Monthly Archives: June 2017

5 Albums to Try if You Like Their Singles

My wife directs our attention to the best music.

Musings From A Music Box

I often find that I love different singles I hear on the radio or Spotify but when I listen to the whole album, its a dud. Here are 5 albums that won’t disappoint if you like the band or their radio singles!

Imagine Dragons

We’ve heard Radioactive over and over again till nausea has set in but Imagine Dragons is actually a much better band than just that hit. If you like their radio singles I would recommend their album “Smoke and Mirrors.” There is not a bad song on the album. I like this album because all the songs are sing-able and catchy but also different than every pop song on the radio. The most famous songs from this album are probably “I Bet My Life” and “Polaroid” but my favorite are “Shots”,  and “I’m So Sorry.” This is a great road trip album or get excited album or…

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The Mummy – A Review

the_mummy_poster_2What do we want with a Mummy movie? Do we want an action-adventure like 1999 Brendan Fraser movie? Do we want a horror film? Period piece or modern day? European, American or Egyptian location?

I ask these questions because I feel like The Mummy isn’t very itself. While the previous trilogy of films had a clear vision, that doesn’t mean it has to be the blueprint for a new movie. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t seem to have a blueprint of it’s own.

The film starts off well, once it gets past the cold open with Russell Crowe. We have Tom Cruise in trouble, stuck in a lost cause of a shootout. He discovers a tomb, is joined by a boring blonde, they grab a mummy and then the mummy’s curse starts messing with people.

Breaking the film down in thirds, the first is by far the strongest. It seems to have a vision, a hectic pace with both action and horror and it’s here Tom Cruise seems to be the most game. My appreciation of Cruise as an actor has grown over the years, in going back to his earlier work and enjoying some of his new output. These days, it seems like the he and the audience have the most fun when he’s getting beat up. Whether he’s being thrown around, punched, dragged, stabbed or chased, Cruise has a way of making his pain amusing and thrilling at the same time. I can’t think of another actor who’s as fun to watch get knocked around.

There’s some genuine horror that’s stylish and small scale. Even though the plane scene has been shown nonstop in all the trailers, it’s still a cool sequence and it’s actually creepier in the film itself. Cruise’s interaction with the movie’s mummy, played by a fantastic Sofia Boutella, is fun and flirty. He’s definitely over his head with this monster. There’s some early scenes at a church and later in a forest that fit a smaller scale horror movie that has some action to keep the excitement going. Unfortunately, the movie is soon derailed by it’s second act.

I mentioned needing a blueprint earlier and the one this movie decided to borrow was Marvel’s. Except, when Marvel made Iron Man back in 2008, they made a movie first and world-built second. If you re-watch Iron Man now, after all the Marvel films that have come after, it’s surprising to see how standalone that film really is. If there was no Marvel Cinematic Universe, that movie would still be self-contained, even with S.H.I.E.L.D. showing up to help the plot move along.

dr-jekyll-mummyThe end credits scene in Iron Man, with Nick Fury mentioning the Avengers Initiative, worked because it was short and not part of the movie proper. We get the tease and then can only speculate what’s going to happen in the future. Now imagine if, in the middle of Iron Man Nick Fury showed up and spent a whole act explaining S.H.I.E.L.D. and super heroes and how the world worked and… well, I guess we’d have Iron Man 2.

The Mummy has that middle chapter as Russell Crowe spits out exposition while trying to chew as much scenery as possible. As Dr. Jekyll, he’s fine, I suppose. He’s not as compelling as he was when playing Jor-El, but he gets the job done. As Mr. Hyde? Yeesh. Supported by neither compelling effects or accent changes, he’s a dead stop and the movie never recovers. Prodigium, this universe’s S.H.I.E.L.D. is dull, ineffective and wastes the time given to it. I have to believe there was a better movie here at one point, one with a more suspenseful and exciting middle chapter, but it’s not the one we’re being shown.

Maybe a different color pallet would have helped liven things up. As it stands, the movie is gray. Every location, even those that take place in the desert, are filmed in a gray hue. And I don’t mean to hue-shame, if that’s what’s in the director’s heart. But. when most movies, even Captain America: Civil War, have that unoffensive, neutral color scheme of parking lots, a little bit of red and yellow stand out. The Mummy goes for gray in all things; sets, skies, even Sofia Boutella is made-up in gray costumes and makeup. It makes for a dull picture, to be sure.

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The third act of the film tries to right the ship, but it’s already taken on too much water. If the movie had kept the tone set by the earlier reel, the smaller scale climax wouldn’t feel like such a letdown. After all that Prodigium exposition, we need more than the one-on-one conversation between hero and villain. There’s a brief moment when the movie seems like it’s going bigger, but it just equates to flying glass and a bus stunt (flying debris hasn’t been exciting since the car chase in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). If the movie had stayed the course, all of that would have been a cool raising of the stakes. And then, when it went back to the the more personal ending, it would have fit with what came before. Instead, we have a movie that crawls to the finish.

The Mummy is disappointing. Disappointing in terms of what the franchise has been before, in what it could have been and, since we already know Universal wants a spanning franchise of monster films, disappointing in what’s to come. I would love a bunch of new Universal monster movies but this does not leave me with hope. Maybe, if the next film downplays or completely ignores Prodigium, we can have a more standalone movie. Maybe Bride of Frankenstein will have it’s own tone and style. Maybe general audiences won’t connect this movie with The Creature of the Black Lagoon. Maybe Universal will change that stupid Dark Universe logo.

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All the Books Show: Episode 92 – Dragon Teeth

This episode we talk about Michael Crichton’s newest posthumous release, Dragon Teeth. We also talk about your other favorite Crichton posthumous releases, Micro and Pirate Latitudes. And then things get away from us as we imagine the Lizard sharing clothes with the Hulk.

Needless to say, I find more reasons to talk about Jurassic Park. And if anyone thinks that the Timeline movie is better than The Lost World: Jurassic Park, let me know because I will physically fight you outside the location of your choice.

dragonteeth-cover-liveI reviewed Dragon Teeth here on the blog, so if you want something a little more detailed, check it out. A quick summary is that I enjoyed having a new Crichton book, but it’s not a fantastic story. If I had to rate the books released after Crichton’s death, I would pick Micro, Dragon Teeth and then Pirate Latitudes. And Micro seems a little unfair because it was actually intended to be released. I’ll read anything they find on Crichton’s computer, but I don’t think we need to any more.

You can follow us on Soundcloud, Youtube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

All the Books Show: Episode 91 – A Podcast About Podcasts!

So close to be up to date with these posts. So. Close.

We take a break from the nonstop news of books to talk about podcasts. Mainly, some of our favorites that we would recommend. Really, I should do a solo post about my favorite podcasts, because I love them and I’ve been listening to them longer then you. Also, we only mention three each and I never feel like I can describe anything well on mic.

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For reference, the three I mention are The Weekly Planet, The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith and Revolutions. Nic’s are Something About the Beatles, How Did This Get Made? and Spacepod. Tell me some of your favorites! Or don’t! Keep your life a secret if you want! But, those with closed doors will always be investing in new locks. And locks ain’t cheap.

You can follow us on Soundcloud, Youtube or iTunes and even Twitter! I’m sure there’s another, cool platform I’m forgetting but you can follow us on that too!

See you next week, podcats!

Humanz – An Album Review

humanzgorillazI know the album came out at the end of March and maybe I should have reviewed it then, but that method seems so strange to me. I like having read reviews for new albums when they’re released, but I can’t do it myself. For me, your perception of an album, you’re true feelings for it, develop over time. I didn’t actually like the Postal Service’s Give Up until owning it for two years and then one day it just clicked and now it’s one of my five favorites of all time. But if I had reviewed it the day I got it, I’d look like a darn fool!

That’s the way it has worked all my life. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ By the Way, the Gorillaz’ Demon Days, even David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars all took sometime to become favorites and for me to really understand what the album was saying. It’s why I’ll probably be reviewing the Chili Peppers’ The Getaway soon, even though it’s a year old. Music, maybe more than books and movies, needs time to grow.

But let’s talk about Humanz, the fifth Gorillaz album and first since 2010’s The Fall. The first thing I want to say is that it definitely feels like a Gorillaz album. In the seven years it’s taken for this album to happen, the sound, while still varied, is in the vein of the band. Yes, they’re eclectic, but the hip-hop electronic vibes still rule over traditional rock. This album is more “Dare” than “Clint Eastwood”.

Humanz is a political album that saw the worst coming and decided to throw a party. The first song proper, after one-of-many interludes, “Ascension” is a very raw and in-your-face introduction. Featured artist Vince Staples is a doorman with a doomsday sign and some angry words to share. I’ll admit, I didn’t like this song at first, but it slowly grew on me and now it feels like the only song that could start the album.

Next is “Strobelite”, a refugee from the 70s, featuring a very soulful Peven Everett. After that, we have “Saturnz Barz”. This is the first song on the album that sounds like classic Gorillaz and that’s mostly attributed to Damon Albarn finally showing up with his signature nasally whine. The song features Popcaan and has the right spooky galactic soundscape to make you feel lonely while you nod your head.

“Momentz” with De La Soul is a song that, again, didn’t click with me when I first heard it. There’s something so weird about the song, the music is heavy and and the bridge seems not to fit. But De La Soul brings so much charisma and confidence to his rap that when the bridge ends and the song kicks it up a notch, you’re jamming harder than you have throughout the album.

“Submission”, featuring Danny Brown and Kelela is a fun, relaxed tune that works because Kelela has a great voice and adds real emotion to the track. “Charger”, with  Grace Jones, is the most rock song on Humanz. With that repeated, distorted alarm, it stands out as an aggressive tune that grabs you by the ears.

I’ve mentioned before that I think the Gorillaz have a classic sound, one that if I hear it, I think of their work on Demon Days. “Andromeda” has that, though it’s not necessarily a track that would have fit on that album. It’s probably the most relaxing track, while still creating that cosmic soundscape “Saturnz Barz” started.

“Busted and Blue” is solo Albarn and it’s my least favorite track,, due to it’s also the dullest. It’s a slow, mournful song, but it’s a bit too plodding to get the job done. Luckily, “Carnival” brings in the weird, with a heartbeat drum and Anthony Hamilton’s creepy lyrics that create the image of a dilapidated waterfront park brought back to life, Frankenstein style.

One of the most charged, claustrophobic tracks is “Let Me Out”. From the opening keys, there’s something stressful here. To describe it, I’m going to just post my favorite lyrics from the song,”

Look into my eyes, mama, tell me what you see
Tell me there’s a chance for me to make it off the streets
Tell me that I won’t die at the hands of the police
Promise me I won’t outlive my nephew and my niece
Promise me my pastor isn’t lyin’ as he preach
Tell me that they’ll listen if it’s lessons that I teach
Tell me there’s a heaven in the sky where there is peace
But until then, I keep my piece in arm’s reach”

The hopelessness is potent, the wide-eyed hope for anything better is heartbreaking. Pusha T, the featured artist on the track, just wants to hear you promise him these things he know won’t be real. Even if you look him in the eye and say, “I promise”, he knows the hand has already been dealt. The music in the song is killer and it’s the lyrics should hit you like a bullet. It’s a standout track.

Changing the tone, you have “Sex Murder Party”. It’s wacky and sorrowful, with Albarn’s haunting chorus. It has a haunted house vibe with spirits stuck in an unending party. It’s hedonism at its worst, sucking you in because the world outside just got worse on November 2016. What else can we do but celebrate the end of the world?

We can dance, that’s what we can do. Especially to “She’s My Collar”, in which Albarn coyly raps about the girl who’s driving him crazy. It’s 80s cheese for sure, but it’s groovy and  Kali Uchis’ vocals are so off-center you can’t help but smirk. It’s all neon lights down this street.

“Hallelujah Money” was the first track released January 19, 2017, the day before the inauguration and, boy howdy, does it feel like many of us did on that day. Featuring Benjamin Clementine’s smooth and deep vocals, which croon poetry against a choir reciting the title of the track, the song is haunting. It’s a eulogy asking, “How will we know, when the morning comes, we are still human?” How will we know?

It’s not all the doom and gloom. I mean, there’s a lot of that, yes. But there’s hope at the end of the tunnel. “We Got the Power”, featuring Jehnny Beth and choir that includes Noel Gallagher, is an anthem of choice. No matter how bad things get, no matter what the Powers That Be choose, “We got the power to be loving each other, no matter what happens.” It’s a much needed adrenaline shot after “Hallelujah Money” and ends the album on a surprisingly optimistic note. Maybe, after the passive-aggressive party, we can get over the hangover and do something to delay the apocalypse.

Take out the interludes and you have a fourteen track album that moves at a brisk pace. It doesn’t reach the heights of Demon Days, but that’s because it lacks the focus. While all the songs belong on the same album, they don’t connect and compliment each other the way the Gorillaz’ sophomore record did. I’ve seen Humanz compared to a mix-tape and that’s not far off, but it’s an extremely focused mix, impressing everyone who finds it in their car.

b7b8c7e9I don’t like saying albums are better or worse than previous works of artists I love. It seems pointless. Albums are good or bad in different ways, but they don’t need to compete. Led Zeppelin’s fourth album is better or worse because of the quality of Houses of the Holy. And I can’t say Humanz is better than what’s come before but it does feel like a real comeback. My taste tends to run closer to Demon Days, which should be evident by now considering how much I’ve mentioned that album as opposed to the others. It’s that taste that digs Humanz and your mileage might vary. There’s a lot of great thoughts and messages in these songs, but if you don’t care for hip-hop, electronica, sampling and after parties, you might not get far enough in to taste the meat. For the rest, it’s a timely, strobe light filled house party.

Let’s just agree to not have to wait another seven years.

Wonder Woman – A Review

wwposter5It’s insane to me that Warner Bros. and DC Comics took seventy-five years to make a Wonder Woman movie. In that time, they’ve made movies for Steel, Jonah Hex, Catwoman, Supergirl, Constantine, the Suicide Squad and yes, I chose the bad ones to point out. I mean, they had a Lobo film in the works before they had a final script for their premier heroine.

But, the movie is here, so we can (but probably not for long) move on from that fact. Let’s focus on the film instead.

I had hesitancy about the movie leading up to seeing it. After all, Man of Steel made me rage until I had destroyed all the love in my life. (old blog, please come back to this one). Batman V. Superman was so dumb I just felt bad for it. And though Wonder Woman was a highlight in that movie, anything remotely NOT dumb would have been a relief during that two and a half hours.

But I was pleasantly surprised. For first two thirds of the movie, Wonder Woman is the film I wanted for years. The first third, which takes place in Themyscira, is great and the island itself feels exactly right. The Amazons have a Spartan vibe, without the machismo, and feel like a real society, even if our time with them isn’t that long. The action scenes that take place there have a 300 vibe, but those scenes are done with confidence and not in way that wears our patience.

Steve Trevor, as played by Chris Pine, is likable and charming, but he’s got an edge to him and also comes across as more progressive than his World War I society. The chemistry between him and Gal Gadot is on point and there’s some great interplay between the two early on.

The action is great. I think, like Captain America, we sometimes forget how strong Wonder Woman really is. But, unlike the First Avenger, Wonder Woman’s powers are big league. She can topple buildings, toss trucks and wreck through soldiers as she goes for jog. When her full powers are on display, such as the terrific charge through the front lines that ends the first half of the movie, she really is a full blown super hero.

ww-11802rv21But Wonder Woman is more than just a set of powers and lassos and bracelets. Gal Gadot is, and I don’t want to understate this, fantastic. For years, I thought Wonder Woman would be one of the hardest characters to cast, but I can’t imagine anyone doing the job better than her. There are times when I could of sworn the character walked right out the comics. She’s inspiring, she’s dangerous, she’s funny, smart, naive, she’s stubborn but for the right reasons. When she speaks, you believe her. When she charges into battle, you want to follow her. Gadot embodies the character in such a defining way that it feels iconic before the movie is even over.

wonder-womanAnd now, with all that praise, here comes my critique and my struggle to not spoil anything. And that’s hard, because my problem with the film, is in the third act and might qualify as a twist. For a long time, the movie seems like it’s going one way and it works. Characters are learning lessons, humanity is getting called out for being the worst species to ever walk the earth and it feels right. But, they need a big action scene to end with and after we’ve seen what a tank Wonder Woman is, the stakes have to be raised. The final confrontation is so fantastical and out there, it almost feels like it’s betraying the rest of the excellent movie that came before it. Actually, the excellent animated movie with Keri Russel might have hurt the live action’s take on the confrontation. It’s not a deal breaker, it doesn’t make the movie a bad film, but I feel like a stronger third act could have put this movie up there with Spider-Man 2, X2: X-Men United and Batman Begins.

But, please, don’t take my issues with the finale to indicate I don’t like the movie. It was great, should be seen and I look forward to watching it again. To meet expectations seventy-five years in the making is a daunting task, but Patty Jenkins was up to the challenge and delivered. This was the first live action DC movie I loved since the Dark Knight way back in 2008.

 

Book Review – Exit West

51ma6eymr0l-_sx330_bo1204203200_Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is a strange read and one that I’m not sure worked, at least for me. Scanning through Goodreads, there’s a lot people in love with this book and I think I might be in the minority. To be fair, I always have a hard time with poetry.

Yes, I know this book isn’t told in poetry. But, with it’s long form, run-on sentences it has a lilting way about it. After a while, I got used to the rhythm, but it also means I drifted in and out of the actual story.

The story is about two people, stuck in their city of war, looking for a way out. At first, it seems like finding each other might be enough, but the escalating violence of their home forces their hands. The first half of the book, with our two protagonists meeting and getting to know each other, is the strongest. Not just in characterization, but also in the way the violence and horrors of the city are explained, almost nonchalantly. Characters who are introduced or are a very small part are killed off, sometimes weeks after we meet them and it’s always because the city they live in is out of their hands. This is where the book, as message about accepting refugees feels most effective. Stepping into the shoes, if even for a moment, of someone living in fear and danger, who has to just “accept” the war raging around them, is jarring. When a certain character, who is very important to our protagonists, is killed, it’s not while doing something important or meaningful. They’re killed by stray bullets, doing something mundane as searching a glove compartment for a lost earring.

The second half, however, lost my interest. The story seems to lose focus, mainly in terms of plotting. The characters lose a lot of initiative once they escape their city only to find themselves stuck in a new, temporary home. I will admit, it does show the impact of what refugee life can do to a relationship, even one with people who need each other to survive. Maybe that was the point, testing the reader’s patience along with the characters’. Both of us keep waiting for the situation to change, either for better or worse, and when nothing happens, we start acting nasty to each other.

The book ends on a bittersweet note that falls in line with the rest of the book. Well told, interesting, but fluid and not as focused as I like. The characters, like the book, drift away and, for me at least, I was ready for the book to simply call it a day.

As I tried to point out, this book didn’t work a hundred percent of the time for me. Moments reminded me of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, but where that book had its hooks in me and never let go, Exit West had me and then threw me back into the water. The run-on sentence-paragraphs, while a style that can work in parts, gets tired as the book goes one, with paragraphs feeling exhausting by the end.

I would suggest this book though, as its a great example of book forcing us to step into shoes we wouldn’t want to wear. As a glimpse into a life most of us can’t and, hopefully, will never have to relate to, it’s effective. As a narrative, not so much.