As I write this, I am also coming up with a post for the Best Bits of 2016, which, admittedly, is going to overshadow this one a bit. Still, I can’t leave December out of the mix, especially since the most hyped-up movie of the year came out (and I’m not talking about Sing, though it was a fun movie).
Hyperion, Seraphical Euphony (Black Lion)
Released: February 6th 2016
Every year, before I put together a list of my favorite albums, I embark on a search for any albums that I missed during the year in an effort to weed out any hidden gems. There’s always at least one every year, and this year it came in the form of the debut album from Swedish blackened death metal band Hyperion. Nowadays, I tend to lean toward slow, progressive kind of bands and it takes a really kickass album to hook me back into something fast, shreddy, and deadly. Hyperion does just that with incredibly fast riffs and raspy vocals, but they aren’t afraid to get melodic, something I always appreciate. It’s not only one of the best debut albums of the year, but one of my favorites overall. I haven’t spent as much time with it as other albums from this past year, but I spent enough time to know Hyperion are worth keeping on the radar.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Released: December 16th 2016
I honestly wasn’t sure if I was ready for a new Star Wars film. Don’t get me wrong, I love Star Wars and was certainly excited for Rogue One, but knowing this was officially the start of a new movie every year made me wonder if it was going to be too much too soon. Having two or three Marvel movies out is one thing because they usually span different types of genres depending on which hero is up front. But a new entry for the biggest blockbuster franchise every year? Sounds too good to be true. And while there may come a day when a new Star Wars film comes out and ends up being a dud or people begin to feel fatigued by having a new one every year, it is not this day. Rogue One is a wonderful first entry in the Star Wars anthology series, hauling in just enough satisfying fan service without leaning on it while remaining a strong film in its own right.
FYI: I’m going to do my best to keep this spoiler free even though most of you have seen it at this point
For some people, Rogue One is a confusing follow-up to The Force Awakens in that it features none of those characters and is in fact set just before A New Hope, telling the story of how the Rebellion stole the plans to the Death Star. Here’s one thing to keep in mind about Rogue One: this is not your typical Star Wars movie. It’s not even like The Force Awakens. This is, in essence, a war movie with a dash of a heist plot telling the story of how the Rebel Alliance stole the plans to the Death Star. Jyn Erso (Jones) leads a ragtag group in search of her father, Galen, a scientist and key player in building the superweapon. The titular Rogue One is composed of a few archetypes such as a snarky droid, hotshot Captain, and a deadly spiritual fighter to name a few. They may sound one note, but they’re certainly fun to be around. Once again, this isn’t a hero’s journey where we see several characters growing and changing. These are the small timers, the moving gears of war that make the big moments for bigger characters possible.
On the other side of the table is Director Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn), Grand Moff Tarkin (featuring a digitally resurrected Peter Cushing) and, the one and only, Darth Vader. While Krennic is interesting to watch, he does get a bit overshadowed by his peers. Seeing Peter Cushing onscreen again is going to be hit or miss depending on how creepy you think the CGI is. Personally, I enjoyed it and think it contributes to the film’s authenticity, though I wouldn’t want to see a whole movie led by something like that. Vader, of course, is awesome even with his expectedly small onscreen time, and is a big contributor to making the last ten minutes some of the best in Star Wars history.
I’m beginning to realize there’s way too much to cover to cover for this movie, and I like to keep things brief, so I’ll try to narrow it down: Rogue One is excellently crafted to fit the aesthetic of A New Hope and will certainly tick all the nostalgic boxes. That said, Gareth Edwards’ direction makes the film feel different from other films, rather than trying to stick to the template as The Force Awakens did. It’s fresh and familiar, and while some fans might not like the dark tones and deviations, I think there’s plenty of Star Wars magic in this film, proving that we can have more films that don’t rely on the Skywalker’s or Jedi. It’s a worth addition to the saga and I can’t wait to see it again.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell)
Director: David Yates
Released: November 18, 2016
I’m a little late with this one since it came out in November, but better late than never. Here we have yet another prequel set in the universe of one of the biggest Hollywood franchises, the difference being that Fantastic Beasts is set to kick off a series of five films. Now, I consider myself a relatively big Harry Potter fan; not quite a fanatic like I am with Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings, but I grew up reading HP and they had a pretty big impact on my reading tastes as well as my writing. That being said, the idea that we’re getting four more of these movies feels like…a lot? Not that I’m judging the film on its future plans, but I’m skeptical of the series’ longevity especially where there are several other Potterverse stories that can be told (feel-good Quidditch movie anyone?). Regardless, Fantastic Beasts is a dazzling, surprisingly dark, stuffed first entry to the proposed series.
I have to give big ups to the film for being a well done prequel. Sure, you get some name drops like Dumbledore or Hogwarts, but it manages to stand on its own merits without heavy reliance on what fans already know. The cast is entertaining; Eddie Redmayne was born to play a wizard and Dan Fogler stands out as a surprisingly entertaining muggle who gets dragged into the whole mess. Ezra Miller’s turn as a deeply disturbed teenage boy is some of the best acting in the film and is the centerpiece of the film’s aforementioned dark tone. I know I keep saying “dark” as if the original Potter films were all sunshine and farts, but there are themes and depictions in Fantastic Beasts that I wasn’t expecting, from child abuse (and I mean more so than living in a cupboard under the stairs) to capital punishment.
Visually, the movie is like someone took a dab of Tim Burton to the Wizarding World, which is neat and makes the titular beasts great fun to watch and marvel at. The 1920’s New York City setting mixes in a prohibition aesthetic with the Wizarding World to great effect, staying familiar enough to keep us grounded but giving the world a new flavor. The big sticking point for the film is plot, however, which isn’t necessarily amazing or terrible, but it’s just…a lot. A lot of characters and stories are introduced to you very quickly and certain plotlines overshadow the others whenever they mingle. I would have been perfectly fine watching Newt Scamander running around NYC recollecting his creatures, but there’s also talks of the stability between wizard and muggle relations in the US, whispers of the deeds of dark wizard Grindelwald, and numerous backstories for certain characters that are hinted at then left for another film. Now, I don’t necessarily have a hard time keeping track of multiple story arcs (I watch Game of Thrones after all), but so much is happening at the same time in this film, like a child just bursting to tell about its day and moving from one big event to the next without a breath in between. It doesn’t kill the film, but it does make me wonder if I want four more of these. Is this how other people felt while I sang the praises of the The Hobbit films ?
Potter fans will (or already do) love it. If you only saw the films and likely them, you’ll like this. Even if you’ve never delved into Harry Potter before, you may like it since it’s so far removed from the original films that you don’t require much prior knowledge. I’m questionable as to the quality of future films, but for now it’s an entertaining romp and a fun return to the world of J.K. Rowling.
Talion: Revenant by Michael A. Stackpole
I’m more than halfway through the book and it’s still good so far, though here and there I find things that aren’t quite to my taste. That said, the book is told from a first person perspective, something not often done in fantasy, and I’m enjoying the change. I’ll be done with this one by the next Good Bits.