Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A tribute to the French

Dear Bratty Friends,

With Gerard Depardieu in trouble with the French for moving his residency to Belgium to avoid France's higher taxes, I thought I'd take a moment and remember a few fascinating Frenchmen and women that have piqued the interest of those across the pond.

First, here's and older photo of Depardieu:

Dominic Pinon, a fav contemporary French actor:

One of my favorite actresses, Vanessa Paradis:

The French actress I was named after!
Yvette Mimieux

Famous French painters:
Edgar Degas

Paul Cezanne

The "little teapot" Talouse-Lautrec.



French rulers:
Charles de Gaulle

Marie Antoinette

Napoleon Bonaparte

French authors:
Albert Camus


Jules Verne

French scientists/philosophers:
Blaise Pascal

Louis Pasteur


Well, that brings us to the end of this week's senseless meandering through French history. Not much was accomplished, but at least we reminded ourselves that the French have greatly influenced our current culture. Next week, it would be fun to play a "name that painter" game with some of my favorite artists, French and otherwise.

Let's see what we all retained from art class, shall we?

Hoo boy!



Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Hello Bratty Friends,

I had the occasion to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey the other night, and these are my thoughts on the movie/my review.

First, let me say that I never did read the book. I could never make it more than a few hundred pages into it! It was so....disjointed. So....heavy and twisty and turny. I couldn't make heads or tails of it. And the parts I did like weren't enough to make me keep reading ... obviously. Anyway, my general impression of the book from my junior high days was that it involved a dragon and hobbit and some other strange creature. Luckily, Peter Jackson was able to sort this all out.

It's funny that I read Michael Hauge's blog post right before I went to the movie. He's a sort of writing guru for both novelists and screen writers. His most recent blog posting lists what a movie MUST have in order to be a blockbuster (emphases mine):

1.  An empathetic HERO – a protagonist (male, female or android) with whom we identify from the very beginning of the story.

2.  A clear, visible OUTER MOTIVATION that hero is desperate to achieve by the end of the story. This is NOT some inner feeling or state of being (success, acceptance, self worth), but rather a goal that creates a clear, consistent image for anyone who hears it.
3.  Monumental, seemingly insurmountable CONFLICT. If the hero’s goal doesn’t seem impossible, and doesn’t force the hero to put everything on the line, the story won’t elicit sufficient emotion to get people to line up or tune in to see the movie.
4.  SIMPLICITY. Movie stories can easily be expressed in a single sentence. Long, convoluted, multi character stories are almost impossible to advertise.
5.  FAMILIARITY. Audiences prefer genre films that follow a consistent set of rules and promise a predictable emotional experience. The individual details of the plot and characters should be original, but movies that are hard to categorize are also hard to sell.
Jackson, being the movie-maker guru, was able to do all this quite well. That's because he understands #1 and #5 and is able to use them to his advantage. What do I mean by that?
Well, let's look at the film itself.
When it begins, Bilbo Baggins is really a stodgy set-in-his-ways pipe-smoking leave-me-alone piece of work. I'm a hobbit, I'm lazy, and I'm happy with what I have. He's no hero. He's us! Literally.
The HERO that appears first in the movie, the one with #2 written ALL OVER HIM is Thorin. This guy:

Thorin, The Hobbit.

If you're familiar with the Hero's Journey at all, Thorin the one that's answered the call. Thorin is the one that's picked up the sword and is going to do the hard thing. Thorin is the one we're supposed to be rooting for. Right? 
Well, look again at #1. Do we identify with Thorin at the outset of the film? Maybe we understand his quest, and maybe that fireside sing-along does warm our heart to him a bit, but look at his eyes. He's got a hardened man's stare. Killer's eyes. He's cold and ruthless. Willing to die for his cause and willing to cut down anyone in his way. So, do you identify with Thorin?
Or do you identify with this guy? 

This, by the way, is NOT Bilbo Baggins answering the call. It might look that way, but it's not.

I'm gonna hazard a guess and say that most of us identify with Bilbo. Just a guess. A good guess, too, IMO since he's the real HERO and empathetic character of the story. Not Thorin. Really. It's Bilbo that goes through the stages of the Hero's Journey, not Thorin. And go though it he does. For about 3/4 of the movie he's still not fully committed. Not when he leaves his home and goes racing through the Shire in the still shot above. Nope.
Not when he fights to escape Gollum. Not when he fights to save his friends from the Trolls. Nope. None of that is the acceptance to the CALL. Bilbo is simply keeping his own skin alive so that he can go back home to his books and his pipe. Go back to HIS goal, HIS life.
Bilbo's GOAL doesn't change until the very last half hour of the movie -- staggering to think about in a story-telling way that it's drawn out that long  -- when Bilbo stands up to Thorin and says, YES I am a hobbit. YES I want my life back. YES I don't relish being here, but because I AM a hobbit and love my home I understand your goal. And I will fight for it. I will support your journey. I will go the route with you. Your goal is now in line with mine.
Only a few frames later, in the final fight scene, does Bilbo Baggins put his life on the line for that goal. He puts "skin in the game" finally. And he's all in. Forever more. And THAT is the moment that WE, US, the movie goers cheer. That is the moment Biblo becomes the HERO. Why?
Not because Thorin has a goal. Not because Thorin is a hero or Gandalf is a wizard. It's because Bilbo Baggins represents US. And WE have now accepted this journey. WE have now accepted this goal. And living vicariously through Bilbo, not Thorin, we get the EMOTIONAL HIGH the involvement with a character that we seek (see #5 above) and we now know where we are going:
On an Unexpected Journey.
By the way, I loved the hinted/just barely implied backstory between Gandalf and Cate Blanchett. 

Kiss already would you??? Come on!

And rabbit sled? Awesome! These aren't just ANY rabbits, they're Rustable rabbits! I must admit the old man in the woods made me have a Pirates of the Caribbean/Will's father moment. It also quite reminded me of Delicatessen.

And I was so sure that Doric - I think that's the dwarf's name - was played by Dominic Pinon. It was seriously eerie! 
The Dwarf in the lower left hand corner..... looks like him, or maybe it could be his brother! 
I also had quite the flashback to Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, a toy from my tender years, when those giant rock creatures were knocking each other's blocks off. So cool! I wonder if that's what the movie makers were channeling....?
Looking forward to the rest of the journey.