Revisiting “Now, More Than Ever” As a Concept Album in 2022

In my last post about the wonderful works of album-era Jim Guthrie, I made a glaring omission in describing the sound of that period: Guthrie likes his songs to be lyrically dense. I briefly touched on that, but not to the point where I could extrapolate on it. Case in point, the song that got me into Guthrie’s body of work was Trust, and I still struggle to comprehend sections of it nearly a decade later. A lot of Guthrie’s early work is like that. Sometimes, you’ll have a song like Sexy Drummer, where the prose is easy to read into and understand. But occasionally, you’ll run into something like Virtue which is about… the concept of virtue, I guess? But you may have noticed that, in all of my articulation about the style of Guthrie’s lyricism, I have yet to bring up a single track from his 2003 album “Now, More Than Ever.” Had I not come to a startling realization today, I would have. I have been listening to “Now, More Than Ever” as a series of disconnected vignettes ever since I heard it for the first time. But if you concentrate on the lyrics enough and try to piece the puzzle together, a much clearer picture forms. “Now, More Than Ever” is a concept album. Maybe not by intention, but everything fits together so that it just makes sense. That’s my reading of it, at least.

If I had to summarize what the album’s about, it goes like this: “Now, More Than Ever” follows a man who settles for a relationship that he has been chasing after, only to realize that they aren’t compatible. The relationship has a long and messy ending, resulting in a string of nameless one-night stands that only progressively get more tiring as the singer feels his time on Earth shortening at an increasingly high rate. He attempts to adopt a more positive outlook on life, which brings him closer to another person. Knowing how his last relationship turned out, his inner-voice wonders if there’s anybody out there who is genuinely compatible with him or if that’s a pipe dream whose chance of being a reality is null.

If you want the full version, here it is. The album opens with Problem With Solutions. The singer finds himself in a bar, drinking his time away. His outlook follows this rough pattern: “if hay can be used to make alcohol and is healthy for a horse, why can’t I have the best of both worlds and just eat the horse instead?” His reliance on getting drunk causes him to spin out of control and be distant from those around him, including those he feels deeply connected to. He recognizes that his current outlook is problematic and can alienate others from him but continues on this path to deal with his own feelings of alienation. All Gone finds the singer sober as he lies down at home, thinking of someone he cherishes. Thoughts of marriage cross his mind as he begins to long for their presence. He wonders to himself internally if he could “make something out of nothing,” perhaps implying that there’s not much of a connection to be had. The next day, this longing turns more severe when he sits alone on his porch in Montreal, feeling small and distant from the world around him. The world around him freezes as his mind begins to slip. Finally, in Save It, the sourness catches up to him. The world around him melts as he sees his future as a bleak and empty place where nothing is thought through, resulting in a series of meaningless conversations that ultimately lead to even more meaningless conflicts. He seeks out help to calm him of his increasingly hostile view of the world but finds no solace in any of the assistance he’s been given. In his second attempt to alleviate himself, he tries to find sexual satisfaction in the world but quickly shoots the idea down as it makes him uncomfortable at the time. He finds a new lease on life through the messy self-destruction of himself or someone close to him. In Broken Chair, this new perspective gives him the confidence to finally seek after the person he cherishes. However, his attempts are met with skepticism and ambivalence. The reality of that is portrayed in Lover’s Do, where the relationship starts out strong but becomes one-sided as it painfully deteriorates in silence. Time is a Force jumps in time to a point where the singer’s idea to find peace in sexuality has gotten to his head. One-night stands are almost daily, and, despite fulfilling his need to be seen in the world, he feels even more empty and alone. He feels his time on Earth slipping as the tedium gets to him. But just as soon as he feels himself falling into the same pit he struggled to get out of in Save It, he finds the energy to pull himself up in fear of ever falling down that hole again. Now, More Than Ever is the only song on the album with no lyrics, but it doesn’t need any. The way Time is a Force leads into it, and the positive energy it radiates from the rest of the album says all that’s needed to be said. The singer finally confronts everything that he finds to be woeful about his life and tries to put his best foot forward in addressing all of it. This positivity leads to him finding someone he shares a deeper connection with in The Evangelist. The title of the track is the second reference to religion found within the album. It hints at two possible scenarios: the person he seeks intimacy from is religious, or the connection he feels with them is so deep that it mirrors that of a husband and wife during their honeymoon period. Given that the first reference was about marriage, the latter is more likely. The last track on the album, You Are Far (Do You Exist?), is perhaps the most introspective—and short—of the bunch. Instead of giving his listeners a happy ending, Guthrie gives them a more realistic one. Right now, the singer and his partner are comfortable in each other’s presence, but what if that doesn’t last? Finding someone who makes you happy and never puts you down seems ideal but is rarely an occurrence in a world filled to the brim with billions of people. And yet we are told to seek after these partners and that they lie in wait for us. The singer is happy where he is but worried that things might happen in the same order as he repeats his series of mistakes, and perhaps this fear is something that he finds to be too debilitating to be open about. The success of this relationship demands that he can successfully open himself up to that conversation, but that may never happen. Until it does, he’s left to wonder: where is the perfect person for me, and do they exist?

Now, More Than Ever” has been on my computers and phones ever since I first heard it. At one point, Guthrie’s music calmed me to a point where listening to it helped me get a good night’s sleep. While that anecdote might make his body of work seem uninteresting, it is quite the contrary. Through engaging with his music past the surface level, I have a newfound appreciation for what he, and the musicians he’s worked with, have been able to accomplish. After reading “Now, More Than Ever” in the way that I’ve outlined in this article, I can only say that my love of it has gotten stronger. Although I do not keep definitive lists of what my favorites are of anything, if you were to ask me what my favorite album of all time was right now, I’d say “Now, More Than Ever” by Jim Guthrie.


This article is based purely on personal interpretation. If you have an interpretation of your own or feel that mine doesn’t work, feel free to share it!

Revisiting “Takes Time”: Jim Guthrie’s Latest Original Album Deserves to be Listened to, Almost a Decade Later

I’m going to take a break from saying doo-doo about movies that I didn’t like and instead put that energy into something that actually brings a smile to my face.

Jim Guthrie is not likely a name you’ve heard unless you’ve been paying attention to who’s been composing independent video games for the past five to six years. He’s done the score for Sword & Sorcery, Below, Planet Coaster, Reigns, Bleak Sword, and more recently, Nobody Saves the World. With that pedigree, you might assume that this is all he’s ever done. But I have to say that those soundtracks sell him short. How short? Well, Now More Than Ever is easily in my top five albums of all time; I still have Sexy Drummer, Trust, and Invisible Gem on my playlists; and I have caught myself humming to 1901 more times than I can count. Guthrie is the rare artist that I can say I’ve been listening to for a decade without feeling ashamed of myself. My taste in music has changed a little bit since 2012, but the quality of Guthrie’s early work has not.

But it wasn’t the sweet sound of All Gone that introduced me to his distinct sound. His soundtrack for Indie Game: The Movie is where I first caught wind of his work, but if I’m going to be talking about pre-soundtrack era Guthrie, I have to speak about Takes Time.

What makes Takes Time so intriguing in a modern context is that it was an album sandwiched between what I refer to as “album-era Guthrie” and “soundtrack-era Guthrie.” The former is marked by strange, sometimes unrefined, and limited soundscapes backed by wordy lyrics that tend not to speak in complete sentences. Of particular note in this era is the album Morning Noon Night, which was composed entirely on Guthrie’s copy of the PlayStation version of MTV Music Maker. Now More Than Ever is a massive departure from this style, as the songs on it were structured in a completely different way. His style of lyricism remained intact, but with more variety in the types of tracks he was composing, it’s not nearly as noticeable. This layer of polish is something that continued with the album Moody Motorcycle created by Human Highway, a small side-project formed by Guthrie in conjunction with Nick Thorburn. Although Moody Motorcycle presents its listener with less variety than Guthrie’s previous album, it goes all-in on the strange-folk aspects of Guthrie’s previous work. All of this is to say that album-era Guthrie more than holds up. Soundtrack-era Guthrie takes some of the quirks and polish from the album-era songs, and recontextualizes that for different scenarios. A few of his soundtracks are lacking in that distinct sound, but generally speaking, it’s not hard to hear the Now More Than Ever influence in Planet Coaster. What makes this contextualization differ from his previous work, though, is that a lot of the album-era fat is trimmed off. As much as I love the gorgeous sound of The Light in Us All, it’s the only song that I can recall from that soundtrack.

Whenever I recall Takes Time, this is almost what gets brought into my memory. Takes Time does not have the lush, sweeping songs of Now More Than Ever or the rough sound of the two albums that preceeded it. But you’d be hard-pressed to find songs on it that lack the same spirit. The song that opens the album, appropriately titled Taking My Time, puts its chorus near the end of the song and only goes through it once. There’s an emotional build-up to that point makes the song’s bizarre, but all too relatable, statement on growth feel more profound than it would be if it was hammered home over and over again. On a similar note, Like a Lake moves its one and only chorus farther back into its runtime. The minimalism that builds up to it gives it a folksy air of mysterious wit. These two songs always stand out to me whenever I listen to Takes Time that one more time. But the other songs aren’t too shabby, either. There’s about one section in Don’t Be Torn that was I initially a bit miffed on, but as this album has grown with me, I’ve accepted the strange inclusion of cheerleaders shouting “BE ASSERTIVE” as part of Guthrie’s enjoyable weird style. If I were to talk about every song that I loved in this album, I’d be writing about just about all of them. There isn’t a single tune here that feels like filler made to pad out the album’s length. Everything is perfectly structured, written, and preformed.

And yet, in the nearly ten years that has passed since this album’s release, I haven’t heard anyone talk about it. I’ve gone through old blog posts, watched a live recording on NPR that feels ancient by this point, and looked through websites with users reviews. Those who know Guthrie’s music well also know Takes Time. But with a whopping two user reviews on Amazon and none to be found on a site like Discoggs, it’s weird how few people outside of those following Guthrie have said anything about Takes Time.

To celebrate almost ten years since its release in May of 2013, I urge you: listen to it if you haven’t already. If it isn’t your thing, that’s fine. But as somebody who has been listening to it for nearly as long as its been released, this is an album that has a surprising amount of longevity to be found in its pleasant tunes.


If you found this to be a fascinating read, consider checking out my piece on another overlooked album, It’s All a Bit Weird by Ben Morfitt (also known as SquidPhysics)

“It’s All A Bit Weird” by Ben Morfitt (Squidphysics): Criminally Underrated

I know it’s silly to call something underrated when it’s just barely released. However, I can make some exceptions. In the case of Ben Morfitt’s recently released album “It’s All A Bit Weird,” it released to little-to-no fanfare and, in the weeks since, has only garnered maybe a few thousand views at most. I am not a music critic, so I’m not going to call this a review. Instead, I’d like to spotlight the work that Morfitt has done.

Not only has he produced an album that’s rich in variety and has tracks that seamlessly blend into each other with ease, but he’s crafted one of the most emotionally resonant pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time. This is impressive for several reasons, the king among them being the fact that there isn’t a single lyric to be found in Morfitt’s new record. Everything is instrumental, and although this may cause it to feel like a soundtrack on distant listens, closer listens reveal tracks that are meticulously paced, and manage to be surprising in areas one wouldn’t expect. The best example I can think of for this is SOS, the penultimate track. It starts out intense, sounding not unlike a battle theme you’d hear in a JRPG game like Final Fantasy. But then it goes harder than that. Suddenly, it sounds like a metal song. But not for too long before what sounds (to me) like a saxophone roars across the airwaves, and it takes a turn for the jazzier. The next track, Surrender, concerns itself more with motifs from previous tracks than anything else. The result is a melancholic and contemplative way to cap things off; as well as being a send-off that manages to loop back to the first track on the album just as seamlessly as the track transitions themselves.

It’s All A Bit Weird caught my eye when Ben Morfitt released The Stagnant Cruise in November 2020. A long and sprawling track that’s dried in an adventurous tan that manages to feel both hopeless and uncertain, it’s, without a doubt, his best piece of music to date. More than a year later, my opinion has not changed. Its inclusion in Morfitt’s new album only strengthens my opinion of it; the mood that the album carries could not be accomplished without it.

What saddens me, though, is that this album will likely never see the popularity it rightfully deserves. I suppose a lot of that has to do with the fact that Morfitt’s work has been dwindling in popularity. Not even a cover of The Office’s main theme song could net him more than one hundred thousand views. In a way, the fact that It’s All A Bit Weird feels like it’s about this decline, and the creative burnout that comes with it makes it feel more significant than a majority of the music that YouTube content creators produce. This isn’t some cheap, slapdash pop music made by somebody who wants to be a megastar while convincing the world that they have more of a footing in pop culture than their status suggests. It’s a personal passion project that manages to hit all of the strides it aims for, and then some.

I will be seriously disappointed if this album doesn’t have a cult following in ten years. And by seriously disappointed, I mean not surprised. But even if nobody else listens to it, it’s impacted me, and I can’t deny that. In short, It’s All A Bit Weird is a masterpiece that was overlooked the second it came out the gate. If you haven’t listened to it already, please do. It’s also on Spotify if you use that.

Squid Game and the Curse of Popularity

It’s gotten to the point where I’m hearing people at work are calling Squid Game overrated.

I almost don’t blame them; the only reason my brother had any interest in starting to watch it with me is because his boss brought it up. If you work with computers all day and your boss is talking about television while you’re both on the clock, the show he’s talking about is a hit. While I’m writing this, I know for a fact that I have good things to say about Squid Game. I enjoyed my time with it and recommend it. But I also feel this ounce of “oh god, do I really have to?” It’s kind of like recommending a Marvel movie like it’s some unheard-of gem. “Oh, have you seen Endgame? It’s only this cinematic masterpiece that nobody’s talking about, that beat the record-setting Avatar in terms of its performance at the box office.” If you want to read my opinion on it, here it is: I liked the characters. The acting was top-notch stuff, and although it falls apart in some places near the end, it kept me hooked and ready to see what the next episode had to offer. I can tell pretty easily that it was engineered to be binged, and it does its job effectively. I have issues with the culture of Bingewatching (something that I’ll likely write about at some point; saying I have issues with it is a massive understatement, in fact), but Squid Game doesn’t sacrifice any of the excitement by choosing to craft its episodes in the way that it does. The end result is cliffhangers that sting like a wasp and resolutions that have to be ultra twisty to justify the time investment, even if some retroactively dampen the emotional impact of earlier episodes. If you’re into that sort of thing, it more than has you covered.

But let me ask you a question: are the people who are complaining about Squid Game being overrated actually talking about Squid Game? Those co-workers that I mentioned just said they watched the show and didn’t say anything about it other than ‘it’s overrated.’ You don’t need to sit down for fifty minutes to say one good or bad, thing about a piece of entertainment. You just say that you didn’t like the ending, or you didn’t like the characters, or you hated how anti-climactic the ending was. The fact of the matter is, they’re talking about it because other people are talking about it. I was not the first person to bring Squid Game up. If I was, the conversation would have been different. If you look on social media or talk to somebody who’s watched the whole thing through, everything that I said about it will be repeated. Memes will be made to hammer home the same point. Suddenly, Halloween costumes based on the show are in the style, and if you’re not already tired of it, you’ll have no energy to watch the show once people are done talking about it.

A better way to ask the aforementioned question would be: hey, do you remember Undertale?

You know, that indie darling from six years ago that was cute at first, but was run into the ground by social media sites like YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit, and Twitter? I remember there was a time when Sans was a character that people enjoyed. Now his name is an in-joke that me and my brothers have. Even with the added context, it’s hard to describe why it’s funny to put “Sans” as an answer in Jackbox. It’s one thing to be told that something became too popular for its own good, but it’s another to live through that and the discussions that come directly from it. I remember there was a time when I considered not spoiling Undertale for myself. A copy of it for my PS Vita, that I bought off of eBay when I was collecting physical copies of games for the platform that would have otherwise been digital only. I’ve been meaning to play it for years. I even own a copy of it on GOG. But the plastic case above my desk is collecting dust, and its been in my backlog for longer than I care to admit. There are likely things that the internet has not had the opportunity to spoil for me, but I know how Flowey is. I know what the two endings are, and how they affect your game. If I had played Undertale at the same time as everybody else, at the same pace that they did, I would probably understand it a little bit more. But as it stands, no sequel to Undertale can capture the same lightning in a bottle that was starting high school at the same time as people who could do nothing but talk about it.

The truth is that there are only so many things you can say about a piece of entertainment. Unless the piece of entertainment you’re tallking about is your life, every story has a definite beginning, middle, and end. If it never gets to that endpoint, it still at least has a beginning. There are only so many ways you can analyze the plot of a film before you run into a brick wall. Once you reach that brick wall, it becomes tiring to hear new people say so many of the same things. It nearly becomes cyclical. But unlike a snake eating its own tail, at some point, the snake digests itself. You end up with a macabre display of people moving on, rushing toward the next big thing that they can get ahead of before other people ultimately push them away from it. It’s sort of like going to see the Beatles preform live during Beatlemania. Except, when the concert ends, a new band goes on stage that sings the exact same songs and everybody in the crowd reacts to them as if they’ve never heard it before.What I said about Undertale can be said about Five Nights at Freddy’s and Friday Night Funkin’; can be said about Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3; can be said Skyrim and Fallout; can be said about Blade Runner and Drive. More devastating in the case of Squid Game, it can be said about a vast majority of Dystopian fiction, which Squid Game is most comparable to. Squid Game only feels fresh because it doesn’t have teenagers, an evil government pulling the strings, and a love interest thrown in for a steamy make-out scene. It’s brutal and it pulls no punches. It also feels fresh because Hollywood stopped milking these settings a long time ago. A cured body can only be pure for so long, though. Once comparsions to Hunger Games start rolling in, so do the people who associate that comparison with an idea being old hat. On top of all stories having a clearly defined structure, they also have the tendency to steal from each other. It’s not like they can help themselves; even the most original movies are derivative of another body of work.

Squid Game is going to have another season, that much has been confirmed. What hasn’t is if the co-workers I have at the time of its release will react to it with enthusiasm, begrudgingly accept that it’s a thing that exists, or have to be reminded of it at all. Only time will tell, but if the Austrailian band Men at Work is anything to go off of, people will still call you a one-hit wonder if your previous success overshadows every single hit you have that breaks the hot-100 after it.

Almost Ten Years on WordPress

I like to have a lot of different names online.

I have a couple of good reasons for it. The first, and less significant, one is that I like to get creative. It might be fun to name yourself the same thing on every platform you sign up for, but eventually it gets tiring. The one I’m most fixated on is a fact of online culture: if people want to find you, they will fucking find you. I’m not going to get into that, nor do I want to get into that.

The main reason I say all of this is because Yultimona is not my first blog on WordPress. Not by a long shot.

I had a blog before this. I’d write weekly posts about how bad certain games I had never played were. I did that quite frequently back then; I thought of it more as writing practice than saying anything worthwhile–and I was proud of myself for it. Now that I’m slightly older, I can look at that and laugh. I still access to that blog, but I’m contemplating shutting it down.

These two blogs, though, are not my first.

As of a couple of weeks ago, I am twenty years old–which means I’m old enough for other people to tell me I’m still young. Nearly a decade ago, I had an account with too many blogs to count. Even if I wanted to count them all, though, I couldn’t; I shut down most of them years ago. That account has been made unaccessible for the sole reason of me using a fake email address to register it. My old password still works, but they don’t want anything to do with it.

I had a couple of blogs that I wrote for at the time; one about the game series TimeSplitters (which I had only found out about by mid-2010) and another about… well, whatever I wanted it to be about. The former had my attention the most because I played an absolute fuckton of TimeSplitters back in the day. Of course, writing about a game series long after it was in the limelight and having information on it long after it was made available isn’t exactly a recipe for success; I distinctly remember a few comments asking me what I was talking about because, you know, I was a child.

I also had another blog for short reviews. I remember I gave The Avengers a 10/10 after I saw it in the theaters, I remember giving a Wimpy Kid book of all things a 10… I mean, shit, I gave everything a 10.

I almost want to say I look back fondly on those times, but to be honest: I hardly remember them. Because I made my presence no secret back in the day, I looked up my old username and happened to find a comment written by another account talking about me. Another account that was, of course, created by me. I had no memory of ever doing that, it actually made me laugh.

Back then, I viewed a lot of my writing through the lens of imagination. Who cares if it was all incomprehensible gibberish. I had fun!

Ten years later, I don’t know what to tell you. I grew up, but I haven’t “grown up.” I’m not going to try to write anything poignant here about aging because there’s nothing poignant to write. If you want to know how I feel, just sit in the same chair for ten years. Age like a regular person would, and then come back to me. The only insight I can really give is that I’ll die someday, and I already knew that. Hell, it’ll happen to you, too. I guess, if I had to make some point with all of this rambling, it’s that the foot prints your mother used to put on plates won’t be the only sign of this coming generation being in the world. What good’s a second death if it only happens thousands of years into the future, where people have evolved past the need for love and past the need for memory? What we know of second deaths seems poetic now, but if you’re a Google search away, anyway can do it. I guess the real second death will be when Google goes offline, when records dating back to tens of thousands of years just… disappear one day. I almost want to say it’s a bad thing, but what downside is there? On a similar note, what benefit comes out of it? Neither have any conclusive answers, just feelings that might come out of you. If you want to die and stay dead, you might as well throw away your phone. If you want to be alive in some form after your death, there’s a way. It’s silly to think that back when the internet was first invented, very few people–at best–had the foresight to see things going in this direction. It almost amazes me at how far we’ve come technogically. But I have video games and movies to do that for me, so why think any more than I have to?

Anyway, The Avengers is a 7/10.

Movies of June and July: The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, F9, Black Widow, Pig, Roadrunner, and The Green Knight

So I missed a month.

I’ll be fair: I saw a lot of movies in June. More than I usually see, anyway. I didn’t think to save my thoughts on those movies for this blog, so I put them all on Letterboxd. I was going to write about The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It and the utter lack of things I have to say about that movie, but I just don’t have the energy for it. I also would have loved to write about how endearing I found The Sparks Brothers to be, but the most I could probably say about it is: “watch it, it’s good.” I’m only going to be writing about two movies from June; the rest are from July.


JUNE


F9

I think the easiest way to sum up F9 would be to say that I would not have seen it if it weren’t for my job. For the security of my job, I cannot disclose what my job is, when I saw this movie, or what time. All I can really say about that is that I sat down and watchd F9.

As for the movie itself, it was… okay? I honestly don’t have a whole lot to write about it. It’s exactly what you’d expect walking into a movie called The Fast and The Furious 9. These movies have been running on for so long that, in order to keep relevance, they need to get stupider. I can’t attest to how stupid the previous movies were, this is my first one. What I can say is that this was stuuuupid. I was laughing the whole time. I want to say it was with the movie, because what movie that wants you to take it seriously would have action this ridiculous and exaggerated? At the same time, I never laughed at any of the character dialog. I found the spoken humor to be painfully unfunny.

In terms of plot, meh. It’s pretty standard for a blockbuster. You have an evil brother, a MacGuffin that can end the world, and a shit ton of location changes. I want to say that none of it engaged me, but to be fair: I hardly know these characters. The most interesting thing I can say in terms of the characters is that I initially confused Kurt Russel with Jeff Bridges before I realized that Kurt Russel was in The Thing and not Tron. I’d honestly pay to see a movie with them both together, if that hasn’t already been done. But, anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. The plot was lame and the action was fun, but good fucking lord this thing dragged oooooooon. Did this need to be over two hours long? Real talk, I’ve seen shorter movies with more plot than this.

I’m sorry I’m not writing with a more casual voice for this. I have no fucking idea how to start talking about F9 like a guy who watches movies seriously. Jesus, if I wanted to do that, I’d suck A24’s dick all day and ask for money so I can write Letterboxd reviews that in a snarky tone that anyone and their dog can do for free. So, anyway, this one’s not going on Letterboxd.

FINAL SCORE: C


THE HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD

Actually saw this one in July. My uncle was over, had a family friend hanging about, and my mom wanted to see it. Perfect storm.

I’m torn on whether or not The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard was fun or a waste of time. I want to say it was both. I had fun, but, like, am I going to remember that I had fun watching this in a year? There are all sorts of movies that my mom completely forgets about having seen, and although I can pride myself on not being like that, movies like The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard challenge that status quo. This is the kind of movie that Martin Scorcesse was talking about when he started talking about Marvel. The only difference between this and what he was describing is that this has no superheroes in it. It, instead, has a cast of superstars that could easily carry a movie on their own. The fact of the matter is, though, more of something isn’t always a good thing. With the exception of Salma Hayek, the cast does a fine job but could easily be replaced by anyone else. What doesn’t help is that the characters aren’t particularly likeable, which can be done to great effect, but only when it has something to contrast it. As an additional blow, both Reynold’s and Jackson’s characters don’t play off of each other. There’s a very common issue with weak buddy movies, and it’s that both buddies are two sides of the same coin. Initially, there’s a hint that things might not go this way. The movie opens with a fantastic idea: take a gun-toting bodyguard and take away both his guns and his license to bodyguard, but still have him want to be a bodyguard. If the movie stuck to this idea, it likely would have been a lot funnier. As it stands, there are scenes that do their job in being funny, but overall, there’s not much standing in the way to make this any different from the last Ryan Reynolds movie that made you laugh.

Then there’s a villain. Remind me, why did you hire Antonio Banderas to be a Greek character? It’s not even like they play into some sort of joke where they’re aware of the fact that that’s a glaring miscast, he’s just miscast. Even if he weren’t, his character lacks anything that would make him an interesting villain. He wants to see the world burn so a once powerful country can retake the throne it once had on culture. What are his personal stakes? There are none. Okay, let me reword that: what’s driving him to go after this goal? He… wants to see the world burn? I have nothing.

As a thrill ride that lasts four minutes but is only something you remember once you go back to theme park it was in, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard has a place. It’s not offensively bad, it’s just passable. Passable entertainment that will only hurt the most puritanical of viewers. In other words, it’s almost a perfect C.

FINAL SCORE: C


JULY


BLACK WIDOW

It’s a Marvel movie. What do you honestly expect at this point? SPOILERS, I guess, because I’ll be talking about some plot stuff.

The most disappointing thing that can be said about Black Widow isn’t that it’s a filler movie, isn’t that it’s an origin movie for a character that got killed off. It’s that it has the ideas of a Metal Gear Solid plot and says absolutely nothing with them. The villain sits in a fortress in the sky. He looks like the critic from Chef turned into a Marvel villain. He’s raising an army of brainwashed women to do his bidding. He says he’s giving them a chance at life.

Think about where that could go. What he’s doing is obviously wrong, but what gives him all of this power? What political system allows him to grow and expand his empire like this? What might be the rationale for running such an operation? What world-view explains his actions and what slight similarities might that world-view have on our own?

Great, now stop thinking. Forget I ever said anything that might have kindled your imagination. Instead of all of that, imagine Black Widow fighting people. Throw her family into the mix; they have a lot of people to fight, too. Throw in a side-villain that’s only there to be intimidating but can be outwitted by a fucking chimpanzee. Then, for added flavor, turn the final set-piece into something that would fit perfectly in a video game.

I’m not going to say none of it was fun, but if I wanted that experience, I would have happily played it as a video game where there’s a margain for thoughtful commentary but the general expectation is big, dumb action. As a movie, it feels too tied down to the Marvel formula to do anything outside of its comfort zone. In a word, it’s safe. In much more, it’s a movie that my father would have rented at a Redbox for family movie night because there’s nothing about it that screams “see it in a theater.”

Another C to throw onto the pile…

FINAL SCORE: C


PIG

Nicolas Cage has a pig. It gets stolen. He goes off on a quest to find it.

If those three sentences have you thinking “Taken with a pig,” you’re sorely mistaken. Pig, at times, has the power of a Tarkovsky movie but chooses to remain understated instead of being outwardly philosophical. It’s not a family movie and it’s only a movie you’d take your friends to if they’re into arthouse. It’s a beautiful, haunting movie that moved me to my core. It’s meditative in ways few movies are nowadays; the rare movie that makes me go “they don’t make em like they used to” without feeling the need to sing along to Beautiful Ones by Seude.

A big part of that is Nicolas Cage. For a man who’s whole shtick is how much of an oddball he is, he has a lot of range as an actor. When he does freak out in Pig, it’s not entertaining. It’s not what the movie lives and dies off of. It feels genuine and sincere.

The less that’s said about Pig in terms of its story and where it ends up going, the better. If you like slow movies, go into this one blind. If you’re on the fence, the best way I’d describe it is by asking whether or not the phrase “not every movie needs to be entertaining to be be good” resonates with you or not. If it doesn’t, this is best left untouched or, at the very least, on the backburner.

FINAL SCORE: A


ROADRUNNER

I knew very little about Anthony Bourdain stepping into Roadrunner and, as cliche as it is to say, the man’s still a bit of a mystery to me. I read enough about his life before seeing Roadrunner to know that he committed suicide. But what made him big enough for there to be a documentary about him eluded me until I went to go see it.

Conclusion? Pretty solid. As a portrait of a man’s life, it showcases him at his best and worst in ways that could only be done through editing. I was also delighted to see John Lurie near the end of the movie because the thought that a young Lurie would be perfect playing a fictionalized version of Bourdain crossed my mind early into the movie.

Other than that, I don’t have much to say. It’s a solid documentary.

FINAL SCORE: B+


THE GREEN KNIGHT

Earlier in this post, I mentioned that if I want to be a serious film guy, I have to suck A24’s dick. I guess I have little to say about this other than ‘here comes the airplane.’

The Green Knight feels old-fashioned without being impenetrable to those not in touch with historical storytelling. It would be a classic hero’s journey, but there really isn’t a mentor. There isn’t a journey home, either. It wears the ideas of a hero’s journey on its sleeve, but embraces a less traditional exploration on what a journey represents. Taken at face value, it’s magical and has more than a few scenes that are surprising in terms of their scope. Taken as the series of metaphors it’s likely meant to be taken as I’m sure there’s more to it.

Like Pig, it’s slow. However, there’s more to it and I can see there being a wider appeal to this than Pig. Overall, pretty good and I don’t think I hvae anything negative to say about it.

FINAL GRADE: A+


OLDER MOVIES THAT I WATCHED IN JULY AND LOVED

Trainspotting was fantastic, probably one of my favorite movies of all time now and I’m surprised I didn’t see it sooner. Its sequel, T2 (not to be confused with a certain movie starring a robot) was similarly good but lacked some of the original spark. Ferris Beuller’s Day Off is still a classic and Election cracked me up in spite of how fucked up it was. I am thankful that I didn’t finish watching Climax with any of my family around.


I know I missed a few movies in June/July. I didn’t see Snake Eyes and Old didn’t interest me; The Purge and Escape Room seems like they’d be good watches on streaming; Zola looked too awkward to watch in a theater; and I’d rather slam dunk myself into a coma than see Space Jam: A New Legacy. If any movies I missed interest me enough, I’ll write about them here. Otherwise, you can follow me on Letterboxd to keep up to date-ish with the movies I’m watching.

My policy on comments, going forward

If you want to read about why I sometimes disable my comments, please refer to the page I wrote about it.

This post is just to make my intentions clear. Moving forward, posts with less controversial opinions (or opinions I know might be controversial) will have their comments section up and running. This goes for older posts I’ve written.

If I find any comments that refer to posts where they are disabled, I will be renegging on this promise. Please try to understand my decisions, even if you don’t respect them.

Movies of May: Those Who Wish Me Dead, Cruella, A Quiet Place Part II

I love movies and games. More than anything, I love writing about movies and games. I don’t always have the energy to do it. There’s a good reason for that: I don’t always have the most to say. I usually have a lot to say if I don’t like something, which may paint me as a very negative character, but that’s because I gives me the opportunity to deconstruct the things I don’t like so I can better enjoy the things that I do. I’ll be fair in saying that I absolutely have gone through a phase of shitting on things that I haven’t touched and using word-of-mouth in my so called “critique” because I had time to kill. There are still a few reviews I wrote for gamefaqs.com that I need to remove for that reason alone. It takes, like, two seconds to do so maybe I’ll do it after I’m done writing this.

Anyway, tagent aside, what I was getting at is that sometime it’s better to have summaries of my opinions. So, without further ado: here are some new movies I watched this month. I was tempted to write about Borat 1 and 2 because I just saw them for the first time a couple of weeks ago, but both films have been out for so long that there’s nothing I can really say that hasn’t been said to death already.


Those Who Wish Me Dead

I was actually surprised by Those Who Wish Me Dead. Not by any of its plot devices or characters, but just by how much I enjoyed it. I wrote in my review for Wrath of Man that dumb-fun movies need to be built as dumb-fun in order to work. Those Who Wish Me Dead is good proof of this. This movie is, by no means, intelligent or original. It is exactly what you would expect from a protection thriller (a term I’d like to believe I’ve coined for thrillers where the main conceit of the plot revolves around an escort quest between an older figure and a young and vulnerable figure), sans the child firing rounds into the bad guys while spouting quippy one-liners. In fact, if you’re going into this expecting cheesy one-liners, there’s only two. This is a small-scale story that features a cast in the single digits. The end result is a movie that feels focused, even if it isn’t always the most compelling. The antagonist and protagonist are mostly one-note, but what stops them from being boring is that you can feel the conviction their characters have. Going back to Wrath of Man, one of the main issues I had with that movie is that, while the antagonists had motives, none of them were interesting. In Those Who Wish Me Dead, the duo of villains actually feels threatening. They will kill you indiscriminately, burn the evidence, and pretend that it never happened. I will say that, again, they are two dimensional. You never get a good look at their personal beliefs other than a child and his father must be killed to keep the peace. They are your bogstandard FBI characters. Which all brings me back to what I started this review with: this is a fairly derivative movie. This is a fairly derivative movie that’s effective, though, so I don’t see that as much of a complaint unless you’re really looking for something new.

FINAL SCORE: C


CRUELLA

I loved I, Tonya. As a matter of fact, I still contend that it’s very close to being my favorite movie of 2017. If The Disaster Artist and Get Out weren’t released that year, it would absolutely top my list. I, Tonya was a ridiculous true story backed by a fantastic soundtrack, visually mesmerizing scenes, and some of the best preformances of the year. I usually don’t want Oscar movies after I’m done with them, but I, Tonya sits right next to Parasite in being an exception to that rule.

So, what did I think of Cruella? In a phrase, less is certainly more. Take the scene in I, Tonya set to Supertramp’s Goodbye Stranger and make that almost the entire fucking movie and you have Cruella. I am a massive Supertramp fan; it is tempting for me to turn the rest of this review into a discussion about how much I love most of their albums when Cruella begins with Bloody Well Right, a song that did chart as a single back when it was released but has since been overshadowed by Give a Little Bit and sheer girth of Breakfast in America’s singles to the point where you’ll only know of it if you were a fan of them back them or have heard Crime of the Century. But, as much of a fan of Supertramp as I am, the first seconds of this movie happily let you know what you’re in for. The number of needle drops in this movie is cool at first, but quickly becomes nauseating. I love a good needle drop, but the reason the best ones work is because they’re used sparingly. Going back to the I, Tonya reference, there’s a good reason that scene has stuck with me for as long as it has. One, I already love the song they used; two, the way the scene flows together is elegant; and three, there weren’t really a whole lot of needle drops in I, Tonya–or, at least, not as many as there were in Cruella. For the purpose of this discussion, I’m going to be focusing in on three. There were quite a few needle drops in I, Tonya, but most of them made sense. In Cruella, did you really need Bloody Well Right at the start? Okay, fine, my massive bias is saying that it would cry if that was taken out. But a lot of the other music falls into this trap of being there because it is, and it quickly becomes monotonous. All of the joy of hearing a song that I liked was drained when I had already heard a lot of songs that I liked. I don’t watch movies to listen to a Spotify playlist.

Now, the rest of the film was at least better. I will say that Cruella was better than I was expecting it to be. Less is certainly more, but the costume design for this movie begs to differ. I don’t have a good eye for fashion, I’m the type of person to wear whatever’s in my drawer with no regard for how it looks on me. But there were dresses in this movie that genuinely wowed me. One of them surprised me, but I don’t want to get into spoiler talk, so I’ll just say the way it was implemented into the story was brilliant. When Cruella is good, it’s quite a bit of fun. Helping this is Emma Stone’s great preformance. The actual characterization of Cruella as a character felt a little hammy at times, but she brought the material to life far better than anything else could.

Let’s talk about comparisons to Joker. Joker is known for being a popular movie among edgelords, a breath of fresh air or a miserable pile of contradictory wank that ultimately says nothing depending on who you ask (I’d like to think I’m in-between both of those camps), and rewriting the villain movie as a standalone story with minimal interactions with the source material. I bring up Joker because the only way you could have a Cruella origin story is to rewrite her character, so she does not, in fact, want to skin one hundred and one dogs for a fur coat. Going into the movie, that’s what I was expecting, and going out, that’s what I got. Bizarrely enough, Cruella is almost like an opposite version of Joker. The Joker you know and love is a crazed lunatic with a laugh, not a man who slowly descends into madness and violence. By the end of Joker, you are not supposed to be rooting for his character. Although I think the movie is flawed with some of the ideas that it has, ultimately, the idea is to make, you empathize with someone you would normally want to run away from. Cruella isn’t like that. The issue I have with Cruella isn’t that the movie doesn’t end with a Walk Hard freeze-frame describing how her character went on to kill three hundred and six puppies while under scrutiny for tax evasion; it’s that it doesn’t really commit to the idea of the central character being a bad person that you can understand. By the end of the movie, yeah, fuck that person you just screwed over; they deserved it. The Baroness is too comically evil for Cruella to stand out as an anti-hero. You might say that they couldn’t really commit to her being morally grey because it’s Disney, and why would you expect anything else… but that’s the problem. If your brand doesn’t permit you to make movies with mature themes, don’t tease the audience with movies that might have mature themes. As much fun as I had with Cruella, it pains me to admit that it’s essentially Joker but with less substance, the cynical rehash I feared it might be.

And before anyone says anything: yes, I saw Malificent, and no, I didn’t like it. I didn’t hate it, either, but that’s a conversation for another time.

FINAL SCORE: C+


A QUIET PLACE: PART II

[SPOILER WARNING FOR THE FIRST MOVIE]

So, funny thing about this one. I was in a film studies class with my dad last class, and A Quiet Place was the last movie we saw before COVID shut everything down. I remember this because there were a couple of kids in our class (one of them might have been me, I hardly remember) brought up that a sequel was coming out soon.

Anyway, now that more than a year has passed, I can say with confidence that A Quiet Place: Part II was worth the wait.

I’ll admit that I didn’t love the original movie. I never saw it in theaters, I was only seeing it for the first time when it played during our class. Seeing Part II in a theater reaffirmed to me that that’s why I didn’t love it as much as I could have. A Quiet Place benefits more from where you’re watching it than it does from its script, special effects, or any of its actors. Part II is more of the same. Not in a derivative, “oh boy, here we go again” kind of thing. Following up the ending of the first movie wasn’t impossible, but it had to be done carefully. For the kind of movie it was, it ended perfectly. Narratively, it was a bit anti-climatic, but it still made sense. The biggest trick Part II pulls is not nullifying the revelation that was found in the original movie or dampening it, but bringing it to its logical conclusion. Obviously, you can’t kill every creature you see. Using distorted sound and a gun is a last ditch effort, and even then, you still might get killed. This is brilliant because it allows for there to be a remaining air of tension. Even though you know it’s entirely possible for the cast of characters to put one creature down, you fear that another might sneak up and cut their journey short.

Another trick that I loved about Part II are the creatures themselves. We know what they look like now, the cat’s out of the bag. But where they came from, why they’re here, and what their purpose is is unclear and I’m all for that. My parents were saying that the next film should explore the context of the creatures being here, but I think doing so will miss the point of both parts one and two. These are small-scale stories about people. They’re twists on the conventions of the survival genre. There are areas of Part II that threaten to remove the focus on the monsters, but these areas are short-lived and feel necessary for the story being told.

And now I will talk about the opening scene. No spoilers, I’m not going to say exactly what happens. But, as you might know from the trailers, it starts on Day One. Like revealing why the aliens are here, this could have been a very bad idea. But instead of being an exposition dump filled with dramatic irony, it instead puts in the shoes of the characters. The culmination of this is one of the best opening scenes I’ve seen in any movie that’s come out recently. It’s tense, it’ll make you nervous, and it sets the mood perfectly.

The only bad thing I have to say about Part II is that, again, this is a movie that’s best watched in certain environments. Other than that, this is the best new movie I’ve seen this month.

FINAL SCORE: A-


Wrath of Man (2021) – Review

About halfway through Wrath of Man, I had a thought that struck me as rich. I wasn’t digging the movie, but according to the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, that was on me. A ninety percent is a big deal. Or, it would be if I trusted audience scores at all. Long story short: there’s a reason I scoff at sites like Cinescore. But for this one moment, I suspended the belief that there are fundamental issues with the way general audiences grade movies. I told myself that maybe movies like these weren’t for me. I almost burst out laughing at that one. Just a few days ago, I was watching The Raid 2 and I loved it. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Nobody and have somewhat of a soft spot for John Wick. Then I went back to watching Wrath of Man. Popcorn doesn’t taste so sweet when the movie that accompanies it has all the flavor of cardboard.

I’m not an action junkie. I prefer stories to be more personal, have more weight and consequence than a bunch of goons getting their heads kicked in. I guess if there’s one way to describe my taste in entertainment, I prefer bittersweet endings. That being said, I am totally fine with a whole can of ass kicking. It’s fun to turn my brain off sometimes. If there’s one thing that I got out of Wrath of Man, it’s that dumb fun experiences need to be constructed as dumb fun experiences first and foremost.

Maybe Wrath of Man isn’t meant to be viewed as mindless blockbuster entertainment. Sure Jason Statham shoots five people in the trailer, but it might have more on its mind. I will contend that the movie made me think about something other than how bland it was on a handful of occasions. Without getting into spoiler teritory, the movie changes perspectives a couple of times. Surprisingly, for a movie that topbills an action star, it’s not just about the action star. For five minutes, I was curious about where things might be going. Then those five minutes were up and I couldn’t keep the facade going on any longer. The themes in Wrath of Man are as cookie cutter as they get–barebones without having anything interesting to say. The change in perspective not only serves to showcase how ideologically dry the movie feels, but also highlights one of the biggest issues it has. I did not care for a single character on screen. If I had to sum up Wrath of Man, it makes the lead actor from Crank boring. As an actor, Jason Statham can be fantastic. He has a lot of charm and wit to him that makes every character he plays noteworthy in some way or another. The only noteworthy thing about Statham’s character in Wrath of Man is how emotionless he is. The act that sets off his quest of revenge is the only time where he seems to feel something. Knowing how carelessly he executes his adversaries, I’d say it feels contrived. The rest of the cast don’t do much better. His wife is in the film for all of two minutes before being swept under the rug, none of his co-workers have lively personalities. The biggest offender is the villains. Given the right circumstances, I wouldn’t be describing them like that. There’s a great amount of potential for them to be an understandable band of anti-heroes that our hero has to square off against. The problem? Nothing pushes their motivations. The plot is pushed into motion because one person has a conversation with a few people about how fed up he is. The conversation that he has is indistinguishable from the one I’m sure many Americans who are below the one percent have on a daily basis. Nothing profound is said or brought up, and nothing pushes the character to say what he does. Without proper motivation, it feels impossible to root for or against the villains. Without proper motivation, it feels impossible to root for the hero.

What you’re left are a couple of impressive, but all-too-brief, action scenes that sometimes connect with the overall plot. In case you’re wondering, the scene with Post Malone could have easily been cut. It serves as trailer footage, likely something that was created out of necessity and test audiences rather than the genuine need to have it there. There’s another scene like this during the second act that almost feels like it’s not filler. But the ideas established in that scene are thrown away so quickly that it’s easy to forget about it. Aside from the action scenes, the structure in Wrath of Man is perhaps more interesting than the actual story itself. It’s a disjointed sequence of non-linear segments that slowly make sense as the movie progresses. This comes with a nice benefit, but it also creates far too many issues than it’s worth. The best thing to be said about the structure is that it makes the first-viewing experience feel like you’re slowly solving a puzzle. The second act is quite enjoyable because of this. The problems? Act one and act three. To have a solid foundation for non-linear storytelling, you have to: one, let your viewers in on the secret and two, consistently surprise them. Because I had no prior knowledge of the film’s structure and the sign posting was a little bent out of shape, act one dragged on. After I had knowledge of the film’s structure, it was then dropped in act three. I’m not asking for the entire thing to be one convoluted mess, but if you’re going to try atypical storytelling, you need to stick with it. Act three has other issues than it being unfitting for the structure the rest of the movie finds itself in. It has the most suspense, the most action, a resolution that, thank god, doesn’t bait for a sequel. Without characters to care about, both the action and the resolution fall just as flat as their set up does. I felt empty when the credits started rolling. Thankful that I no longer had to be watching the movie, thankless because it could have been better.

So, about that ninety percent. I don’t get it. I hate being overly negative, I’m certain that it makes me look bad. I don’t care if it makes me look bad to say that I genuinely did not have a good time with Wrath of Man. That’s just the honest to god truth and I couldn’t put it any better. For as many issues as I had with The Gentlemen, it was atleast a solid six point five out of a ten, a better-than-average C+. This? More like Wrath of Meh.

I’ll say that ten times so you can get your ten dollars every time somebody says that.

Wrath of Meh, Wrath of Meh, Wrath of Meh , Wrath of Meh , Wrath of Meh, Wrath of Meh, Wrath of Meh, Wrath of Meh , Wrath of Meh , Wrath of Meh.


FINAL GRADE: D


I do not enable comments on any of my posts for personal reasons. If you liked what I’ve written here, please feel free to like my post, follow this blog, and/or discuss it elsewhere. Thank you.

Intravenous – Demo Impressions

The following applies to the demo version of Intravenous released for the Steam games festival back in February. You are no longer able to access this demo at the behest of the developer.

If you like what I’ve written about in this post, considering purchasing Intravenous when it releases this summer and check out the developer’s other game, Game Dev Studio, if that also catches your eye.


Developer Roman Glebenkov is, if nothing else, consistent.

After more than two hundred hours of playtime, I can safely say that Game Dev Studio (which will be referred to as ‘Studio’ from here on out) is easily the most challenging game in its niche subgenre. Unlike titles like Game Dev Tycoon and Game Dev Story–I honestly don’t blame you if you confuse all of these games with each other–Studio forces you to make on-the-spot decisions that will either cripple you in the long run or prove beneficial until you run out of good luck. Tycoon and Story often end up feeling confusing with their lack of feedback. You’ll make a game the same way you made your last one and it’ll be a flop. If you fuck up in Studio, it’s your fault nine times out of ten. Having a successful run in Studio practically means cheating–and I would know, seeing as playing it with the Cheat Mod installed has provided some great escapism for me in the past.

His new game, Intravenous, follows in a similar vein. A top-down shoother focused mainly on stealth, it hones in on the best parts of Studio and then some. For background, Intravenous started life as a mod for Studio meant to be used as an example by the community. Although the premise is too tasteless for me to describe here, its foundation was solid enough for the developer to iterate on it. The end result is an experience that will have you have you playing it like a more tactical version of Hotline Miami if you decide to go in guns blazing and playing it like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory if you’d rather go quiet. While the latter is preferable, Glebenkov has put in the effort to make more action-oriented playstyles feel just as gratifying. What ties the dichotomy of stealth and action together so perfectly is the AI and loadout system. Regardless of whether or not they’re lying down or running around, the player is always encouraged to keep moving. Enemies hunt in packs, they’re ferocious and have keen hearing. Stalking the same corner will only get you so far before they escalate to eviscerating you. In the full game, they’ll be able to radio in suspicious behavior and other stats will determine how effective they are at taking you out. This serves to make the game much harder than your modern stealth offering, but also gives the game a sense of personality that shines through the brutally difficult combat scenarios. The guns you take them out with are as varied as the ways in which they seek you out. No two pistols have the exact same stats and the same goes for the rest of your arsenal. If there’s a gun that packs a lot of power, it usually comes with a downside. Intravenous is the first stealth game I’ve ever played where silenced pistols aren’t killing machines. While they might not be as loud as a typical handgun, they’re still loud enough to alert your enemies if you aren’t careful. The culmination of both the AI and the guns you take with you to battle is an experience that begs to be played meticulously.

The one area of concern that I have for Intravenous is its story. The small blurb given on the Steam page sounds somewhat generic and the tidbits of story in the demo don’t exactly have me excited to see what the end result will be. Seeing as Intravenous seems to be taking the gameplay before story route, I don’t believe this will be a massive issue. From what I’ve played of Glebenkov’s work, he doesn’t appear to be a storyteller by trade, but I could always be proven wrong.

All in all, Intravenous is looking to be a great time for genre enthusiasts. I don’t know what the future will hold for it, but I sincerely hope that it’s successful in some capacity. If it turns out that Glebenkov isn’t good at writing a story, then it’s damn-near apparent that he’s talented at creating great games that offer up a variety of challenge. At the moment, his upcoming title is not getting the recognition it deserves. Here’s hoping that changes.