September 16th, 2002: The Malazan Book of the Fallen
In the primeval epochs of 2013-2014 ... which isn't really that long ago, but feels like it ... those days before Covid and Carnival Barking politicians ... in those lost ages of the early 2010s I had one of the most profound reading experiences of my life.
Steven Erikson's breathtaking and epic fantasy saga: The Malazan Book of the Fallen.
I'm writing about it because I've been slowly rereading it over the past couple of years. And my reread is not only reconfirming for me just how colossal and mind-blowing the series was, but unlocking aspects of it that I didn't notice the first time, making connections I completely missed the first time ...
If you haven't heard of Malazan, here's the premise according to Wikipedia: Erikson's series is extremely complex with a wide scope, and presents the narratives of a large cast of characters spanning thousands of years across multiple continents.
His plotting presents a complicated series of events in the world upon which the Malazan Empire is located. Each of the first five novels is relatively self-contained, in that each resolves its respective primary conflict; but many underlying characters and events are interwoven throughout the works of the series, binding it together.
All of which is true, and yet it's nearly impossible to convey in words just how epic this thing truly is ... and how rewarding. It's a little bit J.R.R. Tolkien, it's a little bit Homer's The Iliad, and it's a little bit intense Prog Metal.
Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire need to read this ... it's soooo much better. Sorry if that surprises or offends but facts are facts, friends. (Disclaimer: and opinions are opinions, and this is an opinion. Still! ...)
The titular empire and its doings and goings-on across a vast world is the ostensible subject of these books. There are no clear protagonists or villains. When you think you've discovered either of those things, you'll reverse your view multiple times by the end of the series. This happens not only with characters, but with entire races. Thousands upon thousands of pages will go by where you'll think "these guys are good" and "these guys are bad." And suddenly you'll realize "no wait, those guys were bad all along, and those other guys were good!" And that will keep happening.
Hundreds of thousands of years of history are referenced as we journey through the "present" in which the novels take place. But don't get too comfortable with what you think happened in the before-times, dear readers ... because depending on who is talking and what the context is, there will be lots of new and different details added, and your understanding of the past will change constantly. (Sort of like real history. Sidenote: Erikson was an archeologist and anthropologist before he was a writer.)
You will laugh. You will cry. You will turn purple and scream in rage. You will be covered in goosebumps. You will ... you will ... god, you will do so many things.
It's a series that is simply impossible to describe. It has to be experienced. And then it has to be experienced again, because the density demands closer attention. Many feel the first book is the weakest, and I'd probably agree. Stick with it! You will understand why very soon.
I've never read anything like it. And as Nick Caraway says of Jay Gatsby: "It is unlikely that I ever will again." There's something sad in that.
I recommend this for people who like ... anything. I recommend this series for EVERYONE. Read it.
September 9th, 2022: Welcome Back, Nerds! Season 3 is at hand ...
Summer is ending, and you know what that means, don’t you, nerds? The cooling temperatures and turning leaves are an excellent time for a low-stakes hike in the forest where you can pretend you’re approaching Rivendell for a relaxing stay with Elrond Halfelven …
Yes, that goes without saying, but it also means we’re back for another fun season of our podcast Nerds of the Old Republic. And we’ve got a good slate of shit planned for you this year, old chums. We’ve already recorded on Neal Stephenson’s new “cli-fi” novel Termination Shock and Disney’s series Obi Wan Kenobi. We’ve got Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep coming up (a true classic), and we’ll talk about the Blade Runner filmsas well. We’re going to read some Tolkien, and we are INSANELY excited to finish watching Amazon’s Rings of Power series and talk about that! And lots more besides (hint: you like dragons?)
Got some good stuff coming there as well. This summer I tackled the entire filmography of director Robert Eggers. Wasn’t hard - it’s three movies. But, man, what a brilliantly talented young director. My first blog of Season 3 is going to cover his films which include The Witch, The Lighthouse, and most recently The Northman.
I’m also excited to talk about something that is very near to my heart: The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. I’ve been slowly re-reading that series over the past couple of years, which brings an even deeper level of comprehension and appreciation than the first time - and the first time was one of the best reading experiences I’ve ever had. So stay tuned for that as well!
Welcome back, nerds! It feels good to be cranking out nerd shit once more!
May 12th, 2022: Robert Rodriguez' Desperado
In our upcoming conversation about the recent Nicolas Cage movie Jiu Jitsu, we had an interesting side discussion of "good bad-movies." We named a few in the cast, but the idea stuck in my head and I got round to thinking of two of my absolute favorite.
Robert Rodriguez' 1995 film Desperado, and its 2003 sequel Once Upon a Time in Mexico aren't just good-bad films ... they're fucking EXCELLENT bad-films. I've always had a very soft spot in my heart for these two.
I first saw Desperado when I was too young to even process that it was a stylized glorification of b-movie schlock. And I still thought it was like the greatest thing I'd ever seen. Antonio Banderas is just so damn cool in it. Everything he says. He can deliver the corniest lines, and somehow come across as badass and sexy doing it. "I'm going to church. I need to confess my sins. I am a sinner." Or: "Not yet ..." (*guns pop out of sleeve blazing.) He has a sort of deep-voiced, heavily-accented mumble that seems both completely cool and insincere, while also seeming totally genuine and sincere at the same time. Dude has charisma.
Everyone else is great too ... Cheech Marin as the bartender ("Fuck you, that's my cleanest glass!") Steve Buscemi as the goofy American sidekick ("These were some real lowlifes ... not class acts like these boys here.") Danny Trejo as the knife throwing assassin (*literally says nothing beginning to end). An appearance by Quentin Tarantino as the American drug mule who tells a fucking typically hilarious rambling bad-joke about pissing all over a bar.
And Salma Hayek. Oh Salma. That woman is literally the greatest thing ever. In the history of things. She's in her 20's when Desperado drops, and it seems impossible to believe, but she's even more lovely and charming now well into her 50's than she was then. She and Antonio have insane chemistry.
And of course the real star of the show is Robert Rodriguez' script and camera and editing. People might argue about what his best or most quintessential movie is, but for my money its this one. He was young enough to fully embrace this b-movie small-town revenge tale without the slightest trace of intellectual irony, and yet still talented enough to pull it off in a way that works. And holds up fine in 2022.
Good music too. I had forgotten that part. "The Strange Face of Love" (Tito and the Tarantulas) playing through the final moments of that bar shootout scene where Antonio and Salma end up meeting for the first time. Or (also Tito & Tarantula's) "Back to the House" blaring over the final moments of the film. Perfect. Spot on, Mr. Rodriguez.
Well, maybe I'll pour another glass of whiskey soon and revisit Once Upon a Time in Mexico. I recall not liking that movie quite as much - over-the-top plotting, dialed-back-performance by Antonio, Salma killed off (unforgivable!) ... but it's still great. A ridiculous celebration of b-movie nonsense, and the spaghetti-western aesthetic. And Johnny Depp is brilliant and eccentric in it, as with everything.
March 8th: Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho
One of our all-time favorites here at Nerds of the Old Republic. Both the book and the film. But we recently re-read the Bret Easton Ellis text, so that's on our minds today.
There are many people who hate this book. And for such people I think the criticisms are usually a) no likable characters, certainly not the narrator and b) it’s just a very dark and disturbing experience but what is the point?
For those of us who love it, here’s what we see: it’s similar to the premise of Fight Club in that it suggests modern society represses a lot of the things that are most human in us and traps us in meaningless and superficial pursuits. Someone like Patrick Bateman feels empty and loathes the Wall Street culture he sees around him, and yet he simultaneously yearns to be a part of it and yearns for its acceptance - a contradiction in the human spirit, where we often are fascinated by things we fear or hate such as war or violence or drugs or … you know, whatever. The further he sinks into this superficial culture of materialism and consumerism where status is determined by silly things like the quality of one’s business card (brilliant fucking scene!) and what restaurants one can get reservations to, and into a culture where status is determined by youth and beauty to the extent he is constantly at the gym and using all manner of skin care products and is obsessed with fashion (*see footnote below) … the further he feels empty and alienated and disillusioned. And whether he’s trying to fill up that emptiness with something more primitive, or whether he’s just resorting to the extreme version of someone punching a wall when they’re upset, the point is his hatred and aggression and violence is a reaction to the superficial and soul-killing culture he’s embedded in and surrounded by. It’s Kurtz in the jungle resorting to his darkest impulses. It’s Tyler Durden getting in fights just to feel something.
And of course the end of the book is ambiguous - did all of this ACTUALLY happen, or is this just the tortured and disturbed psyche of someone. The answer really isn’t important at all. The question is. The character's psyche is.
And the fact that the book is called “AMERICAN Psycho” makes it clear that we’re invited to consider Patrick Bateman as a sort of avatar for the unintended symptoms of modern uber-capitalist society as felt by the individual. Well, some of them. The Batemans.
And that’s just an examination of the theme. Of course the prose and the satire and the STYLE above all are of paramount importance. I LOVE the way Bret Easton Ellis envisions scenes. He’s like a photographer or painter who gives us these intriguing images and asks us to think about them. That’s what makes the business card scene so great. Or the scenes where Bateman is murdering someone while intellectually discussing 80s pop music in great academic depth. Or the fact that everyone keeps getting each other confused and calling each other by the wrong names bc they all look and act the same.
Now it's the type of thing where you can't begrudge anyone who says "not my thing." But if you like to look at these twisted images and jarring juxtapositions and satire by a master stylist and see modern society as reflected through a really fucked up mirror ... then this book is as good as it gets. On our scale of Bantha Fodder to Unlimited Power, we unequivocally give this one a UP.
*Bret Easton Ellis has said in interviews that all the elaborate outfit descriptions in the text are a bit of an in-joke. I'm paraphrasing, but he's said if you actually put together the collections and combinations he describes, sophisticated as they sound, a lot of them would look absolutely ridiculous together in real life. Just a fun fact.
February 28th, 2022: Proud Running Nerds!
Hey, first of all, if you haven't checked out our recent episodes on The Matrix and The Sandman, please do, old chums. Both are solid and chock-full of great nerdy discussion.
Oh, and stay tuned for our upcoming episode on Gideon the Ninth! This book sparked some debate among we three gentlemen. Adam loved it, Mike mostly dug it but had some reservations, and Shaun was ... um, not impressed.
But now ... a discussion of what we're reading right now. And it's a bit on the old side. And a bit on the epic side. We are talking, of course, of Homer's The Iliad.
And, damn, nerds. DAMN! This shit is crazy good. I think too many people shy away from this one because it conjures up associations with High School lectures and undergrad papers. But the classics are sometimes classics for a reason, and this is as classic as they come. 2,700 years a classic, to be exact. (Or exact as is possible when discussing Homer.)
But seriously ... this thing need not be approached as a scholarly piece of literature, nor as a revered historical document, though it is certainly both of those things. But it should also be seen as what it is: an epic war fantasy with the emphasis definitely on EPIC. This thing has kings and queens and battles and gods and goddesses and love stories and betrayals and feuds and backstories and mythology and speechifying and the scope ... the SCOPE of the thing is just wild. I mean, who should read this? Professors? Literary scholars? Students? No. No, we nerds, we the nerdy people should be reading this! The proud men and women who love Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and Dune. That's what I'm feeling as I'm reading this.
Yah, there's a ton to talk about in terms of the scholarly stuff - and for a certain type of nerd (myself included) that stuff is fascinating too. Was Homer an actual historical figure? Was Homer a whole bunch of historical figures? Did Homer compose Iliad and folks wrote it down later? Did folks compose Iliad and Homer wrote it down later?
And the oral poetry tradition itself is a really interesting thing as well. If you read the 60+ page introduction to the Robert Fagles translation as we did, you'll learn all about the historical anachronisms in both technology and language, as well as the oral poet's technique of using stock phrases, names, and passages which comprise a surprisingly large percentage of the overall text. The complexity of the heroic meter (hexameter) and the difficulties, if not outright futility, of translating that structure into English. The way in which descriptive phrases were deployed by the oral poet to fill out lines and conform to the meter (proud-running Achilles, for example, or long-haired Achaeans...).
Good stuff, nerds. But not essential either. It pains us to think how many lovers of myth and fantasy are out there not reading Homer because it sounds like scholarly shit to them, and what they want is George RR Martin. I'm telling you this shit is almost three millennia old, but it is also so fucking new. The horrific violence of battle is right up front and no detail is spared. The inequities in social structure ... the roles of gender ... the warrior ethos ... the ambitions of men, the greed, the lust, and everything that motivates us and stirs us to action ... the tragedy. The tragedy! Because we know certain characters are doomed. And we know Troy itself is doomed. Which brings us into the realm of fate and destiny, and the tragic struggle against those things.
And another certain thing some of us love and appreciate about Lord of the Rings is here too (and in the Icelandic Sagas - also wonderful stories, check those out as well.) The great authors of yore, you see, didn't do all the interior monologuing that modern publishing demands. The characterization, and our understanding of their feelings and motivations? That work is done by the words that actually come out of their mouths and the deeds they actually commit. Not everyone digs that. But some of us do. It's a lost art we no longer indulge, this idea that we don't need to read every thought and feel every emotion in order to reflect on and make judgments about a character. But in The Iliad we readers get to do a lot of that work. We get to read between the lines quite a bit. Why did that character do that? What did that character mean when they said that? It's refreshing.
Man, I'm honestly frustrated trying to explain this succinctly. I need a college seminar to properly give it everything it deserves. And that puts us right back in the classroom, which is the reason why people skip it in the first place. Alas, the cruel circularity of it!
Read The Iliad. I am loving this shit. On our NotOR scale of Bantha Fodder (bad) to Unlimited Power (amazing), it definitely rates UP.
Cheers, nerds. Our new episode on Gideon the Ninth drops Thursday!
February, 15th, 2022: Another Embarrassment of Nerd Riches
NuqneH, fellow nerds! (That's Klingon for hello, but if you're reading this blog you should already know that.) Time for another edition of An Embarrassment of Nerd Riches, in which we keep you apprised of what's going on in the world of NotOR.
We've recently released episodes of our podcast in which we discuss Neil Gaiman's The Sandmanseries (a landmark in the graphic novel world) and The Matrix(both new and old.) Those episodes are downloading at what can only be described as a "torrid pace," and we continue to rank highly on @GoodPodsHQ's overall rankings for book-themed podcasts. A fact we are very proud of.
We posted a new blog review of Bong Joon-ho's brilliant film Parasitelast week, which you can read by scrolling just a bit further down the page. We highly recommend the film. And the blog.
Later this week, the distinguished hosting collective of NotOR will meet in our recording studio to record our next two episodes, which will focus on Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninthand Disney's new series The Book of Boba Fett. We are busily finishing both in preparation and excited to talk about Star Wars and lesbian necromancers in space!
And we are excited to make several announcements about what's coming up!
- In March we will be reading Andrzej Sapkowski's The Last Wish, and we are looking forward to diving into the world of The Witcher.
- And the following month we will be reading Man Booker Prize winning author Marlon James' newest addition to his Dark Star trilogy: Moon Witch, Spider King.
So there you have it, old chums (and new). Much to look forward to. The Klingons like to observe that today is a good day to die. Well, we're not quite there, so we'll just say it's a good day to nerd out.
February 11th, 2022: Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite
I’ve been intending to watch this film for a couple of years since it won a bunch of awards. If you haven’t been watching any Bong Joon-Ho films over the past decade or so, then you can’t properly call yourself a cinephile. My experience with him has been The Host and Snowpiercer - both excellent movies.
But even so … even despite seeing two of his previous great movies, and despite all the critical acclaim for Parasite … I was not prepared for exactly how good this film was. I mean … damn.
If I had any objections to Snowpiercer, it was simply this: the allegory, man. It’s so freaking heavy-handed. The film does not leave any room for nuanced thinking - it is a clear moral statement on class in society, and it is delivered in a way that feels something like a straight bludgeoning.
Not so with Parasite. If I say the allegory is a lot more nuanced, I don’t mean necessarily the way it’s delivered. It’s there, and as a viewer you’re keenly aware of it. No, I’m talking about the content of the allegory itself. It’s not so simple. It’s not the sweeping declaration of Snowpiercer’s “rich people are awful.”
So what is it? I had to think about that one. I sat with it for a few hours mulling it over - smoking the pipe contemplatively by the fire while sipping a good scotch as Chopin sonatas played gently in the background.
In Parasite your rich people, while entitled, are blissfully unaware of their advantages and are actually quite sympathetic as characters. And your poor people, while ill-used by their society and left to struggle, are not entirely sympathetic. The rich are snooty and wrapped up in themselves, but they seem to genuinely love and enjoy each other and are relatable people to most of us in a modern audience. The poor, meanwhile, live in squalor and have to adapt to survive, but this causes them to behave without regard for others - they advance by lying and by injuring others like themselves.
That’s why I say there is a lot of nuance about this allegory. It’s what I liked about 2019’s Joker (a few blog posts back.) It does not claim that there are good guys and there are bad guys. It does not ask the audience to pick sides. No, it asks us instead to consider complex situations. To consider “shades of gray” to use the old cliche.
Our society, it suggests, is structured so that the rich can be nice people - not malicious, not greedy, not smug in their superiority - just nice, real people. But they can also be totally incapable of comprehending what life is like for many outside their bubble, and the role they play in that inequity. Meanwhile the poor may not have done anything to deserve their adversity and struggle, and it’s not their fault that it’s nearly impossible to transcend these circumstances. But by doing what they feel they have to do to get by, they can become something that isn’t nearly as innocent as “the meek,” as saddening as the “huddled masses.”
It’s not the rich’s fault, it’s not the poor’s fault, it’s just modern society. And human nature. That, if I may quote 2Pac by way of Bruce Hornsby, is just the way it is.
There’s a lot more to like about this film as well. The filmmaking is masterful, the writing, the pacing, the acting … it is both smart and entertaining. Bong Joon-Ho is an artist wholly in charge of his craft and at the height of his powers.
On the NotOR scale of Bantha Fodder through Unlimited Power, this one definitely gets UP. Check it out.
January 28th, 2022: The World of Nerdom
A lot happening these days here at Nerds of the Old Republic, we're very happy to report.
(1) We're officially doubling our output. We've been dipping our collective toes into the podcast waters with an episode per month since our inception one year ago. But we're going to be doubling that now. That's right, nerds ... TWO episodes a month. Our monthly listens have been getting better and better, and our social media presence is growing, and it's time to belly flop right into that shit.
(2) We just released our much-anticipated episode on Neil Gaiman's epic Sandman. Even Shaun, our resident cynic, gave this one (mostly) positive reviews. Adam and Mike, of course, loved this shit. You'll want to check this episode out for the great discussion, and also ... for the absinthe! That's right ... we drank absinthe. Because what else does one drink when the theme is dreams? https://open.spotify.com/episode/7fopXCOF1GCS7WzLyNcN10?si=fTKB6d_dS9CJFQEm41_Xcw
(3) In the next couple of weeks, we'll be dropping our episode on The Matrix. Ostensibly this episode was to discuss the new one, but really it turned into a terrific retrospective conversation about the whole franchise. We cover a lot, and it is all just absolutely riveting ... which is to be expected. We drank some local craft Pilsner for this episode, b/c ... pills. Get it? "You take the blue pill ..." yah, you get it. Stay tuned!
(4) Follow, rate, and review us please, if you're enjoying the show. It really helps more than we can possibly articulate using English words, so we'll use Punjabi: ਇਹ ਅਸਲ ਵਿੱਚ ਮਦਦ ਕਰਦਾ ਹੈ! And here it is in Mongolian as well: Энэ үнэхээр тусалдаг!
(5) We're currently reading Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. And we are watching The Book of Boba Fett. We'll be recording on both of these in the coming weeks. So lots and lots of good nerd shit is yet to come. Stick with us, kid.
Cheers! And as our fearless leader Adam is forever reminding us all: Stay Nerdy!
January 20th, 2022: Arrival
I’ll get this out of the way up front: Denis Villeneuve is my favorite director. Okay, aside from the obvious ones: Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola … and obviously Quentin Tarantino is GOD HIMSELF.
There are a lot of really great filmmakers out there right now. Bong Joon-ho, Alfonso Cuaron, Edgar Wright, Christopher Nolan, and many others. But for me, Villeneuve is a revelation. Every one of his films that I have seen (and I’ve seen most of them) has been mind-blowingly good. He has an uncanny ability to entertain, visually entrance, make you think - all three at once.
So I re-watched Arrival last week. Now how do you explain this film to someone?
“Yah, so, it’s about, like, these aliens that come to earth and nobody knows why they’re here …” “Oh, so it’s Independence Day?” “Nah, cause, like, it’s more about the human themes …” “Ah, like District 9?” “Well, no, cause there’s all this stuff about communication and understanding and stuff.” “E.T.?”
Man, this movie is DENSE. What it’s really “about,” I think, is the old question of Fate vs. Self-Determination. This shit goes back to ancient mythology. “King Acrisius, your grandson will kill you someday.” “Cool, I’ll do a buncha shit to make sure I never have a grandson, aaaaaaaaaaand whoops, I’m the one who caused it to happen by trying to avoid it.”
"All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!" "Hey wait, I know! I'll kill King Duncan and become king!"
We get a good look at it in The Matrix too. “Don’t worry about the vase.” “Huh, what vase? … aaaaaaand whoops, I’m the one who knocked it over, how did you know?” “What’s really going to piss you off is what if I hadn’t said shit about that vase?” Or the excellent Will Ferrell movie Stranger Than Fiction. “You’ll die when you’re in this spot at this time.” “Fine, I choose to be there.”
You get the idea. It’s an endlessly intriguing theme, and that’s what Amy Adams’ character faces in Arrival: if I have a daughter I’m going to have a wonderful, loving, fulfilling relationship with her … then she’s going to get sick with a rare, incurable disease and die and my marriage will be torn apart.
Louise says she is choosing to embrace the journey. But is she? If she’s perceiving “the future” as opposed to “a future,” is her choice an illusion?
But what’s more fascinating is the way the film explores it. Because in order for Louise to know the future, we have to have an explanation for that. So that’s where the aliens come in and we get the theme of “language as thought programmer.” The theory being that the human mind creates language as a sort of program that, having been installed, now further programs and operates our mind. So when she learns the language of the heptapods, she begins to perceive time in an nonlinear way … as they do. It reprograms her mind.
And then in order for her perception of time, and her choice (or illusion of choice) to have real meaning for the audience, you have to infuse the conflict with genuine emotion - hence the family drama. A mother who has to choose between the highs and lows of love and loss versus a less traumatic middle road where she experiences neither.
And that, I think, is where this film truly shines. That opening sequence is already powerful stuff. But it’s the circling back to it at the end. Those “memories” (or visions) of her daughter growing up, their time together, their closeness and their love, the husband/father leaving, the daughter getting sick and passing away, all set to that gorgeous and heartbreaking Max Richter song “On the Nature of Daylight” … that whole thing is crushing. If you are not sobbing to the point where your shirt has to be wrung out, then you have no soul.
So yah … it’s the themes which are numerous and complex … it’s the story construction which is executed perfectly … it’s the acting which is spot on … it’s the visuals and the audio, all of which are breathtaking. In short, it is another Villeneuve masterpiece. I really love this film, and I do not use the word “love” flippantly here. This is one of the great ones.
On the NotOR film rating scale, which runs from Bantha Fodder all the way up to Unlimited Power … this one is definitely UP. Give it a watch if you haven’t.
We are recording our next podcast episode on Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman tomorrow and we are very excited to drink “Death in the Afternoon” cocktails for that discussion. Look for it soon!
If you enjoy our blog and/or podcast, please follow us on the socials, rate and review us, and leave your comments on the Twitter page! We love to engage, and if your shit is especially interesting, we’ll even bring it up on the podcast.
January 10th, 2022: Ready Player One
We’re recording our next podcast episode this Friday! We’ll be discussing the first four volumes of Neil Gaiman’s epic graphic novel masterpiece The Sandman, if you want to read along. Tweet us your thoughts on Sandman, we may read and respond directly in the cast!
And now Ready Player One. (Deep Breath.) This was a … busy film. I have mixed feelings about it. I suppose I should try to work those out with something resembling coherence for the purpose of this blog. Here goes ...
First, what did I like?
Well … the visuals were spectacular. For what they were trying to be. See … I’m already off to a frustrated start. Because what was happening in that film really isn’t my jam. It’s that video-game aesthetic where there is just so much detail flying through the frame at the speed of light and all at the same time, and the “camera” is turning violently from right to left to right again, and there is no ability to focus on anything, and the mind ultimately concludes the detail is awesome because it must be based on sheer volume and speed.
I mean the frame turns in one direction and you vaguely gather that two vehicles have crashed into each other and there’s particles and fragments of shit flying everywhere, but you can’t tell what’s coming from where because you’re already looking at the explosion happening somewhere else and the eighteen characters who are flying in and out of your line of sight even as the frame turns in another directions to take in more particles and fragments and explosions and characters.
It’s the point of the film. I get it. One character even makes a joke at one point about how much they can subject gamers to before they induce seizures. It’s all about technology and virtual reality and how the human brain evolves with it (or is shaped by it) and so on. Yes, great.
But damn with that fucking green screen. At a certain point, does the “point” of your film even matter anymore? Are you really a "lens" if you're simultaneously Exhibit A of the thing the lens is supposed to be examining? Right? Does that even make sense when I say that?
I don’t know, but that’s the kind of exhaustion my brain descends into when it spends a couple of hours staring at loud and fast detail hitting like repeated strikes from a hammer and never allowing a moment to focus. It’s sound and fury, but what does it signify? What’s all the detail without the substance?
Or maybe I’m just cranky and old. What else did I like?
The acting was great. Kudos to the actors.
The story was compelling. Kudos to Ernest Cline. I have a feeling I’d like the book more than the movie.
The soundtrack was fabulous. Seriously, that was a solid fucking soundtrack right there.
Alright, I hope that made any kind of sense. I really did enjoy the film. I just came away feeling a little conflicted about it in the final analysis.
Once again, we're recording our next podcast episode this Friday and we are discussing the first four volumes of Neil Gaiman’s epic graphic novel masterpiece The Sandman, if you want to read along.
Reply to us on Twitter with your thoughts on Ready Player One. Or tweet us your thoughts on Sandman!
Cheers, fellow nerds.
January 5th, 2022: An embarrassment of nerd riches
It’s an exciting time to be a nerd. There’s just so much good shit going on, it’s almost too much. An embarrassment of riches, as they say.
What have the nerds at NotOR been up to? So much, old chums. To paraphrase poor crown prince Leopold seconds before he shoots himself in the head in the excellent 2006 film The Illusionist … we’ve done all we can - too much! Too much ...
We’ve been rewatching The Matrix trilogy in preparation for the new one. Still say the first one is classic, the second one is good, and the third one is a pile of wet dog shit. And then, of course, we’ve watched Matrix 4, and you can expect a new cast episode out on that subject in the coming weeks.
We’re busy (and impatiently) consuming The Book of Boba Fett, and there will certainly be a blog and/or cast on that to follow.
Some of us (for instance, those of us with the power of the keyboard at our fingertips) have been absolutely elated to discover that the 1980’s TV show Knight Rider is on Netflix! And boy, have we been enjoying that. It’s given a fucking turbo boost to our workday evenings. (Heh heh ... see what we did there?)
And we’ve been reading good shit too! We’ve been crushing Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, which we cannot … repeat cannot … recommend highly enough. I mean, the cover says “Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic castle in space!” Really what else do you have to know?
And of course we’re busily reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series in preparation for our next podcast. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the greatest things ever in the history of things.
So even though we’re all living through “The Masque of the Red Death,” and we’ve come to the anniversary of one of the saddest chapters in our nation’s history, well … it’s still a good time to be a nerd.
As our captain and podcast host Adam tells us all in each and every episode … STAY NERDY! Wise shit, Adam. Wise shit indeed. And in the dying words of Boromir himself: we would have followed you, my brother ... my captain ... my king!
PS: Please like us, follow us, subscribe to our podcast, rate us, etc. The usual shit. We’d really appreciate it! And let us know what nerdy things you’re consuming. Let us know what we should be discussing on future casts!
January 3rd, 2022: Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix
So I’m a couple of years behind on this, but I finally saw Joker. I heard a lot of talk about this film, and I’d read some reviews, so I was expecting it to be good - but damn, it was excellent.
Look, I’ll admit … I’m not a superhero genre guy. I won’t speak for the other guys on this podcast, because I know they are. But it’s never been my favorite. There are exceptions … I enjoy Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and I thought Black Panther was brilliant. And I’m not sure if V for Vendetta or Guardians of the Galaxy qualify as “superhero” films, but if they do, then those are great too.
But this film had a couple of other things working against it from my perspective as well. One was that I just really didn’t need to see anyone else play the character so soon after Heath Ledger. I get that it’s a recurring character in a larger fictional universe and other people will play him … but it somehow felt too soon after Ledger’s masterful, tragic performance. I wanted that one to be the final word on it for a while.
Two was that I was peripherally aware that some people were reading this film … well, wrong. In the same way that some people watch Fight Club and come away thinking that society is an evil oppressor and violent masculinity is the answer. Or they watch The Matrix and relate to the whole “awakening” piece without paying any attention to the accompanying themes of “knowledge” and “truth.”
Fight Club and The Matrix are two of my favorite films. But in the final analysis, to whatever extent FC is about violence and revolution, it’s also about the self-destructiveness of Tyler Durden’s philosophy. And Matrix is definitely not about believing any-fucking-thing you want and calling yourself enlightened: it’s about the hard work of actually understanding the wider world around you.
Which brings me back to Joker. There was a lot made of certain crowds seeing Joaquin Phoenix’s character as some kind of revolutionary hero. He is “the downtrodden,” in their view. The good man who, god damnit, isn’t gonna take no shit from society anymore.
The point of this film isn’t that society is at fault. Nor is the point that Joker is at fault. The film’s point is that both are.
Any society at any time and place will have its shortcomings. 21st-Century America has them too. And when the combined force of society’s many shortcomings start to add up in the unhappy life of a mentally ill individual with repressed violent tendencies, bad things are bound to happen. The point of this film is that society needs to do better. The point of this film is to help us understand the mindset of a violent sociopath. It wants us to understand the intersection of those two things. Not to glorify the explosion of repressed rage, but to prevent the need for repressed rage in the first place, and to identify and treat it where it exists.
Joker and the rioters in this film are recognizable to anyone who just turns on the news once in a while. It is possible for us to condemn acts of domestic terror and public figures and policies who instigate such acts, while also sympathizing with the many people out there who have justifiable frustrations and feel they have no voice and no way to solve anything. When we get angry, we don't always do logical things. Sometimes we punch a pillow. Sometimes it's a wall. Sometimes somebody pushes it much, much further.
Joker is not a film about blaming … it’s a film about recognition. It’s a mirror and in which we’re meant to see ourselves and our experiences and the people and society around us.
Which is great. Really, really great. If any members of the audience misappropriate that message, it's unfortunate, but it is not the fault of the film.
I haven’t even touched on Phoenix’s performance (which was brilliant and intense), or the film’s style (which was not afraid to be slow, to linger, and to show you uncomfortable things.) I found so many things to like in this movie, confronted in more open and honest ways than I ever expected out of a so-called “superhero” genre film.
Joker is as good a commentary on 21st Century America as I’ve seen in years.
NotOR final review on a scale of Batha Fodder to Unlimited Power … definitely UP.
December 29th, 2021: Pig starring Nicolas Cage
Movie premise: an isolated farmer gets beat up and his truffle pig is stolen, and he’s out to get it back.
Movie star: Nicolas Cage
Obvious Assumption: John Wick for the farmer subset of the revenge-cinema community, and absolutely bat-fucking-shit weird given Cage’s involvement.
The Reality: Holy shit, this is not what you expect. This is an outstanding film - meditative, brooding, reflective, full of pathos. It is a beautiful film to look at, and Cage is spectacular in the lead role.
This movie seems especially relevant for those approaching (or enjoying) middle age. Memory and loss and change and grief and fortitude in the face of scorn and brutality are themes throughout. Cage constantly resists the temptation to “Cage,” even as the movie repeatedly presents himself with opportunities. I mean, when he finally learns what happens to that pig, there can’t be a single viewer who isn’t expecting Crazy-Cage-Face and hysterics, but no. No, we get a somber, sad, but strong protagonist. Cage is frankly brilliant here.
The style of the film is unexpected as well. Again, the premise suggests Wick-level revenge action, or perhaps Taken-style quick cuts and shaky cam. But again … no. This movie is full of lingering shots, slow cuts. It’s contemplative and takes its time, even as it thrusts its protagonist from beating (the theft) to beating (the underground culinary fight club … yah, that’s a thing) to threatened beatings (from truffle salesman/gangster kingpins) to emotional beatings (“Yah, let me tell you what happened to that pig, bud…”). That resigned goodbye, that sense of dignity underneath all that dried blood, and that final walk back to the cabin in the woods … I really can’t say enough positive things about both the filmmaking and the performance.
This is one of the best movies of the year. I didn’t expect to like it so much, but I haven’t stopped recommending it to everyone whether they care or not (they usually don’t … consider it a freebie.)
NotOR final review on a scale of Bantha Fodder - Unlimited Power … definitely UP. Highly recommend.
December 29th, 2021
The inaugural entry for the much anticipated Nerds of the Old Republic Blog.
Who are we?:
We are but .15score Podcasters, bloggers, and aspiring SFF Authors. We are marginally force-sensitive, but alas: we were too old … too old to begin the training! So instead we podcast and blog.
Our podcast focuses on the reading and discussion of SFF works, both classic and contemporary. So what are we doing with this blog? Here we’ll talk about all of the other wonderful things happening in the wide universe of Nerdom that isn't getting the full podcast treatment. Movies, TV Shows, graphic novels, other books we’re reading … all that shit.
And speaking of shit, we’ve seen some good stuff in the past couple of weeks! We’ll probably save our discussion of The Matrix Resurrections for the cast itself … but look for upcoming blog posts on Pig (Nicolas Cage) and Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) - both fine films!
Please like and follow us, old chums. The Old Republic may be gone, but we Nerds carry the torch forward. I’m not sure what that means, but I enjoy the implication of gravity and nobility … what Hemingway called “grace under pressure.” We are chock full of it.