Category Archives: The Good Bits

The Good Bits: June 2018

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

Music:

Ghost, Prequelle

ghost

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

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

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

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

YOB, Our Raw Heart

GD30OB2-N.cdr

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

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

Zeal & Ardor, Stranger Fruit 

zeal and ardor

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

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

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

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

Khemmis, Desolation

khemmis

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

 

Film:

Hereditary

Hereditary

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

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

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

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

jurassic world 2

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

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

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

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

Incredibles 2

incredibles 2

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

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

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

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

Books:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

name of the wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Currently Reading:

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

brooklyn

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

Currently Watching:

13 Reasons Why Season 2

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

Currently Playing:

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

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

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War (Xbox One)

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

 

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The Good Bits: May 2018

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

 

Music:

Thy Catafalque, Geometria

thy catafalque

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

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

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

 

Amorphis, Queen of Time 

amorphis

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

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

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

 

Film:

Deadpool 2

deadpool-2-poster-final

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

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

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

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

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

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story 

solo

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

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

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

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

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

 

Upgrade

upgrade

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

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

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

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

 

Books: 

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

norse mythology

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

 

Currently Reading: 

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

name of the wind

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

 

 

Currently Watching:

Westworld Season 2

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

 

Friday Night Lights Season 1

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

 

Currently Playing:

Prey (Xbox One)

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

 

Fallout 4 (Xbox One)

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

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The Good Bits: April 2018

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

Music:

Sleep, The Sciences (Third Man)

Sleep

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

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

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

panopticon

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

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

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

Film:

A Quiet Place

a-quiet-place-teaser-poster

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

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

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

Avengers: Infinity War

avengers-infinity-war-imax-720x1045

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

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

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

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

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

Books:

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

edge of eternity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Currently Reading:

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

norse mythology

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

Currently Watching

Friday Night Lights (Season 1)

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

Westworld (Season 2)

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

Timeless (Season 2)

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

Currently Playing:

Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)

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

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The Good Bits: March 2018

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

Music:

Judas Priest, Firepower (Epic)

judas priest

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

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

 

Between The Buried And Me, Automata I (Sumerian)

btbam

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

 

Film:

Tomb Raider

tomb raider

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

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

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

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

 

Red Sparrow

red sparrow

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

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

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

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

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

 

Books

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Authority

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

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

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

 

Currently Reading

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

edge of eternity

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

 

Currently Watching:

Sons of Anarchy (Season 6)

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

Black Mirror

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

 

Currently Playing:

Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)

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

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The Good Bits: February 2018

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

Music:

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

into the breach

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

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

 

Film:

Black Panther

BLACK_PANTHER_thumb

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

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

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

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

 

Books:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

ready player one

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

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

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

 

Currently Reading:

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Authority

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

 

Currently Watching:

The Defenders

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

Sons of Anarchy (Season 6)

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

 

Currently Playing:

Dishonored 2 (Xbox One)

Finally going to try and finish this damn game.

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The Good Bits: January 2018

I didn’t have a ton of new stuff to write about in the first month of the new year, so you’ll on this month’s edition you’ll find write ups for an album I like but don’t love, a film from May 2017, and a book that was okay.

 

Music:

Machine Head, Catharsis (Nuclear Blast)

MachineHead-Catharsis

Machine Head’s new album Catharsis has proven to be pretty controversial. With each song that dropped before the album’s release, reactions from fans and publications ranged from confused to enraged. Now it’s here, and reviews have been brutal. Why? Well, Machine Head is one of the best modern metal bands out there. They had a hot start in the 90’s, fell to the wayside in the early 2000’s when they went nu metal, and then entered a renaissance with four brilliant albums including The Blackening, now considered a masterpiece, especially by yours truly. But all bands go through a series of highs and lows, and now that the band has released an album that can’t match up to its predecessors its been the subject of scorn. Here’s my take: no, I don’t think Catharsis is one of Machine Head’s better albums, but I also don’t think it’s the horrendous train wreck fans and reviewers are claiming it is.

I actually quite enjoyed the first couple tracks. “Volatile” gets things moving quickly and the title track is pretty good.  They all sound like Machine Head and what’s more they all sound like good Machine Head. It’s tracks like “Triple Beam” and the much derided “Bastards” that have caused so much disdain, and I can understand why. The former is a nu metally song with some good riffs, but the lyrics about a drug deal gone wrong are…kinda weird. Lyrically it’s not something you’d expect from the likes Machine Head. “Bastards”, meanwhile, is even more bizarre: a punky, Dropkick Murpheys type song that sticks out on the record like a very sore thumb. It’s not bad per se, it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the album.

Really the album’s biggest issues are cohesiveness and length. Lots of songs like those mentioned above take the tone of the album in a whole different direction. It’s also 75 minutes lone with 15 tracks, which is entirely too long for my taste. So, why’s Catharsis on The Good Bits if there’s so many flaws? Because I love Machine Head, and I had a good time listening to this album even if I don’t think it’s one of the band’s best. Time will be the true test just like everything else, but I’m still willing to give it a few more spins.

 

Film:

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

guardians of the galaxy 2

This is the first Marvel film I neglected to see in theaters since Iron Man 3but not because I didn’t want to see it. Luckily for me, it’s on Netflix, so I got to sit down and watch the sequel to the film that everyone was sure was going to Marvel first big misfire but instead turned out to be a funny stylish sci-fi romp that also repopularized Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” and other songs that came out some 35 years before Marvel’s target audience was even born. I heard that Vol. 2 was more of that same, and it is for the most part: lots of jibs between the main characters, humor that leans hard on the PG-13 rating, big colorful action sequences, and more classic music. But you know what? I think I like this film even more than the first, and I couldn’t tell you exactly why. It might be because we got to see and learn more about minor characters like Yondu and Nebula. It might because Kurt Russell is fantastic as Ego a.k.a. Peter’s father. Or maybe it’s the part where an entire planet’s armada of spaceships doubles as an arcade game. Whatever the reason, I got a little more out of this one. The first Guardians was a great surprise no doubt, but there was something about Vol. 2 that gave it a bit more heart. Maybe it’s because they used “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens at the end.

 

Books:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

the road

I have such mixed feeling on this book. On the one hand, it’s a little too prosy for my taste. On the other, the prose works for the kind of story McCarthy is trying to tell. It kind of reminded me that, as a writer, you shouldn’t be afraid to eschew conventions if it’s what your creative drive is telling you what to do. And I admire and respect all that and there are parts where the descriptions are beautifully haunting and, hey, maybe I’d like one of McCarthy’s other books better. Overall, however, I can’t say I loved it, and I think that’s less to do with novel and more with my particular reading tastes. I thought of writing about the movie above in the “Films” section (I watched it almost immediately after I finished reading) but it’s a pretty straightforward adaptation of the book. If anything, The Road taught me that you really don’t have to always read the book before the film, and that’s admittedly an important lesson.

 

Currently Reading:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

ready player one

Remember that whole bit I just spewed about not needing to read the book before seeing the film? In my defense, I’ve had Ready Player One on my reading list for quite some time and decided that since the film comes out next month it was time to grab it. And holy hell, I’ve only got about 100 pages left. This had been a really quick read so far thanks to the novel’s fast paced thriller plotting nature, ending almost every chapter with a stinger that has you itching to turn the page despite the fact that it’s 2AM. More on this one next month.

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The Best Bits: 2017 feat. Bee

Here it is: the best of the best from 2017. The list of albums is comprised of music from every genre. If you want to see the purely metal/rock top 10, you can find it on Metal Insider (spoiler: it’s not that different).

I also did things a little differently for the best films of 2017. My wife and I watched 26 new movies last year, so I decided why not reflect on all of them together? You’ll find our thoughts, both good and bad, on all those movies as well as our individual top 5 films of the year. Hope you enjoy.

Top 10 Albums of 2017:

1. Mutoid Man, War Moans (Sargent House)

mutoid man 

There was a lot of good music this year, but nothing stuck with me quite like Mutoid Man’s second album. It’s fast, catchy, and the most fun I’ve had with an album in a long time. Every track is a winner, especially the slower, sobering finale “Bandages”.

 

2. Steven Wilson, To the Bone (Caroline)

steven wilson 

I’m a Steven Wilson fanboy through and through, but album after album he’s proven there’s a reason for that. I wasn’t sure how To The Bone was going to match up to 2015’s sublime Hand. Cannot. Erase., but it’s another winner in Wilson’s stellar discography.

 

3. Trivium, The Sin and the Sentence (Roadrunner)

 trivium

I’m a long-time Trivium fan, but I’d be lying if I said I loved their more recent releases. That said, The Sin and the Sentence is everything that I ever loved about Trivium in the first place. High school Matthew would be very happy with this album.

 

4. Elder, Reflections of a Floating World (Stickman)

elder 

I tried to get into Elder a few years ago, and it didn’t take. But the strange sonic journey that is Reflection of a Floating World has me ready to take a dive into the band’s back catalogue.

 

5. Ghost Bath, Starmourner (Nuclear Blast)

ghost bath 

Moonlover was my favorite album of 2015 and has since become one of my favorite albums of all time. I wasn’t sure Starmourner was going to be a worthy followup. I’m glad I was wrong.

 

6. Ne Oblvisicaris, Urn (Season of Mist)

ne obliviscaris 

Ne Obliviscaris’s first two albums were good, but they didn’t grab me with such immediacy as Urn. I let the album repeat as soon as it was over.

 

7. Leprous, Malina (InsideOut)

Leprous-Malina

Leprous continue to release meticulously crafted music. Einar Solberg is proof that someone in metal does have the voice of an angel.

 

8. Astralia, Solstice (Aloud Music)

astralia

I discovered Astralia last year while looking for instrumental post-rock music that I could work to. Their new album is a soundscape of soothing atmospherical tracks that can take you places if you let it. “Farewell and Encounter” features a spoken word passage that makes the album that much more gorgeous.

 

 

9. Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper (Profound Lore)

bell witch 

This 83 minute single track album is the most moving piece of music I’ve listened to this year. It’s not for the impatient or faint of heart, but it is one hell of a journey.

 

 

 10. Iron & Wine, Beast Epic (Sub Pop)

iron and wine

Sam Beam has crafted another winner with Beast Epic. It’s a perfect melding of all the different sounds that Beam has weaved together on previous releases, from the upbeat poppier tracks to the contemplative acoustic passages.

 

Honorable Mentions:

Anathema, The Optimist (Kscope)
TWRP, Ladyworld (Self-Released)
Converge, The Dusk in Us (Epitaph/Deathwish)

 

Thoughts on 26 Films from 2017:

1. Fifty Shades Darker

Matt: It’s just like its predecessor: decent cinematography and soundtrack, but boring and sexless. The best thing I can say about it is that there’s only one more to suffer through.

Bee: Better than the first one, but only barely. Still holding out for them to adapt The Boss series.

 

2. Get Out

Matt: I feel like horror films are better now than they’ve ever been, and Get Out is proof of that. Take a bit of Rosemary’s Baby and mix it with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and you get one of the most important films of the year ripe with tension as the mystery unfolds.

Bee: Horror movies have always been well posed for weaving in social commentary. Get Out is nothing anyone would call subtle, but the humor and skill keep it from being too ham-fisted. Instant classic, and one I have already rewatched.

 

3. Logan

Matt: Logan marks the end of an era in bittersweet but awe-inspiring fashion. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart both showed up with some of the best acting of their careers and newcomer Dafne Keene has a bright future ahead of her. This was without a doubt my favorite superhero film of the year.

Bee: I’m going to be honest, I didn’t find the plot to be anything special, but that’s excusable because the acting in this film is nothing short of genius. Stewart is fantastic and heartwrenching as always, Jackman will make you weep for all the watered down Wolverine movies of the past, and Keene delivers nothing less than a jaw-dropping debut.

 

4. Kong: Skull Island

Matt: A campy, ridiculous, 70’s tinged monster flick might not offer much we haven’t seen before, but it’s a whole lot of fun. If watching Kong smashing monsters in the face with a tree trunk turned baseball bat isn’t enough for you, John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson should keep you entertained.

Bee: This was one of those odd movies that I walked out of the theatre loving, but the more I thought about it the more issues I had with it. It wastes its strong talent, offers little to no character development, and is utterly predictable. That being said, it’s gorgeous, and has a giant gorilla fighting…skeleton lizards? If you liked Pacific Rim you’ll likely enjoy this.

 

5. Beauty and the Beast

Matt: I can’t say that any of the Disney live-action remakes have blown me away, but they’re certainly very well crafted. Beauty in the Beast is much the same with new workings of its memorable score and an admittedly impressive rendition of the original film’s famous ballroom scene.

Bee: A perfectly passable re-envisioning of a classic. The CGI was a little over the top for my tastes, but I have a rather biased love for practical effects. Worth a watch, but in no way touches the original. Except Luke Evans, he can stay.

 

6. The Circle

Bee: The first half of the movie does a great job of setting the stage for an eerie dystopia run by Google, but ultimately fails to provide satisfying follow-through or conclusion to the themes it introduces.

Matt: The movie has a great cast and teases a decent build up, but it all ends up feeling far too on the nose. It all kind of ends with a shrug rather than a poignant statement on technology in the world today.

7. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Bee: BOY do they play fast and loose with a lot of the mythology here, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t enjoy every moment of this movie. Good world-building, great cast, beautiful sets, stellar soundtrack, and Charlie Hunnam is just fantastic.

Matt: This is not a film for Arthurian purists, but it is a solid action adventure film. Its stylish action set pieces and anachronistic tone provide enough entertainment that any moments of head scratching over the plot can be overlooked.

 

8. Alien: Covenant

Bee: Better than Prometheus. Fassbender continues to be the strongest part of this reboot. I’m hesitant to see how the series will unfold, but for now I’m still invested.

Matt: Ridley Scott proves once again that he knows how to shoot horror and how to make a movie look damn good. It’s not a particularly inspired entry; an Alien movie can only go so many ways. Still, Fassbender holds it all together with his dual performance, so it’s worth showing up for him if nothing else.

 

9. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Bee: Better than I expected. Watch this movie for the music, stunning visual effects, and ship battles versus plot and character development and you’ll have a good time.

Matt: It’s not an amazing film and it’s not as good as the first three (never saw the fourth), but it’s not bad. The Pirates movies certainly know how to deliver unique action set pieces, and this one’s full of them.

 

10. Wonder Woman

Bee: A true beacon for the genre. This movie, more so than any superhero film to date, left me feeling hopeful and inspired. Gal Gadot has proved all of my initial concerns wrong at every turn and I couldn’t be happier.

Matt: It’s been long overdue, but a Wonder Woman film is finally here and it delivers on every level. The “No Man’s Land” scene will go down as one of the most iconic superhero movie moments in history, not least of all because it represents what we all want from a hero like Diana: hope in the face of overwhelming odds and the resilience to overcome them.

 

11. The Big Sick

Matt: A genuinely hilarious romantic comedy that manages to touch on many different subjects surrounding family, race, and cultural expectations. Kumail Nanjiani is brilliant and delivers a warm balance of laughs as well as heart.

Bee: Heartfelt, hilarious, and honest; this is my kind of comedy. A romantic comedy that is actually grounded in reality, and for all its dramatics feels genuinely relatable. I can only hope that the success of this film leads to more of this kind in the future.

 

12. Baby Driver

Matt: The best action film of the year bar none. Director Edgar Wright has another winner in his already stellar filmography. Featuring slick editing, a killer soundtrack, and some of the best car stunts you’ll ever see, Baby Driver is high-octane action at its finest.

Bee: A classic example of the plot summary is not doing the movie justice. More character driven than a heist movie, more emotionally grounded than a car chase movie, more glued-to-your-seat than a drama, this movie hits it out of the park any way you look at it. My pick for best of 2017.

 

13. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Matt: Spider-Man’s in the MCU, and while the idea of rebooting the character again after five years may give cause for eye-rolling, don’t be fooled. This is a light-hearted and funny superhero film that captures what Peter Parker and Spidey are all about. Plus, Michael Keaton absolutely steals the show as the villain Vulture.

Bee: As a card carrying member of the Toby Maguire is the best Spiderman club, this wasn’t half bad. Holland more than carries the physical requirements of the role and, while his Spidey currently lacks some of the characteristic snark, it’s a refreshing take on the role. A fresh take on both Aunt May and MJ were welcome shake-ups, and Keaton’s Vulture is one of the most engaging Marvel villains in recent memory.

 

14. War for the Planet of the Apes

Bee: Not my personal favorite out of the three, but an ultimately satisfying and well orchestrated conclusion to a truly magnificent trilogy. If you are at all a fan of visual effects, these movies are a must.

Matt: The conclusion to the Apes reboot trilogy manages to sidestep the “underwhelming third movie” curse. The mo-cap performances, led by Andy Serkis, are as captivating as ever and Matt Reeves’s direction is masterful.

 

15. Dunkirk

Matt: Christopher Nolan delivers yet another winner in this trim, tense World War II film. The driving focus on survival keeps you locked in from the get-go and even though the film’s subject involves defeat it doesn’t miss the chance to feel inspired by the time the credits roll.

Bee: Now I’m certainly not what anyone would call a Nolan fan-boy but the man knows how to tell a story. In an age where violence and shock value are used as selling points, he proves you don’t need copious amounts of blood to tell a gripping war story. Tense, well-paced, with just the right balance of emotion, I’ll have to admit Nolan earned his praise for this one.

 

16. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Matt: The plot of the film doesn’t offer up anything spectacular, but the prologue and opening chase sequence are some of the best and most entertaining use of special effects I’ve seen this year.

Bee: Bland plot but goodness this movie is pretty and fun. Great special effects, gloriously extravagant chase scenes, and Rihanna as a morphing space blob burlesque dancer. What’s not to love?  

 

17. The Dark Tower

Bee: Out of all the Dark Tower installments “The Gunslinger,” which provides most of the material for this movie, should have been the easiest to adapt. Instead it’s a hard-to-follow mess which unacceptably alters the core of its main characters. Just read the book.

Matt: I’ve waited a long time for this film. While it’s great seeing Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey bring two of Stephen King’s most famous characters to life, The Dark Tower is a drab, soulless action film. If they try adapting this again, I hope lessons will be learned.

 

18. Logan Lucky

Matt: I can’t tell you how much this movie surprised me in all right ways. It steeps itself in southern culture, particularly NASCAR, but leans on smart writing and intriguing characters rather than relying on the overdone self-parody we’re so used to seeing. Plus, Daniel Craig steals the show with one of his best roles yet.

Bee: I never would have expected a comedy-heist movie centered on blue collar Southerners and NASCAR to be one of my top movies of the year but here we are. Surprisingly subtle acting paired with a tight plot and genuinely interesting characters make for a refreshing and enjoyable view.

 

19. It

Matt: It is a better horror film than it is an adaptation; it’s a great fun to watch, but some changes were made that left me scratching my head. Still, the kids are all great and the camaraderie built between them is well depicted. This is probably the best you could do when adapting a book as long and as detailed as It.

Bee: Much more a coming of age film and much less a horror film, but not in a bad way. The kids are all fantastic, Bill Skarsgard is horrifyingly mesmerizing as Pennywise, and I can’t wait for the second installment. Fans of Stranger Things would love this.

 

20. American Assassin

Bee: Whether you’re watching it for the explosions and gunfire, Dylan O’Brien’s forearms, or for Michael Keaton being, well, Michael Keaton, you’ll have a good time. Ultimately forgettable, but an enjoyable watch.

Matt: This is one of those action movies you’ll flip to while watching TV and leave there because nothing else is on. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Michael Keaton is great fun and the action itself is done well enough to keep you watching.

 

21. Blade Runner 2049

Bee: It was long, it was slow, and I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending, but I would watch it again which is a large improvement from the first movie.

Matt: Watching this film is what I wanted to feel like watching the original Blade Runner. Beautiful cinematography and a palpable atmosphere weave in and around this film, spearheaded by a stellar Ryan Gosling, and delivers a sci-fi epic that may be long, but makes for quite the experience.

 

22. Thor: Ragnarok

Bee: Passably enjoyable, but I ultimately don’t feel that it offers much to the franchise. Cate Blanchett is laughable as one of the most cardboard cutout villains in the MCU. The Hulk is reduced to a comedic sidekick. Wake me up when Black Panther opens.

Matt: Definitely the best of the three Thor films. Thor finally gets to be the star of his own movie (as opposed to Loki) and while upping the comedy might not jive well with some, I enjoyed the many laughs mixed in with the crazy effects driven action.

 

23. Murder On The Orient Express

Bee: A fantastically over the top murder mystery that left me guessing until the end. Kenneth Branagh is lavishly flamboyant as always, and it was a treat.

Matt: Well filmed, well cast, and serves as a great reintroduction of Agatha Christie’s famous detective. Here’s hoping we get more movies with Kenneth Branagh and his killer moustache.

 

24. Justice League

Bee: Worth seeing just to watch Diana unapologetically roast Bruce. Ezra Miller is utterly brilliant as The Flash. The movie is a mess, but the characters and cast are solid, and I’m tentatively looking forward to more.

Matt: The mix of Zack Snyder’s and Joss Whendon’s two styles doesn’t really work and Superman’s return isn’t as triumphant as it should’ve been, but the film is fun all the same. Seeing these six heroes on screen together still made me giddy.

 

25. The Shape of Water

Bee: Pure beauty. This will not be most people’s cup of tea, but every single thing about this movie is artfully done. Guillermo continues to create some of the most unique and moving stories of his time, and watching Doug Jones continues to be a thing of magic. Not an Abe Sapien origin story. Sorry.

Matt: A wonderfully mature fairy tale bound together by a touching romance between a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) and a fishman (Doug Jones). This is Guillermo Del Toro at his finest.

26. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Matt: Rian Johnson delivers a watershed film for the Star Wars saga. It does everything a sequel to The Force Awakens needed to do and the constant subverting of expectations offers brilliant results. Mark Hamill delivers his best performance yet and Carrie Fisher’s final performance makes the viewing that much more emotional.

Bee: Everything the middle child of a trilogy should be and then some. Perfect balance of bittersweet victories, satisfying character arcs, and the best lightsaber fight scene since Episode I. Grab a snack because it’s a long one, but trust me, you won’t mind one bit.
Top 5 Films of 2017:

Matt:
1. Logan
2. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
3. Dunkirk
4. Baby Driver
5. The Shape of Water

Bee:
1. Baby Driver
2. Wonder Woman
3. The Shape of Water
4. Logan
5. Logan Lucky

 

Favorite TV Show:

Godless

godless

This limited-series on Netflix is a violent and gritty western, but it’s the great acting and characters that kept me hooked. A tense build-up and a satisfying conclusion makes for one of the best westerns I’ve seen in a long time.

 

Favorite Book:

It by Stephen King

It_cover

So I’m a few years late on this one. The sheer depth and detail King invests in his characters and the town of Derry, Maine makes for an unforgettable experience and one that was hard to leave behind.

 

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