Merry Bloody Christmas or Whatever

Didn’t have a Christmas tree last year. Talking to my housemates it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, since none of us were gonna be around. A couple of us were on holiday across the silly season, a couple were going to be celebrating it with separate groups of friends, I was always working or sleeping when any celebrations with what was left might have happened. I joked a couple of times about raiding the parking lots of some of the office buildings lining the Skytrain tracks. They’d filled their flowerpots with pine trees you see, to mark the season. Wouldn’t have been all that hard one night to have hopped a fence, sawed off the top of one of their trees and brought it back to the house. We all laughed, remarked that it would have been a pretty awesome attempt at getting into the holiday spirit, but never did. Mostly, I like to think, because we didn’t have a saw. Not sure if I would’ve had the balls to do it if we did, but the fact that I looked for a saw at all says something about my state of mind last silly season. Only positive things, I’m sure.

So my celebrations last Christmas were small. Practically non-existent if I’m being perfectly honest. Most of the close mates I’d made were locals or localish. They had families they were spending time with and there are certain holidays you don’t ask your random Aussie bud to attend, Christmas being the top of that list. It didn’t help that it just didn’t feel like Christmas, hilariously enough. Cold, wet, quiet and a little formal, whereas Chrissy for me had always been hot, loud and casual. Shorts and t-shirt, soccer or cricket in the backyard, water bombs and water guns, loud conversation and gorging ourselves on stew and barbecue. Far different to the semi-rigid traditional family dinners that so many of my Canadian mates described. Then again I didn’t actually attend any, so how the fuck would I know?

Cultural points of reference are different as well. I mean, sure, I’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life before. It’s apparently a classic. I haven’t seen it in about ten years though, and I’ve never watched A Christmas Story. Didn’t even know there was a movie called A Christmas Story and that it was a cultural milestone for North Americans until I saw it on a Cracked video. Nor have I seen A Charlie Brown Christmas or that version of A Christmas Carol with Bill Murray. As for on the Australian side, well, I guess they don’t understand the Boxing Day Test? They don’t actually understand Boxing Day if I’m being perfectly honest. I don’t know. I guess I was just a Stranger in a Strange Land. Doesn’t matter. Aussie Christmas is the superior Christmas.

Fewer concerns about the ongoing “War against Christmas” as well. Seriously, I heard three months of comically stupid bitching about Starbucks decision to stick with plain red cups last year. This year Peter Dutton (Member of Parliament and comically stupid example of the physical and psychological effects of sticking your head in a barrel of botox for extended periods) called upon good, honest Aussie Christians to rise up against the PC crowd’s war on good, honest Aussie Christmas. That was on the news for about two days, and then we forgot about it. Thank God.

I guess the celebrating I did was on Christmas Eve. That was fun. Went with a coworker and her boyfriend to go see Die Hard at the Rio Theater. Went for a walk trying to find an open bar somewhere on Commercial Drive, failed, and ended up just knocking one back in the back of their car. Yeah, that was good fun. Not being sarcastic, I have very fond memories of that. Called my parents when I got back to the house, it already being Christmas Day over there. Here. That was nice. Funny how it was a year ago now. Feels like so much longer, while other memories feel like they happened yesterday.

I helped put up the family tree. I might even claim that I did most of the work. Not in front of my siblings, of course, but they’d make the exact same claim. It’s artificial, and been in the family for over twenty years. Still looks fantastic. The underneath is filled with presents, the results of six people (five of whom earn an income) making up for all those years when beneath the tree was bare. We’re waiting for some close family friends to arrive, ready to eat, drink, laugh and reminisce. I’m downstairs, with my brother, earphones in to drown out the music my dad’s playing upstairs. Shitty music by shitty artists and Coldplay. Swear to god he hasn’t bought a single new song since well before I left. He had to shave off his beard a couple days ago as well, after he mangled a trimming, which is shame cause he had a great silver fox black santa thing going. Mum’s been cooking, prepping and cooking some more. I’ll be pouring drinks later. It’s gonna be a good day. So’s tomorrow.

I hope you guys all have a great couple days as well, whether you’re celebrating Christmas or your own tradition’s or don’t celebrate anything at all. I hope you guys have an excellent time.

Wishing you a very Merry Bloody Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Old School Reviews: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

I think what I love about British crime movies is that they have no issue with building their film around a cast of good honest villains. Career criminals who don’t feel the need to lament their lot in life or the cycles of poverty, abuse and violence that led them to a life of crime, who don’t need to show guilt over their violent, thieving ways, to be likeable. American gangsters are relatable and empathetic. British crims, proper British crooks, are entertaining.

Case in point we have Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Guy Ritchie’s 1998 classic (I’m pretty sure it made it into 1001 Movies to See Before you Die) about four mates, a crooked card game, violent loan sharks, drug dealers, the guys who rob drug dealers, and a pair of antique shotguns. Y’know, guns that fire shot.

Now, I don’t think at any point do any of the characters show any real remorse for the life they’d lived. Well, not ’til it all goes to shit at least. Even then, as the threads come together and the bodies start dropping no one blames ‘the life.’ For our four central characters this isn’t one final score that goes horribly wrong. This was a chance at the big leagues that goes horribly wrong, and you know they’re going to go straight back into scamming and thieving as soon as they’re out of the Barney Rubble. Heh, cockney rhyming slang.

Real funny thing though is that the points that in a Yank film would lead to a heel-face-turn (my family/friends/only people I care about are in danger!) and cause the career criminal to make a determined effort to get out the life (go legit, go to the cops, fake their own death) don’t even register. Shit, Big Chris (Vinnie Jones) takes his son out debt collecting with him, despite the danger this can and does lead to. At the end of the film though, the kid’s still coming along, even if the business has changed slightly.

Guy Ritchie has long set himself up as a solid (even if not always necessarily brilliant) director and writer, and his feature length debut will always be remembered as one of his best. He gets great performances out of the actors, most notably debuts Vinnie Jones as Big Chris and Jason Statham as Bacon (both of whom are now staple British hard men), and the script is tight and unapologetic of its origins. It starts with Statham rattling off a sale pitch for stolen jewelry (“It’s not stolen, it just hasn’t been paid for!” and according to the legend part of Statham’s audition) and in one notable scene preferring to use subtitles over dumbing down the language. Shit mate, that scene right there is how you do a character introduction. Forces you to pay attention, then reveals cunning, creativity and a predilection towards violence. Everyone’s solid though, sometimes a little stilted on occasion but they carry the emotional parts well. Then of course there’s the soundtrack. Guy Ritchie knows how to pick a song for a scene, switching through jazz, funk and rock’n’roll to pull you into a and a mood, and when to not bother with any noise at all.

But it all works out in the end. Except for the people who died, of course, but most of them deserved it. Not that anyone really judges, it’s just part of the life. The only lesson really learned for our luckless antiheroes is to pick their battles better.

So you should watch this film. It’s fun, a little absurdist, Sting tells someone to fuck off, and you get to watch some villains being villains. And then there’s a girl named Gloria with a Bren gun. Even if the rest of the movie was shit, it’s worth is for Gloria with a Bren gun.

On DA:I, Varric Tethras and Cassandra Pentaghast.

It’s been about a month since I got back to Australia and I’ve been busy. Ish. Busy-ish. Usual stuff, meeting people I haven’t seen in nearly two years, drinking, looking for work (’cause as I’ve established before, cocaine and hookers are expensive), and replaying Dragon Age: Inquisition. One of my favourite games from one of my favourite developers (as I’ve established before, I am a raging Bioware fanboy), I figured that before I settled into a long slog with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Rise of the Tomb Raider I’d start a new playthrough and play through the DLC I’ve missed.

So I’ve immersed myself in the world of Thedas once again, and I gotta say it is great. It’s great to once again explore the expansive universe – the lore, the gossip, the politics – and dive into the intricacies of the main plot and smaller side quests. And of course, it’s great to be back amongst old companions. It’s funny how attached you grow to fictional characters, how invested you get into their interpersonal relationships, and I’ve been loving listening to my party members’ banter with each other as we stab our way across Thedas. But as my elf rogue murdered yet another group of heavily armed strangers (who may or may not have been bandits) and the game decided it had been long enough since the last time any party members had spoken to each other, I came to a startling conclusion. Namely that Varric Tethras is a massive dick towards Cassandra Pentaghast. No, really.

Cassandra was apologising, y’see, about nearly decking Varric earlier that morning after discovering that he had in fact known the whereabouts of Hawke all along. That might count as a spoiler for DA:I (and probably DA2) but honestly you’re probably not reading this if you don’t know the exact moment I’m talking about already, and it’s otherwise not a big enough spoiler to worry about (even the characters point out how telegraphed it is). Anyway, Cassandra tries to apologise (quite sincerely, I might add) for letting her temper get the better of her and almost punching him, and Varric sarcastically remarks that “I’ll mark this on my calendar! Cassandra had a feeling!” I mean, c’mon man, she knows she did wrong and she’s trying to say sorry. Maybe you can cut her a little slack?

This was just the point that I noticed how one-sided much of the animosity was. Earlier in their conversation cycle Varric makes a point of insinuating that Cassandra doesn’t have any friends, and that the only way she was capable of recruiting people for the Inquisition was through kidnapping and threats. While Cassandra is somewhat deserving of these remarks – she certainly comes off as guarded and prickly through most conversations, obviously doesn’t have a whole lot of friends, and did actually ‘arrest’ and threaten both Varric and the player’s Inquisitor – it still feels uncalled for, partly because of all the attempts that Cassandra makes to reach out to Varric; partly because she’s a professional; and partly because she’s a massive fan of his.

On the first point, as I’ve already mentioned, Cassandra makes the point of apologising when she does wrong. She also makes the point of trying to start a conversation about the rebuilding efforts in Kirkwall, a conversation that Varric shuts down pretty harshly. And while admittedly Cassandra doesn’t show a great deal of gratitude to Varric for sticking around to help the Inquisition out shanking demons, it’s not all that surprising that she might be a touch suspicious of Varric’s motivations (he is a somewhat notorious liar and opportunist, even if he is a sentimental one).

The third point, that Cassandra is a massive fan of Varric’s work, I find his behaviour to be most unusual. Varric is protective of much of his work (when the Inquisitor asks questions about his Tale of the Champion, saying the wrong thing can lead to disapproval) even if he feigns nonchalance (I’ve really gotta use that word in more of my writing, sounds so sexy). An entire set of War Table operations is devoted to tracking down some arsehole who wrote an unnofficial and terrible sequel to Varric’s most successful work, Hard in Hightown. And Cassandra is a massive fan of his, reading Tale of the Champion twice, making a comment on the difference in writing style between Hard in Hightown and its atrocious sequel, and reading and rereading her copies of his Swords and Shields romance serial, going giddy with relief and excitement when he presents her with the next issue after a cliffhanger. She even asks him for advice writing, to make her reports more interesting. Quite frankly, while it seems that everyone has read Varric’s work, Cassandra is his only open fan in the Inquisition. Yet it just becomes another point of mockery in his arsenal against her. Writing the next issue to Swords and Shields is just another joke to him and her request for advice is met with a half dozen synonyms calling her boring. I mean, it just feels like a really shitty way to treat someone who respects your abilities and loves the work you produce.

But it’s on the second point, that Cassandra is a professional, that I really want to focus on. Because Varric generally respects professionals, but he tends to hold grudges and perhaps doesn’t fully understand Cassandra or her motivations. Cassandra is a fairly typical strong woman archetype, but not nearly so two-dimensional as to fit any single stereotype. She’s a character defined by a determination forged through faith. She has a job and wants to see it done as best she is able, is an idealist and an optimist, but never strays across that line from professionalism towards fanaticism. Because fuck fanaticism. Seriously that is probably the moral of the whole game, comparing the “at-all-costs” and “any-means-to-an-end” attitudes of the (spoiler alert) Venatori, Templars, Mages and Grey Wardens who at various points oppose the player, with the cool professionalism of the Inquisitor’s advisers and companions. The good guys fight for a cause without sacrificing the world, and are able to distance themselves (with varying levels of success) from the bloody work that needs to be done saving it. Fanatics are the evil bastards who’ll sacrifice everything to get what they think they want, and they need to be stopped.

That’s not to say that there aren’t members of the Inquisition who aren’t fanatics, and that your companions aren’t sociopaths. They absolutely are. There’s a good chance your Inquisitor is as well. But all of them, the ones you see at least, from The Iron Bull to Sera to Cassandra to Cullen, are professionals about it. Maybe not Solas. But fuck Solas. Guy’s a racist arsehole.

So Cassandra is a professional. Just doing her job. Her job is either stabbing people or threatening to stab people. She’s pretty good at it. So why doesn’t Varric respect that? He respects other people for it, as we see time and again. When the Inquisitor asks why Varric isn’t the spymaster instead of Leliana he flat out tells you that it’s because she’s better at the job, because of her ability to distance herself from her agents and informants. She’s more professional about it. Varric’s language about Cullen and Josephine follows a similar bend, with him remarking about how effective at their jobs they are. He talks about his editor – who once murdered someone over incorrect punctuation – quite highly, and while he disparages the Dwarven Merchant’s Guild, Carta and Coterie regularly he still shows genuine respect to their members who know what they’re doing and do it well. I can’t even be bothered to go into the examples from DA2 beyond just pointing at Aveline and Isabela, on opposite ends of the legal spectrum, who Varric simply accepts and befriends, completely understanding and forgiving threats of arrest or the occasional betrayal.

What I’m getting at is that Varric is supposed to be the sort of guy who would accept an excuse of “nothing personal, it’s just business.” So why doesn’t he accept that about Cassandra? She needed information about Hawke, and he was not forthcoming about that information until threats (and actual violence) were used. Well, the easy answer to that is to say that Varric holds grudges. We saw it with his brother, we see it with anyone else that directly harms him or those closest to him. But then why doesn’t he hold the same level of grudge against Leliana (who if not a direct participant, tacitly approved of Cassandra’s interrogation) or against other earlier members of the Inquisition, like Cullen?

My guess is that it’s because he thinks he understands the others’ motivations better than he understands Cassandra’s. By the time we get to DA:I Leliana has gotten dark and violent, ordering executions, assassinations and sacrifices without hesitation in the name of duty (thank god that duty includes saving the world) beyond making sure she’s shanking the right bloke, bird or miscellaneous. But she’s also an incredibly loyal person, and Varric can see that there was something more to her relationship with Divine Justinia, something unquantifiably deep, that was lost when Justinia was assassinated. Varric understands the desire for revenge and the mixed feelings it produces. Cullen is driven by his failures, as a commander and as a person, haunted by failing to prevent the spectacular destruction of the Fereldan and Kirkwall Circles of Magi and blaming perfectly innocent mages in between. Again, Varric understands feeling of failure, personal and professional (yes I know I’ve been using that word way too much in this essay, piss off, you’re not that perceptive… sorry, don’t piss off, I need you).

But Cassandra is driven in her duty not by vengeance and failure, but by her faith in the Maker, his plan and his institutions (even if she believes they needed to be changed). Varric doesn’t understand faith, quite understandably. He has issues with trust, let alone something even more indefinable and intangible like faith. It freaks him out. Cassandra isn’t the only one who suffers from Varric’s incomprehension. In DA2 Prince Sebastien, squeaky clean and fresh back from the priesthood to avenge his murdered family, is a similar subject of mockery for his virtue and righteousness despite never once stabbing a book in Varric’s lap. So because Varric is unable to understand her motivations, he is unable to brush off her actions as just “doing her job.” That makes it a personal attack, even when it shouldn’t, and Varric holds grudges. For most of the game, at least.

Towards the later game the banter between the two shifts, becoming less confrontational and even friendly. They develop a certain intimacy thanks, in no small part, to Cassandra’s own sense of fairness and genuine honesty. They appreciate each other, and become companions even they don’t necessarily become friends, joking about the book stabbing with each other instead of at each other. Attachment and sentimentality and all that. There’s even suggestion that they continue travelling together even after the Inquisition has completed its mission, something which both find crazy but not impossible.

So what’s the point to all this? Just wanted to point out some great writing, basically. I’d call this one of the most interesting and layered relationships in the game, and they do it with a couple pages of dialogue and some great voice acting. Not much more to it than that.

Old school reviews: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

It’s funny, once upon a time the only folk that could be regularly relied upon to turn beloved books into television series were the Poms. They’d often start (or remain) a made-for-TV movie and, if it earned enough interest from the right people, would eventually become a series. Murder mysteries for the most part, as with the Yanks for a long time, but there was also a much firmer place for fantasy and/or period pieces. The Discworld books, some stuff by Neil Gaiman, the odd bit of Arthurian legend, whatever work by the Bronte sisters was most popular that year (I really need to sit down and read Pride and Prejudice one of these days), and of course the works of C.S Forester and Bernard Cornwell. And that is what I find to be most peculiar about Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, that fact that it was a proper work of cinema and not a TV series.

Not to say that it’s a bad film. Quite the contrary, I think it’s fuckin’ fantastic. The violence is excellent. Damage to the ship is big and brutal, splinters flying, ropes snapping and masts cracking. At the same time it’s an intimate thing, closeups following the men as they fire the cannons and receive fire. Easy to follow, tense, and with little-to-no plot armour (name another film that will cut off a boy’s arm within the first half hour), but most of all detailed. The good doctor calling for more sand to make the floor less slippery, doors removed from the captain’s cabin to allow access to the guns stored there, ignoring the swords and grabbing the captain’s silver to be stored safely during an action. Good stuff, humanising stuff.

The soundtrack adds. Simple strings to fit the mood and drums that provide a rhythm to every desperate battle and gambit, with dead silences used to ramp up the tension right before something is due to happen.

The best part is the characters. Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany and Max Pirkis are the peak of an enormous and excellent cast. Director Peter Weir does a great job of getting so many great performances out of so many great actors creating so many great and (most importantly) memorable characters. The ship is a closed environment, with different politics, relationships and superstitions presented across four perspectives: the crew at the bottom, cannon fodder, driven by rum, fear of the lash and loyalty to their commander; the junior officers, the midshipmen, terrified and uncertain, walking a fine line (not always successfully) to earn the respect of the men beneath; the good doctor, outside of the traditional hierarchy and often in opposition to Naval discipline (in many ways a surrogate for the audience); and at the top of it all the Captain, the commander, bound by tradition, duty and his own orders.

Crowe does a fantastic job as “Lucky” Jack Aubrey, a charismatic captain able to summon incredible loyalty from the men beneath him, yet one that struggles to find his tongue when faced with the horribly maimed son of a dear friend who still idolises him. Bettany plays the doctor, the forward thinker, the only man on the ship allowed to question Jack’s command (within reason), but one that can never truly understand the men around him and whose protestations often fall on deaf ears. Their relationship is brilliant and real, arguments are common but the care is genuine. The bromance is probably the best part of the film.

But, as much as I enjoy this film and going back to what I was saying in the first paragraph, I cannot understand why and how this film was made. This is a film about relationships punctuated by the odd bit of action, based on a book from a series I’d never heard of until well after the first time I watched this movie. It lacks the epic scale of other period action-dramas like Gladiator, or the famous source material of other based-on-books like the Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Green Mile. Yet they spent 150 million dollars turning this into a film. A highly rated film, that made back its money, but still.

And it’s funny, ’cause I doubt I would have thought so back in 2003, before the current golden age of television shows was even a twinkle in HBO’s eye. I watch the film now and can’t help but feel that the adventures and relationships of the crew of the HMS Surprise would have made a fantastic television show, though of course when it was greenlit that wasn’t even close to an option. It’s funny how perspectives change like that. Maybe it’s because the film now feels far more like it was planning on becoming a series. Yes, the plot is self-contained, and half the named crew… well, yeah, lack of plot armour, but there’s still this air that they were hoping on bringing Jack, Stephen and the HMS Surprise back for another cruise around the Atlantic and/or Pacific. Maybe it’s just the second part of the title, The Far Side of the World. You don’t usually stick a colon there unless you’re planning on using the first part of the title again later.

Anyway, watch this film. Tell me if you agree, tell me why if you don’t and we can argue a bit. Regardless, it’s a film worth watching.

Historical inaccuracies throughout history

Alright, I’m at the AGO (the Art Gallery of Ontario for those many people who wouldn’t Google it) during my trip to Toronto (more on that… eventually) checking out the art. The building itself is quite pretty and it has a pretty decent collection – though I am a little miffed that they make you pay extra for special exhibitions. That’s pretty bullshit. Anyway, the stuff I do see is great, but as I wander through the gallery the thing that jumps out at me is some of the cultural anachronisms I keep on seeing in the art from certain time periods.

Y’see, a lot of those post-Renaissance painters (and a few of contemporary Renaissance painters as well) had the habit of painting their subjects in the arms, armour and general regalia that they were used to seeing. It’s why a painting of some Gothic king bears a striking resemblance to Henry Tudor and why the Greek soldiers in another painting bear a closer similarity to the modern Swiss Guard than to what we’re pretty certain hoplites actually looked like. I’m making these up for the drama, but I reckon if you know your way around a painting you know exactly what I’m talking about.

What really got me laughing though was this painting right here.

Pieter Claessens the Elder (15th century), published without permission from anyone I'd probably need to get permission from.
Artist was Pieter Claessens the Elder (16th century), hanging in the AGO. Published without permission from anyone I’d probably need to get it from (please don’t sue).

Magnificent right? Right. Nah. Not my favourite painting in the gallery, colour’s a bit flat for my taste and I’m a bit more partial towards Impressionism and Cubism. But what got me is what the painting is supposed to depict. Namely, that white kid in the middle is supposed to be Moses (as in the Biblical “Let my people go!” Moses) breaking a crown in Pharaoh’s court (as in ancient Egypt, pyramids and mummies).

Does that look like Ancient Egypt to you? It sure as hell doesn’t look like ancient Egypt to me. I mean, aside from the fact that almost the entire court could be described at our most generous as ‘a little tanned’ (except for the one black kid, of course), the dress, throne, and background has more in common with how we’d picture the Medici family dining room than anything a bloke named Ramses would get within a thousand years of. Put bluntly, that is not ancient Egypt and it boggles the modern mind that anyone would ever think that it is.

But it shouldn’t. 2004’s King Arthur (the one with Clive Owen and Keira Knightley) was an attempt at a historically accurate-ish retelling of the classic tale, and it too leaned heavily on the ‘ish.’ The Last Samurai; Dancing with Wolves; Alexander; Troy; Robin Hood; The Patriot; fucking Pirates of the Caribbean. Even the fantastical films, the ones where we know they’re just making shit up, these still inform our views of time periods throughout history.

On a more recent note the past two years have seen some pretty heavy controversy regarding the casting of white actors into the roles of non-white characters, most prominently in abysmal blockbuster flops Gods of Egypt and Exodus: Gods and Kings. Apparently we’re still casting Moses and his mates as white guys (the costumes are still pretty atrocious as well). The more things change the more they stay the same, aye?

I should have a bit more of a point to this… right. Recognise your own biases, do some proper research when writing or copying a particular time period and for the love of god don’t make everyone white. Good? Good.

Talk soon.

Old School Reviews: A Knight’s Tale (2001)

I recently found myself reading a book called Agincourt: The King, The Campaign, The Battle by Juliet Barker, a fascinating look into King Henry V’s famous victory over an overwhelming force of the French nobility. Great book, really interesting stuff, bloody hard to remember all the Johns, Henrys, Thomases and (delightfully enough) Lancelots. Anyway, it got me in the mood for some knights and chivalry, and I narrowed my choices down to a bit of Shakespeare or 2001’s Heath Ledger-led rock’n’roll-anachronism laden romantic-action-comedy/sports film, A Knight’s Tale. I made a decision, and I believe it was the right one.

As I said, Heath Ledger stars as William Thatcher, a peasant who poses as a noble born in order to compete in that most medieval of sports, jousting. Along the way he and his fellow peasant squires, Roland (Mark Addy) and Wat (Alan Tudyk), are joined by blacksmith Kate (Laura Fraser) and Geoffrey fucking Chaucer (Paul Bettany), love interest Jocelyn (Shannyn Sossamon) and mortal enemy the Count of Adhemar (Rufus Sewell). He achieves fame, fortune and a loyal fanbase, including the Black Prince himself (James Purefoy). Gotta love the Medieval name drops.

There is a lot to love about the cast. Perfect fits across the board, fantastic chemistry and even the accents aren’t too bad. Shannyn Sossamon is able to convey so much through a coy smile or an irritated frown, and seems to be having an absolute ball in the role. Paul Bettany is always a delight to watch, a showman playing a showman with a gambling problem and an absolute conviction that his place in history is assured even if no one else can be convinced. Rufus Sewell plays the subtle arsehole like few others, maintaining a keen poker face so that every small display of overt emotion seems far more dangerous. Even smaller roles are well filled. James Purefoy makes for a prince who understands and respects the points and price of chivalry and knighthood. Scott Handy, playing Adhemar’s herald Germaine, is excellent, a little out of his depth compared to the swagger of Chaucer but a professional entertainer nonetheless. You feel quite proud of him when he gives his final introduction of the film. And of course there’s Heath Ledger. We lost a good one there and I will say no more.

The script is excellent. I mean the story is okay but the dialogue, the lines and delivery are brilliant. It’s actually surprising that this film never became one of my go-tos for quotes. I mean, “The pope may be French but Jesus is bloody English!” How fucking good is that? Very good. The answer is very good. And “why don’t I use some variation of that more often?”

The really genius part of this film though is its understanding of the subject matter, as demonstrated by, amongst other things, the music. Y’see, A Knight’s Tale is a sports movie. That’s what it is, dealing with class and privilege while pushing morals such as the joys of ambition, courage, bravery, determination and that good sportsmanship will always triumph over being a dickhead. We hear this in the music, with great rock anthems playing between, during and after the matches just as they do at any arena today. The film starts with ‘We Will Rock You’ and ends with ‘You Shook Me All Night Long.’ ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ plays during a parade and they dance to ‘Golden Years’ at a feast. And it’s fucking brilliant. Not just a fantastic soundtrack but one that forces the viewer to accept the analogy and frame of reference. The familiar absorbs the distant.

Sport is sport is sport. Something that I noticed reading that book I mentioned about Agincourt was that many of these nights and princes were, in fact, the honest to god sports stars of their time. Codes of chivalry and knighthood crossed borders, cultures and religions, and people of all classes held onto stories of epic deeds, duels and jousts. Fashion, sledging, rivalries and WAGs were as much part of the sport then as they are now. It’s honestly just a surprise that no one thought of this before (and no one’s really done it since). At the same time the film never forgets its time frame, the religion, filth and racism, making it all the grander.

If you like a sports film, watch this. It’s more light-hearted than Gladiator and just as quotable.

Good God! Are we getting back onto our regular schedule? We’ll see. We will see. 

So about what happened on Tuesday

So I honestly don’t really want to add to the noise, but this is sort of my wheelhouse so I guess I kind of feel duty bound to not let the moment pass without writing a few words on the subject. And here they are.

Certainty.

I’m gonna start by saying that I’m not gonna claim to be one of those people who predicted Donald Trump’s victory. Give it a week, there’s gonna be tonne of them. Economists, pollsters, analysts, ignoring the pages and pages they wrote about Hillary’s inevitable victory and claiming that they just knew somehow that Mr Trump was gonna pull ahead. They just knew it in their bones. It always happens, just check the literature in the aftermath of the GFC.

Nah, I’m not one of those. But like a lot of far smarter people I wasn’t surprised by the victory, and that’ll make all the difference in the next few weeks, months and years for a lot of folk.

Y’see from an international perspective, I reckon what we’re gonna see real soon is two distinct types of planning: those who assumed that The Donald had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the presidency and those who realised that hell had frozen over right around the Brexit referendum. Both sides are scrambling, but one side at least had an idea of what to do next.

I understand why so many governments didn’t plan for Mr Trump’s ascension. Most pollies come at government from an economic perspective, and if there’s one thing that economists strive for it is certainty. When you decide on policy you want to be certain that the world will conform to your desires and the results will be what you expect.

Personally I like the saying, “expect the best, plan for the worst.” We’ll see who else agrees.

Who benefits?

As a white Australian (who thank god is about to watch it all unfold from across the fucking Pacific Ocean), I’m gonna come right out and say that it is not going to be alright for a lot of people. Specifically women and sexual, racial and religious minorities. Even if Mr Trump and his cabinet of cunts aren’t terrible for everyone who isn’t a white Christian upper middle class male (ha!), there’s a lot of very hateful folk in the US and the rest of the world (I’m looking at you France) who are gonna be feeling very empowered right about now. And that’s gonna make things very dangerous for a while. Stay safe folk. Maybe look at taking a four year holiday to Australia for a while. Or Mexico. Mexico is nice, and the irony would be fantastic.

As for who else loses and benefits from this election? We’ll just have to wait and see what policies and promises Mr Trump decides to keep. Not all that many of them by the looks of it.

Who’s to blame?

Good question. The head of the FBI, Hillary Clinton herself, dumb Americans and ignorant Americans (there’s difference and crossover), and of course Bernie Sanders. Yeah, Bernie Sanders. Look, I like the guy, but he should have conceded sooner and with more grace when it became obvious to everyone that he wasn’t gonna win the Primaries. Sorry mate, but you fucked up and now the Republicans control all three sections of the government headed by a bright orange egomaniac.

Final thoughts.

Is the world gonna be alright? Dunno. Maybe. We’ll see in a few months. Honestly, it’s too early to tell and I’m tired, full of gin and about to climb onto a plane home (woo). I’ll probably expand on all these subjects in the future (I want to) but right now it’s hard to guess exactly how fucked the international order is. It might not be fucked at all. I mean, it probably is at least a little, but maybe it isn’t.

Things might be about to go to hell in a handbasket but, in the immortal words of Dr Zoidberg, at least it’s not boring.

Halloween night in New Orleans

It’s going to be a long night.

That’s not hard to figure out. There’s a group of about eight or nine of us, all staying at the hostel or working there or both, and we hit Bourbon street not long before midnight. Late in some cities, early in others, and in New Orleans it’s right on time.

I’ve actually dressed up (to my great shock) and there’s fake blood liberally splattered beneath my mouth, through my beard, and strategically painted across my face. I’m going for a vampire look – the violent, brutal extensions of eastern European myths and metaphors for sexually transmitted diseases kind of vampire, not the sparkly kind – and I think I pull it off. I even bought some fangs, but the instructions were more complicated than I was expecting. After about ten seconds of consideration I said “fuck it” and just touched up the blood on my neck.

We don’t care much about Halloween in Australia. Truthfully I don’t think many countries do. From what I’ve seen of the world so far Canada cares a fair bit and that’s about it. Maybe Mexico does as well, what with the Day of the Dead happening at the same time, but I’d want to ask a Mexican about that before making any claims. For the rest of us it’s just another excuse to drink (as if we needed an excuse), maybe an excuse to drink in a shitty costume that we’ve applied the bare minimum of imagination to creating. Maybe.

But in New Orleans Halloween is an event, a party that stretches across the week and weekend before until all involved are exhausted and badly hung over. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Lights on, shirts off, knickers most decidedly in a twist as they creep up the bum of a rather sexy looking nun.

We hit the street, most of us having put some bit of effort into their costumes, one person running through the usual range of typically Aussie jokes that border on the dad-territory to laugh off not bothering (“I’m dressed as a bloody legend!” etc.) I laughed, so I guess it worked.

Bourbon Street is bedlam. Hundreds of people out and about, enjoying the last night (the actual night) Halloween. We spot a dozen Where’s Wallies (he’s usually much better at hiding) and at least two popes. Suicide Squad style Harley Quinn’s and Jokers are the most common, and that’s a little disappointing as a fan of the character. I feel better when I see a more traditional Harley roaming the streets with a Poison Ivy. Not even five minutes in there’s a drink in everyone’s hand (except one guy who doesn’t drink) and we’re crossing between bars, yelling in each others ears and watching the crowd. Up on the rafters people are screaming at random passers-by and hurling beads almost at random. A guy flashes his tits and gets a handful of beads as well. None of the female revellers are quite so bold, surprisingly enough. Or not surprising. It’s not fucking Mardi Gras. Still they get beads tossed at them by strangers, and I can’t help but feel people have a real misunderstanding of demand-side economics.

Someone swears creatively enough to get everyone’s attention and we turn to see three people in a group human centipede costume being led on a leash by a fourth. They’re bloody and wearing naught by bandages, noses near enough to each other’s arses that they’d know the exact moment the person in front of them last showered. The most frightening thing is that they’re on their hands and knees, crawling along the road. Crawling along fucking Bourbon Street, with its eternal puke and trash puddles, studded with broken glass and plastic. They’re gonna be sick tomorrow. But it’s a calculated risk, ‘cause they immediately draw a circle of admirers getting following along and trying to get that perfect shot. Good for them.

We get into a bar and there’s a band playing, a cowboy is singing and a ghoul is playing a mean guitar. One of the female singers is wearing a leather boob-tube and briefs. The cowboy remarks that he has no idea what she was dressed as, but it doesn’t matter. She still looks great. They play covers, play them well, and we pile onto the dance floor, bouncing in that way that people do when they’re trying to avoid spilling drinks. I’m on my second or third since hitting Bourbon Street, with a few before that.

It’s going to be a long night.

I fucking love New Orleans. It’s a filthy, dirty city with an incomparable life of its own. It’s a tourist town, most definitely, but one that people actually live in. There’s construction all over the place, honest industry and all that jazz (heh). More than that people are good in this city. They nod and smile as you walk past, are quick to shoot the shit and unafraid to help a stranger with a foreign accent.

And it is absolutely bonkers at the best of times, only growing more insane during its festivals and holidays and parades. The night after Halloween the local bicycle club rode past the hostel. Dozens of bikes lit up with neon and carrying blaring music from speakers on trailers or hitched to the seats. I mean, that just doesn’t happen in other cities, at least not in the same way because this, this is normal.

What’s also normal is drinking. We pass from one bar to another, hopping over puddles and picking our way through the crowd and debris of a city wide party. More bands, more music, more alcohol. Our group gradually dwindles, as is inevitable on any pub crawl. People get tired, people get too drunk and high, people need to go to work the next day (massive respect to the Brazilian who needed to attend a convention the next morning – and did – but still made it to three in the morning).

I’m on the rye and ginger ale, which I’ve got a taste for at the moment. Probably go back to scotch and cokes when I get back to Australia (can’t ever shake those bogan beginnings) but for now I’m enjoying the smooth sweetness. I flirt with people unsuccessfully. We keep drinking. It’s as easy as breathing, what with the ability to walk the streets legally with your grog in hand and the low, low prices (even in the tourist areas). I mean, it’s not always cheap, but you get a high alcoholic content for your buck (I nearly gagged on one drink that was mostly bad whiskey).

Eventually I get separated from the group. Long story that’s not very interesting. Time to make a decision. We’ve been making our way down Bourbon, with the intention to make our way to the party on Frenchman but we haven’t even made it halfway down. So that’s the way I head.

It’s not so much that the party’s winding down so much that it’s settling down. Folk have paired off or found the bar or event they want to end the night on. The crowd on the street is thinning, leaving a thicker layer of refuse than what I imagine is normal. More great costumes though, more to be seen and done.

It’s still going to be a long night.

What’s what? A bit of blog news.

Alright guys, so I’m typing this from my hostel room in Toronto right now. I’m about to take a nap (because my body clock is fucked), then I’m gonna go drinking. Hooray for me! But first I wanted to explain the spotty update schedule.

So as has been mentioned, I’m taking the long road back to Australia. That means I’m basically gonna spend the next four weeks on the move without the time, internet access and (if I’m being honest) inclination for most of that period to consistently update the site. Adding new content is hard. That doesn’t mean I won’t, it just might be randomly spaced and topically random. Couple of things, however, I’d like you to know:

1. Life in the Avenger’s Barracks is on a sort of hiatus. Not that it won’t be updated, just it… won’t be updated. Fuck. Alright, so we’re coming onto the last few chapters now, coming to the end and I want to get this right. I’m gonna come right out and say it’s probably not going to be as satisfying as I want, but that’s alright. This has always been an experiment and practice. But I don’t want to release chapters until they’re done. And that’s gonna be hard for the next few weeks. I’m so sorry to those who have had to deal with my already unreliable update schedule, and I appreciate everyone who’s still reading and will finish this adventure with me.

2. I’ll be rejiggering the schedule when I get back. I’ve got a few new semi regulars I wanna try out and maybe the dramatic return of irrational irritations. Maybe. We’ll see.

3. I love you guys.

What am I gonna miss?

It’s raining while I’m writing this. I feel like I should work that into this somehow, some sort of metaphor about the city weeping for my loss. Probably says something about my own ego that this might even occur. Probably says something else that I’d never do it even close to seriously. More than anything it reminds me of my arrival, sitting in my hotel room between exploring Vancouver and hitting up bars while the city showed how soggy it can get.

There’s a weirdness about my imminent departure. Stress maybe. I’ve got a long list of things I need to do before I leave and only a few days to do it. Less than a week and I’ll be gone. Mostly it’s just people I want to see before I go, share that one final toast and sing along to that one final song, get properly shitfaced and argue about everything from the superiority of the Australian electoral system to whether or not Suicide Squad has earned the right to sequel – sober me isn’t sure, drunken me is much more decisive in his opinions about second tier superhero movies.

The two discussions I’ve been having the most over the past few weeks though, drunk or not, have been answering, “are you excited?” and “are you gonna miss it?”

The first is easy to answer: of course I fucking am. I haven’t seen two of my siblings in over twenty months (and it’ll still be another one til I see them again, even if I’m leaving the city). I’m tired and homesick and truthfully, while I have built a life here, it’s never become anything more than an extended sideshow to the life I lived back home. The life I’m going back to. The life I have planned.

The second is more difficult to answer. The short version? Not really. The long version? Maybe. Yeah, that doesn’t sound that long but bear with me. Let’s start by saying that if you asked me what I’m going to miss I’d tell you about the much longer list of things I’m not gonna miss.

It’s raining while I’m writing this. That’s something I’m not gonna miss, the rain here. This might sound strange but there’s no drama to the rain here. It’s just constant and soaking. No thunder and lightning, no hail and, shit, most of the time it doesn’t even rain hard enough to make a sound when it hits the roof. You might not even know it’s started raining til you look outside and realise that everything’s gotten wet. No wonder everyone uses dryers here, you wouldn’t have any warning to bring the clothes in if it suddenly began to shower. So you end up with all the problems that come with rain (worse even, since some bastard decided the pave each and every walkable surface with the slipperiest substances they could find) without the fun stuff, the noise and the light shows. It’ll be nice to get back to proper thunderstorms again. Miss me some dramatic weather.

Caesars are another thing I’m not gonna miss. Take a Bloody Mary and add clam juice. Yeah, really. Fuckin’ clam juice. Made so many of these fuckin’ things, and I’m very glad that I’ll never have to make another one again. Such a boring drink and I don’t think half the people who drink them even like them, as evidenced by the number of people who ask for “easy spice.” No mate, that’s not how caesars work. You don’t like spice? Then you don’t like caesars.

Other things are more difficult. Ice hockey (or as they call it here, just hockey), for example, is something I both am and am not gonna miss on the TV. On the one hand, it’s a great sport to watch that ticks all the right boxes. On the other, it’s on all the fucking time, and often becomes the only thing people care about. But I’m still gonna miss seeing the odd game on the TV. Definitely not gonna miss baseball or CFL/NFL though. Fuck baseball and North American football.

But these are just a handful of things on a very long list of will-he-won’t-he’s, and ignore the complicated relationship you form with a place you spend any decent amount of time in. That I’m sick of Vancouver has nothing to do with the quality of the city itself. That I’m sick of Canada and North American culture in general has nothing to do with country and continent. It’s just been a long time since I’ve been home, and I miss it dearly.

Funny how I’ve never really thought of this place as home. It’s always just been where I live, not where I’m from. I was talking to an Irish girl not that long ago, who’d lived on more continents in more cities than I had. She said it takes six months to settle into a new place. I’d agree with that. But settling doesn’t mean taking root. Settling doesn’t mean a place becomes home. I don’t think I ever gave Vancouver that chance. It’s not the city’s fault, I just never saw a reason to. I’ve been here twenty months and there’s always been a sense of intransigence about the way I live. There’s no furniture for me to pack or give away, no art or decoration, there’s not even ever that much in my section of the fridge. It’s not that I don’t want things, it’s just that for the whole time I’ve been here I never planned on staying, so why the fuck bother?

Maybe if I’d met someone, but I didn’t. Maybe if I saw reason to stay through the winter, but I haven’t. So all the little flaws, irritations and annoyances built up and up and up, and without a reason to overlook them all it was inevitable that familiarity would breed contempt. And so I’m going home.

It’s not you Vancouver, it’s me. I was never ready to commit to you, and you deserve all the people who are. You’re a great city, really, but you’re just not right for me. But I’m glad we had this time together.

It’s raining while I’m writing this. It’s supposed to rain every day well past the morning I climb on a plane to Toronto. I’ll probably have caught my next flight to New Orleans by the time it stops. A constant, ugly downpour, stripping the leaves off the trees and turning walking down the fucking pavement into a battle of wits and balance.

I’m not gonna miss this place. I’ll miss the people here, but not the city, and they can come visit me down in Sydney. But I’m glad I came. I’ve learnt a lot about myself, worked out who I am and what I want to do, here. That’s what I’ll take from this. That’s why it was worth living in a place I’ve never loved, never been willing love. Always planned on leaving.

Shit, it’s still raining. I can’t hear it, and it’s too dark outside to see it, but I know it is.