Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Moria the Merrier

It's 10 p.m. on Sunday night... do you know where your kinnies are? The Dawnbreakers do!
The Dawnbreakers prepare to confront the Beast and his Handler in the bowels of the Grand Stair. Pictured left to right: Tezraldor the Dwarf, Nieena the Rogue (seen through the Oathbreaker in this otherwise fabulous screenshot), Captain Antropenny, Eryndil (that's me: Padhric in other guise), Kayloramir, and Caitil, our minstrel.
 With the Sunday night group now in its mid-60s, the Dawnbreakers had a productive evening: first a run through the Sixteenth Hall, then a trouncing of the Grand Stair, two trips through Skumfil to deed Kergrim, and the night was capped off with a quick 6-man turtle squashing! And all in 3.5 hours!
Who needs a raid? The Dawnbreakers make some quick turtle soup with only six level 64 and 65 characters!

If you wish to know more about the Dawnbreakers, you can look up their website:

Master of Toons

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Great Carpet Swap of 2015

There will be another lapse in activity for a couple of days as we are scheduled for the much-anticipated carpet installation starting tomorrow morning!


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Lord of the Rings Films Performance Review Series: Frodo

Frodo: I started this series with Gandalf because I wanted to write that post: McKellen’s performance has always been considered superior (although I noted few people ever adequately explained why, something I hope to have helped with in my own small way), and it seemed both appropriate and self-motivating to start with something overwhelmingly positive. I continue with Frodo because I want to get it out of the way.

I think it’s important to say up-front that the role of Frodo would be an immensely difficult one for any actor, regardless of their experience or talent. In a film setting, this character has almost the sole responsibility of communicating to the audience the awesome and malevolent powers of the Ring. It is through Frodo and his struggle of the will with it that we get to see the Ring’s effects and why it must be removed from the world, and this struggle is entirely on the mental and spiritual plane. Therefore, the actor portraying Frodo has a nearly insurmountable task before him: notwithstanding some tangential assistance from the likes of Boromir, Denethor, Saruman, Gandalf, Galadriel, Sam, Gollum, and Aragorn, Frodo must bear the lion’s share of the job to show us what the Ring does to its Bearers (as well as those around him) and to maintain it as a real, present, and rapidly growing threat across three massive films. No mean feat, that.

Unfortunately, Elijah Wood largely fails in this task, though it’s probably fair to say few would have done much better in his place. The fault mainly rests with Peter Jackson’s decision to cast him and the equally poor decision to cut the character’s age in half in the process. This is something Jackson himself admits somewhere (in the Appendices to the film, I think, not that he considers it a mistake), and the ramifications are far-reaching. No actor in their early 20s would be capable of comprehending let alone conveying the immense spiritual burden carried by the Ring-bearer. Wood tries admirably, aided along the way, we can assume, by his cast-mates and the directing staff, but the task is simply too tall an order for him at that stage in his life. He has surely developed as an actor in the more than 10 years since, although Wilfred probably isn’t a reliable gauge for this kind of thing. This is no reflection on Wood’s abilities as a performer himself, mind you, but rather on the decision of the director to use a particular actor who may “look the part” wonderfully (another fact Jackson admits openly), but be entirely ill-suited to delivering what is crucially needed from the character in order to serve the larger storyline.

This is not to say Wood did nothing right: he delivered several compelling moments throughout the trilogy, especially in the earlier stages when the demands against him were less weighty. His reaction to Gandalf’s fall into the abyss is one of the very few times I’ve ever really felt my heart wrenched as the protagonist shouts “NOOOOoooo!” (in case you’re wondering, the Star Wars Episode III attempt ranks about 10 billion places below Wood) and his scene with Sam in the boat at the end of FOTR is equally touching, but it is on the larger field where he comes up short. As Stanislavsky rightly observed, an actor’s ability to portray various experiences and emotions is inextricably tied to their own life experiences, and so the decision to cast Wood in this role was a poor one. Again, Frodo’s highly personal struggle with the Ring is, in a very real sense, a direct struggle with Sauron himself and one of the primary (if not the primary) manners in which we the audience see his will at work in the world and understand the nature of the Enemy as well as his motivations and how things would look if he won out in the end. The ability to portray this compellingly and believably has a direct impact on the audience’s buy-in to the fantasy, and this is at least in part why many critics panned both Wood’s performance as well as the films generally – praising them for their overall visual spectacle but lambasting the superfluous nature of the core emotional content – because Frodo’s effectiveness as an actor is directly tied to the films’ effectiveness as a story. The fact that Sauron never appears in person (another book-driven concept Jackson toyed with abandoning, and now you know why) makes Frodo’s conflict with him via his Ring all the more critical. To be ineffective in this function is to, practically speaking, make a movie without a chief antagonist thereby reducing the stakes and robbing the film of at least some of its potential. Looking frightened and breathing heavily are no substitutes for a true emotional experience, the means by which audiences connect with characters – fantastic or otherwise. The book and films may be set in a time and place we cannot reach, but the joy, pain, sorrow, tears, happiness, and love they experience are the same emotions we know from our own lives, and it is through them an audience experiences its catharses. 

As an aside, this is related to why the falling action in ROTK seems so perfunctory and why many audiences unfamiliar with the book were confused as to Frodo’s decision to sail into the Uttermost West. Without the believable conveyance of spiritual torment and physical suffering Frodo continues to experience even after the Quest is achieved, it seems illogical the character would forsake everyone and everything for which he undertook the Quest to save in the first place. Frodo’s lines at the Grey Havens (“We set out to save the Shire, Sam. And it has been saved, but not for me.”) fall flat not because they aren’t well-delivered by Wood but because Wood has been incapable of setting up the trade-off. Jackson’s ham-handed attempts to help address this with extra-Tolkien lines (“How do you pick up the pieces of a broken life?”) do nothing to resolve the underlying problem: that his choice of Frodo simply isn’t at a point in his own life where he can appreciate the depths of loss and sacrifice to which the character has committed. 

In short, Wood’s performance was the best we could expect from him at that age and it is unfortunate he was placed in a position where he was doomed to mediocrity. It’s hard to tell whether Jackson perhaps didn’t fully appreciate the task set against his Frodo or maybe didn’t grasp the implications of his casting decision, but the end result was a diminution of the emotional impact of his films. Without a fuller spectrum of life experiences to draw from at such a young age, Wood appears out of place next to Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, and even his contemporaries like Sean Astin and Billy Boyd. In many instances, a “weak link” can be compensated for through other members of the cast, and some of that certainly happened in Wood’s case. Sadly, though, Frodo’s challenge is so internal and specific to him and bears such an incredible amount of the epistemological weight that Jackson’s casting choice does a significant disservice to some of the story’s chief themes. 

Master of Toons

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Lord of the Rings Films Performance Review Series: Gandalf

It's a bit late to be doing this -- okay, a lot late -- but with more than 10 hours of film to digest there's plenty of material to work with. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the performances of the actors in the LOTR films and issue a little praise here, a little criticism there. I'm not a film critic and I don't play one on TV, but I do have about 17 years of experience in acting, so maybe my insights will be ... erm ... insightful.

I should start out by saying my background was almost exclusively as a stage actor, which is (in my opinion) rather different from film acting. Personally, I never cared for the latter: all the repeated takes, eons of waiting for the lighting to be just so, infinitely more complicated costumes and makeup due to the close proximity of the audience (i.e., the camera), and hordes of other factors conspired to make the process unbearable to me. Then there's also the fact that, while stage actors still have to account for changes in time and location in their plays, film actors also have to account for a lot of incredible things that aren't there (think green-screening) and they frequently have to perform their scenes well out of chronological order. Some plays incorporate that as a specific mode of storytelling, but in film it happens because the crew is already on location or the set is going into the dumpster tomorrow so they need to shoot the last scene first as a logistical issue. It's mind-boggling to me, so please understand I can at least somewhat appreciate all of this as I make my comments. Besides, anyone who seriously thought about making a film out of Tolkien's work had to be slightly off-balance to begin with (sorry, Sir Peter). This series of posts will concentrate on the performances of specific actors in their roles and my own humble opinions about them.

Gandalf: Like Morgan Freeman, Sir Ian McKellen seems to be one of those people who's always been old. Are there any clips of a young Ian anywhere? Or was that all prior to the invention of moving pictures? Anyway, he brings all of those years of experience to bear masterfully in this role. We have all heard the pundits punditing about the difficulty of playing Jesus (think James Caveziel or all of the Gospel movies from the 60s and 70s) -- how to portray a divine or "otherworldly" character on Earth in film, and there's quite a bit of truth to that. Acting is all about replicating and interpreting human experiences, so portraying non-human experiences is a unique challenge: the actor must bring to the set their own understanding of the world from which they came and communicate that (usually non-verbally, which is where all the best acting happens) in the role. McKellen does this in regal fashion: look closely and you can see how, as an angel sent to Earth with a specific mission, he considers and decides his courses of action based on his knowledge of the greater Truth.

Gandalf knows the important thing is to do what is right, not what is prudent ("I do not counsel prudence"), and who does what is right is unimportant so long as they do it willingly. Gandalf knows these acts of faith will be rewarded, but he is also forbidden from coercing anyone into action. McKellen succeeds in delivering sagely wisdom without sounding cheesy and expertly manages the character's eventual subjugation as the driving force for the good guys to Aragorn (in the films, of course: this doesn't occur in the book). This creates a nice arc for the character to follow and allows for a certain level of "maturity," if I can use that word. It can be very difficult for characters like Gandalf to evolve since they aren't of this world anyway and what we consider big problems (death, for instance) are not as much of a concern to them. If the actor is not careful this can stop the character from developing because it can come across as a devil-may-care "chill out man, everything's gonna be fine" mentality which can blunt the drama. McKellen mitigates this problem by focusing instead on his concern for Gandalf's friends, by never conceding that things are going to work out in the end (plenty of people do die along the way, after all, himself included), and (with help from the director and screenwriters) by moving him into a secondary role behind Aragorn.

We saw this arc begin in Rohan at the victory celebration following the return from Isengard where Aragorn asks Gandalf, "What does your heart tell you?" McKellen's facial reaction is priceless: you can see the character surprised at the question from his pupil, then almost embarrassed at having not thought of it himself, then relief as he considers the wisdom in the words. This is the beginning of the whole "the student becomes the teacher" process. Next, the breaking of Gandalf's staff in Minas Tirith, although never occurring in the book, is a way of continuing this development: Gandalf is robbed of his angelic powers and left nothing but an old man (albeit one with some pretty mean fencing tricks). Finally, Gandalf speaks in despair after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and it is Aragorn who puts forward the idea of self-sacrifice, in response to which Gandalf first speaks against then submits. Again, these things don't happen in the book, but they are an important part of character development so that Gandalf doesn't become stale or immobile. Naturally, this has the reciprocal effect of maturing Aragorn, something Jackson obviously wished to see more clearly in his interpretation of the story.

McKellen understands these implications and delivers even the smallest moments with magnificent precision. There has been much commentary over the decades about Frodo as a "Christ-like" character who sacrifices himself for the salvation of others. This is rather misguided because, unlike Christ, Frodo a) does not accomplish his mission without considerable help from others, and b) never actually accomplishes his mission at all, really. A much more accurate comparison should be made between Christ and Gandalf, both of which were figures sent from the spiritual world to combat evil, neither of which drew fully on their own native powers to alter human existence, both of whom had Pity as their defining characteristic, and both of whom willingly sacrificed themselves for the sake of others. Was it coincidence that, in the FOTR film, Gandalf fell into the abyss with his arms stretched out in what appears to be the form of a cross? I don't know, but consider what it would mean visually if the body had been limp as it fell, signifying defeat? Or if he had dove in head-first (as indeed we see in the opening sequence of TTT)? Instead we see a form implying, at the very minimum, submission to and acceptance of the fate bestowed upon the character, an action for which he is later rewarded. This is an extremely powerful theme throughout Tolkien's work, and it's also something we should expect from an angelic being -- someone who understands their own passing is less important than the furtherance of the Quest and, thereby, a chance at the salvation of the entire mortal world.

At every turn, McKellen's performance is more than worthy of the Oscar nomination it received for FOTR, and his work throughout all six of Jackson's films has been nothing short of divine.

Up next, Frodo Baggins.

Master of Toons

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fun With LOTRO Pics

Embedded image permalink
"Stop laughing! And the next time Angmar screws up the uniform order I automatically get the longest straw!"

PAD: "Did you see my funny caption on Twitter??"

MRS. PAD: "Yes. I get them, you know."

PAD: "Your expression is one of mingled exasperation and pity."

MRS. PAD: <blank stare>

PAD: "Don't hate me cuz you ain't me."

MRS. PAD: "I'm going to light a candle for you."

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Great Carpet Swap of 2015

Mrs. Pad and I are still waiting with bated breath (she never did tell me what it is we're attempting to bait, exactly) for the new carpet to be installed throughout the house. The precise style of carpet we wanted was not in stock at the retailer, so we've had to wait up to two weeks for the big day. As Inigo Montoya said on several occasions, "I hate waiting."

As the days wear on, I have become convinced something -- something! -- is going to derail my order and delay my carpet. Here are what I consider to be the Top 10 most likely reasons the retailer will provide for me not getting my carpet in a timely manner:

  1. My contact information on the order was wrong so they called to tell me they couldn't call to tell me the order was delayed.
  2. There was a mix-up with the paperwork and I somehow ended up with someone else's 1970s olive green shag pile rug meant for the floor of their Mystery Machine.
  3. A freak blizzard in Derka-Derkastan wilted all the pet stain-resistant carpeting there, so my carpet suddenly became worth its weight in gold and the entire stock was sold to the Derka-Derkastanis overnight. 
  4. <Waves hand> "These aren't the polypropylene fibers you're looking for."
  5.  There was a nuclear explosion at the carpet factory caused by a headstrong, aspirational young technician experimenting with creating seven-twirl carpet fibers instead of the usual six.
  6. The Lobster People from Planet Neptune used the distribution warehouse as the staging zone for their eventual conquest of Earth.
  7. A feral herd of velociraptors used my carpet as a scratching post.
  8. A giant, mutant hamster decided to use my carpet as a booty call.
  9. ISIS suddenly decided Stainmaster carpet makes an especially sexy burkha, so they seized every carpet factory in the Western hemisphere using pickup trucks and XACTO knives.
  10. Global warming. You know -- global warming, man.
I would like to think none of these things will come between me and my carpet, but we shall see.

Master of Toons

Sunday, May 10, 2015



The recent lack of activity is due to some major home improvements we're currently undertaking. The plan is to return to my usual level of frivolous ramblings sometime within the next week or so.

Thanks for your patience!