Spotlight on Whiskey Tango Foxtrot – Interview with Kim Barker, whose memoir inspired the film

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I first saw the trailer of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot about a month ago which stars Tina Fey as a 40-something female who finds herself in a rut and wants to completely shake up her life, which she does by taking up a journalism assignment in Afghanistan.

The film is directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa and has a great ensemble cast in addition to Tina FeyMargot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina and Billy Bob Thornton. Check out the trailer:

 

TalibanShuffleBookIt turns out that the film was based on a best-selling memoir by Kim Barker called The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days In Afghanistan And Pakistan that’s got great reviews on Amazon. The book is a dark comedic take on her time in South Asia, which was published by Doubleday in 2011. When I got the opportunity to chat with Kim Barker, I jumped at the chance.

A bit of background about the author:

Barker was the South Asia bureau chief for The Chicago Tribune from 2004 to 2009, based in New Delhi and Islamabad. Barker has covered natural disasters such as the tsunami in Asia and the earthquake in Kashmir, as well as tracked manmade disasters — the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the corruption in Afghanistan, and the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

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Before going overseas, Barker worked at The Seattle Times and the Spokane Spokesman-Review. After coming back in 2009, she was the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where she freelanced for Foreign Affairs, Reader’s Digest and The Atlantic. In 2010, she joined ProPublica, where she wrote about campaign finance and the fallout of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

Barker, who grew up in Montana and Wyoming, now lives in Brooklyn and works as a New York Times metro reporter specializing in investigative reporting and narrative writing.


My review of the movie

This is the biggest role I’ve seen of Tina Fey in a feature film. She plays the protagonist based on Kim Barker, though they changed her name slightly to Kim Baker and she’s a tv reporter instead of a print journalist. The fact that she’s unmarried and childless makes her the ideal candidate for the job as a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, and she had wanted an escape of sort out of her mundane life. Well, she’s certainly got the adventure of her life as soon as she arrives in Kabul.

It’s a fish-out-of water dark comedy that’s perfect for Tina Fey‘s brand of snark. Even the title, military alphabet speak for WTF, should tell you what you’re in for. Some reviews say it’s a drama marketed as a comedy but I think it leans more towards a dark comedy with some dramatic moments. I was laughing throughout and found Kim’s journey quite engaging. At times there are scenes that seem way over the top that made me think Kim’s a reckless reporter, but I’m aware that it’s definitely Hollywood’s way of sensationalizing stuff for dramatic/comedic purposes. People who are really curious about what really happen to Kim should read her book [more on that in my interview below]

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The supporting cast are wonderful and they all have a great rapport with Fey. Margot Robbie is one of the most interesting actresses working today, this is the third movie I saw her in so far and I’m a fan. She and Martin Freeman as Kim’s fellow reporters, as well as Billy Bob Thornton as a US general, are all wonderful in their roles and have some memorable moments in the film. The casting of British Alfred Molina and American Christopher Abbott in prominent Afghan roles, as the attorney general and Kim’s fixer/translator respectively, is a curious one. I mean they’re both great in the roles but in light of the hot button issue of diversity, I kept wondering why they didn’t look for actors of South Asian (or even Middle Eastern) background. In any case, I thought Abbott as Fahim was especially memorable in an understated performance. His relationship with Kim is the most developed in the movie and the scene towards the end actually made me tear up a bit.

Robert Carlock‘s script is definitely perfect for Fey’s screen vehicle, the fact that he’s worked with her on 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The dialog are sharp and pretty funny, even the romance between Fey’s and Martin Freeman’s character (speaking with an amusing Scottish accent) is hilarious with some genuinely sweet moments. Unlike the book, there’s no shuffling between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the movie, they pretty much stay in Kabul the entire time. But there is a shuffle between drama and comedy here that at times feels uneven, but I’d say for the most part the movie plays out as a comedy.

Overall I enjoyed this one, it’s definitely one of the most entertaining female-driven comedies out there. If you’re a Tina Fey fan, I highly recommend it. It’s also no surprise to see SNL creator Lorne Michaels as one of the producers.

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Kim Barker [left] during the post-screening Q&A

After the movie ended, there’s a Q&A with Kim, moderated by The LOFT’s education director. I didn’t have the early part on tape but Kim explained that she didn’t really have any say about the script once she sold the rights of her book. She was consulted by the film’s screenwriter Robert Carlock, but knowing that they were going to fictionalize a lot of what happened in her book, she wasn’t exactly given the rights to make any modifications to it. Check out her thoughts about her life as a journalist and some tidbits about the film.

From the Q&A:

Q: When you’re overseas reporting, with all the risk involved, what is the x factor, the synergetic factor that make you still want to keep doing what you’re doing considering you might lose a limb or even your life? 

A: As a journalist, when you go into a story, you start to go into a spiral and you just need to go into the next part of the story. When I was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it felt like you’re covering the most important story in the world. Once you start seeing it unfold, I couldn’t see myself leaving, I want to see how the story unfold and I care so much about the people there. And you also stop seeing yourself as somebody who’s in danger. It’s like we’re all frogs in boiling water, we had no idea the water is boiling. So your friend would do this thing, they go to the middle of Kandahar to talk to the Taliban. Well that seems crazy but that means I can invite the Taliban here to this hotel and talk to them. And you just start thinking of yourself, that you’ve been here for so long, your friends’ been here for so long, and nothing really bad’s happened to anybody, so we can keep going. But then bad things started happening, in terms of the kidnappings.

Looking at what happen since then in the Arab Springs, like Libya and Syria now, it seems that Afghanistan is just child’s play for us. If you were to say to me, ‘hey I have a ticket for you to go to Syria,’ I’d say, ‘You’re out of your f****ing mind, no way I’d go to Syria.’ You start to get the sense… I mean I really felt like that with Faruk (Fahim in the film who was her Afghan fixer) y’know, when he got married and have kids, I didn’t want to have him on me, y’know, because in a lot of this situation, when a Western journalist and the driver/fixer or whatever got kidnapped or whatever happened to them. When I was over there, it’s always the driver or fixer who got killed or got into trouble more than the foreigner and I just couldn’t deal with that anymore. So that kind of moderated the risk I’m willing to take over there.

[spoiler alert]

Q: Where there any scenes in the movie involving Tina Fey that actually happened in real life? How much was fictionalized?

A: That’s a good question. Um, read the book [audience laughed] I mean you’ll learn, I mean when I saw the movie, I was like ‘hey you cut out a lot of the funny stuff from the book.’ Like when I go to interview the war lord, that is true. But they cut a lot of the parts in the movie. I was like, ‘you just lost part of the jokes there as it got really funny with that war lord.’ They also made the war lord to be a much bigger deal than he actually was. But the part when I was shooting guns with the attorney general, that’s actually true. That’s one where people thought, ‘that can’t possible be true,’ but it was. Although I never would’ve fired an AK-47 like that. I’m from Montana, I know about y’know, saving ammunition. I’d point and I aim, I’d hit the target that’s been set up. Those things are true. I did live in a place called the ‘fun house’ that’s not quite as grand as in the movie. There’s no address in Kabul, so every house has a different name and ours was called the ‘fun house.’

As far as the military, the story in the end involving the soldier that was very accurate. But he only lost one leg instead of two legs. I didn’t actually go visit him in his ranch, but I called him on the phone. He said a lot of the same things as in the movie, but he’s much nicer in real life. The speech actually came from this guy Doug, he’s the drug czar for the US. I was sort of torn up about [the soldier losing his leg] and I didn’t hear about it until I got back. I was blaming myself, basically the entire unit got moved to a more dangerous area because of the story I did with them, because they all seemed so puffed up and kept saying, ‘no we’re not locked an loaded.’So when I was writing the book, I remembered talking to those soldiers and I said to Doug, ‘Oh no, I’m responsible for this.’ And he’d say ‘What about the Taliban?’

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Iain is portrayed by Martin Freeman

Q: The storyline about Ian being kidnapped, how close to the real story was that and are you still in touch with him?

A: Iain’s real name is Sean Langan [a British war photographer]. He was kidnapped by the Taliban for three months. He was a good friend of mine, no he IS a good friend of mine, I didn’t want to talk about him in the past tense [laughter]. He met with me before he went to meet with the Taliban in Pakistan. He said ‘I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do this.’ And I said, ‘You’re a f***ing idiot, you’re gonna get kidnapped.’ And he kept changing the subject, ‘how about if I do it this way or that’ and I just said ‘you’re a f***ing idiot, you’re gonna get kidnapped.’ So when he went there he immediately got kidnapped. It was awful, I’ve been in that situation before where someone close to you got kidnapped. I mean, it turned your world upside down because you couldn’t do anything but think about it and fixate on it.

He eventually got out three months later. There’s a ransom paid for him, I didn’t really have anything to do with the marines going in to rescue him. And he wasn’t as dumb as taking the bus out of Kabul to go to Pakistan but he was pretty stupid. We’re still in touch and we’re good friends and he’s going to the premiere. The premiere is March 1 and Faruk is also trying to come to the premiere but he’s sort of blocked by the US embassy. He’s in Canada now but y’know, he has a Muslim name so his papers are still in further review. I’m hoping he can make it to the premiere.

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Q: Once the film comes out, people might assume that what happens in the movie actually took place in real life? How do you reconcile that given that most of the movie is fictionalized?

A: I answered the same way like I did in the Q&A. If people ask me if something is accurate, then I’ll say ‘well this one is accurate, this one isn’t.’ When you sold your book to Hollywood, Hollywood will do whatever it’s gonna do. There are plenty of examples where the book says one thing and the movie is totally different. Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s non-fiction book Imperial Life in the Emerald City turned into Green Zone [a movie by Paul Greengrass starring Matt Damon] which has no resemblance to the original book. But it was optioned for a movie. I think in Hollywood, ‘based on’ means ok it’s the source material but we’ll do the Hollywood thing with it.

I mean, I’m a TV reporter in the movie and I’m a print reporter in real life. People ask me, ‘how do you feel about that?’ and I’m always rational about it. I don’t think it’ll be very interesting to watch me do my job writing a story as I’m sitting in front of my computer for several hours. Y’know what I mean? It’s far more interesting to watch a TV journalist do her job because you have to be there to capture the story, you have to get the shots and everything so people understand what the character’s doing. I’m ok with that.

Look, they do their own version of the story and the real story is in the book. I’m hoping that people who watch the movie would go, ‘could life really be that weird there?’ and then go buy the book and hopefully learn something about Pakistan and Afghanistan. Because the book is, even though it’s more of a dark comedy, I want people to know more about Pakistan and Afghanistan and by the end of it, they’ll learn about those two countries. That’s my goal. So if the movie will drive people to the book I think that’s great. I think that the narrative arc of the movie is like the narrative arc of my book, I feel like it’s *truthie* There’s something in every scene, if it didn’t happen to me, it happened to somebody I know. And it shows the absurdity of the bubble we lived in over there and I think the movie captured that pretty accurately.

Tina Fey’s character is basically a fictional character based on me. They changed all the names because if they had kept all the names that’s in the book, they’d have to be truthful to the book. So this way they’d just fictionalize things, but there are still grains of truth to them. As I watched the movie I’d be like, ‘oh yeah that happened, I did say that’ even if they happened in a different context. I think they did a good job with it. I think if they wanted to portray everything as accurately as in the book, it’d have been really long and narratively it’s not something that people would want to sit through. [spoiler alert] I didn’t get together with Sean [Iain in the film] like in the movie. But I love that they also didn’t have me end up with him in the end. I love that, because that’s exactly like my narrative arc. I decided to come home because it was time for me to

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Q: What did you think about the title of the film, which is basically WTF? Did you help to come up with that?

A: No, I didn’t have anything to do with that. But Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is military speak, so it’s a nod to the military. You could certainly say ‘what the f***’ about Afghanistan. And it’s got the same dance thing that I did with the Taliban Shuffle, y’know Tango Foxtrot.

Q: It seems to me that the WTF title has that snarky-ness people associate with Tina Fey and is that right that you share a similar sense of humor?

A: Yeah we do. My book has that snarky-ness as well. There’s a dance back and forth between the two borders. I think that’s another reason they didn’t want to use the title of my book is because they keep the movie just in Afghanistan. There’s not enough room to go to Pakistan in the movie. But in the book, the shuffle refers to the going back and forth between Afghanistan and Pakistan, that’s what the Taliban was doing between the two countries and that’s what we’re doing as journalists. There’s no Pakistan in the movie. I talked to [screenwriter] Robert Carlock and he said, ‘we’re going to fictionalize this’ and I said ‘do what you guys do.’ I mean they’re the ones who knew how to make a movie. If I were to sit there and write a movie script, I won’t be able to do it, it just wouldn’t get anywhere.

Q: Since you know about all the real life people in the story, what did you think about the actors portraying the part?
[I mentioned to Kim that I was surprised that they had American actor Christopher Abbott, who was in the acclaimed indie drama James White, cast as the Afghan fixer Fahim] 

A: I didn’t have anything to do with the casting so I can’t answer any question about casting. But I thought [Christopher] did a great job, I mean he looked Afghan to me. Farouk [the real life counterpart of Fahim] loved the trailer and he came off really well in the movie. Fahim came across as the only adult in the room and Farouk was truly the only adult in the room. The thing about Faruk is he has a great sense of humor, whilst Fahim was a very serious man. I suppose we need a straight man there in a comedy movie.

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Christopher Abbott as Fahim

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Alfred Molina as Attorney General Ali Massoud Sadiq

The attorney general had white hear and a bushy beard, not dark hair like in the movie. But I thought Alfred Molina did a great job and the dancing scene, there’s supposedly a real video of the attorney general dancing on youtube. I wrote about it in the book. I thought he did the Afghan dance very well in the movie, let’s see how my Afghan friends think of him.

Q: Despite all the fictionalized accounts that they did, did the movie captured the tone of your book the way you envisioned it?

A: I always go back to what Stephen Colbert said, y’know, truthie. I think it got the narrative arc and I felt like it captured the relationships that are most important to me, which to me is the one I had with Farouk. I mean obviously all the friendships I had were all important but the one I had with Farouk is the most important one in the book and it’s that way in the movie. It’s the most developed relationship in the movie, y’know, when he leaves her when she was going down. He’s like ‘I don’t want to be a part of this.’ I have to say I teared up a bit when he showed up at the airport. Farouk was the first person I got in touch with after I saw the movie, and Sean was the second.

 


Thank you ALLIED Marketing and Kim Barker for the interview opportunity!


What did you think of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Musings on the final Hobbit trilogy: The Battle of the Five Armies

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Seems like it was ages ago since I saw the first Hobbit film. But in fact it was exactly two years ago that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released. There were – and still are – quibbles about how a 320-page book warrants a three-film adaptation, and I was actually one of those people who didn’t mind it. I LOVED the Middle-Earth universe that J.R.R. Tolkien built, and The Lord of the Rings is perhaps my favorite film trilogy ever and so in my mind it was a worthwhile journey. The second film introduced us to the best CGI-dragon ever conceived on film, and so The Desolation of Smaug was even more exciting second chapter in The Hobbit journey. I listed 10 reasons why I loved that movie, with the wine barrel sequence and of course Smaug himself being the major highlights.

For some odd reason though, the third and final film just didn’t give me as much of a rush as the first two. I mean, I saw the trailer, then the second one, but I wasn’t feverishly anticipating it. In fact I didn’t even post hardly anything about it until I finally saw it early this month at a press screening. Perhaps I’m not the only one who’s feeling meh about the final Hobbit. Per EW, though the film won the box office this weekend with $56 mil, compared to the rest of the Hobbit films, The Battle of the Five Armies didn’t fare as well: The first film in the trilogy made $84.6 million its opening weekend while the second took in $73.6 million. The studio marketing machine emphasized on the phrase “One Last Time” and how one feels about such sentiment depends on how one feels on this franchise. As for me, as much as I’ve enjoyed the excursion to Middle Earth, there and back again as it were, I was ready to bid my farewell to Bilbo & co.

There are a few things that I love about the first two films that I still like this time around, so let’s start with those…

  • I still love Martin Freeman as Bilbo, he’s just so easy to root for. He pretty much is the most selfless character in the whole Middle Earth, and he pretty much risk his neck every time he goes out of his way to prevent war. I’ve always liked his casting and not only he has a believable resemblance to Ian Holm but he has that manic energy and whimsical antics that makes him so fun to watch.TheHobbit3_Bilbo
  • The character arc of Thorin is a strong one here, and Richard Armitage shows that inner conflict convincingly. The role takes advantage of the actor’s specialty of projecting ‘dark, brooding, conflicted’ in a magnetic way. The scenes where he struggles with the dragon sickness is one of the main highlights in the film, though how he recovers from it seems too quick and too easy, and perhaps there’s more of it that’s left in the cutting room floor?
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  • The slithery Smaug, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, is still awesome to behold. I’d say if there is one thing that makes it worthwhile to see The Hobbit movies in 3D glory, it’d be to see Smaug. Too bad the fire-breathing dragon didn’t quite have much screen time despite that awesome cliffhanger we saw in the second film. The action-packed sequence in Lake Town, involving Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) doing what he does best, is thrilling to watch. The special effects with Dolby Atmos sound is especially incredible in this sequence and I have to admit I wish Smaug had more screen time. But of course, he’s done his duties… that is to lead everyone to the main event: The Battles of the Five Armies.

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Now, people who have been anticipating the battle sequences, this movie certainly delivers. It’s amazing how in the book, the only reference to the battle only amounts to a sentence, but here we’ve got at least a whole hour worth of battle sequences. We’ve got the Dwarves, Laketown people, and the Elves fighting a whole bunch of Orcs and Goblins, including a whole army of the Dol Guldur Orcs that are supposedly VERY scary and powerful.

That brings me to the not-so-good things about this film:

  • You’d think that the battle would be the most exciting part of the film, I mean I was expecting something in the vein of Battle of Helms Deep in LOTR: Two Towers, which was one of the most amazing rain scenes ever filmed, but it’s not even close. Somehow I find the whole sequence to be rather boring and by the end of it, I was getting so battle fatigue I couldn’t care less who wins. It’s hard enough to keep up with the current participants as it is, we’ve got Thorin’s cousin, Dwarves of the Iron Hills, joining in. Led by Billy Connolly whose accent is so distracting it’s hard to concentrate on what the heck is going on. I have to admit that my mind wandered for most of the battle scenes. In fact, I started noticing the strange looking codpiece that Azog, the Orc chief, is wearing. Seriously, I never noticed that before but I couldn’t stop giggling once I noticed that.
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  • I think the battle would’ve held more meaning to me if I had a firm grasp just what’s really at stake here. But even those lovable dwarves in the first two films just aren’t so fun here as they’re barely even in the movie! Even the dramatic tension surrounding the Arkenstone of Thrain, that is THE single most important gem of the whole Erebor’s vast treasure, just wasn’t as compelling as I’d imagine. I get that it’s a family heirloom for generations until it’s lost to Smaug, but somewhere along the way, its significance to the people is dwarfed (pardon the pun) by the overwhelming visual spectacle and action extravaganza. What’s worse is that the two main characters, Bilbo and Gandalf, often end up in the sidelines during most of the action. I don’t know why Peter Jackson would rather give a lot of screen time to Alfrid (Ryan Gage), the conniving servant of the Laketown Master, that doesn’t serve the story much at all. He sort of became a comic relief by the end before he disappeared and never to be seen again.
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  • The unnecessary and uninvolving romance between Tauriel and Kili is once again aggravating because it’s yet additional filler on top of the already piled-up filler to make up the three films. I literally roll my eyes every time they appear on screen and the repeated farewell scenes. No offense to Evangeline Lily and Adrian Turner but really, I feel nothing for their characters and their supposed *relationship.* Meanwhile, Legolas (played by the eternally youthful Orlando Bloom) is reduced to nothing more than a Ninja Elf with his Matrix-like moves. Never mind the character inconsistencies with the follow-up movies, when the fight scene was over, some people actually applauded him in the theater.
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  • Despite all of those thrilling fight and battle sequences, I was left feeling meh and unfazed. Even when one major character perished, followed by yet another seemingly-endless farewell, I still remain emotionally-detached. I mean I cried when Boromir met his end and I still get teary-eyed thinking about that scene. Now, it’s no fault to the actors in The Hobbit as I think they all did a good job in their respective roles, but more of a problem with the script (done by no less than FOUR writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro).
  • The scenes with Gandalf, Galadriel and Saruman as they battle the evil Sauron seems disconnected with the battle of the five armies. I don’t know if it’s the choppy editing or that simply an issue that there are just too much going on. In the Lord of the Rings, it’s clear who the main enemy is, but The Hobbit trilogy overall lacks the focus that gives the quest real meaning.
  • [SPOILER WARNING]
    Towards the end, there’s all these references to The Lord of the Rings. Thranduil (Lee Pace) told Legolas to find Aragorn, even though he didn’t specifically mentioned his name, it’s obvious who he’s referring to. Now, I don’t know how old Aragorn is supposed to be during The Hobbit timeframe, but this scene just feels forced to me. Pretty much every reference to LOTR, whether it’s Bilbo playing with the ring, the appearance of the demon Sauron, feels like nothing more than nostalgia. I suppose the continuity is to be expected, but it just further proves how much The Hobbit as a franchise just won’t hold up on its own and it reinforces the fact that they don’t measure up to LOTR movies.

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In summary, the final Hobbit does have its moments and some of the action sequences are pretty entertaining. The attention to detail is amazing too, there’s really a lot to marvel in terms of visuals, and I remember ooh-aahing Thranduil’s Elven Elk with its majestic antlers. But overall, there are more bad than good here, which is pretty disappointing. I expected something more epic in terms of story, not just visual spectacle. It’s actually the shortest of all the Hobbit movies, only 144 min compared to 169 and 161 min of the previous two films, yet I checked my watch the most often whilst watching this. I’d think that even the most ardent Middle Earth fans should feel relieved that it’s finally over, if only it could’ve ended on a much higher note.

I don’t think I’ll be revisiting the Hobbit movies anytime soon, but for what it’s worth, it does make me want to rewatch my Lord of the Rings extended box-set.

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Well, what did you think of the final Hobbit movie? 

Everybody’s Chattin’ + Question of the Week on Emmys winner wishlist

Happy Midweek everyone! Just two more days until Friday, yay😉 I’m going to hit two birds with one stone again today in combining two post *series* in one.

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Ok, so let’s start with some of my favorite posts from the past week:

  • The legendary director Steven Spielberg’s been is a lot of my fellow bloggers’ minds lately thanks to Michael, Kellee and Aurora‘s Spielberg Blogathon. Here are a few notable posts celebrating his work:
    Michael wrote about his TV work on an Amazing Stories series ‘The Mission’ episode, whilst Richard chose to highlight Spielberg’s keen talent on directing his actors. Bubbawheat reviewed Spielberg’s adaptation of one of my all time favorite comics The Adventures of Tintin and Monkeyboy wrote why he loved Spielberg’s 1971 movie Duel.
  • Speaking of celebration, do wish Josh big congrats on his third Blog-aversary!
  • ChattinVisualParallelsMargaret‘s brilliant Visual Parallel series is back, this time she sets her astute eyes on comparing David Fincher’s Zodiac + Se7en.
  • As I’m still putting finishing touches on my August Blindspot, but Chris has just posted his thoughts on Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky.
  • Dan participated in a 1984 Blogathon and chose a film I had never heard of: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes [with Christopher Lambert as Tarzan!] from the director of Chariots of Fire.
    ..
  • Chattin_BoyhoodNow these two movies couldn’t have been more different from each other, but the reviews are both awesome: Mark reviewed Boyhood, whilst Mikey reviewed Into The Storm, which I will attest is definitely more enjoyable than the movie!
  • Last but not least, Kristin observed the movie trends of the last five years, some of which are sadly not going anywhere anytime soon.

Now for Question of the Week!

Since it’s still fresh on everyone’s mind, well some of us anyway, I thought I’d pick your brains simply out of curiosity. Now, I only watch clips of it afterwards but I didn’t tune in LIVE because frankly, I don’t watch hardly any TV to be rooting for anyone.

EMMY2014logoOut of those I did watch, only Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman (and they both won, wahoo!) and Dame Maggie Smith were the only nominees whose performances I’ve actually seen, and none of those awesome Brits attended the event. Besides, my darling Toby Stephens wasn’t nominated [grrr!!], which is a shame as his fantabulous, superlative performance as Captain Flint in Black Sails is as deserving as any of those leading actors, but naturally he’s overlooked as he’s not famous enough for them to notice [heh]. Anyway, enough with the rant, I kind of know he won’t get a nod anyway, but in my heart he’s already won an Emmy [and Golden Globes + whatever other TV award there is out there]😀

Now, my lovely pal Melissa has posted a recap, so check out her top 12 good, bad & the ugly moments of the Emmys. From the Twitter reactions as well as some articles like this one, it seems that there’s a whole lot of déjà vu thing going on this year as the majority of winners are previous winners.

I had to double check these photos were taken from this week and not last year.

I had to double check these photos were taken from this week and not last year.

Though I don’t watch the show, I could see why Breaking Bad swept the major acting awards. It seems like a phenomenal show, heck even my crush Toby himself said it’s his favorite show, that and Boardwalk Empire. Clearly he’d rather do those shows than his mum’s period drama Downton Abbey, ahah. I have only seen one episode of Modern Family and to be honest with you I think it’s waaay overrated. But again, enough with the rant, this is supposed to be a question for YOU dear friends, esp. you who watch way more TV than me [which is basically everybody, ahah]. Surely you all have actors/actresses you think are more deserving than most of the people nominated here, so I’d love to know who they are so we can all commiserate😀


So my question to you is:

Which actor/actress who’s never been nominated for an EMMY before that you wish had gotten a nod?

Early 2014 TV Season: The Same Thing… Only Different!

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Greetings all and sundry!

After putting the Holiday and New Year season safely behind. I’ve taken some time to settle in behind the television to enjoy and occasionally dissect the latest offerings of the major stations.

Any decent dissection is the natural offshoot of an in depth comparison and analysis in order to find a common thread or theme. And one doesn’t have to travel far to find one or more in the:

Early 2014 TV Season: The Same Thing… Only Different!

With the exceptional BBC mini-series, Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch as the latest incarnation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s master sleuth knee deep in modernized crimes and dramas. Backed up by Royal Army medical Corp and Afghan veteran, John Watson. Played with low keyed and occasional comic relief by Martin Freeman.

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The series basks in wondrously deft contemporary writing. With previous mysteries brought anew as only the British can. Adding such modern trappings as texts, tweets, laptops and social media to the mix. Saving time on screen for deeper character development and longer, more subtle interviews of witnesses and suspects than on this side of the pond.

Which became the impetus for two series from CBS. Person of Interest and Elementary. The former sports the criminally under rated, James Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ, The Thin Red Line, Deja Vu) as former Army Special Ops guy, John Reese. Who is the very versatile dagger to the local cloak and Brainiac, Harold Finch. Marvelously quirky and eccentric Michael Emerson (Lost, The Return of the Dark Knight). Who may or may not have created the first generation of computers that knows all. Sees all. And may or may not be used for NSA surveillance today.

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The computer spits out Social Security Numbers of random individuals which are deemed in dangers. And Resse, Finch and killed off way to soon, NYPD detective, Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson) and her partner, Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman). In a series which has managed to recreate the best parts of  a previous 1980s classic, The Equalizer. With Edward Woodward protecting the endangered and down trodden of Manhattan.

While Elementary boasts Johnny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, Hackers, Mindhunters) as recovering drug addict and former London Metropolitan Police Consulting Detective, Sherlock Holmes. Transplanted in Manhattan and in the employ of a precinct’s major Crimes Unit, run by Captain Thomas Gregson (Perpetual cop, Aidan Quinn), Detective Marcus Bell ( Newcomer Jon Michael Hill showing lots of potential) and Dr. Joan Watson, Lucy Liu. Holmes’ recovery therapist and shrink .

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The stories are well written for the 45 to 48 minute time constraints per episode. The bad guys are almost uniformly bad. With no connections to Doyle’s short stories, novels and novellas. Entwined in plots that often take a hop to left field, but are nicely reeled in before the final minutes. Though what is slowly becoming a hallmark of the series is the rapid and often offbeat repartee between Holmes and Watson when unearthing clues or comparing notes in search of a lead. And occasional quips from Detective Bell are worth their weight in gold.

Taking us further down the line in our search for subtle and not so subtle similarities between two new contenders. Fox’s Almost Human and Intelligence from CBS. Where the former pits rough hewn Karl Urban (Doom, Star Trek, RED, Dredd, Riddick) in L.A.’s the not too distant future. As Detective John Kennex. Sole survivor of an ambush and recipient of a replacement leg. Teamed up with an older, close to obsolete android named Dorian, after his model series, DRN. Cleverly played by Michael Ealy (Fast Forward, The Good Wife). Basically a walking, talking, multilingual Crime Lab.

Aided by a phalanx of rigid, polysyllabic robot uniform cops (Think the faceless robot cops of ‘TXH 1138’ multiplied en masse)  who do not possess a good batting average in survival after annoying Kennex with their incessant legalese yammering.

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In a series that shows ever evolving technology and its possible implications in countering systems (GPS, Facial Identification, hacking social media) used by police today. Also a decent amount of well executed Special Effects in regards to a crowded city scape, sidewalks and very cool looking drones.

Solid character acting sets the foundation. Buttressed with clever plots, well thought out and executed effects that live up to the future. Where programmable bullets that never miss, organ harvesting, more human looking and feeling Sex Bots and social media murder are the norm. Instead of the exception.

Which brings us to a less than spectacular offering from CBS. Intelligence. Which can trace its lineage back to the 1970s and two pilot made for TV movies, Probe, from NBC, which later evolved into a short lived series, Search. And a pilot movie and series from ABC titled, The Delphi Bureau.

The Delphi Bureau could be considered the first creaky prototype and great grandfather of Intelligence. Where a federal bureaucracy sent an investigator, glenn Garth Gregory, (Laurence Luckinbill) armed with a photographic memory to find and undo fiendish schemes involving surplus weapons systems and or missing government funding.

While NBC had Hugh O’Brien (Wyatt Earp) investigating conspiracies in Probe and Search. With the aid of a computer link in his Mastoid Sinus that fed audio and visual to an underground computer lab led by Burgess Meredith. Backed up by superior writing from Leslie Stephens. And a bevy of lab coated Tech Babes, Angel Tompkins and Jacklyn Smith included. Amongst blinking lights sets that appeared stolen from ABC’s The Time Tunnel. While countless other young viewers have likened CBS’s crown jewel to the NBC series, Chuck.

Intelligence

In Intelligence, we have Josh Holloway (Lost) as former Ranger and Sec Ops soldier, Gabriel Vaughan. Who has a computer imbedded and a link to another isolated lab filled with other computers to aid in his feats of world wide derring-do. Protected by Secret Service Agent, Riley Neal (Meghan Ory). With whom Gabriel has no chemistry. And overseen by Marg Helgenberger (‘Species’, ‘CSI’). Who is so much better than the material and is wasted as Lillian Strand. The organization’s stiletto heeled boss.

Whose series’ premise is continuously sending the most expensive and technologically advanced super soldier into harm’s way. With a single Secret Service Agent as back up. And expect to succeed week after week. When any Flag or Field Grade officer at the Pentagon would opt for keeping Gabriel far in the rear. While possibly expending just as well trained and far less expensive, or embarrassing if captured Rangers to perform the dirty work.The series’ concept is flawed. Though it is kind of cool to look as Gabriels walks through previous crime scenes and opaque pop up windows as he searched for hidden answers.
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And for something completely different. There is an offering from Fox that has revealed lots of creepy mood, shadow and mystique. Sleepy Hollow. Which focuses on a recently uninterred and reawakened Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) contending with the mysteries of a modern world. With the aid of police Lt. Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) and Capt.Frank Irving (Orlando Jones) as they fight the forces of demonic evil personified by The Headless Horseman.

The series is not as strage as it sounds. With lots of chemistry between Crane and Abbie Mills. Reinforced by exceptional flash back segues and asides that harken back to Highlander in their use of costumes and settings.While backstopped with impeccable guest stars such as Clancy Brown, who pioneered the ground covered before Crane’s arrival. And John Nobel (Fringe, Superman Unbound). Who comes up with spells and traps in the continuing battles of good versus evil.

Overall Consensus:

Sometimes, too much of a good (or not so good) thing can be dull and repetitious. Even more so when a project lacks spirit and chemistry. Not being open to new and imaginative ideas or scenarios. And ways to set them up for execution through the actors’ spoken words.Which speaks directly to writers who lack the style, panache and polish of their predecessors. Not exactly lazy. But very fuzzy and confused over short term and long term goals.
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Of the new series mentioned and critiqued. I’ll put my money on Almost Human. For its self deprecating wit, Castle-esque drive time banter. And Mr. Ealy’s ability to bring programming and computer glitches to life with tremors and quick switches to foreign languages.

Though, I’ve little doubt that Intelligence will get at least another season on Marg Helgenberger‘s name alone.


Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews



Thoughts on 2014 TV season so far? Which show(s) are YOUR favorite?

10 Favorite Things about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Much has been debated about whether or not it’s a good idea that The Hobbit gets the same trilogy treatment as The Lord of the Rings trilogy when there is only one book being adapted. Now, I actually didn’t mind it and given how much I adore the Middle Earth universe, I welcome the extended film adaptation.

My interest in these movies increased tenfold when the casting was announced. It’s chock-full of my favorite actors, with Richard Armitage topping that list, then Lee Pace, Luke Evans, the BBC Sherlock duo Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch, and of course the LOTR veteran Ian McKellen back as Gandalf. All of them did a wonderful job bringing their respective characters to life. Heck I even like Orlando Bloom as Legolas, I’m not fond of him as an actor but I can’t imagine anyone else in that role.

So here are 10 things I love about the second part of The Hobbit trilogy:

10. The livelier pace
Right of the bat, the film feels more energetic as we finally get to the quest in question. There’s a bit of a flashback scene with Thorin and Gandalf that sets everything up, and since it features my favorite Brit Richard Armitage, I certainly welcome this intro😉

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There are half a dozen major action-packed sequences that really genuinely thrilling, so despite some slower moments, the 161-min running time still feels like a breeze. There is even more sense of urgency to get to Erebor and it definitely makes me even more eager to finally get there myself.


9. The fantastic special effects and set pieces
The technological wizardry is what you’ve come to expect from Peter Jackson movies. As I’ve posted the film production trivia a few days ago, you’ll see that it took a bazillion production workers nd extras, as well as props, prosthetics, sets etc. to bring the Tolkien universe to life. But it’s the endless imagination of PJ and his crews that really makes these films such a fun escapist experience. Ok so there are some sequences that look digitally animated but with a fantasy film like this, it certainly comes with the territory. I’ve also gotten used to seeing it in 3D High Frame Rate(48Frames/Second) and I have to say I enjoyed it even more this time around.

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I even enjoyed the Spider attack scene in the forest though the amazing details on those giant spiders did give me the heebie-jeebies! There are so much details to creating each character and creature, as well as the new settings such as Lake Town and the dwarves kingdom of Erebor that virtually transport you to Middle Earth.

8. The adventure in Lake-town
The addition of Luke Evans as Bard definitely adds more excitement to the story and there’s more adventure in store for Thorin & co. even just getting into the fictitious community of Men upon the Long Lake.

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They took a chance with Bard, not knowing if he’d betray him, so it adds to the suspense. It also features one of the funniest bits of the movie, which is a great continuation from the wine barrel escape (more on that later). There’s also some fun scene with always amusing Stephen Fry as the Master of Lake-town, as well as some action packed sequence involving the Orcs and Elves. The town itself is beautiful to look at, apparently Peter Jackson and his crew built about 40 buildings on caster to make up the town.

7. The strong link to the Lord of the Rings story
Gandalf is separated from Bilbo and the Dwarf group this time around, working with his fellow wizard Radagast to get to The Dol Guldur. Inside the ruins is the creepiest sequence of all the film as Gandalf had to confront the Necromancer (once again voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).

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The terrifying eye of Sauron once again makes an appearance, establishing just what is REALLY at stake beyond the quest involving the Dwarves getting their gold back from a dragon. The duel between Gandalf vs. Necromancer reminds me a bit of the scene where he fought the Balrog creature in an epic battle in which he fell down the Bridge. There’s something so sinister seeing an imprisoned Gandalf watch the Orc army marching off towards the Lonely Mountain and he can’t stop them.

6. The awesomely bad-ass Elves
I always like the elves from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but here, led by Legolas and the Woodland Elf Tauriel. She’s not in the book so I think purists might have a different opinion about her (and Legolas appearing in The Hobbit), but I quite like Evangeline Lily as the warrior Elven princess. As the head of the Elven guard, she’s definitely as bad ass as Legolas, who’s even more swift and agile with his bow and arrows. They both move at breakneck speed as they fight the Orcs, yet there’s something so graceful and elegant about their moves that are so fun to watch. There’s an interesting dynamic between Legolas and Tauriel, hinting at a romance between the two (though seems like Tauriel has more of a thing with Thorin’s nephew Kili, played by the gorgeous Aidan Turner, in this movie).

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One of my favorite scenes from the LOTR trilogy are those set in the ethereal Rivendell, now in this sequel, we’re taken to where the Wood-elves and its leader Thranduil live. I always enjoy the long shot of the lush and beautiful vista of the Elves’ dwelling place. Lee Pace‘s Thranduil has a bit more to do in this sequel, as there are memorable exchanges with Thorin as well as with his son Legolas.

5. Finally getting to Erebor
At the end of the first movie, when everyone was at the top of the large rock and saw the Lonely Mountain in the distance, I remember how I couldn’t wait for the gang to finally reach it. Well, it was so worth the wait!

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There’s something so emotional about the sequence when they finally reach that abandoned palace. It’s apparent that Bilbo and the band of Dwarfs are so weary after such a long journey, both physically and emotionally, so it’s such a huge joy to see them finally reaching their destination. Bilbo once again saves the day and we get to live vicariously through him as his REAL adventure begins as he reach the mountain of gold and jewels… and finally having to face the Dwarves’ arch nemesis!


4. Thorin! Thorin! Thorin!
It’s no surprise that I have a special fondness for Richard Armitage‘s character, but really, can you blame me? It’s one of the best casting choice in The Hobbit, a close second after Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Armitage has even more to do here (yay!) and he sure delivers with stately gravitas. Armitage didn’t sing again here, but he gets to showcase his thunderous deep voice of his in several occasions,  especially in the scene in Lake-town when he appeals to the Master and the people of the town about his quest. I also love that he gets to show his range here as an actor, obviously displaying leading-man charisma but also a certain vulnerability and even tenderness.

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There’s an emotional scene as the gang reaches Erebor, starting with indescribable joy that soon turns to grave disappointment. Thorin displays one of his rare smiles, he’s actually grinning ear to ear at the possibility of finally entering his palace once more, but within minutes we see how his high spirits quickly leaves him. It’s all on display on his expressive face as the camera zooms in on him. His humanity is palpable, here we really see Thorin as not just a leader on a mission, but a man on a very personal journey that means everything to him and the people he loves.


3. The Wine Barrel scene
There’s been many discussions of this escape sequence in many interviews and boy, it definitely lives up to the hype!! If you don’t remember anything about this film, you’d likely remember this one. The scene of getting into the barrel itself is a hoot, which was big enough to fit a couple of Dwarves (well one for the extremely obese Bombur). Once they get to the Celduin river, all hell break lose!

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It’s such a huge rush to watch this scene, no wonder filming this seems to be the most memorable for the cast involved! Not only do they have to survive being bounced around in the river, which runs from the Lonely Mountain south through the Long Lake with some fierce streams, they also have to battle the ugly and vicious Orcs (or Goblins as known in the Hobbit books). The fight scenes involving the three different races (Goblins, Elves and Dwarves) along that river are relentless and exciting, definitely one of the most exhilarating action sequences of the year.


2. Bilbo the hero
What I appreciate most about this film is that each challenges Bilbo, Thorin and the gang encounter built on their character. I think Bilbo’s character arc is even more fleshed out. He told Gandalf that he’s found his courage and though it was told as an alibi, he’s certainly not lying as he’s evolved to be a brave fighter of his own right. The way he rescued the dwarves from the giant spiders show his growing strength and deftness with the sword, but my favorite part is his scene in Erebor.

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He still has his whimsy intact, which makes me love Martin Freeman‘s casting even more. The way he moves and all his nervous gestures are part of his charms and why it’s so effortless to root for him. His zany-ness makes for pure comedic gold, even when he’s literally surrounded by gold trying to find the Arkenstone, which is like finding needle in a haystack!
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1. Smaug
The mythical dragon is everything it’s cracked up to be and more! When Bilbo inevitably wakes him up with all the ruckus, it turns out the lonely dragon is one chatty giant lizard. I guess he’s been all alone for so long with nobody to talk to that he simply can’t shut up, ahah. Benedict Cumberbatch did some motion capture on top of just providing the voice of Smaug, which gives it such a lifelike realism to the creature.

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We get to see every bit of Smaug in its glorious detail from head to toe, which is all kinds of awesome. He’s slithering about tormenting Bilbo with his enormous presence, but it’s the banter between the two that I enjoy the most. It’s dramatic as well as hilarious that I wish the Smaug sequence could’ve been longer! Nice to see the BBC Sherlock duo together again, Cumberbatch’s wit and that iconic voice certainly creates enough of a presence that it was fun to see him interact with Martin Freeman.

The final confrontation with Thorin & co. is thrilling as they’re trying to outwit and outmaneuver the sly Smaug. With Gandalf being away facing off against an even darker power of evil, Bilbo and the Dwarves are pretty much on their own. “If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together,” Thorin proclaims defiantly, and the fight in Erebor is certainly a fiery one.

I really enjoyed the Smaug sequences that when he flew away and the closing credits came on, I felt like it was a tad too soon!


Kili (Aidan Turner)

Kili (Aidan Turner)

Now, I wish I could give this film a 5/5 but there are some REALLY slow moments that I feel grounds the film to a halt. One scene in particular is the lengthy flirty banter between Tauriel and Kili. Now, as Tauriel isn’t even in the book, I can”t imagine that scene is crucial to the story. It’s also odd given that there was much talk about Tauriel & Legolas romance that we barely see. Kili gets a lot more screen time in this film, so I’m curious about his character arc in the final installment.

Overall, it’s a great follow-up of an epic journey. The ending promises that even more lives are at stake in Middle Earth with Smaug being unleashed. Boy I’m even more eager to see the final film.

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4 out of 5 reels

So what do you think of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Counting down to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Finally the wait is almost over! The movie opens here next Friday but I don’t have to wait much longer as I’ll be seeing it tomorrow night!😀

I quite enjoyed the first movie [read my top 10 list why I think it was a worthwhile journey] and I’m one of the few people who actually don’t mind seeing The Hobbit extended in three films as I just love the Middle Earth universe, especially filled with my favorite actors! Richard Armitage, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, oh my!

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Some of the ensemble cast at the L.A. premiere earlier this week

Well, just for fun, here are some interesting trivia and fun marketing campaign:

BY THE NUMBERS

1 Hobbit – Bilbo Baggins

1 Dragon – Smaug

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1 Crew member whose sole job on set was to look after prosthetic hands

1 Elvenking – Thranduil

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2.5 Number of years the textures department at Weta Digital worked on Smaug’s skin

2 Wizards – Gandalf and Radagast

3 Number of children belonging to Bard

3 Films in the Trilogy

4 Inches that 15-year-old actor John Bell (Bain) grew over the length of production

4 Tons of silicon used to generate the facial prosthetics

5 Hours to complete hair, make-up, prosthetics and wardrobe for each of the 13 Dwarves

5 Average number of doubles used for each main character, including scale, stunt and riding doubles

6 Number of weeks it took to build Beorn’s house

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7 km Length of toupe tape used to attach beards to faces

8 Legs on the giant Spiders infesting Mirkwood Forest

9 Weeks of location filming on the Trilogy

10kg Human hair for wigmaking

104 Average days it took to renew a studio with a new set

13 Dwarves – Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Bofur, Bombur, Bifur, Oin, Gloin, Dori, Nori and Ori

13 Empty wine barrels in which the Dwarves escape Thranduil’s Realm

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14 Tons of silicone used to mold all of the armor and weapons for all cultures

26 Average days shooting on a single set

32 Polystyrene trees, used in various configurations, to make the Mirkwood set

40 Buildings on casters that make up the Lake-town set

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48fps Higher frame rate used for the Trilogy

60 2nd unit studio crew

65 Number of people it took—including actors, doubles and stunt men—to portray 13 Dwarves

80 The age of the oldest vintage microphone used to record the score for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

88 Microphones used in the film’s scoring session

91 Wigs created for the Dwarves

94 Set models created for the Trilogy

95 Number of musicians in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra recording the film’s score

99 Number of studio sets built for the Trilogy

100+ Hobbit feet for Bilbo

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Even Smaug couldn’t resist Bilbo’s feet! [Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman on set]

Check out this hilarious Yahoo! video Guess the Feet, too bad I can’t embed it directly to this post, but trust me, it’s a hoot!

100 Total 2nd unit location crew

100 Total costume department crew

115 Number of drivers needed to transport the cast and crew to New Zealand locations

250+ Approximate population of the Trilogy’s art department

263 Beards made for the production

300 Bottles of spirit gum used in the production

350 Off-set crew

400 Costumes created for Lake-town

450 Main unit studio crew

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547 Traveling weapons for the 13 Dwarves

800 Crew traveling on location between two units

860 Bottles of isopropyl alcohol used to remove prosthetics

752 Wigs. Nearly everyone in the film is wigged

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1200 ‘Extras’ that needed to be cast for the Trilogy

2000 Hand-spun goblets created for Smaug’s Lair

3000 Props recorded in the furniture catalogue for Lake-town

5000+ Approximate population of Lake-town

8900 Approximate number of continuous hours the art department worked to build, decorate, and tear down sets. This involved different crews working 24/7

11,862 Prosthetics made for the Trilogy

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140,000+ Cups of coffee made by craft services throughout production

170,000 Punched aluminum gold plated coins trickled over Smaug’s Lair

Air New Zealand

This was released in mid November along with a contest to win a 5 night trip for two to Middle-earth itself! Oh man, that would’ve been sweet! That’s one of the dream places I’d love to visit, hopefully someday I could make it there as well as visit my dear aunt in Sydney, Australia!

Here in Middle-earth, everyday tasks can reveal out of this world surprises and before you know it everything can turn a bit Hobbit-shaped.

And one of my favorites about Peter Jackson‘s films are the plethora of video blogs and behind-the-scenes footage he readily share to his fans. Here’s the latest Production Diary which focuses on filming with Smaug the Dragon. Now I could watch an entire video just on Benedict Cumberbatch on set:


And here’s a 13-minute video of filming, I wish there are more specifically on the Barrel escape scene!

Well, the reviews I’ve been reading so far has been positive, so I’m even more excited about it than ever. I LOVE the world of Middle Earth so I really can’t wait to go back and be immersed in that universe once again!


Hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Thoughts on The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug?

Weekend Roundup and mini review of ‘The World’s End’

Hello everyone, hope y’all had a nice weekend. It’s scorching HOT here in Minnesota with heat index topping 100 degrees!! I’m not fond of extreme heat and humidity so I stayed mostly indoors, went to the movies Saturday night and cooling off at Mall of America on Sunday. Not much of a home-viewing weekend, as I only watched an episode of Shark Week on Netflix from Discovery Channel, ahah. I did see Austenland earlier in the week which I really enjoyed (review later this week as it opens at Edina Landmark Theaters on 8/30).

At the movies The Butler is still well-served by moviegoers, topping the box office again with $17 mil, whilst all of the new releases made barely $10 mil each (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The World’s End and You’re Next). I guess this weekend and the next few weeks are the dead zone of sort, as Summer movie season is pretty much over. I’m quite looking forward to Fall/Winter schedule though, so look for my Most Anticipated List around Labor Day. Below is my mini review of …

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Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

This film is the conclusion of the Cornetto or Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, a series of British comedic films by Edgar Wright, written by him and Simon Pegg. I’m a big fan of the last two in the trilogy, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, so that’s the main draw for me to see this one.

This film also reunited Pegg with his longtime BFF Nick Frost in a slightly different role than what I’m used to seeing him in (more on that in a bit). Pegg plays Gary King, a bon vivant alcoholic who’s pretty much still stuck in the past (literally), obsessing over his teenage days in his hometown of Newton Haven. He can’t get over the fact that him and his posse failed to complete the Golden Mile, an infamous pub crawl encompassing 12 pubs that ends in the last one called The Worl’ds End.

So he sets off to track down his old mates, and soon he realizes each of them has moved on. Peter Page (Eddie Marsan), Oliver “O-Man” Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) and Andy Knightley (Nick Frost) all have a steady job and family of their own, with their own set of responsibilities. But Gary is far too self-absorbed and oblivious to let that stop ’em, but yet somehow, he managed to convince them all to actually join him! So off they go in Gary’s beat up sedan, the very same one he has from his teenage years, bound to Newton Haven!

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I have to admit the film started off a bit too sluggish for my liking. Even as they arrive in their old hometown, the pub crawl itself aren’t as hilarious as I expected. I don’t know if I’ve grown tired of Simon Pegg’s schtick or what, but he’s just not as funny as he was in the other two films. In fact, I find Gary to be pretty irritating most of the time, which doesn’t help. I’d say the scene-stealer here is Nick Frost (I guess you could say the same about the rest of the trilogy), as he plays a responsible, thoughtful and actually wise guy with a good career, it’s an interesting role switcheroo as he’s not the typical dumb slob he’s played in the past. His straight-laced Andy provides the most laughs for me as the antithesis of Pegg’s character.

I guess I have a similar complaint on this one with Elysium in that this film is much bigger in terms of budget and special effects, but overall the quality isn’t on par with Wright’s smaller projects in the past. Some of the jokes made me cringe and it just feels forced, which is too bad as I know the talents are capable of something great. Given that we’ve seen a lot of apocalyptic themes in movies lately, the film also suffers from originality, I could see the plot reveal from a mile away and the finale seems to go on forever. Oh, and there’s a cameo from another Bond actor (Timothy Dalton was the scene-stealer in Hot Fuzz), but I think Pierce Brosnan is utterly wasted and devoid of humor in his role. Interestingly, Rosamund Pike (who was the Bond girl in Brosnan’s worst Bond movie ever), also didn’t have much to do in this male-dominated comedy.

Now, there are some fun moments to be had and I like the all-British cast, but I wish I had just rented this one instead of paying top dollars to see it on the big screen. Truthfully, I’m surprised by its high rating on RottenTomatoes. Ah well, I had expected the trilogy to end on a high note, alas, I feel that the Wright/Pegg/Frost trio is perhaps a bit complacent about their work. That’s never a good sign no matter how good they think they have it.

2.5 out of 5 reels

Well, that’s my weekend roundup, folks. What did you see this weekend, anything good?

Weekend Viewing Roundup – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)review

MSPIFF_PressPassHappy Monday all! It’s going to be quite a busy week for me with three screenings Tuesday – Thursday, starting with Disconnect tomorrow. I’ve got my MSPIFF press pass kit yesterday and all the tickets for the films I’ve mentioned herewell except for Kon-Tiki as it was sold out and the second screening conflicts with another film. I was thinking of going to the Screenwriters Panel but this stupid Wintry weather kept me from going. Seriously, there are icicles forming on my roof as I type this. We seem to be going backwards!! [sigh] In any case, here’s my viewing schedule this week:

  • Disconnect (Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Alexander Skarsgård)
  • Unfinished Song – or Song for Marion (Terrence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave)
  • Mud (Matthew McConaughey)
  • Oblivion (Tom Cruise)

It’ll take me some time to review them all so this week we’ve got a couple of special guest posts on schedule, so stay tuned! Anyway, here’s my mini review of the one film I managed to see this weekend:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

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Mere seconds before the Earth is to be demolished by an alien construction crew, journeyman Arthur Dent is swept off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher penning a new edition of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

My hubby and I didn’t originally set out to see this one but it’s one of those movies we’ve been curious about for some time as it’s such a pop-culture phenomenon. Truth be told, I don’t know anything about the story, though a short stop at Wikipedia revealed that it’s a comic sci-fi series created by Douglas Adams, which started out as a BBC comedy radio program in 1978 and later adapted to other formats, including novels, TV series and the 2005 movie. When I saw the cast, Martin Freeman, Sam Rockwell, Bill Nighy, John Malkovich, PLUS Alan Rickman & Helen Mirren‘s voice, I was more than intrigued! It has the vibe of the wacky sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest, one of my fave comedies ever, but I think is still far more enjoyable than this one. Now, it started out very promising, with the hilarious narration about how the dolphins has been trying to warn humans of their impending doom but they’re mistaken for playful tricks, hence all the dolphin shows in Sea World. The song So Long and Thanks for All the Fish that the dolphins sing before they leave earth is such a hoot and fun to watch. Then we meet a hapless Englishman Arthur Dent — Martin Freeman can portray utter bewilderment like no other — who wakes up to all the ruckus outside his home as it’s about to be demolished. As if that wasn’t a bad enough morning, his friend Ford Prefect (hip-hop artist Moss Def) tells him he’s actually an alien and earth is being destroyed in a matter of minutes! Before you know it, Arthur is whisked away by Ford, by hitching a ride to a spaceship (natch!), and they embark on a madly bizarre adventure! HitchikerGuideGalaxyPics I could see how this story would become so popular, not just people who grew up listening to the radio show, as my hubby’s colleagues often reference this movie. Even Apple’s Siri refer to this giant computer Deep Thought’s answer, the number 42, when asked about the meaning of life. There are certainly some amusing parts in this film, the segment with John Malkovich as a seriously outlandish religious leader with mechanical spiders for legs and Sam Rockwell’s flamboyantly over-the-top portrayal of Zaphod Beeblebrox (I guess with a character name like that one can’t exactly underplay it, ahah) are certainly amusing. Overall though, the pacing is just off, it could be because director Garth Jennings’s lack of directorial experience. On top of that, I just didn’t connect with the story as I found myself falling asleep midway through, and didn’t wake up until Bill Nighy‘s Slartibartfast, the planet designer, gave Arthur a tour of the galaxy. Unlike Galaxy Quest where I was caught up in the characters’ journey, this one sort of become tedious over time, I’m sure the radio show/novels are far more interesting. Most of the characters, while amusing at first, just aren’t really that interesting after all, which is a shame considering the talents involved. Freeman basically playing a similar character as Bilbo in terms of being out of his comfort zone, as he’s pretty much dumbfounded and perplexed for most of the movie. I do love Marvin the Paranoid Android, he’s perhaps my favorite character of the movie, largely thanks to Alan Rickman‘s voice! I don’t know how this guy managed to be entertaining just by lending his voice alone, but all the sarcastic quips of the manically-depressed robot are truly the best lines of the movie!

ManicallyDepressedMarvinMarvin: You can blame the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation for making androids with GPP… Arthur: Um… what’s GPP? Marvin: Genuine People Personalities. I’m a personality prototype. You can tell, can’t you…?

Arthur: I think that door just sighed. Marvin: Ghastly, isn’t it? All the doors on this spaceship have been programmed to have a cheery and sunny disposition.

Marvin: Freeze? I’m a robot. I’m not a refrigerator.

So even though I didn’t love this movie, I’m glad I finally saw it so I know when people make references to this story. I probably won’t rewatch the movie but I definitely would rewatch all the hilarious Marvin moments, courtesy of youtube. 3 out of 5 reels


Fun Trivia bit: The movie was first optioned in 1982 by producers Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck and Michael C. Gross. Douglas Adams wrote three drafts for them per his contract. During this time, Medjuck and Gross were considering Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd to play Ford Prefect, but then Aykroyd sent them his idea for Ghostbusters and they did that movie instead. [per IMDb trivia]


Well, that’s my weekend roundup, folks. What did you see this weekend, anything good?

10 reasons The Hobbit is a worthwhile journey

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I saw The Hobbit twice already, the first time on an advanced screening before my vacation and the second time this past weekend. I enjoyed it both times, perhaps a bit more the second time around. Despite the 2 hrs 44 minutes running time, I find it to be thoroughly enjoyable. That’s not to say that I didn’t think the length was perfect, I think there are indeed some scenes that could’ve been edited out, especially some of the battle scenes. But no, I did not find it to be as problematic as critics made it out to be. It’s worth noting that I have NOT read the book so I have no complain about the extra scenes, either.

So here are ten reasons why I’m glad to be back to Middle Earth once again:

1. The world that Tolkien built... and the classic tale of good vs. evil. I think one of the main reasons I enjoyed this movie so much is that I LOVE this fantasy world, the story and its wisdom. There’s an underlying message of hope, courage and love that’s worth revisiting again and again. I’ve loved the characters in the Lord of the Rings, and I also feel a connection with the main characters of The Hobbit. (See #9)

2. The dazzling visuals … The technological wizardry enables us to experience the journey as if we’re actually there inside Bilbo’s house, or in the woods spying on Thorin & co. I saw this movie both times in the High Frame Rate (48Frames/Second) Digital 3D format (NOT the IMAX version) and I have no qualms about it. Yes it’s so crisp that it looks like watching a show on HDTV but after a while, your eyes adjust to it and I’ve come to appreciate the clarity of every little detail and the smoothness of the fast-moving action scenes. It’s such a meticulously-crafted universe, from the interior of Bilbo’s house in the Shire to the ever-so-ethereal Rivendell, which was as majestic as I had remembered it in LOTR.

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It’s obvious this movie is a labor of love for Peter Jackson and it shows. The sweeping cinematography is one to behold, it was a welcome return to the visually mesmerizing world of Middle Earth.

3. Martin Freeman as Bilbo … I’m so glad that PJ was set on casting Freeman, even to the point of reworking the entire shooting schedule (due to the BBC’s Sherlock‘s scheduling conflict) for the Hobbit films to accommodate him. I think his casting is integral to the success of the movie and his personal journey is a joy to watch. Freeman is exactly what I’d imagine the young Bilbo would be. His bumbling mannerism, the way he constantly doubts himself, and his lack of vanity are all what I love about this character. Freeman plays the heroic ‘everyman’ so perfectly, I absolutely can’t imagine anyone else in this role.


TheHobbit_Thorin4. Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield… I was thrilled when I first heard that one of my favorite Brits got a major role in The Hobbit! The English actor definitely has the right look (despite his 6’2″ stature) and sensibility as the Aragorn-like leader of the pack. As the son of the slain Dwarf king and heir of Erebor Kingdom, he’s naturally got a sullen demeanor and a fierce determination to take back his stolen homeland destroyed by Smaug the Dragon. Armitage’s got a mean (read: irresistible) glower which PJ made the most of throughout the movie. Even underneath all that beard and dwarf costume, he’s still so darn hunky. Oh and that deep voice! I sure hope there’s another singing sequence in the 2nd and 3rd movies😉

5. The Lord of the Rings nostalgia … It’s a good thing that PJ came back to direct this movie as it’s got all the ingredients and the vibe I’ve come to appreciate about the LOTR franchise. I also LOVE seeing the characters from the trilogy reappearing here, Frodo, Lord Elrod, Saruman and especially Galadriel and Gandalf. I’ve missed seeing Cate Blanchett on screen so it was nice to see her even in her brief scenes. Ian McKellen is fantastic as usual as the wise Gandalf the Grey. His chemistry with Bilbo is especially heartfelt, Gandalf truly believes in him despite what Thorin thinks about having him around in their quest.

6. The riddle scene of Gollum and Bilbo … Easily the main highlight of the movie for me. Andy Serkis is such a mo-cap virtuoso and Gollum is even more life like than ever before. His bulging blue eyes are ever-so-expressive, it’s especially amusing when he’s frustrated trying to come up with an answer for a riddle. He’s terrifyingly creepy but yet you can’t help but feeling sorry for the poor soul when he lost his ‘precious’ one. An iconic character that never wears out its welcome.

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7. Howard Shore’s gorgeous music … it evokes the lush sound of LOTR and I love that it plays the same theme when certain scenes are revisited, such as when the ring shows up. But yet it’s got its own distinct theme that is unique for The Hobbit. The melody from the song played in Bilbo’s house you heard in the trailer is played throughout. It sounds so beautifully melancholic as a song, but it’s got a lively energy when played during some of the dynamic action scenes.

8. The merry band of dwarves (I purposely use the Tolkien spelling here)The Hobbit is decidedly more lighthearted than the LOTR trilogy, though it still carries a profound message of good vs evil. In the first viewing I felt that the introduction of the Dwarves and the huge dinner party at Bilbo’s house went on a bit too long. But on second viewing I actually enjoyed it a lot more. Their colorful personality offers a stark contrast to the reclusive Bilbo and their angst-y leader Thorin. Radagast the Brown, one of Gandalf’s fellow Wizards, is amusingly quirky as well.

9. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth – Matthew 5:5

Galadriel: Mithrandir, why the halfling?

Gandalf: Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That’s because I am afraid and it gives me courage.

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I LOVE Gandalf answer. Bilbo is not of noble breed, nor does he have certain superpowers, in fact, he’s chosen because of his small stature and humility. In the midst of superhero movies out there, it’s nice to see a ‘regular guy’ who does heroic deeds motivated by love and empathy for others. The initially-doubtful Bilbo finally comes into his own towards the end, realizing his worth and his place in the journey to the Lonely Mountain. His speech after he escaped Goblin Town is moving and inspiring, delivered so effortlessly by Freeman without even the slightest bit of trite.
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10. Movie escapism at its best…I went in expecting to be swept away in a world so unlike my own and live vicariously through Bilbo as he goes about on his adventure and that’s what I got. Yes some of the scenes are perhaps a bit too cartoon-ish, I mean we’re talking about these dwarves falling down a cavern as the bridge they’re on breaks into fragments, and once they fell hundreds of feet below, a 500+ pound goblin king falls on them. Yet they all survive perfectly with no major injury! I suppose we don’t know the exact genetic makeup of a dwarf so their bones could be a heck of a lot stronger than humans. What else would explain Thorin survival after being whacked by the giant pale Orc Azog with a big mace with spikes on them! It’s all part of the ‘fantasy’ bit folks, so I don’t see a point in nitpicking on that front.

As for Azog as the main villain in this film, I heard some people complain that he’s a ‘weak’ villain. Well naturally he would be if you compare him to Sauron and his evil watchful eye, but the pale Orc is just one of the evil ‘minions’ if you will, employed by the powerful dark force that Thorin & co. would eventually have to face.

All in all, it’s a wonderful start of an epic journey. I really care for the characters and the quest for them to take back their homeland. I was caught up in the adventures and for me and now I can’t wait for what happens next!


So what do you think of The Hobbit? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Tube Watch: Bitten by the BBC bug – Sherlock & Spooks

Happy Friday all! 

I’m afraid it’s going to be a short post today as I’m getting ready to post this month’s Five for the Fifth for tomorrow.

I’ve clearly been bitten by the BBC TV bug as I’m so addicted to both these shows! Those who’ve seen at least one episode of either one of these would surely understand. I’m sooo anticipating the arrival of season 2 of Sherlock coming to PBS Mystery this Sunday, yay! Check out the trailer below, as the super detective says… “I wouldn’t miss it for the world!”


As for Spooks (or MI-5 as it’s called in the US), I’ve mentioned last Tuesday that I’m only going to catch up with Season 7 – 10, or you could say, since Richard Armitage joined the cast, natch! I’ve always loved a good espionage thriller and Spooks definitely delivered. Just like Sherlock, it’s impeccably-written, superbly acted and beautifully-shot. I love that it portrayed London in such a fascinating way, and not just the glamorous side of the city. This is the trailer that got me to finally watch this show, now of course it’d be nice if Rupert Penry-Jones had been around longer to work with Richard, but maybe that’ll be eye-candy overload, ahah.


There are a quite a few connections between the two shows, well other than airing on the same network. Benedict Cumberbatch apparently had an uncredited cameo in an earlier episode of Spooks back in 2003 (when Matthew Macfadyen was still the lead actor).

As if I need an excuse to post a photo of Richard in all that leather… [yowza!]

And recently, the actress playing Sherlock‘s love interest Irene Adler, Lara Pulver, was actually Richard Armitage’s co-star in BBC’s Robin Hood as Guy of Gisbourne’s sister Isabella. She also has a role in the last season of Spooks as the new Chief of Section D. Wow, she’s one busy girl… and very, very lucky! From what I’ve seen in her clips with Sherlock, she’s certainly poised to juice up the already stimulating show😉

I think it’s awesome that the main cast of BOTH shows, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage are ALL going to be in The Hobbit! Man, I’d give anything to work for FREE for just a day on that set!

Anyway, I guess the good thing of being so far behind on TV watching is that I have a wealth of episodes to catch up on. These two shows definitely satisfy my penchant for easy-on-the-eyes British guys and the oh-so-witty writing!😀


Are you a fan of either of these? And tell me, what show(s) are you completely hooked on lately?