August was pretty stuffed, so much so that I opted not to include a few things in this edition of The Good Bits simply because 1) I’m lazy, and 2) you probably don’t have that kind of time. I might be a little late in sharing my thoughts on hot topic debates like Suicide Squad but screw it; one more opinion couldn’t hurt, right?
Harakiri for the Sky, III: Trauma (Art of Propaganda)
Released: July 22nd, 2016
One of my favorite bands, Agalloch, sadly broke up a few months ago, so until the former members form new groups, I needed to find a similar band to hold me over. Luckily, Harakiri for the Sky just dropped their third album and after a few glowing endorsements I gave it a listen. I was happy to find that it scratched the Agalloch itch without the band sounding just like them. HFTS has the atmospheric black metal touch of Agalloch, but with a bigger post-rock emphasis and vocals more reminiscent of bands like Gojira. The only nitpick some may have with the album is that it’s a bit longer than you’d typically expect as all the songs range from 8-11 minutes, clocking in a total listening time of 75 minutes. “Funeral Dreams” is a favorite of mine in particular, so give that a listen if you want to test the waters.
Black Crown Initiate, Selves We Cannot Forgive (eOne)
Released: July 22nd 2016
Black Crown Initiate rose to prominence fairly quickly, bursting onto the metal scene with their EP Song of the Crippled Bull, which I still favored even after the release of their solid debut album. Sophomore slump is a very real danger when bands have a great debut, but Black Crown Initiate side step it with a second album that delves a little more into the progressive side of their progressive death metal sound yet stays in line with the style they’ve become known for. The technical wizardry is still there, but it shares the space with more melody than the band has used before, which prevents the band from falling into the borefest trap technical bands fall into as they constantly try to top how heavy and fast they can play. Instead, we get more clean vocals and even some piano, giving the songs more texture than on the band’s debut album. “Matriarch” is a great example of the band’s direction on this album.
Howling Giant, Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 1 (Self-Released)
Released: August 12, 2016
Finally, a Nashville metal band I can write about! Howling Giant are just starting out, but they’re already in my good graces with their EP Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 1. Apart from being an awesome title with equally awesome album art, Howling Giant sit comfortably in the stoner rock/metal genre, but they’re far from being a Sabbath worship rehash. They’ve got fuzzy, groovy riffs and catchy songwriting that keeps things fun. I’m eager to see where they go from here and to catch them at a show sometime. Give “Mothership” a listen if you want to give the band a try.
Suicide Squad (Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margo Robbie)
Director: David Ayer
Released: August 1st, 2016
Of all the ways the DCEU could have proceeded after Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad was certainly an odd direction. If you don’t know, the Suicide Squad is made up of a bunch of different villains (mostly Batman related) and put together by the government because they’re bad and therefore expendable. Basically, imagine if Marvel had gone for Guardians of the Galaxy in their first phase before making a Captain America or Thor film and that’s the level of bizarre we’re starting on. But hey, GotG was great, right? And doing a Suicide Squad movie would certainly shake things up and show that Warner Bros. weren’t concerned with following the Marvel template. Plus, Margo Robbie as Harley Quinn? Yes please and thank you. So how did this gamble pan out? Well, if you ask most people (namely film critics), it went as badly as BvS (assuming you thought it was bad), and continues the DCEU’s streak of bad films. Me on the other hand? I had a blast!
Alright, I’ll be the first to tell you that not everything in this movie works. The first act is weak and disjointed and the plot set up is rushed so we can get Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn, and the rest of the squad into a city on fire to shoot at things. Also, Jared Leto’s Joker gets maybe ten minutes of screen time, so I’m still undecided on what I think of him because we didn’t get nearly as much of him as the trailers promised. But apart from that? This is the most fun I’ve had watching Will Smith in years and Margo Robbie is pitch perfect as Harley, pulling off the crazy yet giving a subtle portrayal of her tragic loyalty to Mr. J. Also, Viola Davis is a badass bitch as Amanda Waller. She was probably my favorite part of the movie overall. Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) makes a unique villain too, even if her origin and motivations are rushed.
It’s not a perfect movie, and the rumor is that (yet again) lots of footage was cut from the film that could have made it better. I would love to see an extended cut that likely improves over the original. Maybe then, between that and the BvS extended cut (more on that below), Warner Bros. will let the directors who know what they’re doing have more control over their own films. But, as it stands, it’s far from the colossal turd everyone makes it out to be. I give the same advice as I did with BvS: see it and don’t write it off before you’ve even set foot in the theater.
Sausage Party (Seth Rogan, Kirsten Wiig)
Directors: Conrad Vernon, Greg Tiernan
Released: August 12th, 2016
Sausage Party is raunchy, offensive, and occasionally tasteless. So it’s hilarious. The computer animated film about sentient grocery store foods featuring the voices of Seth Rogan and the usual suspects (Jonah Hill, James Franco, etc.) pretty much hits all the check points when it comes to jokes about sex, race, and all the other taboos. It’s an equal opportunity offender kind of comedy, and that probably won’t gel with everyone (there are holocaust jokes in the movie). But I understand how horrible some of these jokes are, so I enjoyed whispering “Oh, god” every time the film upped the ante because, well, sometimes you have to let yourself be a terrible person and laugh at shit that normally isn’t funny. The movie does offer a sound if not obvious commentary on religion and addressing other people’s perspectives on the world, but it’s not overly preachy. It mainly focuses on a plot of food figuring out their purpose in life (sentience?) is to be consumed, which makes a fun little riff on movies like Toy Story. By the way, the end of this film has one of the most ludicrous, so-awful-but-I-can’t-look-away scenes ever put on the screen. If you’re a fan of Rogan and company, you’ll feel right at home.
The Gift (Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton)
Director: Joel Edgerton
Released: August 7th 2015
I’ve sang the praises of quite a few horror films on here, but The Gift is a little different. We’re on the psychological thriller side now, and at first it doesn’t look like there’s anything special. Simon (Bateman) and Robyn (Hall) move into a new home and the former inadvertently reconnects with Edgerton’s character Gordon, a former classmate from high school. He’s…a little awkward, and apparently came by the moniker “Gordo the Weirdo” in school. So when Simon tries to break off Gordon’s bid for friendship, things start getting weird and creepy.
There’s some things you can call right out of the gate, such as Simon and Gordon having a history that may or may not have involved bullying, but there’s a lot more to it than that. The film leads you by the nose in one direction but tinkers with the plot and characters behind the scenes, and you won’t figure stuff out until just before they happen, making for a very unnerving but satisfying experience. And when I say unnerving, I mean this movie does horror better than some actual horror movies. I’d put Edgerton’s Gordo in a similar league as Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction in terms of how on edge their characters keep you. I don’t want to say much more for fear of spoilers, but damn, this one is an under the radar hit.
Don’t Think Twice (Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Kay)
Director: Mike Birbiglia
Released: July 22, 2016
When comedy films also try to deliver heartfelt moments, it sometimes derails everything and screws with the tone completely (looking at you Click). However, Don’t Think Twice manages to hit all the right beats in this film about an improv comedy trope in NYC. When one of the troupe members ends up moving into the big leagues of comedy thus leaving his friends to flounder, the film explores a question often discussed in today’s society: how can you pursue your passion while also making a living? Each of the characters feels very human with clearly established strengths and weaknesses that are naturally introduced and eventually come to a head when things get heated towards the end. It’s pretty damn funny to boot, especially when the characters are just bantering with each other in a manner that feels spontaneous (which, I guess, is pretty appropriate in a movie about improv). You might not have heard about this one or seen the preview in theaters, but if you can find a theater playing it (or you just wait until it’s on Netflix), you’ll be in for a fun evening.
(Side note: another local Nashville band, ELEL, makes an appearance in the film! Woo hoo!)
Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Ultimate Edition)(Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot)
(Director: Zack Snyder)
Released: July 19, 2016
I know I’ve reviewed this film already, but I felt the need to talk about it again to establish my addition thoughts on the film after watching the complete 3 hour extended cut. You might remember that I enjoyed the movie when it was first released and defended the harsh criticisms leveled against it. Six months later, my opinion hasn’t changed. In fact, I love the film more now than I did initially. The Ultimate Edition doesn’t necessarily add any mind-blowing new scenes, but rather fills in the blanks of the theatrical cut, resulting in better pacing and fixing one or two plot holes. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch this version. If you saw the original and didn’t like it, this version probably won’t change your mind. But make no mistake: this is the definitive version and the one that should have been released in theaters even with an R rating (which it really only earns because of one or two F-bombs). Maybe after the success of DVD sales Warner Bros. will do the same with Suicide Squad and take notes on trusting directors and letting them keep their vision.
Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
I’m about 400 pages into this 1300 page tome, which is a much faster reading pace compared to the first volume now that I’m familiar with the world and characters. Sanderson really has something exciting here, even more so than his Mistborn trilogy that I so often praise. I’m sure I’ll still be reading this for another month or so, but that’s just fine with me.