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Friday, December 13, 2013 02:12 PM
On the Viewer - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
 by FŽanor

I just saw the second Hobbit movie! I enjoyed it immensely. Gonna drop some spoilers on you below, but come on, the book is pretty old, people.

First of all, Martin Freeman is just fantastic as Bilbo. His performance is funny and subtle and deeply insightful. The Mirkwood sequence, though missing some of the neat details from the book, is still fantastic, with wonderful visualizations of the surreal enchantment on the place. The scene where Bilbo climbs the tree and looks out over the top of the forest was always a memorable one for me in the book, and they handled it well here. And the spiders! So creepy! So cool!

I also really enjoyed all the added scenes with the elves. The movie makes clear that there's a lot of history between the Elven King Thranduil (wonderfully embodied by Lee Pace) and Thorin's people - and lots of history between Thranduil and dragons. There's some fun foreshadowing of Legolas' relationship with Gimli, first in a silly scene between Legolas and Gloin, Gimli's father, but also in the unlikely relationship that springs up between Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and Kili (Aidan Turner). Tauriel's character is a wonderful addition to the story, and it's great to see the dwarves fleshed out as individuals. Ken Stott stands out as the wise and sadly knowing Balin, and I like the brotherly bond between Fili (Dean O'Gorman) and Kili.

Thranduil wants to protect his son and his people from danger and disgrace, but his solution to these problems is to simply lock all the doors and let the people outside fend for themselves - and to coldly tell Tauriel to stay away from his boy because she wouldn't be right for him. But Tauriel sees that there's a world outside that has its own beauty and wonder, and that it's in danger. And she draws Legolas out with her to protect it.

The fight that takes place as the dwarves float down the river in their barrels is ridiculously fun, impressive, and exciting, and is definitely the grand centerpiece of the film. Turns out Bombur is a bad-ass! Not to mention Legolas and Tauriel.

Stephen Fry has a fun little part as the scheming, power-hungry, self-important Master of Lake Town, and Luke Evans is great as Bard - a simple man with legendary origins who just wants to protect his people. I thought it was a little silly that they turned what was originally just an arrow that happened to be colored black into a secret dragon-killing harpoon called the "Black Arrow." But whatever, it works.

Gandalf's subplot is very exciting. He and Radagast investigate some old tombs and find them empty. Oh, and the tombs? There are nine of them. Dun dun DUN! Even more amazing, Gandalf walks into Dol Guldur alone and goes head-to-head with Sauron himself. This I had a bit of a problem with, as I feel like Gandalf would have acted differently during Lord of the Rings if he'd found out years before that the Nazgul were abroad, Sauron was rising, and he had actually personally fought Sauron. (I'm pretty sure in the books, Gandalf mentions at one point that he's never personally faced Sauron, but I could be remembering that wrong.) But it was so cool to see I think I'm generally okay with it.

I also really liked the foreshadowing of the terrible effect the ring will have on Bilbo. In one scene, he almost tells Gandalf about it, but then stops himself at the last moment. Then later, in Mirkwood, he viciously beats a monster to death in order to get the ring back, and then freaks out a little about what he's done. Did I mention that Freeman is fantastic?

Oh and hey, there's also a dragon in this movie. He's pretty great. Benedict Cumberbatch does a fine job on the voice. It was nice of Pete Jackson and friends to make the dwarves much braver and more selfless here than they were in the book, and have them actually have a go at fighting the dragon before he takes off to destroy Lake Town.

Really the only thing about the movie that I found disappointing was the sequence with Beorn. One of my favorite bits of the book is the way Gandalf kind of tricks Beorn into taking them all in. He and Bilbo show up first, and Beorn is cranky about it, but is okay with taking in a couple of people. Then Gandalf starts telling him all about their adventure, and as he does, more and more dwarves keep showing up in ones and twos, interrupting the story. Beorn puts up with it because he wants to hear the rest of the story, and by the time they've all got there, he feels like he has to take them in. It's a clever, funny scene and it's completely missing from the movie. There's also a lot of mystery around Beorn in the book and it's only very slowly that Bilbo works out that he's a skinchanger. In the movie, Gandalf blurts it out as soon as they meet him. And then before you know it, Beorn's gone. It seems like they could have spent a bit more time on recreating this scene as it was in the book, and less time adding in a bunch of crazy running around in Erebor that they made up out of whole cloth.

But I'm just being a cranky old Tolkien fan. Overall, I really enjoyed the movie, and I'm looking forward to the last one. It should be a doozie!
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), The Hobbit (Not), Tolkien (Not)
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Friday, December 6, 2013 09:14 PM
I made a dumb new game
 by FŽanor


Had an idea, threw it together. Might make it better some day. Click away!

I have another idea for a much more complex RPG that I'm finally returning to after some years. It will probably be some time until I have a version of that that's ready for play-testing, but it will need plenty, so you'll probably hear from me again then!
Tagged (?): Meta (Not), Video games (Not)
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Monday, November 18, 2013 10:44 PM
Remembrances of Futures Past
 by FŽanor

My brother and I grew up watching Doctor Who on NJN. It was definitely one of our favorite shows. This was back before DVRs and On Demand when the only way to catch a show was to be lucky enough to turn to the right channel at the right time. The Doctor seemed to appear at random times so it always felt like a wonderful stroke of luck to flip over to PBS and find the blue police box fading into view with that signature groaning sound, instead of Nova or a nature show. Science fiction adventure with monsters and robots and time travel and silliness? It was the greatest.

When they brought the show back in 2005, we were both pretty excited, although I think my brother more than me. He'd become the bigger fan for whatever reason. I tried to keep up with it, but what I saw didn't really blow me away, and I ended up spending my time on other things.

Then poppy got interested in the new show. We watched a few episodes together and soon we were hooked. We're maybe a quarter of the way through the second season now. We're watching it the way you watch shows here in the future - multiple episodes at a time, streaming on Netflix.

The other day poppy and I were talking about the show, trying to figure out what it is we like about it so much. Of course, there's great writing and great acting. David Tennant is tremendous and is probably my favorite of the modern Doctors. The effects are even pretty good, which is something you definitely could not say about the original show; it was made on a shoestring budget and it showed. The monsters, weapons, and sets were infamously lame. Even on the new show some of the computer effects leave something to be desired. But the physical objects they've crafted are amazing - like the clockwork robots with creepy human face masks, ticking gear-filled innards, and saws that flip out of their arms.

Still, none of that is what makes the show truly great. What makes it great is the Doctor. The Doctor, and the host of totally normal people who are always there to help him save the universe.

Even though, as poppy pointed out to me, the show is really more properly categorized as horror than sci fi (a fact I realized was true with some surprise), it is also extraordinarily optimistic, with a wonderfully positive view of humanity. As the Doctor himself says, in 900 years he's never met anyone who wasn't important, and the stories bear out that theme. There are no unimportant characters, and in fact some of the most important characters are the most ordinary, normal people you could imagine, who simply see what has to be done and step out from the background to do it, saving themselves and the Doctor too more often than not.

The Doctor is a man whose true name is a secret, but who's chosen to call himself a healer. That's very important. That's how he sees himself. He arrives in the midst of chaos and trouble and he fixes things. He is the champion of the common man, the protector of the innocent, a radical pacifist who destroyed a weapons factory and replaced it with banana trees, and who goes into battle with nothing but a fancy screwdriver.

But like some real doctors, he can be arrogant, and he can be accused of having a God complex. He sees himself as the ultimate moral arbiter, the judge, the jury, and sometimes even the executioner. This conflict between his self identity as a healer and savior and his occasional habit of murdering his enemies is one of the central themes of the new show.
We meet him at the beginning of the series as the lone survivor of a huge and apocalyptic war, a war which he personally ended by destroying both sides. He's become a man capable of doing terrible things in the name of peace. But then he meets a woman named Rose and for once, the healer himself is healed. She reminds him of the difference between right and wrong, reminds him that there are things worth dying for, but very few things worth killing for. At the end of the season, he's given the same choice again: end a war by slaughtering both sides, or let the bad guys win. Be a killer or a coward. This time, he makes the other choice. "A coward any day." It's a powerful moment. His growth and change is nicely underlined by the fact that after this choice, he literally becomes a different person.

Doctor Who is a show that has the courage to never back away from the hard questions, to never let its heroes off easy. When the Doctor decides to return a criminal to her homeworld to face justice, she points out that that "justice" will be a cruel death, and that he must take responsibility for it. In the end he manages to avoid killing her, even after she betrays him, and instead gives her a second chance at life, quite literally.

The Doctor is not a human being, but he loves humanity, and he and his stories are deeply human, deeply moving, and full of bittersweet wisdom.
Tagged (?): Doctor Who (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not)
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Saturday, November 16, 2013 05:14 PM
Voltron Power Ranger Rescue Bot Palooza
 by FŽanor

A while back I gave Griffin the old Vehicle Voltron that my brother and I shared. This is really an impressive toy. It's fifteen separate vehicles that can be assembled into three larger vehicles, or into one gigantic robot. My folks had kept it intact in their attic, in its original box, complete with original styrofoam insert, all these years. Needless to say, the box was soon wrecked. Griff kind of liked it, especially the cars it uses for feet, but in general it sat forgotten in the corner of his play room.

Then, just recently, Griffin discovered Power Rangers. I'd been thinking for a while that he'd probably like this show, as it involves a team of guys, each wearing his own bright primary color suit, who rescue people and fight monsters, and also ride in gigantic transforming robot animals. It's kind of totally his thing. He'd been watching it for a while when he started taking his Transformers Rescue Bots toys, stacking them on top of each other, and calling them Rescue Bot Voltron. I was surprised he even remembered Voltron, but I guess I'd mentioned it a few times in connection with Power Rangers. I've always thought of Power Rangers as a lame, live-action rip-off of the original, far superior Voltron (although to be honest, Voltron was pretty lame, too). Anyway, when I heard him say that, I couldn't help myself. I went down into the basement and brought up the bag that contained Lion Force Voltron. Yep, we had that one, too, and my folks also kept it intact in their attic. Well, Griffin's a pretty big fan. He played with it continuously for a couple of hours. "These lion Transformers are pretty cool!" was his comment.

Anyway, more later. I gotta get back to this episode of Power Rangers. Did you know the Power Rangers Samurai Megazord has different powers depending on his hat?
Tagged (?): Children (Not), Griffin (Not), Toys (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not)
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Monday, September 30, 2013 10:59 AM
Mr. X
 by FŽanor

Well hello there! Yes, I'm still alive. And we've got that second kid now. He's good. I like him.

All our attempts to schedule/plan anything about Griffin's birth were foiled. Nothing went as planned. This time, poppy scheduled a C-section, and although we had to wait much longer than we'd hoped for the operation to begin, and the thing itself took much longer than we remembered, it happened on the scheduled date, with no complications. We had a little scare about some weird thyroid levels, but that seems to have turned out to be a false alarm. Poppy's recovery has also been going a lot faster and smoother than the first time, although she's still certainly not 100%.

We're rediscovering how interesting life is with a newborn (oh right, they pee on everything with no warning! And crap out hazardous materials a dozen times a day! And want to be fed constantly! Laundry and bottles and bottles and laundry!), and discovering for the first time how extra interesting it is when you have a newborn and a three-year-old in the same place at the same time. It's particularly exciting when they both get sick at the same time - that's something we just found out!

Still - and maybe I shouldn't say this, for fear of jinxing myself, but here we go - I'm not feeling the same desperate, edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown exhaustion and terror that I remember feeling in Griffin's early days. But I am once again finding that all the cliches are true. X is a second child, and is getting the second child treatment. I feel more confident with him - maybe a bit over-confident. We've done this before, after all, and that one is still around. I remember when we went anywhere with Griffin, we took like three suitcases full of stuff with us. The first time we went out with X, we just threw some stuff in a plastic bag from Wawa and took off. It was the most ghetto diaper bag ever. We've upgraded him to a real bag now, but still. Sometimes if we're just taking a walk, we don't bring a bag at all! That would have been unthinkable with Griffin.

Anyway, the point is, it's going pretty well, all things considered. You can find pictures and video on Facebook and Flickr, although as before, you can only see them if you are marked as my friend or family, so let me know if you're not and would like to be.
Tagged (?): Children (Not), Parenthood (Not), Parenting (Not), Personal (Not), X (Not)
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Wednesday, August 21, 2013 02:26 PM
Book Report Roundup
 by FŽanor

The Cuckoo's Calling
This is that detective novel J.K. Rowling wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. I have to admit, I had not even heard of it until the true identity of Galbraith was leaked, but having picked it up, I found I couldn't put it down. A great read and a fascinating mystery with some wonderful characters. I thought I'd figured out who did it before I got to the big reveal, but I was way off-base. Interestingly enough, the book is about some of the same things the Harry Potter books are about: fame and family. Although there's a lot more sex and expletives; I imagine Rowling enjoyed being able to let loose as far as that was concerned. There also seemed to be a lot more Britishisms, some of which left me a bit puzzled, but hey, it's a British book, so that's only fair. Definitely looking forward to more books from "Galbraith," and more books about Detective Strike and his sidekick Robin.

The Arabian Nights: Their Best Known Tales
Somehow I have never read The Arabian Nights. Sadly, I still cannot say I have, really, as this is an abridged "best of" collection which was the only audiobook version I could find. It doesn't even include the frame story with Scheherazade telling the tales to the King to stay alive. But it does include the story of Aladdin, "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," and Sinbad's voyages, among various other tales - some of which are mighty odd.

I don't know if it was just the translation, or if this is the case in the original text, but the language is often extremely belabored and repetitive; it seems like the author(s) never said something in one sentence if they could use five instead. I almost stopped listening to the book many times because of that, but I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did. There's a lot of neat stuff in here - plenty of magic, adventure, and madness. I recognized some of the basic story structures and elements from other collections of folk tales I've read, but there was still a lot new to me here. There's a very religious bent to many of the tales, with many exhortations to trust and believe in the one true God, and many examples of the terrible punishments visited on those who did not. The story of Aladdin is quite a bit different from the Disney version. For one thing, this Aladdin is really a bit of a jerk, although he does change for the better as the story goes on. For another, the genies (there are numerous) are never given personalities, and there is never any talk of freeing them. A few slaves do get freed in the course of these tales, but in general slavery is something that's accepted and taken for granted. There's also, unsurprisingly, a pretty conservative view of sexuality and gender roles and a good deal of blatant and unapologetic racism. The morality is also of a violent, eye-for-an-eye sort. All that being said, the female characters are as well drawn as the male and never feel like less than whole people. It's also a woman who is the real hero of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" - the young female slave, Morgiana. She is brilliant, brave, loyal, and a deadly enemy, and her story is one of the best.

I also enjoyed Sinbad's adventures, although as with Aladdin, there was almost no connection between them and any Sinbad movie I've ever seen. Each story is just a random series of crazy events which almost always involve Sinbad's ship getting wrecked and all his fellow crewmates getting horribly killed (as poppy said when I was describing these stories to her, you'd think people would stop going on voyages with Sinbad after a while). Sinbad rarely has any over-arching mission, beyond a quest for adventure, and money - he is, after all, a commercial traveler; a trader. He admits himself that after his first or second voyage he really should have just stayed home and enjoyed his wealth, but he always got bored and headed out again. Like Ishmael, he either had to go to sea, or start knocking people's hats off in the street.

My journey through Neil Gaiman's bibliography continues. I saw the BBC TV movie version of this at Movie Night ages ago, but never read it until now. The audiobook I got was a good one, with creepy sound effects, neat musical interludes, and a reader with a nice strong, appropriate accent. It's a fast-paced fantasy adventure of the "average guy pulled into a secret magical world that has actually always existed invisibly all around us" sort. In this case, the magical world is London Below, a mostly underground, upside-down version of London that exists in the basements, sewers, and rooftops of the city we know. London Below is a wonderfully realized setting with fantastic atmosphere, populated by a host of fascinating and colorful characters, many of whom are archetypes of one sort or another. Door is an opener, Hunter is a hunter, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar are a pair of awful, demonic destroyers - a fox and a wolf. Famous London landmarks appear either personified (Old Bailey, The Angel Islington) or twisted into strange, literal interpretations of themselves (Knightsbridge, Earl's Court, Blackfriars). It's a short, fast-paced tale that includes a murder mystery, surprises and betrayals, and a quest to retrieve a magical artifact. It's good stuff.

The Neil Gaiman Audio CD Collection
This fantastic collection of children's literature includes three short stories, a poem, and an interview with Mr. Gaiman conducted by his daughter, Maddy. One of the stories I'd read before: "The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish." It's a surreal, funny piece that's about exactly what it says it's about. "The Wolves in the Walls" might be even better - a fantastic, hilarious, faintly creepy tale that had me smiling and chuckling throughout. "Cinnamon" is a story about a tiger, a princess who won't speak, and a bunch of silly adults. It's quite wonderful. "Crazy Hair" is an amusing poem that reminds me a bit of Shel Silverstein. And the interview at the end is great.

The City and the City
I'd heard a lot about China Mieville but never read anything by him. I grabbed this audiobook with no idea what it was about; it was just the only Mieville audiobook I could get my hands on. Well, I'll be seeking out more stuff by Mieville soon, because this blew me away. The book contains a double mystery: the murder mystery that is the plot, and the mysterious pair of cities that is the setting. (I enjoyed having both mysteries slowly revealed to me by the author, so if you'd rather go in completely ignorant like I did, stop reading now.) The cities - Beszel and Ul Qoma - are apparently somewhere in the Eastern Europe of a parallel Earth that is otherwise very like our own (so much like our own that it's sometimes very jarring; you'll be reading about some entirely alien facet of Beszel's history, and then someone will mention The Terminator, or Van Morrison). Economically, Beszel is on the downswing, and Ul Qoma on the up. They have their own languages, their own politics and laws, differing relations with the world's other major powers, their own ways of seeing the world. The weird thing about them is that they exist on top of and within each other, sharing many of the same roads, buildings, and parks, but they are kept separate and inviolate by carefully maintained differences in architecture and fashion; by just as carefully maintained cultural taboos; and by the mysterious and terrible Breach. The populaces of both cities are trained from birth to unsee, unhear, and even unsmell their neighbors. It's an absolutely fascinating concept, and one which Mieville explores in depth, with lively intelligence and astonishing cleverness. In one scene, a man chases another man down the street, but cannot look at him, because technically they are in different cities. In another, a man walks his way carefully through the crosshatches of the two cities, dressed and moving in such a way that no one can tell which city he is actually in, and so all carefully unsee him, and the police of neither city can take him - he is effectively invisible and untouchable, a non-entity.

The first part of the book takes place in Beszel, the second in Ul Qoma, and the third... in between. The main character is a bit of a mystery himself: Inspector Tyador Borlķ of the Extreme Crime Squad. We learn little about his thoughts or his past, but come to know him almost entirely from his actions. These reveal that he is passionate, determined, and dedicated to his job. In each part of the book, he finds himself partnered with a member of the police force of whatever city he's in, and he drives each of those partners to become just as dedicated as he is to solving the mystery.

After getting us acquainted with the two cities, Mieville introduces the haunting ghost of a third city, that exists in the spaces between these two - a hidden city out of folktales that might be secretly controlling everything. On one level, The City and the City is an engrossing police procedural, with plenty of conspiracies and political intrigue, but on another level, it's a novel about the delicate, invisible, and insane ideas that all our lives are built and depend upon. I finished the book some time ago, but I can't seem to stop thinking about it. It's utterly brilliant.

To Be Or Not To Be: A chooseable-path adventure
This book is the product of a Kickstarter I helped fund! It's William Shakespeare's Hamlet, rewritten as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. Which you have to admit is a pretty brilliant idea. The author is Ryan North, who is also responsible for Dinosaur Comics, a web comic I enjoy. I guess you could say I've "read" this book, insofar as I've followed it through to the end a couple of times, although on the other hand, it's really the kind of book you can't ever say you've really "read," as there are so many different possible paths you can take it would be almost impossible to follow them all. North's style - which is light, conversational, and jokey - can grate a bit in large doses, and some of the ideas in here really seem to come out of left field (how did this become a book about inventing central heating?), but it's still generally entertaining, and I'll probably pick it up and run through it again a couple more times some day.
Tagged (?): Book Report (Not), Books (Not), Neil Gaiman (Not)
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Wednesday, July 31, 2013 10:43 AM
Random Review Roundup
 by FŽanor

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman's latest novel is a strange one. It's a fantasy novel that tells of a man returning to his childhood home for a funeral and coming unexpectedly upon a memory of a terrifying and magical episode from his childhood that he'd entirely forgotten. It is a book about childhood and adulthood, and the infinite chasm, and minuscule crack, between the two. It is a book about life and what it means and what it is for. It is a simple story that is as deep as deep can be, with an aching, yearning sadness at its heart.
"All monsters are scared," says Lettie. "That's why they're monsters... Grown-ups don't look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they're big and thoughtless and they always know what they're doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world."

Pacific Rim
Someone described this as the Citizen Kane of giant monster movies, and I have to agree with that poetic soul. I saw it on the big screen in 3D, and it was just an awesome experience. The effects and visuals are astounding, the action incredible, the robots and monsters tremendous. And besides that, there's actually a great story with great characters that's surprisingly emotionally effective. Maybe it doesn't all make perfect logical sense if you sit down and pick it apart, but whatever - I loved it, and I'd see this movie again in a heartbeat.

Red 2
Remember that movie about assassins with Bruce Willis that came out a few years ago? Here's my review if you don't. I loved that movie, and this is the sequel! Almost the entire cast returns (Willis, Malkovich, Cox, Mirren, Parker) and this time are joined by even more celebrities (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins, and David Thewlis to name a few). Some of the artfulness and cleverness of the first film have been lost - to be honest, the story is pretty dumb - but this is still a rollicking good time. It's funny and exciting, with some unexpected twists and turns. It's a bit disturbing that it's a goofy comedy that features the cruel and almost off-hand murders of many, many people. But if you can set that aside, it's a good time.
Tagged (?): Books (Not), Monsters (Not), Movies (Not), Neil Gaiman (Not), Robots (Not)
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Monday, July 15, 2013 10:19 AM
Late Announcement
 by FŽanor

In case you have not already heard some other way, I should probably officially announce, this kid we got is gonna have a brother by early September. Which most likely means a lot fewer updates from me in the coming months. Or more, but far less sane.

Poppy is hanging in there, but apparently it's going to be in the nineties this whole week, so please send her your sympathy and perhaps fans and ice, or a nice air-conditioned pope-mobile.

G is aware of what's going to happen, but only in an abstract sense. In actual fact, he has no idea what he's in for. Frankly, neither do I.

Kids! Plural! Hoo boy.
Tagged (?): Children (Not), Parenthood (Not), Personal (Not)
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Wednesday, July 10, 2013 02:03 PM
Book Report - The Fall of Arthur
 by FŽanor

It's a new release from J.R.R. Tolkien! Yep, Christopher managed to scrape together enough text from his father's copious notes to make another book. This time it is a poem, written in contemporary English, but using Old English-style alliterative verse (the format of the original Beowulf), telling the tragic tale of King Arthur's defeat and death. I've been excited to read this ever since I first heard about it. Tolkien on Arthur?!? OMG!

Here's the thing: the book is 240 pages long, but about 200 pages of that are introduction and end notes from Christopher explaining the form of the poem, how it took shape, and where it sits in the context of his father's other work and in the context of other Arthurian texts. And the 40 pages of poem that are here are just the start of what was clearly meant to be a much longer work. I don't know what I was expecting - obviously if Tolkien had finished it completely it would have been published well before now - but I still found this a bit disappointing.

The fact that what we have of the poem is lovely and powerful almost makes it worse. It's really a shame he never got around to finishing this. I enjoy the alliterative verse form quite a bit, and Tolkien is an expert at it. The story is a familiar one, but Tolkien has an interesting take on it. In his hands, Arthur's world feels like one on the edge of a precipice - a dark, stormy place about to be swept aside in a rising tide of chaos and destruction. His characters stalk through the gloom, brooding and raging ineffectually. Although his Middle Earth works do have a bit of romance, they are entirely devoid of lust, so it's interesting to see a bit of that here, in the form of Mordred's desire for Guinevere.

Speaking of Guinevere, Tolkien's characterization of her is particularly unflattering. She's always the reason, in every telling of this story, for the rift between Arthur and Lancelot that ends up destroying everything, but most writers see her as ultimately blameless - a star-crossed lover and a lady from beginning to end - and give her a saintly, penitent end. Not Tolkien. He makes her selfish, grasping, and unfeeling. It seems like an unnecessarily harsh treatment of the character.

Fans of Tolkien's Middle Earth works will see a few interesting connections here, which Christopher helps highlight. Mirkwood makes a brief appearance in the text, although here the word seems to be used more as a kenning to describe a random dark forest, and not as the name of the specific wood that Bilbo Baggins once worked his way through. Tolkien's plan for the end of the story has a more direct connection: he meant to send Lancelot out in a boat to seek the injured (possibly dead?) Arthur where he lay in Avalon, and parallel this journey with that of Ešrendil the mariner, when he went to Tol EressŽa seeking the help of the Valar.

This note from Christopher, as well as another that reveals his father had planned to write a time travel novel that tied in with his Middle Earth work (!), is interesting, as are some of the passages about alliterative verse and Arthurian scholarship. But as fans of Tolkien already know, Christopher's style is dense, dry, academic, and painfully precise, and it can make some of the appendices a bit of a slog. Particularly hard to get through are the parts where he's trying to describe the various different versions of the text he found in his father's notes and how they differ from each other. Trying to follow his A's and B's and LT's is like trying to put together a piece of IKEA furniture.

Disappointing in many ways, The Fall of Arthur is still a fascinating work and worth a look for die-hard fans of Tolkien or Arthur.
Tagged (?): Book Report (Not), Books (Not), Tolkien (Not)
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Monday, July 1, 2013 01:33 PM
(Last updated on Monday, July 1, 2013 01:54 PM)
On the Viewer - The Hunger Games
 by FŽanor

(UPDATE: Oops! I should have mentioned - spoilers!!!)

I finally got to watch this! Obviously it is not as good as the book, because movies never are (except that one time *cough* Blade Runner! *cough*), but it is still quite good. It captures the look of the world very well - the filthy, gray District 12; the excessively colorful and sleekly modern Capitol. I was curious how they would convey the essential information that the book conveys via Katniss' thoughts, and they find various clever methods of doing so, like cutting over to the Gamemakers - including Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) - manipulating things in the control room; accompanying the gifts that are sent by mentors and sponsors with written notes ("Call that a kiss?" Ha!); and letting us see some of the television broadcast, with on-air banter between Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and Claudius Templesmith (Toby Jones). We even get to see some secret conferences between Crane and President Snow (Donald Sutherland), which are fascinating and reveal some of the politics going on behind the scenes. It's all quite brilliant and forward-thinking, as besides merely filling us in on important info, it also prepares us for what's to come in the future films. Later on we even get a glimpse of an uprising, which is something Katniss didn't even hear a whisper of until the second book in the series.

Speaking of Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic in the part - by turns angry, delicate, and dangerous. I only wish she was a slightly better singer, as that's a rather important characteristic of Katniss in the book. I also quite love the way they captured the outrageous, manners-obsessed Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, who is utterly unrecognizable). Casting Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy was a stroke of genius. I didn't love his introductory scene (why didn't he get to throw up on stage?), but his character gets stronger and more interesting as the movie goes on. I was a little disappointed in the casting of Peeta; for whatever reason, Josh Hutcherson didn't quite fit my vision of the character. But once I got used to him, I liked him okay, too.

One of my favorite scenes in the book - the one where Katniss shoots the apple out of the pig's mouth - is also one of my favorites in the movie. It's almost perfectly realized. I also found the Rue sequence just as powerful here as I did in the book, although I wish there could have been more scenes between her and Katniss, and I really missed the gift of the bread and Katniss giving thanks for it, as that was extremely moving and meaningful. I felt like Katniss talking to Rue and learning about life in her district was also very important, and that was missing.

An interesting added scene reveals that it's partly Haymitch's intervention that convinces Crane to change the rules and allow for two victors. I was a little disappointed we lost the scene where Katniss was forced to drug Peeta so she could get away to the banquet, but I can see why it was taken out. We're also missing one of the creepiest touches from the book - that the muttations at the end have the faces of the dead tributes. It seems like this would have been relatively easy to do with computer effects, but maybe they tried it and it looked goofy or something. I thought the ending of the film felt a bit rushed and poorly paced, with a sudden jump cut from the Cornucopia to the top of a building in the Capitol, and then mere minutes later, we're back in District 12. I did like the subtle way they closed off Seneca Crane's story, though, intercut with Haymitch warning Katniss about how seriously they take these things.

As I've mentioned already, a number of essential things have been changed or left out. Now Katniss just finds the Mockingjay pin randomly in a market, and actually gives it to Prim for luck, who then gives it back to her again before she leaves for the Games. I think I actually like this change, as it adds poignancy and a strong emotional connection to the pin. Anyway, they almost had to cut out Madge's character. One thing that I really miss, though, is the scene where Katniss reveals to Peeta that she was basically faking it for the cameras. This was a painful and important scene. But maybe they will put it into the opening of the second movie instead.
Tagged (?): Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), The Hunger Games (Not)
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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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