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Kino Korner January 22, 2003
Hobbits and Wizards and Orcs, Oh My!
By Mark Ames Browse author Email

Recently at a cocktail party thrown by our attorney, Morris Snideman, I was accused by a pair of powerful young Russian attorneys of having "excessively negative views" on all the movies I review. At first I was proud and defended my negativity as a matter of knee-jerk policy. But I had my doubts: have I really been negative? Readers, I'd really appreciate it if you'd chime in with your thoughts on this matter, because I think if anything I've gone soft in my old age. Take the two chick flicks I reviewed: My Big Fat Greek Ass and Sweet Home Alabama were exactly the kinds of brain poison that they'd have fed to Malcolm McDowell with his eyes tweezed open in A Clockwork Orange, and yet as far as I remember, I did the literary equivalent of spooning with both my chick flick dates and the movies themselves.

The problem is that ever since I took on the burden of whipping out these last-minute kino reviews, Moscow has been served nothing but Hollywood blockbuster shite. This isn't an elitist stance, it's just an objective fact. I love going to movies, mainstream and otherwise. I must have gone to the multiplex at least four or five times a week in Louisville in part for the air-conditioned climate. The offerings weren't much better than Moscow gets: Hollywood really does consider the general public stupid, throwing its slop and chum to the masses, reserving its few trophy films for the coastal markets and a few West European capital cities. Or maybe I am elitist -- yeah, actually, I am, big time, because if a people flock in droves to see Legally Blond yet consign Election and Storytelling to one step shy of straight-to-video, then I'm better than those people by exactly the inverse of the ratio of Legally Blonde's receipts versus Election's. That's how elite I consider myself, in perfect quantifiable inverse proportion to your vulgarity and shallownes.

I was sure I'd been handed yet another miserable chore this week with the release of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the follow-up to the excruciatingly tedious first installment, Fellowship of the Ring. Watching part one was like sitting in the dentist's chair with a drill in your molar and the saliva rising higher and higher up your mouth's water line because the assistant forgot to put the vacuum back in... three hours of dental work, while Kenny G softly plays in the background. I don't think I lasted through more than 45 minutes of Fellowship before popping it out of my VCR and calling a whore who provided "anal" for 70 dollars, an experience that was so unsatisfying that I pretty much lost interest in the Dry Hole until just last week.

So as you can see, I came into Two Towers with a bad attitude that would surely color my impartiality. You deserve better.

As part of my general policy to try to temper my negativism and better serve you, John Q Moviegoing Public, with a U-Sir Friendly film review, I'm expanding on the chick flick date tradition by inviting a Tolkien fanatic, in this case Dr. Dolan and his wife, to watch The Two Towers with me.

And you know what? I kinda liked it. Two Towers, despite its untimely title, is not only a massive improvement upon the first Lord of the Rings, but it's even interesting at times to watch, particularly because of its merciless landscapes and plotlines and abject anti-heroes, as opposed to the nauseating hippie hell that befouls Fellowship.

It's hard for me to give a fair review of the movie beyond this simple gut reaction because I didn't understand whole chunks of the plot and I was horribly hungover after Snideman's cocktail party and a night on the town with the "men behind the men" which included an epic stopover at Dolls that I'd rather not talk about. I woke up in the early afternoon Sunday with a condom on my unit. It's hard to go from that world to accepting, or rather needing, the Tolkien world of humorless, epic dialogue and action. It takes itself seriously without ever looking over its shoulder, and while this in principle is a gutsy move, in the hands of someone as grossly overrated as Peter Jackson, the effort fails to convince or suspend belief. It was the unselfconscious humorlessness that bothered me most on the surface: over and over Two Towers played with a stern straight face the very scenes that Army of Darkness parodied and improved upon, down to the last detail: the white-bearded wizard, the orcs as the deadites, the tense wait on the castle ramps before launching the arrow salvoes, the defeatist king holding out in his castle against an overwhelming invasion, the orcs breaking through the wooden gates with the battering ram, and the unexpected last-minute cavalry rescue by Gandalf's army mirroring exactly the heroics of Henry the Red. I entertained myself by noting every defeated Rings scene which failed to live up to its AOD counterpart as proof of Army of Darkness's (or really Sam Raimi's) celestial superiority over Two Towers (or rather Peter Jackson) and the whole corpus of epic and fantasy film. I think I annoyed the hell out of Dr. Dolan, which was expressed politely when he noted that Tolkien is easily damaged by parody, but that didn't make it bad or the parody good.

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