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Cobra Kai: S1E1.

“Let Fortune empty her whole quiver on me, I have a soul that, like an ample shield, can take in all, and verge enough for more; Fate was not mine, nor am I Fate’s: souls know no conquerors.”
–John Dryden

You know, I swore that nothing would nudge me out of review retirement, especially as I’m a year into nursing school right now and don’t have enough free time to use the toilet without bringing a textbook along.

But y’all. Y’ALL.

We need to talk about Cobra Kai.

If you’re like me, you saw the title and had a vague memory of the bad guys from the original Karate Kid movie. And then you rolled your eyes dismissively, while bemoaning the trend of soullessly recycling successful franchises in pursuit of easy money:


Frankly, I thought that this series was just YouTube trying to capitalize on a nostalgia trend that was well-worn and totally unnecessary. I mean, the second, third, next, and animated Karate Kids were all great bearable things that were filmed and acted in by humans. And the kung-fu remake, with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, was surprisingly good, with a more believable prodigy-protégé (who was younger and had a longer time to train). So you’d think we’d be done by now. The first film was made in 1984, for crying out loud (and since I was made in 1979, I know firsthand that things from that age are now largely irrelevant). You’d also think that a “both sides” perspective would be impossible, given a movie’s basic premise of “bullied kid turns tables on tormentors.”

I am, therefore, very happy to announce that I was utterly, stupidly wrong. This show is what happens when three super-fans call the band back together to revisit something beloved, and they’ve not only won the “best reunion ever” trophy but made the whole thing better. Now, I have a soft spot for deeply-flawed-but-potentially-redeemable golden boys (HELLO AGAIN THAR, GISBURNE), and I enjoy whip-smart writing. But Cobra Kai reaches greatness because it refuses to trot out simple solutions for complicated problems. Gone are the tidy eighties montages of training and triumph, ending with a plucky protagonist power-kicking his issues into oblivion; the plots here are mature, pithy, and nothing a punch can fix. In two seasons, Cobra Kai explores the conflict between biological and chosen family, the grey areas of honour and honesty, and the hardship of doing right when everything goes off the rails. It shows an ongoing clash between tradition and innovation, between defiant individuality and hard-won harmony, and between learned behaviour and inherent character.

Curious? Want a preview? If so, then SWEEP THE LEG CLICK THE VID:

Want more? If so, then get ready for:

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New fanfic posted!

For months, I’ve kept notes and screenshots for possible reviews, and I still read and answer all comments here.

But for now, I’m writing because I’m super-excited, after returning to writing fanfiction and posting something new for the first time in over a year. Both the process and the result have been very satisfying indeed. :)

If you don’t know the anime series Revolutionary Girl Utena, but enjoy my writing and/or have curiosity about what I’ve been up to for the last month, then give this story a try. The first chapter, at least, requires no particular knowledge of the show to understand!

Inviolate Rose (15042 words) by Astrinde
Chapters: 5/5
Fandom: Shoujo Kakumei Utena | Revolutionary Girl Utena
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Professor Nemuro, Mikage Souji, Chida Mamiya, Chida Tokiko, Ohtori Akio, Himemiya Anthy
Additional Tags: Canon Compliant, Character Study, Dark Fairy Tale Elements, Dubious Science, Implied/Referenced Character Death, Impersonation, Implied Sexual Content, Manipulation, Mental Breakdown, Memories, Mythology References, Parallels, Pre-Series, Spoilers
Genius, like prince, is a role that can destroy the player.
From bud to bloom to blight, this is the story of a living computer, the man beneath that spiritless shell – and the shadow that shatters his brilliance.


I’ve not been updating here as consistently as I’d like. So here’s a collection of links and goodies to keep the blog going, while I begin writing up my next recap.

**In Which I Dissect “Thundergod”: Two years ago I posted a ranting book review to my other blog, and I’m linking it here because it fits the “snark” theme of Sword, Table, Antlers quite well, as well as providing a rather nice contrast to my usual review/recaps (which cover things I actually enjoy). Thundergod was a novel that purported to describe the life and times of the Vedic god Indra; I thoroughly loathed it and went into extensive detail about my dislike. (Just as I do with my film reviews, I explained the book’s “plot” in detail so that you don’t need to be familiar with the story. Lucky you!)

**Ink, the third letter: I haven’t written anything for the novella Ad Valorem since posting Ink, its most recent update. In that chapter, the Sheriff writes three pieces of correspondence on Samhain morning, and only two are shown in the story. The third missive – a weary and strangely artless farewell to Gisburne – didn’t fit anywhere in the chapter, but I’ve kept it and now offer it to any novel fans who are both annoyed by my lack of creativity and curious about that missing letter.

**Below the cut is a brief addendum post to The Royal Hunt of the Sun, in which I self-indulgently describe the benefits of owning the full-length movie (ZOMG THE WHOOOOOLE THIIIING AT LAAAAAST), since I’ve just bought the newly-released DVD-R version (IT IS MINE MIIIIINE TEH PRECIOUSSSSSS).

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Stage to screen: “The Phantom of the Opera” (part two).

“[After having read the novel] what struck me was that this story…wasn’t very good. Still, it captured the imagination of people. Why? What bothered me about [the previous dramatic] versions, what I thought they essentially missed, was that you never knew why the Phantom was in love with Christine.”
–Arthur Kopit

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Stage to screen: “The Phantom of the Opera” (part one).

“Wearing a mask means you have to depend much more upon body language than eye language. Erik is a man steeped in theatricality; his whole wardrobe has come out of the Opera House costume department. I see him as a child, an innocent; I never think of him as being a murderous maniac. He’s alone in a world he’s created for himself – and into this world of music comes a girl with an exquisite voice.”
–Charles Dance

Release date: 18 March 1990.
Run time: 168 minutes, as a two-part miniseries.
Starring: Charles Dance as the Phantom, Teri Polo as Christine Daaé, Adam Storke as Philippe de Chagny, and Burt Lancaster as Gerard Carriere.
Relevance to the prior review: Like Royal Hunt, Phantom is a filmed version of a stage play, which tells the story of two kindred spirits who bind each other in a deep, ultimately lethal platonic love. The two movies/plays share some surprising similarities: (1) A thirty-year age difference separates the two main characters, and the younger character, who fascinates the older, is often dressed all in white. (2) The older protagonist abducts his younger counterpart and refuses to relent, despite heartfelt pleas from two other characters. (3) The younger main character sings a significant song to the older, who then returns the song as an apology and declaration of undying love. (4) The older protagonist reveals to a trusted friend that he’s dreamed of the younger for years. (5) Each main character sees a parent- or child-figure in the other. (6) One main character in each story identifies himself in relation to light; in both cases this man is the illegitimate son of a beautiful mother. (7) That character willingly goes to his death after changing his companion’s life. Maybe Shaffer’s play should be retitled The Phantom of Cajamarca.
Drinking game: I can’t adequately express just how much this splendiferous hamfest is improved by booze. Champagne and cognac both appear in the film, and wine is mentioned in the play. So choose one, and lift your glass every time:
(a) Erik sports a second mask over his primary mask, with two drinks if the top mask expresses his current degree of angst,
(b) One of the Choletis faints, falls, nearly falls, or almost swoons, and
(c) A Phantom trick succeeds only because somebody was looking away at just the right moment.
Finally, polish off your bottle if you agree that Christine is a bonehead for choosing Philippe.

Arthur Kopit and Maury Yeston have the dubious distinction of writing “the other Phantom“: a lighter and more realistic take on Gaston Leroux’s novel, whose script had to be shelved when it coincided with the premiere (and subsequent wild success) of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Their Phantom was originally released as a two-part miniseries and only years later became the stage production it was always intended to be.

I saw this miniseries when it aired on NBC in 1990, and with its opulent sets, beautiful opera arias, engrossing story, and solid acting (with particular credit due Charles Dance’s complex and earnest Phantom), I loved it so much that it spoiled me for the Webber version, which I judged to be overhyped pablum by comparison. So if you’re a die-hard Phan, you might want to stop reading this now. For everyone else, let’s get started!

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Stage to screen: “The Royal Hunt of the Sun.”

“To see the soul of a man is to be blinded by the sun.”
–Jean Genet, quoted in Shaffer’s original notes on the play.

“I started out with a history play. I hope I have ended up with a contemporary story which uses history only as a groundwork in the expression of its theme.”
–Sir Peter Levin Shaffer

Initial release date: 6 October 1969.
Run time: Originally 121 minutes, but only 96 minutes in most available releases.
Quotes: Quotations from the film are listed here; the play script is also widely available.
Trivia: Some interesting bits are posted here.
Starring: Robert Shaw as Francisco Pizarro, Christopher Plummer as Atahuallpa.
Relevance to Robin of Sherwood: Michael Craig (the Earl of Huntingdon) plays Miguel Estete, the Royal Overseer, while Robert Shaw (Pizarro) was the Sheriff of Nottingham in the film Robin and Marian (which I’ve mentioned on this blog before). Also, Oliver Cotton (Lord Owen of Clun) appeared as the soldier Diego de Trujillo in the original 1964 National Theatre production of the play and then played the priest Valverde in its 2006 revival.
Like RoS, this film depicts religious, political, and socioeconomic issues resulting from conquest. The two works share illegitimacy, power, and religion as important themes, and both feature a deeply troubled man who takes out his family issues on pagan “savages” and then tries to prove something by killing a god-man.
Drinking game: I’d suggest saving drinks for a convivial post-film discussion, but here are three rules to guide those who insist otherwise:
(a) Drink every time someone mispronounces a Spanish word, especially “Veedor” (Estete’s title of Overseer, which the actors rhyme with “Seymour”),
(b) any time illegitimacy is referenced and/or the word “bastard” used, and
(c) whenever Atahuallpa gestures or vocalizes like a non-human creature (with two shots if you can identify the particular bird or animal he’s mimicking).
For appropriate libations, either buy a Spanish wine of origin Ribera del Guadiana (i.e., from the Extremadura region, which includes Pizarro’s birthplace of Trujillo) or make your own chicha de jora, a fermented maize drink that receives brief mention in the play.

All of Sir Peter Shaffer’s theatrical works grapple with profound questions through the microcosm of human conflict, but none with more terrible allure than The Royal Hunt of the Sun. This epic work, penned by an excessively talented playwright, was picked up by the newly-formed National Theatre and premiered onstage in 1964. Much like George Bernard Shaw’s The Dark Lady of the Sonnets, Royal Hunt uses historical characters and situations, but is not an accurate re-enactment of past events. Rather, it’s a reimagining of history, which maneuvers two powerful figures into a clash of opposing ideals.

The year was 1531, when the conquistador Francisco Pizarro – a bastard in every sense of the word, considered by some to rank among the most evil men in human history – landed with a force in Perú, seeking riches and reputation. His timing was all too fortuitous, as the Spaniards’ arrival coincided with the conclusion of a bloody civil war between two claimants to the Inca throne.

Following clues of a vast empire glittering with gold, Pizarro and his men crossed the Andes and made their way towards the alleged location of this treasure; at the same time, the new Inca emperor, Atahuallpa, was proceeding with his triumphant army towards the Inca capital of Cuzco. The Inca forces stopped to rest just outside the town of Cajamarca, and there they encountered the Spanish newcomers. Atahuallpa agreed to meet Pizarro, and the next day entered Cajamarca’s plaza, accompanied by a large procession. The Spanish army answered with an ambush, slaughtering the unarmed Incas and capturing their ruler.

John Everett Millais, Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru, 1846.

The imprisoned Atahuallpa, on learning how greedily greatly the Spaniards esteemed shiny metals, offered a huge ransom to his captors: treasure enough to fill a vast room once with gold and twice over with silver. This astonishing price was duly paid, but it purchased neither clemency for the subjugated Incas nor freedom for Atahuallpa. And despite the affection that some developed for the Inca Emperor, his presence was a constant threat to the greatly outnumbered Spaniards, who knew that a single command from the Sapa Inca (1) could raise a huge force against them.

So when word came that one of Atahuallpa’s generals approached Cajamarca with an army, intending to fight for the Emperor’s freedom, Pizarro assembled a tribunal and charged Atahuallpa with various crimes – including fomenting revolt against the Spanish authorities, practicing idolatry and adultery, and committing fratricide – then delivered a guilty verdict and condemned the ruler to death by immolation. Because the Inca faith held that burning the body would destroy any chance for an afterlife, Atahuallpa reeled from this sentence and agreed to Christian conversion in exchange for a more merciful execution. He was baptized, given a Christian name (recorded alternately as “Juan” for John the Baptist or “Francisco” after Pizarro), and then garrotted the same night, 26 July 1533 (though some sources – as well as this play and film – use an erroneous alternative date of 29 August).

Alonzo Chappel, Execution of the Inca of Peru by Pizarro.

Later, Pizarro’s page Pedro reported that the threat of attack had been a false rumour, and that Pizarro suffered greatly after discovering that Atahuallpa’s execution had been prompted by a mistake (2). However, the page may have written a deliberately sympathetic defense of Pizarro – his own relative – because Atahuallpa’s fate had set a dangerous precedent of regicide, an example that understandably displeased the Spanish King.

Shaffer’s play follows this sequence of events, but it grants the ultimate victory in this sorry saga to Atahuallpa, who in death achieves a transcendent triumph that Shaffer compares deliberately to Christ’s crucifixion. The Royal Hunt of the Sun presents Pizarro and Atahuallpa as foils to each other, as two great men who face each other across opposite sides of history and morality. The story told is not one of a ruthless conqueror exploiting and murdering a hostage, but of a bond forged between two kindred spirits and the grim redemption it grants. The protagonist Pizarro is a vigorous, restless tragic hero, a mercenary fleeing his own inner emptiness by pushing himself ever-onward, chasing conflict after conflict with the telling exclamation of “forward!” And that conquering spirit is utterly broken when Pizarro unwittingly maneuvers himself into slaughtering the object of his love – arguably the first such affection he has known in an otherwise wretched and loveless life – only to find, through his loss, the very mystery he has always sought.

Shaffer crafted this work as an experience of “total theatre,” combining mask work, pantomime, dance, song, costume, setting, and verse to draw the viewer into a highly symbolic clash between worlds. Although the play’s most stylized scenes (like the infamous Mime of the Great Ascent, in which the actors “climb the Andes” on stage) are replaced on film with realistic settings (with many scenes filmed on location in Spain and Perú), the movie is no more an action-packed adventure than the stage version. Rather, The Royal Hunt of the Sun presents a dramatic meditation upon faith, death, and love, with some mountains and swordfights thrown in along the way. And I can only imagine the disappointment in theatres, when moviegoers – probably led by really! dramatic! advertising! into expecting a sort of Peruvian Gone With the Wind – saw this non-epic epic. Even the film’s press book seemed dutifully but wanly enthused, describing the story with unappealing taglines like “a mental duel with no winners” – hardly high praise, since the same phrase could apply to a Senate debate on C-SPAN.

Given such lukewarm endorsements – which imply that viewers will find the film plodding, ponderous, and probably disappointing – I decided that someone who loved the movie should review it, and write something more compelling than “it was indeed a series of images captured by cameras.” So let’s dive right in to Shaffer’s wistful historical revision, otherwise known as:

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RoS: Lord of the Trees, THE POEM.

I said I was taking off the month of September, but that was obviously bullshit. Here I am again. NOW WITH EXTRA SHOUTING.



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RoS: Season 4 speculation.

“One’s initial feeling is, ‘Yeah, marry them off and make them rich and famous,’ but I think on due reflection, what should happen is that Guy of Gisburne should kill Marion, and Robin should kill Guy, and then you either leave it like that, with them still being hunted, or they are actually cornered in an ambush and all of them die. It’s very easy for Marion to put on a wedding dress and marry Robin, who becomes the Earl of Huntingdon and lives in a castle, and all the Merries are pardoned and become wardens of Sherwood Forest. That’s all very comfortable and lovely, but it isn’t life. Life isn’t like that.

“The whole thing has a built-in tragic theme: that you just can’t fight the big boys and win. In fact, the ballad doesn’t end with Robin marrying Marion and living happily ever after. The ballad ends with him being poisoned by a wicked nun. Little John comes in and gives him his bow, and he shoots an arrow out the window and says, ‘bury me where the arrow falls,’ and falls back in Little John’s arms and dies. And then Little John becomes a wandering balladeer throughout the land telling the stories of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. So, we could have done the original tragic ending. That’s a very satisfying and artistic way of finishing the series. Tragedy, if it’s handled properly and not just killing everybody off just for killing’s sake, can actually have a stronger effect on people than a happy ending. And it lingers longer.”
–Richard Carpenter

In short, the fourth season was probably going to be a whole lot of:

–or the Team Norman variant, which looks more like this:

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RoS: Season 3 recap/review.

This post will be a doozy; since we’ve got as many episodes here as the two previous seasons combined, the review/recap will be accordingly gargantuan. Also, in keeping with the lighter tone of this series, some of the photographs offered here will be…not entirely serious. Just sayin’.

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RoS: “The Time of the Wolf.” (Part Two)

Gulnar returns, determined to wreak havoc and take revenge, and – using the powers he’s displayed in previous episodes – he magically forces the villagers of Nottinghamshire to torch their own grain, before cutting their own throats in a mass sacrifice to Fenris. Next, he evokes the Merries’ worst fears from their minds and lures them to Grimstone, where they’re converted to Fenris’ will and deployed as evil, destructive shells of their former selves, under orders to destroy all they’ve worked to build. Finally, through still-greater arcane manipulation, Gulnar “encourages” the King to name Gulnar his successor and then abdicate, before falling on a spike that was left standing out in Newark Castle’s throne room.

Well, that’s what Gulnar might have done, had he possessed a modicum of mental stability and a grasp of basic cause-effect relationship. But Gulnar is crazy, so we got all of this instead, which leads us now into:

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RoS: Previously on…

~~*Previously, on Robin of Sherwood*~~

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RoS: “The Time of the Wolf.” (Part One)

~~*Previously, on Robin of Sherwood*~~

Now, The Time of the Wolf has come to Nottinghamshire, and oh, how I love this episode, with the desperate adoration of someone who’s endured season 3 for way too long. Let’s do this, y’all! It’s been more than a year since I first started these reviews, and THE END AT LAST BEGINS:

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RoS: “Rutterkin.”

~~*Previously, on Robin of Sherwood*~~

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RoS: “The Pretender.”

~~*Previously, on Robin of Sherwood*~~

Let us journey now to the year 1210 and the Department of Backstory Exposition, where Queen Hadwisa of the house of Gloucester, first wife of King John, is just now discovering that John had their marriage annulled back in 1199:

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RoS: “The Betrayal.”

~~*Previously, on Robin of Sherwood*~~

Speaking of peculiar titles, let’s move on to The Betrayal, which I’m mentally re-dubbing The Betrayal (That Didn’t Actually Happen, Despite Feeble Implications to the Contrary). This episode begins with the Merries slaughtering some villagers and then setting their village on fire:

And Now, For Something Completely Different.

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Journeying: Cléville.

Disclaimer: This post contains fiction, as well as quoted conversations between “me” and Muse (which might also be fictional, depending on your perspective) – in other words, it’s a highly subjective and bizarre essay that shouldn’t be used for reference material. If you’re looking for historical facts or travel tips, you should leave this page and go here instead, to the Tourism Office of Val-ès-Dunes, or else click here to visit a community site for the region; there’s also a lovely webpage for Cléville itself, located here.

If you’re still with me, then read on…

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Journeying: Bayeux.

I find travel writing to be dreadfully difficult. It’s an exercise in discernment – how do I recreate an unfamiliar landscape, without droning on about insignificant details? – and a challenging one, because my trips don’t often lend themselves to good storytelling; I usually choose destinations by a haphazard blend of research/dreams/intuition and then pursue some odd personal agenda in each place, refusing to take photographs along the way.

So, last month I took a vacation that delayed these blog reviews for a while, and the route looked like this, except with less squiggly and more scenery:

(A) Glastonbury, 27 Apr-1 May. (B) Cardiff, 1-2 May. (C) Chepstow, 2-5 May. (D) Plymouth, 5 May. (E) Roscoff, 6 May. (F) Plourac’h, 6-8 May. (G) Huelgoat, 8-12 May. (H) Méry-Corbon/Cléville, 12-14 May. (I) Bayeux, 14-17 May. (J) Sangatte, 17-19 May. (K) London, 18 May. (L) Paris, 19-21 May.

Everywhere was amazing, but I’m publishing two posts specifically about (H) and (I), the stops that were somewhat relevant to RoS, fanfiction, and bloggish affairs. There’ll be some nonfictional rambling and some fictional storytelling, and then I’ll stop babbling about life and get back to the lulz.

Up first: Bayeux!

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RoS: “Adam Bell.”

~~*Previously, on Robin of Sherwood*~~

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RoS: “Cromm Cruac.”

~~*Previously, on Robin of Sherwood*~~

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RoS: “The Sheriff of Nottingham.”

~~*Previously, on Robin of Sherwood*~~

So far the Sheriff of Nottingham has supported torture, pogrom, bribery, alcoholism, workplace sexual harassment, lying, trickery, and killing in pretty much every medieval form possible, including hanging, swording, arrowing, beheading, and beheading after poisoning. I imagine the writers had a hell of a time figuring out how to make his successor even worse, but this episode succeeds disturbingly well in introducing a character who makes de Rainault look like the patron saint of Nottinghamshire by comparison. Improbability piles on inanity layers upon goofiness, until finally former!Sheriff and Sheriff v2.0 are shamelessly scrapping in defense of their individual EEEEVILs, with Gisburne set between them like a trophy for the winner.

Based on the high-minded idea of I SHERIFF BETTER THAN YOUUUUUU, with a side story that works on the premise of HEY, YOU’RE SARACEN, YOU MUST KNOW BOB FROM ARABIA, RIGHT?, it’s Team Norman divided, with a sticky Saracen subplot, beneath the cut:

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