Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Why does it hurt?!

I'm a little pokey on the keyboard today because of what I did to my thumb last night.

When I was cutting onions for a stew, the knife slipped and cut through my thumbnail, right to the pulpy stuff underneath. If it hadn't been such a dull blade, I probably would have sliced the tip of my thumb clean off. Did it hurt? So  much, gang. So much. It felt like a bee was stinging my thumb--and the bee is made of adamantium and is on fire.
Took the Internet less time to find an image of my pain than it did for me to inflict that pain.
 Once again, I am an exceedingly lucky Big Island Rachel, and once again, I realized that I am a terrible Girl Scout. I determined at first glance that nothing had fallen off and I probably didn't need stitches, so I grabbed a dirty kitchen towel, wrapped it tightly around my thumb to soak up the blood, and then bend over with my hand between my knees, thinking, "I'm doing the right thing!"

Later, when I came to my senses, I realized that the dirty towel probably wasn't the best move, and the bending over definitely was not. Bleeding parts should be elevated, so gravity helps keep the blood inside you. And bleeding parts shouldn't be wrapped in the same cloth you use to wipe plant-water off the counter after you water the bonsai.

Hey, new season of my radio show starts next week! Huzzah!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Movie Review: "Django Unchained"

Update on the heating situation: the heat came back on late Thursday night, as though the Internet read my cold and angry blog post and made magic things happen. One new tactic I learned for dealing with the no-heat situation though, is to boil water. My Tall Boss advised me to put a big pot of water to boil on the stove, said it would turn the place into "the lizard house" (which I really hope was just a reference to the climate reptiles need to survive, and not something I need to speak with my union rep about). And while the range on that heating technique wasn't fabulous, the area of the apartment around the stove did get quite toasty, if a bit moist. I put my bonsai there to perk it up.

That's all taken care of, so let's have a movie review!

I've seen "Django Unchained" twice now. It's good, let's start with that. It's very cool and entertaining, and it gives one an enormous sense of satisfaction to watch Jamie Foxx kill dozens of racists. But being cool is really all this movie has going for it, lacking the meta-texual commentary on the influence of movies on history that made Quentin Tarantino's previous historical fiction effort, "Inglourious Basterds," such a triumph.

I'm thinking it may have something to do with the subject matter. Tarantino is at his best when he's paying homage to various genres and sub-genres of movies. He's an aficionado of pop-culture, and he has a unique talent for turning conventions and tropes on their head and making them feel fresh and original. The BF likes to say that Tarantino is fluent in the language of film, "but keeps coming up with new shit" to say (that's how he talks before morning coffee). The problem with "Django Unchained" is he really doesn't have a lot to work with--Tarantino, I mean, not the BF. Much of this movie plays like a spaghetti Western, which is, again, entertaining, but also really highlights just how lacking cinema is when it comes to the depiction of slavery in America.

The portrayal of slavery in films and television has been--not sparse, exactly, but compared to the amount of material Tarantino was able to draw on for, say, his heist movie ("Reservoir Dogs") or his World War II movie ("Inglourious Basterds"), his slavery movie is drawing from a much smaller pool. There was "Roots" in 1977, "A Woman Called Moses" in 1978, "Glory" in 1989, "Amistad" in 1997, and "The Boondocks"  did an episode called "The Story of Catcher Freeman" in their second season, which I throw on this list because "Django Unchained" feels more stylistically similar to that cartoon than the others. (Maybe you could throw "Gone With the Wind"in  there, considering that it is the definitive work of art on the antebellum South, but it's only about slavery if you're doing an analysis of  the evolution of African-American stereotypes in movies.)

An interesting side note of this train of thought: the lack of movies about slavery stands in sharp contrast to the amount of movies made about racism in America (in general) and the civil rights movement (in particular). "To Kill a Mockingbird" in 1962, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" in 1967, "Blazing Saddles" in 1974, "King" in 1978, "Do the Right Thing" in 1989, "Malcolm X" in 1992, "Get on the Bus" in 1996, "The Great Debaters" in 2007, "The Help" in 2011. There was even a trailer for a new Jackie Robinson bio-pic before my second viewing of "Django Unchained."

This makes one ask oneself, Self, are filmmakers and audiences more accepting of willing to explore slavery's aftermath and legacy than slavery itself? Why?

It's weird, because I remember reading many, many works of fiction as a child written from the perspective of slaves. One of the American Girl series was about a slave, as were several Newbery books. These were considered age-appropriate and curriculum-approved, assigned to me by teachers who led class discussions on the topic. And I attended public school, so this was state- and federal-sanctioned material, given to fourth- and fifth-graders. We're okay with children encountering slavery in America through fiction. Why aren't we okay with adults encountering it through film? I don't know enough about the history of film to say anything conclusive about the situation. I just wanted to air some suspicions I've been developing since I started researching the other movies I referenced in this review.

Speaking of which, let's get back to the review of "Django Unchained." As I said, this movie owes a lot to spaghetti westerns. The BF pulled up the opening credits of Sergio Leone's "For a Few Dollars More" (1965).

Unfortunately, I don't have a video of the "Django Unchained" opening credits to put up here so you can compare them, but if you've seen the movie or are planning to see it, you'll get the homage to "For a Few Dollars More" right away. The music, the imagery and the font on the credits bear striking similarities.

But even though many parts of it, like the opening credits, feel so familiar and well-trodden in terms of film-making, "Django Unchained" still feels like its own, wholly original work of art. Tarantino may borrow extensively from the imagery, music and plot elements of other movies, but the familiarity of his tropes is actually what makes his movies feel fresh and new and unexpected (that, and the fact he's completely willing to kill off main characters seemingly on a whim).

That said, "Django Unchained" is not one of his best works. As far as revenge fantasies go, "Kill Bill" was more exciting and visually stimulating; and as far as historical fiction goes, "Inglourious Basterds" had more depth. The problem with this movie--besides the dearth of movies about slavery draw on, as I mentioned above--is that the subject matter isn't entirely suited to the Tarantino treatment. All those musical stings and that snappy dialog clashes with the visuals of slavery: the whippings, the chains, the branding irons, the dogs, no amount of ironic detachment can make that stuff "cool." And the more realistically the movie portrays slavery, the more horrific Tarantino's attempts to make it "cool" feel to the viewer.

Tarantino is actually pretty good at gore, and normally he knows when the audience needs video game violence ("Kill Bill: Volume 1" restaurant massacre, with the geysers of blood spraying from severed limbs) and when the audience needs real violence (Mr. Orange's gut wound in "Reservoir Dogs"). But he didn't do so well with the violence in "Django Unchained." I'm thinking specifically about a scene where a runaway slave is torn apart by dogs. There's other stuff happening in that scene: there's a hunchback who mumbles with such a thick Southern accent you can't understand him, which is meant to be funny; there's a woman dressed in men's clothing, a red scarf covering her from the eyes down, who is meant to be one of Tarantino's intriguing female badasses; but none of it makes a damn bit of difference because a powerless man is being torn apart by dogs for the amusement of slavers. The tone of the scene is at such odds with the context, and when your context is this bleak, you have to watch your tone much more carefully than Tarantino did in this and a few other scenes in "Django Unchained."

That's not to say this movie fails entirely as a revenge fantasy or even a completely un-subtle exploration of racism in America. I had hopes early on the movie that Tarantino was going to take "The Producers" route and make a full-on satire of "Gone With The Wind" or "Song Of The South," movies that idealize the antebellum south and play down the horrors of slavery.

Mel Brooks's stated purpose in life is to get revenge on Hitler for the Holocaust by making him look ridiculous, which is why we have "Springtime for Hitler" and "Hitler on Ice" (and are a richer world for them). There's a scene in "Django Unchained" where Tarantino does just that, but with slavers instead of Hitler.

Django and his partner are camped out in a hollow and a bunch of Ku Klux Klansmen ride in on horses to kill them. It's a very striking, grand scene: Wagner thunders on the soundtrack, white-hooded men sweep over the hill on white horses, waving torches and yelling, and it almost makes your heart swell like its the charge of the fucking Rohirrim in "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King." But then--oh, then, boys and girls--the Wagner cuts out, the movie jumps back about ten minutes in time, and all of the men about to go on the raid have an argument about how they can't see out of the eye-holes of their masks. And it is glorious. All those horrible human beings, perpetrating their heinous agenda because they visualize themselves as Nordic heroes of old, made objects of ridicule by their own jackassery.

Oh, and it felt good. 

If only there were more of that in this movie. But alas, there is not. It's the first and last time Tarantino tapped his inner Mel Brooks for "Django Unchained," because Tarantino doesn't really do satire. He dealt with the discomfort and horror surrounding slavery by having a former slave kill a bunch of slavers. While that was, as I said at the beginning of this review, enormously satisfying, I liked the raid scene better than any other scene in this movie because it struck the right tone and inspired the right feelings in me. How do you break power of evil people hold over your mind and spirit? You laugh at them. You turn Hitler into a figure-skater and Klansmen into bumbling idiots who can't see out their eye holes. It worked in "Blazing Saddles" thirty years ago, and it could have worked in "Django Unchained" if Tarantino was a very different kind of film-maker.

He's not. What we got is a pretty good movie with a lot of flaws--and the all-time record for number of times the n-word was spoken in a single movie (109).

Final grade: C. It would have been a B, but if you read my book reviews, you know I deduct a letter grade for racism, and breaking the record for use of the n-word is simply not something to be proud of.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cold... so very cold...

I didn't post yesterday because I thought if I curled up into a tight enough ball on my couch, I would preserve the last precious bit of warmth in my fragile frame.

Tonight I'm just toughing it out. I pulled on my big girl panties, put some water to boil on the stove, and settled in for my second night of broken heating in my apartment.

This building malfunction happens to coincide with the coldest week of the season. It can't be more than 60 degrees in here, even with the space heater on high and the oven cranked up to 400 (Mom). I'd cry but don't want to waste calories that could be burning to keep my shivering carcass one step ahead of pneumonia for another night in the Ice World level of Super Mario Bros.
I'll eat your baby, you smug penguin bastard.
Everything is cold. My toilet seat; the spoons in my silverwear drawer; my couch, my computer keys. Sure, it keeps the cryogentics division of Big Island Rachel at the optimum temperature, but at what cost? My poor bonsai will be lucky to survive this disaster.

I may have to stay with the BF during all this. He sheltered me in storms, and now, winter is coming.
Game of Thrones reference! They'll eat ALL the penguin babies!
Update: the heat is back on.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


It's the first week of the semester, so I'm going to have to be brief, because I'm a very, very tired.

Last Saturday, the BF and I went to the Brooklyn Museum. We were standing in the American wing looking a some still life paintings of current berries and apples. Since it was almost closing time and we were about to leave for dinner, I said, "Mmmm, fruit," and made some smacky noises as I turned to look at him.

Except it wasn't him. It was just some random dude who looked really scared to have some random chick make smacky noises at him in a museum.

New York: sometimes your loved ones turn in to other people when you aren't paying attention.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


I'm at ground zero for a nationwide flu epidemic. My governor declared a state of emergency and said we should all panic now and start sacrificing animals to appease the gods we have so clearly angered with our nights of wild hedonism and our days of intellectual pretension.

This is another one of the things that I never really had to deal with in Hawaii, which is currently only one of three states that is not having a flu epidemic. In fact, I never got a flu vaccine in my life until last week, when a combination of NYC being a filthy pit of squalor and disease, and many of my office-mates being out of the office for various reasons, convinced me that now was not the time to take chances. M and I took a car from the office to the local CVS and got ourselves vaccinated.

I hate getting shots. People are always surprised to hear that, seeing as I'm tattoed.
It's a start.
But it's not the needle that bothers me. It's the part where the nurse pushes the plunger down and I feel the fluid entering my body. It hurts in the creepiest way to feel the stuff spreading through the tissue right about the injection site. And apparently I'm the only person who feels like this! No one else I've talked to can feel the liquid coming out of the needle, but I can, because I possess the world's lamest superpower.
The competition for the title is stiff.
Since it's the first time I've ever had a flu shot, of course I got a mini-flu: sniffles, slight cough, bit of sneezing. There was one day when the glands in my armpits were so swollen and painful I had to walk around with my elbows out like a chicken all day.

But if it keeps me from turning into a zombie, I'm all for vaccinations of every kind. I just want to get mine as the nasal spray instead.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Two Operas: "Les Troyens" and "Les Miserables"

I leaned over in my seat and hissed into the BF's ear, "I think they're just going to sing the whole time."

Opera is one of those things that I really enjoy in theory, like throwing a party or wearing a fancy matching bra-and-panty set, but the reality is always more challenging than my ideal. Parties exhaust me, it's incredibly difficult to find lingerie that fits, and opera always has this boring middle bit where the soloists sing about love for waaaaaay too long. The first two hours, I'm fine, but--well, I have no follow-up phrase to anything that begins with "the first two hours."

And that holds for both a grand opera at the Met, and a pop-opera at my local movie house.

"Les Troyens," or "The Trojans," is a French opera in five acts, written by Hector Berlioz. It's an adaptation of Virgil's epic poem "The Aeneid," which I enjoy because it's an early example of fan fiction. Virgil wanted to write an epic about the founding of Rome in the style of his idol Homer, and that pleases me greatly for complicated reasons we won't get into now. The BF and I thought that seeing the Metropolitan Opera's performance of "Les Troyens" over the holidays would be perfect for both of us, seeing as he loves Rome and I like "The Aeneid," and we both liked our respective experiences watching "The Magic Flute." What could possibly go wrong?

Well, first, there was a blizzard the night of the show, with winds so strong I nearly toppled over and snow that stung, literally stung my face. (I didn't know snow could actually do that. I'd always assumed it was just a saying.) I wore my fur coat--if you can't wear your fur to the Metropolitan Opera, why bother owning one?--and learned as the night went on that wet fur smells overwhelmingly of the dead animal from which it was torn. And I also learned that an opera with five acts and two intermissions does not mess around. When one of your fellow opera-goers comes with her own copy of the score so she can follow along with the music, it's a clue that this one is not for beginners.

The first act was great. It was set in Troy on the day the Greeks sailed away, leaving behind the wooden horse. Everyone is really happy to have a big wooden horse of their very own, because who wouldn't be, but Cassandra predicts doom and death, and no one wants to be around her when she gets like that. The Greeks come out of the horse and take the city, Cassandra urges Aeneas and his son to flee Troy and found Rome, and then she and the other Trojan women commit mass suicide rather than be taken captive by the Greeks.

Now, that right there is a proper opera. There were a lot of big choral pieces, dancing, pyrotechnics, a two-story set that moved around, and an big invigorating death scene at the end. I really did enjoy myself in Troy and the first two hours flew by. Cassandra could act as well as sing, the costumes were great, and the set had this off-kilter creepy quality that emphasized the other-worldliness of the story and setting. I was especially impressed with the ballet performed by the crowd when they sang about the prophet Laocoon being devoured by sea snakes after he warns the Trojans against taking the horse inside the gates. And the mass suicide of Cassandra and the Trojan women was, as the BF so rightly put it, "very powerful."

(Update) He actually said, "It was like a Jacques-Louis David painting of antiquity come to life."  I don't know what that means, but I let him put it in this post anyway because it makes us sound classy, like the Kennedys.

After that was the first intermission, so we all went to mill about in the foyer and show off our pretty outfits. We gawked at one guy whose neck was so huge and fat that he looked like the Goblin King in "The Hobbit." My sister asked me later if he was "that guy from the World Bank with the fat neck," but since he was sitting on the same level as the BF and me, I'm going to guess the answer was "No." I imagine someone from the World Bank would be able to afford better seats at the opera than two twenty-somethings who fight over the last mouthful of beans and cheese at dinnertime.

Then came the boring middle part, where Dido and Aeneas sing about how much they love each other, and their friends sing about how much Dido and Aeneas love each other, and there's a twenty-minute ballet from the people of Carthage celebrating how much Dido and Aeneas love each and--you know what? I'm bored just writing about it. Let's talk about "Les Miserables."

"Les Miserables," or "The Miserables," is an enormously popular musical by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg based on the enormously popular novel by Victor Hugo. A new movie version came out this Christmas, and like everyone else in the world, the BF and I went to see it, because we like musicals and we'd already seen "The Hobbit" twice and "Django Unchained."

At around the two hour mark of the movie was when I told the BF that they were just going to keep on singing. There is pretty much no spoken dialogue in "Les Miserables." Everyone sings the whole time, which is why I paired it here with the other actual opera I saw over the break. And much like "Les Troyens," the first act with the big choral pieces and the big fancy sets was great, but then there's this long middle bit where Cosette sings about how much she loves Marius, and Marius sings about how much he loves Cosette, Éponine sings about how much she loves Marius and how sad she is that Marius loves Cosette, and then Valjean sings about how much he loves Cosette and how sorry he is that Cosette loves Marius.

I'm sorry, but does anyone give a goddamn about any of this? I sure don't. Don't you people have towns to build, kingdoms to topple, friends to betray or save? But no, we have to sit through an hour of people singing solos about how love makes them feel all lovey 'n stuff. I've never had the patience for that sort of thing, and when it grinds the actual story of the founding of Rome or the class struggle of 19th-century France to a halt, I simply must protest! Start your revolution! Burn yourself on a pyre! Do something!

Maybe it bugs me so much because, as a girl, I've had romance shoved down my cake-hole my entire life, and while I know that romance as a genre appeals to a lot of girls, it does nothing for me but make me impatient. At the risk of getting on my sanctimonious feminist high horse, I dislike the implication that my main goal in life is to find a man with which to define myself. I can define myself without a man, thanks very much.

That's why I liked Cassandra so much; the main story arc of Acts I and II of "Les Troyens" was about her inability to save her city from destruction, the tragedy of her helplessness, and her triumph over the Greeks when she kills herself rather than sacrifice ownership of her own body and self. What does Cosette do in "Les Miserables" that's half as interesting? Fantine is interesting, I'll grant that, but then she dies and we're left with her milksop daughter, and I just don't care how much she loves Marius because that tells me nothing about who she is on the inside, and I'm left to assume that she has nothing on the inside if this is all she thinks about. At least Marius gets "Empty Tables, Empty Chairs" to reflect on the power of friendship. Cosette gets nothing, and I don't even get an intermission to have a break from all of these unhappy people!

I'll say this about "Les Miserables," they are, indeed, miserable, and they cry pretty much the whole time. Prepare yourself for that.

So what are my final thoughts on my two-headed opera adventure? One, beware the boring middle bit. And two, much like throwing a party or wearing fancy lingerie, it's challenging, but weirdly worth doing. It produces the kind of satisfaction I get from doing my radio show, or staying up late on the work night to finish a blog post--not easy satisfaction, but work satisfaction. I feel like I accomplished something, like I became a marginally better person for having pushed through my boredom and just considered a work of art bigger and grander than anything I could ever create, even if I didn't understand everything I was seeing or hearing. I don't always have to be a passive absorber of entertainment; sometimes, it's good to have to work for it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Great Christmas Bra Burning of 2012

I burned all of my bras recently.

It's not what you think.

Bra burnings are a myth, by the way. The image of the militant feminist ripping off her bra and setting it on fire to symbolize throwing off the chains patriarchy and oppression is powerful and pervasive in our culture, but the tactic was never actually used by second wave feminists in the 1970s. The myth that feminists burned their bras at protests and demonstrations was started at a 1968 protest at the Miss America pageant, where a small group of women picketed outside the pageant and threw things like make-up, high heels, girdles and bras into a trash can.
A tradition is born!
A then-contributing editor for Ms. magazine, Lindsy Van Gelder, came up with the term "bra burning" to give the burgeoning women's liberation movement more credibility by linking it to the Vietnam War protest tactic of draftees burning their draft cards. But the mainstream press pounced on the idea of a bra burning as an easily-lampooned caricature of the ugly, screeching feminist demanding to be taken seriously as she destroyed her undergarments in public.
Some traditions are overrated.
The only statement I was making when I burned my bras is that my Girl Scout leader may have been mistaken in awarding me me a fire safety badge. Or that my apartment is just really, really small.

When I do laundry, I never dry my bras in the dryer. I re-shape the wet bra cups on my knees and put the freshly cleaned and molded garments on this plastic drying rack that I prop up on the stove. The heat from the pilot light dries the bras very quickly and leaves them feeling crisp and warm against my skin. Few pleasures equal this.
Very few.
I've been drying the bras, and other delicate garments, over my stove for as long as I've lived in this apartment. Frequently, I'll leave the clothes drying while I leave the apartment, never thinking twice about all that plastic and polyester resting inches above the gas burners.

But two days before Christmas, I was putting the freshly washed sheets on my mattress and suddenly heard a bubbling noise, like my electric kettle had come to a boil. But it wasn't yet time for tea. I turned around and poked my head out of my bedroom door, and saw that all the bras were aflame! My first thought was my fire extinguisher, but it was hidden deep in my kitchen cabinet and I didn't know how to work it. So I grabbed the closest thing at hand and began beating the flames to smother them. The melting plastic rack with the burning bras slide to to the floor, and the apartment was flooded with the overwhelming fumes of burning plastic.

The potential for disaster in this situation was great. I was barefoot on a wool rug, hitting a plastic-and-polyester fire with a quilt while surrounded by heaps of freshly laundered bedding and couch pillows. All of my windows were locked for the winter, and because the building sags to one side, the windows sit crookedly in their sills and are hard to open. And I'd removed my smoke detector from the wall just that morning because I'd burned my breakfast toast and didn't want it making noise.

But, as you can probably tell by virtue of this post existing, everything worked out. I'd smothered the fire by the time the bras hit the ground, and the melting plastic splashed on the couch pillows instead of my skin. I opened the windows before I suffocated and cleared the smoke out with the ceiling fan before the neighbors called the fire department. And I put out the last of the fire by doing what I should have done in the first place, which was to pour water on it instead of beating at it with the precious hand-stitched quilt my sister made me for my 17th birthday. My sink even has the hose attachment that could have easily reached the stove if I'd thought about it for two seconds instead of panicking like I did.
I'm a fraud. A fraudulent fraud!
The only bra that survived the inferno was my marvel of modern architecture stripper bra that I wear with my Catwoman costume and my formal wear.
Not mutually exclusive categories.
So as my Daddio said, "I bet you learned something, didn't you?" I'm going to take my power drill and mount my fire extinguisher on the wall, and review the instructions so I actually know how to use it the next time I set a fire in my apartment. I'm going to avoid setting fires in my apartment by not drying things on the stove anymore, even though I'm almost certain that the fire was started because I accidentally turned one of the burners by bumping into it when I put my laundry cart away.

And I'm going to approach bras with a bit more caution, because those suckers when up like fireworks, especially the push-up bras with the little gel packets in the cups. They melted quicker than butter on a hot biscuit. This is what women put against their skin every day of our lives. Think about that the next time you're cooking something, and remember Big Island Rachel's advice: always take your bra off if you're doing something with open flames.

No, I don't know what you'd be doing bra-less around open flames. I'm not here to judge, only advise.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Movie Review: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" Part 2 and three things you might like

I think sometimes how nice it must be for ordinary people. People who can watch television without becoming so fixated on a particular show that they stay up until two in the morning watching every episode they can get their hands on, and then researching it until sunrise on Wikipedia and when the episodes run out; people who don't find themselves crying on the subway because of the ending of a book they finished a week ago; people who aren't elated or depressed for days because of how much they liked a movie adaptation of a property they enjoyed in the past.

I don't know what it's like not to live so deeply in my imagination, to not feel my breath get short and my blood pressure rise, to not be physically affected by the stories and fantasy worlds created by others. I wonder sometimes why I care so much about these things, why it matters a jot to me or anyone else if DC Comics re-boots their universe, or why I feel the need to write 2000 words on what I thought about "The Hobbit" and then come back to write another 2000 words on the same subject.
I wish I could quit you. Not really. I don't know what I'm saying!
 On the other hand,  it's people like me who end up creating these kinds of things. Peter Jackson didn't spend years of his life and destroy his health (seriously, look at pictures of him at the Oscars ceremony when he won all the awards for "Return of the King," he looked like the Goblin King, it was shocking) making movie adaptations of his favorite books because he wanted the pay day. He did it because he loved them. He's a fanboy, a literal fanatic about Tolkien's creation, and these movies are all good because he cares about things that ordinary people dismiss as trivial, unimportant, or too dorky to think about.

So I don't feel too bad about my obsessions. I'm in good company.

I said in my previous review that everywhere "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" deviated from the source material, either to make the movie more exciting or to make it match up more with LOTR, it didn't succeed. The flip side of that is that everywhere the movie stuck to the book, it came off beautifully. I can't emphasis enough that if you grew up with this book, read it at night with your parents, or play-acted it in the backyard with your friends, your heart is just going to soar when you see about half of this movie.

Again, let's put the big damn SPOILER ALERT here for both the movie and the book.

1) The acting is superb. I'm a big fan of the BBC "Sherlock" television show, so when I saw that Dr. Watson was going to be Bilbo Baggins, I was very pleased. Martin Freeman is perfectly suited for playing humble, somewhat flustered characters that have an underlying toughness and resourcefulness to them, and he shines as Bilbo. I can't say enough good things about him, so I'll leave it at that.

In fact, everyone is wonderfully cast. Jackson changed some fundamental aspects of Thorin Oakenshield's character, and I don't agree with those changes, but I can't argue that Richard Armitage is excellent in the role as it's written. And while most of the dwarves kind of blend together, variety of hats and facial hair notwithstanding, the movie uses that to its advantage by portraying them as a perfectly synchronized eating, singing, fighting machine. There's no pressure to recognize more than three or four of the dwarves on sight; we're encourage to think of them as a single unit because they're stand-ins for an entire displaced dwarf nation.

2) Jackson introduces a thematic element of an entire displaced dwarf nation that wasn't really in the book, but unlike his other additions, this one is both needed and welcomed. I loved the the prologue of the movie showing the dwarves driven out of the Lonely Mountain by the dragon Smaug, because that opens the doors for Bilbo to be motivated by more than just a desire for adventure, as he is in the book. He sticks with the dwarves to help them gain back their home, which is exactly what he longs for pretty much as soon as he leaves the Shire. Adventure is well and good, but compassion and empathy make for much better character interactions, and I'm glad Jackson emphasized that aspect of the story.

3) It's funny! My friend R said that she always liked "The Hobbit" book better than the LOTR books as a child because "The Hobbit" was witty and made her laugh. Tolkien got a lot of comedy mileage by contrasting the dignity and somewhat-faux-heroism of the dwarves with the fussiness and practicality of Bilbo. In some places it seems like the dwarves are characters from the old Scandinavian sagas and Bilbo is a modern Englishman, as though Tolkien is mixing and matching entirely different genres of storytelling and getting humor from their differences.

Although I wouldn't call this movie a comedy, a lot of the humor from the book made it onscreen, mostly thanks to Freeman's Bilbo, who is, again, just a delight. One of the funniest moments for me was when they're all riding through a rainstorm, the dwarves are bitching about the weather, and Bilbo just slouches silently along on his little pony while everything about his posture and his expression screams, "I-hate-it-I-hate-it-I-hate-it." It makes me smile every time I think about it.

Unfortunately, Jackson's sense of humor is a little childish, so there's more snot and belching jokes than I really look for in a movie, me being a grown-ass adult and all. And the contrast between Bilbo and the dwarves, while funny, is more about the one being prim and the others being crude and rowdy. Again, it's a bit juvenile, and kind of misses the point. There isn't really any of that meta-textual humor of Bilbo and the dwarves being characters from different types of stories, probably because these dwarves are heroic and not faux-heroic like the ones in the novel.

I know that I had four things I really didn't like about this movie, and only three things I did like, but on the whole I enjoyed "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" more than I disliked it. I saw it twice, I'd be happy seeing it again if the opportunity comes up, and yes, I'll probably buy the extended edition when it comes out so I can watch the behind-the-scenes specials (and to satisfy my morbid curiosity about how Jackson can bloat this behemoth to an even longer running time than it currently has).

And I get two more Christmas seasons where I can go to the theater and see a Hobbit movie! My holidays are booked solid until 2016, folks!

By the way: Happy New Year and thanks for reading my blog. My radio show starts its spring season on February 5th, and my book reviews will soon be increasing to two per week. The road goes ever on and on...