Tag Archives: fantasy

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power S1E5 Review “Partings” #AmazonReview #LOTR #RingsofPower

I only spent half the time distracted [this episode] … hardly a ringing endorsement

Episode 5 of Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power, “Partings”, sees the Southlanders split between two factions — those who are going over to the dark side and those who will stand and fight. We also witness the Queen of Númenor having to make a fateful decision.

“Partings” started slow but got better as it went on. It’s definitely stronger than the previous episode, and I know this because I found myself merely checking my phone whilst watching rather than checking the show whilst watching my phone. And I didn’t fall asleep again. However, saying that “I only spent half the time distracted instead of almost all of it and that I remained conscious” is hardly a ringing endorsement.

The big problem continues to be the characters — and that is really a fatal flaw for any piece of work. What actually motivates them? The Queen of Númenor’s fateful decision doesn’t seem to be based on much nor make sense at all. And Galadriel, ostensibly the star of the show, continues to resemble a teenage fan fiction version; petulant, stupid, arrogant, essentially angsty and definitely not a good guy. She would have been mediocre in a budget network 1990s show. I just don’t buy into any of the characters. It’s hard to care when relationships aren’t properly established or developed and when we don’t really feel like we know our characters.

However, on a plus point, black-guy-who-is-the-friend-of-the-guy-who-is-supposed-to-be-Isildur (he’s Isildur inasmuch as the Galadriel in this show is Galadriel and I am Father Christmas), that is, the guy who fell out with “Isildur” previously, shows signs of potentially maybe having the possibility of becoming an okay character, eventually.

“Partings” was somewhat better than the previous ep, but to say I was “gripped” would be an overstatement. Whereas the previous episode was a two-out-of-five, this outing was a solid 3 minus.

Let’s see if this season has the exit velocity to launch us into a hopefully much improved season two. That’s the best we can hope for at this stage.

3/5

© 2022 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power S1E4 Review “The Great Wave” #AmazonReview #LOTR #RingsofPower

The Rings of Power: a cure for insomnia

Rings of Power Episode 4, “The Great Wave”, involves more Númenor-based Elven hijinks, the big reveal of the mysterious Orc man-God “Arda”, and a Dwarven secret.

The episode also involved a lot of sleeping. My sleeping. I fell asleep twice while trying to watch this. A cure for insomnia is probably not what Amazon was hoping for when they ploughed a billion dollars into this series.

This blog is all about short form reviews. But for this episode, there was no way to fulfil that in this case. There is simply too much to say.

So what was wrong with the weakest episode of Rings of Power to date? Far quicker to say what was right.

THE GOOD

Gimli 2 shows signs of being a genuinely interesting character

The visuals continue to be pretty. The non-CGI goblins/orcs are a welcome return to aesthetic of The Lord of the Rings film series, undoing the awful CGI overdrive of The Hobbit. And Gimli 2, as I am calling him, shows signs of being a genuinely interesting character. There was no sign of Probably-Gandalf, or there was but I was asleep, which is a good thing, and the role of the Zummerzet-by-way-of-Kingston-Jamaica-cum-Dublin sort-of hobbits was mercifully minimised.

THE BAD

Everything else about this episode really is off.

Lack of immersion / Comedy resemblances

Constantly being reminded of British comedians probably isn’t what Amazon was hoping for with its casting decisions.

First of all, I can’t stop thinking about how Galadriel sounds exactly like Kate/Bob from classic British sitcom Blackadder II. And speaking of comedians, I talked in my Episode 1/2 review about how Fat Hobbit looks exactly like Dawn French, thereby reminding me of the wonderful French and Saunders Lord of the Rings spoof, and how Celebrimbor, the greatest Elven smith of all, bears an uncanny resemblance to Monty Python‘s Michael Palin. Constantly being reminded of British comedians probably isn’t what Amazon was hoping for with its casting decisions. To make it worse, Isildur — who is going to be a big donny in this show if they follow Tolkien’s mythos — looks just like James Callis who played Gaius Baltar in Battle Star: Galactica (2004). This might be ironic as the mythos suggests Isildur may follow Baltar’s plot path, in a manner.

Anyway, that I’m constantly finding myself dropping out of the hoped-for immersion and thinking about such things really shows that this show is not holding my attention. But if I doubted as much myself, falling asleep definitely proved the point.

Characters without any character

the writers … fulfil the age-old writing adage of “tell not show”…

Speaking of Gaius Baltar, I mean Isildur. He has a weird kind of bromance with his two BFFs. But in this episode they fall out, bigly. It’s supposed to be a huge dramatic moment in the episode. But I didn’t care. Why? Because I forgot the other two guys existed. I can’t even remember what their names are, who they are, what they even do, and the who I do remember, Isildur himself, just seems like a moody little twonk. Good job the writers were there to fulfil the age-old writing adage of “Tell not show” with some phenomenal exposition: “You got me kicked out of the navy. All I ever wanted was to be in the navy”*. Rule of writing for the “writers” of this show: big dramatic moment for Character A isn’t big dramatic moment if Character A isn’t a character. Even with a swell of music.

*(This is a paraphrasing. This episode was truly too awful to go back and catch the actual line. Suffice it to say, it was even more moronic than what I have written)

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power S1E4 Review “The Great Wave”‘. Wow, that’s a blog post title almost as long as the cast list of the aforesaid show. “Let’s have a whole bunch of characters / NPCs and make this show EPIC!” was surely what went on in the writers’ room. Apparently, according to showrunners J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay you can never have too much of a good thing. Nor of a bad thing. Speaking of which…

There’s a weird Monty Pythonesque vibe to Bloke-whose-name-we-don’t-know-nor-care-to-know who fancies Girl-who-I-think-is-the-daughter-of-the-guy, the one with the brother who’s on the boat. That one. Her. Weird, almost sitcom-ish stuff.

When Legolas 2 (as I’m calling him) copies Gimli 2’s (as I’m calling him) kids’ knocking game and opens up a secret chamber containing a priceless ore, my jaw-dropped — at the absurdity of it all. This segues nicely into…

Tonal shifts

…two thousand year old teenager Galadriel

Reviews slating Episodes 1 and 2 bemoaned strange and inappropriate tonal shifts between high drama and low comedy, a shifting of genres. I didn’t see that myself. But with this episode, I finally agree. Strange comedy moments that don’t gel with the overall vibe abound. Another major culprit is defiant two thousand year old teenager Galadriel. Nothing about her makes sense, and she seems to be in an alternate teen version of this show from a different universe.

Galadriel’s behaviour with the Queen Regent of Númenor, in particular, was totally unbelievable, and this show has got Goblins in it. More sitcommery interspliced into what is presumably intended to be a weighty epic. The parallels to Game of Thrones, given the GoT spin-off is going head-to-head with RoP, cannot be avoided. So imagine, if you may, the Red Wedding, followed by Galdariel’s hilaaaaaaaaaarious petulant attitude that winds her up in prison, comedy directoral cut included. Inappropriate tonal shifts.

Gimmicks

… Legolas 2 … Gimli 2 … Aragorn 2 … Probably-Gandalf …

Asides from being a kind-of woke rip-off of The Lord of the Rings — complete with Legolas 2, Gimli 2, troll fight, the Dark Lord’s comin’ ta getcha, Big Statue, Aragorn 2, Frodo-Sam-Merri-Pippin Hobbit mash-up characters, Probably-Gandalf — the show is also guilty of other gimmicks. My favourite is directorial.

The directorial trick of stuff spraying against the camera lens is being overdone. Remember that shot from Children of Men, that crazy long shot, where half way through the lens got sprayed? They had no choice but to carry on, as the shot was so long and complicated that they would have lost everything if they’d tried to go back. But that bit of splatter made the scene all the more graphic and disturbing. In LOTR:ROP their overuse of this trick — once per episode — is drawing attention to itself in a rather uncouth way.

No tension. Simple as.

showing us Sauron so soon…. giving us the money shot from a flaccid chub.

They show Adar’s face, the man who we presume is Sauron. Isn’t that a no-no? The fact that he was unseen in The Lord of the Rings made him scary all the way through. In the original Alien, you hardly see the alien, just snatches, and it makes it all the more horrific. And we all remember seeing Mr Blonde cutting off Marvin’s ear in Reservoir Dogs. Oh wait, no we don’t, it happened off-screen, yet that made it all the more graphic — indeed, many people, in a straight Mandela Effect twist, “remember” seeing it happen, such was the effectiveness of that non-show. So why have they blown it by showing us (probably) Sauron so soon? Giving us the money shot from a flaccid chub. Even if Adar isn’t Sauron, just as Probably-Gandalf may not actually be Gandalf, why is a main baddy being robbed of his shadowy nature this early?

The biggest problem with the show so far, and it was particularly highlighted in this episode, is we just don’t care. Sure, we know we have to stop Sauron because he’s evil, he won’t stop so we’ve got to stop him, or whatever. But there’s just not enough to care about. Galadriel, who could have gone to the western lands where she’ll never die, who is an elf and lives thousands of years, is talking to the leader of an a realm of humans that is an island kingdom way over the seas and totally isolated and safe, that these men and the elves need to join forces again to fight Sauron to stop the people of the Southlands, which is a human realm very, very far away, who I think joined with Morgoth — Sauron’s own lord — to fight against good, from being conquered… I mean, read that sentence back. Who cares? Where is the drama? What is the point? I’m enjoying the beautiful visuals, but whatever. In LOTR, Sauron was coming, he was coming for you, and it felt immediate, it affected everyone. But here, his coming is so distant, so far-off, so irrelevant to everyone else, that it’s hard to be bothered.

IN SUMMARY…

Bored of the Rings? Yes.

2/5

Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power S1E1&2 Review “A Shadow of the Past” and “Adrift” #AmazonReview #LOTR #RingsofPower

Carefully constructed from the appendices, footnotes and old bits of crumpled-up post-it notes

What is LOTR:ROP?

It’s finally here, the series that nobody apart from Jeff Bezos asked for: The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. LOTR:ROP tells the tale of the second age of Middle Earth, some thousands of years before the events portrayed in the Lord of the Rings. Carefully constructed from the appendices, footnotes and old bits of crumpled-up post-it notes from Tolkien’s rubbish bin, LOTR:ROP will take us back to experience the world of J. R. R. Tolkien once more, a world of good versus evil, dragons and treasure, duty and honour, and prosthetic ears.

Having spent one billion dollars on this show — a sum large enough to make one thousand people millionaires, or one person, me, a billionaire — Amazon really is going all in on this intellectual property. This innovative company with a proven track record, and a story based on a world created by one of the greatest figures of British literature, means hopes are high for this series.

Episodes one and two came out at the same time, so let’s delve into both together. The raison d’être of this blog is short form reviews. But hey, LOTR is epic, right? And judging from recent productions, “epic” means “long”, so here are my words splurged manically over your screen.

So Far, So Familiar

They seem to be trying to do a Star Wars Episode VII job on this. Kind of following the basic outline of the original, LOTR, with enough nostalgia thrown in to keep people hooked. We have Galdriel, we have Legolas 2, we have the Hobbits (kind of), we have a dark lord, we have a looming danger, and we have juicy maps. My concern with this show is they might follow the path of Star Wars episodes 7-9 which, although not awful, perhaps do not spiritually live up to their predecessors. But we have to see if this is a case of respectful homage or memberberries as the series develops.

Hobbits

Remember the Lord of the Rings? Remember how we had the Hobbits who epitomised a nostalgic olde timey rural England where things were simpler but life was better? Remember how duty and burden fell on one of these wee folk, and how in the hobbits we had the everyman characters through which to experience and connect with this fantastic world of wizards, dragons, elves and orcs? Yeah, well that’s all been replaced with a kind of gypsy tramp version of the Hobbits, now restyled the Harfoots, who caravan their way through the woods, just because. Instead of being our window to the world, these Harfoots seem to function as a kind of bumbling comedy relief. So I’m not sure what the point of them is other than to say, “Hey, remember the hobbits? Nostalgicus Rememborius! Poof!

The Harfoots feature a Ghostbusters style all-female reboot. Whereas before we had Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, now we have a kind of comedy mash-up of the original fab four boiled down to a twosome: Fat Hobbit, who looks just like Dawn French in the wonderful French and Saunders LOTR spoof, and Female Frodo (minus the burden of the ring), who herself looks eerily like Jennifer Saunders. Perhaps the presence of French’s ex-hubbie Sir Lenny Henry as Chief Harfoot (can’t remember his, or any character’s, name) is tripping my mind out. As an aside, and speaking of resemblances, the elven master smith, Celebrimbor, bears more than a passing resemblance to Monty Python member Sir Michael Palin, and I just can’t get this out of my head. I feel at times like I’m stuck in some kind of new version of Erik the Viking.

In short (no pun), I worry that the showrunners are going to push the Harfoots in an Ewoks / JarJar Binks direction.

OTT

One of the great things about Tolkien was his excellent command of the English language and the poetic beauty of his prose. So LOTR:ROP has taken the novel approach of, err, ignoring Tolkien’s own words. Some of the lines are way of the top and completely trite. They “march at first light”, of course. And then there’s, “You don’t know what’s down there!” –“That” (pregnant pause) “is why I must go”. So far, so fanfic.

It’s not just the dialogue which is over-the-top. Some of the action and special effects are ridiculous. Remember when people complained that in LOTR Legolas was almost like a computer game character, spinning and twirling about? Yeah, okay, well bring Legolas’ willing-suspension-of-disbelief testing agility back, because the way Galadriel dispatches a troll like a video game character, and the way the useless white men by contrast flail around, is just too much. Absolutely ridiculous.

Lord of the Woke

I don’t want to touch this toxic subject, not least because I risk sounding a bit Klan-ish. But it’s been a big talking point, so I have to.

Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power is going out of its way to be woke. And that isn’t a compliment. All the main characters are female and/or ethnic minority. All the white males seem to be dysfunctional idiots. Every marriage is mixed race. In fairness, Tolkien himself said the Harfoots were darker than the Hobbits, although I’m not sure he had Sir Lenny Henry in mind. But anyway, there’s nothing per se wrong with any of this. However, the producers have been inclusive in a way that draws attention to itself, and therefore at the expense of the immersion of the world they’re creating. And that is unforgivable.

This series will be compared to Game of Thrones, so let’s just get down to it. GoT was multiracial and featured many important female characters. But it never felt shoehorned in or for the sake of ticking boxes. It was completely natural. The people in the North were broadly ethnically similar, those from Dorn had a kind of Latin and/or Mediterranean vibe about them. The various races all mixed together in a natural way and in appropriate locations. It all just made sense.

By way of contrast, LOTR:ROP has the strange primitive isolated Harfoots who, for some reason, live in a multiracial society, where some folks speak Zummerzet, others Irish, and others still Jamaican — often the same character will sport all three accents within a sentence. This just makes no sense whatsoever and draws attention to itself. And it’s weird that in this multiracial society, there seems to be no interracial marriage; all the whiteys stick together, and all the non-whites stick together. None of it makes any sense.

But at least LOTR:ROP deals with racism through its world-building genius, where white men refer to non-white and or non-male elves, as “dagger ears”. Ooch.

The Good

There are some plus sides. They’ve done reasonably well introducing us to a wide range of characters fairly quickly. Although maybe they should have followed Tolkien a bit better by introducing them over time. They do set up a lot of stuff very quickly, albeit with a lot of exposition. But this is handled mostly effectively.

The visuals are excellent, and there seems to be a kind-of return to the aesthetic of the LOTR films and away from the overly CGI design of the Hobbit. And that’s very much welcome. The show does look gorgeous, for the most part.

The acting isn’t blowing me away, but it’s not bad. I’ll be interested to see if these relatively unknown thesps are able to deliver a heavy emotional payload later in the show as legends such as Sir Ian McKellan could in the LOTR movies.

Final Thoughts

On the whole, LOTR:ROP isn’t overly exciting me. It’s not what everyone hoped it would be, but it’s not what everyone feared it would be, either. I think some of the harsh reviews so far have been a little bit unjustified. Sometimes I don’t know if reviewers believe what they say or they are simply in love with the sound of their own witty barbs (case in point, Christopher Stevens from the Mail). We need to give this series space to see what it can grow into.

As for the storyline, before firing up Prime, I was concerned. It’s because LOTR:ROP isn’t based on a story, so much as it is based on a series of appendices and footnotes and backstories that Tolkien deliberately left out of his novels as he knew it would all get in the way. It’s like when an artist comes out with an album comprised of the offcuts of a previous album, but tries to sell it as an original work. We were on dangerous ground.

So given this isn’t an adaption of a Tolkien story like LOTR or the Hobbit were, I had fears about what the story was to be. Nonetheless, so far everything seems pretty clear: there’s some kind of dark lord, he’s comin’ ta getcha, and the powers that be are blithely and blindly ignoring the imminent threat — the elves being particularly culpable, having declared “mission accomplished” and buggering back off to their vineyards. Kind of riffing/ripping off LOTR, but you could say that is a tried and tested formula.

In Summary

Enjoyable, but nothing amazing. And we can’t use the yardstick of Tolkien’s magnificent work or the wonderful Jackson-Boyens-Walsh films to judge this by; we must judge it by its own standard. Nonetheless, more evidence must come in before the jury can render a verdict.

3/5

© 2022 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Film Review “Apostle” (2018) #NetflixReview #150WordReview

Part Meet the Amish, part The Village, part penal colony

Thomas Richardson (Dan Stevens) goes undercover on a dangerous mission to the isolated island of Erisden where his sister is being held hostage by a wild religious cult. The task is not easy; the island’s magnetic leader Malcolm (Michael Sheen) is becoming increasingly paranoid, and the island is ruled by a kind of religious police who control people’s actions and movements.

Apostle is an original film. It portrays the cult-village believably. Part Meet the Amish, part The Village, part penal colony in 1905, the egos of the main characters are believably presented. The cult itself is increasingly bizarre and it turns out there may be truth to the mysterious preachings of their prophet Malcolm. None-the-less, the supernatural aspects of the film are secondary to the psychology.

Good performances from all. A believable cult, a convincing community, a bizarre but original supernatural secret at the heart of the island, Apostle is a really good film. However, the full-on gore and body horror aspect might be too much for those expecting a period drama.

Writer-Director Gareth Evans reminds of a Welsh Neil Marshall, a rising star to watch, for sure.

4/5

© 2021 Bryan A. J. Parry

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HBO/Netflix Series I Wanna See Get Made #Netflix #StargateReboot #Earthsea #Discworld

We’re living in a golden age of TV series, especially for fantasy and science fiction adapted from works of literature.

We’re living in a golden age of TV series, especially for fantasy and science fiction adapted from works of literature. I’m thinking especially Game of Thrones and The Man in the High Castle. And I’m now keenly awaiting the upcoming BBC series based on Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. This gives me hope that maybe some other of my favourite books might get adapted — and adapted well! I previously foretold there would be a series of Lord of the Rings, and it’s actually now happening.

Earthsea. Classic Ursula Le Guinn fantasy series set on a world of islands. This phenomenal world of creative genius needs a wider audience.

Discworld. This could actually be multiple series, with each based on one set of characters. Each book more-or-less can be one season, all books could form the whole series. Focus on maybe wizards, city watch, death, nowt else. Or a series based on one of the set of characters, e.g., the City Watch, but with each book more-or-less being a season. In any case, there are loads of great characters and stories to come out of the fertile mind of the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett.

Stargate. I want a total reboot, remake, reimagining of the Stargate and SG1 franchise. Get back to the basics of the Von Däniken “Chariots of the Gods” theory that the very most ancient gods were actually extraterrestrials, keep it with the Egyptian and Babylonian gods. Stargate SG1 had a very Star Trek: The Next Generation vibe of intergalactical banterous romp; I would want a reboot to have a darker, “edgy” DS9 type vibe.

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© 2018-2019, 2021 Bryan A. J. Parry

Film Review “Wildling” (2018) #NetflixReview

when her daddy is played by the mercurial Brad Dourif, you know things aren’t as straightforward as she has been led to believe.

Anna has spent her whole life locked in a cabin in the woods with her daddy, the last survivors of an apocalypse where the monstrous “wildlings” devoured all of mankind. Now blossoming into teenagehood, she finds herself seeing things in a way she hadn’t considered before. And anyway, when her daddy is played by the mercurial Brad Dourif, you know things aren’t as straightforward as she has been led to believe.

Wildling is a fantasy-horror which does not fit the mould. An unusual film, it not so much twists and turns, as it is surprises us as it wends its way. This film will not appeal to everyone. Why? Its very genre changes as the film goes on; we see the ground shift beneath us and suddenly things are different again. Therefore, being a bit of a genre-bending pic, it won’t be pure horror enough to satisfy some horror fans, nor fantastical enough for many of the fantasy crowd, and it just has too much everyday drama for the first two groups. None-the-less, this is an entertaining, original film which sucks you into its world.

There are great performances from the aforesaid Dourif and his fellow players. Especially good is Collin Kelly-Sordelet who gives a sensitive and believable performance as Ray, Ellen’s younger brother, a quirky outsider himself who is able to connect with Anna. These strong performances are the iron track that this quirky tale runs assuredly on.

Wildling was Fritz Böhm’s first feature length screenplay. He did so well that he’s obviously become a trusted quantity as he will be directing the upcoming Escape Room 2 (2021).

A wonderful tale that, while not everyone’s cup of tea, should be sampled by all.

3/5

© 2020-2021 Bryan A. J. Parry

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Netflix Film Review “Look Away” (2018)

… this twist was shocking, but I was more shocked at how poorly the film played this strong card.

Maria (India Eisley) is a quirky and lonely teenager, bullied and suffering a barely-fleshed out eating disorder, her only friend is merely using Maria as a personal side-kick and as a kind of depressive foil to make herself look good. A depressed mother (Mira Sorvino) and a philandering plastic surgeon father (Jason Isaacs) make home life equally unbearable. But everything changes when Maria looks in the mirror to see that her reflection is alive. The reflection is called Airam (because, ya know — I mean, work it out for yourself!) and claims to have Maria’s best interests at heart. But does she/it really? Things take a turn for the dark when they swap places.

There’s no real tension regarding who or what the reflection is, the very first shot of the movie spells it out: Airam is Maria’s twin sister who died at birth. There also isn’t any real tension to the way Airam gets justice for Maria. Justice would be served, and I would just go, “Oh, okay, so that’s happened, I guess.” There felt like minimal pay-off. There could have been a slow build-up to key scenes of “justice”, there could have been a creepier tension built between Maria and Airam. Jason Isaacs does steal the movie, however, with his off-kilter and complex portrayal. The film missed another pay-off with certain revelations regarding Airam’s true fate/identity; this twist was shocking, but I was more shocked at how poorly the film played this strong card. There’s an awkward aggressively sexual scene between Maria and her Dad, but this, too, felt like it could have gone in a more interesting direction.

This was an entertaining film, but it kept me wondering why they didn’t explore the concept more. What happens to Maria when she’s in the mirror? Is there a whole other dark world in there, like ours but the opposite? Or is it happy and light, making her not want to come back while Airam is unhappy in Maria’s world? Why wasn’t justice performed more ironically; for example, why was Maria’s school tormenter not, despite having a secret crush on her, punished in a way fitting his relationship with Maria? He just gets kyboshed. And why isn’t Maria made to be more likable? Self-deprecating sense of humour, perhaps. An interesting hobby, maybe. She’s just pathetic and characterless.

Nice idea, some good acting, an entertaining albeit mindless way to spend 103 minutes, but devoid of tension. A Horror-thriller without much of either. The ending also felt incomplete. This film is a wasted opportunity.

2/5

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

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