Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Little Sadnesses that Come with Things Getting Better


I dreamed about you last night.

It had been a while. When you first took off, it seemed that any morning I woke up remembering my dreams from the previous night, I was remembering you and me on some sort of adventure. In space. In Japan. In some alternate reality. Rarely sexual, but always together. As if reality itself couldn't stop us if we'd just combine our powers.

Those were lovely dreams. I'd wake from them happy. I don't wake up happy anymore.

That's just one of the little sadnesses I deal with now that you're gone. Don't get me wrong. Ending whatever we had was the right decision. Once I finally woke up and realized how much damage I'd caused myself by battling to keep you in my life, I knew that walking away was the only right answer. That doesn't mean it's been easy. Or painless. 

Oddly, the further you get from my mind, the more details of your face I forget, the sadder I get. It's no longer a massive, immovable wall of sadness. But it's many little sadnesses teaming up in me, the way all those little mini-Ash guys ganged up on Ash in that windmill in Army of Darkness. Little things like realizing I'm forgetting what you look like. Or realizing all the affection and care I had (and still have) for you lying around unused and rotting away.

Or how about this one: It's hit home recently that you were far from the person I fell in love with by the time we parted ways. The woman I fell for was funny, intelligent, and extremely creative. You were down to go out and do things. You were fascinating to me. Beautiful. The woman I never knew I'd always wanted.

By the time you took off, the woman I was so drawn to was gone. In her place was someone who looked just like her and sounded like her, but "you" no longer acted like her. Instead, "you" were neurotic, depressed, and terrified of your own shadow. We never went anywhere where there might be other people. It was a major victory if I could get you to go any further away than a couple blocks from your house. When I first loved you, you were fun. By the time you left, you were like a pod person version of yourself.


That little sadness has been compounded by the idea that maybe the pod person version of you was the real you. Maybe all the things I loved about you were affectations you put on so I'd like you. Maybe the pod person was just beneath the surface the whole time. 

Or maybe things were the way I perceived them to be. maybe the person I loved so much was taken over and disposed of by You, the pod person. Maybe the pod person betrayed and murdered the person I loved so much. I'm reminded of what Obi-Wan told Luke Skywalker when confronted about what the old Jedi told him about his father's death. "What I told you was true... from a certain point of view."

Maybe you were never real. That seems logical from a certain point of view. Maybe your emotional and psychological issues turned you into a pod person, unwilling to take even the slightest of risks. That also could be true from a certain point of view. And maybe an angry, terrified side of you murdered the amazing, fascinating side of you that I was so crazy about. Again, from the right point of view, that could be true. 

All I know for sure is that while being away from you is getting easier every day and I'm getting closer to getting back to being my true self, all these thoughts make me sad. And the idea that someday I'll forget you completely and these little sadnesses will be gone... That is a little sadness in and of itself.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Hotel Artemis: Blood, Bullets, and Mental Illness


(Spoilers and curse words ahead...)

There's a lot of cool going on in Hotel Artemis. It has a cast full of cool actors, like Dave Bautista, Sterling K. Brown and Jeff Goldblum. The concept, that there's a hospital masquerading as a hotel where criminals can go get stitched up when the shit hits the fan, is a very cool idea. The movie's visual style is really cool. The little details in this movie, like 3-D printing organs or the fact the most of the characters are named after the names of the rooms they're staying in, are really cool. DAMMIT, this movie is just really cool.

But the coolest thing of all about Artemis? The fact that, at its heart, it's a movie about a woman fighting to overcome anxiety. That shit's fucking awesome.

The story: The Nurse (Jodie Foster) runs the titular "hotel", which is really a health care provider for those engaged in lives of crime. There are rules. You have to be a member to get in. Don't kill any of the other guests. Don't abuse the hotel staff. Blah, blah, blah... The rules are enforced by a mountain of a man appropriately named Everest (Bautista).

Waikiki (Brown) checks into the Artemis with his brother after a job goes pear-shaped. (I'm not British. Can I get away with using "pear-shaped"?) Acapulco (Charlie Day) and Nice (Sofia Boutella) are already guests. They have their own subplots going on. Things really start getting tense when The Wolf King (Goldblum), the crime lord who owns much of the city (including the Artemis) and Morgan (Jenny Slate), someone from The Nurse's past, show up in need of help. Helping Morgan would break the rules, and with The Wolf King on the premises, that means certain death. What's a nurse who caters to the criminal underworld to do?



Written and directed by Drew Pearce, whose previous credits include writing Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Iron Man 3, Artemis doesn't easily fit into any genre I can think of. There are some pretty kick-ass action sequences, but it's really not an action movie. It has quite a few scenes of hardcore criminals talking trash to one another, like something out of Reservoir Dogs, but it's pretty far from a heist movie. I laughed plenty, but this ain't no comedy.

The closest I can come to slapping genre label on this baby comes when I consider the main story thread in the movie. The Nurse is stricken with anxiety, to the point where it occasionally cripples her. Over the course of the movie, she has to overcome said anxiety to figure out a way out of her situation. The Nurse's situation leads to plenty of suspense, so maybe this is a suspense thriller.

As someone who suffers from anxiety, it was easy for me to get behind The Nurse. (That's not intended to sound as dirty as it does.) And the flick doesn't end with her permanently conquering her issues. The message of the movie seems to me to be that even in the midst of your worst days, the best way to deal with anxiety is little by little, one catastrophe at a time.

Other movies have dealt with similar mental issues, but Artemis is the first time I can recall a movie full of crooks and hoods handling anxiety in a way that's this relatable and resonant.  Foster captures the putting on a brave face and crumbling when no one's looking of anxiety in a way that really hit home with me. That's very, very cool.

Artemis has flaws, one of which is the one-note quality of every character other than The Nurse. But the cast plays those notes really fucking well. Bautista steals the show as Everest, The Nurse's put-upon assistant who's as much a handyman keeping the hotel running as he is an enforcer. Charlie is at his most sniveling and most prickish, but he's just so good at it. Boutella is all sex and lethality. She slinks through the film with such grace, and her big fight scene is one of the highlights of the movie. And Brown is 100% pure badass cool. He's come a long way since his days on Supernatural.

Another flaw? Goldblum and Slate aren't in the movie enough. Goldblum's Wolf King is such an interesting guy, and I wish I knew more about him. I have a crush on Slate, so wanting more of her in the movie probably comes from that. What can I say? We all judge movies based on different criteria.

It takes a while to get to the action, but it's worth waiting for. While waiting, we get to explore this world, its rules, its politics and its oodles of atmosphere. The colors in the Artemis are rich and the light perfectly accents the visuals and creates buckets of mood.

Throw in all the cool stuff, the great casting, the relatable anxiety storyline and the details of the world the film is set in, and Hotel Artemis overcomes its flaws and provides for a tense, entertaining ride. If you're sick of franchise blockbusters, this movie could be the perfect cinematic medication.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Ghost's Prequelle: Track-By-Track Musings

Ghost has rapidly become one of my favorite bands over the past year, thanks to catching their live set opening for Iron Maiden last summer, as well as the rock-solid bad-assery of the last record, Meliora. Now, the wait for their new platter, Prequelle, is over. I've been pretty hyped for the past few months. Does Prequelle pay off? Let's take it track by track and see.

Track 1: "Ashes"

A creepy little intro number that provides a thick, foreboding atmosphere. Kinda like the first 45 minutes of Alien. Kids choruses are creepy. I'm totally ready for this shit!

Track 2: "Rats"

A good, hard-driving track, like "Bark at the Moon" with less shredding. Singer Tobias Forge is in fine form, and his sense of melody is as infectious as it is lethal. The chorus only consists of two words but it really embeds itself in your head. The guitar solos are the kind that you can hum after one or two listens, proving shredding five million notes a minute isn't the only way to get it done. And that last riff crushes EVERYTHING.

Track 3: "Faith"

Opens with super Maiden-esque harmonies, setting you up for some serious power metal before the mid-tempo stomp kicks in. The solo after the first chorus is a little wankier than Ghost's usual, but I dig it. The drummer's doing mad work here. The beat is so persistent, so solid, and just irresistible. Your head WILL bang. Forge isn't on fire here like on "Rats", but it's still a kick-ass tune.

Track 4: "See the Light"

Forge is carrying this tune. It's a testament to how powerful his voice is. We've got prominent piano works in the verses. Then things blow up at the chorus. "Every day that you feed me with hate/ I grow stronger"... Hmm... Sounds like this song could be about Trump. Or Star Wars fanboys...

Track 5: "Miasma"

Holy super sounds of the 70's!! Ghost has always had a foot in 70's rock and metal, but this tune sounds full-on Edgar Winter Group. It's reminding me of something that would have been on the Thor: Ragnarok soundtrack. I see Vikings and valkyries and wizards and tricksters and shit. And a sax solo!! This tune's like that mall in Blues Brothers. It's got everything!



Track 6: "Dance Macabre"

Are you ready to shake your shit? This is the Ghost song to shake to. Forge is out of his mind on this one. Tuneful, soulful, soaring. Love the harmonies in the pre-chorus. And another killer guitar solo! This is almost power pop, but it's hooking, catchy and just a lot of damn fun. Three cheers for toxic relationships!!

Track 7: "Pro Memoria"

Look out, Axl Rose! You aren't the only one who wants to be Elton John. The pianos are pretty and the melody soars. This is kind of the sequel to "He Is", but it's more sinister and not as immediately. Still, love the epicness and the orchestral touches. I just don't want to sing along like I do with "He Is."

Track 8: "Witch Image"

Back to the crunchy, classic rockin' goodness. The riff feels like it's unfinished. It needs a little something else to get it over the top. The chorus demands to be sung along with. This song would be great background noise for a road trip, but it's a little too poppy for me.

Track 9: "Helvetesfonster"

We got ourselves a waltz here. An instrumental waltz, at that. Some impressive piano and synth work here. I like the quiet breakdown that sounds like something a medieval king might have playing in his court. Kinda feel like I don't need this after "Miasma." It's a cool track, but I feel like we need another hard rocking tune instead.

Track 10: "Life Eternal"

Absolutely beautiful. And given that I'm still being tortured by the memory of someone who used to be, but is no longer, part of my life, it resonates with me. I'm tearing up over here. Excellent closer!!

Overall:

Prequelle frequently hits that sweet spot between hard rocking rhythmic hooks and powerful, soaring vocal melodies. At its best, the record will have you singing along, stomping your feet and throwing up the Devil Horns simultaneously. The back half of the record is weaker than the front half and the record could really use at least one more heavy tune. But Ghost manages to keep you enthralled and engaged with Prequelle, and the record's a helluva lot of fun. It's not quite as good as Meliora, but it's still pretty damn awesome! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

There's More To Kick-Ass Japanese Rock Than Babymetal!


I didn't discover the awesomeness of the Japanese rock scene until relatively recently. The Big Bang of Japanese rock for me was Babymetal, the totally badass J-Pop/Metal hybrid that blew up a few years ago and introduced much of the world to "Kawaii Metal" (AKA Cute Metal).

But Babymetal is far from the only killer rock band that hails from Japan. I'm no expert, but in my studies, I've run across a whole host of excellent rock and metal acts and I'm feeling kinda generous. So, here are my five favorite Japanese bands, apart from Babymetal. Hit up YouTude or Spotify or whatever and treat yourself to some damn tasty ear candy.

Silhouette from the Skylit


How I Found 'Em: A YouTube video by The Rock Critic

Loud, melodic and crackling with RAWK!! energy, SFTS (yes, the band's name is grammatically incorrect) play some kickin' radio-friendly rock that mixes big guitars and drums with electronic flourishes. I'm kinda thinking if you fronted old-school Paramore with a guy and added in some Dance-Dance keyboards for flavor, you'd get something pretty similar to SFTS. Not my regular flavor, but when I'm in the mood for them, they get me totally amped!!

Mary's Blood



How I Found 'Em: A Referral on Spotify

These gals whoop some serious ass. Playing classic power metal riffs with thrashy intensity, Mary's Blood blasts a potent sound that I can best describe as Judas Priest on steroids. Singer Eye has a fantastic soaring voice, like a female Bruce Dickenson. You may detect the occasional pop hook, but don't be fooled. These ladies are pure metal!

Sigh


How I Found 'Em: Sons of Metal reviewed one of their albums.

How do I describe Sigh? Avante-Guard Metal? Japanese Black Metal? Extreme Metal with a fucking saxophone? If's there a term that properly describes these guys, I've yet to stumble across it. You just have to hear it for yourselves.

MergingMoon


How I Found 'Em: They were on an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

Just when I didn't think I could love Mr. Bourdain's globetrotting food adventure program anymore, he gives these guys some screen time. It was love at first taste. To my ears, I hear In This Moment crossbreeding with Amon Amarth in their sound. With the occasional stray metalcore noise. And keyboards. I love it all.

Band-Maid


How I Found 'Em: YouTube recommended them when I was jamming some Babymetal.

Ok, so Babymetal is pretty gimmicky, but I think these ladies might have 'em beat. A hard-rocking all-girl act, Band-Maid dresses up maid outfits when they hit the stage. But don't judge by their clothing choices. These ladies kick major ass, like Halestorm of Halestorm was a tad bit heavier. Plus, unlike the Babymetal ladies, Band-Maid plays their own instruments!

There's still a lot of awesome Japanese rock and metal I didn't get to here. And I'm sure there's so much out there I haven't heard yet. I'm putting on my headphones and going on an audio adventure. If you have recommendations, I'd love to hear 'em! ROCK ON!!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Deadpool Tries To Grow Up, Gets Sequelitis and Survives


Even if you're not sure what the term "sequelitis" means, you've probably seen it. It's when, in an effort to give filmgoers a new experience with a movie franchise, filmmakers and studio executives stuff a movie full of new characters, side plots, and more extreme action scenes.

They mean well. But all too often, it sucks the life out of sequels, leaving behind a bloated, unevenly toned corpse. It often happens when you have a relatively simple first film, and studio idiots think they need to implant some massive, epic mythology to keep things interesting. Examples: Well, every Pirates of the Caribbean sequel immediately come to mind. So does Pacific Rim 2. I'm sure you can think of plenty of additional examples without my help.

Deadpool 2 has a pretty bad case of sequelitis. Tone issues. a whole host of new characters demanding our attention. More action, and beefed-up thematic material, too. And the movie does suffer for it. But DP2 is the rare film that goes to war with Sequelitis, punches that motherfucker in the gonads, and comes out on top.

Deadpool 2 finds our titular hero (Ryan Reynolds) at rock bottom and looking for his place in life. This search leads him to Russell (Julian Dennison), a 14-year-old New Zealander with a fiery mutant talent and an even more explosive temper. 



Oh, and did I mention Cable (Josh Brolin) yet? Yeah. This time-traveling, metal-armed son of a bitch shows up primed to dust Russell to prevent future death and destruction. Deadpool drafts his own team of superpowered bad asses, including the hilarious Peter (Rob Delaney) and the ass-kicking Domino (Zazie Beetz), to save Russell and the day.

Deadpool was a relatively simple flick. DP needs to save his lady from a douchebag bad guy. Pretty straight-forward. DP2 features time travel, several scenes where DP visits some sort of dream world (I can't get too specific here without spoilers), a big-ass prison sequence and a whole backstory for Cable. All that gets squeezed into a runtime of fewer than two hours. That's a lotta shit to do in that amount of time.

That means some things are gonna suffer. Add in this film needs time for jokes, and you've got a very difficult balancing act to handle. Director David Leitch handles all this pretty gamely, but there are chinks in the armor. Some comedic beats could have been cut back. A couple gags (again, can't get detailed without spoiling stuff) get run into the ground. A side plot involving Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is really out of step with the rest of the movie, tonally. It was the cinematic equivalent of that taste you get in your mouth when you drink orange juice soon after you brush your teeth.

Other issues I had were mostly personal nit-picky type stuff. Dennison bears a resemblance to the fat kid in that one episode of Metalocalypse. Every time he was onscreen, Dethklok was playing in my head. It was kind of cool, but it was also distracting. I also wanted to see more of Negasonic Teenage Warhead. She gets shuffled aside for new characters, and that bummed me out. Lastly, some of the pop culture jokes and references are getting old for me. I mean, how many times can you laugh at Ryan Reynolds cracking Ryan Reynolds jokes?

But there's a lot of jokes that work, and work gut-bustingly well. The DP/Cable fight is as funny as it is brutal. We even get a pretty killer chase scene, and killer chase scenes seem to be getting hard to come by.

Reynolds is golden as DP, to the point where I really hope I never see anyone don the Mouthy Merc's red spandex. Watching him riff with other members of the cast is priceless. Brolin kills it as Cable, a guy I can totally see sitting on his porch in the future demanding that kids get the fuck off his lawn.



Eddie Marsan shows up, which made me smile in spite of his character's creepy shittiness. Oh, and Zazie Beetz as Domino... She made me believe luck is totally a superpower. She's hilarious, bad ass and totally gorgeous.

And then, as a cherry atop this sundae of gory, profane hilarity, there's the mid-credits scene. This is easily the most Deadpool thing ever put on film and it gave something I've wanted to see ever since they announced they were gonna be making Deadpool movies. I almost cried, I was so happy.

Deadpool 2 is as bouncing, fleet or fresh as the first DP flick. It gets lost in meandering side stories and tries too hard to mash together tones that don't work together. But it's still funny and full of awesome comic-booky violence. It even tries to be about something other than making fun of other movies. This attempt at growth doesn't come without pain, but it is completely worth admiring.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Shit I Watched on Netflix, Ep. 2




Bright

What is this shit?

Bright is a gritty cop tale set in a world human share with orcs, fairies, and other fantasy creatures. Think something along the lines of Training Day crossed with Lord of the Rings.

What's This Shit All About?

A human cop named Ward (Will Smith) and his partner Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the first Orc cop in history, are having a really bad night. Ward's fellow officers want him to get Jakoby out of the picture by any means necessary. Then the two cops stumble across a young elf with a wand and get dragged into a web of violence as a multitude of interested parties attempt to wipe them out and take the wand for themselves.

The Good Shit!

Ok, it has to be said right off the bat that this is a fucking fantastic idea for a film. The idea of a world full of a multitude of fantasy creatures interacting with humans in a modern-day setting? Outstanding! The opportunities for deeply engrossing mythology and epic stories are endless. So many fascinating directions a story like this can go in. 

And using fantasy in a modern setting to comment on race relations in the U.S. is pretty damn clever. It provides a chance to talk about racism without offending anyone because characters in the movie are racist against characters that aren't human.  

Also, Jakoby is an interesting, multi-dimensional character. As his arc unspools, he's revealed to be a thoughtful, caring being, easily the most decent and most human entity in the entire movie. 

Finally, the five seconds or so of death metal Jakoby plays before Ward whines "No Orcish music" made me smile.

The Bad Shit!

Let's start with the lazy worldbuilding. It's as if the writer, Max Landis, was too lazy to actually sketch out what would happen if there were really fantasy creatures living in our world. History seems to have continued exactly as it has in the real world, with the only difference being that there are orcs and shit here now. How would having fantasy creatures on earth affect the development of religion? Would pop culture different? Would Shreck still be a thing if it offends Orcs? Landis seems not to have considered this, or maybe he didn't care. That's lazy writing and worldbuilding.



Then there's the actual plot of the movie, which really doesn't go anywhere for, like, the entire second act of the film. Instead of story, we get a seemingly endless procession of pointless gunfights. One thing I learned in my screenwriting classes that I'll never forget is that you have to stop the story to have an action scene. The story just kinda sits around waiting for the action to end so it can move on. That's why overly long battle scenes don't work: they kill the story's momentum. And Bright goes nowhere for like 45 minutes. Yawn.

If that wasn't enough, Jakoby is the only character in Bright that works. Ward is played as this broken-down pathetic mess, but apart from the shit he gets for having an orc partner, there's not really a reason for him to be this way. His home life seems to be fine, apart from the fact that his wife and kid are shit-scared he'll end up dead. He doesn't have it that bad, so his character doesn't really work. The rest of the characters in the flick come off as cardboard cutouts the movie needs to move the plot. They don't have any dynamics of dimensions. 

Lastly, "Fairie lives don't matter today" may be the single lamest line of dialogue my ears have ever heard. That's right. Anakin Skywalker's "I don't like sand" rant from Attack of the Clones is off the hook.

Wrap This Shit Up!

Bright is one of those movies that critics seem to despise but normal movie fans enjoy. I can honestly see both sides of the equation, even if my own reaction falls closer to the critics. It's such a cool concept! Maybe the forthcoming sequel will fix some of the flaws of the original and fill in some of the plot potholes. 

That said, I can't see myself sitting down to watch Bright again unless I am severely chemically altered. Because, regardless of the potential of the premise, I can't recall a movie so full of cool creatures, flying bullets and bloody violence that left me feeling so... bored.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Shit I Watched on Netflix, Ep. I

Aggretsuko 

Ok, this is a new blog feature dedicated to, you guessed it, stuff I've watched on Netflix. And how I felt about it. We good? Cool. LET IT BEGIN!!!

What Is This Shit?

This little animated gem follows an adorable red panda name Retsuko as she slogs through the drudgery of corporate life. To the steam that builds up at work, Retsuko pulls out the microphone she carries in her purse and lets loose some serious death metal scream. Think of it as a mash-up of Hello Kitty and Office with a metallic twist.

What's This Shit About?

Retsuko is a single, 25-year-old office drone who's stuck in corporate wage slave limbo. She hates her boss, Ton, a chauvinistic (literal) pig with a hard-on for golf, and the rest of her dispiriting work environment. When a plan to join a business her friend is starting falls through, Retsuko comes up with a plan to get married and quit her job. Along the way, she learns not to hide her true self and takes the first tentative steps toward contentment.

The Good Shit!

Where do I start? The whole concept behind Aggretsuko amuses me endlessly. It's like the cartoon equivalent of the kawaii metal band Babymetal: a sugary cuteness rush with a kick-ass death metal chaser.

When Retsuko grabs her mic, she goes through a transformation, complete with markings that resemble black metal-style corpse paint, and the energy builds until she finally lets loose. And we, the viewers, get whisked along for the ride.



And the songs? Pretty brutal and more catchy than The Plague. I already have the refrain from "Shitty Boss" embedded in my brain.

And the show is hilarious, too. Every character gets highlights that draw big-time laughs. The humor is a brilliant mix of the obvious, the absurd, and the quirky. It may not work for everyone, but I fucking loved it!

The Bad Shit!

This may come off as hyperbolic, but I'm having real trouble coming up with any flaws. The closest thing to a negative I can come up is the crude animation style. But it totally fits the tone of the show. Maybe there's just not enough of it. And given how quirky it is, I wouldn't be surprised this is all the Aggretsuko we get.

Wrap This Shit Up!!

I. AM. ADDICTED. This show hits me right in the oddball sweet spot in my brain. I can totally relate to being stuck in a dead-end job you despise. And the show had a good message about being true to yourself, and not hiding who you really are. Plus, it's one season of 10 15-minute episodes. That means you can binge the whole thing in less time than it takes to sit through a Lord of the Rings movie.

So if you hate your job, like cute things, and are looking for a good reason to laugh your ass of, bang your head, and throw up your Devil hours, give Aggretsuko a shot.