AOG Film Review | “A History Of Violence” (2005)

DISCLAIMER: This article was originally posted on Odyssey.

 

This film has no political undertone, rather the point is to manifest violence into flesh-and-blood forms. The characters serve the purpose of illustrating violence. It can be abused for personal gain or used for good. What this film does is bring such an idea into a small town in America to challenge how people truly know each other.

Plot

The film begins with Tom Stall, who owns a diner and leads an ordinary life with his wife and two children. However, I didn’t think the part with the cheerleader and bad boy role-playing was really needed, since it served a meager bit of symbolism that halted the plot. One day, his life changes when two men attempt to rob his diner and he kills them in self-defense. As the film progresses, a lot of tension builds in regards to who Tom really is, to the point when his own family is confused about who his identity.

Characters

Tom Stall’s position in the film is to illustrate that even an honest, hard-working citizen living in the heart of America can be susceptible to violence. Although I liked Viggo Mortenson’s portrayal of Tom Stall. If it isn’t the fact that he’s constantly being stalked, the very facial features that he uses challenges what we really know about Tom. I couldn’t say the same about his Philly accent. He spoke with such a low volume, so low I did not even know he was trying to put off an accent.

When his wife asks what kind of a name is Stall, Tom says that it was the only one available. So that’s supposed to be a toilet joke? He decided to pick the only name left and it was a stall? That part I didn’t get. Plus, if was the only name left, wouldn’t have been easier for Fogarty to track him down?

His wife (played by Maria Bello) was a little over-the-top at one point. It was a little unexpected when she threw up in the bathroom. Even in the Director’s Commentary with David Cronenberg, he said that was not in the script, but they decided to add it anyway.

I liked Jack Stall. He used his intelligence to avoid getting beaten, by feeding the jock’s ego. It wasn’t until the breaking point at the diner when Jack begins to develop. However, after that, I lost favor with him, since his dialogue became annoyingly cringy.

Carl Fogarty. Truly Ed Harris becomes the personification of all creepiness in this film. His existence is truly the breaking point of the film and really makes us question who Tom really is.

Features

In David Cronenberg’s director commentary, he commented how the setting actually took place in Canada. I never would’ve thought of that, because there is that sense of familiarity tied to small town America, such as the diner, small businesses, town center, and a bar, that made it believable. I did think that it was resourceful for his paying attention to detail.

The film is about violence, but I felt like it was hit or miss. Cronenberg mentioned in the Director’s Commentary how he studied DVD’s that instructed things like “How to Kill” and how they involved very awkward, brutal fighting. I definitely could see that he did his homework with Tom’s action, which looked pretty raw. Not only did he use his own hands, but also whatever object or weapon was at his disposal. I also liked how he immediately and unexpectedly snaps into action in a split second, with the shortening of the length of the cinematic shots to create the illusion of fast action.

However, when Tom gets into his mode, it’s almost like everyone else has their backs turned coincidentally and are very slow to react. This could lead the viewer to shout “HOW do you f*ck that up?!”

A Full-Fisted Jab To The Throat

Violence is transmitted if not inherited through society and culture. It doesn’t take sides. Sometimes it’s used as a defensive mechanism, while other times it’s used to gain power and supremacy. This is definitely a film that brings about the worst in humanity and puts into question who people really are. This is personally one of my favorite movies that I give a fair grade.

My Impressions From Reading The “Song of Ice And Fire” Series (Thus Far)

DISCLAIMER: This article was originally posted on Odyssey.

 

Until I read this series, I always looked upon fantasy through the stereotypical view of basic fairy tales blown into literal epic proportions. As you can tell from the condition of the first book, I read it two and a half times. When a book becomes an inspiration to me, I will read it more than once.

What made me fascinated by the series was the profound levels of verisimilitude, such as the strict points-of-view that were written. I always found reading the other characters’ thoughts in a single chapter distracting. The point-of-view characters always encounter genuine danger, such as being held either in the dungeon or as war captives. By understanding the scope of lost time and judging whether the character might survive or not, it caused me to root for the characters in a way that no other book has ever done for its characters.

Since there are different points-of-view, there are also varying levels of microcosm and macrocosm. In other words, there are characters who are the main players in this game while there are characters who have little to no power of their surroundings. Oftentimes the distinction is blurred. This is what provides many perspectives to a single issue or problem.

It is also important to vividly describe the places and the clothing in order to create visual immersion and not use a mental facsimile, such as the HBO television series, which I do not watch besides the short clips. This series also perfectly describes a world where the only person that can guarantee your own safety is yourself. We spend so much time, in the tangible world of politics and the abstract world of fantasy, imagining the world we want to live in, not the world we have to live in. Ironically, this work of fantasy inspired my sense of cutting-the-crap.

However blunt this theme is, Martin writes with a witty banter whether in the dialogue or description. It also made it important to me that language in creative writing is itself metaphorical and can be manipulated to suit a particular mood. Within the content of the metaphors, he will often use what exists within Westeros or Essos, such as sigils. There is a difference between a flat metaphor like “floating like a butterfly” and “He had a laugh like the snarling of dogs in a pit.” What made the latter important was the laugh belonged to a knight who’s sigil is a dog (and is even dubbed “The Hound”) and creates a sense of relevance.

I hope to read the last two installments when they are released. Instead of expressing frustration at Martin to continue writing, I started reading his earlier books, such as “Fevre Dream” and “Dying of the Light.” I am still enthralled by his world and his writing style. An author should be judged by his entire body of published work, not only on his best-selling magnum opus. However, for this series, I would highly recommend this series to dispel any fantasy stereotypes that exist.

AOG Literature Review | “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

DISCLAIMER: This was originally posted on Odyssey.

 

I read this for my British Literature class when I was enrolled in Brookdale Community College. This was one of the stories that really grabbed my attention. It was written in 1899, right around the time when Modernism started phasing out Victorianism in Britain.

Plot

An older Marlowe talks about his experience navigating through the Congo River to a crew. Through connections with his aunt, he managed to go to an African colony to take up an assignment of tracking down Mr. Kurtz who was missing for months. The story is essentially a big monologue. The only moment when the story breaks is when he’s fretting about some shoes that he disposed of. He interrupts his story to lecture the crew that they should be grateful for having a pair of shoes that are easily replaceable, if not being surrounded by butchers and police and all of the necessities of a stable society.

Characters

The main character, Marlowe, works on a boat, who’s crew he narrates his tale to. He often spins yarns about his adventures all over the world, but he tells this particular story of being in Africa.

He possessed little faith in the crew that he accompanied to Africa. He pointed out their hypocrisy that they would lie and cheat just to have better access to ivory and yet they’re supposed to be part of the sophisticated British empire. I was confused whether they were traders or real pilgrims, since he always calls them pilgrims.

Kurtz was sent on an expedition to extract more ivory, but he gets too deep and Marlow is sent to retrieve him. The more Marlow knows about Kurtz, the more he starts to understand why he went down that path.

Themes

The novel deals with the dichotomy of civilization/savagery. It’s about Marlowe leaving Britain, the center of the empire and the representation of sophistication, and going down the Congo River where there is danger (and not just from the natives). There was a part where Marlowe is on the steamboat with the Swede commanding it and he basically tells him, “Yeah it’s great that these government chaps are making some money, but I want to see them get deep into the wilderness.” This separates the colonial administration from the jungles that await him.

But that dichotomy is on the surface, as Marlowe begins to understand that there is no differentiation. When talking about a tribe pursuing them, Marlowe basically says that deep down inside, all human beings are about as savage. Marlowe begins his yarn by harkening back to the time when the Romans conquered Britain. This was to compare them to the British conquering Africa and suggests that imperialism is cyclical and there’s no real end to it, which adds to his present cynicism.

Essentially this novella is representative of that transition from Victorian literature to Modernist literature, as there is the Victorian element of the vast British empire ruled by Queen Victoria, but then it starts getting into details of realism, such as the brutality that is associated with expanding that empire and disregarding the very rules of conduct that civilization was built upon.

Writing Style

Conrad writes grandiloquent yet blunt language in Marlowe’s perpetual monologue to convey his cynicism. Marlowe describes imperialism, to paraphrase, as conquering the world, but actually they’re just taking it from people who look different from them. Ivory is mentioned often as a single-word sentence, almost as though it is an ominous warning against the plight of greed for Marlowe and his party. In disliking being lied to, he goes on a diatribe, which I memorized by heart, which is:

“You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies–which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world–what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. Temperament, I suppose.”

Not only can this quote be applied to his frustration at being cheated on the type of boat he was given, but it also the myth that imperialism is a noble cause for spreading civilization, when really it does the exact opposite as Marlowe witnessed in the colony.

There are parts that show, however, that Conrad was a product of his time period, with the frequent use of the “n” word. Indeed, it was why Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe wrote “Things Fall Apart,” as a response to Conrad. I will not take a strong position, but I think that “Heart of Darkness” is not meant to be taken as a strict piece of anthropological study of Africans and Marlowe is not someone to be taken into serious consideration due to his status as a jaded anti-hero simply recounting his own experience.

There are a lot of colorful adjectives used to describe something vague in appearance the best possible way. I think this connects to Marlowe’s time as a seaman and constantly looking through the fog to see what lies beyond it. As an assignment, I was told to just read as much as I can; I ended up reading ten pages (mind you this anthology had tiny print). That’s how enamored I was of the style of writing.

Marlowe also describes the Congo River as a snake, as evidenced by the headline photo of this review. He recounts how when he was a boy, prior to the colonization of Africa, he was fascinated by the blank spaces in the maps and always wanted to go exploring them. It was later when he found that the blank spot in the Congo turned out to be the Congo River, which was compared to a snake slithering into the heart of Africa. This would be Conrad’s way of writing that the pursuit of greed and converts really is venomous and all-constricting.

The very title itself, “Heart of Darkness,” is mentioned a lot when referring to that line between civilization and savagery. In fact, the word “darkness” frequently appears throughout the text.

A Wondrous Glimpse into the Darkness

This is truly a gritty story to get through, but it inspired me to get more into Joseph Conrad and I hope to review more of his work in the future.

AOG Literature Review | A Cavern Of Black Ice, by J. V. Jones

A Cavern of Ice is the first book in the Sword of Shadows series written by J. V. Jones in 1999. It takes place in a fictional cold, taiga region known as the Northern Territories. It is a world that involves magic and an apocryphal prophecy.

Plot

Basically it begins when Vaylo Bludd, otherwise known as the Dog Lord, manages to destroy Clan Dhoone and take over their hold. This escalates into a war between them and the other clans, including Blackhail, which is the clan that Raif and Drey are retainers of. They return after fighting them off, but they come upon the dead body of the head of the Blackhail clan. Raif is immediately suspicious. Later on, Mace Blackhail, who is suspected, continues solidifying his position as the new head of the clan and this leads Raif to question his own existence with the clan, especially with an ability that he has.

There is also a girl by the name of Ash who is locked away in a tower by her foster father, Penthero Iss, the ruler of Spire Vanis. She starts seeing what she’s capable of as well.

The plot is a little slow at the beginning but it starts moving forward at the middle of the book. For Raif and Ash, it’s pretty much a bildungsroman. They are both discovering their own selves as well as the world around them. We begin to see more of what exactly they’re capable of and more into the history of Jones’ fantasy world and mythopoeia. We also get to see how much the characters are connected to one another.

There is a deus-ex-machina 3/4 into the book, but it’s kind of expected.

Themes

I’ve noticed there are some resemblances to ASOIAF. I’ve noticed that this was published in the late 90’s, around the same time as “A Game of Thrones” was published. I did get the sense that Jones was trying to get on the George R. R. Martin bandwagon of making fantasy dark and realistic.

1. grangelords seven gods=seven gods of Southron lords

2. Rive watch=brothers of the watch

3. raif’s ability when aiming his arrow=bran’s ability with his direwolf

4. there’s even an historical character named Robb. Yes Robb with two b’s.

On a positive note, however, I have noticed that there are historical and geographical truths to be found in the setting. One of the characters mentions that there used to be kings and emperors, now there are clanholds. I think this represents the Dark Ages. The clanholds also bear resemblance to the Scottish, there are even some characters among the clanholds who speak in what can be determined as a Scottish accent. Sadaluk and his seal-trapping tribe are similar to the Inuits.

While the clanhold have their own laws, their members must be peaceful towards each other and members of other clans when they’re in a stovehouse, which is considered a place of rest in the vast Northern Territories, like an inn or a motel.

Characters

Raif: he starts becoming more and more defiant and starts demanding more and more answers. It started with his suspicion of Mace Blackhail. He starts off idolizing Drey and his uncle Angus and he starts maturing more in his own way.

However, later on the novel, there is something abhorrent that involves Raif. Yet when it’s mentioned to him or he’s reminded of it, the text doesn’t elaborate further on it or how Raif responds to it. He doesn’t appear, at least, to have any remorse. He’s not constantly dwelling on that occurence, thinking “no, no, how could this have happened?” I don’t know if he’s come to terms with it because it doesn’t seem to mention it.

Ash: she was left by spire vanis as an infant and was immediately adopted by Penthero Iss. He shelters her away and has Marafice Eye keep watch over her. Although I do relate to Raif, I found another way of relating to Ash. Her existence in the story is almost a way of asking the question “Would you rather be free but unhappy or unfree but happy?” I would go for the answer she would give in the novel and be free but unhappy.

Effie: raif and drey’s precocious younger sister. she serves as a literary updater of the status of the Blackhail clan, which I thought was quite interesting.

Penthero: he is the lord of spire vanis who keeps ash as his “almost-daughter.” Originally, the way he addresses his daughter, I actually thought there was something sexual involved, but as the plot progresses there is something more in depth (by that I mean her ability).

Mace: he’s a very machiavellian character who knows how to negotiate the law of the Blackhails to his favor, but later in the novel, he doesn’t seem to have any other ambition other than doing whatever he wants.

Vaylo: known as the Dog Lord because he surrounds himself with the dogs he uses for scavenging, hunting, and warfare. At first he is presented as the villain, but he becomes more of a complex character as the story progresses. He’s a vainglorious blowhard but he does care about his family and his clan. He also is not afraid of heeding the advice of his retainer, Cluff Drybannock, which I think is a sign of intelligence and sober-mindedness.

Sadaluk: He’s an elder of an Ice-Trapping tribe who constantly has dreams of premonitions and forewarning. I don’t see enough of his story or the story of his tribe. I don’t see why he even matters in the majority of the story or how he connects with the broader story. Not in this installment at least.

Writing Style

Jones uses the typical simile structure too much which is basically “…like…something something.” It didn’t really engage me with the story. I wouldn’t have a problem with it if it popped up once in a while. Like when Raif’s uncle tells him about a sorcerer they confronted, he basically says, “Sorcery lives within him like the future lives within prophets and hell lives within the insane.” But what I did have a problem with was a simile like “Sarga Veys had ridden it to the surface like a wraith riding his ghost horse from hell.” There are wraiths that are part of the mythology, but it’s a pretty poor analogy since there’s no snippits of information regarding it. No elaboration. There are plenty of similes like that.

A Trudge through the Taiga for the Promised Land

I did feel immersed in the world, from the mundane tasks to Angus talking about history; but it doesn’t feel original. You could replace the clanholds with the wildlings and there would be no difference.

AOG Literature Review | After Many A Summer Dies The Swan, by Aldous Huxley

“After Many A Summer Dies The Swan” was written in 1939 by Aldous Huxley, known for his dystopian novel “Brave New World.” This is basically what would happen if Aldous Huxley wrote the script to Citizen Kane.

Plot

There’s this eccentric multimillionaire who lives in a castle-like mansion and has a young mistress. Only in this case, he wants to live forever and he wants Jeremy, the protagonist, to scour the records of an English aristocrat who was said to have had his youthful vitality at a very old age.
I liked the beginning which has Jeremy Pordage, a British scholar, coming to America and taking the ride to Stoyte’s mansion. It really sets the tone when Stoyte himself isn’t immediately shown, rather the evidence of his wealth and power are shown. That’s what I like when it creates that aura of superiority that Stoyte seems to have over everyone.
The last four chapters I thought were pretty well-escalated and suspenseful. It was an ending I barely expected and it caught me off my guard. Everything in between, however, I felt was tedious. It tends to get stymied when Mr. Propter walks in and starts getting into a debate with Pete, Dr. Obispo, Jeremy, or Stoyte. But as far as the conflict goes, Virginia is the center of attention and it gets messy.

Themes

One of the types of characters that Aldous Huxley writes about, in his works such as “Brave New World” and “Time Must Have A Stop,” is the wise man, which is basically Huxley himself being inserted into the story and basically preaches his own philosophical musings to the other characters. It happens here with Mr. Propter, but I felt like it slowed the story. I wanted to know about the state of the other characters.
As an Aldous Huxley novel, there are science fiction elements involved. The major one is how exactly Earl Hauberk was able to live so long and why is Stoyte intent on rediscovering it. It involved a species of two carp fish that the Earl kept in his well. These fish had intestinal bacteria that completely de-toxified their organs and allowed them to live so long.
This takes place in the post-WWII era. It’s not a coincidence that it takes place in California because, to this day, it’s still viewed as a place of wealth, fame, glamour, and Hollywood. Stoyte is the representation of that image.

Characters

Jeremy Pordage: his role in the story made it a little slow. I think what mattered was his research most of all.
Jo Stoyte: as Jeremy mentioned in a letter to his mother about Jo Stoyte, he expresses his superiority over culture, talent, and education by buying them rather than destroying them. I think that summarizes how Stoyte does business. He owns hospitals, oil companies, banks, and an art school.
Virginia Maunciple: Stoyte’s mistress. She’s very plucky. I did think that she had her own thoughts that fitted her and she wasn’t just this empty-headed mistress.
Dr. Sigmund Obispo: He is Stoyte’s personal doctor. he likes pushing the buttons of the characters. Especially Stoyte, who he knows relies on him not just with his research but for his day-to-day heart problems.
Pete: Fought against the Fascists in Spain, works for Dr. Obispo. Because he lost his comrades in their struggle, he is left questioning his faith, and that’s when he debates with Mr. Propter. He doesn’t have any importance to the story other than that.
Mr. Propter: He is a professor who often congregates among the Okies that work for Stoyte. I felt like his only purpose was to provide historical context. There was a part when he talked about a solar-powered machine that could throw Stoyte off his monopoly, that part intrigued me, but then it doesn’t go anywhere.
Earl Charles Hauberk: the only information that is known about him is through the records that describe his capital, political activity, and misadventures. However, when the experimenting with the carp becomes more important, his entries become merely entertainment for Jeremy.

Writing Style

There’s a lot of intricate detail to Stoyte’s mansion in the descriptions. I felt like this really helped put the reader where exactly he is.
There’s a lot of unique writing styles for each characters’ perspective. It made me understand who’s perspective was who’s. There’s a lot of chemical and anatomical names mentioned whenever the perspective comes to Dr. Obispo, especially in his explanation as to how the carp lived so long. There’s a lot of life in Jeremy’s dialogue, because as a scholar he studied literature movements and artistic movements. So his speech is very reflective of his studies. He also tends to use French words, as though to sound more sophisticated. It should be noted that a thousand years ago the Normans, who spoke French, conquered Britain. So as such, the language of the ruling elite was French while the rest of the population spoke what is today English.
Virginia is a Roman Catholic, and as such, she’s constantly thinking about heaven and hell and sin and all those theological concepts.
There isn’t anything unique in Pete’s or Propter’s perspective. Pete mainly takes the side of the non-believer while Mr. Propter takes the side of the believer in their debate of religion and philosophy.

7/10

I can imagine this being made in a movie. Obviously it would take place in  America. Especially in this political environment, it would be a very opportune moment when this book hits production immediately. It’s the quintessential Hollywood story with a science fiction twist, but I can also envision a lot being cut out.

AOG Literature Review | A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin

Basis
A Game of Thrones was written by George R. R. Martin in 1996. It is a fantasy novel with a very gritty, realist edge. No, I’ve not watched the series. I prefer reading over watching.
It takes place in a fictional world where there are two continents (Westeros and Essos). It is a world where entire seasons last for years. There are entire generations that have been brought up in a long summer and are looking forward to a long winter.
Plot
It starts off after Lord Eddard Stark orders an execution, the Stark children come upon a dead direwolf with pups still nursing it. They all decide to adopt one for each child, including Jon Snow, who’s the illegitimate son of Eddard. As the story progresses, the POV characters are taken to different places with different sceneries and face different dangers. Not only that but there are conspiracies that intersect the variety of characters.
Themes
There’s a lot of similarities between Westeros and the real world. The rugged, winterly terrain of the North represents England and the region beyond the Wall represents Scotland, since of course Martin based the Wall off Adrian’s Wall. The South represents the Normans, the French, and all of these groups that were in Europe proper in the Middle Ages. They may appear to be on the same continent, but they all have different histories. Even kingdoms within those regions have their differences.
A common theme that is found, not just in this installment, but throughout the ASOIAF series are characters being taken prisoner. I think this hypes up the momentum, because the reader doesn’t know if that character is going to survive or not, obviously in a world where there’s constant war.
There is a great amount of verisimilitude. This is the fantasy novel that changed fantasy as we know it. You might not expect a character to die, but they immediately do so. And you’re left to think “Woah!” There is also the reality of gender differences that affect the story. Such as the female characters being disenfranchised and confined to their roles.
There was one minor part that I thought wasn’t right. Arya remembers her father telling her that sorcerors wore only star-covered hats. I don’t know if Martin is just trolling the reader.
Characters
Eddard: He’s a pretty stoic character. He acts as the rationale for King Robert Baratheon. As his wife Cersei said to another character, “Robert loves Eddard like a brother.” This has to do with their time growing up and their part in the rebellion. However, he begins noticing the increasing influence of the Lannister family and tries to get through to the King.
Jon: My favorite character. As a bastard, he’s always constantly trying to outdo himself and prove himself to his father and everyone around him. I thought that that made a good foundation for him.
Sansa: I never thought that the relationship that Joffrey’s personal knight, Sandor, has with Sansa was anything sexual. At least not as much as paternalistic. She’s constantly telling him how “Knights are so chivalrous like the ones in the songs.” and Sandor is there to tell her, “That’s not how knights work. Life is not like the songs.” Other than that, she didn’t really stand out to me.
Arya: she’s exactly opposite of her sister Sansa. I think what represents this difference greatly is physical appearance: Sansa looks like her mother with her red hair while Arya looks like her father with her dark hair. While Sansa is docile and obedient, Arya is rebellious. Her adventurousness was fascinating to me.
Tyrion: He seems to go everywhere and is quite adaptive, despite being a dwarf. He’s a very intelligent character who manages to deal with everything around him and the dangers he faces.
Danaerys: she is one of the last scions of the Targaryen dynasty, along with her obsessive brother, Viserys. She has the most development in this story and you grow to like her.
Writing Style
Martin has a way of zoomorphizing people into the animals that their kingdom represents within the description and dialogue. I thought that was pretty interesting, because it shows how ingrained the characters’ loyalties are and their very way of speaking is reflective of that. For example, a Dothraki warrior says that “Horses can slay sheep,” while Daenerys retorts, “Dragons can slay horses and sheep,” Horses used to represent the nomadic Dothraki, the sheep used to refer to the village Khal Drogo raided, and the dragon representing the Targaryen sigil.
Speaking of that piece of dialogue, there is a lot of wittiness and bawdiness in the dialogue throughout the book. It’s very simplified yet says so much about the cultures and kingdoms that influence it. There are even slogans inserted into it, such as “Winter is coming” and “Fear cuts deeper than swords.” The mundane tasks and the descriptions of the architecture and the food are intricate and creates a sense of immersion into this medieval world.
One problem I did have was pronunciating the names. I originally thought Tyrion was pronounced [TIH-ree-awn]; Tywin as [TEE-win]; Clegane as [KLEE-gun]; Daenerys as [DAY-neh-ris]; Mormont as [mor-MAWNT]; on and on. It would’ve helped to include a pronunciation guide in the appendix in order to make the reading experience a little easier.
9.5/10
Definitely, this is one of the best novels I ever read. We always envision a world we want to live in, not the world we have to live in. This series puts that to the test.