Saturday, December 20, 2014

The End to All Things ... is a Beginning

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield
in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"

Anticipation and dread.

That pretty much sums up what I have been all about this year. And in the back of my mind was the looming finale to "The Hobbit," this one titled "The Battle of the Five Armies."

Given my year (if you look back, my last post was 11 months ago) and its one medical crisis after another, I would look with dread to year's end and the premiere of the last Tolkien movies by Peter Jackson. Why? A very simple thing, really: The movies and all of the hoopla around them have been a ray of light in these past couple of years, which have been rather difficult for me on just about every level you can imagine.

Strangely enough, though, I began to look forward to the final movie. So when I found myself at the theater Friday afternoon, I was strangely calm. And armed with more than a dozen tissues.

As a veteran of viewing Jackson's five previous Tolkien movies, I thought I was ready for BOTFA.


Maybe it's the year I have had, maybe it's my admiration of the actor who plays Thorin, and maybe it is just life, but I was not expecting what I saw.

Despite the implied scale of a battle with five armies, it could not have been more personal with most of the characters. There is an intimacy in this movie that shook me, which made it all the more powerful.

The simple truth is that any battle is fought at the personal level. It is that one individual against whatever comes at them, be it orc or human. That eagle's-eye view, while epic, can show scale but completely misses that each of the dots on the landscape represent a being — good or bad — who is experiencing it on a strictly personal level.

Tolkien gave us that with his Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, small of stature but big of heart. And Jackson gives it to us in the faces of his actors and their crystal-clear emotions full of pain, horror and loss. But there was also love, a great deal of it.

I wept silently for the last hour, at least. In my heart, it was a combination of this amazing journey I have been on, courtesy of this movie and the people surrounding it, both fans and the cast and crew. I have a network of dear souls who support me from afar, giving me little bursts of light in some very dark days. Every once in a while, a dwarf will answer a tweet, which is dreadfully sweet. But it is the daily tweets of smiles and sillies and hugs that keep me going, even through horrific moments.

Especially through horrific moments.

Endings are beginnings, though. And that is more of what I have been feeling. I plan to see the movie again, as many times as I can manage on the silver screen. But I am ready to move ahead.

I will hold close, however, all those who will allow it once the hoopla is over. These past two years have changed me, and I can only hope for the better. I will always try to be supportive of the dear souls around the world who have connected with me, all because of my admiration of that certain actor, Richard Armitage, and my love of Peter Jackson's work with Tolkien's stories.

Oddly enough, late on Friday night (early Saturday morning, if we are splitting hairs) a strange thing happened: I had been searching for a song to inspire me and it came with another ending, that of Craig Ferguson finishing his stint on "The Late, Late Show."

I have a great affection for Craig, who is a genius entertainer, a combination of silly and smart that never failed to make me smile. His was the lone show I tuned in to during my mother's hospitalization and near death. It was purely to escape reality, even if for just 10 minutes.

Craig's choice of song to end his run points to all the reasons I liked him from the moment he tried out as guest host: It was honest and powerful.

Here you go, by Dead Man Fall, it's "Bang Your Drum."

And the lyrics:

I've been thinking
about the things that
are stuck inside my head
and I can't get them out 

and I 've been waking
at four in the morning
I don't know why
I can't get back to sleep again tonight 

Keep banging on
Banging on your drum
Keep banging on
And your day will come
Keep banging on
Banging on your drum
and they will hear ya

I am wishing
that I was making
a list of all of the good things
that I've ever done with my life 

and everybody
says I have wasted
wasted every chance
I ever had to be somebody 

Keep banging on
Banging on your drum
Keep banging on
And your day will come
Keep banging on
Banging on your drum
and they will hear ya

No one lives forever
There's business here I've got to finish
You won't make your mind up
You won't make your mind up for me

No one lives forever
There's business here you've got to finish
You won't make your mind up
You won't make your mind up for me 

Hang out of  your window
Shout it down to the people below
Everyone will hear you
They are going to hear you 

Keep banging on
Banging on your drum
Keep banging on
And your day will come
Keep banging on
Banging on your drum
and they will hear ya

Woooh oh oh wooh oh
Woooh oh wooh oh oh
Woooh oh oh wooh oh
Woooh oh wooh oh oh 

Keep banging on
Banging on your drum
Keep banging on
And your day will come
Keep banging on
Banging on your drum
and they will hear ya

Keep banging on
Banging on your drum
Keep banging on
And your day will come
Keep banging on
Banging on your drum
and they will hear you


Sunday, January 19, 2014

I Saw Something Fine - Or the Man Called Portah

Richard Armitage can portray vulnerability in a character like few actors I have seen. It's not over the top nor forced nor waving a flag saying, "Watch me now while I show you how vulnerable I am."

This seems to be my theme for #RAflash week (see here and here), how Richard imbues his roles with vulnerability, creating an empathetic character whether you want to like him or not. And there are a number of characters you really don't want to like. At all.

Which brings me to Portah.

Of all the roles, that of John Porter (yeah, I know, the spelling, I'll get to that at the end) in "Strike Back" was the one that I delayed watching.

Porter comforting Katie
My reasons were many, but in the end it boiled down to a very simple one: Porter scared me.

That probably makes no sense to anyone except me, especially if you've seen the series. It likely started with my quest to watch Richard's work in chronological order if I could. Unlike many folks, I needed to not watch everything in a few weeks. He didn't do the work in a few weeks, so I felt it was important to spread the shows out over time. (Plus, he has only a finite amount of work and I didn't want to be without "new" work in just a few weeks.)

I'd been blindsided by Thornton in "North and South," which was the first time I recognized Richard Armitage. I'd moved on to Guy in "Robin Hood" and peppered in other roles, such as Harry in "The Vicar of Dibley," as I watched that series. The debut of "The Hobbit" and Thorin was its own thing, and I followed that spell by watching Lucas in "Spooks" (MI5 here in the States, for some ridiculous reason).

And still I waited.


I was pretty sure Porter would kill me.


Because by all accounts - and I had read a few - this was THE hero role.

It was what I yearned for Richard to play. And having watched most everything he had done on the run-up to this role, I knew it would be a tour de force.

He was.

Porter talking to his daughter after hearing tragic news
From the very first minutes, it was apparent that this was no rampaging soldier role. It brought home the humanity - and inhumanity - of what being a soldier is like.

But it also showed how one decision can change everything, be it a war zone or not.

I was mesmerized by Richard in this portrayal, a man of conviction, a man willing to own his decisions (debatable whether they were mistakes), a man of honor and loyalty no matter the cost to himself.

And this: A man who allows himself to be vulnerable, which only strengthens him as a man.

The moment when Porter is his most heroic, at least to me

Porter will always be the unsung hero, my hero, the good man you want in your life, the one who's got your back, the one who will rescue you, the one who will shore you up when you think you can't go on, the one who will put himself in harm's way to protect you, the one who will hold you when you are frightened, the one who will love you.

It makes you yearn for such a man.

And that's what scared me. 
 *About Portah: Early on, when I heard the name pronounced thusly, I had to chuckle because the Maine accent tends to turn words with an "er" or "ar" to sound like "ah." The long-running joke in New England is the following sentence: "I parked the car in Harvard yard" to "I pahked the cah in Hahvahd yahd." So it will always be Portah for me.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The World Would Be a Better Place Filled with 'Wisdom of the Shire'

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold,
it would be a merrier world.

- Thorin Oakenshield, "The Hobbit"

It is fair to say that J.R.R. Tolkien knew what was important.

While the above quote from "The Hobbit" wraps it into a succinct package, the book itself is a testament to all the things that are important in a life. And Tolkien doesn't whack you in the head with it or cram it down your throat. No, he simply tells a story and lets the reader decide.

I am enamored of "The Hobbit" for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the greatest is that I am much like a Hobbit in many ways: I love my garden, my books, my shire of Maine. Need I go on? To be honest, I think I might be a lot like Bilbo, ready for an adventure, although I do believe I have dealt with enough orcs to last a lifetime without venturing too far from home.

So let me tell you a little tale ...

I follow a number of Hobbity types on Twitter. It can make for a cozy gathering, out there in the cold land of the Internet.

At the end of November, as the world awaited the premiere of the second round of "The Hobbit" movie trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, I saw a tweet from Pieter Collier,  aka @TolkienLibrary, announcing "The Wisdom of the Shire" contest.

I entered.

And promptly forgot about it.

The day before the movie debuted in North America, I got an email saying I had won. Yet there it sat, like an occupied Erebor, waiting. Waiting.

For 17 days it waited. The movie opened. Christmas came and went. A series of storms swept through my region, inundating us with snow and ice for days on end. I had more than enough to do than scan every email in my account. So when I finally sat down to clean out my inbox, that was when I saw it.

I had won a copy of "The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life" by Noble Smith.

"The Wisdom of the Shire"
along with their inspiration,
"The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings"
 A welcome flurry of emails ensued, first with Pieter and then with Noble (you can find him on Twitter @ShireWisdom) and before I knew it, the book was in the mail, winging its way on eagles.

U.S. Postal Service eagles, get it?

It arrived late last week, kindly signed by Noble himself (yes, I asked about his name, and yes, he answered me, and no, you must ask him yourself to gift you with such knowledge).

The kind inscription

I skimmed through it immediately, seeing lovely little footnotes that are a bit more noticeably placed, much like Hobbit feet are a tad more obvious. I even spotted a recipe I plan to try in the not-too-distant future.

Then I set it aside until I had a quiet moment before starting to read it in earnest yesterday.

I am not going to run through it. Oh, no, not this. My leather Hobbit bookmark from Weta is going to gradually advance through the pages, letting me savor the words, the ideas, the observations.

I can say that I love it, though. Noble is a conversationalist, writing with grace and honesty. I knew I wanted to have a chat with him as soon as I read this:

"You can create a snug 'Hobbit-hole' wherever you are .... Because the space which you inhabit is irrelevant compared to the power of your mind to project contentment. For me that contentment has always meant having a good book at hand, so that no matter where I was stuck physically, my mind was free to soar."

Yes, I think I know you, Mr. Noble Smith, fellow Hobbit. For now, I will settle for reading your book. But someday, I do want that chat.

I Saw Something Fine - Or What Is It About This Guy?


In polite society, it just isn't done. I certainly was raised to control my emotions, although I suspect I had more of an inclination to not show specific feelings because that would reveal vulnerabilities people could use against me. So you just bottle it up and pull on the mask.

Then there is impotent rage.

Ah, that one.

That is why Guy speaks to me.

To the uninitiated, Guy would be Guy of Gisborne from the tales of Robin Hood, but not just any Guy. No, this would be the one played by Richard Armitage in the BBC reboot of the classic tale in 2006. In theory, the show was meant to appeal to the youngsters, but it ended up with a following well outside that range.

That said, I discovered Guy after I saw "North and South." I was on the prowl for more work by Richard Armitage and decided I would watch his bigger projects in chronological order. In other words, I wanted to watch him grow as an actor.

That meant Guy.

To be completely honest, at the end of the first disc of the first season, I sat there and said to myself: "Can you manage three whole seasons of this?"

The answer was yes, but only because of one reason: Richard Armitage.

In a few short minutes of screen time (sadly, it was "Robin Hood" not "Misunderstood Guy"), he managed to convey a character you didn't want to like but did. This character was caught in a web, surrounded by people who did nothing but lie to him, mistreat him and use him.

Oh, well, that hit a nerve.

No one cared for Guy. He was manipulated in every relationship. Some of it he was aware of and tried to use to his own advantage (always failing), but some of the manipulation was hidden from him, although the viewer was well aware of it (hence the hate on Marian).

He was supposed to be a ruthless character - a machine, if you will, and Richard himself said he wanted Guy to be a like a robot - but there were cracks in the armor.

I have spent way too much a lot of time thinking about why Guy appeals to me the way he does.Yes, there is all that black leather and handsome man (along with Guy hair, Guyliner, Guy stubble and a very impressive eyebrow maneuver). But I found myself again drawn to watching Richard's face as he portrayed this character. He shows more relatable emotion in a second on screen than some actors do in an hour. Or a lifetime.

Sometimes it is as subtle as the merest flicker of an eyelid. Sometimes it is as obvious as a sniff, a smirk or a sneer - or all three in tandem.

Guy became my inner smirk. Feeling used? Guy smirk. Feeling helpless? Guy smirk. Feeling like you are losing everything you ever worked for? Guy sigh. Then smirk.

Season 1 Guy, not surprised at another insult,
this one on the day he thinks he is about to marry

The other magnificent thing about Guy is that Richard somehow changed this character for each of the three seasons. The first season is a slow build, but by the last few episodes, I was completely in Guy's corner as those cracks in his armor were ripped open to reveal a vulnerable being. (I've said it before: Richard plays vulnerable, oh, so well.)

Season 2 Guy risks his heart, then his life, for the one he loves

Season 2 Guy was a seething mass of rage after a massive betrayal. And yet that was turned around into Guy recognizing he loved someone more than himself and was willing to sacrifice his life for her.

We won't even discuss the finale of Season 2 because I don't think Guy would have done what the writers had him do.

Season 3 Guy was something fine.
And charmingly wonky for a few episodes.

However, it brought yet another version of Guy into being. And Season 3 Guy was a tour de force. He is wonky Guy, scheming Guy, defeated Guy, and ultimately, he is redeemed Guy.

I told you, I saw something fine.

And if you don't believe me, watch what is my favorite Guy fan video. The song is perfect for Guy and should illustrate my points beautifully. Smirk.

Or should I say Smirkitage? Yeah, that.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

RA Flash Fan Event - I Saw Something Fine

It is hard not to admire a person who radiates kindness, humility and good humor.

Which makes it easy to understand my admiration for Richard Armitage.

It certainly isn't a surprise how easy it is to get some fans in a frenzy (or make well-wishers go wonky) to talk about some of the reasons why they like this actor so much.

All this week is an impromptu RA Flash Fan Event, from which you can see the roundup of posts here.

And thanks to Morrighan's Muse for the badge (a term I am still coming to terms with, given that I think of it as a logo).

You can read my first offering for this week here.

Yes, that may very well mean I have a second one in the pipeline.

Wonky. Is all I have to say.

Monday, January 13, 2014

I Saw Something Fine - Or the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Richard Armitage | Leslie Hassler Photo
Given the hour (4:41 a.m.), the fact I haven't had any sleep yet, the crazy freezing rain that coated everything in sight all day AND that cabin fever has set in and we aren't even a month into winter, it may not be the best idea to write my ode to Richard Armitage.

But since I have given my disclaimer, let's do it anyway.

I wrote a ginormous thing about the man last year. It was posted over on Frenz's site for several reasons, none of which I can actually remember. (Note the disclaimer in paragraph one.) It was also so wordy that it took two posts for me to get to the point. If you want to jump in with both feet, the first post can be found here.

I sensed impending doom fun last week when I saw that Frenz wanted to spontaneously combust  begin FanstRAvaganza 2014 right now and willingly held my virtual hand up and said "Count me in."

Then she posted we needed to do a thing about that thing you-know-who does so well. See the title of the post.

Now chew on that.

I have been.

And in these wee hours, after about 90 minutes of playing oddball music on my computer and then tweeting YouTube links on my Twitter, I have realized a few things.
RA, not me, as Ricky Deeming
  1. You can never have too much Cheap Trick and "I Want You to Want Me." Go right ahead and judge me on that.
  2. Billy Idol was pretty tame compared to some of the nuts you see today.
  3. The internet totally spies on you and tempts you with things that you really want. Like putting up an ad for a trip to New Zealand when I am trying to concentrate on Billy Idol's snarl.
  4. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club totally gets me. I am rebel, hear me roar. Just not on a motorcycle. (Hey, I am not Ricky Deeming, thankyouverymuch.)
  5. All I could think of was Smaug when I started playing "Burning Down the House."
  6. I never get tired of watching Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love." Turn. It. Up.
  7. I would rather listen to "Simply Irresistible" than watch the video. That said, replay, replay, replay.
  8. “Sharp-Dressed Man.” Must I elaborate?
  9. “Lust for Life” has the best 70-second opening of a song ever. I am not sure any other song has a 70-second opening, but be that as it may, I still love it. The lyrics, however, are completely out of left field. “Hypnotizing chickens” ... just ... blows ... my ... mind.
  10. Bobby Darin makes me think of Richard Armitage.

I’ll get to that in a moment. But first a bit of back story, if you will. (And you will because we all know who loves the back story.)

I was, once again, pulled into the Armitage Vortex (which is simply the inferno version of the polar one) with the run-up to the release of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.” I was overwhelmed with all of the junketing and surely missed a good portion of junkety stuff. I was thrilled so many Twitter peeps got to see Richard in person this year. I even got a book sent to me that he signed after an event in London.

This fine thing happened during the junketing junk
and made me very happy. For reasons ...
 I managed to make it to the movie on opening day and sobbed when Thorin stepped inside Erebor. Because Richard is a fine actor who knows the greatest emotional punch is the quiet, nearly whispered punch, with the crack in one’s voice revealing one’s greatest vulnerability. *

Mr. Fine with his jaunty hat | Leslie Hassler Photo
Which brings me back to Bobby Darin. It has taken me an hour to ponder and write this, so it is now 5:39 a.m. and my disclaimer still applies. (Said disclaimer is still in paragraph one; stay with me here.)

I got stuck about two hours ago on “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” And Richard.

All I have to say is that at this moment, it shows my vulnerability, no matter how fine the man is.

At least it is rather insouciant. Take that, Mr. Fine, even as you jauntily tip your hat at me.

Here’s the video with the lyrics below.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
(The Bobby Darin version)

I don't want you
But I’d hate to lose you
You got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea

I forgive you
'Cause I can't forget you
You got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea

I oughta cross you off my list
But when you come a-knocking at my door
Fate seems to give my heart a twist
And I come running back for more

I should hate you
But I guess I love you
You got me in between
The devil and the deep blue sea

I oughta cross you off my list
But every time you come back knocking at my door
Fate seems to give my heart a twist
And I come crawling back for more

Oh, I still should hate you
But I guess I gotta love you
You've got me sorta hung up between
The devil and the deep blue sea
Devil and the deep blue sea
Devil and the deep blue sea ...


*Did you notice that this is my answer to "I Saw Something Fine"? The powerhouse that is Richard Armitage, the actor, is a privilege to watch, whether he reins in his emotions or unleashes a fury that will leave you breathless. And wanting more. The devil...

RA as Thorin Oakenshield
in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
moments before the heir enters the door
into the land of his birth

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Book That Flew Right Past Me

A hint
I was floating home on a wind chill of -32 degrees Fahrenheit after a second viewing of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," thinking of fire and heat and dwarves (not necessarily in that order).

As I blew into my bedroom where it was at least 90 degrees warmer than the wind chill outside, there on the quilt lay a package.

With this on the corner.

My cold hands fought with the tape, but I managed to wrest it open to find this.

I particularly appreciated the luster of gold on the paper, my eyes falling on the 5 GOLD RINGS! first.

Next were the ladies dancing, but I prefer to interpret that as just one. JUST ONE. (Imagine interpretive dance of one lady. OK, maybe not, unless you want to count my racing around the backyard with the dog in the -32 degree wind chill as an interpretive dance.)

I carefully popped open the taped ends and what should emerge but the latest traveling book, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Visual Companion" by Jude Fisher.

Oh, the places it has gone. Its journey started in London at Waterstones Piccadilly where dear Pamela attended the book signing on Dec. 6 with the author and actors Luke Evans (Bard) and Richard Armitage (Thorin).

I admit, I asked earlier in the week if she might consider getting a book signed. But she demurred, saying getting autographs wasn't her thing. I said no problem. Although I might have asked if she'd tweet a picture of the panel. Just because.

On the 6th, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a tweet to me, with a picture attached, that she had gotten me a surprise. (Read about the big day here.)

I was out walking the dog and nearly fell down in the snow.

And then Pamela went home to New Zealand. I had no idea where the book was since she mentioned maybe having a friend post it from London. I had suggested asking the plane to make a slight detour to Maine and drop it out the door on its way to deliver Pamela back to the land of pohutukawa trees.

It was more than a week later before Pamela let me know she was braving the holiday crowd at the post office to post the book to me.

Yes, this book was on its way back again. As it turns out, it has likely circumnavigated the globe. Pamela returned to NZ via Dubai and Melbourne before she and the book landed on the North Island of New Zealand. After a few days, the book likely left the Southern Hemisphere to fly up the Pacific, crossing the equator before traversing North America on its two-week return journey to me, in the wilds of Maine.

As I opened the cover of the book, I have to admit to feeling a wee thrill chase through me. Pretty sure it wasn't a chill.

And there, with the author's signature (what a dream job for a writer to put together A HOBBIT BOOK), were the signatures of two men I had watched minutes ago on the silver screen.

I was blown away by Bard, played by Luke Evans who brings an intensity and urgency (along with a lush accent) that fuels the second installment of "The Hobbit."

Then there was Richard Armitage. I was struck anew by his ability to play subtle to its utmost. His moment of walking inside Erebor, his voice cracking as he sees his home after decades of exile, brought me to tears yet again.

Thousands of miles later, here I stood, book in hand, their signatures before me.

What an incredibly sweet remembrance.

Thank you, Pamela, dear friend.

Luke Evans, Jude Fisher and Richard Armitage
at Waterstones Piccadilly on Dec. 6, 2013.