The See It or Skip It Guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One

The Avengers: Infinity War trailer dropped last week, and it’s is set to be not only one of the biggest films of 2018, but one of the biggest superhero films ever. For the uninitiated, this film is going to bring together every major superhero introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe from the Avengers to the Guardians of the Galaxy to Spider-Man in order to fight an intergalactic being known as Thanos. The franchise has been building up to this battle ever since Thanos made a post-credit appearance at the end of the first Avengers film in 2012, so this is all a pretty big deal.

But here’s the rub: what if you’ve only watched a few of the Marvel films? Worse yet, what if you’ve never watched any of them at all? How are you going to make sense of all that Infinity War has to offer? I remember talking to a friend at work who decided to watch Captain America: Civil War after having seen only the other two Captain America films. Naturally, she was a bit confused. And it got me thinking: despite overwhelming success of the MCU, it can be hard for the uninitiated to just dive into it when so many of the films ask the audience to call upon events of something that happened five or six films ago. Plus, not everyone has the time or desire to slough through (counts fingers) eighteen films before Infinity War releases.

So I thought I’d make a guide to help prospective viewers, be they lost or new, fast-track the MCU by explaining which films to see and which films to skip. Keep in mind, this list isn’t just based on if the film is good or not (though that’s certainly a factor). It sorts out which films are vital for understanding big crossover events like Infinity War and which films can be skipped while missing only minor events so that the viewer doesn’t have to watch eighteen different films.

To prevent information overload, I’ll start with Phase One, then make posts for the other Phases as we get closer to Infinity War.

Oh, and always remember to watch the credits all the way to the end!

Iron Man

iron man

Synopsis: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), head of Stark Industries, is taken prisoner by a terrorist group who force him to build a weapon for them. Instead, he builds a suit that can blow stuff up very, very well.

Importance to the MCU: This film kicked off the MCU, so obviously it’s pretty important. Tony Stark is an Avenger and makes the most film appearances out of any other character in the MCU. The film also introduces a few important reoccurring characters such as love interest Pepper Pots (Gwyneth Paltrow), the AI known as J.A.R.V.I.S. (Paul Bettany), and (briefly) Nick Fury, director of S.H.E.I.L.D. (Samuel L. Jackson).

Verdict:See it. It’s a great movie and it’s the first of many, so why wouldn’t you?

The Incredible Hulk

Incredible_Hulk_Poster

Synopsis: Bruce Banner accidentally exposes himself to gamma radiation and becomes the Hulk. Naturally, the military decides it has to kill him even while Banner seeks a way to cure himself.

Importance to the MCU: Minimal. Most people know the Hulk is and what his schtick is by now, so you’re not going to be lost in futures films. Only one other character apart from Banner appears again in a future film, but he’s not important enough that you have to see this. Plus, Mark Ruffalo ends up replacing Edward Norton in The Avengers anyway. Tony Stark makes a post-credit appearance, but you can look that up on Youtube if you really want to.

Verdict:Skip it. It’s not a bad movie, but unless you really love the Hulk, it’s not necessary.

Iron Man 2

iron man 2

Synopsis: Tony Stark faces several challenges in this sequel including: 1) a decline in health, 2) business rivals, and 3) Mickey Rourke.

Importance to the MCU: Iron Man 2 is not looked upon favorably compared to its predecessor, but it does introduce two other key players in the MCU: Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow and James “Rhodey” Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine (yes, I know he was in the first film, but he was recast, so this is more or less a re-introdcution). That being said, these characters get enough screentime elsewhere that seeing them in this film isn’t essential.

Verdict: If you really love Iron Man or want to see Black Widow’s debut, you can certainly watch this film. Overall, however, it’s a skip.

Thor

thor

Synopsis: As punishment for messing with the Frost Giants, Thor, crown prince of Asgard, is sent down to Earth stripped of his godly powers and his hammer. Meanwhile, his brother, Loki, is making plans to take over Asgard.

Importance to the MCU: This is kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, Thor is an Avenger and his brother Loki is the main villain of The Avengers, so their relationship is pretty important. Other characters such as Odin (played by Anthony Hopkins) are important as well and the world of Asgard is fun to look at. The plot is so so, however, and not terribly important in leading up to The Avengers.

Verdict:Either or. If you’d like more character background, think you’ll get confused, or you just have heart-eyes for Chris Hemsworth and/or Tom Hiddleston, I say see it. On the other hand, if you’re really eager just to get to The Avengers, I’d say you can skip this film. Both Thor and Loki are introduced in The Avengers in such a way that you get an idea of who they are and what they’re about without seeing this film.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain-America-The-First-Avenger

Synopsis: Set in 1942, Steve Rogers is a kid from Brooklyn who wants to go fight in the war. Problem is, he’s got a big heart in a little bitty body. But when he’s selected for a super-soldier experiment, he gets ripped enough to do battle with a group known as Hydra, headed by Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).

Importance to the MCU: This is probably the most important solo film in Phase One of the MCU. It sets up an arc for Captain America that extends through future films, all the way up to 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and it features the Tesseract, the central McGuffin in The Avengers. It’s also a good movie to boot.

Verdict:See it, no question.

The Avengers

The_Avengers_(film)_poster_011

Synopsis: When Loki attempts to take over Earth, a group of heroes must stop him. These heroes are: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.

Importance to the MCU: Considering its the first big crossover event of the MCU and the whole reason every film studio is trying to make some expanded universe nowadays, I’d say the importance of The Avengers is pretty self-explanatory.

Verdict: See it. Duh.

Well, there you have it. Out of the six films in Phase One, only three of them are absolutely essential viewing: Iron ManCaptain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers. The other three are completely up to you. Next, I’ll sort out the Phase Two movies and, after the release of Black Panther, I’ll make a post for Phase Three ahead of the big event that is Infinity War.

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The Good Bits: October 2017

This month was heavy on the music. And the music itself was heavy.

Music:

Enslaved, E (Nuclear Blast)

enslaved

Enslaved’s brand of progressive black metal has always intrigued me. They have such a wide, diverse catalogue, as they ought to fourteen albums into their career. I first started listening to them right before 2012’s acclaimed RIITIIR released, and I had no idea where to start. I dived into a few albums that spanned the years 2003 to 2012 and caught them live while on tour for their previous album In Times. Now, with the release of E, I find myself much more familiarized with Enslaved’s penchant for experimentation while still maintaining their distinct style and sound. So can I say with certainty that this is one of their finest albums to date. The album’s six tracks are laden with atmosphere, particularly the opener “Storm Son”, kicking off with floaty, melodic guitars and keyboards that you wouldn’t normally expect from a black metal record (unless you’re familiar with the likes of Ghost Bath or Deafheaven). There’s no shortage or riffage either, especially on “Sacred Horse” and “The River’s Mouth”. If you were looking to give Enslaved a try, this album is as good a time as ever to give ’em a shot.

 

Ne Obliviscaris, Urn (Season of Mist)

ne obliviscaris

I must admit that while I enjoyed Ne Obliviscaris’s first two studio albums, I haven’t gone back to them all that much. However, with the band’s third album, I found myself ready to dive back in as soon as the record was over. The band sound as tight as ever with playing that is both technical and well-crafted. Tim Charles’ violin is still an integral part of the band’s sound, weaving melodic passages amidst the chugging guitars. “Libera (Part I) – Saturnine Spheres” and “Libera (Part II) – Ascent of Burning Moths)” make for one hell of an intro to the album, offering up an impressive slice of what more is to come on Urn. If you’ve never heard Ne Obliviscaris before, those two tracks will tell you all you need to know. The album’s centerpiece is the nearly twelve minute “Eyrie”, though it somehow feels far shorter than that. Speaking of length, the album is the shortest the band has released thus far, clocking in at 46 minutes whereas Portal of I and Citadel clocked in at 72 minutes and 48 minutes respectively. Prog metal songs tend to get overlong; it’s just the nature of the genre. But Ne Obliviscaris deliver a tight package that goes just long enough and leaves room for you to give it another go.

 

Trivium, The Sin and the Sentence (Roadrunner)

trivium

It’s been a while since I’ve loved a Trivium album. Shogun came out nearly ten years ago and is not only my favorite in their discography, but it’s one of my personal favorites of all time. Nothing they’ve release since then has really had as much of an impact on me. That’s not to say it’s all been bad or anything: In Waves is heavy as hell with some great cuts and I appreciated the experimentation of Silence in the SnowVengeance Falls had one or two good tracks, but it doesn’t rank high up there for me. Now we have The Sin and the Sentence, and I know everyone else had been saying it, but this is the best they’ve done since Shogun.

In my experience, Trivium albums tend to follow this pattern: 11-12 tracks, a really solid first half, a few tracks in the latter half that are somewhat lesser, and then a strong finale. The Sin and the Sentence pretty much follows this patter to a T, and that’s a good thing. The first five tracks are rock solid, offering up all the virtuosic instrumentation, big catchy choruses, and primal screams from Matt Heafy that you’d expect. What’s more, each track feels different from the pummeling opening of the title track to the sing-along passages of “The Heart from Your Hate.” It’s easy to pick up the lyrics, which act as the glue to stick the song in your brain, not letting go until you go listen to the album again.

 

Archspire, Relentless Mutilation (Season of Mist)

archspire

Sometimes the only thing faster than technical death metal is the rate at which it becomes boring. So many bands try to be the fastest or the most brutal and as a result you end up with music you feel like you’ve heard one too many times before. But every now and again you get a band like Archspire who put out an album that makes you go “Fuck, that’s brutal.” Relentless Mutilation is the band’s third album and it’s a fast, mean piece of work. One area of the band’s music I wasn’t expecting anything from was the vocals because, let’s face it, these days it feels like you can get any old growler or screamer to front your band. But man, Oli Peters sounds like the death metal Seji Tankian. He’s not here to let the instrumentalists have all the fun; he’s also here to throw down, and throw down he does. What’s more, over the course of the album’s crisp 30 minute runtime, I found that the songs actually sounded distinct from one another. Look, I’m really not trying to be that guy that says “all metal songs sound the same”, but my god I need at least a pinch of variety sometimes. So, thank you Archspire for giving me a reason to appreciate TDM again.

 

Film:

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049

In the age of endless remakes, revivals, overdue and unwanted sequels, the old irrelevant question still rings: “Is it as good as the original?” But if I had to answer that question regarding Blade Runner 2049, I’d say “Yes, and then some.” I loved Philip K. Dick’s Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep? but I think it affected my viewing of Blade Runner, the film upon which it is based. Don’t get me wrong I definitely like it; the sets, effects, music, and atmosphere are all top notch and still hold up very well today. But there were a lot of intriguing things found in the book that the film omitted. Plus, when you put off seeing a movie so revered for so long, I think there’s always a chance you’re going to be at least a little disappointed that it’s not the greatest film ever made, however silly that may sound. Fast forward to the Denis Villeneuve (ArrivalSicario) sequel however and I’ll tell you that this is how I wanted to feel watching Blade Runner. That may sound sacrilege but…meh.

2049 does itself a great service by not relying too heavily on its predecessor. An opening crawl tells you the basics of Blade Runner‘s world and what’s happened in the thirty years since the original. It more or less keeps you informed if you haven’t seen the first film too. Yes, Harrison Ford reprises his role as Deckard, but it’s a pretty small role compared to the screen time of other characters. Seeing the first film is recommended of course, but if you do go into this film blind, Deckard’s part of the story is really the only time you may be a bit lost. Really, if you’re going to show up for anyone, show up for Ryan Gosling because he’s brilliant in this. Everyone in this film does a great job, from Jared Leto’s suitably creepy turn as the head of the Wallace Corporation to Ana de Armas, a holographic wife for Gosling’s character.

The film’s plot is consists of Gosling’s character Office K slowly unravelling a big mystery. And I do mean slowly. If there’s anything that will turn someone off this movie, it will be the 2 hour and 43 minute runtime. It’s not a fast paced film and it takes its time letting things unfold. This is less of a film focused on plot and more about enveloping you in its world, much like the first. Speaking of the first film, 2049 definitely looks and feels like its predecessor, and theres something so enjoyable about seeing things like vehicles or buildings from the first film depicted with modern cinematography, kind of like watching the new Star Wars films. This film has lingered in my head since I saw it and I’m eager to see it again (even though I’ll probably be watching it by myself).

 

Gerald’s Game

gerald's game

I recently came to the realization that if I continue to hold off on watching a movie because I haven’t read the book first, I’m going to miss out on a lot of movies because I read damn slow. So I watched Gerald’s Game, a Netflix film based on the Stephen King novel, and I liked it even more It. It’s a basic sounding premise: a couple goes on holiday to a lake house to try and spice up their sex life which, of course, involves handcuffing the woman to the bed. Unfortunately, her husband drops dead of a heart attack, leaving her cuffed to the bed with no one around. What follows is the woman’s mind slowly unravelling, unearthing memories and thoughts long repressed, seeing frightening things that may or may not be real. It’s fantastic psychological horror and the fact that its kept to such a small scale makes it even better. Carla Guigino deserves a lot of credit for delivering a performance mostly spent in a nightie and handcuffs, and Bruce Greenwood is eerily hilarious. I don’t know how many other Stephen King adaptations Netflix is planning to churn out, but if this is the kind of stuff they’re delivering I say give us more.

 

“Shocktober” Watchlist:

Last year, my wife and I made a Halloween watchlist for October and we continued that tradition this year. Films in bold are first time viewings for me.

Pet Semetary 

Because there hasn’t been enough Stephen King in my life already.

An American Werewolf in London

A weird film, but a good weird.

 

The Conjuring 2

Still one of the best horror movies.

Coraline

Delightful.

 

The Thing

I tried to watch for the “eye glint” that supposedly tells you who is/isn’t “the thing”, but I didn’t see it.

Shaun of the Dead

Finally got the wife to watch this one.

 

The Strangers

I haven’t watch this since it came out over nine years ago. Still good.

 

Books

It by Stephen King

It_cover

For little over three months I chipped away at Stephen King’s 1,100 page horror behemoth. Somewhere in the middle I went to see the newest adaptation that is now one of the highest-grossing horror films of all-time. Now, my journey through Derry, Maine has come to a close…until the the film sequel eventually comes out. When it does come thought, it’s going to have a lot to live up to, so much so that I’m not completely sure how they’re gonna do it. But hey, I’m here to talk about the book, which is either one of Stephen King’s finest or a bloated slog depending on who you ask. Of course, I find myself in the former category.

First thing: the length. While I was reading this book, I thought of another long hefty sized book: Les Misérables. Much like in Victor Hugo’s brick-sized masterpiece, It has a large cast of characters both major and minor with backgrounds and histories that are explored in great depth. If you’ve read King before, you’re familiar with this aspect of his books. Also like Les Mis, some of those stories and histories appear to have little to no bearing on the main plot. Now, when it comes to the actual act of writing, I’m all for brevity, but I wasn’t bothered by the sheer amount of time devoted to fleshing out the two of Derry. I think I owe that to all the fantasy I read, where world building and fleshing out seemingly irrelevant persons or histories is par for course.

Next thing: the scare factor. Creep-up-your-spine atmosphere is what I’m coming in for when it comes to horror stories/novels. Let me tell you that there were three or four points in the book where I got those goosebumps and said “Oh, no” out loud. One of those times wasn’t even about Pennywise/It. It was actually about one of the childhood bullies who is, uh, incredibly fucked up for lack of an elegant term. That’s the thing that people seem to get wrong about this book, including the film: it’s not all about the creepy killer clowns. That is not the scary apart (I mean, unless you really are pants-shittingly scared of clowns, and I’m sure people are). The horror is found in being a child and not having grownups take you seriously. The horror is found in being an adult and finding that you’re no longer in your prime. The horror is forgetting. Forgetting everything.

 

Currently Reading:

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

the alloy of law

This time last year and the year before I was finishing up reading on of the tomes from Sanderson’s brilliant Stormlight Archive series. The third book is out this month, but I’ve decided to hold off on that for now and instead return to the Mistborn series that got me and many others started on Sanderson in the first place. It’s a much shorter novel than either It or the two Stormlight books, and I’m nearly halfway through already.

 

Currently Watching:

Sons of Anarchy Season 5

Two more episodes left.

Stranger Things Season 2

Well, technically I finished watching it two weeks ago but I thought I’d include it here anyway.

Outlander Season 2

I gave up on trying to read the books for this series as well. Which I think is good, because I think I enjoy the show more anyway.

 

Currently Playing:

Darkest Dungeon (PC, Mac)

My god, this game saps up so much of my time.

 

Alien: Isolation (Xbox One)

I have never been so frightened while playing a video game in my whole life and it’s great.

 

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The Good Bits: September 2017

Finally I got this edition of the Good Bits written. I’m sure you were all waiting with baited breath, clammy hands, and thoughts that I’d maybe given up writing this monthly post. And though it took me a while to get around to, I have a good reason for it, namely what I’d call the “Best Bit” of September 2017: I got married.

wedding

Two nights prior to the big day she demanded we go to a last minute showing of It, so you know she’s a keeper. I’m a happy man.

 

Music:

Paradise Lost, Medusa (Nuclear Blast)

paradiselostmedusacd

I haven’t been a fan of Paradise Lost long enough to celebrate their return to the gothic death/doom metal sound heard on their earlier releases, but I can certainly appreciate how good it is. 2015’s The Plague Within was a great album that I didn’t give my full attention to because of the sheer numbers of good releases from that time, so I’ve been giving Medusa more spins to make up for it. For me, the opener “Fearless Sky” is the best track on the album, which is a good and bad thing. On the one hand, it gets me real pumped for the rest of the album. On the other, the best part of the album is already over at the start. That’s not meant to imply that the rest of the songs are subpar or anything: “The Longest Winter” is appropriately slow and hollow like a dead winter day and “Blood and Chaos” is a fairly upbeat doom song that mixes things up just a little bit. All songs feature chunky slabs of guitar riffs and, as always, fantastic cleans and growls from frontman Nick Holmes. But man, “Fearless Sky” is certainly going to be one of my favorite songs from this year overall.

 

Film:

It

Stephen-Kings-IT-Movie-Poster

I tried to finish the book It before the movie. That didn’t happen, but that’s okay. I’d gotten far enough into the book and the movie was different enough that it didn’t really spoil much. Besides, how was I going to pass up seeing the biggest horror movie of the year? The verdict: a great horror movie, but with a few flaws I can’t help but mention.

First off, I think keeping the film focused on the the kids instead of trying to splice in the adult timeline was a good idea. There’s certain things that just don’t transition from book to screen and balancing two timelines for seven characters is one of them. The kids in question are all great with Eddie, Richie, and Bev being the standouts. Bill Skarsgård is fantastic as Pennywise and should probably get used to doing roles with a whole load of makeup because he nails it. There’s blood and gore aplenty and many good jump scares, and even when you know a scare is coming clear as day the reveal will still prompt something akin to “Holy shit!” Above all else, the film nails the feeling of unity amongst the Losers and the toxic environment that is Derry. The latter is strengthened by the film’s the depiction of adults, who are appropriately absent, unkind, or otherwise creepy.

Much as I try to separate the book from the film, there were two things I couldn’t ignore. One is the treatment of the character Mike Hanlon (he’s the black kid). In the book, he’s very into Derry’s history and, as a result, the murders commits by It, which plays a huge part in the character’s adult years. In the film, they give the role of historian to Ben Hascom (he’s the fat kid). As a result, Mike is less interesting and Ben is not shown pursuing his career as an architect. It’s an odd change that, unfortunately, brings to mind the age old issue of short-changing the black character. The second issue is simply the matter of scare factor: the film just isn’t as scary as the book. This is all a matter of preference of course: I happen to like the more atmospheric horror that is done better in books while I’m sure plenty of people will declare It to be scary as hell. But I would say the film is less of the twisted psychological horror found in the book and more a monster flick.

It might sound like I’m just being a stuck up Stephen King fanboy, and maybe I am. But despite my criticism, I assure you that this is a good horror flick and one of the better Stephen King adaptations. You’ve probably already heard people raving about it, so there’s no reason not to watch it and get your horror fix.

 

Currently Reading:

It by Stephen King

It_cover

As for the book reading department, I have maybe 400 something pages left I think? It still feels like I have so much left even though the visual thickness to the right of my bookmark says otherwise.

 

Currently Watching:

Sons of Anarchy Season 5

Outlander Season 2

 

Currently Playing:

Darkest Dungeon (Mac)

Dishonored 2 (Xbox One)

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The Good Bits: August 2017

Farewell, summer. You had some neat offerings to cap off your final month.

Music:

Steven Wilson, To The Bone (Caroline)

steven wilson

If you know me, you know I’m a fanboy for Steven Wilson. Ever since I picked up Porcupine Tree’s Fear of a Blank Planet ten some odd years ago, I’ve spend a lot of time delving into Wilson’s vast discography that spa s many groups and genres. In recent years, Wilson has been focused on his solo work, and as a result has delivered some of my very favorite albums, including 2015’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. This time around on To The Bone, the approach is more on the poppy side, inspired by the likes of 80’s artists such as Tears for Fears and Peter Gabriel. It’s a much more electronically driven album that adds a different flavor to Wilson’s unique style and, as a result, is one of my favorite albums so far this year.

Shocking, I know.

Some songs like “The Same Asylum as Before” are classic Steven Wilson fare while others like “Permanating” tread new territory. The latter song is very piano driven, and not in the slow melancholic way like you might expect but rather with backing electronic drums and bright melodies that almost made me think more of a McCartney Beatles song. There are a few duets on the album including the standout “Pariah”, which again features the fantastic Ninet Tayeb from Wilson’s previous album. Of course, it wouldn’t be Steven Wilson without at least one incredibly depressing track, and in this case that honor could go to either “Refuge” or “Detonation”. Figures that those are the top two longest tracks on the album, eh?

Time will be the true test for this album and how it stacks up to the rest of Wilson’s masterpieces, but for right now To The Bone is another surefire winner that will please long-time fans and rake in new ones.

 

Iron & Wine, Beast Epic (Sub Pop)

iron and wine

When I started really getting into Iron & Wine about two years ago, it was interesting listening to Sam Beam’s discography back-to-back and hearing his evolution from lo-fi bearded guy with a guitar on The Creek Drank the Cradle to the jazzier upbeat material on Ghost on Ghost. While some may claim Beast Epic is a return to the quiet understated nature of Beam’s earlier material, I’d only half agree; it’s certainly not as poppy as Ghost on Ghost and has a stronger acoustic focus, but I think Beast Epic is less of a return and more of a cumulation of the different sounds Beam has picked up on in his 15 year career.

Beam’s soft but soulful singing has always been one of the leading appeals of his music, but on Beast Epic it stands out even more somehow. It is both bright and hopeful on tracks like “Call It Dreaming” and quiet and soft on tracks like “Summer Clouds.” It’s like a warm blanket that wraps around you as you listen. It doesn’t hurt that some songs like the aforementioned “Call It Dreaming” and “Thomas County Law” feature catchy verses that linger in your head long after listening. Though you may return to the album to hear one or both of those songs, you’ll find yourself cycling through the whole album again, basking in the comfort that only a musician like Sam Beam can bring to the table.

 

Leprous, Malina (Inside Out)

Leprous-Malina

Leprous’ fourth album The Congregation fell into my path and was one of my dark horse hits for 2015. These guys have some serious skill with clean, impeccable musicianship and songs that are simultaneously complex yet catchy and compelling. On their fifth album Malina, that same musicianship and songwriting is back in full force. Lead vocalist/keyboardist Einar Solberg is still the band’s cornerstone as the album includes some of his best vocal performances yet, especially on the last track “The Last Milestone”, which mainly consists of his singing and strings performed by Raphael Weinroth-Browne. For me, real strings are always welcome on metal records, though they aren’t always utilized to their full potential. Thankfully they’re featured just the right amount on Malina, adding a grandiose layer in the latter half of “Stuck” and taking center stage in the aforementioned “The Last Milestone.” There are of course some tracks that are straight-up Leprous goodness such as the lead single “From The Flame” which serves as a slightly better hook for the album than opener “Bonneville.” That’s not to say that “Bonneville” is bad, only that it’s more mellow than fans and newcomers might expect. If you’re looking for a tight but accessible prog album, Malina is my pick.

 

Film:

Logan Lucky

logan lucky

If I told you that the director or the Ocean’s trilogy made a heist comedy film set in south about blue collar workers robbing a huge NASCAR event at Charlotte Motor Speedway, you’d probably think I’m getting you set up for some ridiculous Talladega Nights-esqe film. But that’s not what Logan Lucky is at all. Sure, it’s kind of funny to hear Channing Tatum, Adam Drive, and Daniel Craig nail the southern drawl, but the film isn’t actually all that jokey when it comes to its setting. Moreover, the film’s central heist plays out in a fairly straightforward manner: things go well, shit happens, things get betters, shit happens, etc. It’s actually a very sincere film that isn’t content to lean on the “big dumb rednecks” trope, and that’s what keeps it from becoming some run of the mill comedy. It’s written smart and it’s delivered smart with no small thanks to the cast’s ability to depict very human characters without any highly exaggerated eccentricities. Even Craig’s Joe Bang isn’t as super over the top as you’d expect him to be. Sure, he’s quirky, but contrary to promotion the film doesn’t rely solely on him to drive the film. Actually, Tatum’s performance is really the one that stands out for me as a divorced father recently let go from his construction job. It’s a rather understated performance where a lot goes without saying and you pick up on the story cues without the need of shoddy character exposition. It might not stand out much amongst the action and superhero movies of the summer, but it’s certainly a gem.

 

Currently Reading:

It by Stephen King

It_cover

Well, I didn’t achieve my lofty goal of finishing this before the movie came out; I’m barely at 400 pages out of like 1100. But I’m certainly having a great time reading it.

 

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The Good Bits: July 2017

This month was stuffed.

Music:

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

king gizzard

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

 

Film:

Dunkirk

Dunkirk_Film_poster

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

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

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

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming 

homecoming

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

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

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

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

 

War for the Planet of the Apes 

War_for_the_Planet_of_the_Apes_poster

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

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

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

 

Books:

Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Abhorsen

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

 

The Boy On The Bridge by M.R. Carey

the boy on the bridge

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

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

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

 

Currently Reading:

It by Stephen King

It_cover

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

 

Currently Watching:

Breaking Bad Season 1

Better late than never, right?

 

Currently Playing:

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

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The Good Bits: June 2017

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

Music:

Mutoid Man, War Moans (Sargent House)

mutoid man

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

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

 

Anathema, The Optimist (Kscope)

anathema

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

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

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

 

 

Elder, Reflections of a Floating World (Stickman)

elder

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

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

 

Film:

Wonder Woman 

Wonder_Woman_(2017_film)

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

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

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

 

 

Baby Driver

baby driver

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

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

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

 

Currently Reading:

Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Abhorsen

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

 

Currently Watching:

Sons of Anarchy Season 4

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

 

Rick and Morty Season 2

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

 

Currently Gaming:

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

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

 

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One)

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

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The Good Bits: May 2017

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

 

Music:

Artificial Language, The Observer (Self-Released)

artificial language

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

 

Film:

Alien: Covenant

AlienCovenant

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

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

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

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 

King Arthur

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

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

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

 

Books:

Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael

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

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

 

Currently Reading:

Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Abhorsen

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

 

Currently Watching:

Daredevil Season 2

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

 

American Gods

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

 

Currently Gaming:

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One)

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

 

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

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

 

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

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

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