Tag Archives: Stephen King

The Good Bits: October 2017

This month was heavy on the music. And the music itself was heavy.

Music:

Enslaved, E (Nuclear Blast)

enslaved

Enslaved’s brand of progressive black metal has always intrigued me. They have such a wide, diverse catalogue, as they ought to fourteen albums into their career. I first started listening to them right before 2012’s acclaimed RIITIIR released, and I had no idea where to start. I dived into a few albums that spanned the years 2003 to 2012 and caught them live while on tour for their previous album In Times. Now, with the release of E, I find myself much more familiarized with Enslaved’s penchant for experimentation while still maintaining their distinct style and sound. So can I say with certainty that this is one of their finest albums to date. The album’s six tracks are laden with atmosphere, particularly the opener “Storm Son”, kicking off with floaty, melodic guitars and keyboards that you wouldn’t normally expect from a black metal record (unless you’re familiar with the likes of Ghost Bath or Deafheaven). There’s no shortage or riffage either, especially on “Sacred Horse” and “The River’s Mouth”. If you were looking to give Enslaved a try, this album is as good a time as ever to give ’em a shot.

 

Ne Obliviscaris, Urn (Season of Mist)

ne obliviscaris

I must admit that while I enjoyed Ne Obliviscaris’s first two studio albums, I haven’t gone back to them all that much. However, with the band’s third album, I found myself ready to dive back in as soon as the record was over. The band sound as tight as ever with playing that is both technical and well-crafted. Tim Charles’ violin is still an integral part of the band’s sound, weaving melodic passages amidst the chugging guitars. “Libera (Part I) – Saturnine Spheres” and “Libera (Part II) – Ascent of Burning Moths)” make for one hell of an intro to the album, offering up an impressive slice of what more is to come on Urn. If you’ve never heard Ne Obliviscaris before, those two tracks will tell you all you need to know. The album’s centerpiece is the nearly twelve minute “Eyrie”, though it somehow feels far shorter than that. Speaking of length, the album is the shortest the band has released thus far, clocking in at 46 minutes whereas Portal of I and Citadel clocked in at 72 minutes and 48 minutes respectively. Prog metal songs tend to get overlong; it’s just the nature of the genre. But Ne Obliviscaris deliver a tight package that goes just long enough and leaves room for you to give it another go.

 

Trivium, The Sin and the Sentence (Roadrunner)

trivium

It’s been a while since I’ve loved a Trivium album. Shogun came out nearly ten years ago and is not only my favorite in their discography, but it’s one of my personal favorites of all time. Nothing they’ve release since then has really had as much of an impact on me. That’s not to say it’s all been bad or anything: In Waves is heavy as hell with some great cuts and I appreciated the experimentation of Silence in the SnowVengeance Falls had one or two good tracks, but it doesn’t rank high up there for me. Now we have The Sin and the Sentence, and I know everyone else had been saying it, but this is the best they’ve done since Shogun.

In my experience, Trivium albums tend to follow this pattern: 11-12 tracks, a really solid first half, a few tracks in the latter half that are somewhat lesser, and then a strong finale. The Sin and the Sentence pretty much follows this patter to a T, and that’s a good thing. The first five tracks are rock solid, offering up all the virtuosic instrumentation, big catchy choruses, and primal screams from Matt Heafy that you’d expect. What’s more, each track feels different from the pummeling opening of the title track to the sing-along passages of “The Heart from Your Hate.” It’s easy to pick up the lyrics, which act as the glue to stick the song in your brain, not letting go until you go listen to the album again.

 

Archspire, Relentless Mutilation (Season of Mist)

archspire

Sometimes the only thing faster than technical death metal is the rate at which it becomes boring. So many bands try to be the fastest or the most brutal and as a result you end up with music you feel like you’ve heard one too many times before. But every now and again you get a band like Archspire who put out an album that makes you go “Fuck, that’s brutal.” Relentless Mutilation is the band’s third album and it’s a fast, mean piece of work. One area of the band’s music I wasn’t expecting anything from was the vocals because, let’s face it, these days it feels like you can get any old growler or screamer to front your band. But man, Oli Peters sounds like the death metal Seji Tankian. He’s not here to let the instrumentalists have all the fun; he’s also here to throw down, and throw down he does. What’s more, over the course of the album’s crisp 30 minute runtime, I found that the songs actually sounded distinct from one another. Look, I’m really not trying to be that guy that says “all metal songs sound the same”, but my god I need at least a pinch of variety sometimes. So, thank you Archspire for giving me a reason to appreciate TDM again.

 

Film:

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049

In the age of endless remakes, revivals, overdue and unwanted sequels, the old irrelevant question still rings: “Is it as good as the original?” But if I had to answer that question regarding Blade Runner 2049, I’d say “Yes, and then some.” I loved Philip K. Dick’s Do Andriods Dream of Electric Sheep? but I think it affected my viewing of Blade Runner, the film upon which it is based. Don’t get me wrong I definitely like it; the sets, effects, music, and atmosphere are all top notch and still hold up very well today. But there were a lot of intriguing things found in the book that the film omitted. Plus, when you put off seeing a movie so revered for so long, I think there’s always a chance you’re going to be at least a little disappointed that it’s not the greatest film ever made, however silly that may sound. Fast forward to the Denis Villeneuve (ArrivalSicario) sequel however and I’ll tell you that this is how I wanted to feel watching Blade Runner. That may sound sacrilege but…meh.

2049 does itself a great service by not relying too heavily on its predecessor. An opening crawl tells you the basics of Blade Runner‘s world and what’s happened in the thirty years since the original. It more or less keeps you informed if you haven’t seen the first film too. Yes, Harrison Ford reprises his role as Deckard, but it’s a pretty small role compared to the screen time of other characters. Seeing the first film is recommended of course, but if you do go into this film blind, Deckard’s part of the story is really the only time you may be a bit lost. Really, if you’re going to show up for anyone, show up for Ryan Gosling because he’s brilliant in this. Everyone in this film does a great job, from Jared Leto’s suitably creepy turn as the head of the Wallace Corporation to Ana de Armas, a holographic wife for Gosling’s character.

The film’s plot is consists of Gosling’s character Office K slowly unravelling a big mystery. And I do mean slowly. If there’s anything that will turn someone off this movie, it will be the 2 hour and 43 minute runtime. It’s not a fast paced film and it takes its time letting things unfold. This is less of a film focused on plot and more about enveloping you in its world, much like the first. Speaking of the first film, 2049 definitely looks and feels like its predecessor, and theres something so enjoyable about seeing things like vehicles or buildings from the first film depicted with modern cinematography, kind of like watching the new Star Wars films. This film has lingered in my head since I saw it and I’m eager to see it again (even though I’ll probably be watching it by myself).

 

Gerald’s Game

gerald's game

I recently came to the realization that if I continue to hold off on watching a movie because I haven’t read the book first, I’m going to miss out on a lot of movies because I read damn slow. So I watched Gerald’s Game, a Netflix film based on the Stephen King novel, and I liked it even more It. It’s a basic sounding premise: a couple goes on holiday to a lake house to try and spice up their sex life which, of course, involves handcuffing the woman to the bed. Unfortunately, her husband drops dead of a heart attack, leaving her cuffed to the bed with no one around. What follows is the woman’s mind slowly unravelling, unearthing memories and thoughts long repressed, seeing frightening things that may or may not be real. It’s fantastic psychological horror and the fact that its kept to such a small scale makes it even better. Carla Guigino deserves a lot of credit for delivering a performance mostly spent in a nightie and handcuffs, and Bruce Greenwood is eerily hilarious. I don’t know how many other Stephen King adaptations Netflix is planning to churn out, but if this is the kind of stuff they’re delivering I say give us more.

 

“Shocktober” Watchlist:

Last year, my wife and I made a Halloween watchlist for October and we continued that tradition this year. Films in bold are first time viewings for me.

Pet Semetary 

Because there hasn’t been enough Stephen King in my life already.

An American Werewolf in London

A weird film, but a good weird.

 

The Conjuring 2

Still one of the best horror movies.

Coraline

Delightful.

 

The Thing

I tried to watch for the “eye glint” that supposedly tells you who is/isn’t “the thing”, but I didn’t see it.

Shaun of the Dead

Finally got the wife to watch this one.

 

The Strangers

I haven’t watch this since it came out over nine years ago. Still good.

 

Books

It by Stephen King

It_cover

For little over three months I chipped away at Stephen King’s 1,100 page horror behemoth. Somewhere in the middle I went to see the newest adaptation that is now one of the highest-grossing horror films of all-time. Now, my journey through Derry, Maine has come to a close…until the the film sequel eventually comes out. When it does come thought, it’s going to have a lot to live up to, so much so that I’m not completely sure how they’re gonna do it. But hey, I’m here to talk about the book, which is either one of Stephen King’s finest or a bloated slog depending on who you ask. Of course, I find myself in the former category.

First thing: the length. While I was reading this book, I thought of another long hefty sized book: Les Misérables. Much like in Victor Hugo’s brick-sized masterpiece, It has a large cast of characters both major and minor with backgrounds and histories that are explored in great depth. If you’ve read King before, you’re familiar with this aspect of his books. Also like Les Mis, some of those stories and histories appear to have little to no bearing on the main plot. Now, when it comes to the actual act of writing, I’m all for brevity, but I wasn’t bothered by the sheer amount of time devoted to fleshing out the two of Derry. I think I owe that to all the fantasy I read, where world building and fleshing out seemingly irrelevant persons or histories is par for course.

Next thing: the scare factor. Creep-up-your-spine atmosphere is what I’m coming in for when it comes to horror stories/novels. Let me tell you that there were three or four points in the book where I got those goosebumps and said “Oh, no” out loud. One of those times wasn’t even about Pennywise/It. It was actually about one of the childhood bullies who is, uh, incredibly fucked up for lack of an elegant term. That’s the thing that people seem to get wrong about this book, including the film: it’s not all about the creepy killer clowns. That is not the scary apart (I mean, unless you really are pants-shittingly scared of clowns, and I’m sure people are). The horror is found in being a child and not having grownups take you seriously. The horror is found in being an adult and finding that you’re no longer in your prime. The horror is forgetting. Forgetting everything.

 

Currently Reading:

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

the alloy of law

This time last year and the year before I was finishing up reading on of the tomes from Sanderson’s brilliant Stormlight Archive series. The third book is out this month, but I’ve decided to hold off on that for now and instead return to the Mistborn series that got me and many others started on Sanderson in the first place. It’s a much shorter novel than either It or the two Stormlight books, and I’m nearly halfway through already.

 

Currently Watching:

Sons of Anarchy Season 5

Two more episodes left.

Stranger Things Season 2

Well, technically I finished watching it two weeks ago but I thought I’d include it here anyway.

Outlander Season 2

I gave up on trying to read the books for this series as well. Which I think is good, because I think I enjoy the show more anyway.

 

Currently Playing:

Darkest Dungeon (PC, Mac)

My god, this game saps up so much of my time.

 

Alien: Isolation (Xbox One)

I have never been so frightened while playing a video game in my whole life and it’s great.

 

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The Good Bits: September 2017

Finally I got this edition of the Good Bits written. I’m sure you were all waiting with baited breath, clammy hands, and thoughts that I’d maybe given up writing this monthly post. And though it took me a while to get around to, I have a good reason for it, namely what I’d call the “Best Bit” of September 2017: I got married.

wedding

Two nights prior to the big day she demanded we go to a last minute showing of It, so you know she’s a keeper. I’m a happy man.

 

Music:

Paradise Lost, Medusa (Nuclear Blast)

paradiselostmedusacd

I haven’t been a fan of Paradise Lost long enough to celebrate their return to the gothic death/doom metal sound heard on their earlier releases, but I can certainly appreciate how good it is. 2015’s The Plague Within was a great album that I didn’t give my full attention to because of the sheer numbers of good releases from that time, so I’ve been giving Medusa more spins to make up for it. For me, the opener “Fearless Sky” is the best track on the album, which is a good and bad thing. On the one hand, it gets me real pumped for the rest of the album. On the other, the best part of the album is already over at the start. That’s not meant to imply that the rest of the songs are subpar or anything: “The Longest Winter” is appropriately slow and hollow like a dead winter day and “Blood and Chaos” is a fairly upbeat doom song that mixes things up just a little bit. All songs feature chunky slabs of guitar riffs and, as always, fantastic cleans and growls from frontman Nick Holmes. But man, “Fearless Sky” is certainly going to be one of my favorite songs from this year overall.

 

Film:

It

Stephen-Kings-IT-Movie-Poster

I tried to finish the book It before the movie. That didn’t happen, but that’s okay. I’d gotten far enough into the book and the movie was different enough that it didn’t really spoil much. Besides, how was I going to pass up seeing the biggest horror movie of the year? The verdict: a great horror movie, but with a few flaws I can’t help but mention.

First off, I think keeping the film focused on the the kids instead of trying to splice in the adult timeline was a good idea. There’s certain things that just don’t transition from book to screen and balancing two timelines for seven characters is one of them. The kids in question are all great with Eddie, Richie, and Bev being the standouts. Bill Skarsgård is fantastic as Pennywise and should probably get used to doing roles with a whole load of makeup because he nails it. There’s blood and gore aplenty and many good jump scares, and even when you know a scare is coming clear as day the reveal will still prompt something akin to “Holy shit!” Above all else, the film nails the feeling of unity amongst the Losers and the toxic environment that is Derry. The latter is strengthened by the film’s the depiction of adults, who are appropriately absent, unkind, or otherwise creepy.

Much as I try to separate the book from the film, there were two things I couldn’t ignore. One is the treatment of the character Mike Hanlon (he’s the black kid). In the book, he’s very into Derry’s history and, as a result, the murders commits by It, which plays a huge part in the character’s adult years. In the film, they give the role of historian to Ben Hascom (he’s the fat kid). As a result, Mike is less interesting and Ben is not shown pursuing his career as an architect. It’s an odd change that, unfortunately, brings to mind the age old issue of short-changing the black character. The second issue is simply the matter of scare factor: the film just isn’t as scary as the book. This is all a matter of preference of course: I happen to like the more atmospheric horror that is done better in books while I’m sure plenty of people will declare It to be scary as hell. But I would say the film is less of the twisted psychological horror found in the book and more a monster flick.

It might sound like I’m just being a stuck up Stephen King fanboy, and maybe I am. But despite my criticism, I assure you that this is a good horror flick and one of the better Stephen King adaptations. You’ve probably already heard people raving about it, so there’s no reason not to watch it and get your horror fix.

 

Currently Reading:

It by Stephen King

It_cover

As for the book reading department, I have maybe 400 something pages left I think? It still feels like I have so much left even though the visual thickness to the right of my bookmark says otherwise.

 

Currently Watching:

Sons of Anarchy Season 5

Outlander Season 2

 

Currently Playing:

Darkest Dungeon (Mac)

Dishonored 2 (Xbox One)

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The Good Bits: August 2017

Farewell, summer. You had some neat offerings to cap off your final month.

Music:

Steven Wilson, To The Bone (Caroline)

steven wilson

If you know me, you know I’m a fanboy for Steven Wilson. Ever since I picked up Porcupine Tree’s Fear of a Blank Planet ten some odd years ago, I’ve spend a lot of time delving into Wilson’s vast discography that spa s many groups and genres. In recent years, Wilson has been focused on his solo work, and as a result has delivered some of my very favorite albums, including 2015’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. This time around on To The Bone, the approach is more on the poppy side, inspired by the likes of 80’s artists such as Tears for Fears and Peter Gabriel. It’s a much more electronically driven album that adds a different flavor to Wilson’s unique style and, as a result, is one of my favorite albums so far this year.

Shocking, I know.

Some songs like “The Same Asylum as Before” are classic Steven Wilson fare while others like “Permanating” tread new territory. The latter song is very piano driven, and not in the slow melancholic way like you might expect but rather with backing electronic drums and bright melodies that almost made me think more of a McCartney Beatles song. There are a few duets on the album including the standout “Pariah”, which again features the fantastic Ninet Tayeb from Wilson’s previous album. Of course, it wouldn’t be Steven Wilson without at least one incredibly depressing track, and in this case that honor could go to either “Refuge” or “Detonation”. Figures that those are the top two longest tracks on the album, eh?

Time will be the true test for this album and how it stacks up to the rest of Wilson’s masterpieces, but for right now To The Bone is another surefire winner that will please long-time fans and rake in new ones.

 

Iron & Wine, Beast Epic (Sub Pop)

iron and wine

When I started really getting into Iron & Wine about two years ago, it was interesting listening to Sam Beam’s discography back-to-back and hearing his evolution from lo-fi bearded guy with a guitar on The Creek Drank the Cradle to the jazzier upbeat material on Ghost on Ghost. While some may claim Beast Epic is a return to the quiet understated nature of Beam’s earlier material, I’d only half agree; it’s certainly not as poppy as Ghost on Ghost and has a stronger acoustic focus, but I think Beast Epic is less of a return and more of a cumulation of the different sounds Beam has picked up on in his 15 year career.

Beam’s soft but soulful singing has always been one of the leading appeals of his music, but on Beast Epic it stands out even more somehow. It is both bright and hopeful on tracks like “Call It Dreaming” and quiet and soft on tracks like “Summer Clouds.” It’s like a warm blanket that wraps around you as you listen. It doesn’t hurt that some songs like the aforementioned “Call It Dreaming” and “Thomas County Law” feature catchy verses that linger in your head long after listening. Though you may return to the album to hear one or both of those songs, you’ll find yourself cycling through the whole album again, basking in the comfort that only a musician like Sam Beam can bring to the table.

 

Leprous, Malina (Inside Out)

Leprous-Malina

Leprous’ fourth album The Congregation fell into my path and was one of my dark horse hits for 2015. These guys have some serious skill with clean, impeccable musicianship and songs that are simultaneously complex yet catchy and compelling. On their fifth album Malina, that same musicianship and songwriting is back in full force. Lead vocalist/keyboardist Einar Solberg is still the band’s cornerstone as the album includes some of his best vocal performances yet, especially on the last track “The Last Milestone”, which mainly consists of his singing and strings performed by Raphael Weinroth-Browne. For me, real strings are always welcome on metal records, though they aren’t always utilized to their full potential. Thankfully they’re featured just the right amount on Malina, adding a grandiose layer in the latter half of “Stuck” and taking center stage in the aforementioned “The Last Milestone.” There are of course some tracks that are straight-up Leprous goodness such as the lead single “From The Flame” which serves as a slightly better hook for the album than opener “Bonneville.” That’s not to say that “Bonneville” is bad, only that it’s more mellow than fans and newcomers might expect. If you’re looking for a tight but accessible prog album, Malina is my pick.

 

Film:

Logan Lucky

logan lucky

If I told you that the director or the Ocean’s trilogy made a heist comedy film set in south about blue collar workers robbing a huge NASCAR event at Charlotte Motor Speedway, you’d probably think I’m getting you set up for some ridiculous Talladega Nights-esqe film. But that’s not what Logan Lucky is at all. Sure, it’s kind of funny to hear Channing Tatum, Adam Drive, and Daniel Craig nail the southern drawl, but the film isn’t actually all that jokey when it comes to its setting. Moreover, the film’s central heist plays out in a fairly straightforward manner: things go well, shit happens, things get betters, shit happens, etc. It’s actually a very sincere film that isn’t content to lean on the “big dumb rednecks” trope, and that’s what keeps it from becoming some run of the mill comedy. It’s written smart and it’s delivered smart with no small thanks to the cast’s ability to depict very human characters without any highly exaggerated eccentricities. Even Craig’s Joe Bang isn’t as super over the top as you’d expect him to be. Sure, he’s quirky, but contrary to promotion the film doesn’t rely solely on him to drive the film. Actually, Tatum’s performance is really the one that stands out for me as a divorced father recently let go from his construction job. It’s a rather understated performance where a lot goes without saying and you pick up on the story cues without the need of shoddy character exposition. It might not stand out much amongst the action and superhero movies of the summer, but it’s certainly a gem.

 

Currently Reading:

It by Stephen King

It_cover

Well, I didn’t achieve my lofty goal of finishing this before the movie came out; I’m barely at 400 pages out of like 1100. But I’m certainly having a great time reading it.

 

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The Good Bits: July 2017

This month was stuffed.

Music:

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Murder of the Universe (ATO)

king gizzard

I have seen King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard pop up so many times this year that it was inevitable I was going to finally dig into one of their records. Two of a planned five have been released so far this year, and Murder of the Universe is the second of the two. I listened to the first release, Flying Microtonal Banana, and found it good, but didn’t really spend a lot of time with it to merit a write up. Murder of the Universe, on the either hand, splits the album into three different stories that had me enthralled from the opening tracks. The band’s sound is the equivalent to a kaleidoscope, covering your ears like a psychedelic blanket and cradling you through a tunnel of many shapes and colors. The narration from Leah Senior ties the whole album together and helps evoke that storyteller atmosphere.

 

Film:

Dunkirk

Dunkirk_Film_poster

Christopher Nolan boasts one of the best directorial track records in film history, but he’s not without detractors. One critique that pops up often is that he’s too clinical and clean in his approach and it consequentially results in a cold, emotionless film. It stands to reason then that people might scoff at the idea of a PG-13 Nolan-directed World War II film, a genre that’s usually stuffed with intense bloody violence in order depict the horrors war. Now, I’m not trying to knock the violence films like Saving Private Ryan or Hacksaw Ridge (haven’t seen it, heard it’s gory as hell) because, yeah, that shit was probably bloody as hell. But don’t we already know by now war is pretty horrific? Isn’t it possible for a war film to grip you without intestines being spilled everywhere? Yes, yes it is, because Nolan has done just that.

Dunkirk depicts three different stories: the British Army stranded on the beach in Dunkirk, France; the British civilians sailing across the channel, and the pilots in the air. These stories are shown in a non-linear fashion, meaning that the scenes don’t all sync up until near the end of the movie. It’s actually not as confusing as it sounds as long as you pay attention and consider the three stories separate from each other until you start to see the connecting threads. And you will be paying attention because this film is goddamn tense almost the whole time, even when there isn’t any real action happening. The relatively quick and clean runtime of 106 minutes offers up a film without any filler or overly flashy action sequences (though the dogfight scenes are pretty kickass). The boys are trying to get home. That is the single driving force of the film and it stays that way.

Nolan apparently once expressed a desire to make the film without a screenplay, and it shows in the films subtle lack of dialogue. This helps to strip away the Hollywoodness, if you will, of other war films, instead choosing to focus on the situation at hand. It also means the film doesn’t rely on its star power too much; Tom Hardy’s RAF pilot doesn’t feel any more or less important than Fionn Whitehead’s private on the beach. They’re all soldiers made of flesh and blood, and everything they do be it as simple as running or difficult as dogfighting feels like it matters. Every second feels like it matters. Honestly, this is a top contender for my film of the year, and I know that’s going to merit a few eyerolls from people who think I’m a Nolan fanboy or that the film is overrated. You’re fine to dislike it however much you want, but Dunkirk is a real winner for me.

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming 

homecoming

Sam Raimi’s 2002 iteration of Spider-Man is to me what what Tim Burton’s Batman was to many a comic book fan in 1989. The web head’s triumphant big screen debut is one of my very favorite superhero films, and all three of Raimi’s films (yes, three) have stuck with me in every discussion of what makes a good (and in some cases, not so good) superhero movie. Now, here comes the part where you expect me to talk about how much I hated the Garfield films when, as a matter of fact, I haven’t seen either of them; I just never got around to it and over time I wondered what the point would be. Neither of them looked particularly interesting to me, at least not compared to other superhero movies coming out at the time. Then the franchise got rebooted again when Spidey appeared in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, and there was much rejoicing over the character joining the MCU. However, now that his new solo film is out, I’ve also heard many people complain about how, in the span of fifteen years, there have been six Spider-Man films (seven if you want to count Civil War) with three different actors. Why so much Spider-Man dammit? Why can’t they come up with new ideas? Well, welcome to modern Hollywood, first of all. Second, don’t just write this one off: Spider-Man: Homecoming is a fun movie that dials down the high stakes of previous Marvel films in favor of focusing on New York City and it’s friendly neighborhood…well, you know.

In case you’re having a hard time figuring out where we’re at this time around, Peter Parker is a sophomore in high school fresh off being recruited by Tony Stark to fight Captain America and several other heroes. After getting that taste of action, Peter finds himself bored taking care of small time crime in NYC and longs to tackle something bigger and badder which comes in the form of Adrian Toomes a.k.a. the Vulture. What follows is a film with a few familiar but effective story beats (Peter has to balance the lives of both identities, great power and great responsibility), some nods to the rest of the MCU, (most notably Robert Downey Jr. reprising his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man), and a small twist that makes for an exciting third act.

Tom Holland is great. His Peter Parker is sufficiently nerdy but endearing while his Spider-Man is cool and funny, but also spends plenty of time learning to grow as a hero. And while the film’s marketing suggests that it’s also Iron Man 3.5, Tony Stark keeps his appearances short but effective. But, for me, it’s Michael Keaton who steals the show as the Vulture. Many MCU villains that aren’t Loki tend to be menacing, but also fairly one-note and disposable. Keaton, on the other hand, isn’t really straight-up evil: he’s mostly just a pissed off regular dude who happens to be really good at building shit, not unlike Tony Stark. He presence even becomes genuinely nerve-wracking during one particular scene. The rest of the cast, particularly Peter’s school friends, is great too and give the film a lot of humor and personality. Sadly, Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May gets the short end of the stick when it comes to screen time. That’s probably my biggest gripe with the film since Aunt May is such a comforting figure in Peter’s life and I really like Tomei in the role, but she never gets a memorable moment like Rosemary Harris in the Raimi films.

Other reviews have taken issue with Homecoming‘s impact on the MCU in that it doesn’t really have an impact. But that’s fine. Not every movie has to be as game-changing as Avengers or Civil War. If every movie tried to create a tectonic shift in the MCU it would get boring and those tectonic shifts wouldn’t be meaningful anymore. Homecoming, meanwhile, is a welcome return to form for Spider-Man and a refreshing entry in the MCU that looks out for the little guys and saves the big ones for later.

 

War for the Planet of the Apes 

War_for_the_Planet_of_the_Apes_poster

I’m sure I’m not the only one who was pleasantly surprised by 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a reboot of an old franchise with a focus on motion capture that had plenty of reasons to go wrong, but ended up being a well-executed sci-fi film. The sequel, 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, had an even bigger focus on motion capture while also bumping up the scale and action. With the release of War for the Planet of the Apes, we find ourselves at the end of a trilogy, though not necessarily the end of Apes films. Still, War for the Planet of the Apes carries on the series’ penchant for defying expectations by delivering a solid conclusion and cementing the reboot films as some of the finest action/sci-fi of the decade.

War continues the series’ trend of making you absolutely  hate humans but love a bunch of mo-cap apes. Andy Serkis had proven himself time and time again, but in his third outing as ape leader Caesar he essentially depicts an tired, aging warrior in ape form, weary of the many years he’s spent fighting to keep his people safe. It’s a bleak but remarkable performance. Woody Harrelson portrays the Colonel, who seems like just another straightup jingo jackass on the surface, but when you get some insight into his motivations it makes the world of black and white go gray. The standout performance, however, is Steve Zahn as the “Bad Ape”, offering up some much needed comic relief in sympathetic form. Amiah Miller is Nova, the girl you’ve seen in the trailers, and she’s understated but adorable.

One of the biggest reasons for the film’s success is that it didn’t fall victim to the “go all out for the third film” trope that sometimes hampers trilogies. War is as big as it needs to be and no more, with a range of action and emotion faithful to the series without trying to blow the lid off. The only sticking point some might have with the film is that the marketing is a tad misleading. Without getting too spoilery, the trailer (and title) give the impression that the apes and human are going head to head in one final war, but that’s not actually the focus, nor is it really what happens. Oh, they do fight of course, but don’t expect a full on war movie. You’ll be very happy with what you do get though. Also, in a world where blockbuster soundtracks have grown less remarkable, Michael Giacchino’s score is a big plus here.

 

Books:

Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Abhorsen

I finally finished the final book in the Abhorsen trilogy earlier in July, thus concluding my journey through three of my fiancée’s favorite fantasy books. Despite most of the book being falling action, it took me a while to get through it. I’m a slow reader by nature, and with increased writing workload I’ve only gotten slower. Eventually, I found the time to just sit and plunge through this last book and my thoughts are similar to those of the first book Sabriel: beautifully written with a satisfying tying up of plot threads, but I wish I could have stayed a bit longer. As soon as the conflict is over, the story doesn’t linger long before it ends. There’s no “20 years later” epilogue that allows you to confirm all the characters are still doing okay, and while such a thing is certainly not necessary, I kind of wanted it. I don’t hold it against the book all, but I suppose it’s just one of those bittersweet things about finishing a very good book: you’re not always ready to leave and you’re always reluctant to turn that last page and reveal the back cover. That being said, Abhorsen delivers a conclusion with all the spectacle and magic that Nix is known for, and I’m glad to have taken the time to experience it.

 

The Boy On The Bridge by M.R. Carey

the boy on the bridge

This time last year I’d just finished reading The Girl With All The Gifts, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel that was well-written and fresh compared to the rest of the overdone zombie genre. Now I’ve just finished reading The Boy On The Bridge, which is something of a psudo-sequel/prequel/parallel set in the same zombie (called “hungries” in the novel”) infested United Kingdom as its predecessor. The book does not focus on characters from The Girl With All The Gifts, but rather a new cast of characters composed of soldiers and scientists working (sort of) together in a mobile lab to find a cure for the hungry epidemic.

At first, getting into the book took a bit of time; the story assumes you’ve read the previous book, which is fair enough, but it’s not as gradual as The Girl With All The Gifts, which started small and then opened up as the story progressed. So while you theoretically could read The Boy On The Bridge first since it’s so far removed from the events of Girl, I’d say read the previous book before picking this up. But man, once the shit hits the fan this book just rockets forward and you will not want to stop. The characters are a mixed bag of personalities and, as such, feel very believable during the teams various trials and tribulations. For me, Carey’s prose is the star of the show here, chock full of descriptions and metaphors that merited an audible reaction.

It’s hard to imagine where Carey could go with this world after The Boy On The Bridge, but if he does, I’ll be very intrigued to see what comes next. And if this is the last we’ll see of this world, then these two books will stand as some of the best zombie-media you could ever hope to experience.

 

Currently Reading:

It by Stephen King

It_cover

I’m continuing my journey through King’ bibliography. I’d love to finish reading this before the film comes out in a month, but with 1,000 plus pages, I’m tempering my expectations.

 

Currently Watching:

Breaking Bad Season 1

Better late than never, right?

 

Currently Playing:

Uh, nothing really. I haven’t really playing much in the past month. We’ll see if I get back into it.

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The Good Bits: June 2016

Well now, this certainly ended up being a packed post. I heard and saw a lot in June, much more than I’ve put down here. I’m sure I’ve left a few things out, but this thing is over 21o0 words and since you were kind enough to come in and see what I wrote down I wouldn’t want to make you stay to too long. Brevity and wit and all that shit. By the by, if you’re looking for my thoughts on the second half of Game of Thrones season six, that’ll be coming at you soon in a separate post.

 

Music:

Katatonia, The Fall of Hearts (Peaceville)

katatonia

Maybe I haven’t been entirely fair to Katatonia in the past. They’re one of those bands that, on paper, are right up my alley: transition from the death/doom metal of its earlier career to more of a gothic prog rock sound, thus providing a versatile discography. But more often than not, particularly at their live shows, I ended up finding them kind of boring. I know I have friends that would be dismayed to hear that, but its true. They once headlined a show with Cult of Luna, Intronaut, and TesseracT and I left before they came on. Yet, after listening to their newest album, it occurs to me that maybe I’ve just been listening to the wrong albums. I’d really only listened to two or three before this, and this is probably my favorite of them all. The Fall of Hearts is a dark, smooth, atmospheric stroll that, for whatever reason, kept a stronger hold on my attention throughout compared to previous albums. It’s a bit more prog and a bit less heavy than their other material, so maybe the fact that the band has fully embraced this particular direction makes their songwriting more focused and comfortable. Either way, I’m happy I was proven wrong with this one.

 

If These Trees Could Talk, The Bones of a Dying World (Metal Blade)

if these trees

Instrumental post rock/metal bands have staked their claim in the music scene in recent years, and while you’d think it’d be hard for such bands to bands distinguish themselves, If These Tree Could Talk manage to avoid such an issue. The band’s first two fantastic albums were self-released before Metal Blade Records picked them up and rereleased them, and now their third release continues their streak. Some people may find the idea of an instrumental rock/metal band unexciting, which is understandable in the context that vocalists usually tie everything together. But ITTCT are able to keep a light hold on your attention without demanding it. Tracks like opener “Solstice” paint a sonic landscape that can sit comfortably in the background of your brain but serves up enough energy to keep you invigorated and interested. The best part? Because there are no vocals, screaming or otherwise, I would recommend this to anyone who might normally enjoy the music but detest the singing.

 

letlive., If I’m the Devil… (Epitaph)

letlive.-If-Im-The-Devil-album-art

I didn’t expect to like 2013’s The Blackest Beautiful as much as I did, but goddamn that album is still so good. So of course I was happy to find that If I’m the Devil… builds upon its predecessor without being an outright retread. It’s energetic, catchy, and continues the band’s penchant for lyrics concerning political and social issues. “Good Mourning, America” in particular hits hard with an intro alluding to police brutality that is sure to stir up uncomfortable feelings. That’s pretty much letlive.’s whole deal, putting out songs that are loud with screaming but focus on subjects that will make you think about the state of the world we live in. I haven’t given this as many spins as the other albums listed here, but for one listen to have this much impact is damn impressive in my book.

 

Zeal and Arbor, Devil Is Fine (Self-Released)

zeal and ardor

Best of lists are always fun to read, especially those of the “best of the year so far” variety. I enjoy sifting through the lists and finding new music to check out before the year is up. One of the bands I found in my travels is one man band Zeal and Arbor with an album called Devil Is Fine that mixes black metal with old school blues, spirituals, and a dash of trip hop. This is an unorthodox combination to say the least and you’d think that it’d turn out a mess all things considered. Far from it; this is one of the most unique albums I’ve ever heard and one of my favorites of the year so far. Listening to the track “In Ashes” with make you think of Howlin’ Wolf singing/screaming with a Norwegian backing band. Mastermind Manuel Gagneux has created something truly strange that’s going to get a lot of attention and will likely find its way onto my end-year list.

 

Gojira, Magma (Roadrunner)

gojira

Gojira have steadily cultivated a following over their years and ever since the release of 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage they’ve been regarded as one of the most prominent bands in modern metal. Naturally, Magma ended up being one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year, bearing the daunting task of following up its acclaimed predecessor. The result is probably the tightest sounding album to come out this year featuring guitar work that is less about technical ability and more about arranging every musical strand to fit in place in order to draw out the dark emotions presented in songs such as “Silvera”. It’s also the band’s shortest album to date, clocking in at just under 44 minutes. This is a good thing as it drives home the idea that all the fat has been trimmed off the album and polished to a mirror shine.  Make no mistake that if you’ve been lollygagging over listening to Gojira, now is as good a time as any to get started.

 

Film:

The Witch (Anya Taylor-Joy)
(Director: Robert Eggers)

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I’m pretty selective when it comes to horror films, but one of my favorite innovations of the genre is having it take place during a non-modern time period. In this case, The Witch takes place in 17th century New England and concerns a Puritan family trying to start a life in the wilderness after being exiled from their settlement. The film is very bleak and the unknown of the surrounding wilderness is unsettling even before things start to go awry. Plus, we’re talking about a Puritan family, so the moment someone does or says something that can even be remotely put under the context of the Devil’s work, you’re just waiting for the hammer to come down. The film creates the kind of horror that we need more of nowadays, relying on a dense atmosphere that settles under your skin and stays there. Gotta give big ups to the child actors in this one as well.

 

Macbeth, (Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard)
(Director: Justin Kurzel)

Macbeth_2015_poster

Macbeth is my favorite play from Shakespeare, so I was more than pleased to hear that it was going to get the big budget treatment with two fantastic actors in the lead roles. Other Shakespeare fans will agree that seeing all the different takes on the roles or settings in his plays is what makes each production unique. That said, most productions of Macbeth seem focused on two things: 1) the violence, and 2) how that violence transforms Macbeth. What Justin Kurzel brings to the table is a beautifully stark film dripping with atmosphere, and while it has its violent moments (including the bloody stabbing of Duncan) they aren’t played up for shock factor, but instead to show the raw, harsh nature Macbeth has embraced. In fact, Fassbender’s Macbeth seems like he’s dead inside the moment we see him, implying that his becoming a murderer isn’t so much a descent as it is a natural progression. Cotillard nails her role, of course, offering up a take on Lady Macbeth that is less the sinister woman who takes a descent into madness but rather a woman who feels that the world has taken enough from her, and so she takes back. Also, the music provided by Jed Kurzel is hauntingly gorgeous. It’s my favorite adaptation of the Scottish play and one I’m eager to give another viewing.

Sidenote: Kurzel, Fassbender, and Cotillard are all leading the film adaptation of Assassin’s Creed, and while video game movies may have a penchant for sucking, Macbeth might give you hope that it’ll at least be decent given the talent involved.

 

The Conjuring 2 (Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson)
(Director: James Wan)

Conjuring_2

Two horror movies in one month? What are the odds? As I said, I’m selective with horror, but the first The Conjuring was surprisingly good, dishing out some good old supernatural possession that felt reinvigorated and, yes, actually scary. But horror film sequels are a dime a dozen and are usually just rehashes of the maiden film, so chances of The Conjuring 2 blowing were somewhat high. Yet, while the film is very similar to its predecessor, the new film is still just as effective as the first with no small thanks to Wan’s excellent direction and use of camera angles that will make your eyes flit all over the place trying to find out where the next scare is going to come from. Also, like the first film, The Conjuring takes the time to establish that the characters in this story are real people and not just fodder, showing them in times of happiness as well as terror. If there’s anything this sequel has over its predecessor, it’s that the demon nun depicted in this film is 1) scarier than the demon from the first film, and 2) fucking metal as hell. I can’t remember the last time a monster like that made me look over my shoulder while walking around my own home.

 

The Wolf of Wall Street (Leonardo DiCaprio)
(Director: Martin Scorsese)

wolf of wall street

Yeah, yeah I can hear people saying already: “How have you not seen this movie before?! It’s amazing! I’ve seen every Martin Scorsese movie which basically means I know everything about movies!” If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone ask that question I’d probably be able to buy my own damn theater. Make no mistake though, this has been on my list for a while, and now that I’ve seen it I can say that, yes, it’s as good as everyone said and, yes, DiCaprio should have won the Oscar for this. You’d think a three-hour movie with nonstop partying would get tiring, but it’s so funny and batshit crazy that you can’t look away until the credits roll. It was also great to see the role that got Margot Robbie to where she is now and Jonah Hill has great comedic chemistry with DiCaprio. I felt like I benefitted from seeing The Big Short before this as it helped to accentuate the lengths to which we go to for money and power.

 

Books:

Dune by Frank Herbert

dune

Somehow I forgot to put down my thoughts on Frank Herbert’s legendary sci-fi epic in my Good Bits recap of May. I finished it pretty early in the month and that was mostly the appendices. Then I dove into Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, which I’ve had sitting on my shelf for a while. But a book like Dune certainly requires at least a few words, so I’ll sum up as much as I can: Dune is as important and influential as The Lord of the Rings, and now I see why. The influence on sci-fi and fantasy is unmistakable and the way Herbert goes about building his world is awe-inspiring. Sure, some concepts seem a bit dated and many story elements will seem very familiar, but that’s only because Dune‘s influence is now more famous than the actual text. By the time it was over all I could think was “How long until Hollywood gives this another whirl?” It’s a classic for a reason, and I’m happy I know that now.

 

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

salem's lot

Two horror films and now a novel from the master of horror himself. I always felt horror has an advantage in the written word for one specific reason: it’s as vivid and fucked up as your mind allows it to be. I’m a huge King fan, but I actually got started reading works like The Green Mile and The Dark Tower saga, but after reading ‘Salem’s Lot I wish I’d started with the classics. ‘Salem’s Lot is my favorite novel from King thus far, a slow burn that succeeds in making a supernatural threat feel as real as the characters in the novel. I was also happy to see the original story behind Father Callahan, an important character in the latter half of The Dark Tower novels. I don’t want to say too much for those who haven’t read it, but I will leave it with this: when you think a certain type or trope or story has been wrung for all its worth, you go back to masters who made that shit great in the first place.

 

Currently Reading:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

hitchhiker's guide

Yet another novel that was long overdue for a read. Thus far, as a fan of British style humor, I’m kicking myself for not having picked this up sooner.

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The Good Bits: May 2016

I’m not sure how May is already over. It’s crazy to think that summer is here already, but the movie studios have been ready for a long, long time. Two of the biggest movies of the year came out this past month, both following in the wake of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Since there wasn’t as much music for me to write about compared to April, I took the time to get a little lengthy with the film section for May. It may lean a bit towards the ranty side, but, hey, they’re superhero movies. Gotta put in my two cents just like everyone else in the world.

Music:

Fleshgod Apocalypse, King (Nuclear Blast)

fleshgod

The lone music entry for the month of may was actually released in February, but I missed out on it partly because of simply being interested in other bands and also because Fleshgod Apocalypse can sometimes be…a lot. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a really good band with enough technicality and ferocity to blow other bands out of the water. But the relentlessness of most of their material has the tendance to leave me feeling a bit drained, so I figured I’d get more of the same from King. I was only partly right. While the core of the album is still high energy death metal with a classical influence, the band switches things up a bit more this time around. The composition has improved and the classical side of the music gets to hold the reins more often, providing a nice break from onslaught of tracks like “Healing Through War”. It’s great that the band can keep their signature sound while also tinkering with it.

 

Film:

Captain America: Civil War (Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr.)
(Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo)

civil war

Sometimes I still can’t believe the state of superhero movies. If you’d told me in 2008 we’d see Batman and Superman onscreen the same year as a film based on Civil War, my disbelief would be overshadowed by my fanboy induced heart attack just from the idea. And yet here we are with Captain America: Civil War kicking off Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and man are things getting shaken up. First off, it’s clear that Phase Three is going to different compared to its predecessors simply by the fact that it packs a bunch of superheroes in one movie. The first two phases focused on solo movies that culminated with the Avengers assembling, but in Civil War we start with the new Avengers lineup in action before it completely falls apart. Combine that with the inclusion of characters like Ant-Man, Black Panther, and Spider-man and the worry of “too many heroes” rears its ugly head. But the combined magic of Disney, Marvel, and the Russo brothers prevents that fear from coming to fruition.

Civil War‘s greatest strength is how it manages to devote time to each character and allows them time to shine or to develop. Scarlet Witch struggles with her powers and bonds with Vision, Falcon and War Machine see more action than ever before, Bucky struggles with his brainwashing, Black Widow debates where her loyalties lie, and, of course, ideals and fists clash between Cap and Iron Man. And lets not forget the fact that the movie also has to introduce us to Black Panther and reboot Spider-man (again). But none of this ever gets out of hand. Everything flows smoothly from one struggle to the next all under the overarching plot between the two sides. The MVP here is Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, delivering a performance that gets you hyped for his solo movie if you weren’t already. And Tom Holland makes an excellent Peter Parker/Spider-man, pulling off the bookish timidness of the former and the chattiness of the latter. Daniel Brühl also deserves recognition for his subtle but compelling role as Zemo, pulling strings and moving pieces to appropriately build tension throughout the film.

What I did not expect from this movie was that I found the overall plot and reasoning behind the struggle to be more compelling than that of the comics. It’s not as clear-cut as whether or not heroes should have to have to be registered and have their identities public. This is about how best to protect the world, about consequences, about who is fighting for the greater good, how certain ideals can be a person’s strength but also their weakness. All of these aspects build to the emotionally charged finale, giving it more gravity than if it was just a straight up adaptation of the comic. Said finale, like Batman v Superman, gave us an iconic shot that made me spaz uncontrollably in my seat. In case you couldn’t tell, Civil War is one of the best MCU films so far, and even one of the best superhero films ever in general.

 

X-Men: Apocalypse (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence)
(Director Bryan Singer)

apocalypse

A long time ago, I figured out that reading reviews before going to see a film can really warp your viewing experience. Critics can exacerbate minor flaws or make sweeping generalizations about the film, writing it off well before people are able to go to the theater. And I know everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but in this day and age of the internet, many feel the need to conform to said opinion simply because it comes from some imagined hierarchy or loud majority. It’s what happened with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film I can understand people disliking despite the people going out to hate watch it because Rotten Tomatoes told them it was shit. But with X-Men: Apocalypse, I legitimately don’t understand where it negativity is coming from. This may run contrary to what you’ve heard, but I enjoyed Apocalypse even more than Days of Future Past.

This is the first film to really capture one of the core aspects of the X-Men: teamwork. Everyone gets their moment to shine, everyone contributes, everyone works together in the film’s exciting finale. While I’ve enjoyed most of the X-Men films, their depictions of the mutants working as a team are either overshadowed by someone else’s plot (X2: X-Men United) or sabotaged by a mostly mediocre film (X-Men: The Last Stand). Here, all the mutants get a kickass moment and even character development not unlike Civil War. Evan Peters’s Quicksilver once against steals the show with his hysterical rescue scene that outdoes his spot in the previous film. Sophie Turner proves she’s an excellent fit for Jean Grey in the final fight. Michael Fassbender still excels in Magneto’s more emotional scenes…I could go on but that’s about ten more mutants. You get the point.

I guess the only criticism I might allow is that Apocalypse, while well-performed by Oscar Issac, isn’t as formidable compared to his comic book counterpart. He’s great, but he’s not this hulking fearsome figure that most fans associate him with. Also, while Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine cameo made me all giddy, it also made me glad that his last film is finally going to be rated R. Seriously, I need to see Jackman turn someone into spaghetti before he retires. But these are minor complains, and the film is just so damn fun you won’t even pay them mind. And you shouldn’t pay any mind to any other criticism you might hear either. If you’re going to hate it, hate it because you saw it and hated it. Not because the internet told you so.

 

Currently Reading:

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

salem's lot

My journey though King’s bibliography continues. It’s a good slow burn. More to come next month.

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