Movie Review – Tolkien – Biography of the Master of Middle Earth

Movie Review - TolkienI don’t normally watch biographies. We don’t usually get Peetimes for them either, but this was TOLKIEN. The author of my favorite novel, movie, and world: The Lord of the Rings. So it wasn’t just any biopic to me, and Tolkien wasn’t just any author. Lord of the Rings (or LOTR) is a magnificent 1000+ page work of high fantasy, penned by JRR Tolkien as a sequel to the shorter, more youth-oriented The Hobbit.

With The Hobbit published and successful in 1937 (which the movie gets around to in a fantastic end moment that made me literally weep with joy), Tolkien was tasked with creating a ‘hobbit sequel’. This is a case where the sequel outshines its original by a great magnitude, and is literally Tolkien’s life’s work. (Let’s not discuss The Silmarillion here.) [/CanOfWorms] 😉

A new form of world-building fantasy

According to the Wikipedia, LOTR was “written in stages between 1937 and 1949, and is one of the best selling novels ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.”

LOTR also established the groundwork for nearly every novel, series, and film franchise in the fantasy genre to follow, introducing readers to a form of world-building never accomplished before. Tolkien invented entire languages and thousands of years of backstories, timelines and genealogical histories for his handful of mythological races, which he called the Free Peoples of Middle-Earth.

Before Tolkien, we had ancient ballads, plays, and operas to give us fantasy worlds, yet works like Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Beowulf, Shakespeare’s plays, The Iliad and the Odyssey, and the collected stories in Greek/Norse Mythology are very grandiose and quite a bit remote.

LOTR gave readers a story about fallible, often funny individuals who weren’t princes or warriors. In fact, the two main heroes of LOTR are a bookish young man and a gardener. The warriors, kings, and even wizards and dragons appear, of course (it’s still a high fantasy saga), but mostly as supporting characters. You didn’t need a professor to explain the plot to you. You could relate to the heroes. No one had seen anything like this before.

Legacy of the Lord of the Rings

There wouldn’t be any Harry Potter without The Hobbit and LOTR. The Star Wars Saga, Game of Thrones, modern Disney, Pixar and even the 23+ movie spanning Marvel Cinematic Universe owe a huge debt to Tolkien. Name any memorable work of fantasy or space opera, and you’ll find roots buried deep in Middle Earth.

Tolkien – the LOTR author’s biographical movie

Okay. So, I just went off on a long, rambling tangent, not unlike the super long novel in question, and the great films of Peter Jackson that finally paid justice to the source. But was Tolkien, by itself, a good movie?

Yes, very much yes. You have to be a Middle-Earth fan to appreciate it, but I loved seeing JRR — Ronald to his friends — in his early life, full of experiences that informed his creations. Tolkien has said he “cordially despises allegory in all forms”, but it’s hard not to see Mordor and the works of Sauron in the No Man’s Land of World War 1. Ronald is a sort of proto-Frodo, with a young Sam, in the trench scenes. Flames, ash, and great black clouds recall the fumes of Mount Doom.

I don’t think I’ve ever really understood the horror of The War to End All Wars before. It must have felt like the end of an Age. And in many ways, it was. (Compare: World War 2 offered a modern battle tableau, although it wasn’t long after WW1.)

One movie scene in particular, where Ronald lies unconscious in a hole full of the dead by a pool of noisome toxicity, recalls almost precisely Frodo’s fretful sleep before the Black Gates of Mordor.

Other ways The Lord of the Rings is hinted at in Tolkien

What else? Edith has an otherworldly personality and intellect — clearly the basis of Arwen Evenstar. The ‘Cellar Door’ courting scene is exquisite, and Ronald waited as long for Edith as poor Aragorn did for Arwen.

The pastoral countryside of England is very like The Shire, and Ronald’s passionate literary friends had obvious nods to The Fellowship  of The Ring (as explicitly noted in the trailers).

One of Ronald’s buddies had an immortal line where the audience barked in laughter: “It shouldn’t take six hours to tell a story about a magic ring.”

He was talking about Wagner, but Tolkien must have took that as a personal challenge. I’d love to know if his friend actually said that. (In another note, I did attend a showing of Wagner’s Ring Cycle Opera in Vienna once, and it IS incredibly long. Too long. Especially if you don’t speak German.)

A trip to Oxford, and The Inklings

The Oxford scenes had especial meaning to me, as I lived and worked at Oxford University in a post-college internship, and personally wandered through many on-location settings in the film. It was a vast treat to return there cinematically, making me long for an extended visit these many decades later. I even frequented The Eagle and the Child, a pub where Tolkien and The Inklings — who are fated to only appear after the movie ends — sat and shared literary chapters as they wrote them. It thrilled me to quaff a pint at the same table where JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis discussed Lord of the Rings and the Narnia stories, working out the kinks of their epics.

Summarizing Tolkien as a movie experience

So, I’m a total geek with an encyclopedic working knowledge of Tolkien…but I think this biography is accessible to anyone who’s ever read the books or seen Peter Jackson’s movies. I was engaged, moved and thrilled, and though no Hobbits nor Rings of Power appear, Tolkien the film is still a very good time. I’m glad I expanded my horizons enough to look at the author as a real man, and not just a random shadowy figure recording the journeys of Frodo, Gandalf, Strider, Gollum, and Samwise Gamgee.

Grade: A

About The Peetimes: This was a hard movie to find Peetimes for. The movie cuts back and forth between war action, “Fellowship” character building, and important scenes at Oxford University. Both Peetimes center on the romance in Tolkien’s life: while they are nice, they are the least crucial bits building up to Tolkien’s masterpiece. The 2nd Peetime is recommended. Note: There are no Peetimes in the second hour, so plan accordingly.

There are no extra scenes during, or after, the end credits of Tolkien. (What we mean by Anything Extra.)

Rated (PG-13) for some sequences of war violence
Genres: Biography, Drama, War

Are Modern Movies Too Long?

How RunPee Began – A Retrospective on Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong

Movie Review – They Shall Not Grow Old

 

Movie Review - They Shall Not Grow OldWatching They Shall Not Grow Old was an experience unlike any I’ve had before. Knowing all these fresh-faced boys, who were initially so excited about going off to war were about to die: that was hard. Unlike most movies when the director yells ‘it’s a wrap,’ the actors go on to another movie: in this film there was no one to hear the director speak. They were all dead — even the voices we hear in the narration are all dead. Doesn’t that feel like a gut punch?

In my audience, there were men whom I’m sure were veterans of war. Are they the target audience? Maybe. [pullquote]But here’s the thing; the target audience should be everyone who’s old enough to know what the word war means.[/pullquote] This film should be on every history teacher’s syllabus. Also, there were a few young men and women in the audience who were there to admire the technical aspect of the revivification of the 100 year old footage.

[pullquote position=”right”]I will pass along this warning: if you have lost any family member to war, as I have — my brother, Danny, in Vietnam — this film will be beyond painful.[/pullquote] As I watched the camera pan over the trenches filled — yes filled — with bodies of both men and horses, it was difficult to determine if the body part was man or animal. I couldn’t help but wonder if Danny suffered the same sort of injuries. I did not sleep well last night.

Even with all the carnage, the saddest part of the film was when the narrators spoke of coming home, and the mistreatment they endured from people with the mentality of ‘just get over it’. [pullquote]PTSD was just a dot on horizon of mental health and it would take decades before it was recognized as a treatable mental health problem.[/pullquote] The WW1 vets took to alcohol and drugs, just as they do today.

The survivor’s guilt that came home with so many vets would eat away at them like a bad cancer. It’s a never ending source of anguish. I was a flight attendant flying out of New York during 9/11, so I speak with authority.

If you wonder why I can bring up so many negative aspects and still give this film an A+, allow me to explain. Any flick that can generate the emotions I felt, deserves an A+ and nothing less. This film is just another way of paying homage to the many men and women who have given their lives, so that today we citizens of America have the right of free speech…so we can bicker about a wall.

Grade: A+

About The Peetimes: Before the film begins, we see a 3-4 minute exposition by Peter Jackson, who explains how he became involved in this project. You will start your timer AFTER this short clip, as the WB logo fades.

There are extra scenes during, or after, the end credits of They Shall Not Grow Old. (What we mean by Anything Extra.)

Rated (R) for disturbing war images
Genres: Documentary, History, War

Movie Review – A Private War

 

Movie Review - A Private WarI’ll start this review by getting one thing out of the way. I’m giving A Private War an A grade, which I don’t award often. And in this particular case, it’s something of a surprise that I’m not failing it with an F.

Let me explain: I had a terrible time with this film. It’s brutal, and this is exactly the sort of movie I need to avoid. I only sat though it to the end because it’s my job…as Marie Colvin says, “I see these things so you won’t have to.”

I honestly don’t think anyone could sit through this and say they had a good time. I had to wrack my brain to come up with the target audience for it. (More on that in a second.)

So, it’s bad? It’s good? Which is it?

I’ll start with the good: [pullquote]Everything in A Private War is indicative of top shelf movie production. The acting, soundtrack, lighting, set design, nonlinear storytelling, characterizations, direction, everything. It’s like this film was created as Oscar bait. [/pullquote]I’m sure it will win a lot of awards. (And that’s the target audience. The Oscar Committee. )

I recently watched Gone Girl for the first time, and it was a surprise to see Rosamund Pike again in this. She knocked this out of the park, carrying almost the entire movie by her lonesome. Pike seems to specialize in portraying complicated characters who make questionable choices, then see their lives spiraling out of control. She does this very, very well.

[pullquote position=”right”]The only other “character” to rival her powerful performance was the war setting itself. The director and crew crafted an indelibly inedible smorgasbord of the gruesome ferocity of war, and the effect it has on the bodies and minds of the unwitting people damaged by it.[/pullquote]

Or even on the people going there on purpose, like Pike’s Colvin: a real person, on a real mission, who deliberately sought the worst places on the planet as fodder for her war column.

So, here’s the bad: This is a really terrible movie that no one should have to endure. By the time the parade of grotesquely mangled bodies is done you’re done — done in. I had to wash my mind out with soap. And then I sat in again to Fantastic Beasts 2 for a while, just to feel like myself and not a war torn victim.

[pullquote]This movie relentless bombards you with extremely graphic imagery of mangled bodies and violent, disturbing imagery.[/pullquote] For example, there’s a scene where a throng of war correspondents stare silently at the body of one of their own. Or rather, what’s left of him.  You get to see it too: this is the stuff nightmares are made of.

We’re also bombarded by bombardment: endless mortar explosions, gunshots, pounding artillery, and automatic rifle salvos provide a sensory overload that will make your head ache and ensure you won’t sleep well that night. But it will most probably win awards, and is effective at getting across a message we should all understand by now: that war is hell, and the people who wage it are the real demons.

Grade: A

About The Peetimes: This isn’t a short movie, but every scene is either action-filled, or emotionally resonant. I have 3 Peetimes avoiding the war action. I recommend either the 2nd or 3rd Peetimes, as the 1st has an intense series of emotional cut-aways, but will still serve — the whole film is intense, and you won’t miss anything that won’t be shown later. Alert Peetime Note: This film is very graphic. For example, we see images of dead people with their lower torsos blown off, with their intestines spread all over the floor. I will probably add a few Alert Peetimes later, but you should realize that around a third of the movie is disturbing.

There are extra scenes during, or after, the end credits of A Private War. (What we mean by Anything Extra.)

Movie Review – Indivisible

Movie Review - IndivisibleI’m wondering, has the Hollywood ‘think tank’ gone dry? I wonder this because it seems that every other movie RunPee covers is based on a true story. That’s okay, if the movie has a good story behind it, it can be enjoyable. Not so true for Indivisible.

The story behind this movie deals with the effects of PTSD and how it affects not only the returning soldier but also the family back home. Unfortunately, they dropped the ball on this movie. All I felt while watching this flick was boredom, frustration, and was  hoping it would end soon.

Indivisible was about 45 minutes longer than it needed to be. All the high points could be covered in less than an hour. Instead, some scenes were so protracted, I could feel myself start to nod off. The pacing was so agonizingly slow; it felt as if the director was trying to drum the message into our brains by forcing us to keep reliving the moment.

I found I didn’t care at all about the characters. Most of them came off as miserable people who just couldn’t cope. I understand the focus of the movie was a dismal tale of PTSD. But that phenomenon wasn’t covered well. We saw the chaplain doing his work in Iraq, get angry at God for what he perceived as abandoning him in his time of need, then coming home to spread his anger all across the neighborhood. A few scenes later, we see the chaplain and his wife having a therapy session with the base chaplain, and before we know it, our hero is back to his normal insipid self.

If you’re planning on seeing Indivisible in hopes of learning something new about PTSD, don’t bother. It rehashes every known cliche about this disease and offers no new insight on dealing with it.

Don’t take out a loan to to see this movie in theaters; wait for the DVD version to come out. (I’m pretty sure it’ll be released before Christmas.) There are a number of really good movies in the theaters right now that are worth the price of admission.

Grade: C-

About The Peetimes: This was a fairly slow paced movie, making it easy to provide you with 3 excellent Peetimes, so enjoy that big drink knowing that a Peetime is coming up.

There are no extra scenes during, or after, the end credits of Indivisible. (What we mean by Anything Extra.)