New Article BY MOI – Did Hobbits really Exist??

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It was 2003 when a team of researchers found her – a woman whose bones were 18,000 years old and whose skull was less than one-third the size of our own. This was the woman to be nick-named ‘the Hobbit’, after J. R. R. Tolkien’s renowned book of the same name.

Led by anthropologist Peter Brown and archaeologist Michael Morwood of the Australia’s University of New England, the team was excavating a limestone cave on the remote island of Flores in Indonesia when they discovered a nearly complete skeleton estimated to be about 1.06m (3ft 6inches) tall. The partial skeletons of nine other individuals, all of them less than 1.09 metres in height, were also found.

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The hobbits of Flores created a storm among anthropologists, causing them to question previous assumptions about evolution and human origins, since they could not actually determine whether these humanoids represented a species distinct from ‘modern’ humans, that is, Homo Sapiens, since they seemed to have existed in the world in the same space of time, yet were distinctly different physiologically and anatomically. The ‘hobbits’, or as they are actually called scientifically the ‘Homo Floresiensis’ are remarkable in that even though they had a very small body and brain, they not only could craft and use sophisticated stone implements, which were found in the cave with them, but also lived until relatively recent times – as recently as 12,000 years ago, making them the longest lasting non-modern human species, surviving long past the Neanderthals.

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It is thought that during the most recent glacial period, these Hominids were left isolated on Flores due to high sea levels. This led discoverers to believe that the species or its ancestors could only have reached the isolated island in the first place through water transport, perhaps using bamboo rafts, which would further point out their mental abilities, as well as prompt scientists to believe that they could communicate and had a language, since they obviously needed to cooperate with each other to reach their destination. The isolation of the island is a factor which, many believe, led to the evolution of this different species, if such it is. There exist in fact, a huge number of theories which try to explain this so-far unknown strand of the human evolution tree.

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The ongoing dispute concerns the issue of whether Homo Floresiensis is actually a species in and of itself (like Homo Erectus and Homo Sapiens), or whether the skeletons found belonged to a group of people who were merely suffering from some type of condition or mutated syndrome. Critics of the claim for species status have put forth several hypotheses – one of these for example, states that the limited food supply in such a confined environment could have caused the body of a Homo Erectus group to evolve a smaller body, and therefore suffer from dwarfism. Anatomist Gary Richards on the other hand, introduced a new sceptical theory stating that the unearthed skeletons might have belonged to a group of people suffering from Laron syndrome, which is a genetic disorder causing a short stature and a small skull. There were even those who thought that these traits could be attributed to ‘modern humans’ (that is, Homo Sapiens) with Down Syndrome.

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The main argument of those who support the idea that the Indonesian hobbit is a species in and of itself, mainly describe the fact that the bone structure found in the skeletons’ shoulders, arms and wrists are very different from those which stemmed from the Homo Sapiens, being much more similar to the bone structure of chimpanzees or earlier hominids. This supports the theory that the Flores hobbits were a separate species of early human, stemming perhaps, from the Homo Habilis, rather than a group of Homo Sapiens with a physical disorder.

In 2012, an American film studio was going to release a movie entitled ‘Age of the Hobbits’ which depicted a community of Homo Floresiensis, and was scheduled to be released right after Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’. The studio was embroiled in a lawsuit for copyright infringement, and ordered by court not to use the word ‘hobbit’. The film was instead released under the title ‘Clash of the Empires’.
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—— A version of this article appeared on the online magazine EVE – http://www.eve.com.mt/2015/08/01/did-hobbits-really-exist-in-indonesia/

Movie Review – Raise the Red Lantern – Spoilers

Movie Title: Raise the Red Lantern (1991)
Personal Grading: 4 Stars
Historical Timeline: 1920s
Location: China

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This film touched me and made quite an impression on me for various reasons. First of all, I love historical dramas, especially those which portray a non-European perspective. I love learning more about different cultures and customs, especially as these were lived in times past.

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Raise the Red Lantern focuses on the life of a nineteen year old girl Songlian who, pressured due to her family’s poverty and her father’s death, decides to become a rich man’s concubine. She is his fourth concubine in fact, and the whole film takes place in the ‘Master’s’ house. We never see the outside of the house after the film’s five minute introduction, and neither does the main character. Although the cast of the film is limited, this is very in-line with the story and plot-line, seeing as to how we experience life as the main character does. She is isolated, lonely, and cannot decide what is the reality or who is deceiving her. We never see the ‘Master’s’ face. This is very symbolical. In the 1920’s this was how society treated women – this was how concubines were expected to live – who the Master was, was not important. The women’s lives centered on his every whim and desire. The four concubines live togather in different sections of the vast beautiful house. Traditionally Chinese, their life is structured according to family ritual, and yet they still silently hate and compete with one another.

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The First mistress is old and her son is the Master’s heir and is always away. The second mistress, whom at first we think is kind and nice, is in reality a scorpion, egging on people against Songlian. The third concubine, still young and beautiful, had once been an opera singer, is very creative, and is secretly in love with a young doctor. The Master decides who is in favor by placing red lanterns in front of the ‘house’ belonging to the mistress who will pleasure him for the night. The chosen one gets a foot massage, chooses the menu for the following day, and crows in victory over the others.

The storyline is not complicated, yet has a certain horrific quality to it. Combine this to the fact that we know this is what really happened during this period in time, is the soul-crushing certainity of each of the mistresses that she will never get out of that house. Her body, her time, her life, belongs to the Master and is his to dispose of. This is blatantly obvious when he orders the killing of the Third Mistress, after she is discovered to be cheating on him. At the end, the main character is mentally and emotionally shattered, preferring the life of a mad recluse to that of a concubine forced to live life in constant rivalry in a world where there is really no escape.

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This film is very poignant and well executed. I do not think the casual movie-watcher will appreciate it, as it is quite slow-moving and full of Chinese rituals and traditions which are not all fully explained. I loved it since I am very interested in Asian cultures, and love anime, therefore having watched and read about these kind of traditions before. It is a very psychological film too. What is not said, is more important than what is actually uttered. A true gem of its kind.

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The film is based on the novel ‘Wives and Concubines’ by Su Tong.

Movie Review – Birdman – SPOILERS

Personal rating – 1 Star

I was really looking forward to watching this movie, not only because it’s the movie which won the bigger number of Oscars this year (4 in all), but because I like Michael Keaton as an actor, and I simply salivate over Edward Norton’s talent -he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the way.

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So there I was on a Saturday evening, home-made salami and mushroom pizza in one hand, glass of wine in the other, breathlessly waiting for it to start. Then after a while, waiting for it to actually kick in… then after an hour, waiting for SOMETHING to happen, and then after more than an hour and a half, just waiting for it to end. Which it finally did.

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Disappointment as a word, barely describes my feelings.

Basically the film recounts the last week in the life of a sixty-year old something actor who had been famous in the 90s for his ‘Birdman’ role as the Superhero du jour… reference to Batman much? Riggan Thomson (aka Keaton) played Birdman in 3 movies and then after turning down Birdman 4, receded into semi-anonymity and cheesy roles, until finally he tried to break out as a success in the theatre instead of the big screen. Keaton, who, like Riggan, last starred in his last Batman movie in 1992 (he had the role for only 2 of the movies), afterwards DID kind of spiral into more mediocre roles. So, one obviously asks, is Birdman the film a parody of Keaton’s life?

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Riggan directs and stars in a play in Broadway, apart from his tired and washed up life, we also meet up with the interlocking stories of his co-actors, their problems, their licentious sexual lives, and their general emotional and psychological confusion. Many of the reviews I read lauded Birdman saying that it gave the audience an insight into actors’ actual struggles… so, basically this film won 5 Oscars for showing non-actors that actors were as fucked up and decadent as everybody else? Wow, big deal!

Norton was kind of okayish – given that the part he had to play was totally pointless and colorless, but still almost every movie I’ve watched him in showcased his talent better than this one.

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In the end, fed up of hearing the voice of his past superhero alter-ego berating him for being such a looser (and being right) and asking him to leave the theater and invest in a Birdman remake, Riggan tries to commit suicide… during his play’s premier. He botches it, as he botches everything else, and ends up in hospital. Everyone knows it was a suicide attempt, yet they seem to ignore that, leaving Riggan alone in a vast and unsupervised hospital bedroom in a sky-high building. Needless to be said, Riggan, believing himself to be able to fly as Birdman did, opens his enormous hospital window and jumps off. Riggan’s druggie daughter comes into the room, and not finding him, looks out. We are not shown what she sees, however we see her looking up and smiling.

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THE END

So, what? Was Riggan really flying?

Wow, we didn’t see that coming at all did we?

And THIS movie won 5 Oscars, while a gem like The Imitation Game won only one?!

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Say it with me – W…T….F !!

Women = You are a Blatant Disappointment!

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150226/local/fifty-shades-of-grey-breaking-local-records.557723

Really? Are most Maltese women as misguided and bereft of any kind of intimacy as all that? This novel/movie is wrong on so many levels that I really don’t know where to start. Let me at least try to scratch the surface:

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1. The writing is CRAP. As a book-lover and writer with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Masters in English Contemporary Literature, I can say this with professional and experienced detachment – it is TURDS ON TOAST, and that’s that.

2. It was originally written as a fan-fic of Twilight… which says it all. Love Twilight? Love soft-porn? Here you got a mixture of the two!

3. It’s not even real BDSM!! And believe me, I know what I’m saying! The novel is about a girl who doesn’t know her cunt from her ass, meeting a ‘pshycologically hurt’, not to mention inept, guy, who thinks he wants to play Master, while all he wants is a girlfriend without the title.

4. It wrongly promotes the idea that people who find BDSM kinky and titillating, like it because they are emotionally disturbed in some way. That they get excited by whips and leather because there is some big dark secret pointing towards neglect or violence in their childhood or youth = WRONG

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What does the fact that it is such a big success say about Maltese women and women in general??

1. These women know NOTHING about BDSM.

2. They know nothing about REAL RELATIONSHIPS, or the ups and downs one really encounters when trying to build something permanent with a partner.

3. They are starved for sex.

4. They haven’t got past the ‘I’m a 14-year old gushy gushy oh-so-innocent version of femininity just waiting to be plucked’ stage.

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5. They know nothing about literature, realistic plot-lines, characterization and they know NOTHING of the human psyche!

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Don’t like my summary? Bite me!

And yes I have obviously read the the book… tried to must be more like it. The cheesiness, and plain stupidity in every page made me want the vomit. Point being – I don’t write about or criticize something I know nothing about, which is why I made the effort. I wasted hours of my life and numbed my brain for THIS.

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Fortunately for the ‘author’ (for want of a better word) many people don’t need to numb their brains to accept and ‘love’ this story, since their consciousness seems to be naturally numb already.

Movie Review – The Woman in Black 2 – Spoilers Alert

Personal Rating – 1 star

I had been looking forward to this sequel for quite some time. I had hoped that unlike most sequels, it would be exciting, titillating and emotionally disturbing – most of all, I had hoped that it would shed more light on the background story of Jennet Humpfrye, that is the ghost that became the ‘Woman in Black’ herself.

I am sorry to say, that I was VERY disappointed.

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The movie, subtitled ‘Angel of Death’, fast-forwards us from the Victorian era, which had set the stage for the first Woman in Black film, to the Second World War, when the now semi-renovated haunted house in question,started to be used as an impromptu orphanage. You’d think the ghost would have a field day… hmm…

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The main character (Phoebe Fox), of bland appearance, gives us an equally bland performance as a woman who has, in the past, experienced the loss of a child. This could have been a good idea for the focus to be not just on the main character as a grieving mother, but also on the ghost herself, since the child-carer here could empathize with the dead woman’s similar plight. That is the way I would have played it, while giving more background and detailed info on the ‘ghost’ herself. Instead, the film portrays the feelings which inexplicably grow between bland young woman, and a bland young pilot, in an ever-boring slow movie where nothing happens, and where semi-horror background music is used to try and built up a sense of suspense which simply DOES NOT HAPPEN.

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The ghost, instead of seeing Eve, the main character, as a representation of herself, since her baby was taken from her, wants to punish her for ‘letting him go’. This attitude could have spurred a showdown between the two women, one alive and one dead. Needless to say, it didn’t. Ever. The movie plodded its way on through half-finished dreams and mediocre attempts at giving the audience some thrills, which failed miserably. Veiled women shrieking in corners and screaming silently in one’s face are not my thing. Give me a well-rounded plot with believable emotional characters and an interesting background story, or a psychological effort at least, and you’ve got me. Unfortunately this film had all the wanna-be cheesiness of a gore movie, without the gore.

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The worst part (yes even worse than a wasted hour and a half where nothing happens) was the ending. The pilot semi-love interest is killed, and the Woman in Black just stops haunting the child she had ‘chosen’ as well as Eve. Without explanation or reason. Totally pointless. On the other hand, she continues to haunt the house. We do not know why and there is no explanation. Another attempt at creating ‘mystery’ = FAILED.

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‘Reign’ has gone down the Drain! Beware SPOILERS

Two days ago, I finally finished watching Season 2 of ‘Reign’ – another ‘one of those’ semi-historical, yet fictional dramas on court life in baroque 14/15/16/17th century something. Now I admit, these kind of serieses are a guilty pleasure, even though I’m aware of the fact that the viewer is lucky if she actually gets 5% of actual historical material which really happened.

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Season 2 of ‘Reign’ however, was just too much. Apart from the awfully NON-HISTORICAL… not even REMOTELY SO (seriously, they were not even trying) clothes, which really emit a discortant screeching sound in my ears, seeing as to how I’m a Medieval re-enactor and costuming, at this point, is in my veins. So, apart from the fact that the queen and all her courtiers are dressed as if they are going to a Prom.

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Apart from the blatant historical fibs (the King, for example, didn’t even have a bastard brother – and this guy plays a major role in the series). Apart from Mary’s inexpressive face, Kenna’s Indie get-ups which get weirder and weirder (wtf), the costumists’ disregard of headresses (they turn them into hairbands when they actually remember of their existence), and apart from the winding never-ending plot which sees the same five or six characters romancing, having sex with, and fighting with each other alternately.

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Seriously, WHAT’S WITH MARY ACCEPTING HER HUSBAND’S MISTRESS AND MOTHER OF HIS BASTARD-SON BACK AS ONE OF HER BEST FRIENDS??

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I say it again… SERIOUSLY?

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She even has a role as godmother to her husband’s bastard child! She’s just gotten raped and fakes everything is ok in order not to botch the baptism!!

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Is this woman a martyr, a saint, or just a plain bloody pussy? That being said, do the writers of ‘Reign’ actually know the meaning of the word ‘realistic’? NO WOMAN would ever happily accept her husband’s one time mistress back in her life, her palace, her friendship, or her heart! Mary accepts her not only as part of her husband’s life, but as a member of her ‘posse’, one of her beloved ladies. She even helps her, tells Francis about the child, and tries to find her a wealthy husband!

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Throughout it all, I was like COME ON!! Do they really expect us to believe something like that could actually happen? Ok, maybe Mary was too good a person to let Lola die of the plague, she did not want to lie to her husband about the baby, and she did not want to leave Lola penniless… I can sort of get that… if I squeeze my eyes very tight and let my mind roam a bit… but taking her back as a best friend as if nothing had happened? Telling her all the realm’s secrets, even that she, the Queen was raped, when she told no one else in court apart from a very select few? Hugging and kissing her and smiling at her fondly?

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NO WAY

And it’s not that I’m hard-hearted, or jaded, or dont have any mercy. It’s that, this is totally unrealistic – NO ONE, not even Mother Theresa, would behave as though this ex-friend had never betrayed them, had never slept with her life-long partner and gotten a child, behind her back. NO ONE.

As such, I think I’m still going to watch Season 3 of ‘Reign’ since I started it, however my respect and enjoyment for the show has definitely gone a lot downhill.

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Book Review – Coraline – Neil Gaiman

First let’s make this clear – this is a review of the book NOT the animated movie, although I loved the movie too (and it could still be construed as such).

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That being said, I think what touched me most about this book is that it is truly a book for children. The plot line is quite deep, the psychology behind it is disturbing and twisted, and most of the story itself is so metaphorical as to be almost frightening, and yet, it is set so as to not only enter into the world of children, but also make every child who reads it feel totally at home there.

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It captures everyday moments of every child’s life – the unlikeable ‘recipes’ served at dinner, the boredom of rainy days, the loneliness of children with no other brothers or sisters, the sense of loss when one’s parents seem distant and busy with their own lives, the way children’s opinions are glossed over and ignored when it comes to practical matters like choosing clothes for school.

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Most importantly, it offers two different perspectives of parent-hood. On the one hand, we have Coraline’s normal family – her two working parents who both work at home and have their own studies there, who sometimes have no time for Coraline and who have forgotten what it’s like to be a child, and therefore do not understand her, yet who love her and would sacrifice themselves for her.

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On the other – there are the Other parents – especially, the Other mother. She is a perfectly frightening representation of those clutching needy mothers, who need something to love so much, that they literally stifle their children, bottling them up in a bubble of fake smiles and repression – until finally the childrens’ individuality is squeezed into nothingness… which is what they become.

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This metaphor of the needy cold mother, who selfishly does not really care about who Coraline is or what she actually wants, is the prevalent ‘monster’ in the story, and is all the more terrifying in that there are so many real monsters like her out in our world.

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Coraline’s natural communication with the animals around her is so normally-portrayed as to be totally believable, and not relegated to the label of ‘magical’ or ‘supernatural’ at all. Cats talk, mice dance, rats can be spies – it is presented as a fact, and so it is.

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This short book reminded me of the premise of ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’, where family issues are combatted by children through metaphorical intervention. Totally brilliant.

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MY HIDDEN SHAME REVEALED! Yes, I admit…

… although I have been a monstrously voracious reader all my life, although I have a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in English and a Masters Degree in English Literature, although I can claim to be a published writer and an as-yet unpublished poet, although I have more than 900 books in my erstwhile tiny home, although I can’t see a darn person reading a book without bending over to peer at the title, although I have promised myself again and again to finally get it done and READ THOSE BLOODY CLASSICS… there are still ENORMOUS gaps in my reading list.

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I realized this after I read this post – http://746books.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/top-ten-tuesday-classics-i-havent-read/  – by Cathy746books – and as punishment to myself, I decided to write this post and reveal my deepest shame before you all.

images Here are 12 Classics which I have always planned to read, someday, but never actually did YET.

1. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye – J. D Salinger
3. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
4. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
6. The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
7. Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
8. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
9. The War of the Worlds – H.G Wells
10. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
11. Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H Lawrence
12. The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe

I have watched movies related to most of these, but that’s neither here nor there is it?

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Now, before you start flogging me with whips of fire, here is a list of important classics I HAVE read. I’m not mentioning them all, as obviously there are too many, however I will try to mention at least most of those which have had an impact on my perception of the world, and on my writing.

1. Anything and everything by Jane Austin
2. Anything and everything by the Bronte Sisters – most especially ‘Wuthering Heights’
3. Anything and everything by Oscar Wilde – most especially ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (my MA thesis was based on him)
4. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carrol
4. 1984 – George Orwell
5. Anything and everything by Charles Dickens (my BA thesis was based on him)
6. Dracula – Bram Stoker
7. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
8. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
9. The Iliad/The Odyssey – Homer
10. The Birth of Tragedy/Thus Spake Zarathustra/Beyond Good and Evil – Friedrich Nietzche
11. The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri
12. Le Fleurs du Mal – Baudelaire
13 – Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
14 – Ulysses – James Joyce
15 – Gulliver’s Travels – Jonathan Swift
16 – The Castle – Franz Kafka
17 – The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
18 – The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux
19 – The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
20. The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

I guess I had better stop now lol. Ofc I did not include anything by Tolkien, Bradbury, etc since I don’t consider them as classics as such – they are in a niche of their own.

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So, before you judge what I have not read yet, be honest, how many of those books I have mentioned have YOU read? ;p

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Now I admit, I’m feeling a bit better about myself, but I STILL have to get through those 12 classics and get rid of my shame!

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2014 Good Movies – What have I missed?

This morning I had the idea of looking around youtube trailers for good 2014 movies, to check up if I had missed watching any. While I was at it, I also viewed a couple of trailers for good movies coming out in 2015, and made a very short (for now) list. Here goes:

2014 – To Watch

1. Mr Turner – Released Oct 2014 – Biographical drama about the life of the notorious landscape painter J.M.W Turner

2. Effie Gray – Released Oct 2014 – Biographical drama about the life of art critic John Turner’s wife and their strange relationship. Also about the Pre-Raphaelite artistic movement.

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3. Wish I was Here – Released July 2014 – I don’t usually like comedies, but I’m curious since Zach Braff (‘Scrubs’) is not only the main character but also the writer, producer and director.

Any other movies you think might be worth watching? I love horror, psychological thrillers, historical dramas and anything to do with fairytales. Not the ‘Frozen’ kind, but the ‘Into the Woods’ and ‘Maleficent’ kind.

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2015 – To Watch

1. Pan – Release July 2015 – Yes another Peter Pan remake, so what? ;p

2. Ex Machina – – Released April 2015 – An experiment which makes one reflect on the actual origins of life. Sounds interesting.

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3. Unfriended – Released April 2015 – Psychological horror – How powerful are social media?

4. The DUFF – Released February 2015 – Yet another movie about the school ugly duckling who turns into a swan. Yes these things do happen, because I was such a case, so I have a soft spot for these kind of movies. So there ;p

Again, any other movies you might want to suggest are more than welcome.

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‘The Hobbit’ – Is it too much??

Apparently, there is a lot of grumbling and criticism around the net regarding the character of Legolas and his improbable feats in the last installment of ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy. Yes Legolas the elvish Prince jumps, leaps, and almost flies all over the place. He travels by borrowing airborne lifts from evil bats, climbs crumbling steps while they drop in the void, pirouettes over the heads of orcs and monsters, and shoots arrows which find their mark, while climbing, running, and vaulting over improbable surfaces at incredible speed.

And that is not realistic.

Seriously, you are watching a legendary tale which is happening in a non-existent land where elves, dwarves, humans, hobbits, orcs, ents, goblins, wizards, and a number of other races intermingle, where magic is a well-known force, where immortal beings are the order of the day… and you expect realism?? lol

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However, awesome fantasy apart, the greatness of an epic fantasy writer and creator is to write about fantastical worlds and yet impose on them understandable limits, laws of nature, as well as an emphasis on the characters’ consequences for their actions, much like in the ‘real world’. This is what Tolkien did, and this is why most people seem to find Legolas’ feats extreme. And I can understand that.

However the viewers seem to be forgetting one important thing.

LEGOLAS IS AN ELF.

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He is not a human being and is therefore not limited by a human’s physical boundaries. Tolkien describes elves as having heightened hearing and senses, their voices can reach pitches that human voices can’t, they are lights which can pierce the Dark One’s shadow, they are lovers of nature and at one with it, they can see the hidden signs in leaf and tree and cloud, and they are immortal – meaning that they have accumulated an immense amount of knowledge, patience and other traits in the eons they have been alive. Therefore yes, elves can perform feats that humans cannot. They can heal with a few words, sing magic, create metals and artifacts which are beyond ‘normal’, etc, etc.

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While watching the movie (twice) I gasped and gawped at Legolas’ improbable jumps and leaps myself, however I accepted the fact that he was an elf warrior, and as such not only physically capable of them, but also trained from birth as a prince and a lord to feats of arms, and since he is immortal, ‘from birth’ probably means that his training had gone on for hundreds of years.

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I will say it again and again, I am so sorry that Tolkien died before writing more about the elves! Sure we have the LOTR trilogy, the Hobbit, and the Silmarillion, as well as his ‘Unfinished Tales’, but none of these solely focus on the elves as much as I would wish.