Film Review: TOLKIEN (USA 2019)

Tolkien Poster

Tolkien explores the formative years of the orphaned author as he finds friendship, love and artistic inspiration among a group of fellow outcasts at school.


Dome Karukoski

J. R. R. Tolkien (pronounced tol-keen, as Tolkien’s professor’s pronunciation is corrected), the LORD OF THE RINGS / HOBBIT famous author whose books have been made even more famous by the Peter Jackson films is the subject of the new bio-pic of the same name.  The film traces the story of the author’s life and includes the influences on the books.  Those familiar with the books will find the film more fascinating than others, who might treat the exercise as another period piece bio-pic.  TOKIEN is a handsomely mounted period piece production though be it a dull one at that, the film often trudging through the narrative just Tolkien the soldier makes through the mud of the trenches on the western front during World War I.

The film’s core has Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) sick with trench fever fighting in World War I at the Battle the Somme.  Tolkien holds the rank of lieutenant.  With the aid of a faithful soldier, a diminutive Sam (Craig Roberts) who helps him search for a friend of his TCBS (Tea Club and Barrovian Society)  club fellowship.  The film cuts to Tolkien’s life from childhood, living and playing the lush green English countryside (in the Midlands) to his schooling and friendship with four others fellow artists that they swear ‘to change the world through art’ together. Tolkien also falls in love with Edith Brett (Lily Collins), but is prevented from seeing her by his Guardian, Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney).  It is a choice of education over romance that the Father decides for Tolkien but the couple’s bond of romance remains strong.

While Tolkein’s life unfolds, director Karukowski constantly reminds the audiences of the influences on his writing.  These includes his war experiences, his brotherhood (hence ‘The Brotherhood of the Rings’), Sam, Tolkien’s friend in the trenches is like Grodo’s best buddy in the books and the beauty of the countryside akin to the beauty of the shire where the Hobbits live.  But the film is a slow march, the film often lingering at the landscape, scenery and sets tab on the emotions of the characters.  The film’s war segments which transforms into fire as breathed out from the mouth of dragons s in the Lord of the Rings stories look a desperate attempt at connecting the author’s experiences to his writing.  Tolkien’s aptness at the creation of his own unique language takes enables him to complete his Oxford studies under Professor Wright (Derek Jacobi) is yet another influence,

Finnish director Dome Karukowski, one of the most famous directors of his country has been chosen to do this bio, as he has done bios before, most notably TOM OF FINLAND his previous film that was Finland’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award though it did not make the short list.  It was not a very good film, short of passion and inspiration which the director has ensured does not happen again in TOLKIEN.  Still, Karukoski fails to engage his audience, due primary from the uncomfortable intercutting of the world War scenes with the rest of his story.  Just when the audience is drawn into the story, the film shifts to the trenches.

Irish actor Colm Meaney (who usually plays comedy) delivers a solid and serious portrayal of Father Francis Morgan who restricts Tolkien’s freedom.  His character is reminiscent of one of directors Karukowski’s previous character in THE GRUMP, one of his other films that made North American distribution.

The film is ultimately properly concluded with titles that summarize what director Karukoski had been attempted to do with his film.  Too bad all that all these should have been made clear without the titles.



Film Review: TO THE BONE ( USA 2017)

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to the boneA young woman is dealing with anorexia. She meets an unconventional doctor who challenges her to face her condition and embrace life.

Director: Marti Noxon
Writer: Marti Noxon
Stars: Lily Collins, Keanu Reeves, Leslie Bibb

Review by Gilbert Seah
The credits both opening and closing proudly announces TO THE BONE a film about anorexia, the eating disorder a Netflix original movie. It has been proclaimed that Netflix gets to make films studios are scared to make. This definitely holds true for this depressing, unglamorous project on a subject suffering from anorexia and shunned by her family. But TO THE BONE is so bad that one wonders if the studios could foresee the fact.

One would expect more from director Noxon and lead star Lili Collins who both suffer from the disorder. But the film glamourizes the illness in the way Collins looks so beautiful in every scene and everything she does appears ok and everyone else especially her stepmother is wrong. But unforgivable is the fact that the film is a really boring exercise from start to end. It does not help with the weird ending in which her real mother, Susan (Lili Taylor) feeds her milk from a baby bottle and a fantasy scene in which Ellen she’s herself nude on the ground, presumably dead.

It is hard to judge Collin’s performance when the film is this awful. Taylor does the best she can and Keanu Reeves has the odd role as Ellen’s charismatic doctor who is supposed to a do wonders with his unconventional methods. “I’m not going to treat you if you do not want to live!” He tells Ellen the first time he interviews her.

The story follows teenager Ellen who has dropped out of college. Her stepmother, Judy who lives with her real dad wants her to be cured from her anorexia. But Judy is shown as a very intolerant and bad mother, always criticizing poor Ellen and downright silly, making silly assumptions that Ellen and her stepsister always laugh about. So, Ellen is convinced to go to this medical facility led by Dr. William Beckam (Reeves). There is nothing in the film that shows him to be revolutionary in his treatment. His insistence of telling Ellen’s inner voice to ‘ f*** soft is laughable if not downright unbelievable. The facility consists of an assortment of skinny patients that are there to make Ellen look good. The subplot of Ellen having a romantic fling with the one boy, Luke (Alex Sharp), who wants to be a singer/dancer leads nowhere.

The film at least looks crisp and clear, especially with the desert landscape at the end, courtesy of cinematographer Richard Wong. Music is decent with an original song near the end.

But the film teaches nothing about anorexia nor does it offer any real insight on the people suffering from it. The least the script could have done is provide some medical information on the subject. The film also inserts unnecessary new age material. Ellen’s mother is a lesbian. In one scene, she praises her own breakdown saying people should have them to learn from them. Susan also puts a Ellen in a tent with no electricity with kerosene lamps for light and a bedpan if one need to go do their stuff. Ellen (or Eli, since she changes her name half way through the film for no proper reason) has not come out of life any smarter and neither has the audience.


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