a tale of two scientific geniuses

(That was the best title I could come up with, honestly.)
(Note: spoiler alert.)

I’ve recently been to watch The Theory of Everything with my mom, and I’ve just watched The Imitation Game last night with my best friend at a local preview screening (it hasn’t actually premiered in my country) so I figured I’d review them both and perhaps compare them since they’re both biopics that are in the running for the academy awards. Both films cover the lives of two extraordinary scientific minds, who’ve accomplished incredible feats in their various fields, though one of them is a scientist everyone knows and loves and the other’s a name that is fairly unknown to most people.

Personally, I very much preferred watching The Imitation Game and sort of wished that I brought my mom to watch that instead (she fell asleep for a bit during The Theory of Everything.) I suppose my mom would’ve enjoyed TIG better even though I’d have a really difficult time trying to defend Turing’s homosexuality to my homophobic parents later, since it was much better paced due to the writing. What I especially enjoyed was how the writers split Turing’s story up into three different parts – when he met his “first love”, Christopher Morcom, at Sherborne school, when he worked at Bletchley Park, and when he got arrested for “gross indecency” – and intricately weaved these three different parts of his life together, hence allowing viewers to piece together his life from these bits and pieces and understand the impetus behind his actions better.

As a literature student, I really appreciated the use of explicit symbolism in the writing.
Codes and puzzles are common motifs throughout the film. It’s most explicitly referred to through the Enigma code, which plays the central role in Turing’s story, as portrayed by the filmmakers. Beyond the unbreakable (now breakable) German code, the main focus of the biopic – Turing – is as much of an enigma as the code he was trying to solve. Turing held countless secrets, from the classified military work he had to conceal to his homosexuality and all the things in between, there’s very much we (historians included) still don’t know about him. Even in the storytelling method as mentioned before, the idea of breaking Turing’s life down into different parts such that the audiences are able to see the greater picture more clearly cleverly utilises this motif of puzzles – and in this case, the viewers are the ones trying to crack the puzzle to learn about the man himself.
Aside from that, there was a really poignant scene in which Turing relates himself and his beliefs to that of machines. Throughout the film, there are hints of how Turing isn’t quite “human”, as we’d understand the word itself. He shuts himself off at times to complete his work, preferring to be with the machine he was building rather than his team. There’s a slightly Aspergic quality to his character, which I’m not actually sure about since historians can’t confirm whether he truly had Aspergers but suspected he did, but because of these qualities that Cumberbatch chose to portray him with, Turing appears to to be more mechanical than most. In that specific scene where Turing was interrogated, this link between himself and machines/computers was drawn again, but not in relation to the aforementioned qualities, but rather, in relation to his homosexuality. In the scene, he explains that computers don’t think the way humans do, but they do some sort of “thinking”, and he questions if we should reject computers as being non-human just because they think differently from the way most humans do. Not only did that scene hold major symbolic meaning by comparing Turing to the computers he built since, like these computers, he doesn’t hold the same beliefs and lifestyle as other ordinary people, it highlights an incredibly important message that we still aren’t able to grasp today – that other thoughts, beliefs and cultures are no less than one’s just because they deviate from the majority. For those beautifully written lines, I’d pay another twenty bucks to drag my parents to watch TIG with me again so that I can (possibly) ingrain that message in their heads.
Speaking of beautifully written lines, there are several lines repeated commonly throughout the film between various characters, the most significant being this:

Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.
(Who knew mathematicians could be this poetic?)
If I remember correctly, while this line was used thrice in the film, it was also the last spoken line. If watching the genius who was supposed to be celebrated as a war hero regress into solitude and depression in the final stages of his life didn’t break my heart enough, this line would’ve been the trigger that brought me to tears. In that very scene, Turing, like many others who don’t seem to fit into conventional expectations and stereotypes, mentioned to Joan Clarke that he wished he could’ve been ordinary – presumably alluding to his sexuality, but perhaps also to his exceptional intelligence and his possible aspergers. It was such an awfully heartbreaking scene because there was the man who accomplished nearly impossible feats, who saved countless lives, made discoveries that eventually led to the creation of our modern computers, condemned and maltreated by the unjust law to believe that he would’ve been better off being “normal”. My best friend and I walked out of the cinema with no words to describe the injustice Turing had to face, just inexplicable anger. I guess the worst part about the ending was knowing that it can’t be changed or rewritten because it happened to an actual person, unlike with fictional stories in which we can override the ending with our own imaginations if we wished.
While TIG excelled in its storytelling, The Theory of Everything had – if I may say so myself – rather mediocre writing. While its style was clean and simple, the mere chronological depiction of the story many already knew didn’t seem to work as well since we could expect what was to happen based on what we already knew. This made the pacing seem incredibly slow, but I suppose some can argue that it works in the favour of its subject matter since it more accurately depicts the slow and gruelling challenges that not only Stephen Hawking himself, but also and especially Jane, had to go through in their twenty-five year marriage. Not only that, but this chronological perspective also allows for viewers to actually realise the passage of time while they’re watching the film, since time is one of the main concepts of Hawking’s theory which comes into play spectacularly in the final scene.
I supposed TIG had the benefit of telling a story centrally set in the background of the Second World War, which contributed to the excitement and anticipation the viewers had – I mean, I was practically pumped with adrenaline when Turing and his team broke the code, whereas The Theory of Everything was much more about domesticity and the unspoken tensions between Jane and Stephen Hawking, in relation to his work and achievements. Another thing was that the creators of TIG did take some liberties to dramatise Turing’s story to play up certain aspects such that universal themes and ideas could shine through (and they did it really well, which is partially why I’m not complaining about their deviations from the original story at all) whereas the story of Stephen and Jane Hawking had to be told more accurately because, well, firstly the both of them would be alive to watch the film, and secondly, many people do know quite a lot of his story and it would cause quite a ruckus if the creators were to dramatise it any further than what they’ve already done.
Where The Theory of Everything lacks, the creators make up for it with the stunning visuals. From what I understand based on the interviews I’ve watched, TIG didn’t manage to get quite a huge budget, which probably contributed to the slightly odd special effects of the war scenes, thus putting it second to TTOE in this aspect. While the script of the film doesn’t hint at symbolic features as clearly as that of TIG, the visuals did play quite a big part in linking the two different strands of the plot in the film. On one hand we have Stephen Hawking’s private life with Jane Hawking, and on the other hand we see bits of his academic work, and there are quite a few blatant visual cues that draw the parallels between what Hawking’s trying to explain in his slightly (or very) abstract theories about the universe (spacey-wacey, timey-wimey stuff) and his private life. In that sense, the visual capturing of his private life with Jane allows viewers to understand what would otherwise be painfully difficult concepts in quantum physics. For example, you get Jane running circles round Stephen in the early stages of their relationship, the artistically crafted shot of milk swirling around in Stephen’s coffee, as well as the fireworks at his college’s May Ball, all illustrating his beliefs about the creation of the universe from nothing and the eventual collapse of the black hole into nothingness. (Or something of that sort, I don’t really get the science even though I’ve tried to read up on it!!) The most impressive visual cue was probably in one of the last scenes in which there’s basically a really quick rewind of the entire movie in about a minute or so, where the process of him falling ill and then becoming the scientific genius we know of is completely reversed, like how time is reversed in what he speculated would happen in a black hole. While these visual allusions were awfully clever, some casual audiences (/coughs/ my mom /coughs/) might miss them. (The thing is, my mom relies on the subtitles a lot since she doesn’t understand English very well, so some nuances might just fly over her head because it’s not translated very well in the subtitles.)
Moving on from the crux of the film to the acting, I’d first have to say that the actors in both films were so brilliant, but while I’ve been rooting for Benedict Cumberbatch all through the awards season (and will still be, for the BAFTAs and the Oscars), I suppose Eddie Redmayne did deserve his Golden Globe award for best actor since the role proved to be much more challenging to him than Turing is to Cumberbatch. Physically, I would guess that Redmayne had to contort himself in a wheelchair to capture the likeness of Hawking, which wouldn’t have been very comfortable for his body or face. Not only that, with the script and the limited lines was given, it’s amazing how he managed to convey so many emotions with such little words. There were so many silent moments between him and Felicity Jones, in which all the acting was simply done through their eyes and their facial expressions, and you’d have to be a truly top-class actor to be able to pull that off. The same goes for Felicity Jones, who practically carried the entire film, since the story’s told from her perspective as Hawking’s lover and later, caregiver after all. The inner turmoil between how much she cares for Hawking and her exasperation at her family’s situation played out so wonderfully through her acting. On the other hand, in TIG, we get Cumberbatch as Turing, a character that (despite his claims) seems slightly like his famed Sherlock. Sure, both characters are different – for example, one’s a sociopath and one isn’t – but they’re still within a certain range of character he seems to be comfortable with playing. Of course, he acted incredibly well in that role, but it just doesn’t seem to be that much of a challenge to him. As for Keira Knightley, well, let’s just say I’ve been rooting for Keira to win an Oscar since she lost out for her role as Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, but the role of Joan Clarke doesn’t provide much range for her to explore. That being said, one of the most enjoyable things about watching TIG was Joan Clarke, since she’s so understatedly intelligent and clever, while being so loveable and kind at the same time. You know from the moment she was mistaken for a candidate for the post of a secretary that you’ll be rooting for her throughout the story.
I suppose character wise I really preferred Turing to Hawking, which probably also explains why I liked one movie over the other, since Hawking (however brilliant he may be) is quite an arse in person. Or at least, that’s how his previous wife’s account made him out to be. His persistent rejection of Jane’s help did led me to infer him to be quite an arrogant, egoistical arse. Not to mention that he was unwilling to thank Jane despite her giving up practically everything to take care of him and spend her life with him. Of course, there’s the thing about Hawking being a misogynist, which you can read about here, and there’s something about people being misogynistic or just plain discriminatory that I can’t bear. In comparison, while Turing was initially portrayed to be slightly arrogant and straightforward about his exceptional intelligence, it’s portrayed in a way that shows that he’s unable to understand the nuances of typical speech between most people (aka the consistent emphasis on his inability to understand or make jokes) such that he speaks to people in such frank and straightforward manner, hinting at his possible aspergers. This harsh exterior slowly begins to erode when Joan Clarke steps into the picture, when he first allows her to sit for the selection test to be part of his team despite her gender and the stereotypical expectations of women then – he doesn’t see her as a woman the way everyone else sees her, he recognises her for her brains since that’s what he needs on his team. Of course, that scene was completely made up by the writers, but it did make Turing much more likeable when compared to Hawking’s misogyny. When Turing later interacts more with coworkers upon Joan’s urging by giving them apples and telling them a joke (albeit really horribly), you know that that’s when everyone in the theatre’s completely won over if they weren’t before – there’s something so endearing and pure about his child-like quality in that scene because he sees the world from his extraordinary point of view, unfiltered by the prejudices people bear when they get older.
Overall, my verdict of both films is simply that TIG’s a better film in terms of its storytelling and hence entertainment quality, but in other technical aspects that I suppose the voters of the Academy may judge the films by, TIG unfortunately lags behind just a little.

more uni rambles

I’ve been trying to decide what to do with my current university offers for the past few days, ever since my Oxford rejection (#oxfordrejectsclub) and because my mom’s adamant in shipping me off to uni this year, rather than to let me reapply to Oxford/Cambridge (for HSPS), I suppose I’ll have to work with the choices I have currently. Perhaps I shouldn’t be lamenting that much about being rejected, since I’ve been accepted by some pretty amazing universities that often top league tables for the subject I intend to read.

Anyway, after doing my bit of research, I’ve vaguely decided on two options, depending on whether LSE decides to give me an offer (I can’t believe they’re taking longer than Oxbridge even though they only have to work through our personal statements – no interviews, no written work whatsoever.)

1. Should I not get an offer from LSE, I’m probably going to firm UCL and use Durham as my insurance choice. 
It was a choice between getting a(n) faux Oxbridge experience, with Durham’s collegiate system and the stunning architecture, and being in the heart of London, just minutes away from all the theatres and museums that I’ve been longing to go to for ages. I chose the latter eventually, even though living in London’s probably going to suck all-the-money-I’m-going-to-make-for-the-rest-of-my-life from me, since I’m going to have to get a scholarship to be able to afford to study overseas anyway (which means that I won’t have to spend out of my own pocket.) Of course, going to UCL will mean that I probably won’t get the typical ‘university’ experience since everyone’s scattered everywhere across the city and it’s hard to maintain a core group of friends, but I suppose being in the city means that there’ll be more networking opportunities, which is incredibly crucial when you’re studying a subject known for its awful job prospects (heh.) Also, UCL’s anthropology programme holds an exchange with Sciences Po every year, and after having had a really wonderful time at Sciences Po during their summer programme two years ago, the prospect of being able to return there (perhaps with a more solid French background) seems ideal.

2. Should I get an offer from LSE, I’d have to decide between UCL and LSE and honestly I can’t really decide now.
The thing is, I’ve always wanted to go to LSE because of its strict focus on social and political sciences, which means that I’ll be able to study social anthropology in greater depth. (Also, my former history teacher, who’s incredibly inspiring in the “why can’t I be you” way, with her smarts and wits and utter brilliance, went there.) Even so, I’m currently reconsidering LSE because of what I’ve been hearing about the environment – on one hand, I appreciate the fact that most of its students are painfully hardworking and driven since it’ll make for good motivation to do well academically, but on the other hand, I have also heard of people not enjoying their time there because of the same reason. Also, it’s more likely that I’ll be able to get a scholarship with my course choice at UCL, rather than at LSE, since I’ll be applying for art management and heritage scholarships, for which a more general study of anthropology and archaeology may be more helpful. Both universities are situated in pretty close to each other in London, so the main deciding factors would be the people and the course itself – both of which are comparable. Of course, I probably shouldn’t get ahead of myself since LSE could very well reject me, seeing that its acceptance rates for the course are much lower than that of Oxbridge, which would make choosing very much easier. Otherwise, I’d probably discuss the situation with my college admissions counsellors and inquire about LSE with said history teacher.

Either way, it’s decided that I’ll have to get a scholarship to be able to attend universities overseas. I’m still hoping to get an unbonded scholarship so I’ll be able to go to grad school immediately after my undergrad studies – and for that I’ll probably apply to Oxford again since they offer a course on visual, material and museum anthropology. Otherwise I’ll probably apply for a more general grad course on cultural anthropology. Then again, it’s at least three years till I have to make these decisions and maybe then my interests will have shifted. If I do get a bonded scholarship, I’ll have to return to work for six years, which doesn’t sound too bad since I know I’ll have the money to pay for grad school (yay for financial independence.)

GAAAHHH WHY IS APPLYING AND PAYING FOR UNI SO STRESSFUL?! Shouldn’t the stress be coming from the actual studying and not from worrying about getting into uni and being able to afford it?!! Sheesh I’m not even IN uni yet but I’m stressed out over decision-making. I’M JUST A KID WHO WANTS TO GO TO SCHOOL TO LEARN AND KNOW THINGS WHY’S THAT SO DIFFICULT. T___T

Okay, rant over. I’m going to go back to doodling and reblogging things on tumblr because tomorrow’s when my job commences – woohoo I’m no longer unemployed without income! It feels great to finally have a job even though the pay’s beyond meagre – it’s a tradeoff for getting to work at a cute and fancy stationery store, I guess. Also, my mom’s taking me out to watch The Theory of Everything tomorrow before work starts, and I’ll be watching The Imitation Game on the 20th with my best friend, before everyone else in Singapore, because I won free preview passes.

literally the best person ever: Mackenzie Davis

So, “literally the best person ever” is something I’m trying out. It is sort of a rip-off from my favourite online magazine, Rookiemag’s segment, “literally the best thing ever”. In these segments, writers appreciate and pay tribute to some of the best movies/TV shows/people/things ever including M.I.A and outer space, amongst other things. I’ve decided to start doing this on my personal blog as well since, as my close friends or those who follow my twitter know, I get these phases where I discover new actors, musicians or artists through their work and get completely obsessed* over them because of their personalities or what they do, so I guess this is where I vent and ramble on about why these people are, indeed, the best persons ever.

It seems slightly weird to say this, but I’ve got an entire list of people whom I either want to be (Lily Cole, for starters, with her Double Firsts at Cambridge for Art History and her incredibly long list of A’s at the A-Levels in subjects I wish I were good at) or just be friends with (because of similar interests), so I’ll just do this on a regular basis. That is, until I get lazy. If you’re following this blog, be prepared for a lot of enthusiastic yelling about my favourite people.

*Note: I use the term “obsessed” really loosely here, don’t worry I don’t go around stalking people to their houses. I just go through as much as I can of their works/discography/filmography (even the bad ones – which I giggle at and then selectively forget.) 


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About two weeks ago, I finished my Halt and Catch Fire marathon – a show I’ve picked up to fill my “Lee Pace” void after watching Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies (twice). Halt and Catch Fire was no Lee Pace-Bryan Fuller collaboration, its practical and no-nonsense tone was the furthest thing you could imagine from the cheery and/or fantastical vibe of most Bryan Fuller productions. Despite this, there’s a sort of realistic optimism that each individual character holds about the machine – a portable personal computer that rivals IBM’s – they’re going to build and the future of computers. This optimism is especially exemplified in Mackenzie Davis’s character, Cameron Howe, a twenty-something programming prodigy who’s poached by Joe Macmillan (our main protagonist) to work for the fictional Cardiff Electric in their rogue project. Amongst main cast, Cameron’s the naive idealist who believes that computers should be more than tools that perform specific tasks – she mentions in the pilot that “computers could be more… They should be” – and consistently pushes for the trio’s project to be just that. Not only is Cameron Howe the idealist whom I resonate with, she’s also a “super punk, Agyness Deyn lookalike” (as I described to my friends to convince them to watch HACF) and the computer coding genius I wish I were – basically one of my many life goals.

While her role in Halt and Catch Fire epitomises who I hope to become, Mackenzie Davis herself appears to be more like the sort whom (I wish) I’d be friends with. That is, if you discount the fact that she’s a rising Hollywood actress who’s been in tons of critically-acclaimed movies. She loves The Simpsons and pizza, I prefer Bob’s Burgers but I’m pretty sure that can be worked out since both shows are more similar than different. Anyway, pizza and cartoons make for the ideal nights in…unless we’re talking about Family Guy (I basically avoid Family Guy like a plague because of its horribly offensive humour thing-that-they-define-as-humour.) Aside from liking pizza and The Simpsons, which most people do anyway, she reads a lot and this always makes a person at least ten times more attractive. Not to mention that in one interview, when asked about her favourite books/authors, she named George Orwell and Nabokov – the former being one of my personal favourite authors (after Neil Gaiman) and the latter being a common favourite amongst my friends. It’s really funny because the moment I texted my best friend about her love of Nabokov, she responded instantly with “SHE LIKES NABOKOV?!?!!!”…”dang I’m completely won over” although she’s watched absolutely nothing that Mackenzie Davis’s in. We later decided that a bunch of us should start a Nabokov book club with Mackenzie Davis, Tavi Gevinson and Petra Collins…and the English student at Oxford that I follow on Tumblr – she’s studying Nabokov this term.

Common interests aside, I suppose it’s her earnest strangeness that makes her so painfully endearing, despite being a tall statuesque (ex)model who would otherwise intimidate me to no end.
Seriously, she’s got one of the kookiest hobbies I’ve ever heard of but she explains it with such nerdy enthusiasm it seems cool now… Well, it’s sort of an art project after all and I’m into most sorts of art.

And would you care to watch her interview on my favourite talk show too? I’m really amused at how she’s actually into Geoff Peterson because most guests on the show end up being slightly freaked out, other than Kristen Bell, who has a long standing feud with the robot skeleton.

As if she isn’t loveable enough, Mackenzie Davis’s a brilliant actress who’s been in tons of great movies (save for That Awkward Moment, with its cliched, dudebro-driven plot.) Most would agree that her breakout role’s in Drake Doremus’s “Breathe In”, which I’ve just watched yesterday.

I personally really enjoyed it despite the mixed reviews (mostly in criticism of the ending), partially because of its stunning cinematography and also due to the soundtrack, which happens to be composed by one of my favourite musicians, Dustin O’Halloran – his music practically carried me through the major exam periods of the past year. Mackenzie plays a sympathetic character in the film, as she suffers under the brunt of teen burdens and the additional weight of dealing with her father’s supposed affair with the very same girl she shares her bedroom with. It’s amazing how she manages to hold her own, despite acting alongside heavyweight actors like Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce, and eventually play the crucial role in bringing together different parts of the story and providing the impetus for closure.

While she’s amazing at what she does, the one thing about Mackenzie Davis that makes her such a wonderful person is probably what she said about feminism in her New York Times interview:

“The word has a bad rap as either unappealing or too confrontational. But I think the best thing is to just keep using it until it’s so normalized that no one can have a negative reaction anymore. Feminism is rooted in racial rights and gender rights, and all of those things intersect, and to say that that’s not something you can stand behind — it confuses me. I think it’s a really great word.”

The first thing is, I’m so incredibly glad she identifies herself as a feminist. There’s still such a stigma that surrounds the word, making people actively choose to distance themselves from the word. Another one of my favourite actresses, Evangeline Lilly, mentioned something lately that pissed tons of people, including myself, off. I shan’t quote it directly but it involves her mentioning that she doesn’t like the word “feminism” because she associates with women trying to be men, and she simply wishes to embrace her womanhood. (GAAAHHH. I thought she was a pretty good role model until this happened.) There are so many things that’s wrong with Evangeline Lilly’s interpretation of feminism, including the fact that feminism is not about women trying to be men, but about people striving to get equal rights for everyone on the gender spectrum, as well as the issue with the explicit trans-phobia of her statement.  Anyway, I know it’s really weird to simply give someone more credit just because they identify as a feminist, but it’s exactly because feminism still holds this negative connotation amongst so many people such that public figures are heralded whenever they stand up for the cause, and as insinuated in the above statement, only when feminism is “normalized” and “no one can have a negative reaction” towards it will this phenomenon stop.

She also mentions the idea of “feminism being rooted in racial rights and gender rights”, which I particularly appreciate because most only relate the latter to the concept of feminism and often miss out the former. As Flavia Dzodan is often quoted (though I don’t completely agree with everything she says), “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.” While it is undeniable that the issue that feminism is tackling is rooted in gender differences, race and other definitive markers of “privilege” plays a crucial role in the creation of this discrimination as well, thus complicating matters. Intersectional feminism hence addresses gender discrimination in a less general manner, since it acknowledges the complexity of the various causes of this issue that many people often ignore. [You can read more on it here.] While this is a relatively new and still-obscure concept to many, I do appreciate Mackenzie Davis pointing it out in her New York Times interview, since this will, hopefully, highlight this concept to more people. After all, she’s minored in gender studies in university, which probably means she’s had the chance to examine these issues in a more academic and perhaps, theoretical manner that most of us won’t have the opportunity of doing, so I’m glad she’s adding her voice to the conversation so we’re able to understand it from a broader perspective.

More than all the above, the best part about her identification as a feminist is that she proactively lives by her beliefs, as evident in her choice of roles and her active negotiation for her characters to not be relegated to the simple, insignificant object of interest or representation. I must admit, it is hard to follow through on one’s principles all the time (…the dilemma on whether to watch Woody Allen’s films, the choice to not leave manual labour to the guys though it’s convenient and I’m an awfully lazy person etc.) She’s spoken up in a few interviews on her rejection of roles that diminish women even in the early stages of her career where most actors would probably choose to take up most parts that come their way, and she’s also brought up a few times how she’s ensured that Cameron will be given a greater role beyond just being the stereotypical punk rebel who sleeps with her boss in Halt and Catch Fire prior to taking up the part. In watching her movies, you can actually observe the consistency in her choices – other than in The Awkward Moment which I really really loathe, but even so her character still remains rather autonomous in that movie. Ultimately, it’s remarkable to see someone take ownership of their beliefs and act upon it, and therein makes her one of my favourite people.

guess i can finally claim to be in the oxford rejects club

Just got an email from Magdalen right before my phone died, with the letter saying that I’ve been rejected. I’ve sort of been expecting that, but I’m still a little gutted seeing my mom disappointed. I’m just waiting for a response from LSE now so that I can make my decision on UCAS. I can’t really decide between London or Durham though. UCL appears to have a better course but Durham’s gorgeous (and cheaper.) If LSE decides to give me an offer, I’d probably take that, but it seems rather unlikely that I’ll get an offer since my PS is tailored to a course that’s broader than their specialty of social anth.

Since I’ve heard back from my main school, it’s probably time to apply for scholarships now to (perhaps) afford the burdening cost of London… Welp.

– Rachel

Doctor Who Series 8 review

Alright I’ve promised this since the end of series 8 in November and this is long overdue, since we’re already a week past the Christmas special and series 9 starts shooting today. (woop woop #dwsr) On the same note, Sherlock starts shooting today as well so we’ll be expecting tons of #setlock pictures and information!

I’ve decided to start rambling about Doctor Who series 8 because I really need to distract myself from worrying myself sick about Oxford admissions – I’ve been woozy and anxious the entire day all thanks to an overdosage of coffee and thestudentroom. It’s awfully stressful waiting for this ONE email that’ll determine your future…sort of. Currently, I’m preparing myself for a rejection, but still clinging on to that minute strand of hope that I’ll get into Oxford. I know I didn’t initially intend to apply, but I’ve grown really fond of it over the past few months. Also, if I don’t get in, I’ll not only have to face my parents’ disappointment but I’ll also have to face nosy relatives asking about my uni plans over the Chinese New Year holidays…which isn’t how I’d like to spend such a festive holiday. Ugh too bad my mom had to go and tell everyone about the interview because I wasn’t with the family in Malaysia when they visited our relatives there.

That aside, back to Doctor Who. Before I proceed on with the review-that-might-degenerate-into-a-ramble, here’s a spoiler alert!! If you haven’t watched Series 8 of Doctor Who and wouldn’t like it to be spoiled, please avert your attention. Review continues after the cut.  Continue reading

Thranduil digital painting

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Made a digital painting of Thranduil today because I haven’t done this in ages.


On another note, I’ve also created a redbubble account so I can sell some of my art as prints and merch. There’s currently art of the Mirkwood elves (Thranduil, Tauriel and Legolas) and Benedict Cumberbatch, and I’ll work on putting my other Doctor Who stuff up as well.

(I’ve also got artworks of Porter Robinson, and if anyone wishes to get related merch, maybe you can drop me a comment or something either here or on my redbubble page so I can put those works up as well.)

Anyway, if you’ve got cash to spare and if you fancy getting shirts or totes or phone/tablet/laptop cases/skins with my artworks, or maybe prints…or even couch cushions, do drop by my redbubble page (which is HERE!!!) I’m currently in need of cash because I’m out of school and unemployed (I’m looking for a temp job to fill my next eight to nine months before I go to uni) and I’ve got to save money for uni. Also, I know that the prices on redbubble are a little steep (except when there are sales) but artists typically get 20% profits so we don’t really make that much.

I might start doing commissions if I don’t get a job soon, but we’ll see because I’m still busy sorting out uni stuff……and I’m currently fretting over whether I’ll actually get into Oxford. Yes, that. January 7th can’t come sooner, but I really dread that day too because I’m really doubting my chances. :/

– Rachel

2014 recap

I’m listening to the audio of Halt and Catch Fire as I write this, so do pardon me if some sentences don’t make sense because I’m not really sure what I’m writing here either – it’s just a stream of (sub)consciousness, if not some gibberish. It’s 7.13pm now and my family just ordered pizza for dinner so it won’t be here for a while, and while the pizza takes its time to make its way to my stomach I shall just recap my past year because that seems to be what everyone’s doing anyway.


1. Last year of “school” school before I head off to university. Also the year I finally got my shit together, pulled my grades up while managing school extracurriculars and um…extra-extracurriculars /coughs/ tumblr /coughs/. Didn’t fail a class this year, whoop dee doo – you can probably guess how bad my grades were last year such that I’m actually glad I =pass= classes. (Alright the grades this year were significantly better than passing grades.)

2. Finished up my piano grade exams, albeit with a teeny, minuscule, unassuming splat. Translation: I didn’t do very well. Then again, I’ve only picked up my final piece a month before my exam so I barely had time to practice and perfect it. I may continue on with my piano diploma – I’ve been fiddling around with some of the pieces anyway, so if I ever decide to go back to taking piano lessons, it won’t take me that long to pick up some of the pieces.

3. Applied to Oxford!! Honestly I’ve never thought I would apply to one of the best universities in the world, but I did anyway after my college admissions counsellor suggested it. It was sort of a spur of the moment decision (though I still had about two months to prepare and write my personal statement) and I honestly didn’t think I’d get so far, but I’ve managed to get myself an interview and I survived the interview. Well, I didn’t survive unscathed (or so I suppose) but I’ve been through an Oxford admissions interview. An actual Oxford admissions interview with Oxford tutors – specialists in their various fields, the people who write university textbooks, the best in their fields. Incredible, I know. I’m not sure what the outcome of my application will be, I’ll know in about a week (fingers crossed) but I’m glad I had the experience of getting to talk to these people about the subject I’m interested in. Still, I do hope I’ll be able to get in.

4. More than applying to Oxford, I applied to Durham, UCL and Manchester and got in. And these universities may be where I’m headed to should I end up as an Oxford reject. Durham looks and sounds really REALLY good, especially since my best friend’s applying there too and she might end up there too. If she does then we’ll still get to hang out often. To be honest, I’ve actually considered just going to Durham regardless of whether Oxford accepts me, but the libraries at Oxford just look waaaaay too look for me to resist.

5. I sat the A Levels. Survived the exams that I’ve prepared for months for…heck, all my education in the past six years led up to that moment, it’s ridiculous. Now there’s no more taking exams for subjects I have absolutely no interest in (Math), or at least that’s what I hope, and no more mindless regurgitation of facts. Now I’ll just have to wait till March to get my results and I really REALLY hope they’re good because I need those As to get through 2015.


Speaking of 2015, I do hope the next year will be great because it’ll be the year (or at least, it’s what I hope for it to be) that I’ll go off to university, and I really hope everything goes well so I’ll end up where I want to be with my family being happy with where I am. I’ll also need to get a job for the upcoming few months, so I hope that’ll go well too since it’ll be my first proper job aside from the writing internship I had for a month four years ago.

To be honest, 2015 already sounds pretty great. I’ll be going to Laneway Festival to watch FKA Twigs, Banks and St. Vincent amongst many other bands. I’ve got a whole lot of new clothes in my wardrobe and new eyeliner so I’ll look cute as heck even if next year doesn’t go as smoothly as I hope, and I’ve got lots of free time to do what I wish…well, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ll need to get a job, but I’ll get one that I want to do (which is a great improvement from being stuck in classes I don’t want to be in.) Also, Jan 15’s the local release of The Imitation Game and Into The Woods so I’ll have a bunch of new movies to watch in the next few weeks so that means I won’t be watching Battle of the Five Armies over and over again (I’ve watched it thrice already – all in different formats.) /grins/ It’s a little more than 3 hours till midnight, so I’ll see you guys in 2015!

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies review

Note: Spoiler alert

I’ve been waiting for the release of BOFA for almost an entire year since I’ve watched DoS, with the second instalment building up the suspense pretty nicely, ending off with Smaug soaring towards Laketown from Erebor, growling “I am fire….I am death…..” All that anticipation cumulated in my sky high expectations for the movie, most of which were met.

Generally, the movie was a visual feast, although some may not agree due to the over-usage of CGI. Personally, I didn’t find the CGI quite problematic, except for one or two glitches I’ve spotted while watching the movie in IMAX 3D HFR (the way Peter Jackson intended for the movie to be viewed.) The glitches probably wouldn’t have been obvious if you watch the movie in 2D, which I did on the opening day because I couldn’t get my hands on IMAX 3D tickets,  but I’d still suggest watching the movie in the best quality possible because of the amount of detail you can see… Of course, most of us aren’t exactly used to watching movies with such clarity since most movies are still shot in the standard 24 FPS rate rather than the 48 FPS rate PJ uses, which makes the movie look slightly surreal, like when you can almost see the pores on the actors’ faces in close up shots, or the tiny little details on Smaug’s scales…

About the unnatural effects from the over-usage of CGI, from an amateur animator’s perspective, I really loved what WETA Digital’s done because I know how difficult animating even normal cartoons is, and to create effects of that scale – animating the hordes of orcs or the desolation of Smaug, or even just making Orlando Bloom’s Legolas do ridiculous stunts – takes incredible amount of work…not to mention that these effects are perhaps about as realistic as they can get. From an audience’s perspective, I get that no matter how much rendering is done, digital effects cannot simply replicate what’s captured on film with real actors and props and sets. With the copious amount of CGI used, some bits look more like World of Warcraft game trailers than an actual movie (I just have to point out here that the effects on WoW are incredibly realistic, which was why I fell in love with that game about 8 years ago), but hey everyone was really impressed with the Oliphaunt scene in Return of the King despite the heavy CGI used. Sure there’s much more computer graphics used in The Hobbit trilogy than in all of LOTR, but that’s because there’s much more technology available for directors like Peter Jackson to push the boundaries of film-making now as compared to a decade ago, so why not adopt the technology if possible? Why be limited by the actors’ physical capabilities when technology can be used to aid and enhance their performance in mad stunt sequences?

My issue with Peter Jackson’s BOFA doesn’t lie with the special effects, but with the storyline and the pacing of the trilogy.

First of all, it is slightly ludicrous for him for start off the film with ten minutes of Smaug burning Laketown to bits…and then getting killed by Bard, as we all know is going to happen, because we’ve all read the book, right? My first thought when that scene ended was: dang the casual movie-goers who haven’t watched the second movie wouldn’t know what happened or why it happened and are just going to be left confused about the first 10 minutes, that doesn’t seem to be coherent with the rest of the movie that’s more about the conflicts between the races than a fire-breathing dragon. The funny thing is, second movie of the trilogy’s called “the Desolation of Smaug” but all we got of Smaug was him taunting Bilbo and chasing the dwarves all around Erebor, which was fun to watch, but we didn’t actually get to see the “desolation” part…not until the third movie. I understand that the second movie’s painfully long, and that much has been cut from the movie (including a significant portion of the Beorn scenes and the Mirkwood scenes that were part of Tolkien canon) to reduce it to 187 minutes, but why couldn’t they have just cut the gold dwarf scene (which, frankly, I found to be rather hilarious but unnecessary) and included the ‘death and destruction’ part instead? Or perhaps we could have included some of the second movie in the first, even though that is highly unlikely since the first movie was mostly filmed separately from the other two (which were originally intended to be one movie, so it’s hard to shift bits around from the second movie to the first.) Perhaps Peter Jackson wanted to end off on a cliffhanger to get casual viewers to watch the final movie as well, but they could have used the prospect of an orc invasion as their cliffhanger instead. I mean, that would compartmentalise the plot into three neat sections that fit their titles, rather than to have messy, overlapping plot-lines. Sure all that wouldn’t matter for fans that’ll run all three movies in a Hobbit movie marathon, since there’s a general coherence across three movies, but not everyone will do that…

Another problem I had with BOFA was Tauriel. Tauriel, whom I’ve rooted for since DoS, was a kickass warrior elf who took no shit from her king, a young, curious elf who had a thirst for the world beyond Mirkwood in the second movie. I liked that she was created to be a role model for young girls, and to inject some femininity into a movie about thirteen male characters going on a journey to meet more male characters. I defended Tauriel against purists who thought that she was too much of a deviation from the original Tolkien lore, because I liked the character and I liked what she represented within and outside of the movie.

Guess what Peter Jackson did with her character in the final movie? Yep. He’d gone and turned her into a damsel in distress whose cries of pain attract Kili’s intervention (which eventually caused his death.) KILI WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE BY HIS BROTHER, OR AT LEAST, DIE AVENGING HIS BROTHER, NOT BESIDE A (CLEARLY) CAPABLE WARRIOR ELF WHO LIES IN A CORNER WHILE HE DEFENDS HER. Tauriel’s a captain of the Mirkwood guards, and by that I’m pretty sure she can hold her own, as evident in DoS. If PJ needs a way to conclude the relationship between Tauriel and Kili, I’m pretty sure he could’ve had the same impact, or even greater impact, if he wrote a scene in which Tauriel arrives at Ravenhill intending to join Kili in battle, but realises that she’s a moment too late as she watches Kili being slain before her eyes, just moments before she reaches Kili. (And then, overcome with grief and anger, she kills the orcs mercilessly to avenge Kili…before going to cry beside Kili in that sappy scene that I don’t particularly like.) There, a scene that’s similarly tragic that also retains Tauriel’s strengths.

Another thing about Tauriel was the love triangle she’s in. It wasn’t made as clear in DoS as in BOFA, which was possibly why I didn’t mind it as much before. I guess PJ felt it necessary to include the Tauriel-Kili-Legolas romance to give Legolas the impetus to leave his father and join the fellowship, as evident in one of the last few scenes, and also to humanise Thranduil with the “because it was real” line and the references to Legolas’s mother, but I found the entire romance to be awfully unnecessary.

1. Tauriel didn’t need Kili as a reason for her to leave Mirkwood to fight the orcs in Laketown. I’ve already discussed this about a year ago so I’ll just leave it here because it’s self evident in her characterization.

2. Legolas could have just chosen to leave Mirkwood even without having witnessed the romance between Tauriel and Kili, because I believe that it was Thranduil’s treatment of Tauriel that he felt strongly against and nothing more. He mentioned at the start of BOFA that there’s no place in Mirkwood for him if there isn’t one for Tauriel, after Tauriel’s been banished for her disobedience, and he stood up to his father again when Thranduil threatened Tauriel’s life because of her demands for the elven army to stay and defend the dwarves and men against the orcs. The king-prince dynamic is clear because of the conflict between the way they felt the kingdom should be run. Thranduil wants to protect the elvenfolk by keeping them safe within the realm of Mirkwood, but Legolas has been convinced by Tauriel that he needs to actively engage in uh…foreign politics. No where in this is Legolas required to fall in love with Tauriel, since it was already hinted that Thranduil’s family might have taken her in after her parents had died, and that Legolas possibly watched Tauriel grow up (considering that he’s 3000 years old and she’s only 600.) That almost sibling-like relationship would have been sufficient to make her sway his beliefs.

3. The inclusion of references to Legolas’s mother seemed rather contrived since there’s barely any Tolkien canon we can refer to for any further details as to what happened to her. One of the most common theories was that Legolas’s mother died to save young Legolas in Angmar, and Thranduil’s been heartbroken even since. That heartbreak could be paralleled to Tauriel’s such that he appears to have more mortal feelings, and I suppose that was what the writers intended by having him withdraw his comment about how the love she felt for Kili “wasn’t real”. Even so, the scene between Legolas and Thranduil would’ve sufficed in serving the purpose of making Thranduil more relatable, if there were more details about how she died and the way it affected him, instead of a passing line. By comparing Thranduil and his wife’s relationship to that of Kili and Tauriel, I feel like that almost cheapens Elven relationships because their marriages are practically sacred (I mean, elves live forever and because they’re monogamous, it means that they’ll have to live with their spouse for the rest of their immortal lives), whereas Tauriel and Kili’s relationship appeared to be more similar to silly teenage crushes. (I’m sorry Kiliel shippers, but it’s true, with all the rash decisions they make for each other and their disgustingly gooey eyes.)

Tauriel aside, I suppose there isn’t that much left to complain about the movie, so I’m going to move on to the things I liked about the movie.

1. Galadriel going utterly berserk when she wielded her ring of power against the Necromancer/Sauron. She’s dethroned Tauriel to reclaim her spot as my favourite female elf with that. I really love how she’s so characteristically elegant and pure, yet so frighteningly powerful as well. I suppose that’s PJ making up for the horrible portrayal of Tauriel, but he should know that just because there’s another female role model in the movie doesn’t mean that he’s “reached a quota” and that he can just stop giving the other female character qualities of strength. Both Tauriel and Galadriel are strong, handy and powerful in different ways and I just wish they could’ve shown that in the movie.

2. The Alfrid bits, even though it got a little annoying after a while. I get that some people are mad that he’s gotten so much screen time in the 144 minute long movie (which is considered short by Peter Jackson standards) and I do agree with them on that, but I liked how Alfrid was a clear commentary on morality in the more realistic world, as compared to the fantastical world that Tolkien has built. Everyone in The Hobbit seems to get their just-desserts: the kind, honest and good hobbit got his fair share of the treasure, friendship and adventure and he gets home safely; the greed of the dwarves land them some casualties, but they still survived with Dain as their new king (too bad we don’t see that in the movie, I need it to be in the extended footage, along with the burials of Thorin, Kili and Fili) and Erebor reclaimed; Most of elves and men survive, but not all; Azog and Bolg are killed, along with most of the Orcs. Basically the moral universe created by Tolkien is clearly separated into the good and bad – the good are rewarded, the bad are punished. In PJ’s adaptation though, Alfrid is characterised as an awful and despicable figure, but he’s saved by Bard countless times and he appears to have succeeded in taking off with some gold (unless he’s crushed by some falling troll or killed by an orc off scene.) While that doesn’t align with Tolkien’s moral universe, it clearly reflects morality in a realistic light. It is undeniable that there are people in our everyday lives that are similar to Alfrid, which is probably what makes him exceptionally unlikeable, that get away with doing horrible things because of luck or privilege. They may perceive those events to be their victories, but as we see in the juxtaposition between Alfrid and Bard in the scene in which Alfrid is caught stuffing coins down his dress by not only Bard but also his children, the victory doesn’t lie in being able to get away with sin, but in being able to stay true to one’s morals. While the huge victories of the dwarves, men and elves against the orcs show that good triumphs over evil, the scenes between Bard and Alfrid carry a more important message that resonates more soundly in our less fantastical world, and that was an addition that I really liked.

3. Thorin and Bilbo. I have no words to describe Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman’s acting, just lots of tears as a testament to their wondrous acting skills. I haven’t been a hardcore Bagginshield shipper, but you can truly see the chemistry between both actors, especially in their final scenes together. I’ve got to say that both actors are as good individually as when they are with each other. Martin Freeman’s ridiculously perfect in his role as Bilbo. I can’t say this enough, but all the little details he adds to the character, like his slight nose twitches or the tilting of his head, makes Bilbo all the more loveable, and it really gets the audience to believe in that tiny little hobbit and root for him all throughout the quest. As for Richard Armitage, I’ve always known that he was a great actor, but he really stood out in this movie as compared to the other two in the trilogy because the other facades to his character start to emerge, giving Thorin a greater sense of gravity. You know that Armitage has truly succeeded in his portrayal of Thorin when the other people in the cinema hold their breath for Bilbo in the scenes where Thorin approaches Bilbo because they’re so afraid of what Thorin might do to Bilbo if he finds out that Bilbo’s withholding the Arkenstone from Thorin.

4. Thranduil. I can’t ever get enough of him, not only because he’s played by Lee Pace, who’s completely swoon-worthy, but also because Lee’s acting is on point. I could go on for ages about how gorgeous Lee Pace’s face is (don’t get me started on his eyebrows) and how glorious he looks atop his elk, so I wouldn’t go there. About Lee’s acting, it’s simply brilliant. People have complained that Thranduil’s portrayed to be much too cold and heartless in the previous movie, in comparison to how he’s written in the Tolkien canon, but I really hope this movie changes their perception of him because you can practically see how heartbroken he is when his own son that he’s continually protected turns away from him. The scene where he finds Legolas at Ravenhill is further proof of how Thranduil isn’t a cold recluse – the concern on his face as he wanders around amongst dead orcs, fearing that he may find his son lying dead amongst them, and the relief when he finds Legolas is more than enough proof against any claim that Thranduil’s a heartless elven king.

5. Legolas being the badass action elf. Alright, it’s much too exaggerated that his action scenes become rather laughable, but I’ve always got a soft spot for my dearest elven prince ever since LOTR, and to see him do all these flips and kicks and kill orcs with such style makes me really proud of him…like a proud mom, I suppose.

I guess that’s all I’ve got to rant about the movie, do watch it in theatres to immerse yourself completely in the experience, since it’s something that a laptop screen or even a 47 inch TV is unlikely to replicate. Sure the trilogy might have its faults and it doesn’t match up to LOTR, but it still makes for a good prequel. I’m just waiting for the extended edition of BOFA to be released so that I can run a full Hobbit-LOTR marathon and spend 24 hours in Middle Earth. Hopefully I can manage to pull myself back into reality after the movie marathon.

– Rachel