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Beware!  Herein lie spoilers!

I’m not in the habit of writing movie reviews, but then I’m not in the habit of going to movies either.  John loves them, and occasionally he insists on taking me, but usually I’d rather spend date nights talking.  I go to the theatre for big events:  Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Hobbit . . . the movies whose opening date you’ve known for months, the ones where your heart is pounding and you are a little bit breathless as the show finally begins.  Y’all, I had actual tears in my eyes when the theme music started.  This is serious stuff to me.

Why so serious? you ask.  Because I am, and have been, a certified Tolkien geek for most of my life, since I first read The Hobbit when I was about eight years old.   I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it–and its “sequel”–since.  I read it aloud to my children; I read The Lord of the Rings (yes, all 1,200 pages) aloud to my husband.  Pre-fire, I owned most of Tolkien’s books, including obscure works; I had the soundtracks of the animated versions of his books; I had encyclopedias and atlases of Middle Earth; I even had the War of the Rings board game.  In college, I wrote a term paper on Tolkien’s life; in grad school, I created an annotated bibliography of sources related to the languages he created.

So I’m not a casual fan, or someone who just discovered Tolkien because of Peter Jackson’s movies (which up until now I’ve mostly been pleased with).  And this is a family full of serious Tolkien fans.   We were so excited about this movie that we kept the kids out of school today so that we could go as early as possible.

the hobbitSo I hate that I was disappointed.

I was skeptical when Peter Jackson announced that he was making The Hobbit into a trilogy.  I knew he was going to have to make additions, but I expected that most of them would involve adding scenes from other Tolkien sources (like Gandalf’s meeting with Thorin in Bree, a scene in this movie) or expounding on things that are mentioned in the book but not fleshed out (like flashbacks to the fall of Dale and Erebor in the last one).  I did not expect him to flat-out MAKE THINGS UP.  His efforts to insert matters from The Lord of the Rings  into the first installment were irksome, requiring mischaracterization of the relationship between Saruman and Galdalf, and I groused about that then, but for the most part his tampering was minor enough to overlook.

But not this time.  You know, I could overlook Azog not being actually dead in the first movie, but I can’t overlook the appearance of Bolg as well and orc after orc after hideously ugly orc in this one, especially not in freaking Imax 3-D.  THERE SHOULD BE NO ORCS IN THIS SECTION OF THE MOVIE.  They go back to the Misty Mountains and don’t reappear until the Battle of Five Armies.  Y’all, orcs are repulsive to look at and I’m tired of seeing them get their heads cut off.  I mean the thrill is totally gone.

You know what else shouldn’t be in this movie? Legolas.  Now. don’t get me wrong, I love Legolas.  And I was prepared to go along with his presence, because Thranduil IS his father, and he is a Mirkwood elf, so he was probably there.  So give him  a few lines or whatever, but don’t give him a huge subplot, complete with a love triangle.

Oh, and don’t create a “she-elf” to be one of the vertices of said love triangle, and have her be the one who enlightens Legolas on his duty to leave the safety of the forest against his father’s will in order to help stop the spreading darkness (which is not really even mentioned in this book but which is insisted upon over and over in the movie–by the elves, Gandalf, the orcs, and even Smaug).

So belatedly I should say that the first problem I have with this movie is it adds things that never happened.  More things than I’ve mentioned.  But enough said.

Second, just because a movie is fantasy doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be believable.  Believable, I mean, within the confines of its own universe.  So yes, dragons and elves and dwarves exist, but even awesome elves like Legolas cannot physically do the things he does in the crazy action sequences (SO many action sequences) in this movie.  After awhile you are just shaking your head.  Nor can Thorin constantly survive blasts of Smaug’s fiery breath.  Or people fall repeatedly from great heights and hop right up with no broken bones.

Third, wouldn’t you think that one of the pluses of turning a short book into three long movies is that at least nothing would need to be cut?  That you would get to see every beloved scene on screen?  Well, think again, Buster.  Because Mr. Jackson is so enamored of his manufactured subplots that he doesn’t have time for the things that ACTUALLY happened.  The weeks of weary travel through Mirkwood?  Five minutes, tops.   Bilbo’s time spent skulking in the halls of the woodelves?  We see plenty of Thranduil (and what an ass he is) and Legolas and Tauriel (aforesaid she-elf) but we have no idea what poor Bilbo is up to until he appears with the keys.  The weeks the dwarves spend on the Lonely Mountain before they get inside?  They arrive moments before the keyhole appeared.

Fourth, the Ring.   The chief importance of the Ring in The Hobbit is that it’s Bilbo’s little secret weapon–he’s invisible while he fights the spiders, he’s invisible in the elf king’s halls, he’s invisible while talking to Smaug.  The Ring is NOT yet exerting some malevolent influence over him, for one thing because Tolkien hadn’t thought of that yet (although he goes for a little revisionist history later himself), but more important, MUCH more important, because it takes years and years and years before the Ring even begins to affect Bilbo.  His ability to resist its evil effects is miraculous and a tribute to him and to hobbits in general, and Gandalf makes much of that in The Fellowship of the Ring (the book, I’m talking about here).   But in this movie he has to be constantly pulling it out and staring at it and hearing the words that he does not even know are inscribed in it inside his head–in the Black Speech, no less–and even tells a spider, “It’s mine!” (At least he didn’t say it was precious.)  And when he should be using it, he’s always TAKING IT OFF.  Like when he is standing a couple of feet away from the MOUTH OF A FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON.

Finally, and most important of all, Peter Jackson has missed the point of The Hobbit in every possible way.  It’s a children’s story that he wants to rewrite for an adult audience.  It’s a simple tale that he wants to make complicated.  It’s a standalone book that he wants to tie to the War of the Ring.  And at its heart, it’s BILBO’s story.  It’s the story of how a simple, stay-at-home hobbit left his comfortable fireside for an adventure he never knew he wanted  and discovered that there was more inside him than he and others guessed.    Bilbo is largely missing from the second installment, which plays partly like Thorin’s story and partly like a prelude of the evil to come.  His triumphant moments are passed over quickly or even taken away from him all together (the elves come to the rescue and finish killing off the spiders, his single-handed liberation of the dwarves from the eleven king requires more elvish assistance as well as help from the dwarves and Bard).  In the book the dwarves respect and rely upon Bilbo more and more as time goes on.  That’s important–central–and you don’t see it here.

If I had never read The Hobbit, I would have liked this movie.  It was fast-paced and exciting and visually appealing.  I thought the 3D was used to much better effect this time around–there were times where the characters looked REAL to me in a way I can’t exactly explain.  The spiders and Smaug were awesomely scary.  I liked Tauriel’s character.  But as someone who loves the book, I instead found myself constantly shaking my head, and thinking, “Did he really just do that? Really?”

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les mis poster

Y’all, I am OBSESSED with Les Miserables right now.   Searching Twitter and Tumblr tags, listening to every soundtrack I can find on Spotify pretty much nonstop, reading reviews and analyses online . . .  I cannot WAIT to see it again.  Let’s not call this a review, exactly–it’s more of a tribute (or a gush) because this movie is WONDERFUL.   It rose to the top of my favorite movie list like a rocket.

Here’s where I would normally tell you that if you aren’t interested in this movie and don’t plan to see it, you should move along.  But I won’t say that, because everyone should see this movie.  You just don’t know what you are missing.   Some are avoiding it because they think it is depressing.  No.  It’s sad.  Very, very sad. But SAD and DEPRESSING are different.  This movie–this story–is UPLIFTING.

I learned about catharsis in high school English, but I didn’t understand the point of it then.  Why seek out emotional experiences in fiction?  Aren’t our tears over the reality of life enough?  Now, though, I love me some catharsis and Les Miserables has been a source of it for me for many years.

I saw the musical on stage probably 20 years ago.  I purchased the soundtrack–on cassette–and when my big kids were little I was in the habit of listening to it regularly.  I remember clearly standing in my little yellow kitchen, chopping vegetables for supper, tears rolling down my face.  It was Fantine’s death scene that always got me then.  I only had to hear the opening line for the tears to start.

As for my kids, they grew to love the songs as well, especially “Master of the House” because of the bad words (okay to sing but not to say!).  I was so excited when almost 12 years ago the play came back to Knoxville.  I wanted the kids to see it, and we spent over 80 dollars we could ill afford then on the tickets.  My dream was squelched when I (nine months’ pregnant with #4) got put on bedrest for high blood pressure just days before the show.

John and the kids got to go, though, and in the years since we’ve kept the magic alive, frequently bursting into the initial sung conversation between Javert and Valjean. (Things like that happen around here a lot.)

I’ve never seen it since, and I was beyond excited for the movie, and especially to finally get to experience the story with the big kids. (They loved it too.)

You always wonder and worry a little about seeing an adaptation or a remake of a much-loved book or show or movie.  You know there are going to be changes.  And the newer version is going to stick in your head.  Will it spoil the old one?  If you haven’t seen this movie yet for those sorts of reasons, don’t let it hold you back.  Of necessity, a film is different from a play.  And there are some small changes.  But the changes add rather than detract.  Where additions are made they come from the book or reflect its spirit.  Here is the first of several blog posts I’ve been reading that explain this beautifully, along with quotations from the book.  Read them all.

Having experienced the story onstage and onscreen and through the music now over so many years, one thing that has interested me how my own reactions to the material have altered.  Part of that has to do with the differences in media but I also think it reflects where I am in my own my life.  As I said earlier I used to find Fantine’s death the most devastating part (it’s still sad!).  I think that was because I was empathasizing with her as we were both mothers of little children.  This time I was most moved by the death of the young men on the barricade.  Why?  Because I am now the mother of two almost grown up boys.  They reminded me of Jake and Teddy and their friends.

young rebels

 

One virtue of the movie format is that you get to know the minor characters so much better.  Even with the best seats in the house you can’t see individual faces at a play the way you can on a screen.  The young men on the barricade were humanized and individualized in the movie version.  The tragedy and waste of their deaths became personal.

Some reviews I read criticized what I saw as a strength:  the way the movie showed the characters in closeup while they were singing their big numbers, never leaving their faces for the duration of the song (which by the way were actually sung while filmed, not lip synched and added later).  Me, I thought it was amazing.  THEY were amazing.  No, they didn’t always belt out the tunes, Broadway fashion, because this was a different format, and not necessary in a film.  They ACTED the songs.  The feelings they showed were amazing.  They cried while singing.  Their voices broke with emotion.

Anne Hathaway should get an Oscar.  What everyone is talking about is The Song, and The Song is amazing, but to me her acting was just as moving in the small parts.  The way her lips trembled and her eyes filled when she knew she was about the lose her job.  The way she cried while her hair was being cut.

fantine hair cut

 

I’ve got nothing negative to say about the casting or the music, although plenty of people seem to.  I concede that Russell Crowe’s voice isn’t on the same level as the rest of the cast.  However, I liked his Javert very much and I think his softer singing shapes his depiction of the character.  His Javert was meditative, thoughtful, driven but not fanatical, trying to do what was right but getting it all wrong.  I understood this Javert.  I felt sorry for him.  I didn’t want him to die.

Hugh Jackman’s transformation from convict to Monsieur Madeleine was impressive.  We couldn’t figure out how they could possibly pretty him up!  I only knew of him before this movie.  If you’ve thought of him as an action hero he will surprise and delight you here.

I won’t go through all the characters because you can read about them anywhere.  But I will say that I am a critical person, trained to be that way as an English major, and I wouldn’t–couldn’t–criticize anyone’s performance in this movie.

I have more to say–especially about the music and the religious themes.  Because this is a profoundly Catholic movie–more than the play–and I loved it for that as well.  But I will leave that for another day and here end with a plea:  GO SEE THIS MOVIE.

P.S.  If you have a heart, you should approach Les Miserables prepared to weep.  Don’t see it with people you don’t want to cry in front of.   I had to stifle an actual sob at one point.  You’ll cry because it’s sad, and you’ll cry because it is beautiful.

 

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Junk food is as addictive as cocaine.

That’s a pretty provocative statement, and it comes straight from the press kit for Diet Rehab, a book by Dr. Mike Dow, the cohost of Freaky Eaters, which would probably impress me if I watched t.v.  I don’t know yet whether I believe it or not, but I am getting ready to find out.

That’s my copy of the book, which I now disclose to you that I received for FREE in return for reviewing it.   I have not read it yet.  But I’m going to have a little fun with this.  If it makes any sense at all, I am going to do what it says and share the results with you.

I know one thing I like already:  that blurb at the top stating that “You’re addicted to bad food and it’s not your fault.”  For someone who has spent most of a lifetime feeling guilty about every morsel consumed, that’s a refreshing message.  More on that later.

So the plan is that I will read the book this week, then start following the “28 days of gradual detox” the following week.  Once a week–let’s say on Mondays–I’ll share with you how it’s going. (This will definitely not involve any scales.  A tape measure MAY be used.  We shall see.)  At the end of the four weeks I will pronounce judgment on the book.  I’ll explain the theory and the procedure as we go.  If anyone wants to join in, let me know and I will send you instructions!

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Value Vision

This is a SPONSORED post.  What does that mean, exactly?  It means that I received–for FREE–the item that I am writing about in exchange for posting a review of it here.  The good news is that I was going to write a post on this topic anyway, so it’s not going to sound fake like some reviews I have read.  Also, you know I wouldn’t lie to you, even to get freebies.

A couple of years ago I started to notice something strange–if I needed to read the dosing information on a medicine bottle, I had to hold it farther out from my face to bring it into focus.  Sometimes by the time I got it into focus, it was too far away to read!  At church, too, I started holding my hymnal out at arm’s length.  Now, I had an inkling of where this was heading, but I wanted to ignore it.  It wasn’t that big of a problem anyway.

But then I started having more and more trouble driving at night.  I can’t really explain what the problem was–I just couldn’t SEE.  If I was somewhere unfamiliar I had difficulty finding driveways and making turns.  My vision problem was becoming a safety issue.

Why did I put off getting glasses for so long?  It’s stupid, really, to have always been so proud of my 20-20 vision.  It’s not like I earned it.  But to me, more than anything else that age has done to my physical self, glasses seemed like a tangible admission that I am no longer as young as I once was.  I can color my hair, I could lose weight if I really wanted to, but I can’t correct my vision.  (Yes, I know about Lasik.  No, I am never letting anyone near my eyeballs with a laser.)

For a while I was extremely depressed about all this.  What with everything that’s happened since, it seems silly now.  But at the time it seemed like a terrible milestone.

The eye examination itself wasn’t so bad.  I hadn’t seen an eye doctor in 20 years–my husband made me go when we were first married–so I was pretty amazed by the technology.  Last time I had my eyes examined, I was looking at 3D pictures of flies.   So that part was fun.  And our eye doctor has an iguana in his office, so that was pretty cool.

Two parts of the trip to the office pretty much sucked, though.  The first was trying on the glasses.  Having never worn any before, I did  not even know where to begin.  And because I have a fat and doughy sort of face with no bones to speak of, none of the glasses looked good on me.  The only ones that did are enormous 80s style glasses and I guess I will just have to wait for them to come back in.

The other part was the price. Oh my goodness.  My husband and I both had exams and got glasses.  I was having an eye allergy too so I had to get two kinds of exams.  And we had a balance of $60 when we got there.  But our total bill was almost $1,000.  Believe me, it was just a fluke that we happened to have that kind of money that day.  But we did, so we took care of it.  My husband has worn glasses for about 30 years, so his are essential, and as I said, for me it was becoming a safety issue.

Here I am the first day with my new glasses.  Don’t I look happy?  Lorelei told me they were hysterical.

Not knowing what I was doing, I let them give me bifocals.  I SHOULD have gotten one pair for the driving problem and one for the reading problem.  The optician told me to wear them all day for awhile to get used to them, and then I could just pull them out when I need them.  I couldn’t stand that.  I felt too tall when I wore them (don’t know how else to explain it).  I was dizzy and whenever I looked down I felt like I was going to fall because I could not judge my steps correctly.  I ended up leaving them in the car (where they do help immensely for night driving) and continuing to hold things at arms length to read them.

The reading problem has been getting worse.  Some of my books had print so small that I could only read them in bright light.  I wished I had the reading glasses but I could not afford another pair.

Enter 1800specs.com.

“1800specs aims to make stylish prescription eyewear affordable for everyone. The average pair of glasses in the US sells for $150–and that’s including the Cosco’s and Walmarts of the world–and of course many of us pay several times that. It’s outrageous, there’s no reason glasses can’t be made available for as little as $20 a pair. It’s a necessity, a question of health and often the ability to support yourself. It’s just wrong to make people overpay like that.

What is 1800specs.com?  It is a website where you can order your glasses yourself, way cheaper than you can get them from the optician at your eye doctor’s office.  I’m not kidding; the cheapest pair is $20 and they are not ugly–they are the SAME ones from the optician, just at a better price.

Did you know that your prescription is your property?  It never would have occurred to me that I could take it somewhere else; I think most of us are conditioned to take it to our doctor’s onsite optician or to whichever one he works with.  I had no trouble at all getting mine, but some other people who were trying this service had to fight with their doctor’s office to get it.  That’s not right, and it’s not fair.

Once I had the prescription, I looked at it in confusion.  It made no sense to me.  I wondered how I was supposed to convey this information to the people at the website.  Would I have to scan it and fax it?  I needn’t have worried.  The site is so easy and completely self-explanatory. It asks you if you have your prescription and then little boxes just pop up for you to fill in the numbers.  After that, the screen pops up with the frames that will work with your prescription.

Perhaps you might expect a few basic choices?  You would be wrong.  There were probably hundreds of choices.  I was overwhelmed by them all, because I am such a novice at this that I have absolutely no idea what is in style or what looks good on me.  They have a solution for this–a Favorites feature so that you can save and compare your top choices until you make a decision.

The ordering process itself was as easy as it should be on any website these days.  I ordered my glasses on October 17, and they arrived today.  Had I been paying, my cost would have been $50 plus $6.95 for shipping and handling.  Not bad, huh?  I can only get one free pair but I am so pleased that I will probably order a $20 pair with the other half of my prescription so I won’t have to deal with those bifocals anymore.

Now some of you might be wondering about the fit of your glasses.  Mine fit fine, but I am told that any optician will make minor adjustments to your glasses for free if fit is a problem.  And did I mention that 1800specs has a 365 day return policy if you are unsatisfied in any way?

I am so excited to have my reading glasses, and I am thrilled to be able to share this great money-saving service with my readers who wear glasses.  Please share this post with anyone who you think would benefit from it, and tell me in the comments if you are going to give 1800specs a try!

My Glasses

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