Tag Archives: music

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014 movie)

Marvel Studios

My rating: 3.5 of 5

An unlikely band of misfits and unsavory types is thrown together–mostly by their own greed and/or hatred of each other, surprisingly enough. And in the midst of their joint efforts at prison breaks, selling of stolen goods, and running for their lives, they somehow manage to go from being at each others’ throats to having each others’ backs. Which is good, because they might just be the only thing standing between the galaxy and total destruction.

I’ve probably stated this before, but I’m generally not a big fan of superhero/comic-based stories–and Marvel ones in particular. I actually mostly watched Guardians of the Galaxy because Karen Gillan is in it. That was a bit of a disappointment; I felt like her character ended up being pretty flat. *cries* But I did enjoy other aspects of the story and characters. It was weird to me that the entire main group of characters are really not what would typically be considered good people–thieves, bounty hunters, traitors, and individuals bent on revenge. But they made for an amusing and sympathetic group, I have to admit, and the tension between the characters is a big part of the enjoyment of the film. Obviously, Rocket and Groot are the best (and funniest) part of the whole story. But with that, I also have to give fair warning that this is PG-13, and it shows in the humor–as well as in the language and the violence, although it’s not particularly bloody or anything. I think one of the things I loved the most is how integral music and dance are to the story throughout. Plus, it’s an origin story of sorts, which I generally enjoy, so there’s that. Overall, the whole film has a funky, off-kilter flair that feels almost indie, although that’s immediately belied by the impressive visual production, which is quite attractive and fun. While it will probably never be my favorite movie, I think Guardians of the Galaxy was a funny, quirky tale that I did enjoy and will likely watch again sometime.

Written by James Gunn & Nicole Perlman/Directed by James Gunn/Produced by Kevin Feige/Based on Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning/Music by Tyler Bates/Starring  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, & Benicio del Toro

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Popular Hits of the Showa Era

Author: Ryū Murakami/Translator: Ralph McCarthypopular-hits-of-the-showa-era

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE (21+)

A random act of violence ignites a war between two previously laconic and loosely organized groups of individuals.  On the one hand, a group of young men who gather together for no particular reason and whose highest aspirations are to peep on the neighbor through the window and sing karaoke on the beach. On the other, a collection  of somewhat older women–“aunties” if you will–united by nothing more than a common personal name. But as hatred of the other group sparks, both the young men and the aunties suddenly find themselves united against each other, motivated and inspired in ways they’ve never known before. And the heat of that fervor drives them to find more and more creative ways to rain destruction on the opposing party.

I initially found Popular Hits of the Showa Era through a review by Arria Cross@Fujinsei–which you should go read right away, because it’s excellent and information and also fun. One of the things Arria mentions about this book is the dark humor of it, and I can totally see that it is written to appeal to a dark sense of humor. Personally, I didn’t find it funny (sorry), but I can very much appreciate that there are people to whom this book would be absolutely hilarious in a disturbing sort of way. But even though I didn’t find it humorous myself, I still found this book enjoyable in other senses. For one, it’s an intriguing commentary and satire on contemporary Japanese society, and just the flavor of the culture is interesting. Even more so, I found the psychological exploration of the book to be fascinating–the way in which the characters were just drifting through life and also the way in which this conflict affected them, making them feel alive and purposeful. I kind of think the author’s telling us something dangerous and terrifying but also important about humanity here. And I have to warn, this is NOT a book for everyone, and I would advise to approach it with caution. Because it is very, very violent. Bloody and gory and explicit and violent. There’s purpose for that in the story; it isn’t violent just for the sake of being violent. But it’s still there, very much in your face for the entirety of the story. Finally, I did want to comment on the title: Popular Hits of the Showa Era. Each chapter title  is the name of a song that was popular during the Showa Era, and that song flavors and flows throughout the chapter in one way or another–not that it has a huge effect on the story itself, but it’s a nice touch.

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The Ballad of Sir Dinadan

Author: Gerald Morristhe ballad of sir dinadan

The Squires Tales, vol. 5

My rating: 4.5 of 5

All Dinadan really wants to do with his life is be a minstrel, writing great ballads and accompanying himself on his rebec. The chances of actually getting to do that are pretty slim, though, when you’re the disappointing second son of a nobleman knight and the younger brother of a legend. Tristan has never returned to their home in the eight years since he set off to seek his fortune, but the tale of his skill still reach his family and their father never tires of pointing out the differences between his sons. Finally, after being humiliatingly knighted by his drunken father, Dinadan rides off, taking little but his armor and his rebec, to seek his own fortune. For his own part, he would be well-content to ride along incognito, earning his way with his music, but fate seems to have different plans as he continues to get drawn into the affairs (worst of all, the love affairs) of those around him. And worse yet, when he finally does meet his brother Tristan, he finds an arrogant idiot who has somehow managed to get himself ridiculously obsessed with some equally idiotic queen by the name of Iseult–yet another absurd love affair for Dinadan to get dragged into. He’s well on the way to swearing off of love forever!

I love, love, love Morris’ Squires Tale books–they’re good for numerous, frequent re-reads and they’re equally engaging and funny every time. Plus, I love the way their insight into human nature often tells me something important about myself as I’m reading. In any case, although The Ballad of Sir Dinadan is technically the fifth volume, the books are only loosely connected, so there’s nothing to be lost by reading this one independently. As I said, the prose is remarkably well-written, insightful and funny both, without taking itself too seriously. Actually, this volume is probably less serious than many of the other volumes, in spite of its  roots in the tragedy of Tristan and Iseult. Dinadan’s character is very well developed, and as he is the sort of person to think that this sort of love is rather absurd, we do get a more ridiculous perspective on it than in some stories. It’s actually pretty refreshing, particularly the way in which Dinadan eventually comes to discover that he can have true friendship and love without necessarily having to be “in love” with all the absurdities that entails. I think I’ve mentioned before that an intentional singleness isn’t something books often address, and it’s nice to see an author brave enough to broach the topic. In any case, there’s lots of good fun and adventure outside of Tristan’s story as well, and some incredible character development also. I would highly recommend The Ballad of Sir Dinadan to anyone, say, 15+ who enjoys Arthurian legends and retellings.

NOTE: Sorry, I’m doing the reviews of this series out of order. I’ll fill in the gaps soon. But really, with this set, it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

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Seven Wild Sisters

Author: Charles De Lintseven wild sisters

Illustrator: Charles Vess

My rating: 5 of 5

Sarah Jane loves going up to Aunt Lillian’s place up the mountain, helping her with chores and hearing all her stories about the fairy folk–the Apple Tree man, the Father of Cats, and many others. It’s not as though she entirely believes in these stories, but they’re certainly interesting. Then one day, as she’s going out to gather ginseng for Aunt Lillian, she encounters a tiny man, seemingly made of sticks and bits of debris–a little man shot through with hundreds of tiny arrows. Feeling she has to help him, she carries the wounded fairy back to Aunt Lillian’s . . . little knowing that by doing so she is involving herself and her six sisters in a world–and a war–she knows almost nothing about.

I’ve been a fan of Charles De Lint’s books for quite a while, mostly his amazing urban fantasies like The Painted Boy and Spirits in the Wires. I’ve never really read any of his children’s books, so Seven Wild Sisters was a fun new experience for me. While it is definitely a good read for kids (mostly leaving out stuff like sex and language), it carries through with all the best things that make me love De Lint’s writing: a vivid world, interesting and unusual characters, folk music, animals. And of course, the whole venture into the other world–written in a way that is quite consistent with how he writes it in his other volumes, but with a lot of local Appalachian flavor. I really love how the spirits and fairies are unique to the locality, as well as how the characters themselves are so full of the color of their home and the mountains. Plus, the book is rich with Charles Vess’s gorgeous illustrations; you could seriously read this book just for the pictures! I would highly recommend Seven Wild Sisters, especially to those who love a good fairy tale or urban fantasy.

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Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Authors: John Green & David Levithan

Usually miles separate two complete strangers, both by the name of Will Grayson, but living quite different lives. What are the chances they would ever run into each other? Even more, what are the chances they would both find themselves heavily influences by the same person? To one Will, Tiny Cooper is a life-long best friend, like it or not. To the other, Tiny is his first boyfriend, the bright person who penetrated the darkness of his deep depression. To both Wills, Tiny is an important friend–one who showed them a clearer picture of what love is truly about. And the way they unite to repay some of their debt to Tiny is nearly as spectacular as the autobiographical musical he created.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is an intriguing two-voiced story. It’s the first time I’ve read anything of John Green’s, although I’ve enjoyed several stories by David Levithan before. They work well together, crafting a united story with two very distinct characters and writing styles. It works remarkably well–both Will’s write in first person, so the differentiation of styles is helpful. I think the writing styles depict the inner character of the Will’s nicely as well, particularly Levithan’s Will who is depressed and lonely–he writes entirely in lowercase and records conversations as though they were in a play (will: yadda, yadda, yadda. tiny: yadda, yadda. etc.). I think it’s intriguing how Tiny (not a title character at all) is really the mover/shaker character of the whole story–seriously, one of the biggest, gayest, most emotionally honest and effusive characters ever. He’s kind-of larger-than-life, but again, that works with the story; he contrasts with the more timid, dark characters of both Wills. The whole story is like that: silly, painful, absurd, dark, such a contrast of ups and downs that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (and often ended up doing both). And mixed in are those moments of such poignant clarity that I just want to shout “Yes!” out loud. Very interesting. I’d recommend Will Grayson, Will Grayson to those who want a good story, but also something more, a good challenge to re-evaluate yourself. Ages 16+.

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Gauche the Cellist

Oh! Production Studio

Written & Directed by Isao Takahata/Produced by Kōichi Murata/Music by Michio Mamiya/Based on the Short Story by Kenji Miyazawa

Gauche is a simple, quiet man who lives by himself in the country near a small town in the early 1900s. He keeps a garden and plays the cello for the local orchestra, which performs concerts and also accompanies the silent movies that are currently in vogue. The Beethoven that the orchestra is planning to perform soon, however, seems to be a bit much for him, and he never can seem to satisfy the conductor. Throughout the week before the concert, Gauche has a stream of unexpected visitors–nearby animals who have been touched by his music and who want him to play for them again. He ends up playing through the night and going to bed exhausted in the morning, never realizing that while he’s playing for his woodland visitors, he’s also getting a great deal of practice.

I found Gauche the Cellist to be an enjoyable tale providing a placid look into a bygone era. It’s based on the short story of the same name by Kenji Miyazawa, which was originally published in the 1930s. The story itself is bucolic and almost fable-like; it’s certainly not meant to be taken as a true slice-of-life story. You’ve got talking animals, nights that go by in a flash, and various other improbably happenings. Still, it works in an old-fashioned way. One of the most outstanding aspects of this movie is the music; rather, music is the heart of the story. There is a great deal of classical music worked into the soundtrack–often with a Tom and Jerry-like effect, although also at times with a more Fantasia sort of feel. The animation is definitely old-school, but nice for all that. I love that the director is one of the co-founders of Studio Ghibli–and I must say that this has a somewhat Ghibli-like tone. I think Gauche the Cellist is a pleasant, simple movie that would be great to watch with children–or as a nice change from the clangor of much of today’s movie-writing.

 

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Emily the Strange: The Rock Issue

Authors/Illustrators: Rob Reger, Jessica Gruner, & Buzz Parker

Whether it’s inviting her ghost friends for tea, surviving an excruciating afternoon in traffic school, or cooking up a batch of rock soup (not necessarily intended for human consumption), Emily Strange is ready to rock. Actually in this, the fourth volume of the Emily the Strange comic book set, Emily is set to explore all things rock. As with the first volume of the comics, it’s both cool and somewhat weird to see Emily in graphic novel format. Emily the Strange: The Rock Issue is a huge mishmash of short comics, pictures, advertisements, etc. My personal favorites were the rock soup short and the two-page spread showing Emily’s cats demonstrating various rock styles. There were plenty of other interesting features, although on the whole this volume didn’t appeal to me as much as the first volume did. That’s my own fault though–I like rock, but I like a lot of other stuff just as well if not better. (Actually, as I’m writing this, I’m listening to Vocaloid–mostly Kagamines.)  So, while it will probably never be my favorite, I did find Emily the Strange: The Rock Issue to be an interesting graphic novel and one which does suit the main Emily Strange series, although in a weirder than normal way.

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