Archive for The Hobbit


Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2020 by xi'an

While in Chamonix, last week, I went to see a film for the first time in many months (as the latest installment of Star Wars does not count!).  As it happened, there was a English version of 1917 (and the theatre was full of English speaking spectators, in this most British of French Alpine towns!). I had no prior opinion about the film, for once, having missed my national public radio cinema critic show. The setting was rather impressive at the beginning with the crossing of the deserted “no-man’s-land” between bomb holes and decomposed cadavres, in a constant rush to save thousands from a planned massacre, but then the story stalls into an allegory that becomes almost cartoonesque, from the cut orchards to the plane running into their barn, to the eerie lighting of the ruins, to the episode with the refugee, to the fall in the river and the sad Wayfaring Stranger song (which made me think of the dwarven song in the Hobbit!) and to the anti-climactic reaction of Benedict Cumberbatch. By making the fate of so many depends on the unrealistic bravery of a single man, Mendes’ film may point out (rather cheaply) at the absurdity of it all. But it also contributes to perpetuate the myth of the hero, arriving against all odds (and then some) to save them all (if at the 13th hour). Granted, the film is effective and I was on the verge of tears by its ending, when the brother receives the bad news, but by focussing on the most unrepresentative soldier of the whole front, freely running in the (killing) fields rather than being stuck in the rotten mud for months, it missed the terrible fate of the overwhelming majority, condemned to die without redeeming heroic actions.

the sky that would not rise [film review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2019 by xi'an

My 2019 end-of-the-year-movie-with-my-grownup-kids was the final Star Wars episode, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, watched in a quasi-empty theatre with mostly young kids… Surprisingly no one left before the end, which frankly did not come soon enough! The three of us agreed on the appalling conclusion to the trilogy, which recycles about every possible trope from the first series, from the generation antagonism to the endless battle calls and boring space battle scenes (although including an extra that reminded me of the ludicrous first appearance of Radagast the Brown in The Hobbit!), to the compulsory bar scene where some character is faced with some unsavoury past, to a complete disdain for the most basic laws of physics (and swordplay), to humongous snakes that live out of nothing, and cannot produce anything even moderately new in its scenario, recycling an amazing portion of scenes with Carrie Fisher (who died in 2016) as well as involving about every possible former actor. (I am surprised they did not dig Yoda, must have forgotten where the box with his costume was!) The dialogues are incredibly poor and dull, even R2D2’s, there is no meaningful dimension in the relations between the actors, who even more than usual end up focusing on single-minded objectives rather than keeping the larger picture in sight (well-done, General!), and the final scene that relates to the early ones of the 1977 movie with a binary sunset over the Tatooine desert is unbelievably heavy handed. (The picture of R2D2 and C3PO above is taken from a exhibit by Laurent Pons  in Paris, where he included some Star Wars characters in iconic Parisian locations.) May the Force be gone once and for good!

the Force awakens… some memories

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , on January 10, 2016 by xi'an

In what may become a family tradition, I managed to accompany my daughter to the movies on the day off she takes just before her medical school finals. After last year catastrophic conclusion to the Hobbit trilogy, we went to watch the new Star Wars on the day it appeared in Paris. (Which involved me going directly to the movie theatre from the airport, on my way back from Warwick.) I am afraid I have to admit I enjoyed the movie a lot, despite my initial misgivings and the blatant shortcomings of this new instalment.

Indeed, it somewhat brought back [to me] the magic of watching the very first Star Wars, in the summer of 1977 and in a theatre located in down-town Birmingham, to make the connection complete! A new generation of (admittedly implausible) heroes takes over with very little help from the (equally implausible) old guys (so far). It is just brilliant to watch the scenario unfold towards the development of those characters and tant pis! if the battle scenes and the fighters and the whole Star Wars universe has not changed that much. While the new director has recovered the pace of the original film, he also builds the relations between most characters towards more depth and ambiguity. Once again, I like very much the way the original characters are treated, with just the right distance and irony, a position that would not have been possible with new actors. And again tant pis! if the new heroes share too much with the central characters of Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. This choice definitely appealed to my daughter, who did not complain in the least about the weaknesses in the scenario and about the very stretched ending. To the point of watching the movie a second time during the X’mas vacations.

The Hobbit (once upon a very long time…)

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on December 25, 2014 by xi'an

“Will you follow me, one last time?”

With my daughter, we completed our Xmas Tolkien cycle by going together to see The battle of the five armies. As several have noted before me, the best thing I can say about this Hobbit series is that it is now… over! Just like the previous two instalments, watching Peter Jackson’s grand finale was mostly enjoyable, but mainly for the same reasons one enjoys visiting a venerable great-aunt once a year around Christmas, namely for bringing back memories of good times and shared laughs. Indeed, Jackson managed to link both sagas through his central character of Gandalf who, while overly fond of raised eyebrows and mischievous eyes, is certainly the most compelling character all over.  While the plot stretched too thinly to keep me enthralled, as I could not remember why the orcs and goblins were converging to Erebor at the same time as the elves and dwarves and men of Dale (unless it was to justify the future name of the battle?!), I soon got battle-weary of the repeated clashes between the various armies which sounded like straight copies from on-line war games and even more of the half-dozen duels, while the rescue of Gandalf from Dol Gurdur is unbearably clumsy, with an apocryphal appearance of the Nazguls. As too often in the story, the giant eagles were so instrumental to victory that one could only wonder why they had not been around from the start.

The comical parts are much sparser here than in the previous movies: hardly any screen time for Radagast’s rabbits, thank Sauron!, or for the jovial Dain with his great Scottish brogue and his war[t]hog opening, or yet for Thranduil’s moose to show its major advantage in battle, a few steps before being shot down, or for the war mountain goats who appeared then vanished at the moment of direst need, or for Bard to find a pre-historical skateboard. I also noted that the [dumb] orgs managed to invent a precursor of Chappe’s telegraph that alas could only transmit one symbol [since it was always taking the same shape!], that Legolas recreated the Matrix by walking on a disintegrating bridge, and that Thorin turned on gravity for a few crucial seconds in a movie where most characters seem to have no issue with falling, jumping or fighting without the slightest consideration for mechanics, with a strong tendency for characters to head-butt into walls…

“What this adaptation of “The Hobbit” can’t avoid by its final instalment is its predictability and hollow foundations.” NYT, Dec. 16, 2014

Other features I did not enjoy much: Thorin sulked way too long, Alferid outlasted its stay on screen by about 144 minutes, only to vanish unexpectedly, Bilbo seemed lost at the margins most of the movie, while the love story between Kili and Tauriel was really one addition too many to Tolkien’s book. The search for variety in the steeds of the various armies made me almost wish for more races on the battle-field as we could then have seen fighters on giant moles or on battle-hens… And everyone could have done without the “Dune moment”, with giant earth-worms breaking tunnels only to return to oblivion. Anyway, we have now been “There and Back Again” and can now settle in our own hobbit-hole to re-read the books and enjoy a certain nostalgia about the days where we could imagine on our own how Bilbo, Gandalf or Thorin would look like, while humming “Song of the Misty Mountains”…

MCqMC 2014 [day #4]

Posted in pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2014 by xi'an


I hesitated in changing the above title for “MCqMSmaug” as the plenary talk I attended this morning was given by Wenzel Jakob, who uses Markov chain Monte Carlo methods in image rendering and light simulation. The talk was low-tech’, with plenty of pictures and animations (incl. excerpts from recent blockbusters!), but it stressed how much proper rending relies on powerful MCMC techniques. One point particularly attracted my attention, namely the notion of manifold exploration as it seemed related to my zero measure recent post. (A related video is available on Jakob’s webpage.) You may then wonder where the connection with Smaug could be found: Wenzel Jakob is listed in the credits of both Hobbit movies for his contributions to the visual effects! (Hey, MCMC made Smaug [visual effects the way they are], a cool argument for selling your next MCMC course! I will for sure include a picture of Smaug in my next R class presentation…) The next sessions of the morning opposed Sobol’s memorial to more technical light rendering and I chose Sobol, esp. because I had missed Art Owen’s tutorial on Sunday, as he gave a short presentation on using Sobol’s criteria to identify variables contributing the most to the variability or extreme values of a function, an extreme value kind of ANOVA, most interesting if far from my simulation area… The afternoon sessions saw MCMC talks by Luke Bornn and Scott Schmidler, both having connection with the Wang-Landau algorithm. Actually, Scott’s talk was the one generating the most animated discussion among all those I attended in MCqMC! (To the point of the chairman getting rather rudely making faces…)