The problem of character in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

I was in a strange state of excited reluctance when I went to see the second installment of The Hobbit a few weeks ago.

I was excited because, well, I’m a nerd. I love The Lord of the Rings and all things Middle Earth.

I was reluctant because after I saw the trailer I raged about all the non-canon and was thoroughly put-off for several hours. But I came around eventually and decided to go see the film with two good friends of mine. One of these two people is an ardent fan of Orlando Bloom, and so it wasn’t hard to convince her to go.

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Official analysis: The plot of the film completely overshadowed any notion of character. This was a timely occurrence because, as a class, we had just decided that the biggest problem with our short stories was plot overshadowing character, turning them into devices of the plot rather than autonomous actors with complex emotions and motivations.

Oddly enough, I thought the most developed character was Tauriel, which made it impossible for me to dislike her.

One question: did Tauriel give up her immortality at the end with her healing magic? My friend seems to think so.

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New Discovery: Mona Lisa Saloy

True story.

My intern buddy and I were asked to write book blurbs yesterday. One of the books was a new collection of poems by Mona Lisa Saloy called Second Line Home. Neither of us had ever read anything by her before, so we were given the manuscript and an earlier collection published by the press called Red Beans and Ricely Yours.

Seriously. Get it. That collection should be on a required reading list for human beings.

I read the first two lines of the first poem in the book and my head exploded:

Word Works
I’m about how words
work up a gumbo of culture

My buddy and I literally sat in our little intern-corner for hours reading her poetry, ooh-ing and ahh-ing and drooling (metaphorically) all over the pages. This woman is the hottest thing since sliced bread, and now I’m on a mad quest to discover if the press has any “hurt books” they can give to me for free so I can take them home and love them forever.

Amazing.
I am in awe.
If I was in her presence I might actually swoon.
Hopefully someone would be around to catch me.
If not though, that’d still be okay.

Just wanted you to know.

Book Review: Bring Down the Little Birds

Bring Down the Little Birds: On Mothering, Art, Work, and Everything Else, by Carmen Giménez Smith

If there is one thing I learned from this novel, it is this: There is no one face of motherhood. Motherhood encompasses many roles, attitudes, and conflicts. It is a balancing act, a compromise, a conflict with a self-contained resolution. It is a chance combined with all the instincts and all the eggs you’ll ever have or ever need.

Smith’s novel is constructed out of short paragraphs with a distinct, lyrical rhythm. Some read like a stream of consciousness, while others are punctuated by wider, more universal observations about motherhood and life.

These punctuations give the reader time to surface and consider, to breathe, before plunging back down into the densely personal, silent water.

These short paragraphs make up the realm of discussion and reflection Smith creates for herself and allows the reader to experience as well. Her language is frank and accessible. She does not shy away from the “gory details” and she does not idealize, presenting the reader with views of motherhood on the body—distorting its shape, becoming a body invaded, and motherhood on the mind—a paradigm shift in thought and emotion.

Smith bears it all, and her poignant honesty accomplishes much of what she is aiming to achieve, which is chartering motherhood in its entirety.

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The main characters of the story are the members of Smith’s family; her husband, son, daughter, and mother. Her mother has a tumor growing in her brain which Smith relates to her daughter growing inside her uterus.

The dichotomy is striking—the fetus develops while the tumor destroys. This points to the greater cycle of birth and death. The experience of taking care of her own mother causes Smith to assume two motherhoods simultaneously.

Smith weaves these two stories, the beginning and final stages of life, together. That they occur contemporaneously is a consequence of the actual timing of events, but also a device of the plot reminding the reader that at all times death and renewal work upon our world. That out of the chaos of car seats, teaching, writing, and cleaning, there is a balance.

Perhaps the most important message is one that Smith relates by pointing out all the different facets of motherhood. By reading this book we are guaranteed that for each of us, much of our experience will be similar to what Smith describes, while at the same time it will be utterly distinct.

Smith reveals through this novel the process of motherhood as self-actualization—that is the promise of motherhood and everything else.

The great phases are the same, but how we travel through them is up to us.

Villains Fall a Bit Flat in Star Trek: Into Darkness

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Overall rating: Pretty darn good.

One point of criticism of the film is that the villains were very one-dimensional. They had straight-forward motives making their dialogue and performance fall a bit flat.

With his cowboy gusto and big thumb pointed back at himself, Marcus seemed like a perfect caricature of the corrupt, petulant, war-mongering American rather than a realistic, multifaceted character. The audience fosters no sympathy with him, and so he is distant to us. A stereotypical bad guy with a stereotypical bad guy agenda. Even his problem solving skills were straight-forward: give me what I want or I blow up your ship.

Khan employed some imagination in the problem solving arena, but there was no in-depth, complex psychological manipulation like I’d hoped there would be, maybe turning the crew members of the Enterprise against each other.

I kept waiting for a huge logic battle between Khan and Spock, or a more subtle manipulation technique that would alienate one or more members of the crew. Mostly he acted on the physical plane, using his strength and prowess as a warrior to capture Kirk and briefly hold him hostage to coerce Spock into giving him back his frozen friends. His goal was singular as well: get my people back.

This made the villains one-sided, predictable, and less interesting than I generally hope for. The predictability and lack of depth also leads to a lack of fear. I like my villains to keep me on my toes, it’s part of what makes them so terrifying—you never know what they’re going to do next.

Of course I have other complaints. For instance,  I question the necessity of stripping  a woman down to her underwear for the sole purpose of ogling, and I found the ending rather abrupt. Overall, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

The most complex and engaging character emotionally was Spock. His evolving friendship with Kirk and his relationship with Uhura is well-constructed and beautifully handled. There is a good amount of both humor and explosions. Kirk continues to grow as a captain, acting selflessly to save his crew despite being beat up nearly the entire movie (which I noticed also occurred in the 2009 release.) Nods to the original canon  were well-placed effective. The acting talent is undeniable.

The story is about coming together after a devastating and jarring attack. It’s about facing danger, but realizing that you don’t have to face that danger alone. Everyone has their part, and we must play to our strengths and trust in our friends to pick up the line when we’re confronted with our weaknesses.

What do you think? Let me know if you agree or disagree, or want to bring up something I’ve left out.

Arrow: Absence makes the heart grow fonder

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I wear a hood and I put arrows into criminals.

I’ve been watching the CW’s Arrow since the pilot on a regular basis with one of my housemates. We have a ritual: Go to practice, come back, sit down shoulder to shoulder with a laptop between us (accompanied by a bowl of chocolate cereal marketed toward second graders and consumed by college students) and watch our favorite green vigilante swinging about the fire escapes of Starling City.

But this week there was no episode, and my ritual hung in a sad hiatus. It’s made me realize just how much I look forward to and enjoy the show, for reasons that I’ll enumerate here:

1. It’s two shows for the price of one. The first is the story is about a spoiled, unseasoned young man learning to survive in a kill-or-be-killed environment. The second is about a hardened vigilante cleaning up the streets of his hometown while trying to balance a normal life and relationships. That the two characters and stories weave into one is the masterstroke that drives the series.

2. The cast is phenomenal and the acting fantastic.

3. Episodes are fast-paced and action-packed, with well-coordinated stunts and many a shirtless work-out scene.

4. There is an overarching plot that is nearly tangible, dancing just above our heads, a silent force lending momentum to the season as a whole.

This last point, I think, will become especially apparent in these next few episodes. Next week we will see Episode 20, Home Invasion, which, judging by the swanky-music themed preview, promises to be packed full of fire power. It looks like Diggle will get to spend that quality time he’s been wanting with Floyd Lawton, a.k.a. Deadshot, and Ollie wrecks more pieces of furniture.

First tables, now balconies. When will the assault on elements of household furniture come to an end?

A lot could happen in the episodes we have left. Episode 23, titled Sacrifice, marks the end of the line for season one. This week off has given me time to reflect (when I’m not pouring over spoiler pages like this one) and truly appreciate Arrow. While this is nice, I definitely wouldn’t ask for any more time off. I’m excited and a bit anxious to see what happens, and I have faith the writers will throw us for a loop, but pull us through it all the same.