Lily Collins

Tolkien

First Hit: Given the previews I watched, I liked the story and sections of this film far more than I thought I would.

In full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Tolkien’s writings. I didn’t like “The Hobbit,” and I did my best to sit through the Peter Jackson films based on his books.

However, given my previous view, I did like the story behind J. R. R. Tolkien’s (Harry Gilby as the young Tolkien and Nicholas Hoult as the elder) emergence as a person and writer of these stories.

I was pulled in by how he did his best to support his mother and brother before she died. How he was able to not be bitter in his becoming an orphan and living in a home with his brother and Edith Bratt (Mimi Keene as the young and Lily Collins as the elder) as guided by Father Francis Morgan (Colm Meaney).

Father Morgan (Colm Meaney) was given charge of Tolkien and his brother after their mother’s death. Father Morgan placed Tolkien and his brother at the home of Mrs. Faulkner (Pam Ferris) and ensured them placement in a good school. Although they had no money and were placed in a school full of privileged students, through trials as shown in this movie, both boys found friends.

J. R. R. founded a group of four boys that met daily to discuss the ways of the world, share dreams of changing the world, and create dares to push each other to be leaders. These flashbacks made this film come alive with poignancy and adventure.

 When watching J. R. R. slowly develop his relationship with Edith, I was totally captured. The strength emanating from Edith (both actresses did this extraordinary well) was perfect for J. R. R. Together they challenged each other, but it was her pointed darts at his mind, heart, and soul that brought out the best in him.

All of this was very well done. However, what didn’t work for me, and I’m not sure why, is that most of the past scenes of this life - before his becoming a professor, were based on his flashbacks while slogging through the trenches in WWI. The darkness, hopelessness, and drive within himself to find his friend put a damper on this film and story. It appeared to be the point of many of the war visuals is that they contributed to the visualizations Tolkien eventually used in his later stories of battles.

For me, it took away from the story in ways that hurt the overall film.

The highlights were Tolkien’s meeting with his friend’s mother and sharing where the young men use to meet and discuss the world while convincing her to publish his friend’s poems — a lovely moment. All the scenes Tolkien has with Edith were outstanding and influential. The group of young men committing their love of their friendship with each other was a beautiful scene. Tolkien’s interaction with Professor Wright (Derek Jacobi) was both funny and quirky. And I enjoyed Father Morgan’s confession that he was wrong about Edith.

Harry Gilby as the young Tolkien and Nicholas Hoult as the older Tolkien were outstanding. How each portrayed the thoughtful, inquisitive, Tolkien was perfect. They made this man come alive. Mimi Keene as the young and Lily Collins as the elder Edith, for me, were the highlight of the film, acting-wise. The power behind her character showed through with elegant integrity. When they were on the screen, I was totally engaged. The moment she shares with Tolkien what her life is like, playing songs for the homeowner, I felt her struggle to live. That scene was perfect. Jacobi was terrific as the quirky professor of languages. Meaney was excellent as Father Morgan. He was both strong and contrite. David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford wrote the script. Although I didn’t like the drudgery in the trenches, the other scenes were wonderfully drawn, and the dialogue between Tolkien and Bratt were sublime. Dome Karukoski directed this film. Again, the only dislike for me was using the WWI segments as a place for him to reflect on his life.

Overall: I was clearly struck by the power of Tolkien and Bratt’s relationship as written and portrayed in this story.

Rules Don't Apply

First Hit:  I was left wanting because I wanted this film to be insightful about the secret world of Howard Hughes, a powerful, interesting, and enigmatic figure of my youth.

The name “Howard Hughes” billionaire, held its own fascination to me during the late 1950’s – 1960’s. In Southern California, where I grew up, the name Hughes Aircraft labeled a number of buildings in and around the Glendale and El Segundo areas. The Hughes Aircraft Company was a subsidiary of Hughes Tool Company, which his father started, was headquartered in Texas and because of his father’s early death, he inherited the business when he was just eighteen years old.

With drive and vision, this wealth allowed him to create the airline company TWA (Trans World Airlines) out of Transcontinental and Western Air. He also bought hotels in Las Vegas (The Sands, Castaways, Landmark, Frontier, Silver Slipper and Desert Inn). He also got involved in Media and specifically for this film RKO Pictures.

The film opens with Levar Mathis (Matthew Broderick) and Nadine Henley (Candice Bergen) anxiously trying to get Howard Hughes (Warren Beatty) to, via telephone, address a group of reporters. The reason is that in this public press conference, Hughes is expected to answer reporter’s questions to disprove and debunk a book stating that Hughes is now insane and needs to be institutionalized.

The movie rolls back in time 5 years and we meet Marla Mabry (Lily Collins) and her mother Lucy (Annette Bening) who are coming to LA from Virginia for Marla to meet Howard and have a screen test for a film Hughes was going to make with her as the star. They are met by Hughes’ driver Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich) and there is an immediate spark between Marla and Frank. However, Frank is forbidden by Howard’s rules as explained to him feverishly by Levar, that he will be fired if he fraternizes, in any way, with any of Hughes actresses.

As the film makes its way to the press conference, we learn about Howard's quirks with people and things. He likes Banana Nut ice cream one moment, and Vanilla the next. We see bankers waiting for hours in a bungalow at the Beverly Hilton just to meet and see Howard before giving him $400+ million dollars. Hughes of course is in nearby bungalow but prefers to speak with them via phone.

We watch him and Frank gaze at the Spruce Goose which the Army commissioned to build but thinks it won’t fly. But Hughes flies the plane one time to prove its feasibility, then decommissions the plane. Watching a film of the flight, you hear Howard complain there was no close-up of him flying the plane.

He lives in the shadows of rooms and in the dark. He does most of his business by phone, meanwhile Marla and Frank both try to find personal one-on-one time with Howard so that she can pitch her talents and he can pitch his real estate deal. Along with way, they signal their mutual interest in each other.

I was fascinated with what Howard would say or come up with next. But what didn’t work for me was not getting more about the very odd story of Hughes. I thought the love story of Marla and Frank was rather tepid. However, the redemption of the latter arrives at the end of the film, but it wasn’t what I was interested in. I wanted more about Howard Hughes a childhood fascination of mine.

I did like the film’s time-period and the views of Hollywood, LA and Las Vegas were engagingly wonderful. The attention to details in the rooms and bungalows were great.

Beatty was oddly quirky and strong as a man on the edge of greatness and sanity. He was perfect for this role and did an excellent job of directing himself. Collins was very engaging and good as Maples. Her ability to be sober and drunk and keep the character congruent was virtuous and perfect. Bening, as Marla’s mother was wonderful. Her religious and personal beliefs were perfectly represented. Ehrenreich was wonderful. His intensity and respect for Hughes in their conversations was excellently presented. Martin Sheen as Hughes’ CEO was great. He expressed just the right amount of irritation at the bosses’ behavior and respect for Howard’s accomplishments. Broderick was fun as the sort of chief of staff role he had for Hughes. Bergen was fun and good as Hughes’ secretary and assistant. Beatty wrote a wonderful screenplay but as I said earlier I would have rather had more Hughes and less Maples and Frank, but that is just me. Hughes is what I was interested in. Beatty also did a good job of directing this bigger than life story.

Overall:  I wanted a bigger story about Hughes.