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The Trumplandia Review


I have a pretty good idea whose woods these are, believe me.
And let me tell you something, my people say he’s a complete nobody.
This guy lives in the village.   So what if he sees me stopping here?
I dare him to sue me!   I dare him!

And by the way, this snow is pathetic.
These are by far, the least downy flakes ever!

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RHODES TOWN — Mark Lewandowski

Masque & Spectacle

Mark Lewandowski Greece 091I found myself wandering Rhodes Old Town not too long ago, and even though it was my fourth time there in the past week, I was satisfyingly lost within ten minutes. Twilight oozed over the city walls, and the narrow, cobbled lanes, many dark even at high noon, were getting creepy. In the past five minutes I had seen more stray cats than people, and back where I was, far from the tourist magnet of the Street of the Knights, there weren’t many shops or cafes, and virtually all the ones I did see were closed for the season. Even the tiny churches dotting this part of town were shuttered.

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The Hobbit, of The Abomination of the Five Armies

The Hobbit: The Abomination of the Five Armies

The opening sequence of the third installment of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit is absolutely stunning, and left me wondering if all those critics were wrong after all. Could The Battle of Five Armies make up for the missteps in The Desolation of Smaug? Sure seemed that way. This film starts where the last ended.   The dragon Smaug is about to raze Laketown after the dwarves’ ridiculous attempt to kill him with molten gold back in the Lonely Mountain. Bard is in a jail reminiscent of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. The Master seeks to rescue his fortune while his subjects swim for their lives. Smaug’s attack is truly awe-inspiring, as is Bard’s slaying of him. The sequence is every bit as impressive as the opening of The Two Towers, when we see Gandalf battle the Balrog in the Mines of Moria.

How does Jackson follow it up? With an imbecilic scene between Tauriel the elf and Kili the dwarf expressing love for one another. While I had no real problem with Tauriel in theory, the love story between her and Kili is incomprehensible, and ultimately, as I pointed out in my review of The Desolation of Smaug, misogynistic. Do the writers of The Hobbit—which includes two women—really think females can only be motivated by love for a man (or in this case, dwarf)? It would seem that way. Jackson could have used her in a far more interesting and dramatic way. Instead, as my wife Katie pointed out, he fills her mouth with dialogue that sounds like it was written by an 11 year old.

The narrative shifts then to Gandalf, who is held prisoner in Dol Gulder by the Necromancer. Galadriel, Saruman and Elrond come to his rescue. This sequence is every bit as good as the razing of Laketown. Elrond and Saruman battle the nine ringwraiths, and ultimately Galadriel crushes Sauron and sends his spirit into the East. Stupendous.

Things go downhill from there. Bilbo doesn’t do a whole lot. Thorin slowly goes mad, and then quickly pulls himself out of it for no apparent reason, just in time for him and his army of twelve whole dwarves to turn the tide of the Battle of the Five Armies. Those expecting something on the scale of the Battle of Pelennor Fields will be sorely disappointed. It’s not particular dramatic or interesting. I, like many other hard-core Tolkien fans, couldn’t wait to see Beorn the Skin-changer kick butt. You will see him fight for approximately two seconds. Radagast shows up on a giant eagle, but doesn’t fight. Instead, Jackson decides we’d rather see Tauriel cry to her king about the death of Kili. I know we’re supposed to get all emotional here, but giving the implausibility of the relationship, we are more likely to vomit than cry.

Jackson takes part of the battle to the ruined city of Dale, perhaps to remind us of the storming of Minas Tirith in The Return of the King. This gives Bard the chance to rescue his kids in an eye-rolling maneuver involving a wagon rolling down a hill like a roller coaster car. Bilbo ends up in the city somehow, giving him the chance to wander from parapet to parapet for no apparent reason. Thorin dies in a duel with Azog, the one armed mega-orc who’s been hunting him since film one. The scene reminded me of the last battle between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan in that last crappy Star Wars film, except instead of fighting on lava, Jackson has his dudes fight on ice. Meanwhile, Legolas defies gravity in one duel after another, even at one point taking a flight by holding onto the claws of a bat.

Ultimately, I don’t think Peter Jackson had any interest in adapting The Hobbit. He really wanted to make another version of The Lord of the Rings. Many of the speeches sound like paraphrased speeches from LOTR. Unfortunately, for the nearly 1 billion dollars Jackson spent making The Hobbit, we’re getting only a pale imitation of his earlier masterpiece.

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Dear Doctor Who: Please Kill Clara

Dear Doctor Who: Please Kill Clara

It’s not about you, Peter Calpadi.  You’re an awesome Doctor.  You’re funny like Tom Baker and cranky like William Hartnell.  Of all the new series Doctors, you’re my fav, even surpassing David Tenant.

That said, your choice of companions suck. Clara started off well as your predecessor’s “Impossible Girl.”  As soon as she became Earthbound and started teaching at that school, things fell apart.  There’s one thing your writer and director, Steven Moffat, simply doesn’t get:  You are the most interesting character on the show.  Period.  Companions come and go.  You are the mainstay.  You are the reason I watch.  In last year’s anniversary show, you found out that your home planet Gallefrey was not destroyed.  Cool, I thought.  Next season’s story arc will deal with the Doctor trying to find his home planet!  That will be awesome.

But no.

Earlier this season, Clara travels back in time to see you asleep as a child.  Awesome!  The Doctor as a kid!  The Doctor going to school!  The Doctor had parents!

But no.

What does StevenwanktardMoffat do instead?  He gives Clara a boyfriend.  Because that’s what all young women need, apparently.  Instead of just focusing on her saving you, and helping you save the universe, Moffat had to throw in a dude.  Now their troubled relationship is too often the focal point of the show.  This reminds me of the once great “Homeland.”  Remember how fantastic that show once was?  Then, for no discernable reason, the writers decided to focus on Brody’s daughter’s love life.  That was in season two.  As it turns out, the boyfriend accidently killed someone.  And then in season three, the writers decided to create yet another arc about the daughter’s love life.  Lo and behold, they give her another guy that accidently killed someone…


Actually, you don’t really have to kill Clara.  Kill Danny, that simpering, whining loser of a boyfriend.  You’re right to be worried about him not being good enough for Clara. How does this ass-clown greet her after she returns from one of her adventures saving the universe and such?  “You lied to me.  Waaaaaaaa!”  And does he have any interest in exploring all time and space with you?  No.  He doesn’t even understand why Clara would want to, instead of just staying with him to teach at some crappy school.  You offer her life, the universe and everything.  Danny offers her only highly conditional love.

Reminds me of a bit from one of America’s greatest philosophers, Sam Kinison.  He once pondered the likelihood of Jesus being married.  No way, he concluded.  No wife would ever buy the Resurrection story.  Just think about it.  Jesus leaves with twelve other guys on a Thursday and doesn’t come back for three days.  During that time Jesus gets tortured and crucified.  After that, he fights the Angel of Death and goes down to hell to free a bunch of tortured souls.  Meanwhile, Mrs.  Jesus is pacing the floor and continually checking her watch, saying, “I’ve had about enough of this shit.”  Finally, Jesus comes back looking not quite himself.  Mrs. Jesus is like, “And where have you been, Mr. Savior?”

There’s a reason why the writers of the New Testament edited out Mrs. Jesus.  She was a nag and would’ve turned Jesus into a pussywimp.

Is that what you want Clara to become?  Kill Danny.  Okay, you don’t like to kill people.  But you’re the Doctor.  You can arrange it.


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50 Essays Guaranteed to Make You a Better Person

A good CNF primer.

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If I Picked the Oscars, 2014

If I Picked the Oscars, 2014

Best Picture: Twelve Years a Slave

Supposedly, Slave is running neck and neck with Gravity and American Hustle.  Really?  Does anyone really think Gravity will be remembered five years down the road?  I enjoyed it, but mainly for the visuals.  The story is mundane and riddled with inconsistencies.  Like Avatar, it’s not going to do well in the home market.  Despite the great directing, the film will fade into oblivion.  And American Hustle?  Admittedly, the performances were grand, but the first third of the film is voice-over exposition.  The direction was amateurish and lazy.  If Slave doesn’t take it, I pull for Philomena.

Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity

The direction is top-notch, but how I’d love to see Alexander Payne win for Nebraska.

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

I saw the film in Denver with my brothers and sister-in-law Nilu.  Before the film started, the theater manager referred to it as the “Cate Blanchett” show.  Damn straight.  There were quite a few good roles for women this year.  Unfortunately, two of the nominations went to Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep.  The academy would nominate Streep for taking a shit.  These two slots should have gone to Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Enough Said and Julie Delpy for Before Midnight.

Best Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

I’ve loved this guy since he played the baddie in Serenity.  Who didn’t cry when he was reunited with his family?

Best Supporting Actress:  June Squib, Nebraska

She absolutely crushed this role.  If Jennifer Lawrence wins I will throw up in my mouth.

Best Supporting Actor: Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave

This guy is one of the finest actors alive, though he has no chance of winning.  Jared Leto will take it.  Five years down the road, everyone will wonder why.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Philomena, Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope

Before Midnight was awesome too, but Adapted Screenplay, just because it’s a sequel?  The rules in this category are stupid.

Best Original Screenplay: Her, Spike Jonze

Didn’t see it, but the concept is great, and so is Jonze.

Best Make-up and Hairstyling: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

The Hobbit wasn’t even nominated?  I hope Jackass gets it.  Maybe people will begin to realize how stupid this award can be.

Best Animated Feature: The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaka

Didn’t see it, but it’s the Master’s last film.  Give it to him!

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The Desolation of Smaug; or, Time Someone Bitch-Slap Peter Jackson

The Desolation of Smaug; or, Time Someone Bitch-Slap Peter Jackson

Despite the heading of this blog, I liked The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  It is, without a doubt, better than the first entry in this series.  Smaug is a good film.  That’s the problem.  It’s good, when it should be great.  And it is for the first half.  The movie begins back in Bree at The Prancing Pony (with Peter Jackson’s requisite cameo), where we see Gandalf setting Thorin on his path.  Gandalf does meddle, and as established in The Lord of the Rings, he will put in danger other characters in order to further his own agenda.

The film jumps back to the present, some days after events in the first film have ended.  Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves are about to enter Mirkwood Forest.  They are helped along by the skin-changer Beorn, and once they are in the forest, attacked by spiders.  This is one of the best sequences in the film, even though it seems too short.  After the dwarves are freed from their cocoons, we see Bilbo feeling the first effects of the ring.  This is one of the additions to the novel that really works.

Legolas (Orlando Bloom) arrives to fight off the spiders.  With him comes Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly).  This is our first encounter with the she-elf.  The character is another Jackson addition.  While some characters were given bigger roles in the Rings Trilogy (compared to the novel), Tauriel is the first flat-out Kiwi invention.  One reviewer of the film wonders if she will become these prequels’ Jar Jar Binks.  The Hobbit films will not escape comparison to the Star Wars prequels.  But the expectations for Jackson’s films weren’t as high.  And rest assured, Tauriel is no Jar Jar Binks, and even though Jackon’s films present multiple missed opportunities, I’d rather stare at a bowl of diarrhea for six hours than sit through George Lucas’ abominations again.  Tauriel kicks ass, and is very much in line with another Middle Earth woman warrior, the Rings’ Eowyn.  Like Legolas, she provides a character we can identify with amongst the otherwise nondescript Woodland Elves. 

That’s all fine and dandy…but then love enters the picture.  After coming home from seeing The Hobbit yesterday I flipped through the newest Entertainment Weekly.  The critic Owen Gleiberman gives it an “A-“.  That’s nice.  But the review itself left me wondering if we saw the same film.  Tauriel is identified as Legolas’ love interest.  Uh?  Ah, no.  She is clearly Kili’s love interest.  Yes, Kili.  One of the dwarves.  After a two minute conversation with Kili in his jail cell, the 600-year old elf becomes so smitten with him she disobeys her king and rushes off to save him hundreds of miles away after he is shot with a poisoned arrow.  Yeah, none of that was in the novel.  With good reason.  Not only is it utterly preposterous, I find it misogynistic as well.  Yes, in LOTR, Arwen hooks up with the human Aragorn, but their courtship goes on for decades.  And yes, we have an elf on dwarf bromance, but neither Gimli nor Legolas will admit their friendship for each other until they face what they believe is certain death at the battle in front of the Black Gate.  Jackson introduces Tauriel as an empowered female, an ass-kicking super hero, and the only Woodland elf who recognizes the danger of King Thandriel’s isolationist policy.  But after two minutes with Kili, who is “taller than other dwarves,” her fragile little heart goes all pitter-patter and she rushes off to save him.  She doesn’t give a shite about his quest, his friends, or the looming disaster.  Apparently, even she-elves can only be motivated by love for males.  Two minutes worth.  For a being already 600 years old.  It’s revolting.  To Peter Jackson:  want to rectify this idiocy?  Have Galadriel, a real she-elf, show up in the third film and slap the shit out of Tauriel.

Much of the rest of the film has only a passing semblance to its source material.  The best bits follow Gandalf and his quest to figure out what’s going on with this Necromancer he keeps hearing about.  Bilbo and some of the dwarves finally make it to the Lonely Mountain.  Some of the dwarves inexplicably are left behind in Lake Town, I guess so the loins of Kili and Tauriel can get all tingly together.  Bilbo and the gang find the hidden door, and the brave little hobbit makes his way down into Smaug’s lair.  This is perhaps my favorite sequence in Tolkien’s novel: Bilbo has an intense cat and mouse game with the deadly dragon while the dwarves cower in fear outside.  Given the fantastic Riddle Game sequence in the first film, my expectations were very high.

That was my mistake.  In the film, once Bilbo enters the lair, Jackson proceeds to rip out page after page of the novel and wipe his ass with them.  You want to cut things, Jackson?  Fine.  Want to add things?  Fine.  But why dramatically change one of the sequences which make the novel so memorable?  You’re not dealing with an unknown work.  The Hobbit was published in 1937, and is still loved today.  Fans want to see their favorite sequences on film.  That’s what we’re paying for, you dick!  Well, Bilbo has a bit of a cat and mouse game, but not before Thorin shows up beside him.

And therein is perhaps the biggest problem in Jackson’s films.  Jackson’s Thorin is not a dwarf.  He’s nothing like the other dwarves in the company, let alone Gimli.  He doesn’t look like a dwarf.  He doesn’t talk like a dwarf.  He doesn’t act like a dwarf.  He’s a dude with a height deficiency.  That’s it.  Jackson concocts some ridiculous plan for the dwarves to encase Smaug in a pool of molten gold.  This entails getting a bunch of mining equipment working again after rusting in a dank mountain for sixty years.  The whole sequence is implausible and poorly conceived.  Why does Jackson do it?  In his mind, Thorin is a Bruce Willis type of action hero.  Action heroes do things; they don’t cower outside the mountain while little hobbits do their dirty work.  His fear is one of the things that make Tolkien’s Thorin so interesting.  Jackson flattens him into a cartoon character.  I can’t wait for him to die in the third film.

By the way, Smaug is impressive, as his the pile of treasure he sits upon.  Problem?  It’s nitpicky, but there’s so much gold in Smaug’s lair that even it represents 99% of the gold in all of Middle Earth, it would be totally worthless.  There’s simply too much of it. You might as well trade in blades of grass.  Bigger isn’t always better, Mr. Jackson.  Don’t worry.  I’ll be amongst the millions waiting in line for the third film next year.


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On Pacfic Rim, or why humans are, lke, the most awesome species in the universe.

Twenty minutes into Pacific Rim I thought, Guillermo del Toro gave up The Hobbit for this?  And that was before the forced melodrama and unspeakably bad acting in the final act.  Heartbreaking, really, because I love a good science fiction flick.  Unfortunately they’re few and far between.  The trailers often look good, don’t they?  Good enough to fork out 10 bucks for the incredibly stupid Looper, or that bucket of diarrhea known as Prometheus, a film so gutted with inconsistencies and lapses in logic that it’s hard not to conclude that  Ridley Scott made it for the sole purpose of testing the intelligence of critics.  (Given its 74% score on the Tomatometer, I’d say 74% of critics failed the test.) 

But it’s not the quality of Pacific Rim I want to rag on.  It’s certainly better than the latest Tom Cruise vehicle, or the most recent pathetic attempt of Will Smith to turn his dopey kids into movie stars.  It’s the whole “aliens invade earth scenario.”  In Pacific Rim, giant lizardy things, the foot soldiers of smaller lizardy things, travel from their planet to Earth through some kind of vortex in the Pacific Ocean.  They had tried to use the vortex millions of years earlier, but the atmosphere on our planet wasn’t right; humans had to first pollute the air sufficiently.  Why they need to colonize Earth is never revealed.  Through an idiotic mind meld, humanity only knows that the invaders want to colonize.  Is the lizard home world overpopulated?  Used up?  Didn’t the lizards figure out how to solve whatever problem they had over the millions of years between 1st and 2nd contact?   Who knows.  It’s very rare for a filmmaker to supply a reasonable and logical explanation for alien invasion.  The aliens usually just want our stuff.  In Independence Day, for example, the aliens burn through a massive amount of fossil fuel to get a fleet of ginormous ships millions of light years to Earth, bypassing all the good stuff on the other planets and in our solar system’s meteor belt, and then expend a shitload of more resources blowing up Earth’s buildings in spectacular fashion, only because they want our pathetically small bit of resources, which probably couldn’t fuel even one bad-ass space cruiser… Perhaps Del Toro’s lizards want beach front property in Florida, because the price of real estate on the lizard home world is just ghastly.  Despite technical superiority, invading aliens are usually stupid, parasitic, and lacking a moral compass.  Human beings, of course, are the exact opposite.  That’s why they always win.  Aliens don’t need motivation for their actions.  They appear in our skies only to reveal the superiority of human beings.  Nothing significant is revealed about humanity in Pacific Rim.  There’s no moral quandary, like we see in the superior fare District 9.  Like Independence Day, Pacific Rim is just one big circle jerk.

Actually, Pacific Rim might be even more insidious than Independence Day…Del Toro’s humans fight the giant lizards in giant robots manned by two pilots.  The most awesome pilots?  Let’s see:  we have Americans, Russians, the Chinese and Australians.  These are the Earth’s saviors.  I’m sure it’s a coincidence that in that quartet we have some of the Modern Age’s most brutal, most notorious colonizers…Might makes right.  The best come out on top.  Del Toro’s robot pilots are (at least ultimately) super smart, super selfless, and super moral.  Ah.  That’s how we beat back future invasions.  In the Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond sets out to answer the question, “Why did the Spaniards conquer the Incas instead of the other way around?”  He ultimately concludes that the Incas, like the rest of America’s natives, as well as the peoples of Sub-Saharan Africa and Australia, were the victims of an unfortunate geography.  They were no more dumb, immoral or greedy than their colonizers.  Kind of like the Earthlings in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when their planet is atomized to make way for a Galactic Highway.  But alas, more people will watch Pacific Rim than read Jared Diamond.  So to the remaining Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals,  Tibetans, and various peoples of the formal Soviet Bloc, take a hint from Uncle Del Toro:  you lost, you pussies, because you were stupid, greedy and lacked a moral compass.  But don’t worry:  when the aliens land, us winners will have your back.   

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New work

Read some of my new work in the the cool online journal devoted to poems and very short prose pieces about travel.

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March 5, 2013 · 1:56 pm



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