The Good Bits: June 2018

God, I feel like I have more and more to write about every month.

Music:

Ghost, Prequelle

ghost

Ghost are one of the biggest rock/metal acts in the world right now. Before their fourth album Prequelle even debuted they were announcing headlining shows at stadiums all around the US. They’v only gotten better with each release and they’ve put out songs with significant crossover appeal. So, how does they band’s latest album stack up? Pretty well! Though I wouldn’t say it’s as great as Infestissumam or MelioraPrequelle is another enjoyable listen from Ghost that is easily accessible and includes what will go down as one of the band’s best songs.

“Rats”, the album’s first proper track, is the second best song on the album. It’s a killer opener and gets things moving with hooky riffs and a chorus perfect for stadium chanting. The real standout, however, is of course “Dance Macabre”, a catchy as hell number that got stuck in my head for over a week and still does creep up on occasion. Even people who don’t listen to Ghost or metal music have told me they think the song is good. I can’t even remember the last rock/metal song I heard that actually made me want to dance. Not headbang mind you, I mean dance.

The only issue with these two songs is that they’re so good that the other songs seem slightly lesser in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, the album as a whole is still good. “Faith” has some great riffage and I love the piano led ballad “Pro Memoria”, they just don’t have the instant earworm factor of “Rats” or “Dance Macabre”. The other issue is out of the album’s ten tracks three are instrumentals. “Ashes” is fine; it’s a short effective intro to the album. But “Miasma” and “Helvetesfonster” both go over five minutes, and while I’m not at all opposed to extended instrumentals I don’t think we needed two on this album. “Miasma” is the better of the two as it’s more upbeat and has a sax solo. Still, I think the album would have benefitted if one of the instrumental tracks was either shortened or replaced with a full-fledged song.

Neither of these gripes stand in the way of making Prequelle a good album. I’ve still given it plenty of spins and I’m sure it’ll get plenty more before the year is out and beyond. The most exciting prospect is getting more people to listen to “Dance Macabre” and getting it stuck in their heads.

YOB, Our Raw Heart

GD30OB2-N.cdr

Doom/sludge metal is defined primarily by two traits: slow and heavy. This helps to convey a sense of, well, doom, typically associated with anything from a laborious descent into hell to an out of this world drug trip or just straight pure misery. YOB’s latest album Our Raw Heart is certainly slow and heavy, but the word I would chiefly use to describe it is not one typically applied to doom metal, or even metal in general: uplifting. If that has you scratching your head, I’ll explain as best I can, though it’s really something best experienced for yourself. Long story short, YOB’s frontman Mike Scheidt nearly died sometime early last year, so he took that experience and fed it directly into his music. Overcoming trauma can bring out the best in some people, and that’s clearly what happened here.

If you’re looking for the song that encapsulates the experience Our Raw Heart offers, I point you to the album’s 16 and and half minute centerpiece “Beauty In Falling Leaves”. It’s a gorgeous epic dripping with emotional atmosphere as it lurches though clean passages punctuated by stomping thunderous guitar. All the while Scheidt sounds like he’s singing with everything he’s got. His soaring, howling vocals help deliver the album’s emotional punch. Every time I listen to this album I just feel good. It’s similar to Bell Witch in that the music is almost meditative and it’s not about what you hear but where it takes you.

Zeal & Ardor, Stranger Fruit 

zeal and ardor

Zeal & Ardor’s debut release Devil Is Fine was one of my favorite albums in 2016 and I still give that record plenty of spins. Since then Manuel Gagneux’s brainchild has gained considerable praise and Zeal & Ardor has turned from a one-man band built off a crazy idea to a full band. I awaited a second album with eager anticipation, but also an edge of caution; it’s always hard to follow up something so critically acclaimed and prove that you’re a band worth keep around. As you’ve already guessed, Stranger Fruit proves to be a worthy followup that might not have the instant classic factor of the first album, but is nonetheless a solid work.

If Devil Is Fine was a light appetizer full of many wonderful flavors that go great together, Stranger Fruit is the big hearty meal that comes after. It’s double the length of its predecessor, spanning sixteen tracks that are all kept short, averaging at about 3 minutes. On the one hand, I’m happy the songs are kept short; having 16 tracks of widely varying lengths can create an overlong album. However, there are one or two tracks I thought could have been left off just to make it a little leaner. Mind you, none of those tracks are bad, they just didn’t shine as brightly as others.

The music itself feels much more refined compared to Devil Is Fine‘s sheer rawness, which I’m kind of mixed on. I think it makes album is much more accessible than the first one with tracks like “Servants” and “Row Row” sporting infectious lyrics with big boisterous choruses that will appeal to fans of more blues inspired hard rock. It also makes the music feel like it has more meat on its bones this time around. The trade off is that the black metal influence doesn’t feel as stark as it did on the first album. It’s there in the tremolo picking and Gagneux’s shrieks, but I feel like there’s less of it on the album and when it is present it doesn’t have the same wow factor as it did the first time around. Also, I would have liked a few more little trip-hop interludes like the ones from Devil Is Fine, but this isn’t a huge sticking point.

But man, some of these songs hit hard. Apart from the first two songs, tracks like “Gravedigger’s Chant”, “Don’t You Dare”, and “Ship on Fire” just hit you in all the right spots, no small thanks to Gagneux’s punchy and poetic lyrics. It’s been fun sharing this one with people and getting them to branch into something as new and fresh as Zeal & Ardor.

Khemmis, Desolation

khemmis

Khemmis’ second album Hunted topped many year end lists in 2016, and while I do think it’s a good album, it didn’t stick with me as much as other releases from that year. I really couldn’t tell you why considering Khemmis have all the ingredients that make a great metal band: big riffs with harmonized guitars and songwriting that evokes the sound of metal legends without sounding derivative. Fast forward to the release of the band’s third album Desolation and I’ve had the track “Isolation” stuck in my head for days. The album is chock full of riffs both catchy and intricate and the songs have a great sing-along factor, mostly thanks to frontman Phil Penderast’s powerful, soaring vocals. The aforementioned “Isolation” is the song I’d recommend checking out first; it’s the most single-like track, running at just under 5 minutes where the rest of the album features songs well over 6 1/2 minutes. Speaking of length, the album is only six tracks running at 42 minutes, which is a pretty good length. I occasionally felt one or two of the songs went on a smidge to long, but not to the point that I’d consider it a huge detriment. Khemmis won me over this round and I’ll have to go back to the previous albums to give them another shot.

 

Film:

Hereditary

Hereditary

Man, I can’t begin to tell you how mentally exhausted I was by the end of this movie. And I weirdly mean that in a good way. Hereditary is literally one hell of a movie, a slow burning descent into madness that’s definitely not for everyone, but will certainly be remembered as one of the top horror films of 2018.

I think it’s best to keep the story mostly vague should you decide to watch it. At the start of the film, Annie Graham’s mother, Ellen, has passed away and we learn that she was secretive about her life and that her relationship was her daughter was strained to say the least. Over the next two hours, secrets about Ellen and the Graham family are slowly revealed, and what we find is incredibly disturbing. The film is reminiscent of slow burn classics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining both in terms of pacing as well as the events depicted. While there are a few scenes that are extremely chilling and stick with you long after you leave the theater, I wouldn’t say the film is a barrel full of scares like everyone has been saying. Rather this is a film filled with a tense, chilling atmosphere that is both exhausting and upsetting, which is far more impactful than any amount of jump scares.

I remember initially feeling too addled to decide whether or not I like the film after I saw it. But after thinking it over and discussing it with others both online and offline, I’m eager to watch the film again. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the slow burn. It’s not for the faint of heart and it’s possible others might find it confusing or boring, but if you’re a fan of the films I mentioned above, you can’t miss this one.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

jurassic world 2

I feel like I enjoyed Jurassic World more so than other people. It had a good mix of nostalgia and references to the first film, old school Hollywood character tropes, great dinosaur battles, and it pretty much cemented Chris Pratt’s status as a leading man. Now we have Fallen Kingdom, and I feel like the reaction is all over the place: some say it’s shit, some say it’s better than the first, some are indifferent. I say that it’s not shit, it’s not as good as the first, and, hey, it’s a popcorn summer blockbuster, what do you want?

The film is clearly presented in two halves: the island and the mansion. The first half is a monster disaster romp and also a sort of a send off for the Jurassic Park/World we knew. The second half is more of a monster horror romp with shadowy political implications that leads up to an ending that feels like it should be a game changer but really just makes you wonder “What the hell are they going to do for a third movie?” All the good stuff from the first film is still good: Pratt’s good, dinos are good (especially anything that has to do with the raptor Blue), and I still get goosebumps when we hear those musical motifs. The new characters are fine, though one of them has a subplot leading to a twist that, once again, feels like it should be a huge deal, but is undercut by an action scene and then isn’t brought up again.

While discussing the film, I’ve been compared it to the new Star Wars films, specifically The Force Awakens and The Last JediTFA, like Jurassic World, served as a sort of reintroduction to the franchise that leaned a lot on nostalgia but it was charming and fun and just made you happy there was a new movie. The Last Jedi then spends its time pushing beyond the nostalgia and takes the franchise to new places. Fallen Kingdom tries to do that, especially when the dinos come to the mainland and start wrecking havoc, but it gets bogged down by the focus on its own mythos and a few plot points that are straight up retreads of the first film (genetically engineered dino? Check. B.D. Wong shows up to look sinister and then does nothing? Check). And while seeing the dinos running around a mansion is certainly a nice change of scenery from the island, it feels less like “creepy bad guy mansion” and more like “Disney’s Haunted Mansion”. Actually, the Haunted Mansion might be scarier.

The film is certainly fun and, hey, if you’re easily pleased like me and you just came to watch Pratt snark and to see dinosaurs eating people or raptors being both vicious and adorable, you’ll have a good time no doubt. It’s not terrible and it’s not amazing. If you liked the first then you’ll like this one fine. Maybe not as much, but you’ll like it fine.

Incredibles 2

incredibles 2

Is Incredible 2 worth it after a 14 year wait? Honestly, I guess it depends on how much you love the original. It’s got a lot of the same stuff and a lot of that stuff is still good. There’s dazzling action set-pieces that are set up and executed with all that lovely Pixar flair, the subplot of the family adapting to baby Jack Jack’s powers makes for some of the film’s biggest laughs, and the main plot’s focus on making supers legal again parallels today’s political climate in more ways than one. All the characters, both major and minor, are as fun as ever, though fan favorites Edna and Frozone still leave you wanting more.

The only bad thing I can really say about the film is that it just doesn’t feel like it offers up much compared to the original and other Pixar sequels. I know, I know, it’s a kid’s movie at heart but Pixar has always been about making movies that strike kids and adults a like. The Toy Story sequels all felt like they grew larger in scale and tackled different issues and explored backgrounds of other characters, especially Woody in 2. Monster University focused more on Mike and Finding Dory was more about Dory (obviously). I felt like all these movies had something both new and familiar to offer up, whereas Incredibles 2 just feels familiar. Sure, they put put Helen/Elastigirl in the forefront and have her do must of the superhero stuff this time around while Bob/Mr. Incredible goes all Mr. Mom. But characterwise we don’t really get anything new out of any of these scenarios.

I promise this isn’t a negative review; I attribute all of the above paragraph to lofty expectations. At the end of the day, Incredibles 2 is a still fun superhero film that fans of the original will love and young kids will love even more. Hollywood may be superhero central nowadays, but this one still finds its time to shine.

Sidenote: the preceding short film Bao is absolutely adorable and made me want dumplings.

Books:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

name of the wind

I spent the last two months blasting through The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, the book that everyone told me that, as a fantasy lover/writer, I absolutely had to read it, that it’s set to be the next Game of Thrones. Hell, a quote of praise inside the book itself said that this should be shelved next to The Lord of the Rings.

So, is it actually good? Yes, it is very good. Great, actually. Best modern fantasy book? That’s gonna come down to personal preference.

For the unfamiliar, the book is a story within a story. Our main character Kvothe (pronounced “quothe”) sits down with a few characters to tell his life’s story, as he’s something of a legend in this world. The story is told mostly from a first-person perspective and switches to third-person during “interludes”, usually so Kvothe can clarify some part of his story or because of some present day interference (think The Princess Bride). There’s also a few instances of a story within a story within a story, which may sound like some kind of Inception type shit, but is really just a way of fleshing out the mythology of the world. None of these transitions are ever jarring mostly because they aren’t very frequent. Normally, I’m not big into first-person fantasy stories; they tend to involve a lot of info-dumping and sometimes it’s hard for me not to view the protagonist as a self-insert character when they’re constantly doing amazing things. Luckily, the info-dumping isn’t a problem as the framing device of the story gives a reason for things to be explained or for certain legends and myths to be told. There were one or two eye-rolling precocious child moments (Kvothe’s story, naturally starts with him as a boy and he’s amazingly gifted) but these counteracted by the “legend versus the man” narrative, and I did have sympathy for him. As a result, Kvothe ends up being a rather fun protagonist to hang around with: he’s clever and resourceful, but also young and stupid at times.

The world building is laser focused in this volume, and that’s welcoming. When you have a series like A Song of Ice and Fire a.k.a. Game of Thrones where the book jumps back and forth between different characters in different regions, it can be a lot to keep track of. In Name, the world slowly opens up one step at a time with a single character, allowing the various settings to come alive whether it’s a sprawling, cruel city in the middle of winter or a warm, friendly inn. Music plays a large role in the world as well and helps to flesh out the culture of the world. In this regard I think Name is most similar to The Lord of the Rings, which boasted a hefty amount of poems and songs. Also, my god, Rothfuss has some fantastic prose. Seriously, I’m more of a dialogue guy but Rothfuss makes me want to be better at writing prose.

There is more to the story than just Kvothe’s story; during the prologue, the aforementioned interludes, and the epilogue it’s clear that something big is brewing in the background, but I’ll be damned if I have any idea what it is. This, combined with the small chunk of the story Kvothe has told thus far, has me wondering how in the hell Rothfuss is going to finish this story in just two more volumes. It just seems like there’s so much more that’s going to/needs to happen. Sure, the books might get longer (Name clocks in at a little over 700 pages, which feels somewhat breezy for an epic high fantasy book) but you can only make them so long before they start having to bleed over into additional books.

The Name of the Wind really is one of the better high fantasy books out there. It’s vibrant, gorgeously written, not overloaded with world-building, not overly dark, and leaves you hungry for the rest of Kvothe’s story. If we’re talking best fantasy book today, I’m still more of a fan of Sanderson’s works, but that’s neither here nor there. Go pick this up and give it a read so you can be ready when the TV series/film/video game comes out.

Currently Reading:

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

brooklyn

I like to step out of my comfort zone every now and again and this book has been sitting on the shelf for a while, so I thought I’d try to breeze through it.

Currently Watching:

13 Reasons Why Season 2

I’m…not terribly excited about this. Season 1 was decent enough but I question the need for a new season. It’s been alright so far but if I get to the end of this season without some good payoff I don’t know if I’ll show up for a season 3 (if there is one).

Currently Playing:

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)

I got a Switch! And I repurchased BOTW so I can play it on the go. So I’m starting from scratch, but I’m not at all mad about it.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War (Xbox One)

Finally going back to this after an extensive detour. Man, building an orc army and seize a fort is so fun that I almost want to just ignore the story.

 

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The Good Bits: May 2018

Loads of albums and films came out last month. Summer’s off to a real good start.

 

Music:

Thy Catafalque, Geometria

thy catafalque

I discovered Thy Catafalque back in 2015 with the release of the album Sgúrr. It was weird as all hell, like most avant-garde acts,  but I liked it enough that I kept an ear out for future releases. Meta came out a year later, a heavier record with a sightly tighter grip on direction. Now we have Geometria, which mostly reserves the heavy side for shortish bursts, but the album’s spacey electronic mood had me entranced all the same.

While Thy Catafalque is normally a one man band consisting of Tamás Kátai, he has some assistance this time around from vocalist Martina Veronika Horvath, and though she’s not featured on every song, she feels like a cornerstone of the album. If Horvath is the lone singer upon the stage, Kátai is her entire orchestra. The opening track “Hajnali Calling” is probably the most indicative of this comparison, featuring free-flowing drums and soft-ish instrumentation while Horvath’s haunting vocals evoke the image of a lone woman walking through the cold woods. Then the second track “Szamojéd Freskó” opens with a blast of heavy before transitioning to the more electronic focused “Töltés”.

The direction of the album may seem unwieldy at times and if you’re not used to so many different sounds and genres being mixed together then you may a hard time listening to this album start to finish. Still, I feel like there’s at least one song on here someone could hear and say “Hey, that’s pretty good” regardless of their musical preference. For myself, I enjoy Geometria. There’s a good balance of heavy, blast beat laden segments and electronic soundscapes that work together to form an engaging, atmospheric listen.

 

Amorphis, Queen of Time 

amorphis

Amorphis is another one of those bands that I haven’t taken the time to get into despite the fact that they are well-loved and play some of my favorite styles of metal. So what better time to start listening than with the new album Queen of Time?

Opening track “The Bee” is a great kickoff and showcases much of what to expect from the rest of the album: a mix of growling and clean vocals, infectious riffs assisted by a delay pedal, and backed up by orchestral strings. That’s not to say that the rest of the album feels derivative of the first track; Amorphis manages to make each song feel distinct in little ways. For example, the second track “Message in the Amber” starts with guitar and pipes blasting simultaneously with an infectious riff that was stuck in my head for hours afterward, while the third track “Daughter of Hate” is introduced by the tones of an organ, which is always welcome. This may start to sound like an “everything but the kitchen sink” kind of deal, but that’s not true at all. Not once does the incorporation of these different instruments feel out of place. The songs are all well crafted and showcase the band’s many sounds and talents all while feeling like a tight, cohesive listening experience.

I can’t say how this album compares to the band’s lengthy discography either in terms of quality or evolution of sound, but I’m certainly willing to explore it now that I’m sold on the band. On its own, Queen of Time is a well-balanced record that makes a great introduction to the band if you’ve been missing out like me.

 

Film:

Deadpool 2

deadpool-2-poster-final

I’ll admit, I had my doubts about Deadpool 2. Not that I thought it would be bad or anything, but I was fearful I’d find it to be just a rehash of the first movie or too much of a good thing. Luckily, I was wrong: Deadpool 2 is a solid sequel that’s on par with its predecessor and maybe even a little bit more.

When you look at main plot by itself, it’s nothing unique: it’s basically Days of Future Past i.e. time travel in order to prevent a shit future. I didn’t realize that comparison until I started writing this and I think that’s because Deadpool 2‘s pacing is a bit all over the place. The first act is a big mishmash of different scenes that start one place, go back to get the audience caught up, action here, joke there, and then the ball gets rolling for real. So it’s like the first film. It doesn’t hurt the movie in a major way, but it does kind of mess with the momentum. But once the ball really does get rolling (when Cable shows up), the movie is a full on blast.

Speaking of Cable, Brolin plays the time travelling cyborg completely straight, making him the perfect foil for Ryan Reynold’s wise-cracking self-aware Deadpool. Cable’s not all that interesting by himself, but when you put him in a movie like this surrounded by ludicrous characters, he works very well. You what else works very well? Fucking Domino. Zazie Beetz’s turn as the lucky mutant is one of the stronger roles in the movie and I hope we see much more of Beetz in future. There are a few other great cameos and surprises and such in the movie, but I won’t spoil them here.

It’s hard to imagine where Deadpool could go from here, especially with the rest X-Men franchise in question, but for now I’m just glad this wasn’t a sophomore slump. Deadpool 2 has great action, actors, hilarity, and is chock full of surprises, including what might be the best post credits scene ever.

Also, parents, for god’s sake, Deadpool 2 is not for your seven year old. I don’t care what he thinks he knows about Deadpool or if he likes The Avengersthis movie is not appropriate for anyone under the age of 13 at least. Even if you don’t care about all the violence and sex and nudity, he’s not going to understand most of the jokes anyway, so you’re better off waiting a couple years.

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story 

solo

Look, I know the idea of doing a young Han Solo film is a bit safe and unoriginal. Yes, I know about the behind the scenes directing drama. Sure, I think it’s coming too soon after The Last Jedi and will therefore cause some franchise fatigue. And, yes, I know that Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t look like Harrison Ford. But trust me what I say this movie is so damn fun. Against all odds, Solo is a joyful addition to the Star Wars saga.

In case you’re not sure where Solo sits in relation to the other films, this one tells the story of a young Han Solo set after Revenge of the Sith but before Rogue One and A New Hope. We start with Han on his homeworld Corellia and follow him through one adventure to the next until he ends up in cohorts with familiar faces like Chewbacca and Lando as well as new ones like the criminal Beckett and love interest Qi’ra. It’s a rollicking ride that plays out as a space western adventure film that puts fun and action first. It’s not a high stakes plot like The Last Jedi and it’s not as interesting of a premise as Rogue One, but I couldn’t help but smile for most of the film.

As I said, yes, Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t look or even emulate Harrison Ford much; that’s a good thing. He makes the part his own and proves to be funny, charming, and capable as a leading man. If you go into this film constantly comparing him to Ford then, yeah, you won’t have a good time. Let go of the comparisons, however, and you’ll enjoy him. A good actor can make any role his own, but an actor trying to mimic another actor (especially in an iconic role) can go horribly wrong. That said, Donald Glover is as perfect as Lando as you might expect and I hope we get to see him play the part again. Woody Harrelson, playing a Long John Silver type of character, is excellent, obviously. Emilia Clarke is great too, though I wish she’d gotten a little more of her backstory. It’s teased a few times, but we don’t really hear about it. Paul Bettany is an evil crime lord and knows how to bring tension to the screen. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s turn as droid L3 is the dark horse performance that brings laughs as well as sentimentality, not unlike K-2SO from Rogue One.

Surprises? Yeah, there’s a few. A lot of expanded universe stuff is tossed in there. Characters casually reference people, places, and things that will make hardcore fans giggle with glee, but casual viewers won’t miss out on anything. I can’t say much more than that because spoilers. Suffice it to say there was a moment that made me clap my hand over my mouth and hold it there for at least a whole minute.

Did we need Solo? Probably not. Should Disney/Lucasfilm space out their Star Wars releases a bit more? Maybe. Is the movie a trainwreck? Not at all. Ron Howard and company have delivered a Star Wars film that might not have been necessary and it might not be the spinoff you wanted, but it’s here and it’s a real fun ride.

 

Upgrade

upgrade

This technically came out June 1st, but I’m including it in this month’s Good Bits because I don’t know if it’ll still be in theaters by next month.

Upgrade is a lean mean cyberpunk action thriller that might not seem like much on the surface, but packs one hell of a punch. Literally. In the not so distant future, Grey Trace’s life takes a turn for the worse when a mugging leaves him as a quadriplegic and his wife dead. He gets the chance to catch his wife’s killers when he’s implanted with an experimental A.I. called STEM that gives him the ability to walk again…and a few other things.

The plot plays out in a manner that is familiar but engaging all the same, combining the best bits of other films: the revenge hook of Death Wish, the tech of Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner, and the action of the The Matrix. And it’s all punctuated by scenes of blood and guts that had me going “Oh shit!” in satisfactory triumph. Seriously, the fight scenes are done just right in this film: great built-up, not overlong, fantastic camera work, and while things always feel like they’re a touch out of control you never lose track of what’s happening. That Grey is being assisted by an asskicking A.I. adds another layer to the action: you know it’s awesome and it looks awesome, but it always feels off and weird in the same way that having an A.I. implanted in your body should feel off and weird. Also, I really have to applaud the film for its pacing and focus; it runs at a clean 95 minutes, which seems short for a tech heavy action sci-fi film, but it feels trim and you’ll never see anything unnecessary up on the screen.

It’s refreshing to have a film that’s not relying on big names to sell tickets, and the actors who are involved have all proven their talents before. Logan Marshall-Green has always been a solid, flexible, underrated actor, but this film might just bump him up to the big leagues. His banter with STEM and his reactions to kicking ass is one of the best parts of the film. Speaking of, STEM is a fascinating character in his own right despite being just a voice. Another notable role is Betty Gabriel as Detective Cortez; you know her as the maid from Get Out. Compare her role in that to Upgrade and you’ll see this lady has some damn good range. In a summer that’s already full of prequels, sequels, and whatnot, Upgrade is a slick, refreshing film and one of my favorites of the year so far.

 

Books: 

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

norse mythology

I weirdly feel like I don’t have much to say about this book, not because I didn’t like it and not because it’s short, but because what you see is exactly what you get: Neil Gaiman retelling some of the most famous stories from Norse Mythology. Gaiman tells these stories in a very traditional manner albeit with that certain flair of subtle fantastical absurdity you’d only expect from Gaiman. Even if you haven’t read American Gods, you can tell Gaiman has a real affinity for these myths just by reading and noting all the love and care he’s put into writing the book. If the only versions of Thor, Loki, and Odin you’re familiar with are the ones in the comics/movies or if you’ve just never taken the time to read these stories, you should look no further than Norse Mythology. It’s a quick, enjoyable read from a master storyteller and I’m sure I’ll read it again.

 

Currently Reading: 

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

name of the wind

There are few fantasy books or even just books in general that have gotten as much buzz in the past couple years as The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, part of his Kingkiller Chronicle series. If you haven’t heard of it, let’s put it this way: it’s being adapted into a film directed by Sam Raimi, a television series on Showtime executive produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a video game. That’s on top of the fact that numerous other authors have lauded Rothfuss’ work. I tried to keep a level head about that hype though so that I didn’t end up feeling underwhelmed when I started reading. Now I’m about halfway through the book, and I do see why people love it so much. That’s all I’ll say for now.

 

 

Currently Watching:

Westworld Season 2

Things have finally gotten more interesting on this slow season, but Shogun World is probably this season’s high point.

 

Friday Night Lights Season 1

This really is a well done show. Tight editing and pacing, storylines that don’t drag out any longer than they have to, and three-dimensional characters that explore a wide range of issues that were important in 2006 and are still important today.

 

Currently Playing:

Prey (Xbox One)

This is game is several things: cool, engrossing, difficult, infuriating. And I love it.

 

Fallout 4 (Xbox One)

I’ve put it off long enough. I haven’t even scratched the surface but I’m happy to be back in the Wasteland once again.

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The Last Jedi: The biggest fan complaints addressed

I initially typed this up when Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out, but then decided against posting it with my review. I wanted to celebrate what I consider to be one of the best films in the franchise rather than drag in all the toxicity from the fandom (seriously, is there anything worse than a pissy Star Wars fan?). Now, Solo: A Star Wars Story is coming out this weekend, so I thought now would be an appropriate time to address the biggest complains fans had about The Last Jedi. Some of you reading this have probably made this complains and hate this movie, and I want you to know I’m not here to tell you you’re not allowed to not like the movie. I’m just here to give you a different point of view. Take what you will from it.

Spoilers, obviously. But if you’re reading this no doubt you’ve already seen it.

I hated The Last Jedi!

I’m sorry to hear that. Wha—

It’s the worst movie in the franchise!

Well, I don’t know about that but—

Rian Johnson murdered my childhood!

On the contrary, I think—

Disney is ruining Star Wars!

Whoa, there! Time out! It’s obvious you’ve got a lot of issues with The Last Jedi. How about we try talking them out like civilized people?

A civilized Star Wars debate? Seriously?

I know, it’s a longshot, but, hey, worth a try. Just start lobbing your grievances at me and I’ll address them one by one.

What are you, some kind of Star Wars authority?

Nothing of the sort. But it’s been five months since The Lat Jedi came out and Solo is coming soon, so I felt like writing about the most divisive film in the Star Wars saga. Shall we begin?

There’s too much comedy in the film! It doesn’t fit!

Star Wars films are full of humor, always have been. Besides, I’ve only seen people point to the same moments as being “too comedic”: the opening exchange between General Hux and Poe and Luke throwing the lightsaber over his shoulder. First, the Hux/Poe thing isn’t too overboard. Need I remind you that in Return of the Jedi Han Solo chooses to distract a stormtrooper by employing the brilliant strategy of tapping him on the shoulder then running away? Second, Luke’s throwing of the lightsaber isn’t just a comedy moment, but also a rejection. He cares so little about his father’s/his old lightsaber that he choses to just fling it away. It says so much about the state his character his in without even one line. But we’ll get into the nitty gritty of Luke later.

Leia’s Mary Poppins moment was stupid, cheesy, and unrealistic! 

If you can push things away from you with the Force, it’s reasonable to assume that you can also pull yourself towards things. And if Jedi can turn into space ghosts then Jedi can survive a few minutes in space. Also, for fuck’s sake, this is the first and last time we get to see Carrie Fisher/Leia using force powers, so just let us have this, okay?

The green milk scene was gross!

Obviously, it was a callback to the blue milk from A New Hope. Also, big deal, the Star Wars films are full of gross things.

The Force can’t do (blank)!

From what I understand, this complaint mainly pertains to the connection between Kylo Ren and Rey and Force Ghost Yoda calling a lighting strike. Here’s the thing: there’s always new Force powers being introduced in the movies. There’s also new Force powers being discovered in-universe. The Force Ghost wasn’t always a thing: in Revenge of the Sith, Yoda tells Obi-Wan that Qui-Gon Jinn figured out how to do it while in the afterlife. It stands to reason that Yoda, the wisest Jedi Master ever, might figure out how to give a lightning bolt a little nudge from the afterlife.

Snoke got built up for nothing! He had no backstory!

Yeah, crazy right? The pale, deformed leader of the bad guys got killed. We only saw him as a hologram in the previous movie, then in this movie all he did was sit in a chair, use force lightning, try to bring a Jedi to the dark side, and then he ends up getting killed by his own apprentice. Imagine if they had done that with Palpatine in the original trilogy.

Oh wait, that’s exactly what they fucking did. Snoke’s backstory would be nice to know, sure, but if it was that important the film would have told us.

But they told Palpatine’s backstory in the prequels!

Oh, do you suddenly care about the prequels now?

What? Uh, no. Not at all.

That’s what I thought.

Rose is stupid!

Why? She gets a character arc, she’s sympathetic, she has chemistry with Finn…are you sure you just don’t like her just because she’s female and Asian and you think they’re forcing diversity into Star Wars?

Well, they are.

Get out.

Wait, wait! What about when she crashed into Finn’s speeder at the end of the movie and basically doomed the Resistance?

1) She’d already gone through the trauma of losing her sister and didn’t want to lose another loved one and 2) Finn’s suicide run was never going to succeed. The whole movie deals with grandiose suicide missions that don’t pay off (you know, like the first scene of the film) and Finn’s rickety speeder was in the process of disintegrating and probably wouldn’t have done jack to the laser cannon. Hell, even Poe, best pilot in the Resistance who’s already been lectured about unnecessarily suicidal acts of heroism, tells him to stand down because he knows it won’t work.

Yeah, well, I still didn’t like the Canto Bight scene.

That’s fine. I know a lot of people who love this movie that still find fault with this scene for one reason or another, thought mostly because it reminds them of the prequels. I liked the prequels, so I thought it was kind of neat to see something like that in the new movie. Maybe not the strongest moment of the film, but it hardly ruins it.

I also didn’t like Admiral Holdo.

Why? And don’t say because she has pink hair, because that’s a dumb reason.

Okay, how about because she didn’t just tell everyone what the plan was and acted like a bitch?

Do you remember the part when the Resistance were being tracked by the First Order through hyperspace? They didn’t know the First Order had that capability, so it stands to reason that the Admiral suspected a traitor among the crew. If she had told everyone the plan, the theoretical traitor would have informed the First Order. Simple as that.

Porgs are dumb and they’re just there to sell toys!

Oh, and the Ewoks weren’t? Porgs are cute. They aren’t even in the movie much, at least not compared to the Ewoks.

The fight scene between Finn and Captain Phasma was overhyped. That deleted scene was so much better!

I’m actually kind of in agreement here. I thought the scene was fine and I was glad Finn got to have a big moment like that, but I do feel like the original scene had a bit more weigh to it. Still, doesn’t ruin the movie.

They didn’t have a legit lightsaber duel either.

Okay, the throne room scene where Rey and Kylo Ren team up and face the Praetorian guards is one of the best scenes in the whole saga and I’ll hear none of it. It’s as good as any traditional lightsaber duel. And as for the final duel with Kylo Ren and Luke, well, I’ll get to the brilliance of that in this next bit.

They ruined Luke Skywalker’s character!

Oh boy, here’s a big one. The three things people seem to hate most about Luke in this move are 1. He tried to kill Ben Solo, 2. He ran away from the fight and wants to end the Jedi, and 3. He dies at the end.

1. Regarding Ben Solo, yes, killing your apprentice in his sleep is not a very Jedi-like thing to do. But he didn’t do it. That’s the whole point is that he realized what he was doing and stopped. Why’d he even think to do it in the first place? Maybe because Luke’s a Skywalker and Skywalker’s historically struggle with the dark side. Don’t you remember in Return of the Jedi when Luke said he couldn’t kill his own father, but then almost did exactly that during the final duel when Vader threatened Leia before stopping himself? In The Last Jedi, Luke was once again tempted by the dark side, and like in Return of the Jedi, it was born out of a desire to stop bad things from happening to the ones he loves. In both situations, he realizes his mistake.

2. I know Luke is presented as the eternal optimist in the original trilogy, but why does everyone seem to think that people don’t change after thirty years, especially after a traumatic event like, say, your nephew and star pupil turning to the dark side and murdering the rest of your students? It’s like the grumpy old gunslinger in retirement trope, only it’s a Jedi. Also, Luke is a bigger picture kind of guy. He specifically talks about how the Jedi have historically screwed things up for themselves (see also the prequels), and now that the Jedi have been brought to ruin (again) by a man with Skywalker blood, he believes that for the good of the galaxy, the Jedi should be done and over with. I’m not saying he’s right to think this way, but it makes sense for his character to think this way.

3. I mean, yeah, I was sad about Luke dying, of course, and I understand why people thought they would save his death for Episode IX, but he dies in the only way appropriate for his character: saving people and giving hope to the galaxy. I feel like everyone was waiting for Luke to pull some kind of badass Jedi routine where he utterly decimates his opponents, but Star Wars has never been about that. Even in the prequels, which sport lightsaber badassery at ever turn, the focus was never about one Jedi taking on evil by itself. Luke even mocks the whole concept of the lone badass in the beginning of the movie when he talks to Rey about facing down the First Order alone with his his lightsaber. And at the end of the film when he ends up doing exactly that, he doesn’t kill anyone, and he’s able to save his friends. That’s the most Luke Skywalker thing I can think of.

Well, Mark Hamill hates the movie.

You don’t know what Mark Hamill thinks, you just know about comments that stupid YouTube videos have taken out of context and sensationalized. Mark Hamill is allowed to think whatever he wants to think. He played the role brilliantly. And even though he allegedly disagreed with Rian Johnson’s direction for Luke, he’s addressed his criticisms. Also, if you’re saying Hamill hating the movie makes it bad, can I not say that Liam Neeson or Ewan McGregor liking Episode I makes it good?

I still think Kylo Ren is a little bitch.

Kylo Ren was never supposed to be on par with Vader in terms of being an intimidating villain. He’s a whole other danger entirely in that he’s a emotionally volatile young man with great power who worships a Sith lord that wiped out the Jedi Order. Imagine if the Empire was the Third Reich, then the First Order is all the neo-Nazi’s who worship Hitler.

That sounds a little extreme.

But not untrue. Though Kylo Ren has obviously struggled with remaining loyal to the dark side, he’s still very far gone in his twisted philosophy, which is why when we expect him to team up with Rey, he goes the wrong direction and seizes power for himself.

Rey is still a Mary Sue.

Oh, I am so sick of this. Look, she had to survive on her own as a child all the way to her early twenties give or take. She learned to fight, pilot, and all that stuff in order to survive, so if your criticism is targeted towards her lightsaber skills and her ability to fly the Falcon, I’m not hearing it. As for her Force abilities, well, it’s almost as if something has awakened within her, something with great power, something that scares even legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, something sought out by Snoke. Maybe they could have named a movie after it! The Force Awakens! Hey, that would make sense, right?

Also, we have hundreds of movies where men become instantly proficient out of the blue with even less explanation and no one bats an eye. But make the lead female in Star Wars a Force user and OMG THE FEMINISTS ARE TAKING OVER.

But she’s not even a Kenobi! Or a Skywalker! She’s just a nobody and her parentage got built up for nothing!

And that, my friend, sums up the meta narrative of the whole film.

Huh?

Think about it: you were expecting an Empire Strikes Back kind of reveal, right? A big twist that lent credence to two years worth of theories and discussions and explained Rey’s backstory. But when the curtain was pulled back, it was a whole lot of nothing. Your expectations were subverted, something the movie does at every single turn. You thought Luke would immediately return to the Resistance in heroic fashion or take to training Rey; he didn’t. You thought Snoke and Luke would both make it to the next movie; they didn’t. You thought Kylo Ren was finally going to turn back to the light after killing his master and fighting alongside Rey, just like Vader did in Return of the Jedi; he didn’t. You thought someone was going to get their hand chopped off, because that’s just a Star Wars film does in the second part of a trilogy; didn’t happen. There were so many things you expected to happen because your past experience with Star Wars and similar films have tailored your brain to think that way. Remember this line from Luke used in the trailers: “This is not going to go the way you think.” That wasn’t random; they included that line for a reason.

But I don’t give a shit about the meta narrative! It’s stupid!

Okay then, how about the fact that Rey’s parents weren’t anyone special and so she doesn’t owe the origins of her powers to her bloodline as opposed to Kylo Ren who is obsessed with his grandfather and his bloodline of Force users? And the fact that the last scene of the film is a slave boy casually using Force powers looking hopefully at the sky not unlike a certain farm boy? That’s another part of the film’s meta narrative: you expect the heroes and villains to all be connected, for the explanation of power to come from whose blood is flowing through your veins, and the film tells you that’s neither true nor important and that hope can be found anywhere in the galaxy, even the most unlikely places.

Look, I just don’t like The Last Jedi, okay?

That’s fine! You’re allowed to not like the movie. I’m used to hearing people rag on Star Wars movies that I like (I’m a prequels fan, sue me).  I just wanted to address some of people’s biggest issues with The Last Jedi in an attempt to give you another point of view you might not have thought of before. I hope at least you now understand why people like do love this movie, even if you don’t agree with it.

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The Good Bits: April 2018

Woo, boy. I had a whole lot to say this month. I tried keeping my thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War as brief and non spoilery as possible. Also, I’ve finally gotten a Spotify account! From now on the Music section, I’ll be posting a small playlist each month featuring a few tracks, some from the albums mentioned here and others just for fun. Hope you enjoy!

Music:

Sleep, The Sciences (Third Man)

Sleep

In hindsight, Sleep surprise releasing their first album in 20 years on 4/20 should have been a no brainer. Still, for myself and many other fans of the stoner/doom metal trio, The Sciences is a welcome surprise in an already stellar month for metal music. I admittedly had my reservations before diving into the album: sure, it’ll be good, but will it be that good? The band’s previous three albums have been highly regarded over the years, so how’s a new album going to stand up to them? The answer is that The Sciences is the most well-crafted album from Sleep to date, a testament to their legendary status in metal containing the best elements from their previous releases while still feeling fresh.

The album eases into things with the drony instrumental title track before launching into “Marijuanaut’s Theme”. It took less than a minute into the track for me to give myself up to the heavy, drop C, Sabbath-worship guitar tones. Matt Pike’s guitar tone and vocals, Al Cisneros’ deep bass, and Jason Roeder’s thudding drum are almost hypnotizing, so much so that songs like “Antarcticans Thawed” (one of three songs that run over 10 minutes) feel like a heavy trip through space that’s over in the blink of an eye. Picking a favorite track is hard, but “The Botanist” is probably at the top for me right now. That first guitar riff is just so good and so damn heavy. If you’ve never listened to Sleep before, The Sciences is the perfect time for you to start.

Panopticon, The Scars of Man on a Wilderness Once Nameless I and II (Bindrune)

panopticon

I very much enjoyed Panopticon’s 2015 release Autumn Eternal, but The Scars of Man on a Wilderness Once Nameless I and II might just be on a whole other level. Austin Lunn, the sole member of Panopticon, is obviously an impressive instrumentalist and a master of atmospheric/folk black metal that captures the cold, raw beauty of nature, but on this album Lunn indulges in a broader spectrum of sounds. Specifically, half of the album is comprised of the atmospheric black metal sound Lunn has long since mastered while the other half is more along the lines of country/folk/Americana. That sounds like it probably wouldn’t and shouldn’t work, and Lunn acknowledges this, which is why the albums are divided up into and II for those who don’t like the two different genres touching on their figurative plate. But anyone who doesn’t listen to both halves of the album are doing themselves a great disservice; The Scars of Man is equal parts melancholic and celebratory, heavy and moving, and quite possibly the best album I’ve heard so far this year.

On the first half of the album (that is to say the black metal half) tracks like “Ev Hvit Ravns Død” offer up the meat and potato of the album with harsh guitars and beautiful strings. More expository tracks like “A Ridge Where the Tall Pines Once Stood” evoke stark images of the wild that Lunn is so adept at. “Moss Burdened Branches” is the longest track out of both parts of the album, and it’s key to the transition from black metal to folk/country, starting with a strong, electrical presence before mellowing out with clean vocals and acoustic guitar. Then the second half begins with “The Wandering Ghost”, and while it’s immediately apparent that the album has changed genre, the same dark, moody atmosphere remains. This genre change also hides the fact that, when listening to and II back-to-back, you forget that this is a 2 hour album. The shift in direction changes things up just when it’s starting to feel over long. And by the time the quick banjo-led finale “The Devil Walked The Woods” ends, I was ready to dive back in all over again. The only thing left to do is to take a walk in a forest somewhere while listening to this album so I can achieve the ultimate listening experience.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/jircmgo3ymr41eci9ebob33hf/playlist/42njHHTDhbtQcSN7xbzFAD

Film:

A Quiet Place

a-quiet-place-teaser-poster

Calling A Quiet Place a horror film is a bit too basic of a description. I’d call it a suspenseful horror/thriller monster film that draws its power not from trying to frighten you in the traditional sense, but by making you complicit in one of the film’s prevailing themes: silence. What do I mean by this? I mean that I saw this movie in a full theater and every time a character knocked something over or made a loud noise the whole crowd was dead silent, waiting to see if the monsters heard them or not. It’s a age old metaphor, but you really could cut the tension with a knife.

In case you somehow missed the film’s promotion, A Quiet Place centers on a the Abbott family trying to survive after a race of creatures with hypersensitive hearing begin murdering people across the globe. Apart from its masterful suspense, the film draws strength from its characters. You grow to care about the family, you want to see them survive, not least of all because its John Krasinski (also writer, director) and Emily Blunt. Despite the ever-present danger, the Abbott’s do everything they can to live their lives, whether its by walking around barefoot all the time, marking squeaky floorboards, or communicating in sign language, which makes up most of the film’s dialogue. Speaking of sign language, the breakout star here is deaf actress Millicent Simmonds as the Abbott’s eldest child. The film’s utilization of sign language and a deaf actress playing a deaf character really forms the heart of the film. That might sound unusual, saying a horror film has heart, but when I reached the film’s third act my emotional investment was quite high. I even read about people crying at certain points in the movie, both out of fear and emotion.

I do feel like you start to see a little too much of the monsters too soon. Less is more in the case of monster movies like this, and I wish they could have held off from an upfront reveal for a bit longer. Still, its tense, the characters are likable, and the contrast of silence with sound makes this the best horror film of the year so far.

Avengers: Infinity War

avengers-infinity-war-imax-720x1045

(This review is free of major spoilers. However, there are a few vague allusions that some might consider spoiler-esque, so read at your own risk)

Avengers: Infinity War is one of the most hyped up movies ever, so much so that I wrote a three blog post viewing guide for the uninitiated. By this point, you’ve either seen it already, are waiting to see it when the crowds have lessened, or are scoffing at the fact that they’ve made another one of these stupid superhero team up movies. If you’re in this last category then, yeah, I doubt this movie is going to change your mind. But for the rest of us, it’s pretty great! There was plenty of room for the film to fail to meet expectations, and I’m sure it did for some people. Being an ensemble film, certain characters get more screen time and development than others and the film ends on a downer of a cliffhanger. It certainly feels like a “Part 1”, which makes sense since this film and the next Avengers film were filmed back to back and originally titled Infinity War Part 1 and Part 2. Deciding how good of a film this “Part 1” is kind of depends on if you’re willing to take the film at face value or dig into it, because if you were just hoping for some big epic conclusion built on 10 years of preparation to all fit into a 2 hour and 30 minute film, you were led astray. Because above all else, Infinity War is not a story about heroes banding together: it’s about the main villain who believes he is the hero of his story.

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard that last expression before, but Thanos really is the main character in this film: he’s on a quest to collect items of great power, he gets his origin and background explained, he contends with multiple foes, and he even has to make a gut-wrenching decision. Oh I know, we’re all here to see Tony Stark meet Doctor Strange, Guardians meet the Avengers, the Wakandan’s heading into battle with Captain America, and that’s all great, fantastic stuff, but none of that works if Thanos, the grandaddy baddy the MCU has been building up to since his post-credit appearance six years ago, just ends up being one-dimensional Marvel villain No. 55. Thankfully, he’s not. I couldn’t help but feeling pretty intimidated by Thanos by the end of the film. I know that people will point out that many of these characters are already confirmed for future films and so the stakes aren’t real, but in the moment while watching the film I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous seeing our favorite heroes go up against Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet.

The Russo Brothers already demonstrated in Captain America: Civil War that they can handle a large cast of characters, and that prowess shines through in Infinity War as well. The individual storylines of the heroes are entwined enough that we get to see fun size-ups, team-ups, and quips, but they’re also kept separate enough that each storyline feels distinct and easy to follow. As I said before, some characters take a backseat to the story more so than others, but character development was never really the focus of the Avengers films to begin with (that’s what the solo films are for!) and the flashy actions scenes make up for it. Also, the MCU has attracted criticism in recent films for being too funny/quippy, but I think Infinity War strikes a good balance of seriousness and comic relief.

Issues? Well, my only moderate one was Bruce Banner. Without saying much, I was just kind of annoyed by his role in the film. It’s not his arc that’s a problem nor is it Ruffalo’s acting, I just think the direction/writing was didn’t sit well with me. Everything else is just minor nit-picky stuff that doesn’t have any large scale effect on how much I enjoyed the film. Infinity War has succeeded in more ways that one, satisfying its own hype while building further hype for the next three films in the MCU. I’ve no doubt that all the theories and discussions generated by this film will rival that of the new Star Wars films, and that they’ll only grow more in-depth until the next Avengers film comes out a year from now.

Books:

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

edge of eternity

Edge of Eternity is the third and final book of Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy, a story of five families across the globe whose fates become intertwined throughout the biggest events of the 20th century. As you might imagine, the first book mostly takes place during World War I, the second during World War II, and this third covers the majority of the Cold War. You come to expect certain things with these books: characters both sympathetic and infuriating, sex and romance, crossing paths with historical figures, depictions of events both monumental and horrific, and, of course, the addictive page turning quality Follett has mastered. While Edge of Eternity checks all these boxes and I did enjoy the book overall, it’s probably the weakest of the trilogy (that’s just usually the case with third entries I guess) and is the most critical I’ve been of a Follett book yet.

Part of the fun of these books is watching history unfold and seeing how certain characters get involved or how they react to it. Sure, we all know that JFK gets assassinated, but when you’re reading about the character George Jakes, who works in the Justice Department with Bobby Kennedy, the dramatic irony just pushes you through page after page to see how such an event will impact him. Speaking of JFK, Follett continues to depict historical figures as painfully human as possible, flaws and all. He’s never been afraid to show the ugly side of history and those figures involved, and that’s particularly important during a time period that includes the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, Watergate, the Berlin Wall, and just Communism in general. I alway come away feeling like I learned something new in an enjoyable way, which is what reading is all about, right?

On the other hand, Edge of Eternity seems significantly more glued its to history compared to previous books, so the whole enjoyment of dramatic irony wears thin in certain parts. What I mean is the first two books covered two of the most tumultuous time periods in history, but that wasn’t why I kept reading: I kept reading for the characters and their individual stories. When I read about George, who’s half-black, I’m not reading because I want to read a summation about the Civil Rights Movement, I want to read about his experiences during the Civil Rights Movement. While I did experience stories like that, it didn’t take long to realize that Edge of Eternity is more determined to grab you by the hand and yank you through the bulletpoints of the 1960’s at breakneck speed, and I’m just not as interested when the story is mainly a character reacting to history and not progressing as a character. For example, I probably enjoyed Dave Williams’ storyline the most: a musician in the 60’s that deals with playing gigs, making a records, dealing with drugs and women, and keeping the band together. That’s a story evocative of the 60’s and 70’s without relying too much on big historical events. I was always more interested to read about characters like him rather than whoever was sitting next to Nixon or Khrushchev because his story isn’t so reactionary.

Speaking of characters, another large appeal of these books is see what happens to these characters from one generation to the next. The main characters from the first book are all elderly grandparents in this last one and I was looking forward to seeing how their stories and the stories of their children, stars of the second book, came to a close. But we don’t get all that! The very first character we ever meet in the trilogy, Billy, is mentioned maybe twice in this last book! Sure, maybe he died and that’s why he’s not there, but the book never explains that. Another character from book two, a Nazi who realizes he picked the wrong side, is left out completely! Some characters get some closure but it just wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t need it all wrapped up in a nice bow but I was just hoping for a little more closure.

I think part of the book’s issue is the time period itself: the book starts in 1961 and goes all the way to 1989. That’s just under 30 years of history to cover, double the span of the first two books, both of which took place across 15 some odd years. Plus, you spend over 600 pages covering the 60’s, so the 70’s and 80’s get filed down to the most important historical points. It feels like Follett realized that the Cold War still had two more decades to go after the 60’s and slammed on the full throttle button. Or at least it feels that way until the last 100 or so pages when the book slows to crawl. By then you’re just waiting for the damn Berlin Wall to come down. I will say that the epilogue (November 4th 2008) was a nice way to conclude this particular book; you can look that date up if you want to know why.

This has gotten way overlong and it makes it sound like I disliked the book: I didn’t. I had a good time blowing through this one, reading about pop/rock stars, seeing people triumph over adversity, and feeling a little somber when characters from the first book started to pass away. I just think I was expecting more of a conclusion to the saga of five families when really it was some conclusion and a whole lotta talk about the CIA being pricks and how the Kremlin hates newspapers. Still, it’s an overall solid trilogy from one of my favorite authors, and I’m happy to have finally finished it.

Currently Reading:

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

norse mythology

I’m not very well versed in Norse mythology, so what better way to get into it than reading Neil Gaiman’s book with his own retellings of the tales of the Norse Gods? I’m more than halfway through (it’s a short book) so I’ll definitely have my full thoughts up next month.

Currently Watching

Friday Night Lights (Season 1)

I have to admit, I’m pretty addicted to this show. It’s filling the hole that The O.C. left behind.

Westworld (Season 2)

After 3 episodes, I feel like I’m getting a better grip on what exactly has happening. That’s not to say I’m not confused, but whereas the first two episodes simply left me scratching my head, I now feel sufficiently intrigued.

Timeless (Season 2)

The first season of this show as a nice surprise and so was the fact that it got renewed for a second season. It’s okay so far, I’m only 3 or 4 episodes in.

Currently Playing:

Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)

Man, I can’t remember the last time a blew through a game this fast. Story isn’t as good the first game, but everything else is excellent.

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The Good Bits: March 2018

Didn’t get to see all the movies I wanted to in March, but April and May aren’t exactly going to be slouches either.

Music:

Judas Priest, Firepower (Epic)

judas priest

I’d be lying if I said I loved Judas Priest’s 2014 album Redeemer of Souls. It’s not a bad album, but I think I was expecting it to be incredible. I’m seemingly one of few that liked their 2008 concept album Nostradamus, which was pretty different for them. Redeemer of Souls on the other hand is closer to the stuff that Priest is known for: twin guitars, badass punchy riffs, and shrieking vocals from Rob Halford. Yet, while the songs themselves are solid a few are even great, the album as a whole felt like a by the numbers kind deal. Now Priest is back with Firepower, and while it’s stylistically similar to Redeemer of Souls, I found I enjoyed it more. Perhaps that’s because my expectations have been tempered, but I still give it the thumbs up.

Right out the gate, the title track and “Lightning Strike” bring classic Priest to the table. Everyone sounds good, particularly Halford. It’s amazing that after over four decades this man is able to sing better than performers who have only been around half that time. My personal favorite part of the album is “Guardians” leading into “Rising From Ruins.” The former is a great little build up track like “The Hellion” and latter reminded me of the classic Priest track “A Touch of Evil”. I also enjoyed “Lone Wolf”, a strange track that stands out tonally, but holy crap is it heavy. If it doesn’t sound like Firepower blew me away, that’s because it didn’t. But it doesn’t have to: it’s Judas Priest showing they can still write tight material 18 albums later. I certainly enjoyed it and I’m happy to see Priest still putting out quality material after such a long, historic career.

 

Between The Buried And Me, Automata I (Sumerian)

btbam

2015’s Coma Ecliptic might be my favorite Between The Buried And Me album. I wasn’t sure how Automata I was going to stack up against it, but the band’s latest, and part one of a double album, is another worthy addition to their discography. Whereas Coma Ecliptic was a cohesive, less death metal inclined release, Automata I sounds a bit more like the band’s prior releases. “Condemned To The Gallows” in particular doesn’t waste any time and barges right in with the heavy. “Blot”, the final track, is a real winner, a 10 minute track that stands apart from all the preceding songs like its own entity. I’ve heard some talk about how short the album is: at 35 minutes, it’s the band’s shortest studio album to date. That’s pretty noticeable compared to the rest of their releases ranging from 60 to 70 minutes. I don’t mind it though since it’s part of a double album which means, in my mind, that when Automata II comes out later this year, I’m going to want to listen to both back to back. In that respect, I’m glad Automata I leaves me wanting more. Double albums, especially from prog bands, have a way of feeling overstuffed and overlong, but I don’t think that’s going to be an issue this time around.

 

Film:

Tomb Raider

tomb raider

So, video game movies. They largely suck, and the only ones that don’t suck like Tron and Wreck-It Ralph are either animated or not based on a real game, so they don’t exactly count. Lara Croft of Tomb Raider has already made her way to the big screen twice before with Angelina Jolie in the early 2000’s. Yet, despite casting one of Hollywood’s biggest sex symbols as one of gamings biggest sex symbols, the films didn’t earn much praise outside of Jolie’s performance. The Tomb Raider series of games has since been rebooted, resulting in much praise, so Hollywood decided to give it another go with a film based on the 2013 game starring Alicia Vikander, one of the best actresses in film today. The result is the best video game movie to date. No, I’m not kidding. That’s not to say that the film itself is stellar, but it’s far, far better than the drivel that precedes it.

Like the 2013 game, Tomb Raider tells the story of Lara Croft’s first real adventure wherein she ends up shipwrecked on an island that serves as the resting place for a mythical Japanese queen. The plot similarities mostly end there as the film focuses mostly on Lara trying to find her missing father Richard. From there it’s a lot of plots and story beats that will be very familiar if you’ve watched any adventure movie ever. But, hey, if it ain’t broke, right? Sure, there’s some things from the video game plot that would have been cool to see and the bad guy is way less creepy, but it gets the job done.

The main source of all that is good in the movie is Alicia Vikander as Lara, and let me tell you Vikander shows up to work. Whereas Jolie brought the sex appeal that her version of Lara was known for, Vikander absolutely nails the physicality of an untested Lara Croft, practically mirroring her video game counterpart in every way. She always seems like she’s just getting out by the skin of her teeth, and even in the scenes where she excels (climbing, shooting people with arrows, etc.) she looks like she barely knows what she’s doing but presses forward out of sheer will. On top of that, the film is devoid of gratuitous butt shots or close examinations of Lara’s figure. The other characters mainly just serve their purpose, though Daniel Wu’s character is entertaining (despite disappearing for most of the third act), and Nick Frost’s appearance gave me a chuckle.

Apart from Vikander, the film manages to take little moments from the game, such as some of Lara’s stunts and certain weapons, and make them feel more like a product of film itself and less like “Hey! Look! It’s that thing from the game you all like! Look you stupid nerd!” I know we all want a live action video game movie that is unequivocally great, that gamers can hold up as a beacon and exclaim “At last!” And I’m aware that the bar was already set pretty low and that saying “Well, at least it’s not garbage” isn’t the best of praise. But like it or not, Tomb Raider really is the best we’ve got right now. Considering all the fun I had, I don’t really mind.

 

Red Sparrow

red sparrow

No, this film’s got nothing to do with Black Widow.

I try to avoid reviews as much as possible before movies (though it’s impossible to get away from that goddamn Rotten Tomatoes score), but because the Internet exists some stray critiques end up slipping through the cracks. In the case of Jennifer Lawrence’s spy thriller Red Sparrow, I heard the violence (especially the sexual violence) was too much, so I expected to go in for a drag of a movie. But it wasn’t: Red Sparrow is a competent almost Fincher-like thriller that leans heavily on Lawrence’s performance, but she makes it worthwhile.

After her ballerina career is brought to a painful end, Dominika becomes a Sparrow, which is basically a Russian secret agent that specializes in the Honey Pot i.e. seducing people. It’s an interesting if not simplistic concept. Watching Dominika figure out how to manipulate everyone from scumbags to her superiors is engaging, especially when you come to the realization that you, the viewer, don’t have as clear of an understanding of her intentions as you once believed. The only nagging detail is that Dominika never receives any extensive combat training. Sure, her main weapon is deception and we see her beat the ever loving shit out of a few people, but you’d think that she’d at least take some kind of martial arts class in her line of work.

Speaking of beating the shit out of people, let’s talk violence. When it comes to female protagonists, the use of sexual violence as a means of motivation or character development is overdone and often mishandled. With that in mind, I don’t believe Red Sparrow is a big offender here. Now, of course, there are people that may be triggered by scenes depicting rape or attempted rape no matter how it’s depicted, so just because I didn’t find them particularly harrowing doesn’t mean someone else won’t; that’s just my experience. That said, the film doesn’t linger much on the few scenes and they serve a purpose beyond the tired “oh she got raped and that’s her main motivator” story arc.  As for the more graphic violence, I’ve seen way worse elsewhere. None of this is to say that these scenes shouldn’t bother your or won’t make you feel uneasy, but you’ve watched something like Game of Thrones, you can handle this.

A good spy thriller will keep you guessing, and Red Sparrow certainly does that, and what’s more the clues are all there for you to see, so when the reveal finally does happen you won’t be so bewildered after looking back at how everything stacks up. Is it an amazing film? No, but I liked it way more than I thought I would and Lawrence is damn good.

 

Books

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Authority

Not long after I jotted down my initial thoughts on Authority, the third act began and the plot took a sharp turn into the climax and falling action. That’s when things got a lot more interesting, and by that I mean I finally thought “Okay, this is what I came for.” Even the ending, which is a literal cliffhanger, felt like a satisfying conclusion that may or may not be resolved in the final volume of the Southern Reach Trilogy. Still, I can’t say I was as taken with Authority as Annihilation, and I’m sure a lot of that simply comes down to the fact that they’re two very different books, despite being part of a trilogy.

A quick summation of the trilogy: there’s a place called Area X that’s really weird and a shadow organization called the Southern Reach keeps sending people in to investigate it, but they either end up dead or missing. Also, the Southern Reach is pretty shady. This book is from the perspective of the new boss of the Southern Reach, which is kind of neat since stories like these normally keep the reader in the dark concerning the inner workings of the “distrustful organization”. What makes it unsettling is that this guy doesn’t even realize half the shit that’s going on at his own job. The thing is, like I said last month, VanderMeer’s style and his depiction of the main protagonist are so weird that all the creepy reveals don’t feel as weird by comparison. This is kind of resolved by the end of the book, as I stated above, but by then it almost feels like too little too late.

It could be that VanderMeer’s style is just too out there for me, in which case that’s my problem. I certainly give him credit for producing one of the more original sci-fi/horror stories I’ve read and his description and attention to detail is rich, but when I think back to the book a lot of it is so foggy. I’m all for a slow burn, but this was way too slow with too few interesting things going on compared to Annihilation. I’m still planning on reading Acceptance, the final book in the trilogy (can’t leave it hanging, can I?) but I wish my thoughts towards this prospect were of excitement rather than “I hope I like this better than Authority.”

 

Currently Reading

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

edge of eternity

It’s high time I finished the Century Trilogy. Good ol’ Ken Follett has never let me down, and even though I’ve started to notice some of his shortcomings (on the nose dialogue, lots of jumping around), I’ve already blown through over half the book. Considering this thing is over 1000 pages, it might be the fastest I end up finishing a Follett book.

 

Currently Watching:

Sons of Anarchy (Season 6)

At the time of writing, I’ve only got one episode left. I’ve already been spoils as to what happens, so I’m more excited just to be done with this season.

Black Mirror

I’ve kind of just been jumping around to whatever episode looks interesting but damn, can’t believe I slept on this show for so long.

 

Currently Playing:

Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)

Thoroughly enjoyed the first game, happy to be coming back. A new film out and a new game on the way, so I figured this was the perfect time.

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The See It or Skip It Guide To the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Three (So Far)

Note: If you haven’t read my guide for Phases One and Two, I recommend you do so before looking over this post. You can read them here and here.

Here were are folks. Avengers: Infinity War releases on April 27th, three weeks from now. I just saw Black Panther a second time and it’s crazy to think that we’re almost at the main event. We’re in a unique position with Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in that it’s not done yet. Even after Infinity War releases, there’s still three more films, including another Avengers film to wrap it all up. As such, I’ve had to base the See it or Skip it verdict on predictions based on Infinity War‘s marketing and certain details found in the films, so I’m sure I’ll have to come back and update this post at some point.

It’s been a lot of fun writing this up and I thank you all for humoring me by reading it. Let’s not waste anymore time; there’s movie watching to be done! Here are the films in Phase Three (so far) that you must see.

 

Captain America: Civil War

civil war

Synopsis: The UN has decided that the Avengers and all other superpowered beings must be put under control by a special panel following the destruction seen in previous films. Tony Stark supports this while Steve Rodgers opposes, and the Avengers fraction as a result.

Importance to the MCU: This movie is as much an Avengers film as it is a Captain America film. It changes the status quo of the MCU more so than any film before it and sets up the whole arc for Phase Three. It also follows through on the Winter Soldier storyline from the previous Captain America film, which is very important not only for Cap himself, but for many other characters as well. And speaking of characters, this movie is full of them, including a few newcomers: T’Challa a.k.a. Black Panther and Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man. Believe me, seeing all these character on screen at once is one of the most exciting and awesome things you’ll see in these films.

Verdict: See it. If you can only watch one of the Phase Three films before Infinity War, it better be this one.

 

Doctor Strange

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Synopsis: When neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) injures his hands in a car wreck, he goes on a journey of healing that leads him to the Ancient One, who trains him in the mystic arts.

Importance to the MCU: Doctor Strange opens the door to some crazy shit. Magic and alternate dimensions is something we’ve yet to see at this point, and the list of implications of what it means for MCU is endless. There’s also another Infinity Stone present in the film. With all that said, it’s too early to tell just how important Strange will be in Infinity War. It’s certainly a good movie though.

Verdict: I’m going with either or on this oneI would recommend erring on the side of caution and watching it, but if you’re looking to cut out as few movies as possible, I have a feeling you’ll be okay. Plus, Strange makes an appearance in a later film you’ll find below.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

guardians of the galaxy 2

Synopsis: The Guardians have a lot on their plate, but chief among them is meeting a man named Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter Quill’s long lost father.

Importance to the MCU: Vol. 2 is just as good as the first film and it resolves and develops several character arcs. However, I don’t see it as being an essential watch. There’s not much that happens that I consider a need-to-know thing. Obviously if you loved the first movie you’re gonna want to watch it, but if you’re just trying to trim down your watchlist, you’ll be fine without it.

Verdict: Skip it unless you really liked the first film and want more.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming

homecoming

Synopsis: Following the events of Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is eager to move onto bigger things outside of the petty crimes of New York City. That bigger thing comes in the form of Adrian Toomes a.k.a. Vulture (Michael Keaton).

Importance to the MCU: Here’s another film more about character development. Seeing Peter struggle with not being an Avenger is a fun arc to watch unfold and he bumps heads with Tony Stark on more than one occasion. Vulture is also one of the better villains the MCU has to offer, no small thanks to Keaton. All that said, this film isn’t that important. You know who Spider-Man is and what he can do, so unless you’re a big fan you’re not missing a lot here.

Verdict: A fun film, but it’s a skip unless you’re a big Spidey fan.

 

Thor: Ragnarok

thor

Synopsis: When Hela, Goddess of Death, takes over Asgard, Thor must fight his way back to his home and put a stop to her reign. He’ll have to endure several challenges first, including an encounter with The Hulk.

Importance to the MCU: It’s the best Thor film first of all. It’s also important for the arcs of several characters including Thor himself, Loki, and Bruce Banner/The Hulk. Most importantly, it leads directly into Infinity War, so you’re going to want to watch this to know what’s going on.

Verdict: See it.

 

Black Panther

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Synopsis: T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther, assumes the mantle of King of Wakanda following the events of Captain America: Civil War. Not everything thinks he deserves the title, especially Erik Killmonger. T’Challa must face his new adversary and decide how he will use his power to help the world.

Importance to the MCU: Wakanda has been hinted at as far back as Avengers: Age of Ultron. The implications of such a technological utopia means a lot could happen in the MCU’s future. It’s also clear that Black Panther is going to be an even more prominent hero in future films. As far as Infinity War goes, Wakanda has been featured heavily in the film’s marketing, so you’ll want to be familiar with the world and its characters.

Verdict: See it. It’s still in theaters as of today, April 6th. However, if you’re not going to get the chance or you just don’t want to for some reason, that doesn’t mean you’ll be completely lost in Infinity War. You might just need someone to help fill in the gaps for you.

 

Avengers: Infinity War

avengers-infinity-war-imax-720x1045

Synopsis: Thanos, the Mad Titan, seeks to gather the Infinity Stones and bring untold destruction upon the universe. Heroes from all corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe must come together to stop him.

Importance to the MCU: Do I even need to tell how how important this film is going to be? It’s the whole reason I’ve been writing these guides the past five months or so. The only film that’s going to be more important than this film is the next Avengers film coming in 2019.

Verdict: See it. Obviously.

Now, let’s take a final look at all the films that I’ve dubbed as essential viewing for Infinity War:

Iron Man
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy (at some point before Infinity War)
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America: Civil War
Thor: Ragnorok
Black Panther

Nine films out of a total eighteen. Now, hopefully you’ve watched at least a few of these movies by now. If not, well, you still have time to plow through them all.

Aaaaand that’s it! The See it or Skip it guide is complete! Well, at least for now. There are three more films in Phase Three, including another Avengers film that will very likely mark the end of an era. For reference, here are the rest of the films that will round of Phase Three of the MCU:

Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6th 2018)
Captain Marvel (March 8th 2019)
Untitled Avengers Film (May 3 2019)

I’ll be sure to update the guide with the release of each film. Until then, enjoy your movie marathon! Expect to see my thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War soon!

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The Good Bits: February 2018

I didn’t get into as much music as I wanted to in February. I also was expecting to write about the film Annihilation, but that ended up being disappointing to say the least. Still, what I did experience in February was excellent.

Music:

Ben Prunty, Into The Breach Soundtrack (Self-Released)

into the breach

Few things make me happier than listening to video game music except perhaps listening to Ben Prunty’s video game music. Of course, Prunty is more than just a video game composer; he’s proven himself to be a master of electronic music whether it’s the infectious tunes from his brilliant album Color Sky or the spacey soundtrack to FTL: Faster Than Light. Bright chiptunes and soothing atmospheric passages are two of Prunty’s trademarks, but on his newest work for Into The Breach, Prunty goes for a soundtrack that is as invigorating as it is serene.

For context, the video game Into The Breach is a turn based strategy game that centers on humanity fighting a race of giant monsters called the Vek. Naturally, humanity resorts to building mechs in order to combat the Vek (because what else would we do?). You would then expect Prunty’s soundtrack to be appropriately epic in order get you pumped up for some robot versus monster action, which it does. The track “Old War Machines” is indicative of the album’s overall tone: somewhere halfway between the guitar driven theme to Pacific Rim and the more understated tracks found in BorderlandsGuitar and strings have a larger presence on this album compared to Prunty’s other work and they blend with the rest of the electronic goodness so very well, resulting in music that is somehow fitting for both a workout playlist and a writing playlist. If you know me, you know do a whole lot of the latter, and I always do it while listening to Prunty’s music. The inclusion of Into the Breach brings a fresh, engrossing sound to Prunty’s exceptional discography. You don’t even have to play the game to enjoy it (I haven’t, as the game is not out on Mac yet). Do yourself a favor and put this on the next time you’re just sitting at the computer doing work. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Film:

Black Panther

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Black Panther is the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There’s so much good in this film that I’m hard pressed to find any noteworthy flaws. Granted, I’m still caught up in the hype, but I’m positive that this film is still going to be ranked among the best in the franchise years from now. Ryan Coogler (one of the best directors we have right now) has delivered more than just another superhero film. Black Panther feels fresh and introduces a rich new world full of characters that are going to quickly become fan favorites.

It’s worth noting that, as opposed to other Marvel films, you don’t really need to watch any prior films in the MCU to get into Black Panther. T’Challa a.k.a. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) made his debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, but the events related to his character in that film are summed up right at the start of the film. You can jump right in, and when you do you’ll get to experience the wonder that is Wakanda, a technological utopia hidden away from the rest of the world. T’Challa is king of the country. He’s also basically African Batman and James Bond rolled into one. We not only get to see all kinds of fascinating gadgets and technologies, but we also get to see the different tribes, rituals, and experiences in Wakandan culture. It all feels like it could be real, possessing more wonder and depth than anything Asgard ever offered (sorry, Thor).

While the story primarily focuses on T’Challa and his new position as king, the rest of the cast gets plenty of attention. There’s Nakia, (Lupita Nyong’o), his former lover and a spy for Wakanda; Okoye, head of a spear-wielding all-female group of bodyguards; Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister and genius who could give Tony Stark a run for his money; Everett Ross, a CIA agent (and one of two white guys in the main cast) is played by the always entertaining Martin Freeman. Of course, the standout here is Michael B. Jordan playing the villain Kilmonger, who sidesteps the throwaway villain issue found in so many other Marvel films. He’s not just bad for the sake of it; he has a backstory that is central to the film’s man plot and causes a lot of T’Challa’s internal and external conflict. You can’t help but sympathize with him.

The cultural impact of this movie can’t be understated either. I’ve talked with many of my coworkers who either don’t go to the movies much or else don’t watch superhero movies, but went to see Black Panther and enjoyed the hell out of it. And that just makes me feel good, knowing that a film like this is more than just another superhero flick for many people for many reasons.

 

Books:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

ready player one

Depending on who you ask, Ready Player One, is either an amazing cornucopia of 80’s nostalgia and general nerdom or an empty farce overly reliant on references and boring clichés. I blazed right through the book, and while I don’t think it’s the best book ever I certainly found it entertaining. If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s something like a cross between Willa Wonka and The Matrix. A video game designer dies and leaves his fortune and control over the virtual online world known as the OASIS to whoever can complete a series of challenges. The main character is named Wade Watts, a poor nerd living in a trailer park who only finds solace from the shitty real world in the OASIS.

I don’t think the references themselves are an issue unless you’re really unfamiliar with video games and the 80’s. Then again, you probably wouldn’t be reading this book if you weren’t into that stuff in the first place. I legitimately laughed out loud and yelled “That’s so fucking cool!” during certain parts of the book, such as a sequence when Wade has to complete a challenge where he plays the main part in a classic 80’s film (won’t say which) and has to deliver each line and action verbatim. It’s all harmless fun. Really, if I’m going to fault the book’s nostalgic nature for anything, it’s that it sometimes takes precedent over the world building and characters. Ready Player One‘s vision of Earth in 2045 is as intriguing as it is bleak, but it always feels like were just skimming its surface when something interesting comes along. This goes for the OASIS too; it’s constantly referred to as an ever-expanding universe full of every pop culture thing ever, but it all boils down to a few throwaway references or concepts we don’t actually get to see. I’m being told it’s amazing rather than feeling like it’s amazing. As for the characters themselves, they’re all kind of by the numbers: Wade is a geeky sort of Charlie Bucket-type who regularly spills his guts about a girl on the Internet he has a crush on; said girl is a hardass when she first meets Wade and is way more badass than he is; the villain is just evil and nothing else. They don’t harm the book exactly, but towards the end some of these characters started grating on me. Also, the ending is kind of abrupt. There’s no follow through, and while it’s not exactly sequal bait it’s clear that Cline is intending on carrying the conflict over into another book.

Despite these short-comings, reading Ready Player One has made me excited for the film mainly because *gasp!* I think it has the potential to be a better story! Yeah, I know, books and films are two different mediums and can’t always be compared on a 1:1 ratio, but if anyone can punch up the story and characters, it’s Steven Spielberg. You’ll find my thoughts on the movie next month after it releases.

 

Currently Reading:

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Authority

Annihilation, the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, was a weird, engrossing, Lovecraftian horror novel that I couldn’t put down. Now I’m finally getting around to book two, Authority, which I learned beforehand is a very different book compared to its predecessor. I have about 100 pages left to go and…I’m not sure how I feel about it. It certainly is different, starting with the fact we’ve switched to a third person perspective with a new protagonist. It’s also less of a horror novel and more of a mystery, which isn’t bad at all. It’s still strange and VanderMeer’s writing is still full of intricate, vivid description, making Control’s (that’s the main character’s name) head a fascinating place to be. But at times, especially this far in, the weirdness almost feels like overload. By that I mean that the writing and atmosphere feels so weird and so detached from reality that none of the actual weird shit feels weird enough. If that makes sense. I won’t say more than that until I’ve finished it.

 

Currently Watching:

The Defenders

Actually, I finished this, but I wanted to just give my two cents. Great little series, maybe a bit too short, some good payoff and resolution of some plot threads. Seeing everyone team up is great and even though no one seem confident a second season will happen, I hope there is one

Sons of Anarchy (Season 6)

Man, this season is starting out as a drag. It’s not bad exactly, but I just don’t like anyone on this show anymore except maybe Chibs.

 

Currently Playing:

Dishonored 2 (Xbox One)

Finally going to try and finish this damn game.

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