surprise, I’m still alive.

I’ve been so incredibly busy this past month dealing with university choices, scholarship applications, results and all the things you’d expect any 18/19 year old to be dealing with at this time of the year that I haven’t had the time to update this blog, or even tweet very much, for that matter. In fact, I’m only here writing this right now because I’m suffering from a massive writer’s block and I need to keep writing and typing to shovel this huge block out of my way.

With the question of my results, all I’m saying is that I did disappointingly but well enough to get me into the courses that I want to do. I had to email UCL to get them to reassess my application based on my current grades because I missed my conditions slightly, and they were kind enough to offer me admission, which I’m incredibly grateful for. I suppose I’ll be going to UCL should I get a scholarship, elsewise I wouldn’t be able to afford an education there – my parents only have enough to fund about two years out of three years of my course, and I suppose I can afford to make ends meet by borrowing some money from the bank and working through my uni education, but I’ll still feel awful for spending such an exorbitant sum from my parents’ savings.

If a scholarship doesn’t happen, I might consider going to Manchester or Durham instead, since both universities are relatively cheaper. Or I’m actually considering reading English at a local university – Anthropology’s not offered as a major at the universities here – and taking up a second major/minor in either History or Art History in the second year. I mean, I absolutely love reading and I truly enjoyed studying literature in school, and I could get into writing and journalism, and most importantly, academia with that. Not to mention that I had a tremendously wonderful experience at the English interview I had with one of the local universities last Friday.

The interview was a pretty strange experience because I wasn’t at all nervous or freaking out, when I’m typically horribly tongue-tied at these things (I’ll have to get that settled before I get any scholarship interview offers, if that even happens at all), and I had an awfully fun time discussing George Eliot with the professor I had my interview with – I was reading Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch right before the interview so I had a lot of overwhelming feelings about Eliot as a person and an author bubbling inside me that completely exploded out of me in the interview.

We also had a written test (of sorts) before the interview, in which you have to write an essay on either a piece of literature or film you find to be significant to yourself or society (and why), or an essay analysing one of the two pieces of poetry provided. I chose the first option because my poetry analysis skills were pretty rusty, and I’m not too fond of poetry, sadly. I wrote a pretty ramble-y, half-finished essay on The Goldfinch because that was one of the most recent books I’ve read that I feel is most relevant to society today – I’ve been keeping myself very much in the 19th century or in the mythical lands of Westeros with the other books I’ve been reading recently – and I didn’t think the essay was anything close to being well-written for the above reasons but my interviewer thought otherwise.

It was rather puzzling but amazing how one of the first things I was told during our interview was that I had a really strong and mature writing voice (for an 18 year old, nonetheless) and that I can write well (??!) I have never been told that by anyone, so to be told that by an English professor, of all people, felt like such sweet affirmation. (And quite unfortunately, I live for academic affirmation.) I’m not too sure what the professor’s read because I don’t usually read over my essays before I submit them – I can’t afford the time to since I write rather slowly – but I’m glad he liked the writing of whatever’s possessed me that afternoon. Honestly, most of the time I write like I’m writing now, a mere half-arsed, directionless ramble, but sometimes I end up constructing sentences like this: “More than the ornate depiction of her experiences, it was the sheer ardor with which she punctuated her narratives that truly illustrates her unwavering devotion to her job” that makes me question the legitimacy of my own writing. (That line’s from a piece I’ve been working on for my Vogue Talent Contest submission which I suppose will be elaborated on later, if I remember to do that at all.)

The English interview I had was possibly what swayed me from Anthropology a little (even though I know I’ll be doing a significant bit of reading and writing for an anthro degree as well), since now I’m not too sure which I’d prefer delving into for the next three to four years – and perhaps for the rest of my life since I’m pretty set on becoming an academic. Both areas of study do overlap in some ways, in that they are concerned with humans and in social anthropology, culture, yet what you study can be vastly different. I did consider applying to Oxford initially to do a degree in English (which also means that my entire UCAS application would’ve been tailored to that) but I chose Arch and Anth eventually for the sheer scope it covers and its possible overlaps with art history (which I love, too.) That being said, I’ve been told and even assured by the English professor at my interview that I will likely do really brilliantly in the degree if put in the due effort (obviously), which was why I’ve been extended an offer for the course during, rather than after the interview. Basically I’m stuck in a rather sticky situation right now which I’ve decided to wrestle out of based on whether I’ll receive the necessary scholarship funding to get me through three years at UCL… Not the best way to get out of a sticky situation, I know, but it’s better than flipping a coin.

Aside from university woes, I’ve been working on something else as I’ve mentioned earlier, the Vogue Talent Contest. which is basically an annual competition for young writers, organised by British Vogue. All the finalists will be invited to a lunch with the Vogue editors in London, and the winner will get a thousand pounds in addition to a month’s long paid internship at British Vogue, which may possibly open doors for a writing career in the future. I understand that my chances of winning or even getting shortlisted are slim, since I’m hardly a fashion writer, but ALEXANDRA SCHULMAN WILL BE READING AND JUDGING EVERY SINGLE SUBMISSION – which also goes to say that she’ll be reading my writing. /swoon/

Also, fun factoid: one of the research fellows in the field of social anthropology at UCL, Kaori O’Connor, was a winner of the contest years, or probably decades ago. Oh and she went to Oxford to do a second degree in social anthropology. Basically she represents everything I wish to accomplish in the next 5 years. 

In other news of “things and people I’ve been slightly – just slightly – obsessed with”: Sylvia Whitman. She’s the current owner of my favourite bookstore in the world, Shakespeare and Company, an anglophile bookstore on the left bank of the River Seine, right opposite the Notre-Dame, nestled comfortably within the Latin Quarter of Paris. I fondly recall frantically searching for the teeny independent bookstore with my best friend after being given some time to wander within and around the Notre-Dame, and eventually finding it after a kindly old landscape painter and book seller pointed it out to us when we finally decided to attempt to ask for directions with our mad flails and broken French. I don’t remember seeing Sylvia Whitman there, but then again I wouldn’t know because I had no idea who she was or how she looked then, but we spotted our ex-Literature teacher at the bookstore – she was holidaying in Paris then. Being a typical tourist, I bought a copy of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserable, rather than searching out the more exotic finds at the back of the store. I do regret not buying more books from there (although the prices may be a little steep) but they’ve recently launched an online store so you can now seek out all the books you wish you’d have bought in Paris and get them sent to your place. The best part is, all the book customisation services available at their physical store’s also available online, and you can even request for a Parisian postcard or a poem typewritten by one of their writers in residence (also known as the Tumbleweeds) to be included with your book order.

I’ve been meaning to buy a book or two from their website and I’ve finally gotten down to doing it yesterday, after I’ve finished reading the library’s copy of My Life in Middlemarch and realised that I needed to own a copy for myself. They’ve got a rather charming website so after placing my book order, I was surfing around the site and fawning at their resident cat when I found a link to their YouTube, with similarly charming videos of their store that filled me with such inexplicable nostalgia. Anyway, as YouTube links usually go, I was directed and redirected to more similar videos and I found interviews that Sylvia Whitman’s done. SHE’S EVEN DONE AN INTERVIEW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON WHEN HE WAS FILMING HIS SHOW IN PARIS – and if you don’t know, Craig Ferguson’s one of my favourite late night talk show hosts (and I’m so gutted he’s left the show.) Anyway, not only is Sylvia Whitman incredibly gorgeous with her fluffy, whitish-blonde curls and amiable smiles (which was basically how I imagined Eppie in Silas Marner), she’s got such a sweet, demure voice yet she seems incredibly intelligent and well-read (that’s to be expected when you’re basically brought up in a bookstore with travelling writers writing stories where you live and reading them to you. No, I’m definitely not jealous of the practically enchanted, fairytale-like childhood she’s had.) And as an afterthought (I’m just kidding), she went to UCL to read History. Ugh. /dramatically flops on bed, face into pillow/ I want to be her. Her and Kaori O’Connor and Rebecca Mead and all the other eloquent, well-read, intelligent women of the literary sort.

I guess I’ve sufficiently emptied the contents of my brain to be able to focus on finishing up the pieces I’m supposed to be writing for the talent contest, and my tummy’s angrily demanding that I give it the tummy-equivalent of comforting rubs by feeding it, so I shall end my ramble here.

– Rachel

a tale of two scientific geniuses

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

I’ve recently watched 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 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 practically a celebrity that 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 believe my mom would’ve enjoyed TIG better,since it was much better paced due to the writing – although I’d probably have a really difficult time trying to defend Turing’s homosexuality to my homophobic parents afterwards.  What I especially enjoyed was how the writers split Turing’s story up into three distinct portions – 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 how they intricately weaved these different parts of his life together. This allows viewers to piece together his life from these bits and pieces and understand the impetus behind his actions better.

The use of explicit symbolism in TIG’s script was especially brilliant, and as a literature student (who wrote an entire essay on just one motif – the motif of “weaving” – in Silas Marner for her A-Levels), I really appreciated it.
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 German code, the main focus of the biopic – Turing – was as much of an enigma as the code he was trying to solve. He 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 that we (historians included) still don’t know about him. Even in the storytelling method as mentioned above, the concept of separating Turing’s life into three separate timelines rather than telling his story chronologically still fits very much into the puzzle motif, for it forces viewers to solve the puzzle that is Alan himself to learn about his life.

Another constant motif that runs throughout the film is the notion of “man vs machines”, or rather, how humans are similar and dissimilar to machines. Throughout the film, there are hints of how Turing isn’t quite “human” in how he works almost mechanically to build his machine, and how he prefers the company of “Christopher the machine” rather than his team. There’s a slightly Aspergic quality to his character (although historians cannot actually confirm whether he was Aspergic), exaggerated by the scriptwriters and Cumberbatch’s portrayal of him, that makes him less like us and more like a machine. This all culminates in an incredibly poignant scene in which Turing compares himself and others who are – like him – also on the fringe of society to machines. When the police officer (who presumably led to his eventual persecution and death) questioned him about machines’ ability to think, Turing responds with something that truly struck a chord with me – he explains that machines don’t think the way that the majority of humans do, and hence they don’t “think” in our technical sense of the word, yet machines do have some forms of processing ability and as such, he questions if we should reject computers as being non-human simply because they think differently from the way us humans do. In the scene, not only do the writers parallel Turing’s non-conventional beliefs and lifestyle to the machines he built, they’ve highlighted a message that I just can’t stress enough – that other thoughts, beliefs and cultures and no less than one’s just because they deviate from the majority. For those beautifully written lines, I’d be more than wiling to pay another twenty dollars to take my family to the cinema to watch the film with me such as to ingrain that message in their heads.

Speaking of which, there are several other notable splendid lines, 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?)
This line was repeated thrice in the film between several different characters, and it was also written as the last spoken line – the trigger that brought audiences to tears, that is, 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 hadn’t already done that. In that scene, following the condemnation and punishment he had to face, 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. It was such a painfully 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”. It didn’t help that the subtitles in the final scene revealed that Turing died (presumably committed suicide) a year later. It was this injustice that Turing had to face that left many of the film’s viewers in utter shock and disbelief, and for my best friend and i, inexplicable anger. I suppose the worst part about it being a biopic was knowing that none of it can be changed or rewritten because all the injustice happened to an actual person, unlike with fictional stories in which we can easily rewrite the ending with our imaginations, a la fanfiction.
While TIG excelled in its storytelling, The Theory of Everything had – if I may say so myself – rather mediocre writing. The style of writing was clean and simple, presumably reflecting the nature of the family life this Hawking biopic specifically focused on. Despite this, the mere chronological depiction of the story that many already knew didn’t seem to work as well as expected since audiences could anticipate what was to happen based on what we’ve known about his life. As such, the pacing seemed rather 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, this chronological perspective also allows for viewers to 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.)
Yes, I suppose TIG had the benefit of telling a story centrally set in the background of the Second World War, which hence contributed to the excitement and anticipation the viewers had – I was so pumped with adrenaline when Turing and his team broke the code that I was literally on the edge of my seat – whereas The Theory of Everything centered on domesticity and the unspoken tensions between Jane and Stephen Hawking, in relation to his work and achievements. Another thing to consider was that the creators of TIG did take liberties to dramatise Turing’s story to play up certain aspects of his life such that universal themes and ideas could shine through, whereas the story of Stephen and Jane Hawking had to be told more accurately to remain respectful to the subject matter, who had both endorsed the film. Ultimately, regardless of which route the storytellers have chosen to take, they have clearly displayed the greatness of the men the films are about.
For the aspects The Theory of Everything lack, the creators make up for it with the stunning visuals. While its script doesn’t hint at symbolic features as clearly as that of TIG, the visuals in The Theory of Everything played a huge part in drawing a link between 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 several blatant visual cues that draw the parallels between Hawking’s abstract theories about the universe (spacey-wacey, timey-wimey stuff) and his private life. That way, 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 which I shan’t spoil too much, but there’s basically a quick rewind of the entire movie in about a minute or so, in which his life 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, I suppose Eddie Redmayne did deserve his Golden Globe for best actor since the role proved to be much more challenging for him than Turing was for Cumberbatch. Physically, I would suppose 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 and face. Not only that, with the minimal lines was given, it was amazing how he managed to convey such intense emotions with the lack of words. There were so many silent moments between him and Felicity Jones, in which all the acting was simply carried out through their eyes and facial expressions. Honestly, you’d have to be a truly top-class actor to be able to pull that off. The same praise goes for Felicity Jones, who practically carried the entire film, since the story’s told from her perspective. 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 rather like his famed portrayal of Sherlock. Of course, he acted incredibly well in his role as Turing, but it just doesn’t appear 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, considering that she’s already played a female pirate, a psychopathic lover of Carl Jung, and countless aristocrats. With that being said, one of the most enjoyable things about watching TIG happened to be Joan Clarke, since she’s so understatedly intelligent while being so loveable and kind at the same time – you practically 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 film.
Character-wise, I really preferred Turing to Hawking, which probably also explains why I film one movie over the other, since Hawking (however brilliant he may be) seems like quite an arse in person. Or at least, that’s how Jane’s account made him out to be. His persistent rejection of Jane’s help and his unwillingness to thank her for her help later, despite all that she’s sacrificed for him, makes him seem slightly egoistical and in all honesty, rather misogynistic. In contrast, while Turing was initially written to be slightly arrogant and straightforward about his exceptional intelligence, it’s portrayed in such a way that reveals how he is unable to understand the nuances of typical speech, and this eventually becomes a rather endearing quirk in his character. 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 sweet and pure about his child-like quality in that scene because he still 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 actors, films by, TIG, unfortunately, lags behind just a little.

uni rambles

I’ve been trying to decide what to do with my current university offers for the past few days after my Oxford rejection (#oxfordrejectsclub) because my mom’s adamant in shipping me off to uni this year, rather than to let me reapply to Oxford/Cambridge (for HSPS) next year. I suppose I’ll have to work with the choices I have currently, but I probably shouldn’t be lamenting 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.

After doing my bit of research, I’ve 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. 
This was a choice between getting a(n) faux Oxbridge experience through Durham’s collegiate system, 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’ve decided on the latter, even though living in London’s probably going to suck all of the little money I have on me from me, since I’m going to have to get a scholarship to be able to afford to study overseas anyway (which also 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, 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. 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.

Either way, it’s decided that I’ll have to get a scholarship to be able to attend universities overseas. I’m 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 Cambridge for Social and Cultural Anthropology (and cross my fingers that they don’t reject me like Oxford did.) Then again, getting a bonded scholarship would be helpful too because I’ll have the guarantee of a job after I graduate, and I’ll probably need the money from my job to pay through grad school.

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?!! I’m not even IN uni yet but already I’m stressed out. I JUST WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL TO LEARN AND KNOW THINGS WHY DO I HAVE TO SELL MY SOUL TO BE ABLE TO AFFORD AN EDUCATION??

On another note, my job commences tomorrow. This means that I’m no longer unemployed and this feels great  even though the pay’s beyond meagre – it’s a tradeoff for getting to work at a really cozy store selling cute stationery, 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 does.


Just got an email from Magdalen right before my phone died, with a letter attached telling me that I’ve been rejected. I’ve sort of been expecting that, but I’m still a little gutted at seeing my parents disappointed. Currently, I’m just waiting for a response from LSE so that I can make my decision on UCAS. Grr why won’t just LSE hurry up with their decision since I’m already expecting a rejection because my personal statement’s tailored to a slightly different course to what they offer.

– 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 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, not only will I 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 my festive holidays. (Too bad my mom had to go and tell everyone about my Oxford interview.)

University woes 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


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 but artists typically get only 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  fretting over whether I’ll get into Oxford. Yes, that. January 7th can’t come sooner, but I really dread that day 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 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.

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 disciplines, 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, 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 ACCEPTED. And UCL gave me an unconditional acceptance, I suppose, based on the questionnaire I did. It’s no Oxbridge but UCL remains one of the best universities in the world and I managed to wrangle an unconditional acceptance from them.

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 seems so ridiculous. Now there’s no more taking exams for subjects I have absolutely no interest in (Math), and no more mindless regurgitation of facts, and I’ll get to study what I love – or at least, I hope.

I do hope the next year will be great because it’ll be the year that I’ll go off to university, and I really hope everything goes well so I’ll end up where I want to be. 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 wonderful. I’ll be going to Laneway Festival to watch FKA Twigs, Banks and St. Vincent amongst many others. 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 paint and read. 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!!)

It’s currently 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