Tag Archives: Martin Freeman

Obligatory 2nd anniversary post

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Yesterday was my 2nd anniversary of starting this blog. In the last two years, this blog has racked up over 40,000 views, which is approximately 38,000 more than I ever thought it would.  Last year, I confessed my addiction to the Stats page, watching my view count tick up, and especially my need to fill in all the countries on the map.  I made a lot of progress on that last goal this year. My number one goal last February was to get an elusive view from Mongolia.  I did not get a view from Mongolia; I got 17! Life = complete!  I also got a host of views from new countries this past year: Bolivia, Paraguay, Mali, Senegal, Sudan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Madagascar, Liberia, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Yemen. Plus a host of small countries/territories/islands that happened to find my blog one or 2 times: Grenada, the Seychelles (love your flag, Seychelles!), Palestine, French Polynesia, Martinique, Syria, New Caledonia, the Maldives, Faroe Islands, St. Lucia, El Salvador, Macao, Haiti, Andorra, Guadeloupe, Malawi…the list goes on.

Of course, I’m still hoping for a real dictatorship/censorship state to get through.  Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Cuba…join the party! I promise to corrupt you with my western ways!

My most popular posts, by far, are the informative posts about British vs American stereotypes, education systems,

In this year’s edition of weirdest search terms that led to my blog,

images‘Martin Freeman Naked’ is still the overwhelming winner.

Followed by these strange and terrifying combinations of search terms:

‘van buren facial hair’

‘stove kettle’

‘truck drivers heavy breakfast’

‘kristin scott thomas ice queen’

‘alec guinness brown face’

‘men alone in the house images’ —this one scares me

‘thranduil erotic’ —also scary

‘i have a list of paraphrased quotes in my book, can i use a bibliography?’

That last one might be my favorite, b/c this person has no idea how to use a search engine.  But the most terrifying one I’ve seen in a while is this one:

‘harry potter feet fetish’

Nope, nope, nope. Not even going to think about it. Wait, I just found a worse one:

‘soldier vomit’

Words cannot adequately describe how much I am frowning right now. Moving on…

This blog is mostly just fun for me, and a way to organize my thoughts about British cultural exports. It will never be the sort of blog that rakes in sponsors, or makes anyone any money.  Which, I think, is preferable.  I plan to continue offering up my thoughts on movies, tv, and books from Blighty, throwing them out into a totally ambivalent world.  I will be here to comment on Lady Mary’s 37 suitors, Sherlock’s confusing plot twists, and (of course) everything Harry Potter, including the new movies and the play coming to London.  And books.  tons and tons of books. I will continue to make this face

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when new Doctor Who episodes air, and will respond to any additional comments

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about the authorship of Shakespeare plays as follows…in fact, consider this my official response to anyone who believes the Oxfordian theory:

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To another good year wasting my time on the interwebz!

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Sherlock, series 3

mast-Sherlock-Benedict-Martin-COVE-hiresI have waited almost two years for the next season of this show.  It’s amazing how much you can anticipate something, and then you blink and it’s over.  Just like Christmas.  This season started on January 1st, and was over less than 2 weeks later.  Three episodes, even if they are 90 minutes each, doesn’t seem like it should qualify as a full series.

Past here, there be spoilers!  You have been warned!

In episode one, The Empty Hearse, we see Sherlock return to London, and admit to being alive.  We also see John’s terrible mustache.

imagesThankfully, it’s short-lived.  I’ve never been less attracted to Martin Freeman.

The mini-episode at Christmas gave us a taste of what has been happening to our characters since the last season. Anderson has grown a terrible beard, lost his job, and become a Sherlock conspiracy theorist.  John has moved out and is very sad and makes me feel all the feelings.

In The Empty Hearse, Sherlock comes back and assumes all will be the same, assumes nothing interesting can have happened since he wasn’t around. John’s reaction to seeing him again is pretty intense.  The more Sherlock explains who knew he had faked his death (Molly, his parents), the angrier John gets.  Who can blame him? My reaction would have been far more wrathful, but John has a soft spot for Sherlock, and I think his relief outweighs his anger pretty quickly.  That being said, Sherlock deserved a good punch in the face.

The most brilliant part of this episode were the various theories on how he faked his death.  The first one, the very first scene of the episode, had me going for a split second, and it made me very angry. It made no sense at all! But the second one? with Sherlock and Moriarty on the roof? Hilarious.  And a scenario that has no doubt already appeared in at least one fanfiction in a dark corner of the internet.

In episode 2, we see John and Mary’s wedding, with Sherlock as the best man…

sherlock-wedding-john-mary-sherlockJust looking at this picture makes me feel the need to improve my posture. I liked this episode, but in it, Sherlock seemed too normal. Too able to and willing to be charming.  One could argue that he was putting on his best behavior for John and Mary (who he obviously likes).  But he’s cultivated a personality that is callous and rude, because he truly thinks he is more important than the average riff raff he encounters. I find it hard to believe he could turn on the charm and flirt with the maid of honor and etc.  Of course, when I saw episode 3, his behavior toward her made more sense. And, I suppose he has been able to affect normalcy before–e.g. when he pretended to be a vicar who had been attacked outside Irene Adler’s building.

And episode 3? What the hell was that?!  Before it started, I was complaining to my boyfriend that we’d barely seen this supervillain Magnussen, and it wasn’t a very good way to build up the tension.  Moriarty had been discussed in every episode of the first two seasons, and had been like a shadow hanging over all of them.
And this Magnussen?  What did we know about him going into episode 3? Almost nothing.  Of course, turns out he only took about 3 seconds of screen time to completely repulse me in every conceivable way.  I was so disgusted I think some of my innards turned inside out…

lars-mikkelsen-charles-augustus-magnussen-600x398Gross, gross, gross. Why is he so plastic looking and terrifying? I had nightmares about him!

But was he a supervillain?! no.  He wasn’t even the most villainous person in this episode, despite being the human equivalent of the word ‘moist‘.  I feel like bleaching my skin just thinking about him. But the real shocker in this episode was not him, obviously.

I feel like (and I’m hesitant to criticize Sherlock as a whole, but) Mary seemed to earn her forgiveness extremely quickly.  Our acceptance of her is based on a-Sherlock saying she had ‘saved his life’ by not killing him and by calling the ambulance, and b-John being ‘attracted’ to sociopaths because he is an adrenaline junkie.

a- is hard to stomach.  Couldn’t she have just knocked him out?  Or shot him in the shoulder or something?  And why not just shoot Magnussen, instead of shooting Sherlock?  I just don’t buy it as some great act on her part to show she’s a good person.  Yes, calling the ambulance was good, but not shooting him would have been better. He almost died even though she was trying not to kill him, so not a great plan.

and b?  It’s true.  No matter what iteration of these two characters (Sherlock, Elementary, House, etc) you enjoy, you start out thinking ‘how does this Watson guy/girl put up with it all?  (S)he is so normal comparatively’.  But eventually, you realize that people get into these relationships because they want to. And they stay in the relationships because they get something out of it.  Probably a relief from boredom.  Much like what we get out of watching someone like Sherlock.  On the other hand, I think it’s a little ridiculous for everyone to say ‘Oh, of course you married a killer, John, you’re attracted to psychos’.  This is only the second unbalanced person we’ve seen John with, so it’s not exactly an established pattern.  He was clearly bored with his ‘normal’ girlfriends in the previous series, but this is  bit extreme.  I really liked Mary’s character, and I like the actress (Freeman’s real-life partner). I just find her deception and her actions unforgivable, and I can’t trust her as readily as John and Sherlock seem to.  Of course, it’s easy for Sherlock to trust people, because he usually knows more about them than they do.

And I have one major gripe about this episode.  One thing that makes no sense to me.  Magnussen apparently had no actual proof of anything he used to blackmail people?  So killing him (a pretty serious breach of protocol from our hero that is glazed over very very quickly) destroyed all the ‘evidence’ in his mind?  Even if you accept that he somehow saw/found enough proof to blackmail seriously powerful people, and that blackmail worked on them even though he didn’t keep any records, and that killing him would end his threat..there’s still a problem.  He showed the letters to Sherlock.  Had them in his pocket.  So he obviously had evidence of those in hard copy, not just in his mind palace.  I suppose you could surmise that they were just random scraps of paper bound together, rather than the actual letters.  That’s conceivable, but you have to let your audience know that, otherwise it just seems like a mistake.

My only other complaint about episode 3 is the serious lack of Lestrade! Give that man more to do, even if it is just to be humiliated and called ‘Graham’ or ‘Gavin’ by Sherlock.

But of course, there are only two big important moments in episode 3.  The moment we realize the truth about Mary, and…the bit after the credits.  I hope you watched until the end of the credits?

sherlock-his-last-vow-moriarty-miss-meCan I just say that I am so happy and terrified of this, all at once?  I don’t care why or how he’s back, I just want to see more of him.  Andrew Scott, you are the most terrifying and wonderful villain ever.

Gatiss and Moffat have confirmed that there will be a series 4, to start filming as soon as the actors have room in their schedule.  Some people are speculating a premiere as early as Christmas 2014.  I hope it’s that soon, but I don’t really care when it is.  Even when this show isn’t at its best, I would still wait years and years for the next episode.  Each episode has enough moments that are shocking, affecting, funny, and scary; each one is worth waiting for.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

movies-the-hobbit-desolation-of-smaug-posterI’ll go see Martin Freeman in just about any movie he cares to make, so, dutifully, I’ve gone to see the second Hobbit movie in the theater.  Before you complain that this is not a British movie…I disagree.  Tolkien was British, and (besides Martin) there are a plethora of Brit actors in the cast–Ian McKellen, ex-Doctor Sylvester McCoy, Orlando Bloom, Richard Armitage, Stephen Fry (!), and Benedict Cumberbatch (as the eponymous dragon, Smaug).

I was disappointed with the first Hobbit movie last year. Part of this was due to the high frame rate technology they used to make the film.  It was difficult to watch and made some actions seem slow and others preternaturally fast.  I don’t think they used the same technology on this film, because I didn’t notice anything strange about watching it.  I ended up enjoying it, partially because my expectations were a bit lower this time around.

I still dislike that it is spread across 3 movies.  I know there are a lot of extra storylines from the Appendices and maybe the Silmarillion that have been added to flesh out the story, but I think it was better without the extra stuff.  But it’s been so long since I read the book, that I can’t be certain what was in it anymore.  I don’t think Legolas made an appearance in the book, but he is certainly in the movie.  The elves of Mirkwood imprison the dwarves along their journey to the Lonely Mountain.  We see their great forest home with a truly impressive and ridiculous throne, upon which sits their king, Thranduil.  And honey, you should see him in a (ludicrous) crown:

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I must confess that in looking for that picture, I’ve stumbled across some pretty horrifying Thranduil erotic fanart.  Pass me the eye bleach when you get a chance…

We also meet Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly (Lost), a character completely made up by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, showing that he’s gone (literally) off-book.

220px-EvangelineLillyAsTaurielLook, we all know that Tolkien didn’t include many female characters in his stories. Hardly surprising, when you consider how much of his writing was based on his experiences in World War I. I’m glad to have a badass lady in the mix, but I am not a fan of Evangeline Lilly.  I haven’t been since Lost.  So I didn’t feel much attraction to her character, though her skill (with bow and with medicine) did come in handy. On an unrelated note, is it just me, or did they dress her like Robin Hood?

The story of the second movie weaves and wavers through time a bit.  We see Thorin Oakenshield when he first meets Gandalf and we see that this entire quest happened at Gandalf’s urging. In the present, the company of dwarves (plus 1 wizard and 1 hobbit) is running from a band of Orcs, and also from a wolf (actually a skin-changer named Beorn). Shortly after, Gandalf goes off toward Dol Guldur, to investigate reports of a dark power there.  (Spoilers: It’s Sauron.  It’s always Sauron.) Bilbo and the dwarves head through the Mirkwood forest toward the Lonely Mountain.

We see Bilbo use the ring to protect himself, use the ring to save his friends (from giant spiders, imprisonment, etc.), but we also see him kill to keep the ring in his possession.  He kills some sort of underground giant arachnid thing, so it’s not exactly the same as if he killed Gandalf or something.  On the other hand, it’s perfectly clear that he is killing for the ring, to keep it.  IF it weren’t clear, they make it even more clear when (picking up the ring again) Bilbo looks at the dead spider, points at the ring, and says ‘MINE’. It’s a wonder the guy could hold onto it for another 60 years without being a total monster.

After the spiders, they’re imprisoned by the elves.  They escape in empty wine barrels, and what follows is a slightly ludicrous, slapstick action sequence as they whitewater raft barrel down the river away from Mirkwood. Kili (aka the cute one) is hit with a poison arrow, thus making me very upset.  They happen upon a bargeman, Bard, who agrees to take them (secretly) into Laketown, the nearest town to the Lonely Mountain.  During this time, Gandalf gets himself captured by Sauron and his forces, so he’s of no use whatsoever.  He’s always getting himself captured at pivotal moments.  And if he ever claims he’ll meet you at this place or that place, he never shows up.  Properly unreliable.

In addition to a Peter Jackson cameo (still eating a carrot in Bree, even 60 years before the Fellowship?) and a Stephen Colbert cameo, we see Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown, doing his best impression of many a corrupt 17th century English monarch.  We have to endure a decent amount of foreshadowing about how it was Bard’s ancestor who failed to kill Smaug during the first attack. We get it, he (like Aragorn), will prove he is better than his ancestor.  There’s also some foreshadowing about Thorin–the Arkenstone corrupted his grandfather the king; will it corrupt him too, etc., etc.  It’s a little heavy-handed, to be honest. Not so much foreshadowing as fore-neon-signing.

Finally, it’s just down to Bilbo in the Lonely Mountain, searching the halls of Erebor for the fabled Arkenstone. He awakens Smaug (of course he does) and all hell breaks loose.

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We get a bit of the dwarves pulling together to help Bilbo, but they cannot defeat Smaug.  We all know why (because of the foreshadowing!).  Smaug, very aggravated, heads off for Lake Town to kill everyone.

Most of the reviews have included lines like ‘better than the first’ or ‘not as bad as the first’.  I agree, it was better than the first one. Partially because there are no ludicrous choreographed dance numbers that make you feel as if you’re in a kid’s movie.  But I still think it’s too long, and there’s something missing with almost all of the characters.  Even though it’s too long, we don’t seem to get to know anyone or to feel empathy for them.  Bilbo is charming and comic, but there’s something about the way they’ve edited the story, or maybe the way Martin acts, that lacks any seriousness.  Very very different from Ian Holm in the same role. Part of the problem is that the Lord of the Rings films were so good. They struck all the right notes, bouncing effortlessly from gross comedy (usually involving orcs, or Merry & Pip) to the love lives of immortal elves, and included believable moments with humanized characters.  That just seems to be lacking here.  The dwarves are too comedic, the elves too aloof.  Gandalf has spent more time off on his own than with the dwarves, so that it’s no wonder they don’t care to wait for him to finish their quest.  I did enjoy this movie more than the first, but I also spent more time (especially in hindsight) wishing it was as good as the LotR trilogy.  And that makes me sad.

Cornetto Trilogy: The World’s End

The-Worlds-End-posterThough not really a trilogy, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright have now created three loosely-linked comedies that they’ve dubbed the Cornetto Trilogy.  The first two films were, of course, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.  I love those movies, so I jumped at the chance to see a movie marathon this week.  From 5:30-midnight, we watched all three, culminating with the new film, The World’s End.

Let me just take a minute to say I really like Shaun of the Dead, but I absolutely love Hot Fuzz. It’s one of my favorite comedies of all time.  I don’t think The World’s End will replace it in my top 5, but I still enjoyed the new movie very much. Watching the whole trilogy also gave me a chance to compare and contrast the three movies and the characters each actor plays throughout.  Lots of food for thought there.

In The World’s End, Simon Pegg plays Gary King. He was your typical badass teenager in 1990, leaving school and full of optimism and hatred for authority.  20 years later, he’s…exactly the same person, but a lot more depressed. He wears the same clothes, has the same coat and dyed black hair.  He failed to grow up.  His gang of teenage friends, on the other hand, have all become proper adults with trench coats and nice cars and retirement plans.  Gary convinces himself that the best way to get a new lease on life is to go back and finish the epic quest they started when they were teenagers–a 12-pint pub crawl in their hometown of Newton Haven. The eponymous World’s End is the last pub on the route.

He re-enters the thoroughly normal lives of his former friends and convinces them to go along on this trip.  Though they react to him like an unwelcome re-emergence of herpes, they all show up.  There’s

Eddie Marsan as Peter

The_World's_End_6a car salesman who still works for his dad.  He is your typical bored married man, 2 kids, needs some excitement in his life.

 

Nick Frost as Andy

worlds-end-poster-nick-frost-405x600For once, Nick Frost gets to play the smart guy who is frustrated by his friend’s low IQ/responsibility.  This is a real departure, considering the near opposite roles they had in Hot Fuzz. Andy is a lawyer with a big fancy office, and he’s quite angry at Gary (Simon) because of something that happened when they were teenagers.  A slight flaw in Gary’s plans for a pub crawl is that Andy no longer drinks-at all.

 

 

Martin Freeman plays Oliver

worlds-end-poster-martin-freeman-405x600People forget that Martin Freeman has been in both of the previous movies, but he has!  He had a very tiny scene in Shaun of the Dead, as Yvonne’s boyfriend.  And he was a member of the Metropolitan Police Force in Hot Fuzz. Here, he finally gets a proper part of the action. Oliver is a realtor with a hot sister (Rosamund Pike) and a curious birthmark.  I love Martin Freeman, but I cannot possibly be remotely attracted to anyone with a bluetooth headset, so that spoiled things a bit.

Lastly, Paddy Considine plays Steven

worlds-end-poster-paddy-considine-405x600You should recognize Paddy (though he no longer has the glorious mustache) as DC Wainwright–or was it Cartwright?–from Hot Fuzz. In this movie, Steven is something of a rival to Gary–or that’s how Gary saw it in school–and the two are both interested in Oliver’s sister.  Of course, he’s dating his 26-year-old Pilates instructor, so that’s a little awful, but what can you do.

 

At any rate, the 5 guys get together for a night in the old town.  Gary hasn’t changed at all. His clothes, his attitude about life, even his car–all the same.  He plays an old song from their youth, and Steven points out that he once put that on a mixed tape for Gary.  It’s the same tape; it’s been in the tape player ever since.

Everything else is different.  The town is different.  A few pubs have been turned into soulless outlets of a chain of pubs with the same decor and the same offerings.  The local drug dealer from school is now a suit-wearing businessman. Peter’s worst bully doesn’t even recognize him.  Oh yeah, and the town is now controlled by body-snatcher-style robots filled with blue inky goo.

The movie is many things simultaneously.  It’s a nod to movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Stepford Wives–the robots just want to be model citizens and obey the laws, etc.  It’s a different take on the mid-life crisis movies/bromance drinking movies like The Hangover and Grown-Ups.  It’s a discussion about growing up and changing, and what happens when you don’t do that.  And what happens when you do it too much.

As expected, it was very funny.  I think sometimes the pacing was a little uneven.  Feverish action moments, and then things slowed to a crawl.  When you compare this to the slow build of the other two films, it’s a bit of a weakness.  And Rosamund Pike’s character isn’t given much to do, except to be a girl who exists in this world.  Something to save and a prize for the hero at the end.  These never were movies about women, let’s be honest. And I really don’t know how I feel about the ending.  Unlike Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, this is a proper apocalypse movie with a dystopian future left at the end. I don’t know how I feel about that, except that I feel like I can’t take any more books/movies about Armageddon.

Some of the in-jokes and homages were presumably lost on me because I’m not up on kung-fu movies or comic books.  But the other thing about this trilogy is you catch new jokes each time you watch.  This time through Hot Fuzz, I realized that there is a really blatant reference to the classic Jack Nicholson movie, Chinatown (which, if you haven’t seen, I recommend it but please have some Xanax ready afterward because it is a downer).  But I’d never noticed that before, and it really made me chuckle.  I predict that I will need to watch The World’s End at least 3 more times before I can really evaluate my long-term opinion of it.  But I’m happy to make that sacrifice.

Also, can I end with some ridiculous trivia I have just discovered?  As I said, most of the actors have been in all three movies.  As have a lot of other actors that just come in for brief moments. Bill Nighy was step-dad Phillip in SotD, and the Chief Inspector in HF. He lends only his voice to tWE, but he was there. David Bradley (aka Argus Filch) was in HF and plays the town conspiracy theorist in tWE.  And most amazingly is the story of Rafe Spall.  First bit of strange trivia–he’s the son of Timothy Spall, aka Peter Pettigrew.  In tWE, he has a brief cameo as a man looking to buy a house, but you will remember him from HF as DI Cartwright (or was it Wainwright?!?).

86032_1298092156469_fullIn addition to playing Shakespeare in that heinous movie Anonymous, I stumbled on his part in Shaun of the Dead.  He was the fat obnoxious kid, Noel??

NoelYup.  That kid, grew into this man:

article-2142708-13066EBD000005DC-602_224x423Also, Petter Pettigrew has a son that looks like this?!  What the fuck.

 

Mr. Selfridge on PBS

Mr. SelfridgePBS recently finished airing the first season of Mr. Selfridge, a period drama based on the true story of the American self-made man that created one of the first English department stores–a store that still stands today, though it is far too expensive for me to have purchased anything there. The show aired early in the year in the UK on ITV, and did well enough that they have ordered a second season, to premiere in 2014.

I was concerned about Jeremy Piven, because he seems so slimy in most of his roles, but I really loved him and I loved this show. Piven plays the eponymous lead, Harry Gordon Selfridge. The show begins with him arriving on the scene in London to scare up funding and publicity for a store that hasn’t even been built, on the ‘unfashionable end’ of Oxford Street.  Ten episodes make up the first season, most of which revolve around Harry and his home family, and Harry and his work family.  He has an endless amount of women causing problems in his life–to be fair, most of the problems are his own doing.

Harry Selfridge and his ladiesThere’s his patient and loving wife Mary clutching his arm.  She’s played by the wonderful Frances O’Conner, and endures quite a lot from a man who does love her, but is not the best at being faithful or attentive. On the left is Lady Mae, a connected noblewoman who Harry relies on to help him secure funding and fix publicity problems.  She is not the sort of woman you want to owe favors to, but she is the exact woman you do owe favors to if you want to get anything done.

On the right is Ellen Love, a showgirl with whom Harry begins an affair.  She is everything pathetic and typical about the other woman. Nothing but trouble, hopelessly naive and convinced Harry will leave his wife and children to be with her.

The work family focuses on a few main characters.  The most important of which is Agnes Towler. She ends up in a love triangle (square?  some shape…) with two men who work at the store, VictorAgnes, Henri and Victor (on the right) and Henri (on the left). Agnes is probably my favorite character in the show.  She supports herself and her brother, she’s strong and independent, and she’s quite creative.  My only slight gripe with her is that it’s never quite obvious to me why all the men are so violently in love with her.  Still, I enjoyed watching her story.

Also central to the action are Mr. Grove, the chief of staff at the department store, and Miss Mardle, the Accessories supervisor.

Mr. Grove and Miss Mardle

Though Mr. Grove is married to a very sick woman, the two are having an affair.  What we later learn is a very long-term affair.  Of course, no one at the department store can know this as it is against the rules. Mr. Grove proved himself to be a thorough scoundrel in my book, more and more with each episode.  Miss Mardle was of interest to me, partially because she is played by Amanda Abbington, who is the ‘long-term partner’ of Martin Freeman.  Damn her.  Anyway, she will be in the next season of Sherlock, so I wanted to see her act in something.  She was good. Though the character is a very demur and repressed woman, she did convey a lot of depth of emotion.

Everyone in this show seems to have a secret relationship.  Harry and Ellen Love, Agnes and Henri, Mr. Grove and Miss Mardle, Agnes and Victor, Victor and Lady Mae…think of a combination and they’ve gone there.  I was most interested in Mrs. Selfridge’s relationship with a young painter, Roderick Temple, who bore a striking resemblance to a 6’5″ version of Neville Longbottom.

Mr. Selfridge Roderick Temple

Matthew Lewis

Who knew Neville Longbottom would grow up to look like that?  Anyway, his resemblance to Neville made me predisposed to like him.  Plus, artist points.  But he proves himself to be a scoundrel as well–I’m detecting a theme. None of these men are to be trusted!

Obviously all of these love stories have elements of the soap opera tropes about them.  I think what sets this show apart is the setting, the time and place and industry in which it is set.

It lends itself very naturally to comparisons with Downton Abbey–there are love stories, infidelities, a multitude of class interactions, and they are occupying the same piece of history–but they are very different shows.  DA is, at its heart, a soap opera. Everyone is either entirely good or entirely despicable (the only exception I can think of to this is O’Brien, but her brief foray into being a good person ended after a few episodes, so it barely counts).  The tension revolves around whether a couple will end up together, and which person Julian Fellowes will kill off.  The other big source of tension is the never-ending struggle to maintain the status quo.  The big house, the landed gentry, the old Tory way of life in the country.

Mr. Selfridge could not be more different. The fact that they exist at the same time, are set in the same time and in the same country is something I had to keep reminding myself.  Mr. Selfridge is actually set earlier than DA, which is even more strange. The show features a main character that wants to embrace everything new and modern.  In the 1910s, that means automobiles, explorers, ready-to-wear clothing, cosmetics for respectable women (gasp!), and a new-found love of shopping. The first episode shows Harry Selfridge going into a typical London shop.  Everything was kept under the counter, and you had to ask to look at individual items.  Selfridge wanted his customers to be able to see and touch the products, so that they might be enticed to buy something other than what they needed. He really understood what the experience of shopping could be.  Part of me wishes society hadn’t taken this turn to the ridiculously commercial and superficial, but it would have happened with our without Harry Selfridge.  I digress, but my point is that it is fascinating from a historical perspective to see these changes toward a modern society and away from the 19th century.

I think that facet, ultimately, is what made me enjoy this show (perhaps, though I am afraid to say it) more than Downton Abbey.  I really looked forward to watching it every week, and am looking forward to a second season.

One-year blog anniversary

blog-anniversaryThis year marks one year since I began to write this blog.  I’d like to say I’ve learned and grown a lot as a writer and blogger during this year, but I have to say most of what I have learned is how addictive the WordPress ‘Stats’ page can be.  I check it about 10 times per day, just to see the view count tick up.  This isn’t the sort of blog that I imagine will ever garner lots of attention; there just aren’t many Americans interested in my views on Downton Abbey, even among the subset of Americans that are interested in Downton Abbey. But I still get a thrill from anything that gives me a lot of hits.  I find one thing the most addictive–the WordPress map.  I desperately want to fill in all of the countries! I like the idea of my blog being read round the world.  So far, I’m doing pretty well.map

There are some countries I’m fairly certain I won’t ever get to fill in.  Internet access is tightly controlled, and often unavailable at all, in places like Iran and North Korea.  I don’t know a lot about, say Madagascar, but given their tiny population I doubt they will be visiting anytime soon.  I’m holding out a lot of hope for Mongolia, partially because it’s such a big country. I don’t understand why Greenland is not colored-in, because Greenland is technically part of the Kingdom of Denmark.  And I’ve got Denmark, so I think I should have Greenland.  *cough-WordPress-are-you-listening-cough* And it’s huge!

Not surprisingly, my blog is most popular in the US and the UK, with the rest of Europe and some other post-colonial countries (Australia, India) not far behind. But I have a lot of 1-offs, where one person from an entire country has deigned to visit my blog.  I’m always thrilled when I have new countries on the list, so thank you to the one of you from the Bahamas, Jersey, Uganda, Cyprus, Honduras, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritius, Uruguay, St. Lucia, Grenada, and Nicaragua who have wandered in and then wandered back out.  Next time, tell your friends!

Other amusing pastimes include obsessively monitoring why people found my blog–what they searched for that lead them to my little corner of the internet. My most popular topic (more popular than all of the rest combined, I would wager) is any variation on ‘English Stereotypes’.  That makes up most of my traffic.  But when you get down to the end of the list you get to the more amusing keywords.  WHY were people searching for this stuff? WHY does searching for it lead to my blog?! Here is a sample of the weirdest searches:

Martin Freeman naked/nude (more popular than Benedict Cumberbatch naked, so Martin should be happy about that)

Benedict Cumberbatch + sloth OR ice age

bike mustache chops.   ????

Albus Dumbledore read Pride and Prejudice

Jane Eyre the hoes of these moves

bluffball did you see that ludicrous display last night

my possible favorite,

what is “wagger pagger bagger” slang for in England?

Excellent question, but one my blog does not answer.  There are also some that are less PG rated, including several people wanting to search about Fred Weasley performing certain sex acts, and something related to horses, dolls, and sex.  Yikes! For the record, my blog came up for that last one because of my review of Anna Karenina, which has a sex affair, a character named Dolly, and a horse race.  But I googled that same string of words and my blog was the second result, right behind a fetish porn site.  So…awesome.

I have learned that all publicity is good publicity.  I’ve had two writers retweet/link reviews that I posted.  In fact, the busiest day my blog ever had was when Steven Grasse linked to my review of his book.  If you didn’t read it, be aware that my review can be summarized by three words “Worst. Book. Ever.”  He seemed to find it amusing that his terrible book almost caused me to have a stroke.  I have to say that him personally linking to my scathing review means he has a better sense of humor than any of his humor book seemed to display.  Luckily, my other retweet came for a positive review.

I don’t mind being a small blog.  I think the best part of this blog is finding other like-minded individuals. I now follow a lot more people on WP, on Twitter, etc., who are interested in British TV and culture, who are British and are interested in TV and culture, and just people who are interesting.  I find that the most rewarding part, since it involves interaction and a conversation rather than answering misspelled Google queries.  It’s almost as rewarding as it will inevitably be when someone from Mongolia visits my blog.

Tsherlock and john laughingo the next year!

 

Movie Review: The Hobbit

THE-HOBBIT-AN-UNEXPECTED-JOURNEY-PosterCan I start this post by saying how much I love Martin Freeman and how perfect he is for Bilbo Baggins? He’s the reason I’m reviewing this movie for this blog. Technically, it’s not a British film.  It was shot in New Zealand with Kiwi director, producer, and writer(s).  The cast, like the Lord of the Rings films, is multinational. But, Martin Freeman is such a feature on this blog, and my ever-growing adoration of him requires that I comment on this film.

I actually prefer The Hobbit to all of the Lord of the Rings books.  So perhaps my expectations were slightly too high, because I was disappointed by the movie.

First, a word about some technical aspects involved in the film.  Normally, I couldn’t care less about frame rate or resolution, and don’t think it affects my viewing of most movies.  I bring all of this up because The Hobbit was shot in a faster frame rate than a normal movie, and it is very noticeable. Normally, movies are shot at 24 frames per second. The Hobbit was shot at twice that, 48 frames per second.  This is noticeable in a few key ways.

1-There is no blur.  When characters are doing fast paced action scenes, the normal blur isn’t seen.  This is kind of cool, but on the other hand the human eye can only move so fast and take in so much.  Some people find it dizzying.

2-Everything is in focus.  It is almost like an HD nature film. The depth of field is really large.  Some scenes make this really interesting, and some scenes make it bothersome. The experience also seems to vary depending on whether you see the movie in 2 or 3-D, in IMAX or on a regular screen.

3-Some motions seem too fast.  Small things, like the actors making motions with their eyes or standing up, can seem overly dramatic and fast. This isn’t anything against the actors–they’ve honed their craft for a specific medium, and this isn’t the same one.  If this frame rate was adopted by everyone, I think actors would learn to act in a way that works for it, but they haven’t had that chance yet.  Sometimes it affects your enjoyment of the film, takes you out of the action.

4-The CGI technology that we’ve developed thus far isn’t very good at this frame rate.  Since twice the amount of frames are being presented to the human eye, twice the amount of computer information would have to be presented for it to look as real as it would at a normal frame rate–if I understand this correctly.  So, the bottom line is that the CGI in the Lord of the Rings was great  and the CGI in this movie didn’t look as good, or as real.

It’s important for directors to take chances and innovate, but I can’t say I thought this was successful or particularly necessary.  But, I imagine that Peter Jackson will get better with each movie and I may be a huge fan by the third in the Hobbit franchise.

Which brings me to a minor gripe.  The Hobbit is a fairly short book, compared to, say, Return of the King.  Since there is nowhere near enough plot to make three movies out of this one story, they seem to have taken all the information from Tolkien’s appendices and the Silmarillion.  Example: Radagast the Brown (a wizard friend of Gandalf’s) is mentioned in passing during The Hobbit (book), but in the movies he is a major character and introduces a separate plot with the Necromancer.  This is just sort of touched upon in The Hobbit (An Unexpected Journey), but it will be (I think) a major part of the second Hobbit film. Also, bonus for me–Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the Necromancer.  I like having the extra movies, but I don’t like the feeling that New Line and Peter Jackson are just trying to bleed my wallet dry.

Okay, so now that I’ve rambled about the technology and the differences between book and movie.  What about the movie itself?

I didn’t care for it as much as the Lord of the Rings films.  I found it more childish.  There are two or three songs, and unlike the songs in the LotR, these seem to have been written professionally and planned ahead of time. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.  They didn’t have the soul and the folksy character of the hobbit songs in LotR–those seemed to be truly born from a time when people composed poetry and songs to pass the time. These were too slick and overproduced.  One accompanies a scene of the dwarves invading Bag End and eating all of Bilbo’s food, and then doing his dishes.

The dwarves are hard to keep straight, mostly because they all have beards and wear similar outfits.  The most memorable are:

Thorin:

ThorinA prince among dwarves, on a journey to reclaim the riches that belong to his family.  He is played admirably (but unrecognizably) by Richard Armitage.

Kili:

FiliThe only eye candy you’ll find in the movie.  I love you Martin Freeman, but big hairy feet and a mop of hair are not a good look for you.  Kili and Fili (his brother) are the youngest and fittest of the company, so they get some of the more action-oriented scenes.

Bombur:

bombur

Whatever the opposite of ‘youngest and fittest’ is, it applies to this guy.  There’s a lot of waffle in this movie about Bilbo not being able to keep up with this company of dwarves, being a hindrance, etc.  Are they kidding? Have they seen this guy?  I found him really repugnant. I mean, for one thing, is that braid made of beard hair or head hair?  Or…some other hair I don’t want to know about?

The dwarves are barely given enough screen time to figure out who half of them are. Most of the time is devoted to Thorin, Bilbo and Gandalf.  I can only hope some more time will be set aside in the next movie to make them distinguishable.  In Fellowship of the Ring, we meet four hobbits, a dwarf, an elf, a wizard, and two men within the space of a few minutes, but their characters are very well developed by the end of just that first movie. I’m disappointed that they weren’t able to distinguish the dwarves as well in the Hobbit. But I hold out hope for the future.

So, do I have anything good to say about the film after ranting about the frame rate and the childishness of the plot?  Well…despite the fact that it’s too long, it does pick up speed in the second half.  The first half an hour is quite dull, but by the end of the piece I didn’t mind the length.

Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen are great in this movie.  But I love everything they do, so perhaps I’m not the best judge.

As much as I rather hated Tolkien’s books, no one can deny that he created a wonderful world and wonderful characters in it.  After I saw the LotR movies I was struck by how much Peter Jackson had changed and had improved on the cannon.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say the same for this movie.  But we are still in that same world, and there is still the same sense of fate, of bravery, and of small beings accomplishing great feats.  We see the scene with Gollum, when Bilbo first gets the ring. We see Bilbo, like Frodo, pushed out of sedentary agrarian life and into adventure and danger.  We see Bilbo alone being brave enough to defend Thorin in desperate times.  As someone of relatively small stature and absolutely no importance, I can always appreciate the underdog.  Even though I found the movie experience disappointing, it was enough for me to be back in this world.  Like the Star Wars fans that will keep going to whatever tripe-infested rubbish George Lucas puts on screen, I will keep going to see whichever of Tolkien’s tales Peter Jackson chooses to tell. Let’s just hope things don’t get as bad as Attack of the Clones.