This month was stuffed.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Murder of the Universe (ATO)
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.
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.
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
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.
Abhorsen by Garth Nix
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
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.
It by Stephen King
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.
Breaking Bad Season 1
Better late than never, right?
Uh, nothing really. I haven’t really playing much in the past month. We’ll see if I get back into it.