FlixChatter Review: TOLKIEN (2019)

Review by Vitali Gueron

When most people hear the name Tolkien, they might think of the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, (both of which were later turned into very successful film series by Peter Jackson, earning numerous accolades and awards) or they might think of English professor J. R. R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult), a poet, philologist, and academic who grew up relatively poor, never knew his father and lost his mother at a very young age. He was looked after by Father Francis Morgan, a Roman Catholic priest and former protege of Cardinal John Henry Newman, who served as Tolkien’s guardian and father figure. He attended King Edward’s School and met three of his best friends there. They formed a semi-secret society they called the T.C.B.S. The initials stood for Tea Club and Barrovian Society, alluding to their fondness for drinking tea in Barrow’s Stores near the school and, secretly, in the school library. The film Tolkien is much more about the young Tolkien, having meetings with his T.C.B.S. friends and then having to fight in World War I, and losing most of his close acquaintances as a result.

The teenager Tolkien (Harry Gilby) was at first a shy kid at King Edward’s School in Birmingham, England. Having moved there from Bloemfontein, South Africa where the family was living prior to Tolkien’s father’s death, his mother Mabel (Laura Donnelly) and brother Hilary Tolkien (played in youth by Guillermo Bedward and as an adult by James MacCallum) were new to Birmingham and didn’t have the means to live a comfortable live but were provided assistance by the Roman Catholic church. After Mabel’s death, Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney) took on the responsibility of guardianship of J. R. R. Tolkien, and advised him even during his years at Exeter College, Oxford. At the age of 16, Tolkien met Edith Mary Bratt (Lily Collins), who was three years his senior, when he and his brother Hilary moved into the boarding house where she lived in Duchess Road, Edgbaston. Tolkien falls in love with Edith, but is soon off to fight in World War I, leaving Edith for the time being.

While Tolkien is off fighting in the battles of World War I, he experiences first had the horrors of war, the death and destruction are just beneath his feet. He is shown throughout the film in the battle trenches and on the battle fields, fighting his own battles with trench fever. The scenes of battle, fire and death are what some believe gave him the inspiration for Mordor, the dark place where the arch-villain Sauron lives in the fictional world of Middle-earth, as told in the books of The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien is taken back to England and spends time at the hospital recovering and being back with Edith, but he also looses his close friends Geoffrey Bache Smith (Anthony Boyle) and Robert Q. Gilson (Patrick Gibson). His other friend and fellow T.C.B.S. member Christopher Wiseman (Tom Glynn-Carney) also comes back from war, but has many mental scars and never fully recovers from his wounds.

In the third act of the film, we see that Tolkien has married Edith and is starting to embrace fatherhood. He also meets with Geoffrey Bache Smith’s mother (Genevieve O’Reilly) and convinces her to publish some of Geoffrey’s poetry as a token to his memory. Part of Tolkien’s best memories before the war were spending time with his friends in the T.C.B.S. and forming what he later coined as the term “a fellowship” of friends. This is also the basis for the name of Tolkien’s first of three volumes in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Most casual fans of Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, might be a little disappointed in the film because it doesn’t have any of the fairytale or imaginative qualities that the fictional volumes that Tolkien wrote have. What the film does have are two strong performances by two young but compelling actors; Nicholas Hoult and Lily Collins. Their chemistry does not feel like its forced or out of place, and both help one another out by being interesting when sometimes the dialogue given to them is less so. I also especially like the moments when the young actors of Tolkien’s schoolboy life are on screen, headed by Harry Gilby, they form the Tea Club with fellow actors Adam Bregman, Albie Marber and Ty Tennant. These kids seem far more sophisticated and scholarly than normal kids, drinking tea at Barrow’s Stores and dreaming of worlds beyond their own.

Overall, this rather unimaginative film has a few shining moments, headlined by Hoult and Collins onscreen together. Strong followers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit might find deeper meaning in Tolkien’s life, but otherwise most audience members will be left empty-handed in understanding what really went on in Tolkien’s mind and how he was able to write such epic high fantasy novels. Maybe, just maybe, that part is up to us and in our imagination.


Have you seen TOLKIEN? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Darkest Minds (2018)

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Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Writer: Chad Hodge
Running Time: 1h 44min

Review by: Vitali Gueron

When you think of good movies that were adapted from young adult novels, you should think of The Hunger Games films, the Divergent series and The Maze Runner trilogy. Unfortunately, you should not be thinking of the subpar movie The Darkest Minds, directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, written by Chad Hodge and based on Alexandra Bracken‘s young adult novel of the same name. This movie is not evenly-paced, full of post-apocalyptic/dystopian clichés and has a very cheesy teenage romance.

The movie starts off in near-future version of America where children suddenly begin dying off from a mysterious disease. The few that do survive have some kind of enhanced/supernatural abilities, and they’re color-coded according to their creepy glowing eyes. Some are deemed safe by the government — greens have a heightened intelligence, blues have telekinetic powers, and yellows can control electricity. But a few are too dangerous to keep alive – reds that can start fires and a select few who are orange, meaning they can control minds. The government imprisons the greens, blues and yellows and kills off the reds and oranges (with the exception of a few that are kept alive to be used for the government’s diabolical methods).

The main character in the movie is Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) who has orange glowing eyes, but convinces a doctor that she is actually green, meaning that she is not killed but rather imprisoned to a child labor camp – which is unsurprisingly a total bummer. She gets smuggled out of the camp by a strange doctor named Cate Connor (Mandy Moore) who is a member of a group that fights against the government’s policies. Ruby does not believe her and escapes to find a group of three teens who just had escaped from another child labor camp – blue Liam (played by Harris Dickinson, who looks way too old to be a teenager), green Chubs (Skylan Brooks) and yellow Zu (Miya Cech). The four set off to find a secret camp, run by Clancy Gray (Patrick Gibson), who is the president’s son – a supposed good guy who helps escaped teenagers and shelters them away for government soldiers – and is also the only other known orange alive.

Unsurprisingly, Ruby and Liam’s relationship begins to take off just in time for her to be seduced by the orange-eyed Clancy along with his unclear motives. By this point in the movie, the story is flying ahead at warp speed, and before we realize what just happened, there are government soldiers working under Clancy, who’ve captured most runaway kids at the camp. Somehow Ruby manages to escape the government trap but her group with Liam, Chubs and Zu gets split up and one member sustains life-threatening injuries rescuing Ruby. Next thing we know, Ruby is back with Doctor Cate, making a deal to spare Liam’s life. Because of the movie’s uneven pacing, our heroes move rapidly from one conflict to the next without properly ramping up or down the tension.

I don’t know what’s worst about The Darkest Minds – the way too much time given to the film’s corny romance or the underdeveloped story that has predictable twists come far too quickly to make you feel invested. Since this movie is based on a book series by Alexandra Bracken, it naturally suggests that several movie sequels are to follow. My recommendation for the studio is to cut its losses and forget about even considering a sequel. And my recommendation for potential viewers is to save almost two-hours of your life by avoiding this movie. If you are looking for a good movie that was adapted from young adult novel, try re-watching The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. Don’t bother wasting your time by watching this movie – even if you are in the target demographic of being a young adult. Or you can watch the 2011 Diablo Cody-written comedy Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron.


Have you seen ‘The Darkest Minds’? Well, what did you think?