Ant-Man and the Wasp: Peyton Reed (dir)

Ant-Man-and-the-Wasp-IMAX-poster

 

First of all I did not like the first Ant-Man movie. I felt it did nothing to the MCU canon, had a simplistic story and too much time was wasted in scene setting. I was not really looking forward to a sequel but at this point, I’m heavily invested in the MCU, especially now that the world is jeopardized due to Thanos’ infinity glove.

The setting the Ant-Man sequel takes place two years after the Civil War, Ant-Man is undergoing house arrest due to some destruction he caused in Berlin, fighting agaisnt Iron-Man. Which means, that while this Ant-Man adventure is going on, Thanos is still in the process of collecting the stones for his infinity glove.

The plot of the film itself is simple, The original Ant-Man , Hank Pym wants the current Ant-Man to go to the Quantum Realm with his daughter, now called The Wasp. in order to save his wife. This is due to the fact that Ant-Man has a connection with the Quantum Realm. In the meantime a victim of Pym’s earlier experiments needs to go to the quantum realm as well in order to restore herself. On top of that there’s Ant-Man’s house arrest and some agents after Pym’s machinery.

After Infinity War, which was pretty grim, I was hoping that Ant-Man and the Wasp would be lighter and, thankfully it is. In fact I will say that this film is definitely the funniest one in the whole MCU franchise. The jokes come fast, both visual and verbal. Obviously due to Ant-Man’s shifting abilities, most of the jokes centre around Ant-Man’s size, one particularly inspired scene involves him going to a school in order to retrieve his old costume and I laughed loudly. There’s excellent timing, quite a few running gags and each actor has his own funny part.

Also whereas in the first Ant-Man all the characters seemed uncomfortable around each other, here they are at ease and there’s perfect chemistry with everyone, especially Michael Pena, who steals the show in every single way.

Not only that but I liked the fact that The Wasp is given an equally important role, most Marvel films tend to downplay the female superheroes but there’s gender equality all around. Something, I hope to see more of in the future (well in March we’ve got Captain Marvel so that should be good)

In all this is a light-hearted film, however as I have learnt that the funnier MCU films are the more important ones in the canon. With Ant-Man and the Wasp, we get an in depth look at the quantum realm, something which will crop up in May’s Infinity War sequel, an important mid-credits sequence (ignore the one at the end, it’s a waste of time) and the introduction of Goliath, which may mean the full involvement of the Fantastic Four, so despite the laughs, this film could be quite crucial for linking the upcoming ones.

 

 

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Critical Reassessment : The Beta Band – Self-titled (1999)

Beta Band

An occasional series where I review albums that were critically panned long ago.

During the Mid to late 90’s, The Beta Band could do no wrong. Between ’97 and ’98, the group recorded three landmark Ep’s which made people go crazy. Considering that the mainstream musical climate of the time consisted of  manufactured pop bands, some survivors of the brit-pop era and the global dominance of Radiohead, listening to a group who mixed folk music with samples and hip hop beats sounded totally innovative. The three Ep’s showed depth, creativity, and more importantly great tunes. Obviously becoming critical darlings in a short space of time, created stress on the band and they immediately rushed to record their debut album with the knowledge that there were high expectations.

When the album landed in June there was quite a backlash. The band themselves hated it and announced it publicly on NME and the reviews it received in the media ranged from mediocre to middling with the words ‘confused’ and ‘messy’ being used. However after 19 years does this album deserve that critical haranguing? Just as a note, the recording process wasn’t easy either as the label couldn’t afford to cope with the initial idea of recording the debut in different areas around the world so the group went to a shack in the middle of nowhere instead.

Personally I think this is a fantastic debut. It is ambitious is unpredictable and more importantly, is rich with melodies. The Beta Band definitely takes the sound of the Eps and takes them to new dimensions. Within the record’s 62 minutes there’s tons of genres from indie rock, Outsider music, hip hop and dub. Clearly the band put all they got. As a first listen it is not easy but by the third or fourth it makes sense.

However this is not a perfect album. Way too many tracks on the second half of the record sound unfinished, The worst offenders being the last three tracks Smiling (which sounds inspired but lazy) The Hard One (overdone, no focus) and The Cow’s Wrong (just to shut record execs up) and smile I can’t help thinking that if the Beta Band were given another couple of years the outcome would have been a bit better. Saying that the tracks in the first half are amazing It’s Not Beautiful being a stand out and proof the level of ingenuity The Beta Band could display if given time. I also like Dance o’er the Border, which displays the dance and hip hop influences the group have.

My other gripe is that in places the recording is plain shoddy, the voices are muffled in places and the depth of the music sounds a  bit tinny as well but that can be easily fixed with some remastering (maybe for the 20th anniversary?) On the whole though, The Beta Band album deserves some more recognition, considering that in the late 00’s we had a whole movement of electronic artists mixing beats with acoustic instruments and concept albums from The Arcade Fire of a similar length, I would say that time has been kind to this album AND 19 years later nothing sounds like it.

What happened next? well the group recorded two more albums:  The beat laden Hot Shots II, which is excellent and the middling Heroes to Zeroes and then the Beta Band split. Lead singer Steve Mason shed his King Biscuit Time moniker and recorded three solid solo albums and collaborated and recorded an album with Jimmy Edgar under the name Black Affair. The remaining members of the band teamed up with original member Gordon Anderson and formed The Aliens, recorded two albums and then split as well.

Thankfully thanks to a reissue project, interest in the band has started to pick up so hopefully this could lead to to other things but at the moment do give this debut a chance as it’s the last time the public got to hear the group’s wackier side.

 

Sophie Mackintosh – The Water Cure

water cure

Man Booker 2018 longlisted novel 5/13

The Water Cure is being touted as a feminist dystopia. In a way this is correct but I feel that there is a lot more going on.

The setting seems to be an island where the main attractions are a beach, garden and a swimming pool. As the book begins the reader finds out that all are ‘owned’ by a family who shelter abused women and subject them to various therapies.

The step father, King, is the patriarch, ruler, boss and runs this spa like a cult. He has also sheltered his three daughters from the outside world, with their only education coming from their mother, who teaches them about the evil actions men perform.

As it happens King is missing/presumed dead/murdered and the whole island is now under the jurisdiction of the mother and the three daughters. That is until two men and a little boy arrive at the island.

One of the main themes is love. The middle child, Lia falls in love with one of the men, Llew, and no matter what she is taught she cannot fight off love and the two start an on/off relationship. I guess this proves that love does conquer, regardless of the environment. Now whether it is true love, is a different story.

The other main theme is violence; in the first half of the book Lia, the main narrator observes that with her father gone, her sisters now have to start a new type of violence. Towards the conclusion, this is fulfilled. Now whether it is caused by the environment or as a result of the girls showing the only males on the island their strength is up to the reader.

As for the feminist slant, for me feminism is striving to create equality between the sexes, that does not happen. In the first half the three sisters pine after their father, despite the fact that he does not treat them civilly and by the end of the book there’s definitely no sign of equality so I’m not too sure if The Water Cure can be seen as part of that genre, but I am open to persuasion.

The Water Cure is a thought provoking book, that questions the notion of authority and parenthood. It’s also an interesting take on mother/daughter relationships and cults. Although in the past two years a lot of dystopian fiction has cropped up, I can assure that The Water Cure is one that stands out.

Many thanks to Hamish Hamilton for providing a copy of The Water Cure in exchange for an honest review.

Other reviews of the novels on the 2018 Man Booker Longlist:

Rachel Kushner – The Mars Room

Richard Powers – The Overstory

Robin Robertson – The Long Take

Nick Drnaso – Sabrina

5 Fave Novels in Translation

 

I have noticed that I rarely feature novels in translation, one of the main reasons behind this is because I am quite picky. I can’t stand it when a translated novel feels like someone is consciously converting a book from one language to another. I like my translations to be flowing and organic. Here are 5 of my faves. As a little note I avoided Haruki Murakami’s novels and Han Kang’s The Vegetarian as I featured them quite a bit in the past.

 

Roberto Bolano, Natasha Wimmer (Trans) – 266

2666

Can a book be about everything all at once? trust me 2666 is. This was Bolano’s last novel and is supposedly unfinished but, honestly it does not feel like that as all loose ends are tied up.

So what is the book about? in places it is a satire, in others a criticism on the base nature of humankind. In some places it’s a jab at south american politics and probably a criticism of academia. Not to mention Barbecue recipes, the weirdest foursome you’ll ever read  and a analysis of the myth of Sisyphus and a chapter dedicated to police reports.

It’s dazzling, unique and a 21st century masterpiece.

Amelie Nothomb, Adriana Hunter (Trans) – Fear and Trembling

Fear

Most east meets west stories are cliched: first the character goes to a foreign country, has a few clashes due to cultural differences and then the person adapts and all is good. The end.

Not Fear and Trembling.

This is a semi autobiographical account of how Belgian/Japanese author Nothomb decided to move to Japan and work as a secretary for a media company in order to understand her roots.

It’s a total disaster. Not only does she clash but neither party refuses to acknowledge their cultural differences so this brief novel is just a story of one person struggling to cope with the people she shares her heritage with.

Quirky, funny but compulsive reading.

Mario Vargas Llosa, Edith Grossman (Trans) – The Feast of the Goat

Feast of goat

A savage account of Domenican dictator Trujillo’s political life. All told through the eyes of returned immigrant Urania Cabral. There’s tons of beautiful and ugly descriptions of this period of Domenican history and it makes fascinating reading. In essence it’s about at how one person can terrorize a country but Trujillio’s insanity transcends that of a reasonable human so it’s a frightening read as well.

David B, Kim Thompson (Trans) – Epileptic

Epileptic

A graphic memoir about a boy coping with his brother’s epilepsy, which causes a crippling mental illness. It’s a depressing book but it’s also interesting to see how a condition can affect one’s psychological development. Don’t be fooled by the simplistic drawing style. David B stuffs his pages with a lot of weird imagery, especially when trying to emphasise his brother’s mental problems, thus the book is a visual treat in the process.

Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takamori (Trans) – Convenience Store Woman.

Convenience

Existentialism in a convenience store. Brilliant from start to finish. I won’t go into detail describing this wonderful novel as I have reviewed it recently here.

 

 

Hereditary – Ari Aster (dir)

Hereditary

 

Today’s blog post was written by Camille Felice. You can find more of her content on her Twitter , Tumblr  and Instagram

 

The movie Hereditary gets many things right. So many things – like the characters, the aesthetic, the pace and the plot – that you should read some reviews, but only AFTER you watch the movie.

What makes this one of the strongest horror films of the decade is the imagery. I think that these days it is harder and harder to scare audiences who are becoming de-sensitised to on-screen violence and gore. If you really want to be terrified, this is the movie for you. I sat frozen, gripping my throat in the theatre, wanting to shut my eyes but not capable of doing it. Hereditary accomplishes this level of horror though its imagery. The scuttling figure in white moving horizontally out of frame, the black bodies, the ants encompassing. Again and again, the film brings out images that unsettle and horrify the viewer because they should not be there – they are wrong and sickening. A desecrated grave, a body part missing, unnatural body movements – all these images are disturbing and unsettling because they have no place in our concept of normal life. They are images of trauma. The imagery is allowed to disturb thanks to the support of the unnerving tone of the film.

After the first scene I asked myself who the director was, and why I haven’t seen more movies like this. Fascinating, to find a film in 2018 using dead-on angles and old-fashioned cuts. Certainly, the way the camera follows characters as they move around the house makes it feel like a dollhouse, with the four characters under the microscope, observed, again unsettling. This isn’t a scary movie. This is a terrifying movie.

R.O. Kwon – The Incendiaries

Incendaries

One of my favourite topics in literature is cults. The fact that someone, usually insane, assumes to be a leader and then imposes weird rituals on his followers fascinates me. That initial premise drew me towards R.O. Kwon’s debut The Incendiaries. Obviously the book focuses on other htings as well.

The novel centres around three people: Will, Phoebe and John Leal. Will  and Phoebe are a couple who meet at university. Despite that he is hard working, Will shows constant confusion about certain aspects of his life, especially his faith, throughout the book his beliefs and views about religion shift. He also is self conscious and does not like to stand out  to an extent that he will disguise the truth in order to be accepted.

Phoebe is the opposite, outgoing and popular but she has her demons as well: she blames herself for her mother’s death (car crash) and her father is a pastor, which leads to a faith crises as well. She’s also not too sure about her identity as she is Korean but moved to the US at a young age.

John Leal is the head of a cult that Phoebe joins. Due to an incident that happens to him in a Korean Gulag, he is anti abortion and, like most cult leaders, makes his subjects go through bizarre initiation rites.

The first half of The Incendiaries focuses on Will and Phoebe’s relationship, the trials , set backs and ultimately the couple being comfortable with each other.

The second half is about Phoebe’s growing dissatisfaction with Will and his, occasional forceful, personality, which leads to her joining John Leal’s cult. She tries to get Will to join but he is skeptical of Leal’s methods. Obviously this leads to more friction in the relationship until Phoebe has to leave Will.

As Will is coping, he finds out that some abortion clinics have been bombed and there are links to John Leal’s cult. Will is in the uncomfortable position of having to betray Phoebe and yet have satisfaction in destroying the cult. It’s up to him to decide.

The incendiaries is a book about faith, it’s fragility. It’s also a book about multi racial relations and people can be manipulated. Both Will and Phoebe are similar as they are indecisive about themselves and the book brings this out this couple’s dynamic beautifully.

Kwon’s writing is elegant and flowing, in fact The Incendiaries is a fast read but contains a lot to reflect about so it’s deceptively simple and it does have a quirky structure: will and Phoebe’s relationship is developed but then the ethical conundrum is not as detailed. Maybe as a small gripe, I wished there would be more passages on Leal’s cult but it’s minor as it’s effects on Phoebe are prominent.

As debut novels go this is fine. There’s an interesting plot, the characters are well developed and Kwon has a distinctive style. She also does not fall into cliches. As a first step, The Incendiaries is one that will get people noticing.

Many thanks to Virago for providing a copy of The Incendiaries in exchange for an honest review

Like this book? Try these:

Emma Cline – The Girls

Celeste Ng – Everything I Never Told You

Xiaolu Guo – A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers

Robin Robertson – The Long Take

The Long Take

 

2018 Man Booker longlist novel 4/13

Before actually reviewing the book it is worth examining the cover.

It’s a black and white photo of a double tunnel, located in Los Angeles. There’s fog. Also there’s a lone figure. If one looks behind the tunnel, one side is rural, while the other consists of a more urbane setting with parked cars. There’s a noirish feel to the picture, it looks like a film still from an early Hitchcock movie or maybe Joseph Lewis , even Howard Hawks (incidentally films by all three of these directors are namechecked)

This cover is a great summary of  The Long Take, for it is a book about cities, mainly Manhattan and Los Angeles. In Robertson’s world these post war cities are vulgar, vibrant and, yet have a dark underbelly. They are also populated by two types of people: those you want to embrace the city and those who are suffering as a consequence of living in the city.

The main protagonist, Walker falls into the latter category. Like the lone coyotes he sees in his ramblings, Canadian soldier Walker just wanders into Manhattan. It is 1946 and he has finished fighting in the second world war and is suffering from PTSD. His flashbacks are merged with city life, which increases the sense of isolation he is experiencing. Later he moves to Los Angeles and becomes a journalist, his main ‘project’ being to report the poverty that is found in cities and expose that filthy underbelly hidden among the lights, glamour and glitz. There’s one quote which I think sums up this main plot, this is when Walker tell s his future boss that he is interested in cities:

What about American cities?

 How they fail?

The other theme is the futility of war. Billy understands the after effects of war. At one point in the novel he understands the irony of being a hero and then in the context of a city he is nothing and the other ‘heroes’ of WWII are now unemployed and homeless. In Walker’s travels he sees the madness that war brings, and his flashbacks do not help him cope, no matter how hard he tries. Somehow Walker has to adapt to city in order to survive but can he?

Although it has been said quite a few times, this novel is told entirely in verse and it is fantastic. There are description which bring out emotions, references to films, having knowledge of film noir helps as Walker walks in on directors and actors in the midst of crucial scenes in their movies. Jazz musicians are name dropped, plus some small nuggets of Los Angeles’ history. Not to mention symbolism such as the aforementioned coyote and the famous Pike, who may represent the younger generation.

Like the previous novels I have read on the Booker Longlist, we readers are getting a portrayal of the ugly side of America. In the Long Take there’s a shiny city with gaudy carnivals and bright lights but as The Mars Room, Sabrina and The Overstory all display, there is something rotten. In the case of The Long Take, we are seeing an America that is evolving towards decadence, whilst in the other novel all the problems in the US’ have reached maturation (or saturation) point.

The title of the book refers to a shot that has the appearance of a continuous take but really is the result of good editing, one such example and is mentioned in the book is Hitchcock’s Rope or Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil. The Long Take is similar in style as the verses are broken up but the themes segue into each other deftly.

The Long Take is such a book where a mere review like this cannot do it complete justice. This a book to experience, pick apart and allow time for reflection. In a year where most of the Booker nominees are left field choices, The Long Take is a novel that takes an interesting left turn and the end result is a thought provoking read.

 

Takes to Picador for providing a copy of The Long Take in exchange for an honest review.

Other 2018 Man Booker Nominated titles:

Rachel Kushner – The Mars Room

Nick Drnaso – Sabrina

Richard Powers – The Overstory