Posts Tagged ‘Blog’

There are so many amazing lines in George R. R. Martin’s magnum opus, often found in the most unlikely places. I was rereading Arya’s first chapter from A Storm of Swords recently, and was struck by how perfectly one passage captured the characters transforming psyche: “They thought they were hunting her, she knew with all the strange sharp certainty of dreams, but they were wrong. She was hunting them.” It shows how Arya is beginning to externalize all of the violence and abuse she’s been subjected to, and how her psychology is being rewritten by the threat of death that constantly hangs over her head.

But in terms of a quote that summarizes the whole series (or, at least, one of its major themes), I’d have to go with this Tyrion line from ASOS: “It all goes back and back, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance on in our steads.” I think every character in the series is living under the shadow of those who came before them, especially their fathers. Look at how large the figure of Tywin looms in the thoughts and feelings of the Lannister children, even after his death. Whether they want to imitate him, or carry on his legacy, or transcend his cruelty, or drown out his voice with wine, he is a fundamental part of who they are.



I watched Ready Player One tonight and had a couple of thoughts, mostly about the book it’s based on. I always found it odd that critics called it a “love letter” to geek culture, when the virtual world Ernest Cline creates seems to be one entirely devoid of creativity. There are no more authors or artists, there are only fans. And the fans have taken ownership over everything. And instead of creating works of their own, they simply pine over and remix the works of the past. It’s a world of perpetual nostalgia and eternal sameness. It’s geek culture as imagined by Joseph McCarthy, in which there are “true” geeks (who can recite the lyrics to every Monty Python sketch) and “false” geeks (who don’t even know how many parsecs the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in).

For Cline’s characters, the value of movies seems to have been reduced to how many facts you could rattle off about it, rather than the emotional or intellectual experience it stirred within you. Who you are no longer refers to an inner self or a set of principles, but rather of what you like, how you pay homage to it, and how much more devoted to it you are than everyone else. It’s a potentially fascinating critique of our own relationship with pop culture, except that Cline shows almost zero interest in exploring these implications. The book is a by-the-numbers YA adventure which revels in pop references and unites geeks against a cartoonishly evil corporation whose main sin is that they aren’t as pop culturally obsessed as our paper-thin heroes.

As for the film, Spielberg admittedly does a better job at probing the troubling aspects of this digital escapism and nostalgia obsession, and the story works far better in a visual format, as the action can be drawn with all the kinetic intensity of a real computer game (one understands the awesome appeal of the virtual reality game). And the avalanche of pop references need only be shown (allowing the viewer to make the connections themselves, if they care to), instead of being laboriously explained and itemised by Cline.

I did get a giddy thrill over the ultimate prize of the film being an “Easter Egg.” I wonder if they planned that. The final boss should have been Zombie Jesus.


It [2017] as Political Allegory

Posted: September 17, 2017 in Movies
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I had some random post-screening thoughts on the horror movie It as a contemporary political allegory…


  • A group of diverse misfits draw strength from unity, and stand up against a fascist, xenophobic, misogynistic bully
  • Durry as a town bound by white picket nostalgia, where the adults refuse to acknowledge the historical atrocities dug up by the kids and instead attempt to propagate a facade of eternal sameness and insulation
  • Pennywise as an agent of chaos who exploits the fears of different people in order to divide and conquer, and convinces the bully to commit mass violence as a way of reclaiming his stolen masculinity
  • The figure of the evil clown running amok literally reappeared in the months leading up to the 2016 election, and also signalled the rise of the alt-right as a horde of anonymous, sadistic mischief-makers who harass people “for the lulz”
  • Oh yeah, and the sewerage pipes teeming with mindless zombies symbolises current internet discourse

Logan [2017] (mini-review)

Posted: March 12, 2017 in Movies
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Logan might be my favourite superhero movie ever. It’s certainly unlike any other superhero movie in its characterizations, and the way it depicts the personal and social cost of violence (or hell, toxic masculinity in general). I guess superhero movies have been around long enough that we’re starting to see the first of the revisionist films. It takes clear inspiration from late-era westerns – the aging gunslinger contemplating his life, not understanding the world anymore, the tension between the man and the myth.


Logan’s fixation on militarized borders (and the omnipotent surveillance drones) seems eerily resonant with the times we live. I also found the use of the limo quite interesting—wealthy passengers laughing and drinking, chanting “USA!” from the sun roof—while the body of the limo is gradually shredded with bullets (class commentary?). Unlike most superhero movies, it is mostly set outside cities, depicting an America of decaying factories and desolate highways, anonymous gas stations and modified corn fields, and a false Eden at its heart. And it ends, not with refugees trying to get into America, but trying to escape it.

The film completely subverted the Avengers formula with the intimacy in scope, focusing on just two or three characters, and I loved the restraint of its exposition, which was couched in character development and action. I was genuinely moved and cared about Logan and Charles in ways few superhero movies have come close. It was such a brutal movie, such a sad movie, and yet its action and story were utterly compelling all the way through. I kind of wish Logan’s dying breath had been something like, “I’m going to see my friends again,” but that would probably have been way too cheesy.

The final shot was perfection. 5/5 rusted adamantium claws.

Moonlight [2016] (mini-review)

Posted: February 28, 2017 in Movies
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So great to see Moonlight snag Best Picture. It really is a stunning, heart-wrenching film about trying to figure out who you are in a world which relentlessly tries to define you. What I love is how much more the director is concerned with feelings rather than plot, feelings which can’t necessarily be articulated by the characters, but are instead conveyed through a kind of sensory language – the camera caught above and beneath the surface of the water, the lulling rush of the tide, cool wind against anxious flesh, ripples of starlight on a dark purple sea, fingertips tracing patterns in grains of sand. Can’t wait to see what Barry Jenkins does next.

La La Land [2016] (mini-review)

Posted: December 26, 2016 in Movies
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I just saw La La Land and thoroughly enjoyed it. The film is both a sweeping, sundrenched love letter to the dreamscape of Hollywood, and a charmingly intimate portrait of two aspiring artists enthralled and tortured by that dream. The romantic chemistry between Stone and Gosling is genuinely effective, and the film flows with a giddy optimism and inflamed yearning that gets under your skin and refuses to leave.


I saw Rogue One today. It wasn’t as good as The Force Awakens (which I found a fun, energetic adventure which got me right back in the Star Wars spirit), but it still pretty good. I found the main character and villain a little bland and underdeveloped, but I really liked the supporting cast, especially the wise-cracking robot and the blind priest. Vadar was perfectly understated and the kind of nightmare fuel his reputation deserves. The film had a really dark, gloomy edge to it, which I appreciated – this is life under the empire, this is life in the trenches of the rebellion. Everyone is lost, and losing faith and turning on each other. “It helps if you don’t look up.”

On its own, the movie is uneven and scattershot, especially the first hour, but the final action sequence is brilliantly tense and tragic and exultant. As a prequel, however, it gives us such a richer vision of this world, and adds new layers to the events of the original trilogy. Even the title of the original film (A New Hope) has new meaning, because it doesn’t just refer to Luke as this delivered savior, but of the renewed sense of unity and courage that the Rogue One crew invigorated in the rebels. No one will remember Rogue One, but they lit the fuse.

BioShock (late impressions)

Posted: December 11, 2016 in Video Games
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I know I’m about a decade late, but I finally beat BioShock, and it is indeed one of the best games of the past gen. An impressive and disturbing survival horror tale about what happens when you build an objectivist utopia, wrap it in 1950s white picket nostalgia, and then let it simmer for a while. Haunting steampunk-inspired levels and frightening enemy encounters clash perfectly with upbeat adverts and jaunty swing music. The hopes and dreams of one generation waltzing with the nightmares of another. Great stuff!


I received confirmation for my PhD today. There’s still a lot of work to do, like actually writing the darn thing, but it’s a big milestone. When you’re a year into a research thesis, it’s hard to know how well your traveling – whether you’re doing enough work each week, whether you’re heading in the right direction, or whether you even know what you’re talking about. So confirmation is a nice bit of validation and encouragement. It means you’re in the right place. You can set your bags down. 🙂

Having said all that – it still hasn’t quite hit me. While the news is very exciting, I’m still in that state of tense anticipation that I was at the start of the day, at the start of the week really. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. A thesis has a habit of taking up a lot of mental real estate, to the point where real life things like work and family start to orbit it. And then when it suddenly abates, you’re left with a bit of a hole.

I think a nice, relaxing week of reading (actual fiction), watching movies (anything but horror), jogging, podcasts, Super Nintendo, and maybe a few days in Melbourne for the Scorsese and Jurassic World exhibits are just what the doctorate ordered. Anyway, just wanted to mark the occasion. In the immortal words of DJ Khaled: “Ride wit me thru the journey of more success.” 😉


Thanks to the loyal listeners of House Manwoody (and the APOIAF crew), the Vassals of Kingsgrave have been nominated for the 10th Annual Podcast Awards. Our humble little community cast has been placed in the “General” category, alongside heavy-hitters like Serial.

“Well that’s great,” I hear you say, “but how could I possibly help you dethrone such a gargantuan competitor. I’m only one person with an internet connection.” Well, humble listener, the fact is, you hold all the power. You can vote. And here’s how…

Step 1: Go to this website:
Step 2: Select “Vassals of Kingsgrave” in the General category.
Step 3: Scroll to the bottom, and enter your name and email, followed by “Submit”.
Step 4: Go to your email inbox, and verify your vote.
Step 5: Have a Kit Kat. You’ve earned it! 😉


Voting closes on March 24, at 2100 EST. However, you can vote each and every one of those 20 days, starting with today.

So be sure to share, retweet, reblog, do whatever it is Tumblr does, and loose your ravens to every corner of the realm.

What say you Vassals! 🙂