Tag Archives: Ridley Scott

The Good Bits: May 2017

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

 

Music:

Artificial Language, The Observer (Self-Released)

artificial language

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

 

Film:

Alien: Covenant

AlienCovenant

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

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

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

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 

King Arthur

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

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

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

 

Books:

Lirael by Garth Nix

Lirael

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

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

 

Currently Reading:

Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Abhorsen

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

 

Currently Watching:

Daredevil Season 2

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

 

American Gods

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

 

Currently Gaming:

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One)

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

 

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Xbox One)

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

 

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

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

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The Good Bits: January 2017

Music:

TWRP, Ladyworld (Self-Released)

twrp

My favorite album of January is a departure from what you might normally see in my music listings. Tupper Ware Remix Party (or TWRP) was brought to my attention last year when Ninja Sex Party released their covers album. TWRP was the backing band for most of the album, expertly recreating some of the most well known songs of the 80’s. With the release of their new album Ladyworld, I took it upon myself to finally check out the band’s own work and was met with a catchy delight full of positive vibes. TWRP is firmly grounded in the 80’s aesthetic, touching on elements of rock, synthwave, and funk, while focusing on a message we can all get behind: loving your lady. This is most apparent on tracks such as “R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Her” and, my personal favorite, “Body Image”, featuring a chorus both catchy and inspiring in its message. The album also features Arin Hanson (Game Grumps, Starbomb) and Ninja Sex Party, returning the guest appearance favor for TWRP on the final track “Built 4 Love.” The album is on the short side, clocking in at under thirty minutes, but I think that feels just right for a band like TWRP; it’s an upbeat listen to punch-up your day, giving you that little feel good boost we all so often need.

 

Galactic Empire, Galactic Empire (Rise)

galactic-empire

You know me, I love my Star Wars, my metal, and metal versions of non-metal songs. So having a whole album comprised of the most iconic pieces of John Williams’ legendary score turned to metal is nothing but good news. The group has put out a few videos that have made the rounds on social media and now they’ve put out a full LP. It’s a pretty straightforward album; we go from “Main Theme” to the expected “Imperial March”, then touch on a few pieces from the prequels such as “Duel of the Fates” (which uses actual vocals) and “Across The Stars” before capping it off with “Throne Room/End Title.” All of the arrangements are impeccable with excellent guitar tone and feature close attention to all the little nuances from Williams’ score. Any Star Wars fan, metalhead or no, will enjoy this tribute to one of the greatest film soundtracks ever.

 

Film:

Prometheus, (Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender)
Director: Ridley Scott
Released: June 8th 2012

prometheus2

I didn’t really see any new movies released this month, but I did watch Prometheus in preparation for May’s Alien: Covenant. The Alien series is one I’m catching up on, having neglected it for a number of years. Now I’ve finally watched the prequel to the series that I’ve heard much about, opinions always mixed. My personal experience with the film turned out to be very enjoyable one, exceeding my expectations thanks to its spectacular visuals, atmosphere, and theme.

My view of the movie was prefaced with the general opinion that the film, while gorgeous, has a “meh” plot, and I can see where that opinion comes from. There’s some horror movie cliches you can pick out early on, especially if you’re familiar with the other films, and the movie raises more questions than it actually answers. But I forgive the film’s plot because it caters more to theme than revelation. The parallels between the Greek myth of Prometheus and the Prometheus crew are woven into the narrative and share the same message: if you try to get on the same level as Gods, you’re going to be in for a hurtin’. Sure, we all came here for the Xenomorph, but I appreciate where Prometheus stands as far as its own story and theme.

 

Godzilla (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Released: May 16th, 2014

godzilla_2014_poster

Here’s one that’s been on my list since the first trailer but that got away from me. I finally got to watch Godzilla in anticipation of this year’s Kong: Skull Island, which is set in a shared universe with the former film. I’m not necessarily a long time Godzilla fan, meaning I’ve only seen one or two of the classic films and not much else. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand how awesome Godzilla is, or at least can be in the right hands. Like Prometheus, I heard a lot of mixed reception about this film, usually amounting to, “The thirty minutes of Godzilla are great but the rest is boring.” Upon viewing, I do agree that the comparatively small amount of time spent with Godzilla is FUCKING AWESOME, but I would argue that it’s only so awesome because of all the time that isn’t spent on him.

Now, I understand why the majority of the plot spent with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, a Lieutenant in the US Navy, and Ken Watanabe, basically a kaiju expert, might be considered boring, the main reason being that neither of them are an enormous destructive monster. But I would argue that spending time with the characters is what helps create the overwhelming sense of awe that is meant to surround Godzilla. Sure, we could have had a film that was ninety percent Godzilla smashing things, but there’s always been more to Godzilla than that. The original movie essentially portrayed Godzilla like an atom bomb, an unstoppable, destructive force all the more powerful because of that sense of shock and awe. Now think about how many explosions and city destroying monster movies we’ve gotten in recent years that are soulless, mindless action (Pacific Rim being a notable except because that movie rules). The decision to focus more on the human characters and their perceptive builds anticipation to a boiling point, and when we finally see Godzilla in all his glory and hear his roar, you get serious chills. Because Godzilla isn’t here to entertain you; you’re here to witness him.

 

Books:

Talion: Revenant by Michael A. Stackpole

talion-revenant

Standalone fantasy novels are a rare breed not because there aren’t many of them but because they don’t seem to get as much attention. It’s understandable as the landmark fantasy novels are typically epic in scale and scope, spanning across anywhere from three to five to eight books. But there’s a lot to love from single entries, the most notable being that you don’t have to prepare yourself for the plunge into multiple books and you get a complete story arc all in one go. So I went looking for one, preferably something I’d never heard of before, and came up with Talion: Revenant by Michael A. Stackpole, best known for penning several Star Wars books from the old Expanded Universe. The result is an enjoyable fantasy novel that, for the modern reader, doesn’t turn genre conventions on its head, but does tell a satisfying tale of heroic fantasy.

The story tells of a man named Nolan, a Talion Justice, a highly skilled and feared warrior who, as his title implies, travels about the Shattered Empire righting wrongs and delivering retribution. They are known for their ability to suck out the souls of wrongdoers as a method of execution, which is why they are so feared. The chapters alternate between Nolan in the present, fully grown and trained, and Nolan as a boy, fleeing from his country after his family was slaughtered by a neighboring country. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this style of storytelling at first; being constantly pulled back and forth through past and present can make it hard to maintain momentum in the story, but it eventually won me over as the chapters usually parallel each others subject matter. It’s also told in a first person perspective, which I also questioned at first, but I understood it was more fitting for the story.

The big hook of the story, displayed right on the front and back cover, is that Nolan is assigned a mission where he must pose as a noble in order to protect a king from a seemingly unkillable creature. The catch? This is the very same king of the country that killed Nolan’s family. It sets the story up for a tense duty vs. vengeance dilemma, but, slight spoiler alert, that doesn’t end up being the focal point. It certainly motivates Nolan and helps define his sense of justice, but the issue itself is kind of resolved in a few paragraphs. I can see what the intent was here i.e. spend your whole life plotting revenge then questioning yourself, but I did feel slightly mislead.

The good news? The overall plot of the book is still enjoyable. Young Nolan’s training to become a Justice makes for some interesting world building and character background that contrasts well with adult Nolan’s more action oriented scenes. There’s one or two twists as well that help to elevate the exciting finale which, despite this being a standalone book, leaves some room for a sequel. If you’re one for more traditional fantasy and/or don’t particularly feel like committing to a longer series, Talion: Revenant will deliver a well executed story with plenty of action and adventure to keep you invested.

 

Currently Reading:

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

do-androids-dream-of-electric-sheep

Confession: I have never seen Blade Runner. I’ve meant to for a long time, and with the sequel coming this year I’ve all the more reason to finally watch it. But I figured, while I have the time, I should read the book that the film is loosely based on. I’ve also never read Philip K. Dick before. It’s a short book and I’m nearly done, so expect a full review next month.

 

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