Tolkien

Posted on May 9, 2019 at 5:30 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sequences of war violence
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Scenes of WWI battles with disturbing images, characters injured and killed, sad death of a parent
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 10, 2019
Copyright Fox Searchlight 2019

If I had a time machine and an invisibility cloak, I would love to listen in on the conversations between two members of Oxford’s Inklings literary society, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, as they discussed the importance of myth and fantasy and shared the beginnings of their great tales of adventure, darling, and the fight against evil, set in enchanted worlds: the Lord of the Rings and the Narnia stories. These stories, which prompted a revival of fantasy in literature and other media, are so timeless it seems as if we have always known them. And yet, they are very much 20th century books, written by authors whose own lives are fascinating stories as well. We have already had two very good feature films about Lewis and his wife, Joy Gresham, both called “Shadowlands.” And now we have “Tolkien,” the story of the early life of the man who would create not just the characters and settings of Middle Earth but also the languages and even the poetry of the world of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and dragons.

The film mostly evades the usual “how I wrote” biopic boobytraps. We only briefly see the author in the midst of creation, his pen just starting the first line on a blank page. And it does not try to excite the devoted fans by throwing in a lot of clues to various details in the books. The focus of this story is on Tolkien’s life, which is a worthy story itself, especially in the way it explores how even the greatest losses are made sense of through love, through friendship, through service, and through stories that provide context and meaning.

The film moves back and forth in time between Tolkien’s youth, adolescence, college years, and wartime, with one brief “many years later” section of him married and a father, as a member of the faculty at Oxford.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (called Ronald by those close to him) is played sensitively as a teenager and adult by Nicholas Hoult. Orphaned very young, Tolkien and his brother are sent to live in a boarding house by their guardian, a priest (Colm Meany). The cold, institutional setting of their British private school is very far from the lessons they had with their devoted, imaginative mother (Laura Donnelly). But Tolkien is a gifted student and a natural at studies and rugby, and he is soon befriended by three boys who form a club with him, devoted to having tea, to, yes, fellowship, and to dreams of changing the world through art, in spite of parental efforts toward more conventional careers. One loves poetry, one loves painting, one loves music. And Tolkien loved languages. He began creating whole languages, complete with verb forms and adjectives, when he was still a child.

The other orphan at the boarding house is Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), a gifted pianist who works as a companion to the lady who runs the boarding house to earn her keep. She and Tolkien are friends, then confidantes, and then, as they are becoming romantically involved, the priest tells Tolkien he must stop seeing her and go to Oxford.  He agrees.

Hoult and Collins made the Ronald/Edith relationship vital and romantic, as they spar over the sound and meaning of words or come up with a makeshift way to enjoy a performance of Wagner.  They bring life to what might otherwise might be a stodgy costume drama and to the idea of stories as a source of healing, meaning, and connection.

Parents should know that this film includes WWI battle scenes with disturbing images, including piles of bodies, sad deaths of a parent and friends, drinking and drunkenness.

Family discussion: If your friend formed a club, what would you call it? How can art change the world? Why was it so important to Tolkien to publish his friend’s poems? How did Tolkien’s experiences inspire his books?

If you like this, try: the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films and books

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Audiobook: Lily Collins Reads Peter Pan

Posted on May 10, 2016 at 10:51 am

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 10.41.24 AM
Copyright 2016 Audible

For more than a century James M. Barrie’s story of the boy who would not grow up has been enchanting families as a play, several theatrical musicals, and in many different television and movie versions. Now the Peter Pan novel by Barrie is available from Audible as an audiobook, beautifully read by one of my favorite young actresses, Lily Collins (“Mirror Mirror,” “The Blind Side”). Peter Pan is the title character, and Collins does a wonderful job with everyone in the story, including Captain Hook. But having her tell the story subtly reminds us that Wendy (a name Barrie invented, by the way) is the one who really sees and understands what is happening and learning what she needs to know to do what Peter won’t do — grow up. The novel has much more detail than the familiar play and movie versions and lets us hear the story as Barrie imagined it and as he told it to the young boys he befriended and who inspired it.  Play this one in the car and you’ll find yourself coming home the long way so you can keep listening.

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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Posted on August 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action and some suggestive content
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Fantasy drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy-style peril, action, and violence, characters injured and killed, monsters
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 21, 2013
Date Released to DVD: December 2, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B009AMAKWM

The first volume of Cassandra Clare’s popular YA The Mortal Instruments series has been respectfully brought to screen in another attempt to tap into the Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games/Buffy audience.  The problem is that fans of those series may find that too much of this story is derivative of themes, characters, and quests they have already seen.The-Mortal-Instruments-City-of-Bones-2013-Movie-Character-Poster-2

Lily Collins (“Mirror Mirror”) plays Clary, the teenaged daughter of an artist single mother (Lena Headey).  We first hear her on the phone, telling a friend that she isn’t going to lie to her mother. ” I’m just not going to tell her.”  This sets the stage for a story that will have Clary discovering how much has not been told to her.

She wasn’t telling her mother that she planned to go clubbing.  She finds a goth-ish sort of place and gets past the doorman with her friend Simon (Robert Sheehan), who clearly wishes he was more than a friend.  Clary sees people and symbols that no one else does, including what looks like a murder. It turns out that she sees these things because she is not entirely human.  Her mother never told Clary that she was born into a race of Shadowhunters, who protect the world from demons.  Her mother is also a Shadowhunter, who disappears after the thugs who work for the evil Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) come after her to find a special cup that is one of the three “mortal instruments” that can grant special powers.  The rest of this first chapter (the second is already in production) will consist of her learning what her heritage means as she tries to find her mother. And, in what has now become a tradition in multi-volume stories for teenagers, navigating a love triangle.

The movie benefits from Clare’s sense of humor and broad humanism, both evident here.  There are not many stories in this genre that take pains to point out that people all religious beliefs are together in supporting the work of the Shadowhunters — or that acknowledge gay characters with such unquestioned support.  Production designer François Séguin and composer Atli Örvarsson create a nicely gothic atmosphere in the midst of New York City, as Clary discovers her ability to see the other world beyond the one where the “mundanes” (humans) live.  A leonine Shadowhunter named Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) takes her to a sort of Victorian mansion of a clubhouse, presided over by an Anthony Stewart Head-type named Hodge (Jared Harris), where she will be safe from demons, werewolves, vampires, and various other things that go bump in the night, due to a non-aggression pact.  And also zombies, because they don’t exist.

Clary learns that her memories have been hidden from her.  The symbol that she felt compelled to draw and redraw until her bedroom was covered with the image (as she points out, like Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), is one key. A spooky group of hooded guys with their mouths sewn shut give her a magical equivalent of sodium pentothal to help her remember.  But it is really in discovering her own power and in the intense connection she feels to Jace that begins to lead her to the answer.

As with most adaptations of beloved books, this film plays to the fans, including some scenes that could have been trimmed and assuming a knowledge of the characters that may leave audiences new to the story lacking the information they need to connect to the characters.  There are some intriguing ideas and settings.  But when it all comes together at the end in what seems like a mish-mash of “Star Wars,” “Batman,” and “Buffy,” much of the goodwill toward the story is dissipated.

Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of fantasy violence and action, though the worst of it is implied or off-screen.  There are monsters of many different kinds and some gruesome and disturbing images.  There are a few sensuous kisses and some sexual references, some crude, and characters who are powerfully attracted to one another discover they might be siblings.  Characters use strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Jace, Isabelle, and Alec respond differently to Clary?  How did Clary’s ideas about herself and her mother change as she was able to remember more?

If you like this, try: the books by Cassandra Clare and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

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Interview: Lily Collins of “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”

Posted on August 19, 2013 at 8:00 am

It was great to catch up with Lily Collins, star of this week’s release “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” based on the best-selling series by Cassandra Clare.  The last time I spoke to Lily, she was playing a princess in the Snow White story, Mirror, Mirror.  This is another fantasy story, though with a lot more action.  This time, she plays a girl who discovers that she is not human.  She is the descendant of a line of warriors who protect the world from demons that cannot be seen by ordinary people.

Lily-Collins-as-Clary-Fray-1024x682You were a fan of the books before you were cast in the film, right?

I was.  I had read the first book and so when I heard there was going to be a movie I sent out a bunch of emails saying, “I have to get in on this!”  Then it happened very organically.  I got the call that I had the role.  I was a huge fan of the series and to be cast as a heroine I admire so much was a huge honor for me.

Tell me a little about what makes her such an admirable character.

She is on this whole journey because her mom has been taken.  She has this entire adventure story based on finding her voice in this fantasy world that is new to her.  What drives her the whole time is is getting her mom back.  I am really close with my mom so I could relate to that.  She is this really passionate, feisty, determined young woman who never lets herself be victimized, and I really admire that about her.

These books have some very committed fans.  What have you heard from them about their hopes for the film?

I’m a fan as well, so like them there were certain things I wanted to see on screen.  They want that connection to all of the characters that they have read about in the books.  Cassandra wrote it in such a way that you really do feel like you could be friends with everyone in the books.  Even though it is fantasy, everyone is down to earth and realistic.  And Cassandra wrote comedy in there, too.  You just laugh out loud reading some of the lines.  And the action, of course.  They’re hoping to see that brought to life, and the spark, the romance between Clary and Jace.  It’s one thing to envision all the fight scenes and the weapons and another to bring it to life on screen.  You’re going to be on the edge of your seat the whole time.

The characters in the book get markings on their skin called runes.  What was that like?

My character only has two in the first book because I am just discovering that I am a shadow hunter and discovering my power.  But the other guys had them all over their bodies.  They had hours of makeup because they had to cover their real ones and then get the tattoos for the story put on top.  I didn’t have as much time in the makeup chair getting them put on but when I did it was a cool process.  Clary gets bit by a ravener demon, the reason I have the first one put on me, and there was a lot of prosthetic that took about two hours to put on.  But it was cool and it really helps enhance the translation to fantasy out of reality.

This is your second big fantasy film.  What are some of the challenges of fantasy?

In this film we luckily didn’t have that much green screen.   Harold really wanted the set to be very realistic and for us to have the depth and the sense of being immersed in the world that Cassandra wrote.  But of course there was some guy in a green suit where I was being pulled into something and had to imagine what it was.  Having to emote to a stick or a piece of paper is very strange and not something you’d get in an independent drama.  But you’re surrounded by other people who are going through the same thing and understand how it can seem ridiculous and you can have fun with it together.

There’s one scene where I have a newfound power and use one of the runes that basically freezes time and motion.  So we had to avoid certain things in the environment but all we had were tennis balls on sticks showing us where things would be.  How ridiculous do you look — there are lots of outtakes where we are laughing.  But you get over it after two or three takes and you get through it.

And now you’re going to film the next chapter, right?

We start filming in September!

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