The Good Bits: July 2017

This month was stuffed.

Music:

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Murder of the Universe (ATO)

king gizzard

I have seen King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard pop up so many times this year that it was inevitable I was going to finally dig into one of their records. Two of a planned five have been released so far this year, and Murder of the Universe is the second of the two. I listened to the first release, Flying Microtonal Banana, and found it good, but didn’t really spend a lot of time with it to merit a write up. Murder of the Universe, on the either hand, splits the album into three different stories that had me enthralled from the opening tracks. The band’s sound is the equivalent to a kaleidoscope, covering your ears like a psychedelic blanket and cradling you through a tunnel of many shapes and colors. The narration from Leah Senior ties the whole album together and helps evoke that storyteller atmosphere.

 

Film:

Dunkirk

Dunkirk_Film_poster

Christopher Nolan boasts one of the best directorial track records in film history, but he’s not without detractors. One critique that pops up often is that he’s too clinical and clean in his approach and it consequentially results in a cold, emotionless film. It stands to reason then that people might scoff at the idea of a PG-13 Nolan-directed World War II film, a genre that’s usually stuffed with intense bloody violence in order depict the horrors war. Now, I’m not trying to knock the violence films like Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge (haven’t seen it, heard it’s gory as hell) because, yeah, that shit was probably bloody as hell. But don’t we already know by now war is pretty horrific? Isn’t it possible for a war film to grip you without intestines being spilled everywhere? Yes, yes it is, because Nolan has done just that.

Dunkirk depicts three different stories: the British Army stranded on the beach in Dunkirk, France; the British civilians sailing across the channel, and the pilots in the air. These stories are shown in a non-linear fashion, meaning that the scenes don’t all sync up until near the end of the movie. It’s actually not as confusing as it sounds as long as you pay attention and consider the three stories separate from each other until you start to see the connecting threads. And you will be paying attention because this film is goddamn tense almost the whole time, even when there isn’t any real action happening. The relatively quick and clean runtime of 106 minutes offers up a film without any filler or overly flashy action sequences (though the dogfight scenes are pretty kickass). The boys are trying to get home. That is the single driving force of the film and it stays that way.

Nolan apparently once expressed a desire to make the film without a screenplay, and it shows in the films subtle lack of dialogue. This helps to strip away the Hollywoodness, if you will, of other war films, instead choosing to focus on the situation at hand. It also means the film doesn’t rely on its star power too much; Tom Hardy’s RAF pilot doesn’t feel any more or less important than Fionn Whitehead’s private on the beach. They’re all soldiers made of flesh and blood, and everything they do be it as simple as running or difficult as dogfighting feels like it matters. Every second feels like it matters. Honestly, this is a top contender for my film of the year, and I know that’s going to merit a few eyerolls from people who think I’m a Nolan fanboy or that the film is overrated. You’re fine to dislike it however much you want, but Dunkirk is a real winner for me.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming 

homecoming

Sam Raimi’s 2002 iteration of Spider-Man is to me what what Tim Burton’s Batman was to many a comic book fan in 1989. The web head’s triumphant big screen debut is one of my very favorite superhero films, and all three of Raimi’s films (yes, three) have stuck with me in every discussion of what makes a good (and in some cases, not so good) superhero movie. Now, here comes the part where you expect me to talk about how much I hated the Garfield films when, as a matter of fact, I haven’t seen either of them; I just never got around to it and over time I wondered what the point would be. Neither of them looked particularly interesting to me, at least not compared to other superhero movies coming out at the time. Then the franchise got rebooted again when Spidey appeared in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, and there was much rejoicing over the character joining the MCU. However, now that his new solo film is out, I’ve also heard many people complain about how, in the span of fifteen years, there have been six Spider-Man films (seven if you want to count Civil War) with three different actors. Why so much Spider-Man dammit? Why can’t they come up with new ideas? Well, welcome to modern Hollywood, first of all. Second, don’t just write this one off: Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun movie that dials down the high stakes of previous Marvel films in favor of focusing on New York City and it’s friendly neighborhood…well, you know.

In case you’re having a hard time figuring out where we’re at this time around, Peter Parker is a sophomore in high school fresh off being recruited by Tony Stark to fight Captain America and several other heroes. After getting that taste of action, Peter finds himself bored taking care of small time crime in NYC and longs to tackle something bigger and badder which comes in the form of Adrian Toomes a.k.a. the Vulture. What follows is a film with a few familiar but effective story beats (Peter has to balance the lives of both identities, great power and great responsibility), some nods to the rest of the MCU, (most notably Robert Downey Jr. reprising his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man), and a small twist that makes for an exciting third act.

Tom Holland is great. His Peter Parker is sufficiently nerdy but endearing while his Spider-Man is cool and funny, but also spends plenty of time learning to grow as a hero. And while the film’s marketing suggests that it’s also Iron Man 3.5, Tony Stark keeps his appearances short but effective. But, for me, it’s Michael Keaton who steals the show as the Vulture. Many MCU villains that aren’t Loki tend to be menacing, but also fairly one-note and disposable. Keaton, on the other hand, isn’t really straight-up evil: he’s mostly just a pissed off regular dude who happens to be really good at building shit, not unlike Tony Stark. He presence even becomes genuinely nerve-wracking during one particular scene. The rest of the cast, particularly Peter’s school friends, is great too and give the film a lot of humor and personality. Sadly, Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May gets the short end of the stick when it comes to screen time. That’s probably my biggest gripe with the film since Aunt May is such a comforting figure in Peter’s life and I really like Tomei in the role, but she never gets a memorable moment like Rosemary Harris in the Raimi films.

Other reviews have taken issue with Homecoming‘s impact on the MCU in that it doesn’t really have an impact. But that’s fine. Not every movie has to be as game-changing as Avengers or Civil War. If every movie tried to create a tectonic shift in the MCU it would get boring and those tectonic shifts wouldn’t be meaningful anymore. Homecoming, meanwhile, is a welcome return to form for Spider-Man and a refreshing entry in the MCU that looks out for the little guys and saves the big ones for later.

 

War for the Planet of the Apes 

War_for_the_Planet_of_the_Apes_poster

I’m sure I’m not the only one who was pleasantly surprised by 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a reboot of an old franchise with a focus on motion capture that had plenty of reasons to go wrong, but ended up being a well-executed sci-fi film. The sequel, 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, had an even bigger focus on motion capture while also bumping up the scale and action. With the release of War for the Planet of the Apes, we find ourselves at the end of a trilogy, though not necessarily the end of Apes films. Still, War for the Planet of the Apes carries on the series’ penchant for defying expectations by delivering a solid conclusion and cementing the reboot films as some of the finest action/sci-fi of the decade.

War continues the series’ trend of making you absolutely  hate humans but love a bunch of mo-cap apes. Andy Serkis had proven himself time and time again, but in his third outing as ape leader Caesar he essentially depicts an tired, aging warrior in ape form, weary of the many years he’s spent fighting to keep his people safe. It’s a bleak but remarkable performance. Woody Harrelson portrays the Colonel, who seems like just another straightup jingo jackass on the surface, but when you get some insight into his motivations it makes the world of black and white go gray. The standout performance, however, is Steve Zahn as the “Bad Ape”, offering up some much needed comic relief in sympathetic form. Amiah Miller is Nova, the girl you’ve seen in the trailers, and she’s understated but adorable.

One of the biggest reasons for the film’s success is that it didn’t fall victim to the “go all out for the third film” trope that sometimes hampers trilogies. War is as big as it needs to be and no more, with a range of action and emotion faithful to the series without trying to blow the lid off. The only sticking point some might have with the film is that the marketing is a tad misleading. Without getting too spoilery, the trailer (and title) give the impression that the apes and human are going head to head in one final war, but that’s not actually the focus, nor is it really what happens. Oh, they do fight of course, but don’t expect a full on war movie. You’ll be very happy with what you do get though. Also, in a world where blockbuster soundtracks have grown less remarkable, Michael Giacchino’s score is a big plus here.

 

Books:

Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Abhorsen

I finally finished the final book in the Abhorsen trilogy earlier in July, thus concluding my journey through three of my fiancée’s favorite fantasy books. Despite most of the book being falling action, it took me a while to get through it. I’m a slow reader by nature, and with increased writing workload I’ve only gotten slower. Eventually, I found the time to just sit and plunge through this last book and my thoughts are similar to those of the first book Sabriel: beautifully written with a satisfying tying up of plot threads, but I wish I could have stayed a bit longer. As soon as the conflict is over, the story doesn’t linger long before it ends. There’s no “20 years later” epilogue that allows you to confirm all the characters are still doing okay, and while such a thing is certainly not necessary, I kind of wanted it. I don’t hold it against the book all, but I suppose it’s just one of those bittersweet things about finishing a very good book: you’re not always ready to leave and you’re always reluctant to turn that last page and reveal the back cover. That being said, Abhorsen delivers a conclusion with all the spectacle and magic that Nix is known for, and I’m glad to have taken the time to experience it.

 

The Boy On The Bridge by M.R. Carey

the boy on the bridge

This time last year I’d just finished reading The Girl With All The Gifts, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel that was well-written and fresh compared to the rest of the overdone zombie genre. Now I’ve just finished reading The Boy On The Bridge, which is something of a psudo-sequel/prequel/parallel set in the same zombie (called “hungries” in the novel”) infested United Kingdom as its predecessor. The book does not focus on characters from The Girl With All The Gifts, but rather a new cast of characters composed of soldiers and scientists working (sort of) together in a mobile lab to find a cure for the hungry epidemic.

At first, getting into the book took a bit of time; the story assumes you’ve read the previous book, which is fair enough, but it’s not as gradual as The Girl With All The Gifts, which started small and then opened up as the story progressed. So while you theoretically could read The Boy On The Bridge first since it’s so far removed from the events of Girl, I’d say read the previous book before picking this up. But man, once the shit hits the fan this book just rockets forward and you will not want to stop. The characters are a mixed bag of personalities and, as such, feel very believable during the teams various trials and tribulations. For me, Carey’s prose is the star of the show here, chock full of descriptions and metaphors that merited an audible reaction.

It’s hard to imagine where Carey could go with this world after The Boy On The Bridge, but if he does, I’ll be very intrigued to see what comes next. And if this is the last we’ll see of this world, then these two books will stand as some of the best zombie-media you could ever hope to experience.

 

Currently Reading:

It by Stephen King

It_cover

I’m continuing my journey through King’ bibliography. I’d love to finish reading this before the film comes out in a month, but with 1,000 plus pages, I’m tempering my expectations.

 

Currently Watching:

Breaking Bad Season 1

Better late than never, right?

 

Currently Playing:

Uh, nothing really. I haven’t really playing much in the past month. We’ll see if I get back into it.

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The Good Bits: June 2017

June was a big month for me. I got engagement photos taken, a new car, and finally finished the (very) rough draft of my sci-fi/fantasy novel. And, of course, there was a ton of new music and movies to experience along the way.

Music:

Mutoid Man, War Moans (Sargent House)

mutoid man

Mutoid Man’s debut album Bleeder was one of my favorite albums of 2015. I even gave it a full write-up on this blog before I started The Good Bits. On their sophomore LP, Mutoid Man stick with what they know: riffs for days and catchy hooks. But War Moans is the farthest thing from a rehash of the band’s first album: it’s familiar, but still exciting and a complete blast to listen to. Imagine if you went to a party where you didn’t really know the hosts, but by the end of the night you end up being best pals. Now imagine getting invited back to another party by those same hosts; you know them well going in this time, and that makes for an even better night.

Like its predecessor, the songs are short and punchy, making the album very easy to listen to in one go. It’s long enough that you get your money’s worth, but short enough that you’ll want to give it another go-around as soon as you’re done with it. “Kiss of Death” is where I’d start if I had to pick one song. It’s groovy and has a great chorus that’s made to be belted at the top or your lungs or mouthed quietly as you make your commute. “Afterlife” is another killer one, but my favorite is the final track “Bandages”. It’s slow and slightly more melodic than the other songs and has a dramatic built-up, making it the perfect concluding song for the album. Even if you’re not really a metal fan, the catchy vocals and overall “crack-a-beer-and-have-fun” tone will make a nice addition to your summer party playlists or car rides.

 

Anathema, The Optimist (Kscope)

anathema

I have tried to get into Anathema two or three times, but for some reason I never got sucked in the way I expected to be given the heaping amount of praise the band has received from prog rock/metal fans. Maybe I didn’t start with the right album or maybe I needed to let it grow on me. Either way, I love The Optimist, the band’s latest album. I can’t speak for how it compares to the rest of their discography, but I do know that I’ve had “Springfield” stuck in my head for at least a week.

I should clarify that this album isn’t particularly metal. The Optimist has its heavier parts sure, but the album has much more in common with alternative and post-rock than it does metal. The songs aren’t particularly long and there’s lots of piano and synth driven passages that are quiet and slow, creating a somber but beautiful atmosphere that hangs over the album. Some of the album’s high points feature Lee Daniels on vocals, most prominently on the gorgeous “Endless Ways” and the aforementioned “Springfield”. The album’s concept is interesting too and adds another layer to the atmosphere. It’s based on the album art from their sixth album and follows the narrative of what might have happened to the person on the cover. It’s not something you have to pay attention to enjoy the album, but it’s a neat backdrop all the same.

In the end, The Optimist‘s melancholic but gorgeous atmosphere is what wins the day for me. An album that can graze several of my emotions at once and make me unsure if I want to be happy or if I want to bawl my eyes out deserves recognition. If you’re a fan of prog, Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, or other “metal-bands-gone-soft”, I highly recommend checking out The Optimist. If you’re a fan of alternative music or you want something calming but atmospheric, I highly recommend the The Optimist. If you’re not into either of those things, well, I still highly recommend The Optimist.

 

 

Elder, Reflections of a Floating World (Stickman)

elder

Elder is another band that I’ve tried to get into before without much success. I gave 2015’s well-praised Lore one listen, but it didn’t really stick with me. So I gave the band’s latest a shot instead: Reflection of a Floating World. I’ll tell you right off the bad that I love the album art. I know I don’t talk about that much but a lot of doom/stoner bands tend to have awesome album art, and Reflections is one of them. And then there’s the album of course: six riff packed tracks that are sprawling in length but focused in purpose.

Doom and stoner metal albums sometimes have a tendency to get boring, especially when they contain songs that average ten minutes in length. But Elder manage to sidestep the boredom factor and actually end up being kind of relaxing. Seriously, I really enjoyed listening to this album while writing, though I’m sure part of that has to do with the minimal vocals on the album. That’s not to say the band are lacking in punch; many of the songs feature crunchy riffs and solid drum beats that will make you want to hit that imaginary snare drum real hard. But the band also display progressive and psychedelic tendencies in their songs. It’s evocative of Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd, focusing equally on hard-driving riffs and mystical, effects driven passages. I’m glad I was able to finally get into these guys, and I’ll be giving the rest of their discography another look.

 

Film:

Wonder Woman 

Wonder_Woman_(2017_film)

If you know me or have kept up with my blog you know I’m a staunch defender of the DC Film Universe. Batman v Superman was one of my favorite movies of 2016 and, yeah, I liked the much maligned Suicide Squad as well. But the fact remains that there was a lot riding on Wonder Woman, from the hope of a true blue hit for DC to giving the most famous female superhero ever a worthy big screen debut. Luckily for everyone, Wonder Woman succeeds on every level, delivering an origin story that doesn’t feel like it’s just going through the motions, but instead bursts into the room ready to make a statement and that statement is “Gal Gadot can and will kick your ass.”

The film keeps it light on references to the other DCEU films, apart from a few scenes that bookend the movie, and focuses instead on the backstory of the stoic Diana who joined the fray at the end of Batman v Superman. It’s a slightly lighter affair than the preceding DC Films, but not by as wide of a margin as some would think. Certainly the film is brighter, more colorful, and more humorous than its predecessors, but tonally it’s basically a war film with mythological workings in the background. And yeah, you’ll find more laughs in here than Man of Steel or BvS, and those are all welcome, but I believe Wonder Woman was always meant to contrast with the other films, presenting a Diana as a beacon of hope in one of humanity’s darkest times (World War I for the record), a hero out of greek mythology, a whole world away from the modern day where heroes like Superman and Batman are respectively shunned or consider mankind doomed.

Wonder Woman is indeed Gadot’s moment in the sun as she bashes and slashes her way through some stylish action scenes reminiscent of Captain America: The First Avenger, and her arc is satisfying if not slightly predictable. I was afraid the film would make Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor look weak in order to make Diana comparatively stronger, but he’s shown to be a capable and funny character who not only cares for his newfound companion, but never loses sight of his goal to help end the war. The best scene in the film is when Diana steps out into No Man’s Land by herself, deflecting bullets and charging into battle. It’s a great action scene to be sure, but it was also very emotional to finally see Wonder Woman on the big screen in all her glory. It’s a scene destined to become iconic in a film that many will be talking about even after Justice League comes out.

 

 

Baby Driver

baby driver

Nowadays, the importance of a movie’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes is given too much credit. Obviously, it’s an aggregate website, so if many critics are saying the film is that good, then the film is certainly worth checking out. But all too often I find people simply point at the RT score in answer to the question “Is this movie good, how and why?” That’s partly why I don’t give review scores on here. I want to actually talk about why the film is good, not just tack on a number. But to the point: Baby Driver, a heist/action/comedy film from Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), is one of the best reviewed movies this year, and that big fat “Certified Fresh” symbol is popping up so often next to its name that it might as well be part of the film title. However, I am happy to report that Baby Driver actually is really damn good, so if RT is your God Emperor when it comes to movies, know that it will serve you well this time around.

Your first reaction to hearing that Ansel Elgort stars in the title role will either be “Who?” or “Ugh, the guy in the Divergent/A Fault in Our Stars movies?” Fear not, for Elgort shows some exemplary acting chops that make him a unique, sympathetic, but fully capable action star. Without giving too much away, the titular character Baby is a getaway driver for a heist mastermind played by Kevin Spacey. Other cast members include Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, and Lily James. By now, that collection of names is probably more than enough to get your attention, but as soon as the opening heist scene is finished, you’re going to be completely hooked.

Two of the film’s biggest hooks are its car stunts and soundtrack. All the car stunts are done without CGI or green screen, so if you’re a practical effects or car aficionado, you’re going to have a lot to sink you teeth into. The soundtrack is killer, but its implementation and effect on the film’s action is at the core of the experience. Remember the Queen scene from Shaun of the Dead where all the music is synchronized with the editing and action? That’s what it’s like for practically every action scene in Baby Driver, and it really does keep you that much more invested in the film as cars drift around corners and characters shoot at each other. This is one of the best action movies of the year thus far, so if you find multiple friends posting on Facebook screaming about how good Baby Driver is, know that it’s worth it.

 

Currently Reading:

Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Abhorsen

I intended to be done with this by now but, honestly, I’ve so busy writing that I haven’t had as much time to read. Mind you, that’s a good problem to have, but I’ve got about a hundred pages left, and I’m ready to finish this trilogy.

 

Currently Watching:

Sons of Anarchy Season 4

It took forever to watch SOA season 3, but we (Lizzy and I) have been moving through this season at a steady pace. Things are starting to pick up with the overarching storyline and, so far, I’m enjoying this season more than its predecessor. Yeah, yeah, I know I’m far behind and that the show is over. Sue me.

 

Rick and Morty Season 2

I’m not sure what more needs to be said here other than FUCK YEAH TINY RICK!

 

Currently Gaming:

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

Gaming has taken a back seat as well thanks to my writing progress, but I think I’m maybe halfway through the main story now?

 

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One)

I have at least five games that I’m “actively playing” and I need to beat something before I even think about new games. This one is probably the most manageable (and probably the most fun).

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The Good Bits: May 2017

I didn’t get to see all the movies I wanted to in May, but what I did see was pretty great.

 

Music:

Artificial Language, The Observer (Self-Released)

artificial language

Artificial Language’s The Observer is, simply put, one of the best debut albums I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. I’m always on the hunt for newer bands pushing out new material on platforms like Bandcamp and self-releasing their own material, and Artificial Language is another delightful discovery in the field of unsigned prog rock/metal. The band’s sound can be compared to that of Between the Buried and Me or Leprous, but it certainly isn’t playing copycat. The piano/keyboard work of Jonathon Simpson forms the backbone for the band’s sound, either propelling the music forward or lulling around in beautiful interludes on each song. That’s not to say the rest of the band are slouches; the technical ability of the band is evident but not overstated with guitar and drum flourishes that flow together all the way through the album from the more straightforward tracks like “These Aren’t Mirages” to the eight minute finale “Turn Off the Pictures”. Vocalist Shay Lewis’ performance stands out in particular with a powerful and captivating voice that ties the whole package together. Cohesive and clean are the two words I would use to primarily describe this album overall. If you’re at all a prog fan, get on these guys. And even if you’re not, give them a try anyway.

 

Film:

Alien: Covenant

AlienCovenant

I’m a relative latecomer to the Alien franchise. I saw Aliens so long ago that I don’t remember much other than I liked it. But last year I watched the very first entry Alien, which made me slap my hand to my forehead and wonder why the hell I’d put these movies off for so long. I even enjoyed the polarizing Prometheus which, while not a perfect movie by any means, offered an enjoyable sci-fi aesthetic and allusions to mythology. So far, Alien: Covenant appears to be as divisive as its predecessor, and a lot of that has to do with the film’s goal of explaining the origins of the Xenomorph, the titular Alien. Fans and reviewers have deemed this part of the story unnecessary or that it takes away from the Alien being terrifying (though I think Alien Vs. Predator had already done that). While I understand this sentiment and why it would impact someone’s enjoyment of Covenant, I had a great time watching this film.

I’ll say right off the bat that Covenant isn’t really full of surprises. If you’ve seen any other Alien film (or any horror film for that matter) you’ll be waiting for the film to hit certain notes and beats as it moves along. That doesn’t make the film bad, mind you. In fact, I feel like the film’s familiarity plays into its favor as it is essentially marrying the horror and action of the earlier films to the story and themes of Prometheus. You get Michael Fassbender waxing philosophic and being generally creepy like in the previous film, and then you watch Xenomorphs bursting out of people and ripping them apart, just like old times. It all cumulates with a two-part showdown against the Xenomorph, including a thrilling action sequence as the crew attempts to escape the planet.

Speaking of Fassbender, he’s as captivating as ever while playing two different androids: David (from Prometheus) and Walter (a crew member of the Covenant). Scenes with these characters together are certainly the acting highlight of the film. Katherine Waterson does a solid job continuing the series’ tradition of a strong female lead, especially during the action-packed climax. The pleasant surprise here is Danny McBride as the pilot of the Covenant with a comedian-doing-dramatic acting turn that feels so natural that I’ll be hoping to see him in the next installment. And I am looking forward to another installment, which looks to be getting started soon. I got the sci-fi horror/action that I wanted from Alien: Covenant, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 

King Arthur

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has more in common with A Knight’s Tale than it does with the Arthurian legend. Whether or not this is a bad thing is going to depend on how much you care about the source material being messed with. For my part, I enjoyed the film for what it is: a stylish romp spearheaded (swordheaded?) by the ever charismatic Charlie Hunnum that might not get the sequel it was clearly planning for, but at least makes for a fun fantasy action film.

As I said, the film plays it fast and loose with its source material, but at this point there’s been so many different iterations of the legends that I’m not sure how valid of a complaint it is anymore. Sure, some things left me scratching my head a bit (why am I hearing about a character named Mordred already?) but when you realize that director Guy Ritchie is essentially taking his approach to Sherlock Holmes and applying it to King Arthur things fall into place. Nowhere is this more evident than in the character of Arthur himself, a street-smart incredibly ripped man who unwittingly reveals his birthright when he happens upon Excalibur (which doubles as the Sword in the Stone in this version). He feels like a modern man who is flawed, reluctant to take the throne, and full of grit rather than a kingly resplendence. So, a bit like Jax Teller from Sons of Anarchy. There isn’t even a Guinevere for him to mack on (yet) or a Merlin to teach him wisdom, and it makes for an interesting change rather than see the same old progression. Jude Law also has a good turn as Vortigern, a villain who does shitty things to win and get his people to love him, never stopping to think that he should just try to not do shitty things. The rest of the cast features familiar faces and makes for a fun collective. The female lead only known as the Mage (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) adds an intriguing level of magic to the world and it’s fun to watch her interact with Arthur and not take any of his shit.

The action is pretty solid throughout, fast in pace, and full of stylish visuals, especially when Arthur wields Excalibur, which almost turns into a video game Matrix-like sequence. The only real misfire is the final battle, which is lacking in contrast and suffers from some muddy visuals that make it difficult to tell exactly what’s going on. So yeah, you’re not going to get your shiny, dramatically told retelling of Arthur in this film and that’s going to rub some people the wrong way. But if you accept that early on, you can expect a fun time.

 

Books:

Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael

The second book in The Old Kingdom series was described to me as mainly consisting of exposition and build-up with all the action being saved for the third book, Abhorsen. So basically I was being warned that it might be boring. And yet, I didn’t find that to be the case. While Lirael isn’t a complete tale full of forward action like its predecessor Sabriel, the enjoyment comes from spending time with fleshed out characters walking about in the expanded world of the Old Kingdom.

The story takes place fifteen to twenty years after the first book and focuses on two new protagonists: Lirael, a shy young girl, and Sameth, son of Sabirel, hero of the first book. Nix takes his time in helping the reader get to know these two characters, a different pace from Sabirel. Whereas Sabriel was a fairly competent protagonist with only a little background at the start of her book, Lirael and Sameth take a bit more time to grow and learn. While this means that things are slow to start, it all becomes worth it when you watch plots begin to unfold and find out that you correctly predicted a twist just pages before its reveal. And because most of this book was build-up, that means the next book is going to deliver some satisfying downward action.

 

Currently Reading:

Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Abhorsen

I had originally planned to read something short in between Lirael and Abhorsen, but considering the book takes place like five minutes after its predecessor, it seemed better to keep the train rolling.

 

Currently Watching:

Daredevil Season 2

Well, technically I’ve finished watching this but it was mine and my fiancée’s show of choice on our mornings off. First season had a little more polish to it, but the addition of the Punisher and Elektra were more than enough to deliver a satisfying second season.

 

American Gods

The only bad thing about this show is that all the people I’ve told to go watch it can’t because they don’t have Starz. If you have Starz and you need a new show, watch it.

 

Currently Gaming:

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One)

I have too many games to play, so this one is near the top of my list for trying to complete first. Luckily, it’s an amazing game.

 

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

It’s impressive how I can sink three hours into this game just on one planet alone. The only thing that soured my experience was a glitch or two.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)

This is one game I am in no rush to beat. Getting lost in this world is such a joy.

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The Good Bits: April 2017

Woo, boy. April was packed, particularly on the musical front.

Music:

Ghost Bath, Starmourner(Nuclear Blast)

ghost bath

You may recall that on my Top 10 Albums of 2015 Redux post I reiterated how much I loved Ghost Bath’s sophomore full length Moonlover. It’s not only my favorite album from that year, but it’s become one of my favorite albums of all time. Since then the band has had a growth spurt in popularity that includes touring the world and re-releasing Moonlover on a major label. Now the band’s follow-up Starmourner has to contend with the success of its much loved predecessor. Does it stack up? Short answer: Yes.

Ghost Bath’s music typically revolves around depressive melancholic themes, and while Starmourner still retains some of those themes, the over concept and sound of the album feels a bit…lighter? It’s focused more on astral themes rather than straight up misery and lots of the songs are in major key. That’s not to say that the album isn’t heavy; “Ambrosial” and “Thrones” are probably the two heaviest songs on the album featuring the familiar blackgaze riffage and soundscapes the band is known for. In fact, this is probably the most riff focused the band has sounded yet, which I’m a bit mixed on. Some riffs on songs like “Thrones” are driving and vicious before diving into broad melodic passages, but others “Luminescence” didn’t keep me quite as captivated.

This doesn’t prevent the album from still being great, however. In fact, I applaud the band for writing an album that sounds different from their first two while still retaining their signature sound. Starmourner may also be a good place to start for newcomers or for people who’ve tried to listen to Ghost Bath but couldn’t get past the shrieking vocals (which I felt took more of a backseat on this album). As far as follow-ups to masterpieces go, Ghost Bath have done an admirable job of both continuing and evolving their sound on their third album, seamlessly weaving heavy riffs and emotional textures together for another stellar record.

 

He Is Legend, few (Spinefarm)

he is legend

I’m a latecomer to He Is Legend. I haven’t really listened to their earlier material and came on board sometime after the band reunited and produced 2014’s Heavy Fruit, an album I enjoyed for a few spins and then didn’t really think about it again until I saw that the band had put out a new album. So I shrugged and threw on few for a listen and came away having a pretty good time. The album sounds like a deceptively straightforward hard rock album, which it is in some ways, but the well-crafted songs add a layer of depth your average active rock radio single doesn’t have. Meaty riffs paired with standout vocals from Schuylar Croom create catchy numbers like “Air Raid”, but the band takes a detour here and there like on the goofy, blusey fun of “Fritz the Dog”. This is probably the most accessible album I’ve listened to in a while that isn’t instrumental.

 

Persefone, Aathma (ViciSolum)

persefone

I slept on this one for a bit. It popped up on my radar right before its initial release (February) and I didn’t get around to it until earlier in April. But woo boy am I glad I finally checked it out. I’ve said before that some newer prog metal albums get a bit too technical and end up boring me as a result. That’s not the case with Persefone and their fifth album Aathma, which is the finest prog metal album I’ve heard so far this year. From the get-go you know that Persefone are virtuosic players, but they thankfully put composition before everything else, choosing to use their chops as a garnish rather than the main course. The album moves seamlessly from one track to the next with graceful piano interludes before spiraling into death metal madness.

It’s hard not to think of prog metal legends like Dream Theater and Cynic when listening to this album, but I’m not saying that Persefone are derivative by any means. Rather, they evoke the same feelings I have for those aforementioned bands and their great musical works. They stack up to those bands and stand a head above other bands that are just trying too hard to sound deep and complex. I’ll definitely have to check out more of Persefone’s earlier material once I’m done wearing out Aathma.

 

Astralia, Solstice (Aloud Music)

astralia

Last summer I discovered Astralia and gave them a write up, heralding them as my musical savior when it comes to instrumental post rock that helps me focus when writing. That album, Atlas, was two years old at the time, and I wondered if they’d put out anything new in the near future. And they did. Solstice is the band’s third release and it’s just as good as its predecessors. The songs are a bit longer this time around typically ranging from 8 1/2 to 9 minutes, but you’ll be so enraptured by the band’s soothing and emotional soundscapes that the album will be over before you know it. The opener “Exhale” is an excellent summation of all that you would expect from Astralia, so if you didn’t check them out the last time I wrote about them, now is as good a time as any.

 

Film:

Split

split

If you’ve been following me for the past few months, you’ll know I haven’t watched many M. Night Shyamalan films and that I only just watched The Sixth Sense last October. Admittedly, part of this has to do with Shyamalan’s preceding reputation for dumb plots built around hokey twists. And yet, Split makes for an effective thriller with one hell of a performance by James McAvoy and an equally impressive lead with Anya Taylor-Joy (who also starred in The Witch).

While the hook of having a villain with Dissociative Identity Disorder might be considered dumb or even offensive to some, I thought the film handled it more intelligently than expected. Kevin’s (McAvoy) psychologist stresses that he’s far beyond a textbook case of DID, viewing him as the key to unlocking the potential in all humans. If anything, despite doing some pretty terrible and creepy things, Kevin is almost made out to be more of a supervillain or antihero or at least a mutant (wink wink, nudge nudge). I don’t claim to be an expert on metal disability, let alone DID, but as far as stigmatization goes, Split isn’t the worst I’ve seen. If you go in understanding that this depiction of metal illness is more or less science fiction, then you’re fine. I won’t say much more, though the Internet has probably spoiled things for you by now, but if you’ve been on the fence about this one, I’d say go for it.

 

Books:

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel_Book_Cover

When I last wrote about Sabriel in my “Currently Reading” blurb, I mentioned that, at halfway through the book, I felt I’d only scratched the surface of the world of The Old Kingdom. After finishing the book, I still feel that way, but not in a negative sense. In fact, one of my favorite things about Sabriel is that I felt like there’s a whole world to explore with many things happening in it, but my experience was contained to one story that wasn’t interested in big info dumps or tedious world building. Nix simply introduces Sabriel and you follow her on a journey both mysterious and magical, and yet it sometimes reads like magical realism rather than straight-up fantasy. It’s refreshing and, although it’s the first in a trilogy, it tells a satisfying and complete story.

I went into the book without any real introduction (there’s no summational blurb inside or outside the book), but I think that was the right way to go, so I’m hesitant to say too much about the book lest any of you decide to read it. Basically, Sabriel is a teenaged girl who must venture into The Old Kingdom where magic is prevalent, but none more so than necromancy. But this isn’t simply a “raise a corpse and make some zombies” kind of necromancy. Death is very, very different in The Old Kingdom and reading about it is melancholic, chilling, but beautiful too.

There’s a few oddities in word choice and sometimes the focus on description gets a bit Tolkien-esque, but if you’re hankering for a fantasy book that doesn’t feel like a giant undertaking, I’d highly recommend Sabriel. You can potentially enjoy it as a standalone, but you’ll want dive back in after experiencing Nix’s fascinating world.

 

Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino

cosmicomics

A co-worker lent me this funny little book after I let her borrow Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It’s a collection of short stories based on scientific theory with characters that are anthropomophisized mathematical formulae. If that sounds like it’s too over your head, it’s not as complicated as it sounds. For example, the first story, narrated by a being known as Qfwfq, talks about how “people” used to climb up to the moon and hang out on it before it started moving farther away from Earth. It’s all very whimsical and told in a stream of consciousness style that is sometimes hard to read, but many of the stories are genuinely funny. In my favorite, titled The Light-Years, a “person” spots a galaxy with a sign that reads “I SAW YOU”, and so he makes his own sign in reply knowing it’ll take 100 million years until the other “person” sees it. I laughed out loud during this and a few other stories, and any book that can get me to do that deserves recognition.

 

Currently Reading:

Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael

After a brief detour with Cosmicomics, I went right to the next book in the Abhorsen trilogy. The story takes place fourteen years after Sabriel and is centered on a new protagonist. It’s about 200 pages longer than its predecessor, but when I actually found a stretch of time to read I breezed through the first 100 pages. We’ll see if I have this done by next month.

 

Currently Watching:

American Gods

If you haven’t read it, read it. If you don’t want to, watch the show anyway. It’s only one episode in, but damn good so far. Pining for Game of Thrones? This is your new replacement.

 

Currently Gaming:

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)

So much do. So little time.

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

My fiancée and I keep inching ahead of each other bit by bit.

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The Good Bits: March 2017

Big month for pretty much everything from film to video game to music.

Music:

Mastodon, Emperor of Sand (Reprise)

Emperor_of_sand_cover

At this time of writing, I have only listened to Mastodon’s newest LP one time through. I thought I would need multiple listens in order to really settle on an opinion before writing, as was the case with 2014’s Once More Round the Sun. But about four tracks in I was pretty much sold: Mastodon have done it yet again. It’s been fifteen years since the band’s first album, and with the addition of their seventh they’re still sporting one of the most solid discographies in the metal scene.

Originally, there were reports that Emperor of Sand might be similar to Crack the Skye, my favorite Mastodon album But as it turns out, it’s only like Crack the Skye in concept, regarding themes of death and loss. And that’s fine, because Emperor of Sand delivers on its own merits with a sound structurally similar to its predecessor and The Hunter. “Show Yourself” is probably the poppiest the band has ever sounded, but that’s not a bad thing. The band have a great penchant for catchy lyrics and vibrant guitar riffs that keep the album moving at a steady pace while still feeling very much like Mastodon. Other tracks like the opener “Sultan’s Curse” will sound familiar, but it’s the closer “Jaguar God” that really nails it in my opinion, seemingly drawing from all corners of Mastodon’s discography. Overall, the album feels fresh and welcoming to newcomers. For long time fans like myself, it fits like a glove.

 

Me and That Man, Songs of Love and Death (Cooking Vinyl)

Me and That Man

I can’t say that I’ve listened to all that much of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, or Johnny Cash. I’ve enjoyed their music before and I recognize their impact, but I haven’t really explored much of that side of music yet. That said, I am totally into Me And That Man, a new project from Behemoth frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski and John Porter steeped in country, folk, and blues comparative to the artists mentioned above. While sonically a far cry from the blackened death metal of Behemoth, the lyrical content on Songs of Love and Death still bears similarities to Nergal’s main band especially on tracks like the opener “My Church is Black”, so if you’re not normally a fan of this type of genre but you love Behemoth or similar bands, this will still feel familiar to you. If, on the other hand, you’re not a big metal fan but you do enjoy the likes of the aforementioned artists, Me and That Man may still find an audience with you as their songs are dark, troubled, but not necessarily hard on the ears.

 

Pillorian, Obsidian Arc (Eisenwald)

pillorian

2016 saw the end of one of my favorite bands: Agalloch. Their brand of atmospheric black/folk metal was unlike anything else I’d ever heard and despite my attempts to find similar bands, none of them sounded quite like these guys. So you can imagine how excited I was to hear that the ex-members would continue to make music in different projects. The first project to emerge from the ashes is Pillorian, formed by Agalloch’s former frontman John Haughm. While Obsidian Arc leans a bit more towards straightforward black metal, there are still folk elements weaved into the music that are reminiscent of Agalloch without sounding derivative. The album is kept to a tight seven tracks with all but one ranging five to nine minutes in length. The final track, “Dark is the River of Man”, is my favorite, a dark melancholic track running at nine and a half minutes that perfectly ties the whole album together. If you’re still pining for Agalloch, you best give this a listen.

 

Film:

Logan

Logan_2017_poster

Seventeen years. How privileged are we that the actor who brought one of the most iconic comic book characters to life has been able to inhabit the role for nearly two decades while similar franchises sifted through sequels and reboots (three different actors have played Spider-Man!). And now it would appear that an era has come to a close, and it has done so in spectacular fashion. Logan is my favorite film so far this year, presenting Jackman’s swansong as a brutal emotional western that transcends the genre in such a way comparable to The Dark Knight.

While Logan is the third Wolverine solo movie and the tenth X-Men film overall, you can jump into the film with minimal prior viewing. So long as you know a bit about Wolverine and Professor X and have basic understanding of mutants, the film won’t lose you with the exception of a few smaller references. While I do enjoy the MCU films, I applaud this move as it allows more people to experience the film without having to lean on five or six films worth of world-building. Also, we finally get the R-rated Wolverine film we deserve, with all the blood, gore, and f-bombs you could want this side of Deadpool. But this movie doesn’t rely on its bloody action alone; Logan goes much deeper to the point where we genuinely worry about our heroes during the action scenes rather than just absorbing the spectacle.

Going in, you already know that Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are going to deliver great performances, so I won’t say much on that point other than Jackman’s performance moved me to tears. Boyd Holbrook has a charismatic turn as the main villain and I’m sure he’ll be snatching up even bigger roles soon. But the big scene-stealer is Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23, who doesn’t even really speak until more than two-thirds of the way into the film. A mostly silent role can be difficult for the most experienced actor, but Keen absolutely delivers on that front and every other. I sincerely hope we see more of her soon and far into the future.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve seen Logan by now, but if by chance you haven’t, get out and go while it’s still in theaters.

 

Kong: Skull Island 

kong

After a twelve year absence from the big screen, King Kong has returned, mixing the likes of Jurassic Park with Pacific Rim to make a borderline B-movie with a bumpy tone that will get slightly poignant right before something ridiculous happens. In other words, Kong: Skull Island is big dumb fun. It has all the makings of a summer blockbuster apart from the fact that it was released in March, probably to avoid releasing close to War for the Planet of the Apes. I’ve spoken to a few people who rolled their eyes at the idea of a new King Kong movie, claiming that it’s yet another example of Hollywood digging into the ol’ barrel rather than pursuing something new. While that’s a sentiment I sympathize with, Kong doesn’t feel like a careless rehash; it feels fun and delivers an action-adventure monster film with classic tropes.

Kong doesn’t just mark the return of the titular ape. It’s also the second entry in Legendary Picture’s MonsterVerse, which began with 2014’s Godzilla that I reviewed a few months back. This film differs from Godzilla in many ways from pacing to tone, but the most noted difference is how Kong seemingly addresses its predecessor’s two biggest critiques: 1) that the human characters were boring, and 2) that Godzilla has a pretty small amount of screen time in his own movie. Now, I was a fan of Godzilla, but Kong does get bigger ups in terms of its cast. There’s a lot of great people in here: John Goodman, who drags everyone to this expedition; Samuel L. Jackson, a general stung by the United States’ loss in the Vietnam war; Brie Larson, a Vietnam war photographer who spends most of the film running around with a camera and yet still comes across as a competent character. Leading man Tom Hiddleston, a tracker and former Captain, is dashing and likable, but feels a bit downplayed in this role, lacking in background and personality compared to the other characters. John C. Reilly, on the other hand, is probably the most enjoyable character in the film as a pilot who was stranded on Skull Island during World War II.

And then there’s the big guy himself. Kong spends most of his time beating the living shit out of other monsters (and sometimes humans), though he does get the requisite humanizing scenes with Brie Larson’s character. It’s not played up quite as much as we normally see in other iterations, which is actually refreshing. We know Kong has a weak spot for the ladies and we don’t need it beaten over our heads again. Instead, the film allows a moment or two for a knowing nod to the history of Kong’s character, then lets him get back to crushing things. It’s awesome. The film takes full advantage of the time period too, soaking it in the Vietnam aesthetic with great visuals and a soundtrack full of classic 60’s/early 70’s tunes.

So, no, this isn’t just another rehash and you certainly don’t need to see Godzilla or even care about the MonsterVerse in order to enjoy Kong: Skull Island.

 

John Wick 

john-wick-poster1

Here’s another for one the “movies-I-slept-on-that-are-great” list. I didn’t think much about John Wick when I first heard about it, but then, of course, everyone whirled around to tell me “WTF GO WATCH IT.” And, lo and behold, John Wick is a genuinely great action flick. Apart from the film’s impressive stunts, style, and direction, one of the best parts of the film for me personally was the implication of a larger underground world of assassin’s that Keanu Reeve’s titular character belongs to. It’s never really explained and by the end of the film there are more questions than answers, but it’s so fascinating that I’m actually glad there isn’t really any exposition. The workings of the world are merely implied by the character’s actions and left to open interpretation. I’m sure I’ll get more insight when I finally get to sit down and watch John Wick 2.

 

Books:

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

dune-messiah

Dune Messiah almost feels like DLC for its predecessor, Dune. It’s not even half the length of the first book and the plot, set twelve years later, is focused on wrapping up storylines for certain characters and addressing the galaxy changing jihad that were so often alluded to. Mind you, this doesn’t make the book bad assuming you were interested enough in the world of Dune that you wanted to continue reading about it, which I obviously did. It just feels kind of like an afterward for the events of the first book, a relatively straightforward plot that ties up a few loose ends and prepares for a new generation of protagonists. It’s a quick return to Frank Herbert’s fascinating world and I’m sure I’ll continue onto the next book in future.

 

Currently Reading:

Sabriel by Garth Nix

Sabriel_Book_Cover

I’ve made my fiancée read many of my favorite books, so now I’m reading a few of hears. Sabriel is the first book in Garth Nix’s The Old Kingdom series. It’s a fantasy obviously, and while the book isn’t what I initially expected, I find its world and magic mechanics engrossing. I’m about halfway through, but I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of Nix’s world. Good thing I have two more books.

 

Currently Gaming:

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Wii U)

It’s amazing, go play it.

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

If you loved the original games, go get this one.

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The Good Bits: February 2017

February was full of fun, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. March is here now and has a lot to offer, mostly in terms of film, but also in terms of a certain type of media I haven’t mentioned on here yet: video games. I love gaming, but I’m not normally playing any games considered current. But, now that I’m newly equipped with an Xbox One, that’s beginning to change, so I’ll be adding a Currently Gaming category. On that note, if you ever have free time you want to kill, why not watch myself and my fiancée play Diablo III together? Head over to The Co-op Couple on Youtube and get watchin’!

Iron Reagan, Crossover Ministry (Relapse)

iron-reagan

I’m not sure why, but in the past I haven’t been as interested in albums with twenty plus songs ranging from thirty seconds to three minutes. This is the case on many thrash/hardcore/crossover thrash albums, and the only reason I can think for avoiding them is that I lean more towards progressive albums with nine or ten songs ranging anywhere from six to fourteen minutes. I also get more bored by thrash than I used to; there aren’t many newer bands in the subgenre to catch my attion. But I have enjoyed Municipal Waste in the past, and I’ve seen both them and their offshoot Iron Reagan live before and thought they put on a hell of a show. I can’t remember ever just sitting down with an Iron Reagan album before, but there hasn’t been much to catch my attention this month. And I mean really catch my attention. I threw Crossover Ministry on in my car just because it was new and two minutes later I was pumped. It’s a short album that can be finished under half and hour, but I had a lot of fun listening to it, so much so that I put it on again the next day.

 

Arrival

arrival

Arrival is a perfect example of a sci-fi film that doesn’t feel the need to resort to action in order to be great. Don’t get me wrong, I love my action sci-fi movies, but why do movies involving Earth and aliens always have to be a horror show or an explosive set piece? Why do we assume that the first thing aliens want to do is destroy Earth? Arrival bucks this trend with aliens showing up in multiple ships around the globe and then just kind of loitering. So it’s up to Amy Adams, a linguist professor, and Jeremy Renner, a theoretical physicist, to figure out who the aliens are and why they’re on Earth. What follows is a perfectly paced sci-fi drama that leads to much discussion and debate.

It’s hard to talk about this movie without getting into spoiler territory, and I really think this is the kind of film where you should go in blind to get the full impact of the story. Suffice it to say that the film manages to sidestep any M. Night Shyamalan nonsense when it comes to the central twist. It makes sense within the plot as well as thematically and there are hints dropped here and there that, if you’re really thinking and paying attention, you can figure it out just before the reveal. That, in my opinion, is the best kind of twist, one that leaves you actual breadcrumbs and ties into the whole rest of the story rather than being a simple pulling back of the curtain.

Director Denis Villeneuve’s next film is Blade Runner 2049 and he’s also slated to direct a new adaptation of Dune. If you are excited for either of those films, watching Arrival will give you hope as Villeneuve demonstrates his virtuosic ability. And if you don’t care about those movies, Arrival is still worth your time, so much so that I would go back to my top five of 2016 and put this in.

 

Get Out

get_out

I have been pitching this movie to the uninitiated as Rosemary’s Baby meets Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. If that’s a combination that piques your interest, I assure you it’s worth your time. The movie is about a black man, Chris (Kaluuya), who goes to visit his white girlfriend’s family. They’re a little strange, but not as strange as the few other black people Chris meets. What follows is an expertly crafted comedy horror film that provides not only a subversive take on black protagonists, but highly relevant social commentary that we kind of need.

Don’t let the label of comedy horror fool you; this film is thick with tension and you never really feel at ease, which is my favorite kind of approach to horror. Sure, there’s one or two minor jump scares, but the atmosphere is the star of the show here. Every now and again the tension is broken to deliver much needed laughs, usually from Chris’ best friend played by Lil Rey Howery, whose character is meant to channel your typical horror audience (“I told you not to go in that door!”) to hilarious results. It’s a great dichotomy, and allows the tense atmosphere to stay potent without being overwhelming and the comedy never feels overdone.  I’d rather not spoil the film (surprise surprise) but suffice it to say that it’s a solid horror film in its own right and it’s relevancy when it comes to race issues both in Hollywood and the world as a whole make it a horror film you can actually learn something from.

 

Books:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

do-androids-dream-of-electric-sheep

I’m going to flat out say that Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep? may be one of my new favorite books, and not just in the sci-fi genre. I may be late to the party, but I just can’t get over how a book that’s nearly fifty years old can be so refreshing to read. I read it before watching Blade Runner, the cult classic film that I had so long neglected. Now, both are different mediums and both excel in different areas, but if we’re going by overall level of enjoyment, I’d have to give the nod to Dick’s original vision. The writing is snappy and well-paced, never getting boring or diving into too much backstory. If you’re a fan of Blade Runner, I’d highly recommend picking this up to see where it all started. Meanwhile, I’m going to give the film another run sometime before Blade Runner 2049 comes out this fall.

 

Currently Reading

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

dune-messiah

Dune was yet another 60’s sci-fi classic I’d yet to read until last year, and I loved it. So I picked up the next book right away, but I’ve sat on it for a while because of my extensive reading list. Now I’m about halfway through, and so far it’s a welcome return to Arrakis.

 

Currently Gaming:

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Xbox 360)

As I said above, Lizzy and I have been playing co-op in D3 for a while now and we’ve been recording our progress. We only just started posting the videos, but in real life we’re at Act V!

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One)

Dishonored 2 (Xbox One)

 

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The Good Bits: January 2017

Music:

TWRP, Ladyworld (Self-Released)

twrp

My favorite album of January is a departure from what you might normally see in my music listings. Tupper Ware Remix Party (or TWRP) was brought to my attention last year when Ninja Sex Party released their covers album. TWRP was the backing band for most of the album, expertly recreating some of the most well known songs of the 80’s. With the release of their new album Ladyworld, I took it upon myself to finally check out the band’s own work and was met with a catchy delight full of positive vibes. TWRP is firmly grounded in the 80’s aesthetic, touching on elements of rock, synthwave, and funk, while focusing on a message we can all get behind: loving your lady. This is most apparent on tracks such as “R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Her” and, my personal favorite, “Body Image”, featuring a chorus both catchy and inspiring in its message. The album also features Arin Hanson (Game Grumps, Starbomb) and Ninja Sex Party, returning the guest appearance favor for TWRP on the final track “Built 4 Love.” The album is on the short side, clocking in at under thirty minutes, but I think that feels just right for a band like TWRP; it’s an upbeat listen to punch-up your day, giving you that little feel good boost we all so often need.

 

Galactic Empire, Galactic Empire (Rise)

galactic-empire

You know me, I love my Star Wars, my metal, and metal versions of non-metal songs. So having a whole album comprised of the most iconic pieces of John Williams’ legendary score turned to metal is nothing but good news. The group has put out a few videos that have made the rounds on social media and now they’ve put out a full LP. It’s a pretty straightforward album; we go from “Main Theme” to the expected “Imperial March”, then touch on a few pieces from the prequels such as “Duel of the Fates” (which uses actual vocals) and “Across The Stars” before capping it off with “Throne Room/End Title.” All of the arrangements are impeccable with excellent guitar tone and feature close attention to all the little nuances from Williams’ score. Any Star Wars fan, metalhead or no, will enjoy this tribute to one of the greatest film soundtracks ever.

 

Film:

Prometheus, (Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender)
Director: Ridley Scott
Released: June 8th 2012

prometheus2

I didn’t really see any new movies released this month, but I did watch Prometheus in preparation for May’s Alien: Covenant. The Alien series is one I’m catching up on, having neglected it for a number of years. Now I’ve finally watched the prequel to the series that I’ve heard much about, opinions always mixed. My personal experience with the film turned out to be very enjoyable one, exceeding my expectations thanks to its spectacular visuals, atmosphere, and theme.

My view of the movie was prefaced with the general opinion that the film, while gorgeous, has a “meh” plot, and I can see where that opinion comes from. There’s some horror movie cliches you can pick out early on, especially if you’re familiar with the other films, and the movie raises more questions than it actually answers. But I forgive the film’s plot because it caters more to theme than revelation. The parallels between the Greek myth of Prometheus and the Prometheus crew are woven into the narrative and share the same message: if you try to get on the same level as Gods, you’re going to be in for a hurtin’. Sure, we all came here for the Xenomorph, but I appreciate where Prometheus stands as far as its own story and theme.

 

Godzilla (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Released: May 16th, 2014

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Here’s one that’s been on my list since the first trailer but that got away from me. I finally got to watch Godzilla in anticipation of this year’s Kong: Skull Island, which is set in a shared universe with the former film. I’m not necessarily a long time Godzilla fan, meaning I’ve only seen one or two of the classic films and not much else. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand how awesome Godzilla is, or at least can be in the right hands. Like Prometheus, I heard a lot of mixed reception about this film, usually amounting to, “The thirty minutes of Godzilla are great but the rest is boring.” Upon viewing, I do agree that the comparatively small amount of time spent with Godzilla is FUCKING AWESOME, but I would argue that it’s only so awesome because of all the time that isn’t spent on him.

Now, I understand why the majority of the plot spent with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a Lieutenant in the US Navy, and Ken Watanabe, basically a kaiju expert, might be considered boring, the main reason being that neither of them are an enormous destructive monster. But I would argue that spending time with the characters is what helps create the overwhelming sense of awe that is meant to surround Godzilla. Sure, we could have had a film that was ninety percent Godzilla smashing things, but there’s always been more to Godzilla than that. The original movie essentially portrayed Godzilla like an atom bomb, an unstoppable, destructive force all the more powerful because of that sense of shock and awe. Now think about how many explosions and city destroying monster movies we’ve gotten in recent years that are soulless, mindless action (Pacific Rim being a notable except because that movie rules). The decision to focus more on the human characters and their perceptive builds anticipation to a boiling point, and when we finally see Godzilla in all his glory and hear his roar, you get serious chills. Because Godzilla isn’t here to entertain you; you’re here to witness him.

 

Books:

Talion: Revenant by Michael A. Stackpole

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Standalone fantasy novels are a rare breed not because there aren’t many of them but because they don’t seem to get as much attention. It’s understandable as the landmark fantasy novels are typically epic in scale and scope, spanning across anywhere from three to five to eight books. But there’s a lot to love from single entries, the most notable being that you don’t have to prepare yourself for the plunge into multiple books and you get a complete story arc all in one go. So I went looking for one, preferably something I’d never heard of before, and came up with Talion: Revenant by Michael A. Stackpole, best known for penning several Star Wars books from the old Expanded Universe. The result is an enjoyable fantasy novel that, for the modern reader, doesn’t turn genre conventions on its head, but does tell a satisfying tale of heroic fantasy.

The story tells of a man named Nolan, a Talion Justice, a highly skilled and feared warrior who, as his title implies, travels about the Shattered Empire righting wrongs and delivering retribution. They are known for their ability to suck out the souls of wrongdoers as a method of execution, which is why they are so feared. The chapters alternate between Nolan in the present, fully grown and trained, and Nolan as a boy, fleeing from his country after his family was slaughtered by a neighboring country. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this style of storytelling at first; being constantly pulled back and forth through past and present can make it hard to maintain momentum in the story, but it eventually won me over as the chapters usually parallel each others subject matter. It’s also told in a first person perspective, which I also questioned at first, but I understood it was more fitting for the story.

The big hook of the story, displayed right on the front and back cover, is that Nolan is assigned a mission where he must pose as a noble in order to protect a king from a seemingly unkillable creature. The catch? This is the very same king of the country that killed Nolan’s family. It sets the story up for a tense duty vs. vengeance dilemma, but, slight spoiler alert, that doesn’t end up being the focal point. It certainly motivates Nolan and helps define his sense of justice, but the issue itself is kind of resolved in a few paragraphs. I can see what the intent was here i.e. spend your whole life plotting revenge then questioning yourself, but I did feel slightly mislead.

The good news? The overall plot of the book is still enjoyable. Young Nolan’s training to become a Justice makes for some interesting world building and character background that contrasts well with adult Nolan’s more action oriented scenes. There’s one or two twists as well that help to elevate the exciting finale which, despite this being a standalone book, leaves some room for a sequel. If you’re one for more traditional fantasy and/or don’t particularly feel like committing to a longer series, Talion: Revenant will deliver a well executed story with plenty of action and adventure to keep you invested.

 

Currently Reading:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

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Confession: I have never seen Blade Runner. I’ve meant to for a long time, and with the sequel coming this year I’ve all the more reason to finally watch it. But I figured, while I have the time, I should read the book that the film is loosely based on. I’ve also never read Philip K. Dick before. It’s a short book and I’m nearly done, so expect a full review next month.

 

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