderful. There was a bit of a gap in the narrative, and some strangeness in some of the characters, but it didn't detract too terribly from the overall story and message. I recommend this movie for everyone. Even my brother who hates musicals on principle and has outgrown Disney (I mean really, how do you outgrow Disney?) enjoyed this movie. I've been singing the songs non-stop. This, this is what I want from a movie - something beautiful, entertaining, with a good story, and a timeless message. Frozen delivers on all accounts.