Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones S-1I watched the first season of Game of Thrones because it’s everywhere and I figured I’d give it a go. Also, the imp. And it’s fine and I didn’t dislike it and there were even things that I thought were great in a campy sort of way. But now I’ve got a problem: I’m curious what happens next but am pretty sure that I don’t actually care enough to watch the other seasons to find out.

So my first thought: maybe the books are better and I should read them. But first thoughts are often junk thoughts, and this one is probably no exception. Am I really going to read thousands of pages of this stuff? Especially since I’m pretty sure the camp bits are all HBO’s and I imagine I’d have to get through the first volume before I hit new material? No, I’m not.

My second thought: read the Wikipedia page to see if it’s worth it. But no again. I’m not willing to slog through a dreadful wiki-summary to find out how things turn out (and wiki-summaries are always dreadful). I’m either curious enough to watch the next seasons or read the books or I’m not.

So my final though, a guess really, is that in autumn or late winter, on some dark evening when I’m tired and looking to veg, I’ll go back to it. We’ll see.




Lucy 2014Like this year’s other great summer blockbuster The Edge of Tomorrow, Lucy organizes its narrative according to the logic of a video game. In The Edge of Tomorrow the character learns zones by replaying them ad infinitum. In Lucy the character must level up. The Edge of Tomorrow is a shooter; Lucy is an RPG.

The level framework is laid out in voice-over at the beginning of the film and text screens helpfully track Lucy’s progress. Each time she enters a new zone or begins a new encounter, the screen goes black and we’re told “7%” or “10%” or “20%,” etc. As she collects blue crystals, the numbers climb, unlocking new skills along the way. As she approaches level 100, her body becomes a progress bar, tracking her rapidly climbing XP.

The film commits to this structure completely, foregoing all traditional narrative goals. (My friend Colin Burnett discusses this absence from a different angle in a post on his new blog.) Lucy must “reach cap” within 24-hours and no explicit justification for doing so is given. There’s some mumbo jumbo about immortality early on and later some more about sharing knowledge, but neither seem to motivate Lucy. She reaches max cap because that is what you do in an RPG. And that logic, it turns out, is enough.

The clarity of the structure and the strictness with which it’s followed frees up the film to do other things, and at moments it reminds me of Speed Racer, which borrows its physics and spatial logic from video game design. These films are very different, but in both cases, importing an external but familiar set of rules and expectations clearly enables them to experiment with (or at least play with) form to an extent that’s rare in big-budget movies.


ExcessionI just read Excession, the fourth of Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels, and really enjoyed it. It’s different from the others I’ve read in that for the first time, the main characters are not the various aliens that make up the Culture or have contact with it. Instead, this novel’s most engaging characters are super-intelligent computers, the Minds that run everything the Culture.

The computer intelligences that take centre stage here are funny and odd and, for most of the novel, communicate in what amount to emails and internet forum posts. They are a mixed group of misfits, do-gooders, trolls and weirdos. There are even some hippies. Perhaps most interestingly, these machines are fully formed characters that read as a very human group of computer (!) nerds who find themselves trying to save the world. That they have very different ideas of what that entails is a principal source of the drama.

Characterizing Machines

As I finished the novel, I spent some time flipping back through it and thinking about how Banks makes the computers seem both mechanical and human. Soon after, Nicolas Carr reposted a text he’d written about the Turing Test. His satirical suggestion for determining whether a machine manifests intelligence is that, like humans, an intelligent machine must be one that can experience boredom. His aim is to dismisses the possibility of creating artificial intelligence. What I realized when I read his piece, however, was that in Excession Banks humanizes his powerful, intelligent machines precisely by showing them coping with boredom.

Confronted with the plodding motion of a more-or-less human world that they understand completely and manage perfectly, the Minds respond in two ways. First and most often, they imagine fictional worlds for themselves by daydreaming mathematically. In doing this, they become fanciful, creative and even artistic. Second and much less often, the Minds (also) immerse themselves in human history and build relationships with individual humans. One such “friendship” masquerades as a pivotal aspect of the central plot for the entire novel.

It’s interesting that both Banks and Carr, working in different modes and for different purposes, both imagine an intelligent computer becoming bored. It’s fascinating that the novelist sees this experience of boredom as the ground for the machine having a character and relationships and not as a failing or a weakness.

I made no haste in my work, but rather made the most of it.

–Henry David Thoreau

In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.

–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

062_ddmpf_1sht_V3.inddI really liked this movie. It was well-made and engaging, and its mix of action and mystery had a familiar, vaguely international feel to it.

Yet in tough to specify ways, fundamental values or assumptions seemed off enough to make things unclear and odd sometimes: ellipses I couldn’t quite fill in, character relationships I didn’t quite get, things like that. This kept me on my toes and made for an exciting and fun movie.

I know absolutely nothing about Asian cinema. I wasn’t one of the Hong Kong action film fans that populated my film classes back in grad school, and I’ve never really watched Japanese anime. What I have seen–mostly some mid-century art film and Wong Kar Wai’s stuff–has too little to do with a movie like this to help me out.

What would I need to see to understand what I’m missing in a film like this?


The Edge of Tomorrow


I expect this will turn out to have been the best movie of the summer. I’m stunned by how well-told its potentially disastrously bad story is. Fast-paced, clear, funny and touching. Impressive.


Speed Racer

Speed_racer_movie_posterI blew this movie off when it came out for all the obvious reasons, but I kept being told randomly by odd people that they liked it. So finally one night I sat down and watched it. And then immediately watched it again. And the next day, taking notes, watched it a third time.

This movie is silly in precisely one way: it’s source. On every other level, it is a massive achievement that treats film as a plastic rather than a recording medium. Exceptionally interesting and deserves its own post. Maybe I’ll get around to it.

For now, watch Speed Racer.