Review by Ken Burke
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Peter Jackson)
The Hobbit trilogy finally comes to an end, with lots of action among throngs
of Dwarves, Elves, Orcs, Men, and eagles, but this could have wrapped up a long time ago.
The Imitation Game (Morton Tyldum)
Alan Turing was a complex man with a brilliant mind, marginal social skills, and major secrets—both that he cracked the Nazi Enigma code in WWII and that he was gay.
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AND … at least until the Oscars for 2014’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 22, 2015 I’m also going to include reminders in each review posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2014 films made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists and which ones have been nominated for and/or received various awards. You may find the diversity among the various critics and the various awards competitions hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competition-award-winners (which usually pales in comparison to the even-more-noticeable-gap between box-office-success, which you can monitor here, and what wins the awards)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices are as valid as any of these others, especially if you can offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).
I realize that all of these opening statements may put you to sleep before you even get to the reviews, but I’ve found, via feedback, that I need to say them somewhere to avoid repetitious explanations, yet if I put it all at the end hardly anyone ever reads it before asking for those same answers so thanks for wading through all of this opening drivel and now on to the reviews.
What Happens: It might not seem that what I’m exploring this week really contains shared thematic connections but both of them offer narratives that are critically concerned with winning major wars for the continuance of free societies under siege from the forces of totalitarianism, with the fantasy version of that in the latest installment of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (which, despite its Old Norse and Old English inspirations—among many other mythological connections—can also be seen as having relations to the rise of German Nazism, in that it was written beginning in the early 1930s and certainly can be seen as a prelude to what can also be reasonably interpreted as commentary on the events of WW II in its massive sequel, The Lord of the Rings [written 1937-1949], which gets us to that awful war in our other subject for examination) and its reality-reflection in The Imitation Game, where Alan Turing’s brilliance had much to do with bringing about the downfall of Hitler’s (Sauron’s?) vision of domination over the cultures that so inspired Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories. Further, there are terrible struggles faced by major characters in both of these stories, mainly the Dwarf King Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) in … The Five Armies as he’s infected with the “dragon sickness” of hoarding the huge store of ancestral gold that has been liberated from the beast, Smaug, rather than properly sharing his riches with the Men and Elves who have legitimate claim to some of it; in the case of Turing, though, his struggles are brought on externally by a fearful, discriminatory society that brands him a criminal simply for being a homosexual while not even publically acknowledging his crucial role in shortening WW II and pushing forward the development of computers because security concerns about breaking future enemy codes left his war record as virtually meaningless (he supposedly worked in a radio factory). I certainly don’t intend to equate what an actual disgraced and broken war hero endured with a purely fictional tale of fantastic creatures battling for control of a long-ago-land of the imagination, but the narrative structures of these 2 otherwise-very-distinct-stories offer some surprising parallels, where both of these protagonists suffer death for their very existences, although Turing is pushed to suicide by a bigoted culture while Thorin atones for actual sins against his country-creatures (“countrymen” just doesn’t properly work in this context) before succumbing to the battlefield’s all-too-likely result.
If you need plot reminders of what’s happened in the previous 2 Hobbit movies I could refer you to several sources, but those closest to home for me are the Two Guys’ reviews of ... An Unexpected Journey (Jackson, 2012) and ... The Desolation of Smaug (Jackson, 2013), which also contain some extra-textual references for your greater understanding of what goes on in this complex Tolkien-created-environment. Assuming you’ll do your own necessary-background-perusing, I’ll just quickly summarize what it takes Jackson 144 minutes to “battle” through on screen this time (if you need more, there's a heap of it here—even though the site's editors call it "excessively detailed"; now, that's a phrase I've just never understood the meaning of), starting with Smaug flying like a … dragon … out of Hell to lay waste to Laketown, then being killed by expert-archer Bard (Luke Evans) using a special arrow and hitting the beast in the one small spot where his natural armor doesn’t protect him. This leaves Thorin and the Dwarfs who accompanied him (along with Hobbit Bilbo Baggins [Martin Freeman] and Wizard Gandalf the Grey [Ian McKellen]—the latter currently a captive of the Necromancer, the re-emerging evil Wizard of old, Sauron [voice, interestingly enough, of Benedict Cumberbatch, as is Smaug]) on this perilous journey in charge of the huge treasure in the Lonely Mountain, but he’s supposed to share some of it with the displaced human residents from Laketown; further, an army of Elves led by Thranduil (Lee Pace) arrives, to reclaim a specific item, a white-gem-necklace. Thorin refuses to allow anyone else into the mountain, then calls for his own army of Dwarves to come forth from the northern mountains to stand against his would-be-attackers (Bilbo has the key to what he hopes is a peaceful settlement, because he’s found the legendary Arkenstone that Thorin lusts for, even more so than all that gold, but when he delivers it to the Elves as a bargaining chip Thorin gets even more intensely set on combat). Rather than this becoming just a 3-army-battle, though, things get really bad when a huge collection of Orcs show up (sent, ultimately, by Sauron, to take command of this part of Middle-earth as strategy for his intended future conquests)—Gandalf’s returned also, after having been set free when powerful Elf Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) drives Sauron and his 9 Ringwaiths out of the picture (literally) until his long-planned-return in the chronologically-later-trilogy of The Lord of the Rings (even though it was released first, just like with the existing 2 trilogies of Star Wars movies)—so the conflict is on (it’s not made that clear here who the 5th army is; in the novel it was wolves working with the Orcs, but now it’s more likely the eagles who come flying in to help put the final kibosh on those ugly meanies as the resolute determination of their opponents finally sways the victory to the forces of good, although not before Thorin finally pulls himself back to his senses but then dies in battle as he simultaneously kills the chief Orc, Azog [Manu Bennett]).
So, seriously, most of this movie is taken up with the opening dragon attack, the inner turmoil of Thorin, and a V E R Y L O N G bloodbath (with the actual gushing kept to a minimum for this PG-13, 3-D extravaganza). That’s truly about it (Elf Tauriel [Evangeline Lilly] is heartbroken when Dwarf Kili [Aidan Turner] is killed, along with his brother Fili [Dean O’Gorman]; noble Elf Legolas [Orlando Bloom] is soul-shaken by his dead brethren [even though we’re reminded that they’re immortal (?)] so he heads off to find a guy named Striker, setting us up for eventual connection to the other trilogy), with Bilbo then making his way home to the Shire to essentially retire (first having to prove he’s still alive after being assumed dead during his long absence so that his possessions have almost all been auctioned off) until it’s time to put that magical One Ring to work many years later.
So What? I can’t offer enough praise to Peter Jackson for his marvelous manipulation (along with enough technical help that the end credits run longer than some short films I’ve seen) of the imagery of this final chapter in this Hobbit saga (which will surely be paired, along with its predecessors, at some point with The Lord of the Rings movies for an all-day [and most of the night] marathon at some theater that will charge only 1 admission fee but make up their losses with additional $20-a-pop-levies every time you use the restroom to clear out the soda you’ve swallowed to wash down the giant-Orc-size-refillable-boxes-of–popcorn). The attack of the dragon on Laketown; the balancing act that Bard (shown immediately above, along with a legion of Elf warriors) commands on that shaky wooden tower as he takes aim on Smaug; the glorious mountain vistas (that part’s probably mostly photographic, given what I’ve seen of Jackson’s home country in previous episodes) that various ones of our many characters traverse in getting to and from Erebor; the mounds of gleaming gold in the underground halls of the Lonely Mountain; the waves of assault as the Orcs collide with the Elves, Dwarves, and Men when the battle for domain of this territory finally begins (with no end in sight for the longest time); the sword battle upon constantly-crumbling-stones as Legolas and Blog (a major Orc) half-fight, half-dance through their intense, marvelously-choreographed confrontation, all of these elements make The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies a wonderland of storyboard-creativity … but after 10 times or so of different characters jumping from here to there, swirling around in ballet-like-movements, plunging their swords into Orcs as deftly as if they were in a fencing class, it just gets to be too damn much of the same well-polished-pictorials. I might rethink this after I’d have the time to reread The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, but for me this whole concept—if it had to be broken into less than 1 stand-alone-movie to begin with—would have worked better if the first one had ended with not just an eagle-assisted-escape from pursuing Orcs but continued on to Laketown where the company of travelers would conclude with their plans to enter the Lonely Mountain; in the sequel they could get into the Dwarves’ ancient home to meet up with Smaug, then the events could flow as they do here but in a more concise fashion (as would be the case with all of the plot elements of this trilogy, all of which could be compacted in my opinion). However, given the worldwide take of $358.1 million for the 5-day-opening-“weekend” ($89.1 mil in the domestic market, $269 mil overseas) I doubt that Jackson will be hiring me anytime soon as an associate producer or script consultant.
Bottom Line Final Comments: I’ve been complaining since my first review of these filmic Hobbit tales that there was no narrative (just monetary) reason to break up the original 287-page-novel (in my 1966 Ballantine Books paperback version) into 3 multi-hour-movies, especially because this last installment covers only 54 of those pages (with that seemingly-never-ending-battle taking up just 6 of them, so Jackson and his co-screenwriters had to come up with lots of detailed-slings-and-arrows-scenes—and a host of distinct-looking-Orcs [called Goblins in the book, with a name change by Tolkien in the … Rings trilogy]). A screenplay page normally equates to about a minute in motion, so that a standard 2-hour-movie takes about 120 pages of text; thus, Jackson and company had to add about 100 script pages even if they included every detail of the original (my quick skim through it didn’t reveal anything of consequence left out), just as they previously created Tauriel in order to add a bit more female presence to a story that’s extremely heavy with testosterone (assuming that’s what also powers the non-human-species-warrior-males that fill the plains around the Lonely Mountain, although with Orcs it’s not easy identifying gender [Again, PG-13, remember? Where relatively-non-bloody-violence can run rampant—as it does here—as long as we don’t corrupt young minds with depictions of [gasp!] sex or bodily-sexual-attributes!]) in its source material (Tolkien’s work has been interpreted as heavy with Catholicism, which [here I speak from past experience, not current practice] has never been too concerned with the presence of women anyway [except for a few saints plus the cult of the Virgin Mary, largely a sexless appropriation of ancient goddesses, along with the new respect being offered—at least to nuns—by Pope Francis]).
Many another critic—especially out here in the San Francisco area (which many consider to be fantasyland anyway, so maybe that explains the affinity for this genre of entertainment)—has offered some level of high praise for … the Five Armies (although it’s trending toward bare acceptance nationally, with 61% positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, 59% from Metacritic [more details in the far-below-links if you like]), calling it the best of the Hobbit installments. I beg to differ (as if any of my colleagues even care), as it feels to me just as unnecessarily stretched-out as what I initially encountered with … An Unexpected Journey, only this time instead of some humor and lots of fascinating scenery the ungainly length is mostly padded with blow-upon-blow from the various combatants in that grandiose battle, which does offer well-planned-complex-movements and exquisite-computer-generated-imagery, but for me it just literally beats its premise into the ground, with substance coming only in the inner-struggles of Thorin as he wrestles, Hamlet-like, with himself over his obligations to those who have aided him in his quest vs. his compelling duty to his Dwarf heritage, made all the more obsessive by the lure of those mounds of gold (just as it had corrupted the dragon before him, who banished any other living thing from sharing in the presence of that treasure even though—as Joseph Campbell once pointed out about Western dragon myths [as opposed to Chinese dragons who share the bounty of the land with those deemed worthy]—all of this precious metal was of no direct use to this giant beast, save as an infuriating loss to those who would likewise lust after it). We don’t get nearly enough of Thorin’s “To be or not to be” moments, though (you’ll find more of that in The Lion King [Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers; 1994]), so I’d say this 3rd Hobbit is just too much magnificently-rendered-filler that could easily have been compressed into (at most) a 2-movie-structure, if Jackson wanted to get even more out of each scene than time allowed him to do in the theatrical-release-versions of The Lord of the Rings (although the running times of the Director’s Cut DVDs show me that he eventually got his way with those tales of Middle-earth lore as well).
Therefore, I’ll get snarky with my choice of a Musical Metaphor to lay to rest The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies by offering you Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over” (thank God!), a song you can find on his 1964 album More of Roy Orbison’s Greatest Hits and at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=1iABFZGzEjY, a live performance (in glorious black-and-white, which does suit Roy quite well) from a 1965 concert (which is roughly when I saw him headlining the rock and roll show that came with the Houston Fat Stock Show and Rodeo, a combination you probably don’t find much outside of the great state of Texas). OK, Peter, now that you’ve had your many years of mega-expensive-fun with the Hobbits let’s see what you can do with something that might take you back to your more independent roots that doesn’t require your own 5 armies of CGI technicians.
What Happens: Unlike the linear story of The Hobbit …, The Imitation Game’s narrative jumps around in an intriguing manner through 3 different periods in Alan Turning’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) life. We begin in 1951 with him being questioned at a police station by Detective Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear), then we spend considerably more time in the main body of the plot beginning in 1939 when he applies for cryptanalysis work at a WW II agency, the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, England, but periodically we jump forward to 1951 or back to 1928 when he was a teenager at the staid, conventionally-upper-crust Sherborne School for boys—although Turing wasn’t conventional, with his superior intellect hampered by social awkwardness (which might be diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome today) and the disrespect of his teachers who felt he wasn’t applying himself appropriately to his studies. In none of these situations is he comfortable with his circumstances nor most of the results: at school young Alan (Alex Lawther) was tormented by almost all of his fellow students except for Christopher Morcom (Jack Bannon), whom he develops a crush on as they share their emerging love of cryptography, only to have his budding homosexuality crushed when Christopher dies of TB; as we follow Alan’s primary actions in this film through the mid-1940s he proves so inept at working with his team of fellow cryptographers that his superior almost dismisses him in 1941 until Turing pulls rank, visits Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and gets himself appointed unit leader, yet it takes the softening suggestions of new recruit Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley)—who has to pass herself off as a secretary to the rest of the institution because the men in charge wouldn’t believe that a “mere” woman would be part of such a top-secret-team, yet she’s almost Alan’s equal in intellect when she gets a chance to demonstrate her abilities—to help him better rally the team to his side when Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) is ready to pull the plug (literally) on Alan’s prototype computer because it hasn’t produced results in a timely fashion despite its extraordinary £100,000 expense; after the war Alan’s first suspected of being a Soviet spy because his slim wartime record seems suspicious, then he’s convicted of being gay with no help from the government that secretly lauded him for his invaluable contributions toward breaking the exquisite codes of the German Enigma machine because the existence of his unit and their work remained a state secret for 50 years. He was given the choice of 2 years in prison or chemical castration to “cure” his “disease,” so he chose the latter but the effects of these drugs on his mind led him to what is often determined to be suicide by cyanide ingestion in 1954 at age 41. He tried to cover up his sexual orientation during the Bletchley Park years by proposing to Joan (admitting to her the reality of his situation, which was acceptable to her as it would allow them to continue working together), but he soon called it off, being unable to keep up the façade.
So What? While I make no pretense at understanding the use of complex logic and algorithms that Turing designed into his proto-computer in order to break the Enigma codes (complicated enough because their available combinations of “159 million million million” possibilities were too daunting for humans to decipher the encoding patterns but then made virtually-unbreakable because the codes were changed on a daily basis; thus, any attempt to decipher a given day’s version became useless at the stroke of midnight if the puzzle hadn’t yet been solved), I did generally follow when he finally comes to the understanding that certain daily repeated words (“weather report” and “Heil Hitler”) could help his machine (known as a “Bombe” within the decoders’ working groups, called “Christopher” in this film to underscore Turing’s loss of his first love and constant recognition of the secret that made him ironically-illegal within his highly-classified-group). However, a member of his team knew Alan's situation but agreed to not reveal Turing as long as he reciprocated by not divulging that this other man was a Soviet spy—although he does pass the news on to a supportive MI6 (Military Intelligence, Section 6) agent (without noting his own secret), who tells Alan that his colleague is known to the Brits but is kept on board in order to filter just what information (probably misinformation also) is allowed to go forward to Soviet leader Stalin. In this manner we see how even those who work at the highest level of security-clearance can not only be less-than-safe but also be manipulated by those they think they’re fooling, demonstrating how the conduct of these undercover intelligence operations can be just as calculating and difficult as is their deconstruction of clandestine information (although I’m sure that it rarely becomes as exotic and physically-extravagant as what we see with the purely-fictionalized-version of MI6 in the decades-long James Bond movies) quickly narrow down deciphering possibilities, which finally results in the computer’s ability to beat the Nazis’ supposedly-invincible-device. However, the truly disturbing aspect of the Turing team’s breakthrough is that this newly-understood-data about German battlefield strategies, troop movements, etc. had to be carefully monitored by the MI6 decision-makers as to when it could be used on just an occasional basis so as to not alert the enemy that their "secure" codes were now readable by the Allies, in order to prevent them from coming up with another system entirely.
The conundrum of securing information that could save lives yet not using it very often so as to hold back the big surprises for crucial, war-shortening decisions is dramatized by one of Alan’s team knowing that his brothers are on a military transport ship destined for a surprise German attack, yet they can’t advocate for suddenly ordering the transport to change course in order to keep the enemy in the dark about their now-known-secrets (sealing the fate of the brothers). This is presented in a heartbreaking scene (just as is Alan’s conviction for his sexual-identity “crime,” with no help from sympathetic-but-constrained Detective Nock due to the continuing top-secret-nature of espionage during the paranoiac Cold War with the Soviets that immediately followed the cessation of Axis aggression in 1945). You’d never think that making the discovery that could help shorten, then end this global conflict would come tarnished with such complexities, so it just makes Turing’s situation all the more horribly difficult, especially as he becomes desperately overwhelmed by all of the fabrications (so much so that when Joan offers to testify to his heterosexuality prior to his conviction he declines, as he’s exhausted with living so many lies, even if admitting the least important of them [in that he wasn’t ashamed of his feelings for men, just angry that he had to be deceitful about it] would bring repercussions on him). For such a 2-pronged-story—unknown-but-essential-international-hero-work paired with the tragic aspect of a person persecuted merely for his biological essence—Tyldum handles both aspects very well, building appropriate tension without resorting to cheap melodrama, successfully juxtaposing the related-but-distinct-periods of Turing’s life through smooth editing, reminding us of the unheralded-but-vital-work that goes on today in trying to make daily life safe for ordinary citizens even while fanatics and lunatics are scheming or snapping all around us, constantly looking for opportunities for their quick-and-deadly strikes. (I’m not trying to steer these comments toward arguing the morality/effectiveness of CIA torture tactics—a topic I’m sure will continue to dominate headlines long after I post this review of 2 little cinema stories—but, just like with The Interview controversy noted below—we can’t escape the reality that even though a film may be long in preparation or its subject may be long removed from our midst, recurrent situations and themes continue to keep history alive in our contemporary contexts, giving us better reason to explore and understand the past within the framework of our present, as Alan Turing’s "problem" still isn’t as removed as many of us would like for it to be in a world where what you do should be more important than what you are at birth but we’re clearly nowhere near that ideal just yet.)
Bottom Line Final Comments: If you’d like to see how Alan Turing’s work is still alive and important in our high-tech-contemporary-societies, you can visit this site devoted to his life and activities; however, I hope that you also avail yourself of an early opportunity to see The Imitation Game (title based on the concept of how machines, that we now understand within the context of artificial intelligence, in one way provide an imitation of the way the human mind works but also function in their own approach to intelligence, using processes and procedures that are basically indecipherable to those of us without specialized training in higher math and/or computer science, so that, in a way, the “game” is one of fooling us into assuming that we’ll always have control over these advanced devices when in fact they may be evolving—with or without our help—into existences that are further beyond number-crunching-probability-calculating-tasks than we could ever imagine without some help [and warnings] from intelligently-conceived science-fiction—and concerned physicists such as Stephen Hawking). You’ll also benefit from seeing superb acting from Cumberbatch (an Oscar-nominee-possibility for sure, although there’s lot of worthy competition this year) and steadily-increasing-quality (in my opinion, at least) from Knightly, whom I’m starting to think of as very successful in her own right, not just someone whose appearance reminds me of better performances from Natalie Portman. I can’t really offer a Top 10 for 2014 just yet because there are still too many films set to open in the next few weeks that I need to see, but for now I can certainly find a strong possibility for The Imitation Game being one of those finalists. As for capping these comments off with one of my Musical Metaphors, I’m heading more in an allusive direction this time, choosing Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” (from the 1971 album of the same name), with a live performance at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=i5mlE9Pezes (where the video is of marginal quality yet in lovely hues, but, importantly, the audio still comes through well, although these allusive lyrics are a bit elusive as well, so you might want to read them, before listening, at http://jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=182) that captures the melancholy, contemplative mood that The Imitation Game weaves for me.
Further, if you want to expand upon such a mood while listening to the full 36:12 of Mitchell's “record,” often considered one of the pinnacles of 20th-century popular music, I invite you to do so at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50zkUclo-cw while deciding when and where to see The Imitation Game, this marvelously-well-constructed, well-acted account of the unique life and contributions of Alan Turing who was finally exonerated from his "crime," after recent years of being honored in various ways (including an official apology in 2009 from Prime Minister Gordon Brown on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated”), in August 2014 with an official pardon by Queen Elizabeth II for that absurd 1952 “gross indecency” conviction.
For Your Additional Holiday Reading Pleasure, a Few Gifts from Me
As noted above, one of the most controversial situations to plague the movie industry in years has been in the headlines for the last few weeks with the hacking of the Sony Pictures computer system (by North Korea according to the FBI, but no one’s been identified nor held accountable yet for this massive cybercrime, with the hackers simply identifying themselves as the “Guardians of Peace”), resulting in a lot of private information being made public and the cancellation of The Interview’s (Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen) scheduled December 25, 2014 debut after being dropped by several theater chains in response to hacker threats that violence would occur if the movie were to be shown (seemingly in response to the offense taken that the plot involves the assassination of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un). There’s been a lot of controversy roaming in various directions about everything connected to this incident so for your edification I’ll pass on some thoughts from within the cinematic empire itself, brought to you by one of the industry’s “bibles,” Variety. At this point a lot of the heat about the incident is focused on throwing blame around for the responses to the clash between ideals of protecting free speech by both making and showing the movie vs. protecting the public from what could legitimately be understood as a terrorist threat if attacks would occur at movie houses. You can read about how theater owners are mad at Sony for blaming them for the distribution cancellation when all they wanted was a rescheduling of the release until after the hackers are caught (it’s still unclear how or when The Interview might ever be made widely available). Even President Obama has weighed in on this matter, stating that appropriate retaliation against North Korea will come at an unspecified time and manner, but he's been criticized for ratcheting up the rhetoric over this situation, just as the North Koreans are now threatening retaliation for any U.S. actions against them, which may have already occurred because the Internet has gone dark in North Korea—even as I’m writing these comments—while here at home Sony is threatening Twitter with legal action for allowing its users to post the stolen emails (I’ll have to leave the details of this ongoing story for your attention to news reports after I get this posting finished). I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this ongoing mess, but the bottom line for now is that you still have a lot of choices for movie openings on Christmas Day, although the fictional demise of Supreme Leader Kim won’t be one of them. 12/23/14—But Wait! Hold the Posting! Now comes news in this ongoing saga (with a longer-running-time than The Hobbit trilogy) that a few independent theaters are going to show The Interview on 12/25 after all! (A move that pleases President Obama but creates a rift with the major theater chains.) I’m now rushing to get this damn thing finished before our story takes another twisted turn. Yikes!
On a much lighter note—with emphasis on making love, not war—I offer you this analysis of movie kisses from New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott, an overview of what some call “tonsil hockey” on the big screen, from the 1896 May Irwin-John Rice smooch recorded by the Thomas Edison company to Sigmund Freud’s explorations of kissing as sublimation for more direct sexual encounters (evidenced by certain Gone with the Wind scenes) to the melancholy parting between Cheryl Strayed and her ex-husband in Wild (Jean-Marc Vallée; review in our December 11, 2014 posting) as they move on after a bitter divorce because of her serial infidelities. Scott offers a marvelous meditation on what he calls a “dense forest of sexual semiotics” in this article, which I just happened to stumble upon but pass on to you for a more uplifting read than all of the hullabaloo over The Interview. In that vein, I’m going to reduce some of my own ongoing grief that results from the amount of time that I invest each week in the research (the most interesting and rewarding aspect of this enterprise), writing (a very slow process for me; words don’t come trippingly out of my aged brain), and posting (wrestling with Google Blogspot software all the way, possibly the worst computer aid on the planet), followed by daily attempts to promote this amateur enterprise through Facebook, External Reviews in IMDB, etc.—for something that was supposed to be a retirement hobby but has morphed into an almost-all-consuming-activity that swallows day after day of my existence—by taking a little time off so that I can just enjoy the holidays myself for awhile (I’m also going to attempt to upgrade my decrepit computer in hopes that might improve my Web-surfing and posting processes, so depending on whether any calamities come of that I may be out of action longer than I anticipate; wish me well in downloading Mac’s Yosemite OS).
Pat Craig (“Who’s that?” you say; well, look him up on our long-forgotten Homepage—he's on the left in this photo) and I started this blog just a bit over 3 years ago, and since then it’s grown so that we’ve gotten over 134,000 unique hits at one time or another from countries on every continent except Antarctica (with Ukraine being one of our most consistent sources of readership lately, after the U.S., Canada, and—big-time this week—France, so I offer our thanks to supporters there and everywhere else—especially the very regular ones such as Richard Parker [the somewhat-but-more-so-all-the-time-unofficial Second Guy, at least until Pat finally starts offering some of those long-promised-reviews] and Roger Smitter, whom I single out because I actively hear from them; for anyone else who’s a regular reader, I thank you as well but I’d also like to hear from you with comments of any sort you have to offer, as I do with certain correspondents in LinkedIn’s Movie Addicts and World Cinema Critics groups, such as Jason King and Steven East [Australia], Hope Madden and George Wolf [England], Haricharan Pudipeddi [India], and the most exotic of all, Fiore Mastracci—The Right Critic—[Pittsburgh, PA]), but there are times when being a one-man-band gets to be overwhelming, not to mention distracting from the real life I’m supposed to be living with my marvelous (and extremely patient—first it was nonstop work at Mills College, Oakland, CA, now Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark, which is growing into an unintended-full-time-job of its own) wife, Nina Kindblad (also a devoted reader and after-the-fact-copy-editor; the overlooked mistakes are mine, the improvements are hers), so I’ll be back sometime soon after New Year’s Day but may ease up some on posting frequency in 2015 so that doing these reviews can remain enjoyable, not obligatory, for me. I wish all of you marvelous holidays, whatever you may be celebrating (including Festivus), even if it’s just a few days off of your normal work schedule, and look forward to continuing the sharing of more cinema-based-chatter with you as we all roll forward into yet another reboot of our ongoing lives.
And one last thing (maybe), let me offer a farewell to the fabulous Joe Cocker who won’t be able to join us in 2015, but he was always welcome to any help that we friends could give him; here’s an encore of the Lennon-McCartney classic (their version on 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) as only Joe could interpret it, from the great Woodstock documentary (Michael Wadleigh, 1970) at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=NR-H2u FCQls, a forever memory of his contributions to that magnificent 1969 event (I never made it to the concert but at least Nina and I finally saw where it happened … 40 years later … I guess we stopped too long for munchies on the way). Sorry that the original widescreen format is squashed into 4 x 3 video here and the image quality’s not so good, but Cocker still comes alive, even from beyond the grave; goodbye, Joe, you wonderful wild man! (Now for the real last thing—I hope, although words such as "finally" and "edit" do seem to be ambiguous in my vocabulary—I'll wish Peter Jackson the best in Hobbit income, awards considerations [for technical achievements, not script], and future career moves because he'd be the first to tell me that I've "gotta lotta damn gall" [to quote Arlo Guthrie from "Alice's Restaurant"—nope, no link, but you can look it up if you want] to tell somebody else to edit their art when mine [art? maybe in the broadest sense of the word] makes Pauline Kael's [if you don't know her, you definitely should look her up] New Yorker film reviewers look like capsule comments. Maybe I'll actually get more concise in 2015 ... maybe Orcs will fly ... oh, wait, maybe some of them do, or were those just big bats? Anyway, tune in again next year and we'll see what happens.)
If you’d like to know more about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies here are some suggested links:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W7RutRghXY (even though this is only a 2:31 trailer it does a very nice job of recapping the major flow of the previous 2 segments of this trilogy so that you can refresh yourself on the context of the final chapter, which is covered well in this trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVAgTiBrrDA)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3Jl86HCoBE (6:48 featurette about the making of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which provides the shooting process and technology that leads into the trilogy of The Hobbit)
If you’d like to know more about The Imitation Game here are some suggested links:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODAA5Euc_20 (11:04 interview with screenwriter Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum; then you can watch how actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly respond to the filmmakers’ intentions in conveying the complexity of Alan Turing at this 30:44 London Film Festival press conference at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHWvDrzsWZM—Moore and Tyldum are part of this interview as well)
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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.