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The Week in Old Entertainment: June 28th, 2013

Phonograph

 

Although I really wanted to do a full review about the hilarious This is the End I find I am unable to really categorize that as Old Entertainment as of yet. However, the consumption of Milky Way bars in this household has shot up by about 386%.

The past week of Old Entertainment brings me to one movie I patiently waited to see and a trilogy of movies I know too well and wish I didn’t: Hitchcock & the Mummy movies.

Hitchcock, unlike Hancock of a few weeks ago, is a movie I tried to see when it was new and had some difficulty finding a convenient theater showing it. At the time, I thought that was odd, especially in the light of Sir Anthony Hopkins portrayal of the well-known director and the film’s clear motivation to get into the Academy Award nominations. At long last, the Netflix DVD arrived and watch this movie I did.

What a delight! My better half admitted during the movie that she wished she knew Hitchcock’s movies a little better, but the film does a fantastic job of laying on a certain amount of deliberate “Hitch-schtick” that mimicked his style quite nicely. Interestingly, the movie has much to do about director Alfred Hitchcock’s making of the film Psycho, but much more to do with the relationship between he and his wife, Alma, portrayed by the brilliantly reserved Helen Mirren. Hopkins and Mirren trade withering sarcasm, genius wit, and passive-aggressive flares in two very sharply written parts that was a pleasure to watch. They were a perfect couple, too, in that when one wasn’t filling the screen with acerbic banter, the other stepped in to do the job.

This movie hit every nail on the head, for me, it was exactly what I wanted it to be! So why no box-office or award love? The Hitchcock makeup on Hopkins didn’t really make him look all that much like Alfred H., but he certainly had the correct profile and figure. There’s not a true and dynamic threat in plot of this movie, which might be being overly critical since it is a biopic, but the cute and quick-thinking dialogue of the film more than made up for any lack of dramatic weight. Come to think of it, the shooting of the famous Psycho shower scene with Hopkins and Scarlett Johansson is a thrilling moment…  I have no clue as to the lack of this film’s success. I highly recommend it.

Hitchcock gets a score of 9 birds (and a chipmunk) sitting outside your window. Looking in. Right at this moment.

I’m going to give the Mummy series with Brendan Fraser a little credit: the 1999 “loose” remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff classic is a fun movie. It’s not Pirates of the Caribbean, but the two movie trilogies deserve a strong comparison as to where the three movies fit with one another. Just to have something on in the background while I work, or while playing, I put movies I know really well on in the background, so I recently put The Mummy in the player and gave it a half-view. Some minor plot-points aside, The Mummy holds up rather well. I’m not sure why, but Arnold Vosloo is a fun guy to watch in that little cloth diaper as he stalks about ancient ruins and crowded Cairo streets. Brendan Fraser does his thing, and I am accepting of that, only because Rachel Weisz strikes gold as the befuddled, yet still librarian-sexy Evelynn, and we also get the mysterious and likable Oded Fehr playing the guy trying to protect the secret of the mummy’s tomb (I could tell you his character is named Ardeth Bay, but who remembers that? I just want him to play the Red Viper in Game of Thrones, Season 4!).  If only movie studios had the restraint to leave a good thing be. To let it rest and retire like a cowboy riding off into the sunset.

Alas, The Mummy Returns was made two short years later with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson hyped up in the billing. The Rock is in The Mummy Returns for about 6 and a half minutes, I think. I had to re-watch the beginning of this movie a number of times just to see his line deliveries in made-up ancient Egyptian. Did you ever have to make film projects for foreign language classes in high school? Delivering your lines with little or no inflection or modulation whatsoever? That’s the Rock before he became comfortable on screen as Dwayne Johnson.

The Mummy Returns is the kind of movie described in Hitchcock as “stillborn.” It’s almost insulting, like someone specifically made this movie only to provide wasted1930’s chase scenes to life. There’s the mummy/double-decker bus chase scene in London, the atrocious CG of Imhotep’s face as a tidal wave chasing a blimp through a narrow canyon, the awful plot montage of Fraser & Weisz’s son leaving sand-clues as they go from one iconic Egyptian structure to the next. Most of the so-called plot is thrown aside anyway in favor of poor CG-monsters like Anubis’ jackal-headed army of death, pygmy skeleton warriors, and the triumphant center-piece of this pu-pu-platter: a hybrid man-scorpion demon with the Rock’s head superimposed on the top. Best part about re-watching The Mummy Returns? Realizing that the female antagonist character is played by the same woman who portrayed Arrested Development’s Marta – Patricia Velasquez. I don’t know if one role yielded the other for that actress, but one phrase for her must have been familiar: “I’ve made a huge mistake.”

Then, for no sane reason, they made The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. I think someone noticed in 2008 that neither Jet Li and Brendan Fraser were doing anything in particular or maybe these two got drunk at a club down on Sunset Blvd? Regardless, this movie was made, without Rachel Weisz and without the Egyptian setting. The movie succeeds in a few areas, namely any scene that had Michelle Yeoh in it, Jet Li turning into a dragon or shooting firebolts out of his eyes, and all the scenes acted by the hard-working and woefully underpaid CG-Yetis. This movie was won, and the plot, too, on the backs of CG-Yetis.

OK, the first offering is good and then the movie studios tried to wrench blood from a turnip with sequels – this is the story of both The Mummy and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. What I never understood about The Mummy Returns and Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is how the script tried justifying Brendan Fraser’s ridiculous character. He’s portrayed in the first sequel as a man unable to retire (at his golden age of what – 38?) and in the second sequel as a man unable to connect to his son, who’s also a wooden actor unable to correctly portray an emotional range (oh, cruel irony). I would have dispensed with the justifications and seen Fraser do his funny-faced shouts and gun show.

As a whole, I would give the Mummy movies score of 4 tombs plundered. The first in the series was grand, but the series presented as a whole is dreck.

Although I’m not ready to review them as yet, I have been re-reading both my Sandman Chronicles, by Neil Gaiman, and the subsequent spin-off Lucifer, by Mike Carey. Sandman is past iconic, it’s a building block of modern comics and a key piece of meta-physical fantasy and as such I cannot review them. They are past review.

Lucifer is different. Few I speak to know of it, but those who do really love it. The premise alone is worth the ticket price: the angel Lucifer abdicates the throne of Hell and opens a classy piano bar in Los Angeles. From there the series explores themes of divinity, control, destiny, fate, free will, and the end of the world. It will get its own review as I continue to re-read, but one should know already that I love it and you should give it a shot.

Lucifer

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The Honest Re-Read

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It can either be considered unfortunate or it could be considered quirky, but I re-read a lot of the same books.

I’ve professed my love for Dan Abnett here before, but I urge you to read and then re-read the Inquisitor Eisenhorn series. Then the Ravenor books. And then Pariah. There’s a richness to these characters and an ever-rotating motion to the plot that brings me back for another read every year.

The same for his Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, some of the Horus Heresy series, the Silmarillion, and some Kurt Vonnegut. Other books get in there, too, but nothing gets repeated the same way as the others.

Then I read George R.R. Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire, AKA the Game of Thrones books. Yes, they’re HBO-show worthy. Yes, they’re far superior to the tv version, as any good book is of its visual self should be. I read and finished the entire series this past summer. The first book and the first season of the show fit perfectly together, it’s an impressive feat as an adaptation. The second season and second book begin to wade away from one another, but carry the main themes and events. This current third season has begun a full-fledged drift away from the source material, but that’s the price paid for quality story-telling when the novels are as deep and lengthy as these.

There are certain things the show cannot hope to achieve that the book carries within it – things like the full version of Dany’s visions within the House of the Undying in book/season 2 or Ned’s visions of the events at the Tower of Joy in the first book. Bran’s dreams and visions, particularly from within his direwolf Summer, aren’t getting the treatment they deserve yet in the show, but this could change as book 3, A Storm of Swords, is going to broken up between seasons 3 and 4 of the show.

It was while discussing all of this with my better half that I decided to do a re-read of the entire series.

George R.R. Martin is a good story-teller, but his writing isn’t as dense as it could be. Where Abnett stretches my vocabulary and writes action worthy (and honestly, better) of the best Hollywood summer film, Martin focuses on the long-view and foreshadowing. His mythos goes deep with prophesies to fulfill, secrets to uncover, and plots that stretch over many volumes. One in particular is the favorite of like-minds to examine – one that I will only refer to as “R+L=J.” If you do not know what that means, I encourage you to first ask if this is knowledge you wish to spoil for yourself, then if so, turn to r/asoiaf for your answers.

PRAOqr0

It was within this lens that I started my re-read. I searched into hidden meanings, I delved into the possibilities of each person who might know, the unsaid words, the tone and timbre of those who reveal things later in the books, and even searched for alternate meanings of “Hodor?

As far as I can tell, no one knows anything in A Game of Thrones. The only person that does know for certain reveals very little before his demise – poor, poor Ned. The mysteries of R+L=J are wrapped in conjecture and foreshadow in this first book, nothing more.

However, I developed my own hypothesis for the entire series, something that seems to ring true in Martin’s world and within his ever-struggling power plays. My theory on the entire ASOIAF series is this: every action has an opposite and greater reaction. There are no equal reactions in the world of Westeros (or Essos), things get incrementally greater or worse. Karma is very real and it comes back three-fold.

For examples, I’ll only use situations that have arisen in the show so far (NO SPOILERS IF YOU ARE UP TO DATE WITH THE SHOW).

  • Jaime Lannister pushes the 7-year old Brandon Stark out of a window, arguably starting the entire reason for the story. He loses the hand he pushed Bran with later on.
  • Catelyn Tully ignores the advances of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish and watches on as Brandon Stark, Eddard’s older brother, duels Petyr for Cat’s hand in marriage. Brandon Stark humiliates Littlefinger, gifting him with a long scar. Cat convinces Eddard to trust Littlefinger years later while staying in King’s Landing and investigating the Lannisters. Should anyone have been surprised that Littlefinger, a man that had been brooding over that duel for 15 years, betrays the brother of the man that denied him Catelyn Tully?
  • Sansa lies about the circumstances of Joffrey’s fight with her little sister, Arya, and the butcher’s boy, Mycah. Sansa’s lie covers up Joffrey’s cruelty and both Mycah and her dire wolf, Lady, end up dead to “resolve” the incident.
  • Daenerys Targaryen is brought up in the shadow of her older brother, Viserys, and treated as dirt – as an object to be bought, sold, or traded. After achieving independence, Daenerys strives to stamp out slavery in all of its forms wherever she goes. (This is good and natural character development, I know, but it is key to understanding Daenerys and her actions.)
  • This one is complex, but the reactions are incremental. Daenerys puts her faith and trust in a stranger to heal her wounded husband, Khal Drogo. This woman, Mirri Maz Duur, gives Drogo a poultice to heal the wound, but Drogo tears it off. Drogo’s wound festers, nearly killing him. Daenerys begs MMD to save him with blood magic. MMD warns Daenerys that life can only be bought with life. Drogo comes out of the ceremony in a catatonic state and Daenerys’ soon-to-be-born child dies. MMD knew the consequences of the spell, but betrayed Daenerys’ faith because of the attack his tribe had visited upon her home. Daenerys has Mirri Maz Duur burnt alive on Khal Drogo’s funeral pyre, which serves as a catalyst to the hatching of the petrified dragon eggs.
  • Cersei has the captain of her sons protectors, Ser Barristan Selmy of the Kingsguard, dismissed as she perceives him as being too old (more like, too honorable and stiff to go along with her every move). Ser Barristan, still vital, seeks and joins Daenerys Targaryen. He lends her sage advice, his battle acumen, and his knowledge of her deceased family that will become more important as the series progresses. Nice move, Cersei. That’s like giving up Shaq to the Miami Heat in 2004.
  • Robb Stark (oh man…)  breaks his oath to marry a daughter of Walder Frey. Show watchers are all caught up on the events of this, the Red Wedding, and know the evils of the Freys, Boltons, and Lannisters.

A word, real quick, about the Red Wedding’s portrayal on the show – it was too sudden. The book lays out several key warnings about what is about to happen and that the trip to the Twins was going to be a huge and colossal mistake. Book Robb doesn’t even bring his new wife to the wedding, just in case something like that happened. Show Robb gets to watch the most brutal of gut stabbings in the history of visual entertainment. I’m concerned that the show writers stuck to being brutal and didn’t lay enough hints down – like how Robb’s direwolf, Grey Wind, didn’t want to enter the Twins, or how a bunch of Freys disappear during the feast, or how Edmure’s new wife is crying and afraid during the evening, or the weapons that are affixed to the walls of the wedding hall, or how the musicians (crossbowmen) are numerous and couldn’t play their instruments very well…  There were hints there and the show avoided most of them. It escalated quickly, really jumped up a notch, one might say.

George RR Martin does his homework. He plots and plots and lays down a concise and twisted plan for each character. Each action of these characters ripples out like a boulder dropped at great height into a heaving bowl of lava. I won’t mention certain events, as the show is not yet there, but the actions of Jon Snow, Tyrion, Tywin, and Jorah Mormont definitely have opposite and rising consequences. I’ve only just finished my re-read of the first book. A Clash of Kings should have some more insights into R+L=J, or if it doesn’t I’ll still comment on that. The evidence is thin, but I remain convinced of its veracity.  We’ll see as the story unfolds. Again and again.

Does David Chase think he is Dr. Frankenstein?

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OK, this is going to be a little behind on the times since the last episode of HBO’s The Sopranos aired on June 10, 2007.

I live with a room mate who had never seen the greatest television series ever and we’re now about mid-way through the fifth season. Ever since the show’s controversial finale, I’ve been building this thesis: Sopranos series creator David Chase believes he created his own Frankenstein monster in Tony Soprano and turned against his creation to close the series.

BTW – I’ll be discussing all the nitty-gritties of the Sopranos in FULL SPOILERS. It’s six years later, I think we can all come to grips with that.

Early on in the series, the Sopranos come across Hasidic Shlomo Teittleman seeking “alternative conflict resolution” in a dispute with his son-in-law. During negotiation, Teittleman’s son warns that by dealing with organized crime his father is creating a Golem, like the Rabbi of folk lore. Tony and company rough up the son-in-law, but Teittleman insists that a business proposition brought the matter to an end and attempts to rid himself of Soprano involvement. Tony strong arms his way into the Teittleman hotel business and Shlomo calls him mud, a golem, a Frankenstein come to life.

I think David Chase is Shlomo Teittleman.

His creation, Tony Soprano, spends several years wooing and captivating American audiences with his charm, wit, and crude savagery. Tony Soprano is a criminal mastermind. Watch him manipulate his crew, his friends, his associates, and his family. The entire series lives off of sharp dialogue where content is surface and subtext is everything. Tony Soprano plays the game of gangster with a psychologist’s grasp of motive and a diplomat’s care. He beds women, he drinks and gambles, and he kills. And we all applaud.

The idea of the show compared to the movie Analyze This, a midlife gangster with panic attacks seeks help from a psychiatric professional. The Sopranos explores this wholly in a way a movie can never. There is an arc of involvement and discovery by Tony’s psychiatrist, the brilliant Jennifer Melfi, that leads her to a conclusion that gets postulated by her ex-husband as early as the first season: Tony Soprano is a sociopath incapable of processing psychotherapy and is actually honing his dishonesty and criminality through therapy. We see this and we hear this throughout the series, but the point doesn’t get explicitly pushed until the series’ closing.

I think David Chase saw some adoration for Tony Soprano in critic and viewer praise for the show and decided to turn against his creation. It starts in season 4 with the budding relationship between Carmella Soprano and imported enforcer Furio Giunta. There’s a sequence of comparisons between the Napoli gangster and Tony the American: Furio cooks his own pasta, pours a glass of wine, then sits and eats by his lonesome (possibly contemplating Carmella) while Tony reheats something in the microwave, has a coke, and reads the paper. Tony doesn’t appreciate what he has, and is constantly concerned with more he could have (more money, women, food, etc.). Furio is self-aware and thoughtful, Tony is driven by his desires. Tony’s philandering catches up to him in the season finale and the couple split. This is the first movement of the overture leading to Chase’s rejection of Tony.

Season 5 displays a lot of Tony on his own: his slovenly housekeeping, his growing narcissism, his paranoias, a tumultuous relationship with his cousin Tony Blundetto (who went to prison for 17 years for a crime Tony Soprano was supposed to take a part in), and fractious decisions he makes managing the relationships of his family and his “family.” He’s an abusive father to AJ (although it’s nearly called for, in my opinion), a manipulative prick to his sister Janice, and downright hurtful and unsupportive of his nephew Christopher, whom he could rest the future of the family upon given the right amount of commendation or appreciation. There’s still lots of smart Tony moments, though. My favorite scenes are always Johnny Sac and he working together. Johnny and Tony provide oodles of highlights throughout the series. They play off of one another and mirror the other in a supreme display of foreshadowing: Johnny gets the high seat and makes all the wrong decisions powered by his arrogance, then falls. Is David Chase warning us that crime doesn’t pay?

Season 6 came with the knowledge that it would be a two-parter. Tony has an immediate and shocking crisis in the first episode, leading to an existential trip through his psyche that takes two more episodes and affects most of the rest of the season. It’s interesting that Chase leads us through Tony’s subconscious in this and in the previous season’s “Test Dream” where we see a mix of different Tony’s from his own perspective: Tony the contractor/salesman visiting an arms conference, Tony the soldier preparing to whack his high school football coach, Tony the contemplative self-doubter (“Who am I? Where am I going?”), and Tony as Michael Corleone retrieving a planted gun from a restaurant bathroom. The mixed messages here are realistic and sublime. Chase portrays Tony as introspective and full of doubts, yet unable to draw himself away from the road of continued violence, greed, and crime.

In the second half of season 6, the smear-job is in full effect. He picks a nasty fight with his brother-in-law, Bobby Baccalieri, and manipulates this moral fan-favorite into “popping his cherry” and committing his first murder. Tony’s gambling debts lead to severe conflict between he and one of his oldest associates, Hesh Rabkin, and also with Carmella. In a fit of irritation Tony thinks about ridding himself of another long-time associate, Paulie. Tony grows willfully intolerant or even disinterested with Christopher Moltisanti as Chris tries to distance himself from drinking and drug use, and through this disapproval Chris slips back into relapse. Tony even goes as far to believe that his bad luck with gambling is lifted after Christopher’s death.

The writers are pushing Tony Soprano as the bad guy in this last series of episodes so hard its difficult to reconcile some of these episodes as united with the series as a whole. Where in the majority of the episodes Tony is the protagonist anti-hero, the last half of season 6 almost presents as an addendum to the rest. “Look here, he wasn’t so great,” these episodes scream as Tony alienates friends and family before the finale. The creator has taken a look at the monster he created and declared it a pariah to be shunned.

My eternal optimism and fondness for Tony makes me refuse the widely-accepted theory that the final harsh cut of the very last Soprano scene is the end for Tony. I guess I live in a world of rainbows and unicorns, but I didn’t interpret that moment as his death. The dramatic fall of Tony in the episodes before hand are more telling than the actual ending.

I don’t think Chase is disappointed in Tony so much as he is in the audience who put the Sopranos on a pedestal. Before the Sopranos, was the goomba culture of New Jerseyans ever as celebrated? Would Jersey Shore ever have been possible without the Sopranos? The show puts this question out there, too, as it examines the complexities of the Italian-American cultural image in comparison to the small population of organized crime members. It recognizes and tries telling its viewers that this is a small minority that has dramatically affected media.

Hollywood tries to give these sociopaths the tragic grandeur of Al Pacino,” complains Dr. Melfi’s ex-husband and he’s completely right.

I think David Chase came to see that as the show progressed and didn’t feel right about it. The show turns its back on Tony Soprano for the moral high ground, but it was probably the right decision. Like Dr. Frankenstein, Chase might have initially seen some good  in his creation, but would rather have it die than see what it might do to human kind.

“I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over,” Tony says in the show’s pilot episode. In “Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” fashion, this statement rings true even if that wasn’t the intention from the start.

Understanding Competition

It’s funny, I would consider myself a nerd, gamer, and hobbyist, but during the normal course of a day I do not consider myself a competitor. That was never a strong drive within me, I’m much more of an amateur and an enthusiast.

I’ve been reading a plethora of late regarding the differing trends within my games and the importance of understanding the “meta” – the game within the game. For those who wish to know, the games I specifically referring to are:

The interesting thing is that each article is referring to the same concept, but in their own language.

Which is better: rock, paper, or scissors?

In this post on competitive Warhammer 40K, the poster Z cries foul on the merits of actual play versus the work done at the planning table long before anyone sits down to play a game. If anyone with a firm grasp of the rules and strategies shows up with the “correct” army list, they can win a competitive tournament over the likes of a “better” tactician wielding a different army. I believe the trend now revolves around Space Wolf armies with roaming packs of Razorback-mounted Grey Hunters and small units of Long Fang heavy weapon teams. Gone are the likes of “fun” armies and lists that have any hint of originality, you must have the correct formula in your force composition to have any sort of competitive success.

The same goes for Magic: the Gathering. In a scenario where you have 20 years of cards printed and 1000 new cards introduced each year, a competitive deck of 60 cards has to be fine-tuned and consistent. With the internet and the proliferation of ideas & information, the metagame of Magic changes each week. Sometimes aggressive decks with cheap creatures like zombies, elves, or varying colors of humans rule the meta. It usually takes some time, but eventually a meta gets ruled by control decks that specialize in countermagic, card advantage, and playing a slow and methodical pace that evaluates each and every choice. Other weeks are ruled by the correct combo that no one expected which fits exactly in the meta for its time and event, then gets imitated for weeks. Typically, a competitive Magic deck costs in the neighborhood of $400-500 for 75 pieces of cardboard! (the Warhammer players scoff, “$500, eh? I got all my minis from ForgeWorld…”)

Then there’s League of Legends, a game that’s completely free to play, should you choose to do so. I’ve already lamented my own travails in this cyber den of scum and villainy (one week later, the guys @ Penny Arcade did the same), but there is a strong professional circuit already there with cutthroat play. The drive to get to play games professionally makes playing these “games” no more or less competitive than our already bloated past time of professional sports.

Leading to the NBA, of course. The NBA is a game just like Chess and Rock, Paper, Scissors. How you ask? Every team in the NBA right now is asking themselves the same question: how do you stop a 6’8″, 260-lb superfreak with eagle-eyes and pogo-legs by the name of LeBron James? Although no one except for the 30 coaches in the league have to consider the merits of small-ball lineups versus a killer post-up strategy with your tallest players, the nation is still enthralled with these discussions. It’s all the same.

Whether you’re looking at Fire Dragon aspect warriors to burn down tanks, finding a spot for Rest in Peace to shut down graveyard combos, jungling with Amumu because his build has been buffed by the latest patch, or drafting a corner-3 shooter with long arms that can defend 3 positions, it’s all rock, paper, scissors. It’s all about getting an edge on your competition. It’s all about …   fun?

The nature of all of these is still in the context of a game and I think ALOT of people are forgetting this. After all, the professional basketball business is a billion dollar industry and inflated way over its practical or even pragmatic service to society. But we embrace it. Call it love of the game, call it city or team pride, call it entertainment.

Over in League of Legends, there’s a mixed bag of accounts from the positive play experiences to the negative. People are jerks when given the anonymity of the internet, but not always. I had really great fun in a game recently where I was laning with a whiny team mate (in a bot game!) who called me a n00b for not playing Maokai “correctly,” but I then proceeded to complete my build, farm our lane, and pull off a nice ambush and triple-kill of our enemy bots. It was one of my best games ever and I even got to say to the guy whining at me, “Do you have any constructive advice instead of name-calling?”  I was never answered. It felt great! In the competitive arenas, its both much better and much worse, the extremes are way out to either side with very helpful people with actual input and suggestions on one end and the scum of the (w)hole of the internet on the other.

The game is a game is a game. Gamers and nerds are strangely competitive people. It might be something residual from high school, but how strong that trend towards friendly competition versus rudeness is up to the participants. I know a long time that the major Warhammer tournaments started giving out trophies not only for best painted army and overall winner, but also to the best sport/most fun to play. That attitude is the goal, I believe.

If you’ve fallen in love with a game, you know what I’m talking about when I say there was a golden era for you when you started playing it. For Warhammer, it was in the 8th grade playing in my friend’s basement. For Magic, it was only a few years ago right after I learned how to play and hosted multi-player games in my home. For basketball, it was my sophomore year in college when we had a regular rotation of 8-12 guys who played pickup twice a week.

No one likes to lose, but the simple joy of playing a game should reach people more often. Yes, if you want to take a game more seriously, start to learn your meta. Know the ins, outs, and match-ups. For a professional athlete, that is as much of the job as the actual performance. Read Sun Tzu and learn strategies that apply to warfare, politics, and personal interactions. Hell, watch Kevin Spacey in House of Cards.

Just have some fun, too.

A Storm of Words

Every copy should have been printed with this art

Every copy should have been printed with this art

I love (lovelovelove) hearing my girlfriend talk about the “A Song of Ice and Fire” books as she reads them. I read things quickly and absorb information into some sort of brain wiki that organizes people, places, and events very well for my instant recall. She’s a slower, more methodical reader who grabs the nuances and unspoken plot development more easily than I do. I really enjoy our conversations when we read the same books. She’s been reading A Storm of Swords for the last……14 hours now. It’s very entertaining to hear her side comments as she delves deeper into George R.R. Martin’s epic. These are side comments I’d like to share with you.

WARNING! Some slight ASOS SPOILERS ahead.

Recent gems from her:

“I think Cersei is putting smallpox in Sansa’s dress.”

“Ugh. Another Catelyn chapter.”

“The only character I care about right now is Tyrion.”

“Catelyn needs to be put in a place where she can’t do any more harm.”

“Ooo, Danaerys is dirty…   ”

“Come on, Ser Jorah! That was a mistake.”

“I love Mance Rayder. That story about the red thread almost made me cry.”

“Who’s the wormy guy again, Theon? I hate him. I’m secretly hoping he’s dead, but I know he can’t be.”

“Ugh, no place is safe for Arya.”

“I want to punch Tywin in the face. I mean, I like him for being the smartest person in the room, but I want to see his downfall.”

“I love this book!” she said. “What’s happening?” I asked. “Nothing, just foreshadowing,” she answered.

And then her reading about the Unsullied and puppies, “UGH. Thanks, George Martin.”

She’s reminding me of how much I want to see the next Game of Thrones season. A Storm of Swords is clearly the best book of the series. one of my best mates calls the book, “Four Weddings and a Hot Pie.” The story crafted within its pages are sublime. Twisting story-arcs and dagger-to-the-gut drama are where Mister Martin excel, but as one of my gf’s comments above say, he’s the master of foreshadowing.

It’s this one area of story-telling that I struggle the most with: how to reveal or suggest the future actions within your story without giving the broad strokes away. If we look back to the first hundred pages of the first ASOIAF series in Game of Thrones, there’s an ominous beginning with the Night’s Watch and the White Walkers, Eddard Stark administering the King’s justice before his son, the direwolf slain by a stag’s horn, Ned and Robert’s moment in the Stark catacombs, Jon and Tyrion’s conversation on fathers and bastards, Lysa Arryn’s letter to her sister casting doubts upon the Lannisters, Bran’s fall from the tower, and Jon’s gift of a sword to Arya. THAT is a packed 100 pages. And the amazing thing? You can find all sorts of aspersions and insinuations through these initial meetings and twists that affect the whole series, all 4600+ pages. And we’re still two books short of the finale.

The sheer amount of planning and creativity that goes into an epic like this is astounding. He shows off everyone, tells whom agrees or disagrees with whom, alludes to rises and falls through symbols, and uses his characters to influence others like none other I have read.

Although there is a flow of acts and rising action in each book, I consider A Storm of Swords to be the rising action of the series as a whole. The three act story arc can be summed up as “Get your characters up a tree, throw stones at  them, then get them out of the tree.” A Storm of Swords is the first volley of stones. I won’t spoil anything further, but this book has some of the largest twists and some of the most wrenching moments, no matter to who’s side you back. The end of A Game of Thrones might have been the first shock to the system, but it was the opening act for a much bolder showcase.

I did reviews for A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons awhile ago and I won’t be submitting one for Storm as of yet, but it would receive some of my highest praise. Listening in to my girlfriend, it receives some of hers, too.  🙂

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