Friday, September 20, 2019

Movies of Disbelief: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Welcome to another edition of Movies of Disbelief, here at!  If you're unfamiliar, MOD is where I examine a film, good or bad, that's based around a far-fetched premise, but find one aspect or scene that not only stretches or breaks the bonds of credibility, but pisses all over them.

Today's subject is a little different though.  As patently absurd, campy and over-the-top as this film is, the part of it I refuse to believe isn't even something that happened in the story.  It's the idea that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was directed by the same guy as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1.  Yeah that's right, Tobe Hooper, the man who in 1974 created a horror masterwork with no budget, no stars, and the worst imaginable filming conditions, somehow followed it up 12 years later with a sequel that basically sprays moldy diarrhea over everything that was great about the original.  I cannot wrap my brain around the fact that the same director made both of these movies.

Before we get into the crime against cinema that was TCM 2, let's just recap the first one a little.  The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, loosely inspired by the Ed Gein murders (as well as those of Dean Corll - look up that saga, it's revolting), was shot using grainy 16MM film, on a budget of roughly $150,000.  Like Night of the Living Dead it made use of real rural locations (see Herzog, Werner: "the voodoo of location") and was filmed in a cinema verite style, allowing the horrific tale to come to life in a way that felt totally authentic and heightened the terror.  We as the audience feel like we're experiencing these ghastly events along with the protagonists.  The cast of unknowns is first-rate, playing the scenes in a casual, naturalistic way and largely improvising the loose dialogue.  By the time everything goes to hell in the second act, we've been given a reason to care about the five young adults.  We're given no background about the family of maniacs - they are simply an evil force of nature, with no discernable reason for what they do; making sense of it would undermine the senseless cruelty Sally endures in the final half-hour.  But despite the film's grisly tone and subject matter, almost all the violence and blood is left to the imagination.  Only once for example do we see chainsaw meeting flesh, and it's when Leatherface (one of the great boogeymen of horror cinema) falls down and accidentally gouges his thigh.  But the film's timbre is so intense and macabre we think we're seeing more gore than we are.  It's brilliantly understated.  The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is far greater than the sum of its parts; all the unconventional elements came together - off-putting locations, genuine performances, innovative cinematography (the closeup montage of Sally's face during the dinner scene is mindbreaking), and unsettling musique concrete-inspired score (courtesy of Wayne Bell and Tobe himself) - to create a fully immersive experience of palpable terror.  It's one of the all-time great horror films.

This guy is terrifying.

Top Ten Things: Disappointing Movie Sequels

What up, my nerds?  Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!

Today I'll be talking about a heartbreaking cinematic experience that makes me die inside a little bit and eats away at my very faith in humanity - the disappointing movie sequel.  You've been there; a beloved film classic gets a new chapter, you get all excited in the pants area, you rush out to buy a ticket, you plant yourself in that dark theater, trembling with anticipation, and then.......Two hours later the lights come up and you say, out loud, to no one in particular, "What the absolute fuck did I just watch???"

Then you go home and it hits you: that aforementioned beloved film classic has now and forever been defiled by the ineptly-produced, soul crushing twaddle that followed.  It's like winning the SuperBowl and then crashing your car into a ditch on the way to the after-party.  It's like buying your wife a diamond necklace and then dragging it through the shit-filled drainpipe at the end of Shawshank Redemption.  It's like flying to Paris, visiting the L'Ouvre, and defecating all over the Mona Lisa.  And now you're out ten bucks and bubbling over with resentment.

Okay I might be overstating the emotional effect of these crappy films, but you get where I'm coming from.  Here now are the Top Ten Most Disappointing Movie Sequels (Note: To avoid this piece devolving into a Star Wars/Hobbit/Prometheus-bashing session I have not included any prequels - sequels only).....

10. Mission: Impossible II

Our first entry is the 2000 sequel to the very successful Brian DePalma-directed adaptation of Mission: Impossible, starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt.  Released in 1996, MI was a taut, suspenseful and pretty cerebral update of the TV show, featuring enough action set-pieces to please the summer popcorn crowd but enough character stuff and intricate plot to elevate it above the usual dreck.  I consider it one of the better offerings of that summer.  Fast-forward four years and Tom Cruise was back for the sequel, directed by John Woo and loaded with action and Wachowski-influenced fight scenes.  Problem was the story wasn't very compelling (a scientist develops a bioweapon which is then hijacked by a former colleague of Ethan's who plans to cause a mass infection so he can then sell the antidote at inflated prices), the action owed way too much to The Matrix, the central love triangle was tedious, and the villain (Dougray Scott) was more annoying than menacing.  Also where the first film was very smartly constructed, this one felt dumbed down and full of fan-service moments.  For example, in the first film Ethan uses latex masks to impersonate different people.  These masks are hyper-realistic and make Hunt indistinguishable from the real person.  I'd imagine such a sophisticated disguise would take considerable time to prepare and fabricate, not to mention you'd have to know that the guy you're impersonating is supposed to be in a particular place at a specific time for the ruse to work.  However in the second film, Hunt and Dougray seem to just have masks like this on-hand, ready to wear on the fly.  So clearly this gimmick was only thrown into the movie because it was used in the first one.  Overall I just found MI2 very uninteresting and kind of a generic action film with the MI name slapped on it.  Fortunately a) the series found its footing again with Ghost Protocol, and b) Dougray Scott opted to be in this film instead of playing Wolverine.  We all dodged a bullet there.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Top Ten Things: KoRn Albums, Ranked

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!  This edition has bonus entries because today we're ranking the albums of nu metal innovators KoRn!

With the release of their 13th album The Nothing, I figured it would be a good time to finally follow up the Top Ten KoRn Songs list with an album ranking.  As I said before, my journey to get to KoRn was an unusual one; I hated their music with a palpable passion for years before finally coming around, and then they immediately became one of my favorite groups.  Their unconventional focus on groove and grit over flash and precision was a very acquired taste, but once acquired I was insatiable.

So let's cut to the chase and count down the studio albums of KoRn!

For our Top Ten KoRn Songs list, click HERE...

13. Take a Look in the Mirror

KoRn's worst album for me was their hastily recorded "return to our roots" album, Take a Look in the Mirror, released in 2003.  After their artistically adventurous but obscenely expensive opus Untouchables failed to perform to expectations, the band rushed back to the studio one year later to record a straight-up, heavy KoRn album, the goal apparently being Life Is Peachy part 2 (right down to the cover's color scheme and mirror motif).  But the result was a set of songs that felt underdeveloped and not quite ready for prime time, instead relying solely on heaviness to carry the album.  It also seemed premature only a decade into their career to get back to the safe, aggressive style they were originally known for, and their subsequent two albums showed they weren't yet done exploring other sounds.  TALITM has a few highlights but this was the first time as a KoRn fan that I was truly disappointed with their output.

Key Tracks: I'm Done, Counting on Me, Break Some Off

12. See You On the Other Side

KoRn's seventh album was really the more logical next step from Untouchables, with the band experimenting with gothic, industrial and electronica elements.  Guitarist Brian "Head" Welch had left the band and the remaining four members decided to reinvent themselves on this album.  While the results were mixed, I still appreciated this more than its predecessor, for the risks being taken.  KoRn would perfect this type of album with their eighth release, but SYOTOS was a stepping stone with a few standout tracks.

Key Tracks: Throw Me Away, Coming Undone, Souvenir

11. The Serenity of Suffering

Over the last fifteen years KoRn's mainstream popularity has dwindled, the nu metal sound they pioneered having become unfashionable (I bet we'll see a resurgence when late-90s/early-aughts trends come back), so in 2016 it made sense for them to release a reliable, aggressive-sounding album to please their core fans, almost a career reset.  Like Megadeth's United Abominations album, TSOS to me sounded like an approximation of a classic KoRn record, something a copycat band might've put out.  This quote from Rolling Stone sums up my feelings perfectly: "Suffering is heavy enough to stand proudly in the KoRn kanon, but not daring enough to be much else."  Despite some good songs, solid all-around performances and slick production values, I found this record disappointing coming from a band who has pretty consistently taken risks.  KoRn is generally at their best when they unapologetically stretch their legs, and this album unfortunately wasn't that at all.

Check out our full review HERE.

Key Tracks: Rotting in Vain, Take Me, Everything Falls Apart

Top Ten Things: Stephen King Film Adaptations

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at!  I was told recently that I seem to do a lot of top ten lists of things I hate.  I'm pretty sure I've posted way more lists about things I like, but here's another one.  So suck on it, Larry.

Stephen King.  Perhaps no two proper nouns better exemplify the horror genre.  The very name sounds somehow sinister, like you can't say it without the gritty "movie trailer" voice.  Go ahead, try it.  When I was first introduced to King's work as a child there was something intimidating about that name with the imposing logo his publisher used at the time.

This one.  Looks so badass and they never should've changed it.

Thirty-some years later and Stephen King has produced more timeless horror stories and iconography than any other author.  He is the Edgar Allen Poe of his generation, and continues to churn out novels at a superhuman pace.  To borrow a line from Hamilton, he writes like he's running out of time.

King found success as a muse for Hollywood films very early in his career, selling his first novel Carrie for film adaptation only about a year after it was published.  From then on, King's work became an inspirational gold mine for filmmakers, to the point that in 1977 he began granting film rights to aspiring auteurs and students for only one dollar, provided the films would never be shown commercially without explicit permission.  As for Hollywood, the films inspired by King's writings over the years have grossed over $2.3 billion domestically when adjusted for inflation, with the latest, It, smashing numerous box office records in its opening weekend.

Stephen King's stories and novels have always lent themselves well to cinematic interpretation, and while the results are sometimes mixed, his works have indeed inspired some bona fide film classics.  Below are ten such examples....

10. Christine

One master of horror adapting another, John Carpenter's 1983 film version of King's novel is one of the great "killer car" stories.  Nerdy high school kid Arnie Cunningham falls in love with and buys a dilapidated (and unbeknownst to him, possessed) 1958 Plymouth, restoring it to pristine condition and gradually becoming its servant, at the expense of his actual friendships.  "Christine" then begins attacking Arnie's enemies and even displays the ability to repair itself after being damaged (In a scene that totally blew my mind as a kid).  John Carpenter spectacularly brings to life the evil car, imbuing it with the villainous idiosyncrasies of a human character and giving us one of the screen's most frightening vehicles.

9. The Running Man

This one a) hardly even qualifies as a Stephen King movie and b) is the guiltiest of pleasures.  King's novel The Running Man (published under his Richard Bachman pseudonym) is rife with sociopolitical commentary in addition to being a taut-as-fuck suspense/action thriller.  The protagonist volunteers for a sadistic game/reality show where he'll be hunted down by the authorities for a full month.  If he wins he gets one billion dollars.  If he gets caught he dies.  This novel is harrowing and smartly written, with a sensational climax.  The film on the other hand is a dumb, goofy Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle with pro wrestling-style villains and cartoonish set pieces.  But goddamn is it a lotta fun.  In the film, The Running Man is simply an American Gladiators-esque game show where convicted criminals face off against suped-up military types, and if they survive they get a full pardon.  Arnold's character (wrongly convicted of mass murder) not only has to escape over-the-top villains like Buzzsaw and Dynamo, but is also tasked with finding his friends' hidden resistance base, in the hopes of hijacking the TV signal and clearing his name.  As I said, this has VERY little in common with its source material but it's still an exceedingly enjoyable cheesy action film from a bygone era.  That said, I'm dying for someone to do a faithful adaptation.  (Check out my in-depth analysis HERE)

8. Carrie

The one that started it all, Brian DePalma's adaptation of King's first novel blended supernatural horror elements with an intimate character study.  Sissy Spacek shines as the socially crippled, telekinetically gifted title character, who is bullied by both her schoolmates and her overbearing, religiously fanatical mother (a crazy-scary Piper Laurie).  The film has an almost dreamlike quality, with washed-out visuals and plenty of DePalma's signature slow-mo technique.  It all builds to the iconic, horrifying climax where Carrie, soaked in pig's blood as the result of a cruel prank, lashes out at the entire school and later has a final showdown with her psychotic mom.  Boasting two excellent lead performances and one of the all-time classic climaxes, Carrie helped launch the careers of both King and DePalma and proved a highly influential example of its genre.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Music Review: KoRn's The Nothing is a Return to FoRm

Nu metal pioneers KoRn are back with a new album, The Nothing, and since we did this for their last album, my colleague Mike Drinan (@mdrinan380) and I are back to discuss its merits.  Maybe an argument will ensue, who knows?  

JustinThe Nothing is a moody record (as really all KoRn albums are), made more poignant by Jonathan Davis's lyrical focus on the loss of his ex-wife, who passed away last year.  This theme of despondency and loss permeates every song on the album and somewhat returns KoRn to the "music as therapy" vibe so prevalent on their early records.

Mike, what is your take on The Nothing?

Mike: Oh man, I really enjoyed this album. Knowing what happened with his ex-wife, I went into this album expecting it to be dark but I was a little caught off guard by just how dark it was, thematically speaking. Jonathan's weeping at the end of the first track really sets the tone for this project and I was ready for all of it. Everything I love about KoRn is on this album, even if there is a real prevalent late 90s nu-metal sound and feel to it, the band sounds fresh and invigorated. Ray Luzier's drumming is incredible, the riffs are really good, especially on "The Ringmaster," and Jonathan's vocals sound amazing from the deep, gutteral growl to the spiny, sing-songy style that has become his trademark over the years. Fieldy's bass adds muscle and provides the emotional punch to the music that ties the album's theme together. This album is a huge step up from their previous album, The Serenity of Suffering, and it's not even close for me.

Justin: Right off the bat, Luzier and Fieldy's presence are felt much more on this album than on Serenity.  Fieldy's trademark percussive bass attack is back, and Luzier's grooves are rock solid (I've said it before but Ray is miles ahead of Dave Silveria as a drummer).  As unfortunate as his thematic motivation on this album, Davis actually sounds like he means it this time, where TSOS sounded like a once angry guy going through the motions just so it would still be a KoRn record.  I do feel like he hasn't quite recaptured the visceral sandpaper screams of Life is Peachy, but maybe that time has passed.  Still his melodies are head and shoulders above those on TSOS, I love that he's rediscovered major keys, and the bridge of "This Loss," brief though might be, is probably my favorite stretch of music on the album.  It's the most soulful singing of Davis's career and I wish they'd built the entire song around that section.  Maybe that can be a blueprint for the next one.

I don't think I'd call any of the songs truly great, but The Nothing is a very easy album to listen to and its 44 minutes fly by.  Every song has at least something to bring you back for repeat listens and the bulk are very well-crafted.  Highlights for me include "Can You Hear Me" (a welcome Untouchables throwback; my only complaint about this song is it's so short), "The Darkness is Revealing," and "The Ringmaster," all three of which have very memorable chorus hooks.  With TSOS I was bored by the end.  That's not at all the case this time.

Geek Previews: The Witch (2016)

Welcome to a new feature here at, Geek Previews (like the ol' Sneak Previews but way nerdier), where Michael Drinan (@mdrinan380) and I discuss a film we've both recently watched.  Could be something new and topical or something we're just now getting around to seeing.  

Today's movie of choice is Robert Eggers' debut The Witch, a period folktale set in 17th century Puritan New England about a family of settlers who are met with misfortune and insanity at the hands of a demonic witch.


Mike, what's your take on this film?  Talk to me.....

Mike: Ok, as a movie I loved it. It's one of the best period pieces I've seen in a long time. I loved the dialogue and how they stuck to the Olde English even though at times it was a little tedious understanding them. The film looks beautiful, using natural light and giving it a kind of gloom that you expect in a film like this. The acting was great. Anya Taylor-Joy was really good playing Thomasin and Ralph Ineson as William, her father, was just fantastic. He was a no-bullshit guy but there was tenderness toward his children and wife that he exuded brilliantly.

I love A24, the production company of this film. Everything they seem to come out with I love or at least really like. Whether its Room, Ex Machina, Obvious Child, Locke or Under the Skin....they've all been awesome and this one just adds to that list.

Now here's what bummed me out about the film. Ever since it was released it was billed as a terrifying film. That's the only thing I heard about it, even the quotes in the trailer talked about how it will "make your blood run cold" and I got amped for it because I rarely come across a film that scares me and I love films that can do that. That's where this movie fell flat for me. The IMDB trivia said that Stephen King was terrified by this film. The only things I found a little unnerving were some of the shots of Black Phillip and the utilization of off-screen sounds, like twigs breaking or something. Other than that, it was a really good film about religion and satanism, or what I presumed was satanism.

Justin: I loved it as a strong piece of filmmaking as well.  The natural lighting, the diffused colors, the location and sets, everything contributed to the bleak atmosphere and the underlying sense of dread.  Anya Taylor-Joy announced herself as a future major star I think.  At 20 years old she already has a commanding onscreen presence, even in an unassuming role like this one.  Ralph Ineson felt totally authentic, conveying gruffness but also the air of a man who slowly realizes he isn't in control and can't care for his family like he thought.  I found Kate Dickie's performance very compelling as well, as her character goes from hysterical mourning to being resentful and domineering.

I tell ya - Room, Ex Machina, Locke, and now The Witch?  A24 already boasts one helluva filmography.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Girls' Night In #3: Pulp Fiction - Kelly's First Viewing in 25 Years

Our friend Shannon returns to the couch for another Girls' Night In episode, as we force Kelly to rewatch Quentin Tarantino's classic Pulp Fiction, a film she hasn't seen since she was 15!  Just in time for its 25th Anniversary!

We talk Tarantino's filmography and his ability to write relatable scumbags, John Travolta's 90s comeback, Samuel L. Jackson's awesomeness, Uma Thurman's amazing eyes, and how hot Bruce Willis is, plus Shannon gives her thoughts on May-December romances.  Check it out!

#QuentinTarantino #PulpFiction #OnceUponaTimeInHollywood

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Top Ten Things: Billy Joel Songs

Welcome to another song-related Top Ten Things, here at!

I went to not one but two concerts last week, the second of which was the legendary Billy Joel!  So why not do a list of his greatest compositions?

I first became aware of Billy Joel at age seven or eight, around the time of An Innocent Man, Joel's 1983 homage to the music of the 1950s and 60s, with which he had grown up.  Each song is a pastiche of a particular artist or style from that era, and even as a young boy Joel's songs immediately stood out from other early 80s radio fare.  Though I couldn't have put it into words at the time, I was drawn in right away by Joel's relatable, working-class approach to songwriting; these were instantly memorable tunes with universal lyrical themes and more often than not a rock-solid groove (Billy's longtime drummer Liberty Devitto was a monster behind the kit).  Over my subsequent childhood and adolescent years I was exposed to many more of Billy's hits, and by the time his final pop album came out in 1993 he'd racked up no fewer than 25 timeless radio standards, no small feat for a 12-album career.

Joel's discography has covered so many genres and influences (probably the most prevalent of which is The Beatles; Joel has cited them as a major inspiration on many occasions and to this day incorporates a few of their songs into his live set), giving each album its own sound and feel, and demonstrating his consummate skill in crafting robust pop-rock songs that the radio simply adores.  His live performances over the years have been wildly energetic and entertaining, but he also shows genuine humility onstage and gives each of his backup musicians ample moments to shine.

Joel decided to stop making pop-rock albums at the age of 44, after River of Dreams, but his expansive catalog of evergreen songs continues to inspire and delight new generations.

Here is a list of his finest tunes....

HM: The Entertainer

Billy's satirical take on the cynicism of the music industry and the fickleness of its audience has a peppy, upbeat sound but lyrical content bordering on resentment, with lines like "It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long/If you're gonna have a hit, you gotta make it fit/So they cut it down to 3:05."  "The Entertainer" chronicled Billy's refusal to simply churn out homogenized product to stay atop the charts, and his desire to always push himself artistically.

HM: Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)

One of Joel's working-class anthems, "Movin' Out" explores the struggles of the New York 9-to-5 crowd, spending all their energy to achieve a higher status in life rather than attaining happiness.  In the end material wealth is not a substitute for inner contentment.  "If that's movin' up, then I'm movin' out."

HM: My Life

I first became aware of this song as the intro theme to the Tom Hanks/Peter Scolari sitcom Bosom Buddies, but its late 70s keyboard groove still gets the ol' toes tappin'.  "My Life" is an ode to individuality, doing things your own way regarless what others think.  Another easily relatable song from Mr. Joel.

HM: Goodnight Saigon

Joel's seven-minute opus from The Nylon Curtain is a tribute to the soldiers of Vietnam, its lyrics covering the details of what it was like for them, their sacrifice, their fears, their comeraderie, rather than taking a stance on the war itself.  It is a poignant consideration of the Vietnam experience and a touching acknowledgement to all soldiers, living and dead.

HM: We Didn't Start the Fire

Maybe the ultimate guilty pleasure song, this iconic list song chronicling major news events throughout Joel's 40 years up to that point is undeniably catchy but also undeniably silly.  Joel himself has never been all that proud of it from a musical standpoint ("The melody is like a dentist's drill"), but it put him right back into heavy radio and MTV rotation after The Bridge's somewhat lackluster reception.  Also I can't hear this song anymore without thinking of this:

Okay, now for the Top 10...

Monday, September 16, 2019

WWE Clash of the Champions 2019: Well, I Didn't Hate It

Clash of Champions was one of those PPVs that I probably should've hated.  Most matches were too short, much of the booking made no sense, two hometown heroes were absolutely and needlessly buried, and the crowd was pretty indifferent to all of it.  But I didn't hate this show.  I'm sure it helped that I started it an hour late and was able to skip through all the garbage in between matches, but the show didn't drag for me like most WWE PPVs these days (It helped that the most important matches were saved for the end).  I even liked a few matches.

Before I get to the main card, I will say it was inexcusable that AJ vs. Cedric of all things got bumped to the pre-show, and after a few weeks of an underdog push, Vince decided out of the blue to just kill Cedric dead.  This is what happens when the company is at the whim of a 74-year-old with dementia.  AJ smashed Cedric in under five minutes and then the OC beat the crap out of him.  So what was the point of Cedric's push?  This match could've stolen the show but instead Vince opted to troll the hometown crowd (for the first of two times) to amuse himself.  Vince McMahon is a truly dysfunctional human being.

Anyway, the show opened with a RAW-quality Tag Title match, as Seth and Braun defended against another mongrel team, Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode.  This was passable but pretty forgettable, and the company missed an opportunity to create more interest in Seth and Braun's main event match.  The finish saw Braun accidentally knock Roode into Seth, Ziggler low-bridged the ropes causing Braun to fall out of the ring, and Roode hit the Implant DDT to pin Seth and win the straps.  And then after the match, nothing.  No argument between Seth and Braun, no pull-apart brawl, nothing.  How do you not have Seth get pissed at Braun for costing them the belts?  Booking 101, guys.  Anyway, this was middling.  **

Next up was the worst match of the night, and the most disappointing.  Charlotte Flair and Bayley could also have had a show stealing match but again Vince decided to piss off the hometown crowd by having Charlotte lose in under four minutes.  The match-ending spot was somewhat clever and helped establish Bayley's new heel tendencies, but it was handled so awkwardly I missed what happened until after the fact.  While Charlotte was talking to the referee, Bayley serruptitiously removed the bottom turnbuckle pad, then rammed Charlotte's face into the exposed buckle and pinned her.  This finish could've been strong at the end of a ten-minute match but here it stopped the match dead and made Charlotte look very weak.  I don't know what they're thinking when they take a massive dump on the hometown favorite every single outing.  Bayley obviously needed to retain here, but not in four minutes.  *

The first pretty good match of the night was The New Day vs. The Revival, in a solid old-school tag match.  The Revival did what they do, backpedal during the early minutes, use underhanded tactics to gain the advantage, and then work over a body part.  The finish here went a long way to building up their characters, as they took Big E out with a Shatter Machine on the floor, wore down Xavier Woods and hit him with Shatter Machine in the ring, and then instead of just pinning him, they ripped off his knee brace, tore open his tights, and Scott Dawson locked in a reverse Figure Four to make him tap.  This was classic Ole & Arn Anderson stuff and was a great way for The Revival to win the belts (making them the first duo to win the NXT, RAW and Smackdown Tag Team Titles).  Solid effort.  ***

Friday, September 13, 2019

Parents' Night In #12: The Dark Knight, a Shakespearean Tragedy

Kelly & Justin celebrate the tenth anniversary of their favorite film, The Dark Knight, by loading up on chardonnay and discussing why Chris Nolan's superhero masterpiece still resonates a decade later.

It's the performances, the kinetic energy, the attention to detail, and unexpectedly the Harvey Dent arc that make this film so haunting.  And of course Heath Ledger's iconic final completed role.

Join us for a very special Parents' Night In!

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Top Ten Things: Avatar Songs

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at, where I rank stuff in some kind of order, fully aware that my opinion really has no effect on the universe as we know it.  Today, in honor of having just had my face melted off by this band in concert (for the second time), I'm counting down my favorite tunes by Swedish metal band Avatar!

If you've never checked out this vastly entertaining quintet (and you should), their music ranges from melodic death metal to groove metal to orchestral to AC/DC-influenced blues-rock, but it's all done with a darkly caustic sense of humor.  From a technical standpoint the band is tight as a pair of spandex leggings, and they're led by one of the most captivating, sardonically entertaining frontmen to come down the pike in a long time.  Johannes Eckerstrom is positively magnetic on stage, sporting circus ringmaster garb and Norwegian Black Metal-style corpsepaint, his between-songs banter a morbidly comic nod to such figures as The Joker and Marilyn Manson.  Eckerstrom's maniacal antics drive the stage show, while his four bandmates hurl basketball-size gobs of molten heavy metal at the delighted crowds.  "Would you all bleed for me," he asks?  "YEESSS!" the audience eagerly shouts.  "Oh, don't do that, that's sick..." he replies.  If you like your music heavy, hooky and with a tinge of biting, razor-sharp sarcasm, don't miss a chance to check out Avatar's live show.  This band will kick your ass and have you laughing at the same time.

But I digress, we're talking about their best songs.  Avatar started out as a traditional death metal band, albeit with melodic guitar riffs and harmonies, but have evolved to include numerous eclectic musical elements and styles, including Eckerstrom tempering his strident death metal howl with melodic, power metal-inspired singing.  Their detuned guitars will put a rumble in your belly, the thundering drum and bass-driven grooves will get your head bouncing, and the vocal hooks will get stuck in your head for days.  Avatar is heavy metal for people who like to have fun listening to heavy metal.

On to the Top 10 list, but first a few honorable mentions....

HM: In Napalm

The nihilistic fourth track on Black Waltz has one of the album's best chorus hooks, featuring one of its most demented lyrics, "Let me cleanse my soul in napalm."  Pretty effed up thing to say if you ask me...

HM: Tower

The somber closing track from Hail the Apocalypse, "Tower" initially takes on the tone of a comforting lullabye, but the lyrics gradually reveal the speaker's true intention, love by imprisonment.  One of their most mellow, subtly sinister tunes.

HM: A Statue of the King

The driving first single from their latest album, "A Statue of the King" is a sly, tongue-in-cheek bit of blind cultism, as the lyrics weave phallic symbolism in describing the erection of a statue to the fictional(?) ruler, with phrases like "bigger than the best one" and "they lack proper stone and rocks and balls."

HM: The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country

One of the most memorable tracks from Avatar Country is this AC/DC-esque blues rocker, an invitation to prospective new worshipers of the titular king, with Brian Johnson-style vocals and a sardonic tone.  "Lay down, embracing the earth, this is your final rebirth."

Alright, now for the proper list...

Thursday, September 12, 2019

NJPW Destruction 2019 Preview & Predictions

Welcome to another round of NJPW Predictions, here at!

This coming week we're getting the annual triumvirate of Destruction shows, as essentially one PPV's worth of matches is spread across three nights.  But hey, New Japan's selling out three buildings instead of one, so more power to 'em.  Anyway there's some pretty great-looking stuff on tap in the top bouts, and some of the filler tag team/Young Lion Cup matches could be fun too.  For the purposes of this column though I'll only focus on the top two matches on each show.  And they all look pretty great.

Let's get started....

Destruction in Beppu (9.15)

IWGP Tag Team Championship: Guerrillas of Destiny vs. Tomohiro Ishii & Yoshi-Hashi

GOD are, I believe, the longest-reigning current champions in New Japan, having regained the belts at ROH Honor Rising back in February.  Seven months for a tag title run is damn-near a dynasty by today's standards; they're also up to five successful defenses, the most since Anderson & Gallows in 2014.  Tama Tonga's decision to skip the G1 tournament and focus on tag team wrestling solidified his commitment to his championship tandem, and it seems he and his brother are being rewarded with a long reign.  I'm not sure if Ishii and Yoshi will get to dethrone them and get a new feud going, but it seems like GOD should keep the belts until the Dome, to make it a huge moment when the eventual World Tag League winners beat them.

Pick: GOD retains

RPW British Heavyweight Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

I was shocked that Tanahashi took the British Title from Zack, especially on British soil, but I'm guessing this was a quick thing to necessitate a rematch here.  These two are always great together and I expect more of the same.  Zack's been in a slump since the beginning of the G1, so maybe that will be snapped in Beppu with another title win.

Pick: ZSJ

Destruction in Kagoshima (9.16)

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Taiji Ishimori & El Phantasmo vs. Will Ospreay & Robbie Eagles

I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, but by all accounts the Super J Cup was something special, and Ospreay and Phantasmo are two of the big reasons why.  I wonder if there's ever been a feud over both the Jr. Title and the Jr. Tag Titles simultaneously; this seems very unusual but I like it.  Ospreay and Phantasmo will clash at King of Pro-Wrestling in what is sure to be another MOTY candidate, but first we'll see them with their respective partners going all-out for the tag straps.  This should be fantastic.  I gotta think Will and Robbie win here so Will is a double-champion going into KOPW, where Phantasmo will take away his singles title.

Pick: Ospreay & Eagles

Music Review: Avatar - Avatar Country (2018)

I first became aware of Swedish metal band Avatar around the time their 2016 album Feathers & Flesh was released.  Right away frontman Johannes Eckerstrom's outlandish appearance and wildly energetic charisma caught my eye, and the band's mix of melodic and death metal elements coupled with their general sense of humor hooked me in.  I'm generally not much of a death metal fan, but Eckerstrom's approach to that style of singing is uniquely visceral and he uses the technique to punctuate the vocal melodies as opposed to relying on it completely.  The band's quirky guitar riffs and harmonized double leads also set them apart from similar groups, giving Avatar a blend of thundering brutality and comical eccentricity.

Avatar's latest album Avatar Country runs a lean 43 minutes and contains a number of very good songs.  Unfortunately of the ten tracks only six feel like fully fleshed-out ideas.  The concept album about a fictional king (who is mentioned in every song title) opens with a sarcastically funny anthem of sorts, "Glory to Our King," which features layered vocal harmonies over symphonic backing tracks.  My ears perked up when I first heard the melodic strains, but at a mere 51 seconds the song ends before it can really get going.  I would've liked this idea to be further explored and run maybe two or three times as long.

The first real track is an 8-minute epic called "Legend of the King," which features Avatar's signature melodic metal sound, with a harmonized guitar riff serving as one of its main hooks, plus a lofty, operatic chorus.  This is probably the album's strongest song and feels like a band stretching its prog-metal legs.

Maybe the most instantly grabby tune is the AC/DC-esque title track, "The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country," a bouncy midtempo blues rocker on which vocalist Johannes Eckerstrom channels a bit of Brian Johnson while also providing some super catchy harmonies on the chorus.

The other two standouts are the European power metal-infused "Statue of the King," which has probably the strongest chorus on the album, and the de facto closing song "King After King," an uptempo tune with a bittersweet tone (Its lyrics deal with the king's death and remembrance).

The record finishes in anticlimactic fashion with a pair of rather forgettable instrumentals that seem like they were added to artificially extend the album to full-length.  Avatar Country is essentially a six-song EP stretched out to ten songs.

Overall despite its strong points, this record feels like a bit of a disappointment after the hugely satisfying Feathers & Flesh; with not enough meat on its bones and several promising ideas left partially unexplored.  It's fine as an interstitial release, a la Anthrax's Attack of the Killer B's, but it leaves me hoping Avatar gets back in the studio sooner rather than later.

I give the album *** out of *****.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

WWE Clash of Champions 2019 Preview & Predictions

Welcome to another WWE Predictions extravaganza here at!  We've entered what is traditionally the dullest part of the WWE calendar year, but in 2019 that could all be out the window given the impending Wednesday Night War.  I'm sure the NXT brand will be pulling out all the stops over the next few months to get the edge over AEW.  But what about the main roster?

Well, aside from minor improvements and somewhat more watchable shows, the main roster is still suffering from a lack of week-to-week flow and some go-nowhere angles.  One in particular has been particularly baffling, more on that in a bit.  Regardless, the lineup for this Sunday looks fairly promising and features some fresh stuff.  You take what you can get.  As of now Clash of Champions has eleven matches (the Baron Corbin-Chad Gable King of the Ring final has been moved to Monday's RAW) and I'm sure at least one will get the pre-show bump.  Let's take a look...

WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Drew Gulak vs. Humberto Carrillo vs. Lince Dorado

Yet another Cruiserweight Title match that will be technically fine but met with apathy.  I've been saying it for months, but 205 Live desperately needs a centerpiece star, otherwise it's just a buncha smaller guys the main roster has no use for.  Kushida made his debut this week, so maybe he's being groomed for that spot.  But given WWE's track record with non-English-speaking stars (or even stars with accents), I ain't holding my breath.

Pick: Drew will retain because I've barely heard of the other two

WWE Women's Tag Team Championship: Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross vs. Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville

The company needs to shit or get off the pot with this title.  It's been worthless since WrestleMania and despite them putting Asuka and Kairi Sane together as a team tailor-made to have a dominant title run, they've chosen not to pull the trigger on them.  Because Vince sucks.  No, instead we have the "frenemy champions" deal, because that never gets old, right?  Call me when the Kabuki Warriors win these straps....

Pick: Alexa and Nikki retain

Smackdown Tag Team Championship: New Day vs. The Revival

Is this Dash & Dawson's first PPV match on the main roster?  No?  Feels like it anyway.  This should be fun if given time.  I'm still hoping The Revival heads for the exit next April, as AEW could do great things with them.  I wonder how much Vince'll offer them to stay.  Anyway, given their uncertain future in WWE I gotta pick the champs to retain here.

Pick: New Day retain

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Chris Cornell's "When I'm Down": An Acoustic Cover

Welcome to Song Garden, an acoustic tribute to Chris Cornell.  Our fourth official video, Chris's "When I'm Down" is below.  Recorded at Yebba Studios in Norwood, MA.

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Top Ten Things: KoRn Songs

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, here at, where I rattle off ten things I like.  Or don't like.  Or whatever you like.

Today I'll be talking about one of my favorite bands, that ragtag group of nu-metal pioneers, KoRn!  In short, I'll be counting down my ten favorite KoRn songs.

I came by my KoRn fandom rather unconventionally, which is to say I hated (HATED) this band for years before finally embracing them.  I first heard KoRn while working at Strawberries record store in the summer of 1995, when "Blind" was featured on the monthly disc of songs the company was pushing.  I didn't think much of the song and quickly dismissed this messy-sounding metal band as a passing trend.  Fast-forward a couple years and KoRn had become the biggest thing in heavy music, much to my chagrin at the time.  As a fan of traditional, intricate speed metal and the like, I couldn't wrap my brain around the detuned, deliberately ugly sound this band was peddling.  Songs like "Chi" and "Got the Life" actually made me physically angry to listen to, and not in a good way.  Then suddenly in 1999 they released Issues, a more melodic effort with dense vocal harmonies and textured guitar performances, and it all clicked into place for me.  I was able to get past my preconceived notions of what hard music "should" sound like and just enjoy this eccentric new approach.  Soon thereafter I relistened to their earlier albums, and within weeks I was a full-blown KoRn fanatic, and have been ever since.  The band may not get much mainstream attention these days, but I still rush out to buy every album.

But which songs are my favorite?  Well let's take a closer look.....

10. Spike in My Veins

The final single from their 2013 album The Paradigm Shift (notable for the return of Brian "Head" Welch on guitar), "Spike in My Veins" boasts a syncopated groove, complementary back-and-forth guitar overdubs, and a melodically simple but eminently hooky chorus.  The song instantly grabs you but also includes enough intricacies to warrant further listens, illustrating how much stronger the KoRn machine is with both of original guitarists in the fold.

9. Seed

This late-album track from Follow the Leader is seemingly about Davis's relationship with his son and his resultant longing for the simpler days of childhood.  The verse meanders at a slower tempo before shifting dramatically to a driving chorus, and the bridge section features two bizarre scat sections aided by a whammy pedal, giving Davis's voice an otherworldly, demonic sound.  "Seed" is one of the darkest-sounding songs on the album and for me a classic KoRn song.

8. Sing Sorrow

One of the bonus tracks from their untitled 2007 album, "Sing Sorrow" is unquestionably the best song from those sessions as far as I'm concerned.  This midtempo anthem deals with themes of society's values falling by the wayside, and the descending chord progression and elastic melody makes for one of the band's best-written hooks.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Movie Review: IT - Chapter Two (2019)

IT: Chapter Two is to its predecessor like Kill Bill vol. 2 was to vol. 1.  In both cases the first half is a visceral, thrilling exercise in style, while the second deals more with the consequences and the characters, lending added weight and profundity to the story as a whole.  It has its share of scary moments, but it's about something much more substantial than that.  I kinda loved this movie.

We pick up 27 years after the first film; an adult Mike Hanlon (the one Losers Club member who stayed in Derry, played by Isaiah Mustafa) summons the others back home because the evil entity Pennywise has returned.  Bill Denbrough (a somber, emotive James McAvoy) is now an accomplished author/screenwriter (who like Stephen King himself has developed a reputation for writing bad endings - meta-joke alert!); Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone looking like a grown-up dead ringer for Jack Dylan Grazer) is a Manhattan risk assessor, married to a woman much like his domineering mother (played by the same actress, in a nice touch); Richie Tozier (show stealer Bill Hader, in a breakout performance of biting sarcasm masking genuine melancholy) is a hotshot standup comedian; Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) is a wildly successful architect, now buff but lonely; Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) is an accountant, ever consumed by fear; and Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain, wonderfully sympathetic as always) is a successful fashion designer married to an abusive bastard.  The early scenes in which we catch up with these characters and see them reunite felt like visiting old friends again; their dinner reunion scene was note-perfect and I could've watched them interact for hours (maybe the only gripe I have with this film is that scenes like this didn't go on longer).

The adult actors are all brilliantly cast to match up with their childhood counterparts, and their touching performances and chemistry form the backbone of this film.  Yes, Pennywise and his scary clown antics are what sell the tickets, but for me Chapter Two was much more about these damaged adult children overcoming their respective childhood traumas (stuff like this is why IT 1 & 2 will become perennial viewings in my house).  I think that was always what Stephen King was getting at with this story, thus complaints of "Not as scary as Chapter One" seem to be missing the point.  This film is probably not as scary as the first; we go into this one already knowing what Pennywise is about and how he operates, thus the scares mostly play out as we expect.  But since the characters are so well-drawn and brought to life, we care about what happens to them and the horror elements work both from a technical and emotional standpoint.  I actually found myself tearing up one more than one occasion, a reaction I'm not sure any other horror film has brought out of me.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Music Review: Tool - Fear Inoculum (2019)

Tool's first album in thirteen years, Fear Inoculum, is finally here at long last.  If I were to sum up my swirling multitude of feelings about it in one sentence, it would be this: I like it quite well, but I was hoping I'd love it.

Fear Inoculum consists of ten tracks (three of them digital-exclusive transitional pieces) over a sprawling, patience-taxing 86 minutes.  Of the seven proper songs, one is a roughly five-minute Terry Bozzio-esque drum-showcasing instrumental, and the other six are all ten minutes or longer.  Those are some looooong songs, even by Tool standards.  So this is an album that, as Maynard James Keenan pointed out, requires a lot of aural stamina and several listens to fully absorb and appreciate.  I think I'm up to six rotations so far.

So here's what the album is lacking for me, and let me preface this by saying I like every song on here.  The transitional tracks are skippable (but then I've always felt that way about Tool's tone poem stuff), but I enjoy all seven full-length songs.  That said, I don't think I'd place any of them on my list of Greatest Tool Songs.  The album is missing an "Aenema," or a "Patient" or a "Vicarious," that one song (or more) I can't wait to hear every time I press play.  In listening to Fear Inoculum my excitement level is at a steady 7.5 or 8 out of 10 but doesn't ever spike from there.  Every song sounds like Tool; the intricate instrumental performances are first-rate, the production crisp, clean perfection, but the album is missing the emotional connection and dynamic songwriting of Tool's prior releases.  It doesn't have the nihilistic gloom of Aenima, the tranquil melancholy of Lateralus, or the mournful weight of 10,000 Days (Unpopular opinion: Undertow is my least-favorite Tool record).

I think much of that has to do with Keenan's vocal parts, which for me don't build to a peak like they have in the past.  His vocals are sparse to begin with, especially given the marathon length of each song, but he tends to hover around a surprisingly small melodic and emotive range on this album.  Was he not as emotionally connected to the music this time around?  Did the band's repeated compositional renovations over the last few years take him out of the zone once it was finally his turn to contribute?  I dunno, there's just something missing for me.

Top Ten Things: Second Albums

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at!  ***For my list of greatest debut albums, click HERE***

Today I'm thinkin' about second albums.  As in, the sophomore release of a given band or artist.  I have a fascination with second albums.  Where the first record is often either a prodigious, defining effort (a la Pearl Jam's Ten or GNR's Appetite for Destruction) or a near-miss where the band hasn't quite found itself (a la Motley Crue's Too Fast for Love), the second album can either confirm a band's inherent greatness, give them a chance to fully develop their sound, or reveal their first record as a fluke.  It's such an important step in the growth of an artist, hopefully on their way to even greater musical achievements.  But sometimes the second record stands as the yardstick, as with a few of the following examples.  For the purposes of this top ten I only included second albums I consider superior to their predecessors.  Before we get to that though, here are a few honorable mentions....

Honorable Mentions

Metallica - Ride the Lightning
Key Tracks: "Fade to Black," "Creeping Death," "The Call of Ktulu"

Pearl Jam - Vs.
Key Tracks: "Dissident," "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," "Indifference"

Ghost - Infestessumam
Key Tracks: "Secular Haze," "Zombie Queen," "Monstrance Clock"

Danzig II - Lucifuge
Key Tracks: "Long Way Back From Hell," "Blood and Tears," "Pain in the World"

Guns N' Roses - Use Your Illusion I & II
Key Tracks: "Coma," "Civil War," "Estranged"

10. Taproot - Welcome

Michigan-based nu-metal outfit Taproot is one of the most underrated bands out there.  A quartet whose music is a mix of heavy-as-fuck baritone guitar riffs and gorgeous, undulating vocal harmonies from frontman Stephen Richards, their first record was a fairly basic genre piece that only hinted at the band's songwriting potential.  But it was on their sophomore effort where Taproot truly found their voice.  The writing is incredibly intricate, boasting dissonant hard rock strains topped with some of the most complex vocal layering I've ever heard in any genre (the Beach Boys would be envious).  Perhaps never before had an album showcased such a successful melding of ugly and beautiful.  Welcome heavily influenced my own songwriting for years to come, and it still stands as Taproot's masterpiece.

Key Tracks: "Art," "Fault," "Sumtimes"

9. System of a Down - Toxicity

Another album from the same era, Toxicity took the bizarre metal antics this Armenian-American band displayed on their eponymous debut and added a bit more melody and musicianship.  Daron Malakian's thunderously peculiar guitar riffs are still front and center, but this album features a lot more vocal interplay between Daron and lead singer Serj Tankian, particularly on the album's first single "Chop Suey!" (which I still consider their best-ever song).  The band really pioneered their "violent mood swings" approach to songwriting on this album, with saccharine clean sections bordering brutally heavy ones, and also ramped up their Middle Eastern influence to further shape their unique metal sound.  This was my System of a Down gateway.

Key Tracks: "Chop Suey!" "Toxicity," "Aerials"

8. KoRn - Life is Peachy

Many consider KoRn's debut superior to its followup, but I'm not one of them.  For me Life is Peachy took what had been established on the first record and intensified the percussive brutality, delivering an even more raw-sounding backdrop for Jonathan Davis's primal scream therapy-esque vocals while also introducing a bit of their rap influence.  The production is minimalistic but punchier on this album; evoking what the mind of a murderer must sound like, and the songwriting is more direct and to the point than on the first album.  LIP is one of the most violent-sounding records I've ever heard.

Key Tracks: "Good God," "ADIDAS," "Kill You"

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Soundgarden's "Burden In My Hand": An Acoustic Cover

Welcome to Song Garden, an acoustic tribute to Chris Cornell.  Our third official video, Soundgarden's "Burden In My Hand" is below.  Recorded at Yebba Studios in Norwood, MA.

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Top Ten Things: King of the Ring PPV Matches

Welcome one and all to a special edition of's Top Ten Things!  In light of the return of the WWE King of the Ring tournament once again, I thought I'd assemble my list of the ten greatest matches to take place at the once-historic King of the Ring PPV event.

The King of the Ring tournament was originally a special house show attraction held annually in New England, before the WWF decided to add it to the PPV schedule in 1993.  At the time the WWF calendar only featured the Big Four PPV events, so creating a fifth was a pretty huge deal.  The inaugural edition was built around making Bret Hart a top babyface again after WrestleMania IX hurt his stock somewhat.  Bret carried the show, working three good-to-excellent matches and winning the tourney before Jerry Lawler abruptly attacked him during the coronation ceremony.  It was an uneven show but featured some excellent work from "The Hitman."

The KOTR PPV history contains quite a few highs and lows.  The '94 edition only had a few matches worth seeing while 1995's had none.  But the '96, '98 and 2001 PPVs were all varying degrees of excellent (2001 is one of my all-time favorite PPVs).  King of the Ring would run a full decade before sagging buyrates prompted the company to discontinue the series and replace it with Bad Blood.

The tournament itself would return to free television in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2015, and of course this year, with generally very little impact on star-building.  The '06 winner Booker T made the most of the "King" gimmick, adopting an obviously phony English accent which was amusing for a while.  William Regal's tourney win in 2008 led to precisely nothing of value, while Sheamus's victory in 2010 actually hurt his career for about eight months as he free-fell down the card.  2015's winner Wade Barrett was maybe the crown's worst victim, as his career went into a tailspin from which he never really recovered.

Truth be told I do miss the KOTR PPV.  The tournament itself was rarely presented well; if it was a one-night bracket most of the matches got shortchanged, and if only the semis and finals were included on the PPV the tourney felt less important.  But several rising stars were able to use the tourney as a major stepping stone, and when the PPV was good it was great.  If they were to bring it back now I'd suggest having the winner of the tournament get a PPV Title match of their choice, have the first two rounds on episodes of RAW and Smackdown the week before the PPV, and have the semis and finals on the PPV itself, with the finals ALWAYS being the main event.  Then the King of the Ring would actually mean something again.

But let's go back and look at some of the in-ring classics to come out of this once-important event.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Music Review: Sleater-Kinney - The Center Won't Hold

by Mike Drinan

Sleater-Kinney has been one of my all time favorite bands since their 2002 album One Beat absolutely changed the way I listen to punk with raucous guitar licks, extremely unique and intricate drum patterns from the incomparable Janet Weiss, and the back and forth exchange between vocalists Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. Then, in 2005 they released The Woods, an album that remains in my Top 5 albums of all time. The Olympia, Washington trio were unafraid and unwavering in their political and social commentary. They even took aim at the indie rock scene of the mid-2000s. To them, everyone and everything was fair game. On their ninth studio album, The Center Won’t Hold, while the political and social commentary is still a big topic, they also put themselves in the crosshairs.

The Center Won’t Hold stands in stark contrast to the rest of Sleater-Kinney’s catalog by shrugging off their style of punk and moving into the arena of art punk pop (I don’t know if that’s a thing but makes sense to me) with the help of St. Vincent, a brilliant songwriter in her own right. This new aesthetic is at times jarring as much as it is suspicious. Personally, I dislike this new sonic direction the band has taken, but that is based more on preference than anything. My first listen to this record was tough. I felt that this new art pop sound was drowning out the forcefulness of their voices, their presence. It was only with multiple listens that I started to come around.

In fact, some of the best tracks on this album are those in the art pop persuasion. “Bad Dance” is easily my favorite track. It has an infectious rhythm as it embraces the end of the world caused by a reckless leader, with lyrics as elegant and precise as they are politically frustrating, “My truth is slack and loose/My morals are unsound/But I'm amusing, I'm amazing, I'm impure/Dip your toes into the chaos/It'll feel just like a cure”. The sound and style is different, but the band remains the same.

Movie Review: It (2017)

If I may be permitted a small pun, holy sh-IT.

Andy Muschietti's new adaptation of Stephen King's horror epic is stylish, lovingly crafted (Lovecraft?), at times very moving, and at others exhilaratingly terrifying.  Muschietti and the screenwriters (Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman) have wisely stripped down King's sometimes disorganized, unwieldy narrative and presented the most effective components: a group of bullied, outcast children, a small town in Maine with a centuries-old curse, and an omniscient, wantonly evil entity that often takes the form of a demonic clown.  But this film excels in its presentation of the details, and especially in its performances.

Films populated with child characters generally stand or fall based on the quality of the acting, and fortunately It boasts a tremendous cast of juveniles with tangible, easy chemistry together.  Jaeden Lieberher brings a pervading sense of uncertainty and sadness as the leader of the kids' Losers Club, stutterer Bill Denbrough, whose younger brother Georgie was killed by It several months earlier.  Jeremy Ray Taylor as overweight new kid Ben Hanscomb is precocious and studious, obsessed with researching the history of Derry, Maine and its inordinate number of child disappearances.  Finn Wolfhard shows wonderfully natural comedic timing as the group's smartass Richie Tozier, who provides most of the film's laughs (Wolfhard's effortless sense of humor reminded me of a young Corey Feldman).  But the standout of the bunch is Sophia Lillis as the group's lone female member, Beverly Marsh.  Bev is the one member of the group who rises above the schoolyard bullying, displaying a defiant confidence and dignity that confounds her antagonists.  And it's with good reason - compared to her father's inappropriate advances at home, bullying at school is a cakewalk.

The character building of the protagonists yields numerous sequences of warmth and camaraderie (King's novels, no matter how frightening, generally include very relatable characters and a kind-hearted tone); we care about what happens to the kids because we genuinely like them.  Watching these kids interact I couldn't help being reminded of both The Goonies and another King-inspired film, Stand By Me.  These actors legitimately seemed like they'd been friends for years, and even without the horror trappings this would've made an engaging coming-of-age story.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

AEW All Out Review: Chris Jericho is Buddy Rogers

AEW turned in a very strong PPV showing this past weekend, with a lineup that included a few ****+ matches, one of which was a Match of the Year contender and a throwback to a more dangerous time in wrestling.  We saw the crowning of an inaugural champion, an old school face vs. heel story-based match, a violent car wreck triple threat, and above all the further building of a brand.  All Out had a little something for everyone, and while still not an instant classic show, there was plenty to like and plenty to be optimistic about.

The PPV kicked off with a very fun six-man tag, as So-Cal Uncensored faced the Jurassic Express.  The consummate veteran SCU team played the de facto heel role (though very few stars on this show got booed) against the excitingly wacky trio of Jungle Boy (screaming "future star" as always), freakishly tiny Marko Stunt, and the super-over Luchasaurus.  I'd have liked to see Jurassic Express take this win, but the match was more about establishing SCU's status as a premier trio while still showcasing the young guys.  After twelve minutes of fast-paced back-and-forth action, SCU hit the Best Meltzer Ever on both Jungle Boy and Marko Stunt, pinning Jungle Boy for the win.  A fine opener.  ***1/4

Bizarrely the second match was Kenny Omega vs. PAC - what is this, a WWE show??  As expected, this was an excellent bout, and both guys made the most of a tough last-minute situation (Jon Moxley of course was forced to miss the scheduled match with Omega due to a MRSA infection).  This match had great action and lots of big spots, PAC came off like a major star with a chip on his shoulder, and Kenny was his usual self.  PAC is yet another example of a guy WWE bafflingly missed the boat on, once again proving it's not the wrestlers, it's WWE's creative team that's the problem.  Throughout this match PAC had Kenny's big moves well-scouted and was able to counter them frequently.  Late in the match there was a somewhat botched Poison Rana, but aside from that everything here looked crisp.  PAC locked in a Brutalizer (more or less a Rings of Saturn with the victim in a standing position), and Kenny dropped to the mat and quickly passed out for the upset loss.  Kenny is now 1-2 in AEW singles matches, which seems kinda crazy to me.  I wonder how they'll have him rebound, as he seems the clear choice to be the top babyface star over the next year.  But PAC has now announced himself as an upper-tier badass, rounding out the title contenders.  This was pretty great.  ****1/4

The most violent match of the night was next as Jimmy Havoc, Darby Allin and Joey Janela tried to murder each other in a Cracker Barrel Clash hardcore bout.  Unlike most matches of this kind it wasn't all just sloppy brawling; all three guys punctuated the violence with innovative high spots and managed to get the barrels over as a new crowd-pleasing weapon.  At the beginning of the match Allin and Janela duct taped Havoc to a chair, forced thumbtacks into his mouth and taped it shut - Jeezus that's dangerous - and then Allin dove on top of him while he was taped up.  Other highlights included Havoc giving Janela paper cuts between his fingers and across the corners of his mouth, Janela hitting a Destroyer over the ropes and through a table, and Allin breaking out a skateboard covered with thumbtacks and hitting Janela with an ollie from the top rope, leaving a couple dozen tacks in his back.  At the end of the match Allin took himself out, missing a barrel-assisted Coffin Drop onto the steps, and Havoce finished Janela with a Rainmaker through a barrel.  You can't do these matches every night, but as a once-in-a-while car wreck this was tremendous.  I'd have given Allin the win here, as he has the most upside for me.  But this was one of the more entertaining garbage matches I've seen in years.  ****

Top Ten Things: Debut Albums

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at, where I count down a list of ten things.  Pretty obvious really.

Today it's the top ten debut albums of all time!  Now just to clarify, this list is in no way based on sales figures, it's simply the debut albums I feel are the strongest and/or most influential.

Generally a band's debut album rarely stands up as their best work, in my estimation.  For most bands it takes a good three or four records for them to truly find their voice, and with maturity and seasoning comes a much stronger, more confident output.  But every so often a band will emerge with a record that just blasts right out of the gate and changes the industry forever.  Even more rare is the debut album that remains the band's finest work.  There are a few of those in this list.  So without further blathering, let's get to it.  After each album I'll name my three favorite tracks.

But first a few honorable mentions:

Black Sabbath
Key Tracks: "Black Sabbath," "The Wizard," "NIB"

Weezer (The Blue Album)
Key Tracks: "Say It Ain't So," "My Name is Jonas," "Undone (The Sweater Song)"

The Beatles - Please Please Me
Key Tracks: "I Saw Her Standing There," "Twist & Shout," "Please Please Me"

Rage Against the Machine
Key Tracks: "Bombtrack," "Killing in the Name," "Know Your Enemy"

A Perfect Circle - Mer de Noms
Key Tracks: "The Hollow," "3 Libras," "Sleeping Beauty"

Alice in Chains - Facelift
Key Tracks: "Man in the Box," "Confusion," "Sunshine"

Alright, now for the main event....

10. Stone Temple Pilots - Core

In the early 90s the hard rock scene was turned on its ear with the advent of the grunge movement.  Based primarily in Seattle, grunge was everything 80s hard rock was not.  Glamorous hairstyles, garish outfits and decadent party lifestyles gave way to flannel shirts, an unkempt look and a more introspective, moody sensibility.  Stone Temple Pilots hailed from San Diego as opposed to Seattle, and arrived on a scene a bit later than their northwestern counterparts, but their debut album Core fit right into the grunge pantheon.  Boasting clear influences from Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, STP were initially decried by critics as cheap imitators, but they soon began exploring more varied musical styles and carved out a place for themselves quite separate from their grunge precursors.  For my money though Core was their best and most complete effort, featuring several classics still considered essential early 90s alt-rock fare.

Key Tracks: "Plush," "Creep," "Crackerman"

9. KoRn

Only a few years after grunge dominated the airwaves, another hard rock subgenre was birthed by this ragtag group of Bakersfield, California oddballs.  Detuned 7-string guitars, an ugly percussive bass tone, loose, syncopated drums, and anguished, gravelly vocals combined to make a uniquely disturbing musical form later dubbed "nu-metal."  Whatever its label, this type of music served as a form of psychotherapy for its architects, who used the raw emotional suffering of an abusive upbringing as their inspiration.  The cover depicts a young girl sitting terrified in the shadow of an adult abuser, and this illustrates perfectly the subject matter contained within.  Songs like "Clown" and "Faget" are angry responses to would-be bullies, while "Shoots & Ladders" and the heart-wrenching "Daddy" (which climaxes with singer Jonathan Davis breaking down in hysterical sobbing) address wanton childhood cruelty.  With this emotional, dissonant record, KoRn spawned countless nu-metal imitators and completely altered the hard rock genre for the better part of a decade.

Key Tracks: "Need To," "Clown," "Daddy"