November 25, 2003

Movies: Love, Actually

Richard Curtis, the writer and director, really does have his finger on the pulse of touching simple movie love stories. I didn't like it quite as much as Notting Hill or the wonderful Four Weddings and a Funeral but it was still super-sweet and enjoyable. ***1/2

Posted by aarondf at 03:25 PM | Movies | Comments (0)

Movies: The Pianist

Wow, this was even more powerful than I expected and much less focused on music than I expected - there are really only a few scenes where Brody, who does an amazing job, is actually playing a real piano. No heroics, just survival through the darkest of times. ****

Posted by aarondf at 03:22 PM | Movies | Comments (0)

November 21, 2003

Goat Tower

Very cool looking Goat Tower. Check it out.

Posted by aarondf at 03:08 PM | Links | Comments (2)

November 20, 2003

Lord of the Rings Movie Comments

I was sure I had posted this before but now I guess not. I am thinking about it again today as I watched the first half of the extended edition of the The Two Towers DVD last night in some pain.

Here is my commentary written immediately after the first movie came out and then I am going to take the liberty of posting someone else's comments elsewhere on tTT as a comment to this post. This was written in a fair bit of anger and pain over what this movie could have been. I highly recommend the followup post on tTT which is much better written than my angry argument and better addresses the reason why all these changes of character are so ruinous to Tolkien's story.

Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring directed by Peter Jackson
Commentary by Aaron Fuegi

In general, the reviews for this first film of the trilogy have been excellent. Unfortunately, while I think many things were beautifully done, can not endorse this movie as a whole. The visuals were absolutely gorgeous for the most part and the plot changes were for the most part adeptly handled but the characters simply do not hold at all true to Tolkien's words. These objections will not be shared by those not very familiar with the books. For them, I think this is an excellent movie (mostly for the visuals) but NOT faithful to Tolkien's characters.

I am a serious Tolkien fan and have read the trilogy three times or so and did reread Fellowship just prior to the movie. Despite, this I went into the movie with high hopes, understanding and accepting that the plot would have to change and be shortened due to the change of medium. Although I like Tom Bombadil, the choice to remove him and the three chapters he appears in was an excellent one - in terms of overall plot development there is little bang for the buck. The replacement of Glorfindel with Arwen also seemed a reasonable choice and I actually thought Liv Tyler did an excellent job. The problem for me with the movie is that I don't feel that almost any of the major characters were at all faithful to their portrayal in the books. In almost all cases, I felt that the characters in the movie were "smaller" than they appear in the books, where admittedly many do have a "larger than life" feel. I will address each of the characters separately in this regard as it was my fundamental difficulty with the movie. Also, while the plot changes were obviously required to shorten the length, the characters are very deliberately changed for no needed reason. Note also that my objections are in no cases to the actors; it is to the writing which very deliberately changes the characters. For the most part, the acting was excellent for all the major characters, even Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn who I had expected to think was wrong for the part.

Gandalf. In the books, Gandalf is basically the architect of all that happens. Things go awry and must be changed at times but it is his will and plans that govern the company's actions. Gandalf has prepared for this time all of his life and will do whatever it takes for the Ring to be destroyed. Here, Gandalf is not nearly so clear about what needs to be done. He is undecided about Frodo bearing the Ring from Rivendell. He fears Moria as opposed to wishing to go through it despite the potential of great cost to himself. Still, his portrayal is closer to the books than many.

Frodo. Frodo is actually probably the truest to character of all. However, he along with the other hobbits is portrayed as something of a coward.

Sam. Sam's motivation here is not nearly so clear as in the books, where his platonic love and deep loyalty to Frodo intensely bind him to the company. This is not shown nearly so strongly in the movie where he seems as much bound by his promise to Gandalf.

Merry and Pippin. These two are treated horribly by the film, treating them as children and using them as comic relief. In the books, they are young but totally mature. They are great friends to Frodo and conspire to help him make a planned escape from the Shire. Merry in fact leads the hobbits during the early stage of their journey. The scene with Farmer Maggot is probably the most instructive of the change. It was FRODO who used to steal mushrooms from Farmer Maggot as a CHILD and is afraid of him. Merry is good friends and on excellent terms with Farmer Maggot who clearly greatly respects him. To have Merry and Pippin stealing vegetables is a HUGE reduction of them to children. Throughout the movie, they are continually portrayed as children in terms of both actions and motivation. Given their importance in the latter books, this is particularly disturbing.

Aragorn. Aragorn is Gandalf's main collaborator in the events of LotR. Also to be noted is that as of LotR, Aragorn is EIGHTY years old, and has spent the past fifty years traveling more than any living man, has commanded armies in multiple kingdoms, and has an amazing strength, wisdom, charisma and experience. He is an excellent warrior and tracker, but even more a leader and healer. He also has been waiting and planning for this day for all of his life, the moment where the Kingship can be restored. In the movie, he is diminished in significant ways. First off, not enough of his backstory is presented - even the simple "All that is gold does not glitter" riddle would have been a great help. Here he plays no role in the decision to go through Moria. The worst scene of all is the scene with just Gandalf and Elrond discussing things before the council in Rivendell. Both treat him as a person who can hopefully rise to do great things. This is totally inappropriate. Gandalf respects Aragorn far more than any living man and is well aware of his incredible strengths and the role he has to play. Elrond had Aragorn as his ward for some 30 years and is also well aware of his strengths, although somewhat ambivalent about him due to his wish for Arwen not to choose the mortal way and leave him forever. Another ridiculous scene is the manufactured one with him and Frodo at the end of the movie. The books never suggest at all that Aragorn is seriously tempted by the Ring; he is at peace with himself and knows his role. Making him think that he can't stand to be near the Ring and sending Frodo off alone is just totally out of character. Frodo's departure works in the books because it was FRODO's decision, keeping in character with his wishing to protect those around him at all times, even when sending himself into great danger. Throughout, he only lets others accompany him at their insistence. Aragorn and the others only accept it because it is a fait accompli and they see themselves as being Merry and Pippin's only chance for survival.

Saruman. Saruman is not as fully developed in the books as the others but he is portrayed as a brilliant man who falls because he sees the strength of the Enemy and can find no way out. Here he is portrayed as easily succumbing to Sauron and actually serving him, which he does not do in the books. It is also not made as clear that he wants the ring for himself to challenge Sauron as opposed to supporting him. In addition, the wizard battle between Gandalf and Sauron seems petty; in the books it is clear that this is just a clash of wills and at this time, in Saruman's fortress, Gandalf does not have the strength to contest with him, although he does have the strength to resist him.

Legolas and Gimli. These two are not that well developed in the books either, with one major exception - their friendship with one another. However, this friendship stems initially almost entirely from Gimli's reaction (almost worshipful) to Galadriel making him realize that if one Elf can be that good, that other elves may be interesting too. Following this realization, his opinion of elves changes irrevocably and he quickly becomes great friends with Legolas. By completely eliminating this scene, the most significant character development of these two is eliminated. In addition, Gimli is portrayed as much more emotional/out of control here and used for cheap laughs such as in the "Nobody tosses a dwarf" scene. Legolas is a great archer but the machine-gun rate at which he fires at times is ridiculous.

Boromir. Boromir is actually probably the best handled of the fellowship. The extra scene where he picks up the ring is fairly well handled and just presents some extra foreshadowing. The only scene which didn't work for me is his death scene. Oddly enough, it is not that this was so badly done except for the fact that Tolkien did it so much better. Adding thissuper-Uruk-Hai in Lurtz just causes all sorts of problems. The concept in the book is that Boromir is mortally wounded heroically offstage defending M&P (who also fight unlike here where they just sit there like lumps letting Boromir die for them). He kills many orcs and none can face him hand to hand but eventually he is turned into a virtual pincussion with arrows. There is no one main enemy. This also fails because after Boromir is beaten, Aragorn arrives and can barely beat Lurtz one-on-one after earlier single-handedly defeating 5 Nazgul. Simply nonsensical, especially when here he is wielding Anduril (or should be) and there he had nothing but a torch and standard sword. Clearly the reason it was done is to have the movie climax on this one-on-one battle but it just doesn't work.

Scenes. First off, for the most part I think these were wonderfully handled. The Shire and the party are absolutely amazingly handled visually, although with a few minor inconsistencies. For example, Bilbo simply disappears at the party while in the books Gandalf creates a smoke effect to make it less obvious just what happened in case this action gets to any servants of the Enemy. In addition, in the books Frodo is more in on the after-party plans and changing this weakens his character as it suggests that he is not fully in Bilbo's trust. Anyway, there are a few scenes that need special consideration.

Gandalf escaping Orthanc - reasonably well handled as the changes (no Radhagast or Shadowfax) do speed things up.

Journey from Weatherop - unclear to me why this was changed as much as it was. Just have them jump (with some mention of time) to the point where they meet Glorfindel and have Arwen more directly replace him. Having her ride with him is ok. The scene with Aragorn being caught so off-guard is very bad and weakens a major character to strengthen a minor one - why? The idea that they ride together for 6 days seems unreasonable. The ride battling off the Black Riders is also given significantly more time than is needed. The flood at the ford is beautifully done but having it done by Arwen rather than Elrond and Gandalf again seems to be just to strengthen a minor character at the expense of logic and more important characters. The Arwen and Frodo scene just across the ford is also quite weird.

Rivendell. Looks gorgeous (and I should know - see here ). Scenes with Bilbo well handled. However, there are lots of problems. Two of the worst scenes in the movie happen here. The first is the ridiculous discussion between Gandalf and Elrond, every word of which felt 100% wrong to me. The second is of course the Council. This scene is IMO the most important one in Fellowship, where wel earn much about history, characters, motivation, etc... Obviously it needed to be shortened greatly for the movie and lots of the information removed or told in live scenes like the Gwaihir rescue was done. Here a mockery is made of it. Elrond seems a pompous fool, dictating behavior, rather than a thousands of years old man of great wisdom and power, also largely deferring to Gandalf in this. The virtual fight is ridiculous. Having M&P dupe Sam's actions also makes no sense as the scene where they offer to join the Fellowship is probably their most important scene in the book to understanding their motivations. Here they seem as children just wanting to go on a trip. The Narsil scene was handled ok but why not mention the reforging to Anduril? I just have no idea. The other important thing missing here is the broadening of Aragorn's (previously Strider) character as a poet and lore-master of great experience and knowledge of Rivendell and Elves.

Caradhas. Perhaps should have simply been skipped. Anyway, a bunch of changes which are bad but don't save screen-time. Saruman creates the storm as opposed to Caradhas/nature, the powers of which are a strong secondary theme of LotR. Also, the discussion of Moria here has three important problems. 1) Gimli is sure the Fellowship will meet Balin who is fine; in the books he hopes for this but does not really expect it. 2) Aragorn does not participate in the decision at all, weakening his character, where the books strengthen him by making it clear he has been to Moria and does not wish to return only because he has a foreboding that it will be deadly for Gandalf. 3) Gandalf is weakened because he does not wish to take the dangerous way, despite the possibility of great cost to himself.

Moria. Early parts aren't great but are acceptable. Pippin knocking the whole skeleton in as opposed to testing the depth of the well by dropping a small stone (which does not immediately draw enemies) weakens his already weak character more. The Cave Troll fight was extremely bad I thought. Outrageously long and wasted screen time, too strong, Frodo's role not significant, etc... The weird stairs in the middle of nowhere scene was also too long and pointless except to add the stupid Gimli jokes. The Fellowship being surrounded and then orcs running away with no battle was both stupid, totally unbelievable and a waste of time. The kobolds running on the pillars also added nothing. The Balrog and scene with him I thought was done fine other than Gandalf hanging on for more than an instant. If he had held on that long, he would have pulled himself up.

Lothlorien. Much shorter than it should have been but for the most part understandable. Only a few complaints but they are important. Gimli's reaction to the Lady not being used was incredibly bad as it is vital character development and a beautiful scene. Sam not looking into the mirror and not getting the Garden Box was also strange to remove. Aragorn not being greeted as an old friend and respected elf-friend was also bad and again weakens him. I thought Galadriel was actually handled fairly well with one small but important exception. As she descends to the mirror, she noticeably hesitates at one point. Galadriel is a woman of supreme confidence and grace and this hesitation is totally out of character. The Ring's temptation scene wasn't perfect but didn't bother me nearly so much as it did some others. After how BADLY Elrond was handled, I was actually quite happy with the treatment of Galadriel.

Journey down Anduin. Absolutely gorgeous scenery which I wish would have gone on longer. Cuts to Isengard at this point were annoying. Who cares about this particular Uruk-Hai.

Breaking of the Fellowship. I mentioned above under Aragorn and Boromir my main objections to this section. Including the one chapter of The Two Towers was a good choice I thought and I had predicted it. The scene in the books with Sam running straight to the boat as it just left the shore guided by an invisible Frodo and diving in the water right away "Coming, Master Frodo" worked much better than the pause in the water and then long underwater scene of the movie.

Everything not mentioned I either approved of or did not strenuously object to. As mentioned before, the visuals I found absolutely incredible in almost all respects, not surprising with Alan Lee (by far my favorite Tolkien artist) and John Howe (probably my 2nd favorite) in charge of this. I might have enjoyed the movie more as a silent movie.

I mourn for what this movie could have been.

Posted by aarondf at 11:37 AM | Movies | Comments (9)

November 19, 2003

Comics: V for Vendetta

Wow, this is amazingly good. I read and enjoyed Watchmen years ago but I thought this was even better. If you haven't read this and like dark comics, I recommend getting this ASAP. Amazing job, Alan Moore and David Lloyd.

Posted by aarondf at 10:40 AM | Books | Comments (0)

November 18, 2003

Movies: Legally Blonde 2

I loved the first one but I had the feeling from reviews and the bits I'd seen that this one wasn't going to be nearly as good so waited for video. Well, a pleasant surprise awaited me as this one manages to keep the same fun atmosphere of the first one and fully resurrect Elle. Ultra-light but quite enjoyable ***1/2

Posted by aarondf at 05:18 PM | Movies | Comments (0)

Chocolate Chip Cookies

More efforts over the long weekend in my long search for the recipe for the perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie for me which is big and cakey. I first tried the Good Eats recipe but found that the use of shortening over butter absolutely ruined the cookies for me as I just don't like it. I then tried another attempt with the Cook's Illustrated/ATK recipe with more but still not near perfect success. I think the low temperature cooking and referigerating the dough steps are definitely essential for the fat cookies I like. It was also a bad idea to use as many chips as I did but the recipe definitely needs more tweaks and I am not sure what they are.

The search goes on!

Posted by aarondf at 05:12 PM | Miscellaneous | Comments (0)

Movies: Master and Commander

I went to this yesterday on our unusual day off here at BU and it was absolutely excellent. I have only read the first few books in the Patrick O'Brian series of books on the naval war in the Napoleonic area and honestly didn't love them but this movie seems like a pretty perfect job to me of transferring the books to film. Aubrey and Maturin both come off correctly and an excellent job is done of portraying life at sea, particularly for the officers. Crowe particularly does a great job as Aubrey with all the necessary charisma and confidence 'lucky Jack' has. Highly recommended ****1/2 and should definitely be seen on the big screen.

Posted by aarondf at 05:07 PM | Movies | Comments (0)

November 13, 2003

Link: Slave to TiVo

Interesting story on Reuters on the danger of becoming a slave to one's TiVo. I definitely identify with this story. For me, I think a bigger drive would go a long way towards solving the problem but maybe it would just make it worse.

Posted by aarondf at 02:33 PM | Links | Comments (0)

November 12, 2003

SpamAssassin is Wonderful

Boston University where I work and get all my email just recently enabled SpamAssassin on all mail through the central server. I have now made sure that all my mail goes through this server and it is a godsend. Previously I was maintaing a .procmailrc file by hand and it took a bunch of time and was only moderately effective. SpamAssassin is vastly more effective and after a tiny bit of initial setup, there is basically no additional maintenance.

For anyone out there who gets a ton of spam and doesn't have an effective filtering program, I think there is probably almost no investment of time worth more than getting SpamAssassin or another good program installed on your system.

Posted by aarondf at 05:30 PM | Tech | Comments (0)

November 10, 2003

NYC Trip: WWtbaM and Foxwoods

Pete and I on Thursday went down to New York City to be in the audience for two Who Wants to be a Millionaire? episodes and to test/audition to be on a future episode. The written test was harder than expected and I missed at least 3 of 30 and neither of us were called to audition. Of course, even if I had been, I doubt I would have been picked (Pete, I think, would have a much better shot). Also, the trip turned out to be pretty slow and traffic was stressful and there was a ton of time just waiting around. I doubt I'll try again but I'll see.

On the way back, we stopped at Foxwoods casino for Pete to play Craps and me to play Poker. Pete explained a bunch of the MANY Craps bets that were possible but it is clearly a straight losing game with pretty bad odds and I couldn't bring myself to play. I played 2-4 Hold'em after waiting a long while for a table and had a really nice time and made $80 in two hours of play. I was in the zone probably as much as I have ever been with poker, almost never needing to recheck my cards and feeling quite comfortable with the casino atmosphere which I hadn't before. I also was making excellent calls on what hands people had although I still paid off too many people and our table was a fun group. I may consider going more often, at least if I have company for the trip.

Posted by aarondf at 03:40 PM | Events | Comments (0)