04 October 2018

31 Days of Horror: Train to Busan

October 3

Train to Busan (2016)

Where Japan is great at making horror films, South Korea's forte lies in action thrillers. Having first entered the realm of South Korean cinema via Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, I quickly became hooked on the genre. Most of the items on my Netflix watchlist are South Korean films, and while I'll try not to only review foreign films this month, I'm sure there will be a few more.

While the zombie genre has been horribly overdone at this point, I was eager to see South Korea's take on the living dead. Often, what kills the zombie tale is the over-explanation of how things happened and the focus on blood and guts; Train to Busan offers no explanation for the outbreak, which is initially referred to as riots, and instead focuses on the survival aspect of the situation. Oftentimes, human nature is more disturbing than any monster or virus.

Train to Busan follows divorced fund manager Saek-woo and his daughter Su-an, whose relationship has become strained due to Saek-woo's long nights at work and absenteeism from his daughter's life. All Su-an wants for her birthday is to see her mother, so they head out to Busan. On the train, they meet working-class husband Sang-hwa and his pregnant wife Seong-kyeong, the egotistical COO Yong-suk, elderly sisters In-gil and Jon-gil, members of a high school baseball team and their cheerleader, and a homeless man suffering from PTSD. With so many unique characters, it's impressive that the film manages to devote enough time to giving each of them ample screen time and just enough character development that one can empathize with their individual struggles - or root for them to perish. The film slowly becomes a sort of social commentary on class warfare, with the rich trying to shun the working-class or those they claim to be infected. When the world goes to hell, it's every man for himself.

Train to Busan will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to heartbreaking end - but it's a refreshing zombie film that's definitely worth checking out if you understand Korean or don't mind subtitles.

03 October 2018

31 Days of Horror: Temple

October 2

Temple (2017)
"Three American tourists follow a mysterious map deep into the jungles of Japan searching for an ancient temple. When spirits entrap them, their adventure quickly becomes a horrific nightmare." -IMDB

The second film I chose to review was one that had been sitting on my Netflix watch list for a few months - Michael Barrett's Temple. I'm not sure why I added it to my list in the first place, other than the fact it's a Japanese-American film, so I expected it to have some elements of j-horror. 

Temple actually sounded like the type of film I generally tend to stay away from - tourists ignore locals' warnings to avoid haunted temple and have the scare of their lives. Films like this make me antsy because they always include people making stupid decisions and disrespecting the cultures they are visiting. I was pleasantly surprised to find Temple did not include any obnoxious American tourists, no gratuitous sex or partying scenes, or any blatant disregard for the rules. In fact, the whole premise of the film was that the three main characters were visiting Japan to learn more about some of the local shrines. And they were actually fairly respectful about it. 

That was probably the only thing I liked about the film, however. The story took some time getting off the ground and had some inconsistencies throughout. The characters were dense, poorly developed, and their relationships were hard to follow: the main character invited her childhood friend on a trip with her and her boyfriend, though the two men had never met prior, and the three shared several close quarters throughout their trip, at times joking around and other times clearly showing signs of trying to outdo the other. It's like Temple wanted there to be a heavy love triangle in the mix but instead it was just 78 minutes of awkward third wheeling followed by an abrupt ending that made little to almost no sense. 

Honestly, there's really nothing redeeming about this film except for little Seita, but if you're someone who is easily scared or startled, perhaps you'll get a thrill or two out of this film. 

02 October 2018

31 Days of Horror: Kairo

It's officially October, and that means it's the perfect month for horror films! (Every month is perfect for horror, but the month of Halloween is especially relevant.) I decided this year I would pay special attention to the season - and personalize my blog a bit more - by doing a 31 Days of Horror challenge, wherein I'll watch at least one horror film a night (as my schedule allows) and then review it the next day here on my blog. As with any reviews or blog posts I've done in the past, input is always welcome; so if there is a particular film you'd like me to check out, I'm all ears. Currently I'm just browsing the collections on Netflix, Hulu, AsianCrush, and Shudder and picking things that look interesting to me, but I welcome any and all suggestions!

October 1

回路 KAIRO (2001)

"A strange website claims to offer visitors the chance to connect with the dead." - Shudder

The first film I chose was Kurosawa Kiyoshi's 2001 film Kairo (Pulse), as I am a huge fan of the j-horror genre. I had originally planned to start with Miike Takashi's Audition, but Shudder no longer had it available, and Kairo had been on my watchlist for quite some time now, so I figured "why not?"

Kairo follows two storylines - flower shop friends and co-workers Kudo Michi, Sasano Junko, Toshio Yabe, and Taguchi - and students Ryosuke and Harue Karasawa as both groups deal with the "invasion" of ghosts into the human world via the Internet. As the Internet was still a relatively new technology at the time (as evidenced by one of the characters' lack of basic computer knowledge), the film is a sort of social commentary on the dangers of becoming too hooked and isolating oneself from the real world.

I love Japanese horror films because of their ability to get under your skin without the overuse of blood, gore, special effects, or jump scares. These films rely more on mood, setting, and the power of suggestion, and Kairo is no exception. The film is dark, cheap, and grainy at times; the effects are a little choppy, but they work really well for this film because of how sparingly they are used; again, most of the thrills are done so via the power of suggestion. Nothing jumps out at you, so to speak, but if you don't pay close attention, you'll miss some crucial spine-tingling moments. 

What really got under my skin, however, was the soundtrack. There's no set-up music indicating something is going to happen, no sudden cessation to keep you on the edge of your seat. The music comes and goes at weird, almost chaotic, intervals, and it's like an eerie lamentation throughout the film that meshes so well with the theme of death and eternal loneliness. At times you'll feel creeped out; others, a tinge of hopelessness.

It's not the scariest film I've ever seen, but there's something about it that makes it one of the more unforgettable ones. (Plus there's a sweet cameo appearance by my favorite Japanese actor, Yakusho Kōji!)

28 September 2018

'Lord of the Rings' Gets Rodent Remake

A recent short film by CGMeetup, simply titled 'Mice', pays homage to the Lord of the Rings films using subway mice who find a golden soda cap ring.

It's a cute film and well worth the watch. How many references to Peter Jackson's films can you spot?

05 September 2018

New Lord of the Rings MMO Coming Soon from Athlon Games

According to a recent press release from Leyou Technolgies Holdings Limited (best known as the parent company of Warframe's publisher), a new project is underway in Middle-earth:
Athlon Games is partnering with Middle-earth Enterprises, to develop and publish a free-to- play massively multiplayer online video game based on The Lord of the Rings , the landmark fantasy literary work of J.R.R. Tolkien. Set in the world of Middle-earthTM during the years leading to the events of The Lord of the Rings, the game will provide Middle-earth fans throughout the world with a new, immersive game experience for epic exploration of the Tolkien universe.
Apparently taking place before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, it will follow the standard free-to-play model, in which the game and most (if not all) of its features can be enjoyed for free but microtransactions can provide additional content and benefits. No release date or additional information has been given at this time, but it may be a welcome addition to the Middle-earth video game collection.

Fans can currently immerse themselves in virtual Middle-earth via Standing Stone Games' The Lord of the Rings Online, which debuted in 2007 and has successfully passed the 10-year mark. The game is free-to-play and can be downloaded at lotro.com.

15 April 2018

What We Know So Far About Amazon's Upcoming 'Lord of the Rings' Series

After plenty of rumours and speculation, it was finally announced back in November that Amazon had won the $250 million rights to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings novels and would be adapting the story into a five-season "prequel" series.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Amazon plans to spend $1 billion on the series (including casting, producers, and visual effects), which would make it the most expensive series in TV history.

There's no word yet on the content of the series, but given that it's been labelled a "prequel" to The Lord of the Rings and Amazon is working with The Tolkien Estate, they certainly have a lot of material to work with.

While The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Sir Peter Jackson played no part in the talks between Amazon and the Tolkien Estate, he is reportedly in talks about his involvement in this series.

Other Lord of the Rings alum, however, are not as enthusiastic.

John Rhys-Davies, who played Gimli in The Lord of the Rings films, suggested this was more about money than anything.

"Why we quite need Lord of the Rings as a TV series baffles me slightly," he said. "I mean, poor Tolkien must be spinning in his grave."

Andy Serkis has already said he would pass if approached to reprise his role as Gollum, instead suggesting that a "fresh approach" would be more worthwhile.

"I don’t think they will, and nor should they, because I really do think that it’s a wonderful opportunity to tell Tolkien’s incredible story through a long form. If I was putting myself in their shoes, I’d be wanting to create something completely fresh and see the world in a completely different way."

One actor who isn't quite ready to hand over his role to someone else, however, is Sir Ian McKellen. When asked about the upcoming series on The Graham Norton Show, McKellen made his feelings quite clear:

"I haven't said yes because I haven't been asked," the actor continued. "But are you suggesting that someone else is going to play it? "Gandalf is over 7000 years old, so I'm not too old [yet]."

While there's no scheduled release date yet, part of Amazon's deal requires them to begin production within two years, so it'll be on the way soon!

What do you think of this new series? 
Let me know in the comments below or Tweet me at @TolkienBritta!

14 April 2018

Previously Unseen Tolkien Illustrations to Go on Display This Summer

The Tolkien Trust 2018; Smithsonian.com
A new Tolkien exhibit at Oxford's Bodleian Library will open this summer and feature a variety of manuscripts, letters, maps, and artwork by the author, including three previously unseen works (including Linquë Súrissë (1960s), which from the Elvish language Quenya translates to "grass in the wind").

The library will also release a catalog of more than 300 Tolkien materials which will become available in the US in July.

"The vivid abstract paintings entitled There and Here show Tolkien as a young student at Oxford finding his own artistic voice,” says Catherine McIlwaine, the Bodleian Libraries’ Tolkien archivist and the curator of the exhibition, in a statement. “They indicate that he was beginning to draw, not just what he could see, but what he could imagine.” [From The Art Newspaper]

"Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth" will run from 1 June to 28 October.

'The Hobbit' Translated into Galician, Hawaiian

Tolkien's classic The Hobbit has been translated into two new versions:

TolkienGuide.com has shared on their webpage that Sushi Books has published a deluxe edition of The Hobbit (O Hobbit) in the minority language of Galician. Check out their post for more information and some neat photos!

Additionally, Keao NeSmith has translated it into Hawaiian (Ka Hopita) in an attempt to repopularize the language. You can buy it on Amazon or read more about it on Aljazeera America.

11 April 2018

'A Middle-earth Traveller' Coming October 2018

Another new Middle-earth publication is coming out this year! A Middle-earth Traveller: Sketches from Bag End to Mordor will be released on 4 October 2018 by HarperCollins and will feature the artwork of John Howe - who, like Alan Lee, also provided conceptual designs for The Lord of the Rings films. 

The book is available for pre-order on Amazon UK.

From the publisher:
Let acclaimed Tolkien artist John Howe take you on an unforgettable journey across Middle-earth, from Bag End to Mordor, in this richly illustrated sketchbook fully of previously unseen artwork, anecdotes and meditations on Middle-earth.

Middle-earth has been mapped, Bilbo’s and Frodo’s journeys plotted and measured, but Middle-earth remains a wilderland for all that. The roads as yet untraveled far outnumber those down which Tolkien had time to wander.

A Middle-Earth Traveller presents a walking tour of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, visiting not only places central to his stories, but also those just over the hill or beyond the horizon. Events from Tolkien’s books are explored – battles of the different ages that are almost part of legend by the time of The Lord of the Rings; lost kingdoms and ancient myths, as well as those places only hinted at: kingdoms of the far North and lands beyond the seas.

Sketches that have an ‘on-the-spot’ feel to them are interwoven with the artist’s observations gleaned from Tolkien’s books and recollections of his time spent in Middle-earth while working alongside Peter Jackson on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film trilogies. Combining concept work produced for films, existing Middle-earth art and many new paintings and sketches exclusive to this book, A Middle-earth Traveller will take the reader on a unique and unforgettable journey across Tolkien’s magical landscape.

10 April 2018

'The Fall of Gondolin' to be Published This August

What initially began making the rounds on social media as a suspected April Fool's prank earlier this month has now been confirmed as an official release by HarperCollins: once again edited by Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee, The Fall of Gondolin will be published on 30 August 2018 and follow in the same format as the previously released Beren and Luthien.

The book will run about 304 pages and will be available in hardcover, deluxe hardcover, large print, and e-book. In the US it will be published under Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In addition to the book's release, the official Tolkien Calendar will be published on the same day and feature paintings from the book. There will also be a series events featuring Alan Lee, similar to last year's events following Beren and Luthien.

From the publisher:
In the Tale of The Fall of Gondolin are two of the greatest powers in the world. There is Morgoth of the uttermost evil, unseen in this story but ruling over a vast military power from his fortress of Angband. Deeply opposed to Morgoth is Ulmo, second in might only to Manwë, chief of the Valar: he is called the Lord of Waters, of all seas, lakes, and rivers under the sky. But he works in secret in Middle-earth to support the Noldor, the kindred of the Elves among whom were numbered Húrin and Túrin Turambar.

Central to this enmity of the gods is the city of Gondolin, beautiful but undiscoverable. It was built and peopled by Noldorin Elves who, when they dwelt in Valinor, the land of the gods, rebelled against their rule and fled to Middle-earth. Turgon King of Gondolin is hated and feared above all his enemies by Morgoth, who seeks in vain to discover the marvellously hidden city, while the gods in Valinor in heated debate largely refuse to intervene in support of Ulmo’s desires and designs.

Into this world comes Tuor, cousin of Túrin, the instrument of Ulmo’s designs. Guided unseen by him Tuor sets out from the land of his birth on the fearful journey to Gondolin, and in one of the most arresting moments in the history of Middle-earth the sea-god himself appears to him, rising out of the ocean in the midst of a storm. In Gondolin he becomes great; he is wedded to Idril, Turgon’s daughter, and their son is Eärendel, whose birth and profound importance in days to come is foreseen by Ulmo.

At last comes the terrible ending. Morgoth learns through an act of supreme treachery all that he needs to mount a devastating attack on the city, with Balrogs and dragons and numberless Orcs. After a minutely observed account of the fall of Gondolin, the tale ends with the escape of Tuor and Idril, with the child Eärendel, looking back from a cleft in the mountains as they flee southward, at the blazing wreckage of their city. They were journeying into a new story, the Tale of Eärendel, which Tolkien never wrote, but which is sketched out in this book from other sources.

Following his presentation of Beren and Lúthien Christopher Tolkien has used the same ‘history in sequence’ mode in the writing of this edition of The Fall of Gondolin. In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, it was ‘the first real story of this imaginary world’ and, together with Beren and Lúthien and The Children of Húrin, he regarded it as one of the three ‘Great Tales’ of the Elder Days.

09 April 2018

Forge Your Own Ring with Jens Hansen's English to Elvish Translator & Name Generator

If you've been following me on any form of social media, you'll know how fond I am of Tolkien-inspired jewellery. One of the most well-known crafters of Middle-earth jools is Jens Hansen, the creators of the official One Ring of power used in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films.

In addition to The World's Most Famous Ring, they also offer a variety of stunning Elvish wedding and engagement rings, which I've been browsing for a few months now as I'll probably be in the market for one soon!

The folks at Jens Hansen will also help you forge your own ring with custom engraving using their nifty English to Elvish Engraving Translator & Elvish Name Generator!

Simply visit their Elvish translator page at https://www.jenshansen.com/collections/forge-your-ring, where you'll find a space to input your own text to translate into Elvish, as well as links to other Elvish resources. You can also sign up to receive a free "Elvish 101 in 5 Minutes" how-to guide via e-mail; this includes the basic alphabet and how to write several example names. 

Even if you're not in the market for a ring right now, the translator is a fun way to see what your name or favourite word or phrase would look like in Elvish.

For more information, or to see more products from Jens Hansen, visit their website at JensHansen.com, 'Like' them on Facebook, and follow them on Instagram and Twitter

13 March 2018

Eowyn Shieldmaiden Medallion from Badali Jewelry

Badali Jewelry's newest Tolkien-themed piece, Eowyn's Shieldmaiden Medallion, debuted back in December and I immediately gifted it to myself. I took a brief social media hiatus after the holidays but have returned with a quick review of what is easily my favorite Badali piece (I know I say that every time, but it just proves how much their craftsmanship improves with each new design).

This pendant is the shield carried by Eowyn, featuring two horses of Rohan (one of my favourite motifs) with her famous words to the Witch-king, "No living Man am I, You look upon a Woman" on the backside (again, I just love that their items are inspired by the books and not the films!). It is also treated with an antique finish.

As you can see, it's a good-sized medallion; however, it is not unbearably large, nor is it too heavy. I generally shy away from large pieces but I absolutely love this one. I wear a lot of solid colour tunic-style shirts and dresses, and this medallion goes perfectly with them! It's an engaging focal point of any outfit and a great conversation starter. Most people instantly recognise it for what it is.

The medallion normally sells for $39.00, but is currently on sale for $31.00. 
Get yours now at BadaliJewelry.com