CONTENT OVERLOAD

This was the weekend of CONTENT, and because I hate spoilers, I’m going to start this post with a table of contents. Feel free to skip to whatever relevant section you want; I will try to be light on spoilers whenever possible, but sometimes there ain’t nothing you can do.

  1. Endgame
  2. GoT
  3. Lemonade
  4. Games

*****

(1) Endgame. Look, I could nit-pick the movie to death. The moment you introduce time travel / time manipulation, you’re asking for trouble. I knew from the moment Doctor Strange gave up the Time Stone at the end of Infinity War and told Iron Man that “this was the only way”, referring to the one reality out of 14M possibilities in which the good guys win, that there was going to have to be some sort of time travel shenanigans, and that’s essentially what Act 2 of Endgame is. And to the film’s credit, they discuss the paradoxes of time travel pretty thoroughly (though they use films, not books). But look – that’s besides the point. The movie was fun as hell, and for a project this massive to be able to get wrapped up this well, I mean, what else could you possibly hope for? (I, for one, was so happy to see the Captain finally have his dance.)

I have larger issues with the MCU as a whole, and that could probably get its own post at some point, if I ever got around to it. None of the films are bad, even though there are some clunkers (i.e., Thor 2), but none of the films are amazing, either. They’re fun, and they’re enjoyable, but they’re also somewhat forgettable. Does this matter? Probably not – Endgame will destroy every single box-office record by the end of next week, more than likely – but it’s just… I wish the films had more personality. I have no doubt that, as a stand-alone film, Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man would’ve been a thousand times better than what we ended up getting. But I also know that Edgar Wright’s film-making style is so distinctive that it would absolutely stand out like a sore thumb when placed alongside the rest of the MCU. Doctor Strange was visually stunning but the script was basically Iron Man redux. I can only hope that in the years to come, Marvel lets its filmmakers have a bit more leeway when it comes to directorial vision. (And more than anything else, I’m also very curious to see what the Russo Brothers do next.)

If you’d rather read an actual critical take on it, I highly recommend this MZS piece.

*****

(2) Game of Thrones. I don’t want to be “that guy” who shows up in your timeline being all “I don’t watch GoT”, which is why I’m quiet about it. But I don’t watch GoT. I tried reading the first book and got bored, and I watched the first few seasons of the show but it didn’t do anything for me. (The last episode I watched was the episode before Joffrey got what was coming to him.) That being said, I emerged from my basement/man-cave just in time to see Arya strike the death-blow, and that was pretty awesome. My wife was sobbing, and I genuinely had to ask – “are those… good tears?” And she laughed and said “my favorite character just killed the bad guy, of course these are good tears”, and so I’m glad that went well.

*****

(3) The thing about being a Spotify junkie is that you end up missing things that aren’t on the platform. And while I certainly have nothing but respect for Queen Bey, I haven’t listened to any of her music, ever. So it was more out of curiosity than anything else that I turned on Spotify over the weekend and saw that Lemonade was finally available. And so I decided to give it a little spin and see what’s what.

The short version: I need to give the album a few more spins before I can assign it a numerical value between 1-10, but, I mean, godDAMN. This is not the kind of music I generally listen to, but I’ll gladly give her the benefit of the doubt.

I remember being 8 years old (or thereabouts) and putting a cassette of Sgt. Pepper in my boombox and being sort-of gobsmacked that even though I’d never heard the album before, I somehow knew all the words and the melodies. I’m not going to say that listening to Lemonade 3 years after the fact was the same kind of experience, but it is kinda hilarious to recognize certain lyrics as cultural moments – which is to say, I now know where “Boy bye” and “Becky with the good hair” comes from.

There is apparently some argument as to whether Beyonce can be rightly called a visionary genius if she has 50+ people writing her songs for her. On the one hand, I get that argument. But she’s not a singer-songwriter, and never claimed to be, and my impression of modern pop music (as a 43-year-old white guy who hasn’t listened to pop music in at least 20 years) is that authenticity isn’t necessarily what’s important right now. And whether she writes her own lyrics or not isn’t the point – nobody has that voice, and she sings the absolute fuck out of these songs.

(Speaking as a lapsed singer-songwriter: I don’t have any problem with collaboration. I’m not sure I’ve ever written a complete set of lyrics that I was actually proud of, from top to bottom, and if I had the budget to hire the best lyric writers in the business, you’d better believe I’d hire them and pay them double. This is why I still haven’t finished the album I’ve been working on for the last 4 years, by the way.)

*****

(4) I’m in a weird place with games, as per usual. I played a little bit of the new Mortal Kombat – and I don’t know what to say beyond (a) it’s a stunning package, and (b) I am utterly terrible at it and am very glad I rented it. More of my focus has been on my Switch, actually – I’d loaded up the Switch before my vacation a few weeks back and did some of the Captain Toad DLC, as well as some of the new Yoshi game, which is adorable as h*ck. But this weekend I was getting sucked into Hob and Steamworld Gilgamesh. (I’d gotten Hob on PS4 a while back but never gave it a proper look; I’m definitely going to give it a runthru when I finish the Switch version, because the Switch version is graphically janky as hell.)

Hob is an indie-feeling third-person adventure/puzzle/light combat game, with incredibly obtuse signposting. It is very easy to get lost, sometimes to the point of frustration, because the map is arguably the worst map in the history of maps. But it’s also incredibly satisfying when you do finally figure something out, and that’s part of the game’s tension. I like it!

The new Steamworld game is also pretty neat, as far as card-based turn-based RPGs go. I’m barely 10 minutes into it but it’s the sort of game I could see myself playing on the train and then realizing I missed my stop about 20 minutes too late.

Also: the new AC:Odyssey DLC is amazing – seriously, go pick it up if you’ve been away for a while.

It’s so amazing, in fact, that it’s sidetracking me again from replaying RDR2, which is something I’d been wanting to revisit for a while. My first playthrough felt very rushed – I know I missed a lot – and I wanted to stretch my legs with it a bit. I had AC:O in the back of my head while I was playing it the first time, though, and the difference in feel between the two could not have been more pronounced. In any event, if you haven’t already seen it, I highly recommend Film Crit Hulk’s deep dive – it says basically everything I’d been wanting to say about it, but better.

Finally, I think I’ve been away too long from Division 2. I still really like that game, but I’d had to put it down when I went on vacation and even though I’m somewhat close to the end of the story, I feel like I’m wildly underpowered, and at this point it’s hard to find other players at my level willing to do co-op story missions and such.

*****

I’ve read some AMAZING books of late – too many to condense here. I’ll be doing a major book post soon-ish, though.

And I’m also contemplating doing a 5-10-15-20 thing (see Pitchfork) because it’s a fun writing exercise and I’m curious to see what my albums for those specific years would be.

Anyway! That is all.

Civil War! Radiohead!

Here’s hoping you all had as lovely a weekend as I did.

First thing’s first:  normally I’m very late to the party when it comes to seeing big blockbuster movies in a timely fashion.  I spent 20 years dealing with the insanity of seeing big movies on opening weekend in NYC, a process that, among other things, entailed getting to the theater at least 90 minutes before showtime to ensure getting even a halfway decent seat, and this eventually wore on my nerves.  So between that and our weird reluctance to hire a babysitter, my wife and I don’t often get to go to the movies together, and certainly not for big big movies like Captain America: Civil War.  (Or, for that matter, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  My wife and I both saw it separately, and it wasn’t until the movie had been out for several weeks that we were able to see it together.)

But somehow we were able to see it yesterday.

I don’t know how valuable my opinion is when it comes to evaluating Marvel movies.  I’m not a comic book guy, and so my primary exposure to anything involving superheroes is through film – and film will always be different than the source material.  My wife, on the other hand, is a Marvel girl through-and-through, and she devoured the Civil War run when it was in print – indeed, I think the primary reason she was excited about the idea of an Avengers movie in the first place is that it might eventually lead to a film of the Civil War.

My understanding is that the film’s Civil War and the comic book run couldn’t be more different, even if they had a number of common similarities.  Obviously, the comic wasn’t constrained by all the various legal issues that have split up the various Marvel franchises among rival film studios – my wife is an X-Men fan, and so their absence in this Captain America film is rather strongly felt.  The comic was also, if I understand it correctly, spread out over a long-ish period of time; the movie, on the other hand, appears to take place within a 72-hour period, and the one big superhero battle is rather self-contained, all things considered.  It’s more of a grudge match than a capital-W War, like when a fight breaks out between teammates on the bench during a baseball game.

But this is all besides the point; I didn’t read the comics, so it makes no sense for me to look at it from that perspective.  As far as the films themselves, I’ve enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the most part; some films work better than others, to be sure, but all the heroes are well cast and the films possess a buoyant energy – far more so than the DC films.*

Anyway:  of all the MCU films, this Civil War film is almost certainly the best one.  For an ensemble action movie – with an absolutely gigantic ensemble – it’s remarkable how well-paced it is, how every character gets enough space to have their requisite emotional beats, and especially how both Captain America and Iron Man have compelling and valid points of view.

And the action sequences are similarly remarkably well-framed.  Unlike other recent action movies I could name, you can always tell what’s going on, who’s punching who, and there’s none of the motion sickness that seems to be part and parcel with these sorts of set pieces.  There’s one chase sequence in particular involving Winter Soldier, Black Panther and Captain America that is absolutely fantastic, specifically because the stuntwork is excellent and is shot in such a way that you can actually see what the hell is going on.  (The shot of Winter Soldier grabbing the motorcycle is arguably the most exciting shot in the entirety of the MCU thus far.)

It’s been noted by better critics than me that if this movie has one downside, it’s that the villain isn’t particularly memorable, and also that the movie makes up for this by not really needing a villain in the first place.  The Cap’n and Iron Man have been getting under each other’s skin for several films by now, and this film’s conflict is less about current ideological differences and more about, as Tony Stark says, simply “wanting to punch you in your perfect teeth.”

I want to say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything; I just hope I get another chance to see it on the big screen before too long.

*  *  *

The other big cultural event of the weekend: the new Radiohead album, “A Moon Shaped Pool”, was released on Sunday.  I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until late last night, and even then I was being an idiot and struggling with the admittedly ridiculous decision as to how I should get it – iTunes? Amazon mp3? or hope for it to appear on Spotify before too long?

I’ll need a few dozen more listens before I can write about it with any authority, of course.  But even just on first glance it’s clear that this is a gorgeous album, with haunting melodies and Jonny Greenwood’s otherworldly string arrangements doing freakish things to my brain.  The thing about Radiohead albums – for me, at any rate – is that the production is always interesting, even on their lesser tunes, and on this album there are some rather startling and intimate sounds; the ones that got me in particular are how you can hear the piano’s hammers strike each string, as if the microphone was placed an inch away from the piano’s heart.  (I’m reminded of a Flaming Lips lyric – each press of a piano key is like “the softest bullet ever shot”).

It’s perhaps not the grand return to form I might’ve hoped for after the rather limp King of Limbs – I can’t help but wish there were a few more uptempo songs, though I feel certain that “Ful Stop” will absolutely destroy in a live setting – but this is definitely an improvement.  It’s hard to know what I expect from a Radiohead album anymore; the 1-2 knockout punches of OK Computer and Kid A will probably cloud everyone’s judgement on that score, not just mine.  But in terms of pure sonic beauty, this one’s a keeper.

*  *  *

Nothing to report on the games front; my digital copy of Uncharted 4 is already pre-loaded and that’s pretty much where I’ll be for the foreseeable future.

As for books – I finished re-reading Justin Cronin’s The Passage and am about halfway through my re-read of The Twelve, all so that I can get caught up for The City of Mirrors, which comes out in 2 weeks.  Those books are still great!


* I still wish that Edgar Wright had been allowed to make the Ant-Man film that he wanted to make; I bet it would’ve been spectacular.  But I suspect that his directorial vision would’ve been too idiosyncratic with the rest of the MCU; the final film feels constrained and reigned in, and it’s not nearly as joyous and charming as it wants to be.