A Selective Table of Contents

November 17, 2013

 

RELIGION/PHILOSOPHY/ETC.

*Scripture in Common Usage
Prologue – Scripture, Science, and Weather

I. Scripture in Common Usage I: Oversight I- Scripture Divorced From History

II. Scripture in Common Usage II: Oversight II- Reading Scripture Flatly

III. Scripture in Common Usage III: Oversight III – Scripture in Opposition to Science

IV. Scripture in Common Usage IV: Positive Application I- Scripture as Peacemaker

V. Scripture in Common Usage V: Positive Application II- Scripture as Communal Conversation

VI. Scripture in Common Usage VI: Positive Application III- Scripture as Personal Meditative Redeemer

Scripture in Common Usage- Conclusion: I. Is Scripture a “Good” or a “Bad”? II. What will be Scripture in the future? What role will it play? III. What is scripture?

The God-shaped Hole

I. The God-shaped Hole I: Diagnosis

II. The God-shaped Hole II: Symptoms-a)Politics without Principle

III. The God-shaped Hole II: Symptoms -b) The Divided Church

III. The God-shaped Hole – The myth of Redemptive Violence

Other Highlighted “Religion” pieces

I. The Sacredness of Secular Humanism

II. The Power of Story, The Truth of “Myth”

III. In Bombs We Trust

IV. Is Religious Literacy a Thing of the Past?

V. What is Morality?

VI. The Purpose and Function of Religion

VII. Does Religiosity Affect Morality?

VIII. Morality “in the absence of God”

IX. What is a “good” person?

MUSIC/FILM/COMICS/ART/ETC.

2015

Best of 2015 (Music, Movies, Comics)

2014

The Best (Music, Movies, etc.) of 2014

2013

The 10 Best Albums of 2013

The 25 Best Songs of 2013

The 10 Best Hip Hop Albums of 2013

The 10 Best Films of 2013

2012

The 10 Best Albums of 2012

Top 25 Songs of 2012

The 10 Best Metal Albums of 2012

The 10 Best Hip Hop and R&B Albums of 2012

The 10 Best Films of 2012

2011

The 10 Best Albums of 2011

The 25 Best Songs of 2011

The 10 Best Metal Albums of 2011

The 10 Best Hip Hop and R&B Albums of 2011

It took two days for the President to denounce white supremacists after initially condemning the “hatred on many sides”. I am sure he ultimately caved in and named the main culprits after much pressure. But that “on many sides” aside is what stuck with most and is embedded in the interpretations far too many have of Saturday’s tragedy.

In an unsurprising continuation of willful ignorance and warped propaganda that passes as “fact”, a lot of white folks out there today judge what happened Saturday as a violent confrontation between two equally bad groups. I’ve seen far too much castigation of those who stood against the Nazis and even something akin to sympathy for the nazis themselves. For many conservative people today what happened Saturday was that “terrorist” Black Lives Matter protestors instigated violence during what would have otherwise been a “peaceful” demonstration by a perhaps fringe deluded extremist group.

When Trump refused to lay the blame on American neo-nazis, the alt-right and all other cults of racists that turned out in a march for white supremacy in Charlottesville on Saturday he made a dangerous, demeaning but much-desired (by his base) false equivalency. David Duke told Trump to remember what put him in the White House and Duke, former Klan “Grand” Wizard was certainly in attendance in Charlottesville.

This isn’t to say that there wasn’t blame for the violence on parties other than the white power cretins. The BBC is one of the few sources to instantly get the big picture and you can read their report here if you so desire. The blame is first and foremost on the Nazis but of course antifa should bear some fault as well—and it seems that Saturday was the largest exposure those folks have gotten in the mainstream in a long time. Antifa, if you aren’t aware (short for “antifascist”) have a complex history going back to Germany but the modern US branch of antifa is mainly known for showing up looking for violence anywhere far-right ideology is (or is perceived) to be present. In the past that has led to bomb threats, tear gas hurling and fists to the head at not only right-wing events but also concerts, movies, and bars when a member of antifa believes an artist, event or crowd consists of at least one “fascist” (labeled so by the antifa). So in addition to occasionally getting that wrong and performing terrorist acts on peaceful folks even when they get their target right (as on Saturday) they come ready to hurt as many of the other side as they physically can. As a friend of mine said, while punching a nazi may feel cathartic for you (and those pressing the replay button on youtube) it likely doesn’t accomplish the goals you want it to.

As the BBC (and other reputable sources) reported, the initial counter-protestors consisted of Black Lives Matter activists, pastors, clergy and church-goers, and UVA students, all of whom peacefully protested the white nationalists storming through campus with torches shouting garbage and attempting intimidation. Soon, however, the counter-protestors were infiltrated and inundated with antifa members ready for a fight. Everything then quickly escalated.

So today, the common conservative takeway is that “BLM are terrorists!” equally bad to the KKK. This is a dangerous and delusional interpretation but if we allow BLM (and the mainline churches and student activists) to be conflated with antifa in the coverage of Saturday’s tragedy we will allow not only damage to groups like BLM themselves but to also their very important, urgent cause.

Trump’s base—even those not consciously and purposefully racist—want to believe BLM is a terrorist group and that both sides are “equally bad.” They don’t want to question the role “Make America Great Again” and their support of Trump played in fomenting and recruiting more openly right-wing supremacists than ever before in recent history.

As I write this I just received a news alert that Trump has once again defended the rightwing protestors from Saturday (“not all of them were Nazis”). With Bannon in the White House and Trump’s base convinced the neo-nazis share nothing in common with their own political beliefs we have a long way to go in addressing this country’s race problems. Antifa isn’t helping, particularly as they go after the ACLU openly. We can’t allow the nazis to cause us to relinquish our own highest values and identities in our battle to discredit and overcome them otherwise they score a huge win in this war.

Any Republican in the age of Trump from the Senate all the way down to the local dogcatcher that isn’t publicly denouncing Trump’s character, actions, and staff choices, who isn’t distancing themselves from him and who isn’t working to reform and update their party so that Trump and his evils are in no way indicative of the GOP doesn’t deserve to be elected to any single position anywhere in this country. If I meet you in a business capacity and you wax on about your love of the GOP in this day and age I am instantly considering doing business with someone else instead of you.

Another valid prefacing point—I have always (at least since I began to understand politics and engage politically) identified as “progressive” in the sense that I believe the goal of good governance is to grow, enhance and “better” (“progress”) society, to do more, be better, serve more folks more efficiently in the service of reducing poverty, social injustice, etc. I believe there are certain basic “rights” that citizens of countries wealthy enough to provide them are due—these are the benefits of living in a society, of paying taxes, of being a part of a country rather than a solitary tribe. In my opinion these rights include not only the constitutional rights and civil liberties we have enshrined in our constitution in America but also basic things that people need to survive—food, clothes, housing and healthcare. Every citizen of a wealthy country deserves a safe place to sleep, enough healthy food to survive, and medical treatment that won’t bankrupt them when they are sick.

However, in the wake of Trump and the resulting political environment I have sometimes found myself loathe for the first time in my life to self-identify as “progressive”. “Liberal” yes and I believe that entails the original sense of progressive but I’ve seen and heard such things lately that I can only believe the terms we’ve used previously are now dying due to bad associations and new connotations. I admit I once rolled my eyes at some of the old-guard liberals now so often derided as conservatives who warned of a “PC” left that was veering off the rails. But the only term I at the moment can muster for a certain segment of my fellow liberals is “Reactionary Left”. Like the Republicans of old and the conservatives of history the new Reactionary Left does not present new ideas, does not lead the way and instead reacts constantly to the other side…and increasingly not just to the other side but to those within its own ranks, attacking and purifying the inner circle to determine who is “really” a liberal—who uses the right phrases, holds the right positions, denounces all of the right (or “wrong”) things.

I don’t think all liberals are like this—nor will I commit a false equivalency by asserting that both political sides are equally bad today. What is happening on the modern right is wreaking irreversible harm on the environment, our standing in and relationship with the rest of the world, the dignity of the poor and the rights of minority groups. Making transgender persons scapegoats to score political points with a section of their base causes far more harm than us arguing over whether a person is “whitesplaining” or not. BUT—a sizeable and growing segment of the modern left is taking its eye off the ball and losing focus on the big picture while simultaneously culling the ranks and almost intentionally deterring those outside of the circle from getting on board.

A few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • A group of folks were discussing police brutality, specifically black folks slain by police with video evidence they were doing no wrong while the juries who found the officers not guilty anyway. Important issue, worth getting angry about, worth discussing and acting on to change the culture of why this occurs. A man the group knows made a comment that basically asserted generalizations occur across all lines and that ultimately he hoped we could grow to see everyone as part of a human family. Make what you will of that statement—it may certainly miss the point, it may certainly be loftier than statements seeking to fix right here right now the problems people of color are experiencing with police—but instantly this man was accused by the entire group of racism. Every—steadfastly non-aggressive, calm—word he said in his defense of not being a racist was met with accusations that he was “mansplaining” and “whitesplaining”. Does levelling these accusations solve anything? Does it convert the man to their point of view or advance the dialogue at all? No it likely just pushes him further in the opposite direction.
  • I know several vegans and vegetarians and while some are pretty chill on their choices the majority takes every opportunity to accuse every meat-eater they know of murder. To eat meat or not on philosophical, ethical, scientific, or nutritional merits is a complex debate but one sure way of not advancing your cause is to instantly insult, denigrate, or annoy the other side while simultaneously asserting your own moral superiority. If the goal is to reduce animal suffering, address the climate impact of the growing cow population, or to make people healthier there are hundreds of ways to advance each of these goals with footsteps that not only make sense and work but that come easier and more naturally to the majority of people.
  • Prior to the Oscars this past spring I heard from one person that if “La La Land” won the Academy Award it would prove once and for all the Oscars were irredeemably racist. This was after the Academy made efforts to double its female and people of color members and nominations of said categories was larger than it had been in years, possibly ever. The same person was in discussion with agreeing friends, all of whom declared they’d never even seen the movie and had no interest in it. When “Moonlight” ended up winning the same person proclaimed “of course Moonlight won” because it “depicted angry drug-addicted black women” and was about gay characters yet it didn’t “show gay sex”. This despite the fact that it was based on the author’s own life and was widely acclaimed for its depiction of masculinity and gender. This same person is a constant fount of examples of finding fault with every situation regardless of the outcome.
  • One last example though I could go on—let’s look at the recent McCain vote that killed healthcare repeal. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins were both steadfastly against the repeal from the beginning and have rightfully been receiving credit for that. Yet since it was known they were voting “No”, McCain’s last minute reveal that he too was voting know broke the tie and sunk the bill. So reporting that McCain broke the tie and ultimately “did the right thing” was a news story worth reporting. The instant backlash to these stories across my social media showed that rather than be happy repeal was at least temporarily dead, much of the left was angry McCain was getting credit for the work of women (Collins & Murkowski).

The Reactionary Left cares more about getting the terms right than getting the results right. I’ve read story after story about those on the fence who (shudder) became Trump supporters just because they got sick of the self-righteous posturing of their liberal friends. While I don’t see how you can suddenly support a selfish, lying, hateful, ignorant buffoon who is making the country and the world a worse place every day I do get why you can suddenly become apolitical or distance yourself from the modern left. Who wants to be surrounded by those who only complain about past could-have-beens (as most Democratic party meetings I’ve been to in recent time turn out to be) rather than what could-be-next’s. Furthermore, who wants to contribute to a conversation when they have to mentally check every word they may utter in fear of inadvertently offending the crowd and being cast out puritanically from the inner circle of trve liberals?

I can speak for no one but myself but the following points are what I feel, mean, and believe when I say I am “liberal”.

  • Free Speech is paramount. A person can say, write, or sing anything they wish or believe whether right or wrong. However, said person should not be able to report said speech as news if unchecked and said person is not immune to the free speech response to their original comment. If a person says some heinous shit they may as well expect the protests to come and that is part of the free speech circle. The right is trying to co-opt free speech by saying they don’t PC police your conversation. In case you have a short memory, the right was the party that got aghast at everything from the Metropolitan Museum of Art display of piss-Christ to gangsta rap and Marilyn Manson in the ‘90s. The only speech the right cares about is protecting lies reported as news (not a free speech issue) and the right to use racial, religious and sexist slurs (which can be used but which can also be called out and pushed out of polite public professional conversation).
  • Discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, sexual identity or country of national origin must be attacked and dismantled at every turn. Every person deserves access to the same opportunities and protections. This goes for employment, housing, education, and incarceration. We live in a country where every generation forgets they come from immigrants and so discriminate against every incoming demographic. We jail people of color at astronomically larger rates than white due to racially-motivated drug policies and policing tactics. We get angry that stores say “Happy Holidays” instead of exclusively “Merry Christmas” and those who believe differently—especially if they believe in “nothing” religiously—are looked down upon almost unanimously. Hell, we maintain “legacy” preferential status for universities bestowing the grandchildren of wealthy graduates preference over first-generation college students in contrast to every other industrialized country. Yet instead of focusing with laser-like specificity on these bigger issues (and so many more), the Reactionary Left worries more about pushing out voices from the past (“who cares what dead white guys had to contribute” (e.g. Jefferson, Einstein) or present (quit whitesplaining) from the conversation.
  • Our environmental world is in danger and it is our duty to protect and repair it. No one’s jumping down from the sky to heal the earth nor is it our destiny to strip and destroy our planet on our way out. Global warming is real and we are running out of time to do something about it. Big changes are necessary from national and global standpoints. We can do what we can to cut our carbon footprint but policing the micro-actions of our every neighbor may not only not make a difference but may also make many other things worse.

I could go on with issues of war, poverty, policing, gender relations, etc. but I’m not writing a manifesto regardless of how it might sound, I just wanted to list a few key examples. These are just a few key things I mean when I proclaim myself as a liberal. Despite the fact most of us grow more conservative with age I don’t foresee that for myself in most areas, though I’m not immune to the fact that with even slightly better income and more security almost all of us lose the visceral response to many progressive impulses. I am liberal in a traditional sense and I have huge sympathy for the modern left in terms of addressing some of these other issues and growing awareness of problems previously overlooked. I believe in a more equitable world for all. I don’t scoff at the issue of language and label either—I know misusing the wrong label can hurt be it a pronoun or racial slur. My wife is a strong Ms. (never a Mrs.) with her own last name, every transwoman I know is a she, and by god I’m never calling a black person the n word (even with an a ending) no matter how close we are. I get the importance of all such issues. My issue with the focus on language is more on the pedantic, academic sense—I spent a lot of time in colleges and universities and within that context it is very important to get the nomenclature right. But it is not our duty as liberals and/or academics to take those textbook sociological and philosophical terms out into the “real” world and bludgeon folks with them—accusing them of –isms they’ve never heard of, condemning them for not invoking the right indigenous native writer’s preferred adjective at the right time. I fear that the campus experience will drift to implosion if we allow our fear of getting it right and our fear of offense push out all fruitful debate and exclude all troubling writing. I fear we will lose a generation of progressive action by culling the herd of all but the most linguistically and philosophically pure and there is simply too much at stake to let that happen.

This is the second of these installments. If you’d like to read my rankings of the Friday the 13th franchise click here and if for some reason you want to read my long-winded prologue as to why/when I started doing these feel free to click here.

I googled “A Nightmare on Elm Street” to check the date on the remake and saw a slew of “Nightmares ranked” posts from Buzzfeed to Nerdist and everything in between. I didn’t read any of them and as far as I know I’ve never read one before but I’ll check some of them out after I post this to see how my picks compare with others. As with Friday, if you disagree with my order that’s cool. I’ll be doing these lists with other horror franchises over the next few months as well as horror directors and certain adaptations, notes, etc.

Re-watching the Elm Street franchise after the Friday films revealed a few things. Though I loved Freddy as a kid/teen (“Freddy’s Dead” was one of the first R-rated horror films I ever saw and I loved it) the series has aged a bit worse than Friday particularly with the effects but also in some of the installments with the villain. Wes Craven came up with one of the most terrifying villain concepts ever—a child-killer with home-made knife gloves who worked as a school janitor that was burnt alive by the town parents only to come back as a dream demon who can kill you in your sleep—good lord, that is the stuff of nightmares)—but the character got more accessible and caricaturist with every installment. That said, there are still some good films in the batch and horror fans who came of age in the 1980s and ’90s will always be Krueger fans (or “ [his] children now”).

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9) A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

I would say it was pointless but I do in fact see the point of trying to update and remake Elm Street for a new generation with modern effects and solid acting. The Friday remake was actually pretty good (in my opinion). However, this one was terrible. It’s possibly the worst horror remake of the last 20 years. What a wasted opportunity.

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8) Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (part 6)

So this introduced me to Freddy and in some ways horror films…but my recent revisit of the film revealed that this did not age particularly wel at all. I find it especially funny that it was set in the future but everything in that future was concretely rooted in early 1990s technology and culture…for example the power-glove super Freddy? You do get some early Goo Goo Dolls on the soundtrack to remind you they were a hard rock act once. The timeless past of the dream demons prior to Freddy are played with a bit but the effects don’t do the concept justice. There are some solid scenes and it’s not a complete waste of a watch as I’ll likely give it additional views in the future, it’s just not the best of the series and Freddy is at his most ridiculous here (“wicked witch of the west”ing it?).

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7) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
This one is hilarious and unique. You have an over the top male as the final girl and a metric ton of gay-subtext which the writer and director admitted as intentional later. You have some truly weird dream sequences. You have a lot of odd character choices and horrible (yet funny) dialogue. Then there’s the idea of Freddy needing to possess the protagonist and use him to come back, an idea not quite revisited later. You have an ending that just ends without being resolved in the follow-up. But you also have some dark, scary Freddy appearances—scarier than he would be in any of the follow ups other than “New Nightmare”. It is actually a solid movie and I can see how this one has garnered a cult following.

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6) A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

Alice is perhaps a better protagonist than Nancy and here she makes her second appearance—and she’s tough. She fights back and fights hard. There are some of the best dream sequence effects of the series in this one and it may be the most under-rated film of the series.
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5) A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Alice makes her first appearance and the story propels nicely forward from the extremely successful (and fan favorite) “Dream Warriors” predecessor. Dream Master and Dream Child fill in some Krueger history and chronology, feature a great protagonist and decent supporting cast and work very well as a double-bill. Solid 1980s horror installments done right.

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4) Freddy vs. Jason

Fans waited so long for this movie. For the most part it always seemed like a pipe dream that wouldn’t ever really come to fruition until it actually did. So after that infamous Freddy glove made its appearance in “Jason Goes to Hell” speculation about what the movie might entail went on for years—as such, nothing would live up to that anticipation. What did come out though was thoroughly entertaining. I didn’t include Freddy vs. Jason in my Friday list because as I said there, it seems much more like a Nightmare movie featuring Jason which it does. This movie basically picks up where “Freddy’s Dead” left off and now that Freddy is “dead” he’s looking to make his entry back into the world via Jason—using Jason to kill and raise the body count and fear on Elm Street so that kids think Freddy is back enough that he can actually come back. The more modern special effects and make-up did wonders for the ultimate battle between these two horror icons and the movie had its share of thrills, laughs, and fun. I still like the idea that at one point they planned two endings to air in different theaters each with a different victor.

 

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3) Wes Craven’s “New Nightmare”

Craven played around with meta-narratives quite a bit, most strongly here and later in Scream. New Nightmare is a blast—audiences get to see most of their favorites from the first film back playing themselves (including/introducing director Craven). Let’s face it, Heather Lagenkamp wasn’t the world’s strongest actress back in the day or later in this one playing herself but it’s still nice to see her back. The visuals were the best they had yet been when this one showed Freddy and he was certainly more frightening than he’d been in almost a decade. Good story through and through.

 

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2) A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Probably the best cast (Laurence Fishburne), best lines (“Welcome to prime time…”), and some of the best visuals (Freddy the puppeteer) the series had. The soundtrack was solid as well, so there’s little wonder why this is many fans favorite of them all. Freddy also made a definite move to wiseass mischief maker who dished out comic relief and one-liners though which set the tone for every appearance he made afterwards (until New Nightmare). But this one works by pretty much every count: bringing back Nancy for a bit, expanding on the mythology, and squaring Freddy off against a group of quality adversaries.

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1) A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

In this instance (contrary to Friday) the original is by far the best of the batch. Wes Craven came up with a truly terrifying concept that was original and provided a twist on the slasher genre much different than what anyone else was doing. He assembled a mostly top-notch cast, shot it with the best effects he could muster (and there are really only 1-2 instances where said effects are overly dated), and gave horror fans a creative, unique, and original experience. The bath tub scene, the ceiling drag, the blurring of waking and dreaming life, this one is a true horror classic was truly unmatched by every successive film regardless of how fun those sequels were.

First off—Friday the 13th isn’t high-brow art just in case you’ve never seen it and were wondering. Let’s go ahead and acknowledge that this franchise isn’t about creativity or originality so much either while we’re at it. Watch any of the panel discussions and behind-the-scenes pieces on the first film and you’ll hear that producer Sean Cunningham simply saw that Halloween was doing big things at the box office and he wanted to rip it off and rush a film to theaters to strike while the iron was hot. Like Halloween (and all other 1980s slasher films) Friday the 13th stylistically and thematically owes a great deal to “higher” art of previous Italian horror and giallo pictures. But Friday was huge—it printed money and brought in crowds in droves for what was a modestly produced work yielding tons of cash. So then you had a string of sequels, some of which (to outsiders) seem to just rehash previous entries and others which do truly bizarre things (Jason in space, Jason in Manhattan). Despite it all, if you were young in the 1980s or ‘90s chances are you saw a Jason film or two fairly early in your horror exploration. If you’re a horror fan, even one with a preference for more “serious” horror films, chances are you have a soft spot for this franchise. It’s fun, it’s over the top, and it still has what it takes to surprise you with a scare. I recently watched the whole franchise from front to back over the span of a month or two. Some I’d seen before, some not for years, some never at all. Kicking off my series of horror film lists and articles I begin here by ranking the Friday films in order of my least favorite to my most favorite. Some observations I made while watching these about horror in general and cultural changes over decades made evident by genre films will be revisited in later articles.

Note—not listed in this ranking is “Freddy vs. Jason” as I view it more as an Elm Street movie featuring Jason than I do a true Friday film. I have included the 2009 remake, however.  Lots of folks have ranked these films prior to me and there are often serious horror-nerd arguments over differences of opinion on order. This is just my personal opinion and taste. If your opinion is different, that’s cool.

 

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11) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

This is the worst entry in the franchise, period. There are a few entertaining moments, a couple of okay characters, and a few laughs but it’s the most boring of the batch and the problem contrary to what you might think if you haven’t seen it is not that they pull Jason out of his natural environment and throw him in one of the busiest sections of city in the world—it’s that in contrast to the title itself he’s not really in Manhattan! Well, at least not for long. The first 3/ 4 of the movie takes place on a cruise ship between Crystal Lake and Manhattan. Even after the ship docks in NY it takes even more time to actually make it to Manhattan so in total Jason spends about 10 minutes in Manhattan. There could actually be some good (if silly) story there but it was an opportunity wasted. Don’t even get me started on the “Jason reverts to childhood” effect. But—the heads-off KO was pretty cool.

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10) Jason X

This is the Jason in space movie and you know what? There are some fun things going on in this one. Uber-Jason, the flash-freeze kill scene, and the guest spot by David Cronenberg in particular. The plot is ridiculous and over the top but so what, it (mostly) works. There are some slow segments, several weak characters, and a complete disconnect with every other Friday movie to its fault though.

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9) Friday the 13th Part III

Some hold the first 4 films as the cream of the crop, even as horror classics. They are the “human” era Jason movies and all of the major ingredients are in place by III: stalking killer Jason, Camp Crystal Lake, counsellors, mayhem. This is also the one where Jason grabs his famous hockey mask and adorns it for the first time. All that said, this one had some of the weakest characters, silliest gags, and slowest parts. It was also “3D” in the old-school sense. It doesn’t work quite as well as the films surrounding it.

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8) Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Spoiler alert—the one without Jason. Who knows if this was to signal an entirely new direction or not but after the fact Jason was back in the follow-up. Despite no “real” Jason, this movie has its fair share of shocks, scares, and other such ‘80s slasher fare. Commentary from the director suggests the sexuality was much more troubling to the MPAA censors than the violence and as such it’s probably the goriest of the Friday movies until the censors stopped caring in “Jason Goes to Hell”.

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7) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (pt. IX)

So a lot of people hate this one as it does mess with the mythology of Jason in ways never hinted at (or revisited) elsewhere. Some like it only for the exploding Jason at the beginning or the Freddy glove reveal at the end. The entire thing is entertaining though if you just roll with it and it has some of the best effects of the entire franchise. Jason possessing others as a force of evil is entertaining.

 

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6) Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood

This one is the “Jason versus the teen psychic who can raise her surprisingly un-rotted long dead father” one. There are funny moments in this one, a solid cast, and a surprisingly tense showdown with a final girl that fights back. Not to mention a rotten mask-less Jason in full-on battle mode.

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5) Friday the 13th (2009)

Largely hated by the hardcore fans of the original franchise, I say the 2009 remake worked surprisingly well, better by far than most of the ‘00s remakes (Nightmare, Last House, etc.). This one is basically a cliffs note version of the first 3 films updated for a new generation. Sure most of the characters are annoying though I think the final girl and the older brother looking for his lost sister both work just fine.

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4) Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives

 Jason lives–that he does I guess. This one is a fan favorite for good reasons. Jason brought back to life by lightning—bigger, rotting, tougher, cooler looking than ever—facing off with the only major adversary he ever had (Tommy Jarvis). Great shots, music, and solid acting with cool effects make this one of the best Friday movies in the canon. 

 

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3) Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter

They really meant to kill Jason in this one (maybe). This is with Corey Feldman as a (surprisingly un-annoying) child adversary fighting off (and ultimately “killing”) Jason.

What Friday fan can forget the gruesome eye socket slide of Jason to his “death” or Tommy’s psycho gaze in the hospital?

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2) Friday the 13th (1980)

So the original is not listed as my favorite. This is very rare for any series as you quite often get diminishing returns with each successive film in any series no matter how entertaining but for Friday I actually prefer the first sequel to the original (more on that below). The first one though—this is a genuinely entertaining slasher that was also a mystery of sorts in its time as the killer reveal wasn’t made until the end. There’s some acting chops on full display with Mrs. Vorhees in particular as she seeks her psychotic revenge. Not the best slasher of all time but one well worth watching a few times. The atmosphere of the entire series is at its best in the original and the final 10-12 minutes are among the most entertaining in slasher horror history.

 

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1) Friday the 13th Part Two

 What else can I say? Potato-sack masked Jason is the scariest of the bunch for me. This movie has everything an ‘80s slasher film needs. Jason is legitimately scary in this movie making his first adult (or arguably “real”) appearance. He’s a bit crafty, plotting, agile, and human. What’s not to love? There’s the revenge on the first movie’s final girl in the opening sequence. There’s Jason lying in wait and creepily rising off the bed to stalk his unsuspecting victim. Creepiest of all, there’s Jason with his macabre alter to his late mother. This is the best film of the franchise and the most traditionally “horror” of the batch. Jason would never be as scary as he was in this one and the story would never get better no matter how much more complex the successive scripts strove to be.

The future is over-rated.

Though I could make a “things I hate about social media”  list (posting and commenting on stories without reading them, constant outrage at what celebrity Z said about Y, knowing what a kid in 3rd grade I never saw again thinks about the Democratic party) this isn’t that article. Like I wrote last time, I like some outlets more than I used to and enjoy them (Goodreads, Yelp) and others less than ever (Facebook) but I appreciate keeping up with friends—I can think of several friendships that if it’d been down to the pen and postal service or the long-distance phone call we’d long ago fell out of touch. Likewise, though I recoiled (a bit) at the new CNN ad for “the Nineties” in which it begins with a CD inserted into a top-shelf stereo component—I couldn’t help but think (crappy song choice aside) mock it all you want, that sound quality is miles ahead of what most people are blaring from their smartphones or Bluetooth speakers today (as they obsessively skip from song to song). I love my CD set up, prefer a full album played on CD in my car on the way to work in the morning, and love my LP set up even more…but, I do love the heck out of Spotify, personalized mixes, and the money saved by exploring artists without purchasing an album first. No, this article is about how the future is overrated in another way. Sure it’s over-rated in that: (a) I still don’t have a jet pack; (b) Trump is president; and (c) and we still can’t cure the deadliest diseases. But a more simplistic way it’s over-rated is with movies. Not that they suck, there are good ones every year. But watching Andy Cohen’s “Then and Now” the other night the panel mentioned how huge Blockbuster used to be and then it imploded (though they neglected to mention the curious growth of Family Video around the south and Midwest in recent years). Now you can access any movie from home without leaving the couch” they said.

Hmmm…..

I am fortunate I know in that with a living wage and a spouse who earns likewise I can afford to pay for not only cable but streaming services. I spent my college years and twenties cutting those expenses and for the most part didn’t miss them too much at the time. Busy, other options, etc. But to have them is nice especially in the modern era with DVR and on-demand. I know when I’m working out on the exercise bike I can flip on my recordings and catch up on my choice of news, binge-worthy episodic TV, or special interest programming. Not only that, I can pull up Amazon, HBO or Netflix and choose from thousands of options. Seriously thousands, you can get lost for an hour in any one of those portals just trying to determine what you want to watch.

On cursory glance you’d think Cohen and company were right—everything is at your fingertips. As a continual Netflix subscriber I once jettisoned a few boxes of my DVD collection. Many of those were all I had to choose from in the days of no cable and Ramen. Why keep them all? There’s always something on Netflix. But a curious thing happened: TV got good. What used to be a “slumming it” domain for writers, directors and actors became cutting-edge. There have always been some “good shows” and there have always been plenty of crap that condescends to the lowest common denominator. But suddenly, following the lead of shows that began to hint at efforts of scope, intricacy, grandiosity and TV artists taking their craft seriously (BTVS, West Wing, The Wire, Sopranos) there was a steady stream of quality, acclaimed and ultimately addictive TV. First on the premium channels but then on many of the networks and basic cable channels, then on the streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu).

What happened next was that companies like Netflix—who were supposed to be our go-to video store—began to cut their budget for films to free up money for more shows and most expensively, making their own shows. Suddenly there were fewer and fewer movies in the stream. By this point Blockbuster was out of business, Redbox sprang up to at least give you a way to rent the new-to-disc releases, and you’d long since cancelled your disc subscription to afford all the damn streaming services.

Which brings me to my whole point and the focus of my next several posts: shows are great and all. I mean, I loved the Wire, Breaking Bad and Mad Men. I enjoy (current) Better Call Saul, Einstein, American Gods. I rarely get the urge to straight up “binge” a show anymore though I like a good, solid show that has 3-5 seasons of quality and wraps up in a satisfactory manner. I like watching them in weekly chunks as they happen or if they’re finished an episode here and there. But I was missing movies again. We go to see the major films we want to see in theaters but certainly not everything that comes out. Netflix (or Amazon, HBO) get a set of new choices each month (and drop a few with each addition) but we’ve spent many a night scanning through and though ultimately finding something it was usually not what we set out looking to watch.

Then I got the urge to revisit some old horror movies—to watch the entire franchise of several series’ (Friday the 13, Halloween) and the filmography of several directors (John Carpenter, David Cronenberg) to see how the ones I knew held up and how the ones I’d never seen were. I’ve always been a horror fan and had a (modest) collection of them on Blu-Ray or DVD but I suddenly had a long list of things I wanted to see….and only about 5% of them were available on any of the cable or streaming options I have. There’s actually a horror-specific streaming service (Shudder) and most of them weren’t even on that (though I was loathe to pay for another service anyway). This “everything is available from your couch” was proving to be laughable. Of course, throw on iTunes or Amazon and you can rent or buy digital copies of most films…$4-7 to rent, $8-30 to “own”. So there’s that. If I’m going to pay $4 to have digital access to a film for 24 hours or so fine but if it’s an old favorite and I can physically own it to watch when I want, as many times as I want, in better picture quality (if blu), and with commentary and bonus documentaries for a few dollars more I’m going to opt for that. But back in the day I could rent any older movie for $1-2 from the local video store.

So over the past 6 months or so I’ve picked up random horror films on blu and DVD, some from thrift shops here and there for 2 bucks, some from ebay when the price is right. I’ve enjoyed watching them and have ranked them for my own fun. Which is the best in a given series? How do competing series stack up against each other? My upcoming posts will showcase ranked horror franchises, observations I’ve made from watching how horror changed from the ‘50s-today, etc. I hope to do the same for other genres in future years—crime/noir, sci-fi/fantasy, action, comedy. So if that’ s your sort of thing, stay tuned.

Last week one of those viral Facebook status games went around. You know the ones—“I’ve been to X states how many have you?” with shaded areas or a Q&A of which sibling or spouse in your family is considered the more Y than the others, etc. This one going around was “I’ve been to 9 of the following 10 concerts—which is fake?” I’m usually not one for these games or copy-paste status shares but this caught my eye because I love music and frequent concerts. I love ranking, debating, and sharing music information as well. It was fun to learn what friends had seen what shows—that a Jehovah’s Witness mother of two friend of mine I’d never heard so much as cuss had seen Master P as a teen or that I had friends who’d caught both Kurt Cobain and Eliot Smith live before their suicides was interesting to me.

I realized when receiving notifications of comments on either mine or a friend’s status that I’d guessed at that for the first time in months (or longer) I actually enjoyed something on Facebook. I’ve been as guilty as others in the news-shares that only preach to the choir or piss off the other side but never change minds and rarely inspire actual action and I do like that news stories I trust and find worth my time populate in my feed on the regular but since the build up to the 2016 election and the fallout afterward I’ve felt little joy in reading or interacting with anything on Facebook. This was different and small as it was I enjoyed it.

Then almost instantly I began seeing backlash and realized just like I’ve always suspected, there can be no joy on most of the internet least of all Facebook. “Ugh I hate concerts who cares?” status updates or “thanks for reminding me I’ve never seen anything” or ultimately worst of all, comments that “these updates just showcase how privileged some people are that they can waste their time and money on such trivialities”—I’m paraphrasing and combining several comments and conversations into one with that but it’s a pretty apt summary of what I saw in one corner of the newsfeed. That’s just indicative of the need to –ism and box every activity and action, to privilege check all that shouldn’t be privilege checked and ultimately to force us all to realize: there.can.be.no.joy.

I love live music. I love music in general and love albums but I especially love the live concert experience. It’s all encompassing and it purges my mind of the clouds and cobwebs and self-doubt and cynicism. I went to a couple of shows a year from my late teens through my early twenties then a buddy and I spent two years of college hitting the road every time anywhere in a 6 hour radius a band either of us loved was playing. After graduation I caught shows sporadically but three years ago my wife and I moved to the Nashville area. While I’m no real (mainstream) country music fan, I quickly realized Nashville was beginning to draw more and more diverse acts. As someone who loves metal as well I was pleasantly surprised to see death, black, doom, trad and other metal acts from acclaimed upstart acts to historical legacy acts coming to the area. Though I’m approaching my mid-thirties at this point since I came to my full love of extreme metal rather later in life I took advantage of a somewhat flexible work schedule to hit as many of these shows, most of which could be enjoyed for less than $30, as possible—well, at least one a month.

I have no children. My wife and I trust each other to do things without the other when we want. We’ve slowly dug our way of debt (still a way to go) but the last 3 years are the first time in our lives one or both of us hasn’t been in some sort of school or degree program and it’s the first time we’ve both had something at least approximating a real career. So if I want to spend $30 or less on a show—then throw $50 if I feel like it on drinks and merch to support the hard-touring acts—on a Tuesday night in a warehouse or damp basement show or heck $75 occasionally for a legacy act in an arena then I don’t know whose business it is but my own. As for privilege? I have waited in so many lines for concerts and I see hard-working 20-50 year old folks, some obviously there straight from work with a schedule on deck for the next AM waiting in line to hear a song they love by a band they admire. I see folks who maybe want to have a drink and wait for the lights to go down and the spectacle to begin. To forget whoever is in office and whatever is owed, whatever has not worked out for them and just breathe for a few hours.

I remember those maps of “I’ve been to X states” and remember feeling bummed that I’d been nowhere outside of the southern geographic radius of states right into my 30s. I am only now at a point at which I can afford to really travel at least once a year. Sporting events? Outside of an occasional minor league baseball game I have no interest in spending my money and time at one. So do what you like in life when you have the opportunity because experiences are almost always worth it. I have fond memories of every show I’ve been to and they always yield stories to tell to like-minded fans. This year two of my best memories so far are a 4-act metal tour where I bounced around (often flying through the air) in a sweaty mosh pit for 5 hours and a small dark club where a gothic folk singer sang the words of songs I’d played on repeat for months to chilling effect. I’m not really a religious person (though I once was) but the right live show functions in the way the best religious service can—it builds an instant community, involves the whole body, and overwhelms all of the senses. It clears the mind.

So yeah, if you like live music just make the effort. There’s probably a city or town within an hour of you that will have at least 1 good show a month—catch one some time and if you like it, let the band know by buying a shirt or two. If you don’t like live music? Find something else to do with your time but don’t be annoying.

Lastly, I was thinking about how at least Yelp and Goodreads, as far as social media goes, function optimally by keeping the focus on the subject(s) at hand. Then I received a random message on Yelp yesterday from a stranger calling me names because I mentioned in a review I preferred omelets to scrambled eggs: No.Joy.

 

 

My Top Movies of 2016

December 30, 2016

As I mentioned in my “Top TV” post, this was the first year I had far more worthy TV picks to pore through than movies. I may have went to the movies just a tad less than usual this year but if so, not by much and with Netflix, Redbox, HBO, Amazon, etc. there’s no shortage of movies out there to see. Of course, studios often hold their best work back until the end of the year to stay fresh in voters minds come Oscar season and some of those (mentioned at #10 below) I’ve yet to have a chance to see. Conversely, there were a lot of great little popcorn films (Deadpool, Civil War, Jungle Book, etc.) that were fun to watch but lacked the depth of a truly great film IMO. Regardless, here’s what I liked the best and the top 3 or 4 were in particular great and timeless works while the others also had plenty to offer.

10) I’m going to cop out with this one but as I’ve yet to see so many great contenders this year I am certain that once I do one of the following will likely place somewhere on this list, likely shifting the back (5-9) portion of this list:  Everybody Wants Some, La La Land, Nocturnal Animals, Moonlight, Jackie, and Manchester by the Sea.

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9) Green Room

It was such a shame to lose such a young talent as Anton Yelchin this year. While best known for his work in the new Abrams Star Trek franchise, he delivers a more forceful and personal performance in Green Room. Veteran of an older Trek series, Patrick Stewart, delivers a menacing performance. Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat is also great here. This is a great little punk rock high-energy old-school grindhouse thriller.

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8) Tony Robbins: I’m Not Your Guru

I’m not a Robbins disciple and while I can see why many critics think this documentary failed to go deep enough in dissecting Tony and his own possible motives and motivations I found this a thoroughly entertaining documentary and portrait of a person, his audience and his work. I may not have gotten as full a picture of the person as I did with the subject of the equally entertaining Anthony Weiner documentary this year, this one just entertained me a bit more and made me think throughout.

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7) Dr. Strange

After a couple of decades or longer of consuming superhero stories in one format or other I more and more prefer in comics or films those that use the trappings of the icons and genre to tell bigger (or in some cases, smaller and more nuanced) stories. Marvel is in danger of over-saturating the market and now with C and D level characters (sorry Strange, you’re not known to the larger market in the way Spiderman is) moving into the starring role of their own films that risk looms even larger. Yet perhaps because of their relative obscurity to the mainstream it’s with these characters Marvel (in film and via Netflix originals) is telling its best cinematic tales (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage). It doesn’t hurt that Cumberbatch is a great actor. Nor does it hurt that this may be one of the only films in history to actually warrant a viewing with 3-D glasses as the mystical scenes are a roller-coaster via that method. Dr. Strange was the best superhero film of the year by remembering the value of the character, the motivation, the context and the uniqueness therein. While Suicide Squad and Batman vs. Superman bloated themselves to boring, Strange went small by focusing on character and then large with cosmic, intricate visuals and action.

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6) Star Wars: Rogue One

I’m torn a bit with the sheer omnipresence of Star Wars (like superheroes). I can’t help but think market fatigue and backlash is coming–can we really sustain a big-budget blockbuster Star Wars movie (and 10 superhero ones) every single year forward? The original trilogy was fantastic and nostalgia for those films went mainstream as fans grabbed the helm (Abrams). Regardless, Rogue One may only tell the tale of protagonists we know are doomed from the start and fill in a gap that wasn’t glaring (everything we need to know Princess Leia summed up in a throwaway line in the OT) but cash grab or not Rogue One may technically be the best overall SW film in terms of acting, production and overall delivery (though the magic of the OT isn’t quite matched). The new characters, short-lived they may be, are great and the final 10 minutes with Darth Vader are alone worth the price of admission.

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5) Bad Santa 2

So I realize this was generally panned even by critics who begrudgingly praised the first one. I also realize it’s a stream of nihilistic profanity from first shot to last which doesn’t scream “happy holidays” to most viewers. Yet I found it laugh out loud funny throughout and I’m always a fan of Billy Bob Thornton. Kathy Bates was also a welcome addition as was Christina Hendricks. It’s not high art but it gets the job done and it’s far preferable to most cheesy holiday dreck.

 

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4) The Witch

The Witch is an arty Gothic historical piece that was also the best horror film of the year.  I know some excluded it from 2016 consideration since it is technically a 2015 film but as it never hit a US theater, streaming site or DVD release before 2016 that hardly seems fair. There’s no gore to be found and most of the dialogue is pulled (and rearranged) directly from 17th century diary entries. It tells the tale of a Puritan family estranged from their community in 1630s New England and the religious paranoia, social isolation and supernatural (?) factors that slowly tear them apart. Black Phillip is a truly scary nemesis.

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3) Eye in the Sky

Another film excluded from many lists because apparently it is also a 2015 film–this one didn’t hit US theaters until April 2016 so I’m safely counting it as one of my favorite 2016 movies. This was a great movie. First of all there’s the cast–the always excellent Helen Mirren is phenomenal, the sadly departed Alan Rickman delivers a great performance as one of his last and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul showcases a softer side than Jesse Pinkman. Then there’s the story itself–Hibbert’s script and Hood’s direction produces edge of your seat suspense in a nontraditional (for movies, especially “war” movies) way as computer screens, phone calls and second guessing stretches out a drone mission in real time. Moral complexity and a realer look at modern war than most cinema goers get in any format these days.

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2) The Arrival

The Arrival is not your typical sci-fi film and certainly not your typical “alien invasion” flick. It’s a smart, intricate rumination on language, culture, change, time, choices, peacemaking and relationships. It’s probably the best “contact” film of all time too. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are great and hey–Forest Whitaker gets two great sci-fi roles in 2016!

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1)  Hell or High Water

There wasn’t anything else close to being my top movie this year. Hell or High Water was by far the best movie I saw all year. Jeff Bridges and Chris Pine square off in an an epic noir standoff with the broken down landscape of America in the background. Some critics have claimed this as a modern western and that seems plausible though crime noir seems more applicable to me. Great bit parts people the landscape, great shots throughout, great dialogue, excellent score, everything works perfectly.

My Top Comics of 2016

December 29, 2016

 

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10) Saga

Okay so one one hand I’ve been tempted to call Saga the most over-rated comic in conversation today but..here I am placing it on my list of best 2016 comics. There were a lot of other worthy titles shipping monthly this year that could have slotted here but ultimately Saga takes the spot because of that wide reach and enthusiastic embrace. It’s comics little ambassador, a book to prove to someone on the fence that comics are a viable and exciting medium today (though be careful because some of those gross out closeups are adults only). Brian K. Vaughn’s best work IMO remains Y the Last Man but Saga may become a close second depending on how it all wraps up.

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9) Wonder Woman

Will DC finally make a good movie post-Nolan? Maybe. Maybe. The previews for Wonder Woman look terrific and after losing her job as a global ambassador IRL (don’t get me started), we at least need a good WW comic. Azarello’s run a couple years ago started great and really played up the mythology but then seemed to derail. No one in recent years has really gotten Princess Diana so DC just went back to one of the last scribes to do so and now we have new Greg Rucka Wonder Woman issues, alternating the latest version of her origin story with a new tale month to month. Of the “trinity” this title is by far the best DC is currently doing though King’s take on Batman is not bad.

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8) Stray Bullets

Stray Bullets was one of indie comics most frustrating (and unintentional) cliffhangers in history. 40 issues or so of masterful storytelling and art self-produced by David Lapham and then…who’s in the trunk? Radio silence for a decade or more. Lapham did a few other things (including the also excellent Young Liars for Vertigo which faced the axe too soon and had a rushed ending) and then finally…Stray Bullets came back! He not only wrapped up that original arc and then released the whole series in a giant omnibus but he launched a series of continued stories featuring our favorite doomed miscreants. Each issue stands on it’s own, hits like a fist to the gut, but also ties together for the overall story.

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7) Nailbiter

Joshua Williamson continued his horror-fan homage with 11 or so more issues of Nailbiter this year. We’re still not sure what all lurks in and behind the town where so many serial killers are born but we may be getting closer. Along with a dozen or more siblings Nailbiter cemented Image Comics as the torchbearers of classic Vertigo storytelling.

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6) Archie

Though I read my fair share of Archie digests as a kid, I would never have thought in a million years past the age of 10 that Archie would be a worthy consideration in any “best of” list. Yet somehow the entire Archie line has managed to not only survive the digital age but thrive and evolve without losing the essence of why they worked in the first place. We got not only the almost adults-only zombie action of Afterlife With Archie and the Lovecraftian horror of Sabrina we also got the primary all-ages in-universe Archie line updated for a new generation in a non-pandering way. Mark Waid knows what makes these simple stories work and every issue this year was a blast to read.

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5) Paper Girls

If you watched Stranger Things and enjoyed it you should really check out Paper Girls as it touches the same spots in the nostalgic brain in different ways. Sci-fi, kids on bikes, a big mystery–what’s not to love? Oh and yeah, this is another BKV title and one that, at least this year, I liked better than Saga.

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4) Bitch Planet

In addition to being a great sci-fi story, an excellent commentary on society. a wholly new way of introducing gender studies and feminism, Bitch Planet is also a masterclass in the monthly comic. With the back-matter pieces, the letter column, and the overall presentation of each issue, Bitch Planet is a cover-to-cover joy every time an issue ships. Much like Orange is the New Black these are characters that once never got a fully-developed narrative arc and eye. Yet, in my opinion, Bitch Planet far out-ranks that Netflix original.

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3) Mockingbird

For a newcomer to the medium, writer Chelsea Cain seems to have an uncanny touch for maximizing the art of panel storytelling. Her bread and butter are thriller novels and Mockingbird, her modern take on Bobbi Morse (much more than Hawkeye’s girlfriend) was her first comics project. And it was awesome. Sadly, gamergate style knuckledraggers harassed the hell out of her on Twitter for things like the above cover and ultimately this project either didn’t sell or whatever because a year in and we’re done folks. But both arcs, especially the first, were awesome (5 issues that can be reread in any order to reveal new layers to a comic caper complete with multiple sight gags and Easter eggs!) Light-hearted and fun yet puzzle-box intricate Mockingbird was what comics are all about.

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2) The Vision

Part American Beauty part Watchmen, this doomed crime and family take on suburbia featuring the Avengers’ Vision and his self-fashioned synthetic family was the most outside of the box take on an established superhero of 2016. Tom King is a writer who comes to the field after leaving a career with the CIA (!) and the medium is lucky to have him. The Vision is his strongest work yet.

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1)  Southern Bastards

Jason Aaron gives us a gritty warts and all Gothic take on life in the south, specifically Alabama. His Alabama may be over the top but as a native who spent his formative years there he gets the uniqueness and love-hate ratio right for a gripping take on homecoming. Southern Bastards is never really the story you think it is and I’m not sure where things will end up though I doubt they end up happy this being a true and through noir and all. Latour’s pencils are original and provide a great aesthetic for this story.

 

My Top TV of 2016

December 11, 2016

It didn’t occur to me until compiling this list that for the first time ever I had more viable choices to winnow through picking the best TV of the year than I did movies of the year…I actually had trouble coming up with 10 solid films for that list (more on that in that entry) which hasn’t been the case ever. But TV…between premium cable options, Amazon Prime, and Netflix in addition to network TV struggling to stay competitive in that arena there were lots of choices for quality, exceptional television this year.

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10) Blackish/The Goldbergs (tie)

I’m calling spot 10 a tie for the (IMO) two best traditional network sitcoms running. Blackish takes the traditional family sitcom and injects each episode with a level of seriousness and topical awareness that hearkens back to All in the Family but from a wholly African American perspective. The Goldbergs takes the family sitcom and douses it in heavy (but non-cloying) nostalgia by setting the action in the 1980s and focusing each episode tangentially around a key pop-culture or historical aspect of that decade. Both shows succeed based on stellar performances and authentic heart.

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9) Frequency

There were oddly a handful of shows this year that remade old movies in serial yet updated form (Lethal Weapon, The Exorcist, etc.). One that worked for me was Frequency which is an update of a 2000 movie about a son who talks to his dead father via ham radio and the “butterfly effects” that flow there out of. The CW update revamps the story a bit, stretching it out and lathering it in two era settings and substituting a female detective daughter (played by Peyton List) for Jim Caviezel’s original role. I’m just a sucker for time-travel tales that deal with the consequences of action so that’s likely what sold me on this show but I enjoyed every episode thoroughly.

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8) Better Things

While I certainly missed having a new season of Louie this year, Better Things was the next best thing. Louie C.K. is on board as a co-writer and co-creator in this, Pamela Adlon’s  (who played Louie’s romantic foil on a few seasons of that show) version of that show’s concept of an honest, artsy, uncomfortable single parent show this time from a a mother’s perspective. Adlon plays Sam Fox, mother of three daughters and working actress in L.A. Better Things shares the wit and unconventional nature of Louie while also being totally its own unique self.

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7) Luke Cage

While we approach superhero critical mass at the cinema, on network TV and now on Netflix as well, Luke Cage emerges in much the same way as last year’s Jessica Jones did–by using the trappings of “superhero” to tackle something much bigger. That’s what the best modern superhero comics do and that’s what Netflix has found a way to do that big budget pictures do not. Luke Cage is a fully realized world complete with great textures, environment and sound (that soundtrack tho!).

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6) Better Call Saul

A spin-off like this shouldn’t work but it does. Breaking Bad was one of the best shows in history and rather than repeat the formula here, this show takes its own direction. Bob Odenkirk reprises his role as the crooked lawyer Jimmy McGill (Saul) but we see his origin  and that of other Breaking characters unfold naturally and somehow surprisingly. A great comedy noir and character piece that would have been unheard of ten years ago.

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5) Atlanta

Man, this was Donald Glover’s year. What with the surprise release of a Childish Gambino album at the end of the year that was straight on ’70s soul funk perfection to cap off a year when his baby project Atlanta launched to critical and commercial success, he should be celebrating. Atlanta was a blast in so many ways and it’s unapologetic both in its authenticity and its unapologetic refusal to moralize or simplify. Great cast, great soundtrack, totally timely.

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4) Bosch

Michael Connelly is one of my favorite crime writers working today. His Lincoln Lawyer and Harry Bosch series’ have both been reliable reads every year for the past couple of decades. Mainstream accessible pop-crime fiction that doesn’t insult your intelligence in the way say James Patterson does. Anyway, here we have his titular creation Harry Bosch brought to the screen–and it works completely thanks to Titus Welliver. Two seasons in we see a cop show that deals with the real issues facing such an institution today being addressed while also handling character development and big-budget action all the while.

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3) Stranger Things

The 1980s are the go-to focus for nostalgia seekers today–the best episode of Black Mirror (see below), the focus of one of the best comics today (Paper Girls), the setting for one of our best current sitcoms (see above), the source for synth and beat and sample inspiration (see a lot of current popular music). To that note, Netflix’s Stranger Things banks on the celluloid memory and loves of a couple generations by nodding to E.T., Indiana Jones, The Lost Boys, Monster Squad, Firestarter and a ton of others in this year’s smash Stranger Things. It would be pandering to fanboy and fangirl biases if it weren’t so damn entertaining and well executed. Such a good cast, such a good original soundtrack (not even considering songs, I’m talking the score by Survive who made two great soundtracks and an original album this year all worth your time) such an exciting story. Worthy of a binge and a re-binge.

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2) OJ Simpson: Made in America

Some folks threw this in their best movie list as it is a documentary, but as it was serialized across 5 installments on ESPN I’m counting it as TV. The 30 for 30 series is dependably solid even for those of us who aren’t sports junkies (Believeland this year was also superb) but with Made in America ESPN upped their game to the next level. It was the year of revisiting 90s news but particularly OJ Simpson’s story. I didn’t catch the biopic recreation but I did tune in for all 10 hours of this documentary and found it superb from first shot till last. Not only do we get the full scope and history of OJ’s tragic personal story arc, we get the entire historical and sociopolitical implications of his story from race relations in the 1970s through the police state of Compton in the 1980s on through Rodney King and the impact of the verdict itself. This is a nuanced, full on examination of everything OJ from his humble beginning through his historic trial and beyond and the issues raised are worth our reexamination today more than ever.

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1) Black Mirror

Netflix picked up the British sci-fi cult favorite that depicts dystopian near-future scenarios and though they only released six episodes this season those six episodes were the best of the show thus far. Each episode was perfect in pretty much every aspect and each was all too plausible in its scenario from the extreme impact of social media in the near future (“Nosedive”) to 3D violence in video games (“Playtest”) and the desensitization of soldiers (“Men Against Fire”)…heck even the disappearance of the bees tied in with the inhumane behavior of folks on the comment sections (“Hated in the Nation”). It wasn’t all grim of course. The best episode of the batch was pretty happy (“San Junipero”) as it layed out our love of nostalgia (particularly for the US 1980s) for all to see in its natural conclusion.

Honorable Mentions: Though I’m not all the way through it yet Netflix’s The Crown is truly amazing, after a crappy week of depression for everyone who loves rationality SNL gifted us the comfort and encouragement of their best episode in years  with Dave Chapelle and A Tribe Called Quest as guests, and BBC’s superb crime drama Undercover is recommended to all; while not as strong as last season Showtime’s The Affair remains compelling.

 

My Top Albums of 2016

December 10, 2016

 

 

 

 

634934910) Jayhawks: Paging Mr. Proust

The Jayhawks have long since moved on from the bulk of the original twang present in their alt-country beginnings to a more 1970s radio aesthetic which really kind of suits them even better. Rainy Day Music was one of the downright prettiest albums of the ’00s and Paging Mr. Proust almost matched that this year. Mark Olsen’s vocals are just so gorgeous and the soft (but not weak) rock that supports those vocals is full of melody and melancholy. Put on “Isabel’s Daughter” or “Pretty Roses in Your Hair” and you’ll think you’re living in an alternate ideal version of 40 years ago.

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9) Cobalt: Slow Forever

I know the fans loved Gin and with the loss of the two-piece’s original singer most probably didn’t hold much hope for a follow-up album. Yet as raw and talented a vocalist as Wunder was, Cobalt is really drummer Phil McSorley’s band and project. This may be one of the only bands this side of jazz this truly drumcentric. The drums create the thunder and rhythm that propels this warbeast forward, intense and at times overwhelming. However, new vocalist Charlie Fell of Lord Mantis fame perfectly fits right in with an intensity fans of his previous work knew he could match. They work together excellently here (and live). Slow Forever adds swaths of blues, bayou, goth and folk to the black metal stew and in that finds a hauntingly unique sound. The ghost of Ernest Hemingway is present once more as he’s the spiritual father of Cobalt in the “Iconoclast” intro to the title track near the end of the record. Cobalt toured with excellent German upstart two-piece Mantar (whose Ode to the Flame this year was also fantastic) showcasing the power of the drum.

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8) Leonard Cohen: You Wanted Darker

Did we Leonard? Did we want darker? If so you certainly delivered. The opening title track might contain Cohen’s darkest imagery to date and that’s quite a feat for a cynic (or an optimist masked as a cynic) like Mr. Cohen. “Treaty” follows up without dialing it back. While listening to this record when it first came out I (like most others) had no idea we would soon lose Cohen. This album seems to be his making peace with death but as always he finds beauty in the darkness and hope in the hopelessness. Recorded minimally in his own home as he was dying he nevertheless sounds strong and timeless. The only other album to come close to this in stark desperation is Nick Cave‘s Skeleton Tree which somehow managed to find great music in the artist’s struggle to deal with the death of his teen son.

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7) Lydia Loveless: Real

They may market her as “Americana” which really nowadays just means “country that doesn’t suck” as mainstream Nashville continues to disintegrate culturally and musically (a long slow death that bro-country just put the cherry on) but Lydia Loveless is really just great damn country music, to me so good that she reminds you the genre is worthy of attention. Real is a perfect title for this album because that’s what she gives you-realness. Real stories, real emotions, real hope, real desperation, real feelings produced by honest lyrics, honest vocals and warm welcoming music.”Out on Love” was easily one of my most played songs this year.

 

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6) Subrosa: For This We Fought the Battle of Ages

Subrosa have been making captivating and unique music for years now and their latest record is their most creative yet. Musically they continue to mix doom metal, classic rock, classical, chamber, and indie to create complex, layered long-form songs (or movements). Lyrically this time around they use a (to most American readers) rather obscure Russian dystopian sci-fi novel from the 1920s as a jumping off point for songs of a near and all to close future of state suppression and loss of identity. Rebecca Vernon’s vocals sound stronger and more emotional than ever and violinists Sarah Pendelton and Kim Pack give listeners chills. Some of the best lyrics committed to music of any genre this year were on this record, phrases and codas that simply demand to be heard and felt.

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5) Anthrax: For All Kings

2016 was a year in which veterans of Thrash Metal decided to do their best work since their prime. Megadeth has been notoriously incapable of making a great record in a long time yet in February they released, to the surprise of everyone, their strongest work in more than two decades with Dystopia. Though it doesn’t reach the peaks of their classic 80s work (Rust in Peace) it was arguably as fun as their last great record (Countdown to Extinction).  Then near the end of the year, Metallica went and released their strongest record in more than 20 years as well with Hard Wired to Self-Destruct. Testament, though never considered in the “big 4” has actually been more consistent than any of them and kept their train rolling with Brotherhood of the Snake. Yet none of the above matched up to Anthrax’s For All Kings. which may very well be their best record EVER not just since their prime. The songs, riffs, vocals, drums, production and everything here is better consistently than anything they’ve ever committed to record. Anthrax has always been better live than on record (and if you got to see them on tour for this record you saw they haven’t lost it) but this time they matched the quality of those live performances on record. Anthrax in many ways are unique among their thrash peers and descendants in that (with vocalist Joey Belladonna) their vocals are closer to older pure “heavy metal” with soaring highs and melodic lows (no growls, barks or grunts to be found) and their lyrics are generally upbeat, positive and fun…heck even that “pentagram” on the cover and their merch is actually and “A” for “Anthrax” logo. Though a tad on the long side this record is a blast front to back with a fun joyful energy that is welcome even to the dourest of metalheads particularly in the pit. Who else can make calling out religious extremism and terrorism sound fun?

 

 

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4) A Tribe Called Quest: We Got it from Here Thank You 4 Your Service:

Wow we had De La Soul return this year AND a final album from Tribe? Other than those two it was a rather sparse year for hip hop (IMO) other than a few solid entries from DJ Khaled, Common and maybe Drake (though a last minute drop from J.Cole I’ve yet to digest is likely worth some time too).  Anyway, Tribe was far in the lead of the pack for Hip Hop and “We Got It From Here” works as a tribute to their fallen Phife Dog and a state of the nation address. Even with the politics and the weight of their fallen member there is an unmitigated joy to be found on here reminding us how much fun hip hop can be. The production on these tracks showcases the best use of samples, original beats and instrumentation combinations to be found in classic or modern rap music.

 

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3) Khemmis: Hunted

Doom Metal is often inaccessible to casual listeners–what with the extra long songs, repetitive riffs and often harsh vocals most of the modern classics of the subgenre are loved only by diehards. Pallbearer broke that mold a little bit over the past few years by finding a way to inject heavy doses of melody and outright beauty into the formula without sacrificing the heavy and Khemmis traverses that same path. Khemmis’ debut album Antediluvian just dropped last year and it was more than solid–yet here they are to immediately follow it up with an even stronger work. Hunted has fewer but longer songs than its predecessor and even more melody (clean vocals make up 85% or so of the singing) but the riffs are heavier, more intricate and catchier than ever. The lyrics are great too, and even the longest of songs here never meanders or even feels its length, nary a wasted or superfluous note to be found and that’s saying something for work this weighty. If you like what you hear on Spotify or whatnot, head over to 20BuckSpin and order this one on vinyl or CD as the packaging and booklet, artwork, etc. seems to add another level.

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2) Drive By Truckers: American Band

If not for Beyonce this would have been my pick of the year. I mean, DBT have long been my favorite modern band and this is the best album they’ve made in a decade. This is their most timely, topical, and mature work yet and each song catalogues the state of the world today in assured but often subtle and complex ways. Not to mention that it rocks, the band sounds tighter and more focused than ever. DBT mixes the classic sounds of Exile era Stones, original (and hippy) line-up Skynard, bar band era Springsteen and witty, turn of phrase lyrics that evoke classic Dylan and nineties college rock. “Ramon Casiano” is an excellent opener and one of Cooley’s best ever, Hood’s “What It Means” eulogy for Trevon Martin and other black victims of gun violence, the sly repudiation of those who defend the confederate flag “Surrender Under Protest” and the immigrant history of “Ever South” stretch the focus of DBT’s keen eye for detail to the entire nation. A truly great and new statement across the board from one of America’s finest touring and recording bands working right now.

 

beyonce_-_lemonade_official_album_cover1) Beyonce: Lemonade

I know I sound like a copycat to say it but Lemonade was my favorite record of 2016 by far. So many others are saying the same thing so one would be forgiven for thinking it’s some sort of critical contagion, an opinion spreading that takes over or whatever. All I know is that I’ve been a Beyonce fan her entire career and while she’s had many great songs she’s never had a great full album…until now. I knew from the first time I heard these tracks last summer this would be my pick of the year barring an unforeseen upset and here we are at the end of the year and only one other album has even come close (see above). I’ll also disclose this–I haven’t seen the videos. I know this is a video album and I’m sure that adds an entire other level to the experience but I simply haven’t yet. I’ll likely purchase a 2 disc copy at some point to get those but just judging the songs as they are I’m confident in declaring this my winner. Each song works on its own and as part of a stellar overall whole. The crossover layers of genre, nods to outside art, the detailed inner journey of the artist–the production, the guest spots, the lyrics, everything works completely. There’s not a wasted or skippable moment to be found and declaring THE best moment is even difficult as I found “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, “Daddy Lessons” and “Freedom” to each be equally fantastic…but then again everything surrounding those few highlights is top-notch as well. Who’d have thought it? A true album-lovers album delivered in 2016 by a world-famous popstar released initially through a niche streaming service and accompanied by HBO videos.

Honorable Mentions:

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AMSG-Hostis Universi Generis/Gevurah-Hallelujah/Myrkur-Masoleum/Inquisition-Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith

Black Metal has always been the most controversial, least accessible and most aggressive subgenre of them all and while it moves into its third decade or so of existence many may argue (as they did with punk) it is no longer “really” black metal if it’s being made today particularly in North America. Whatever. It is true that it has moved away from it’s original birthplace and pretensions in many ways. The last few years have found black metal to be experimental, complex and diverse in a multitude of ways from the identities of its performers to their philosophical leanings and instruments. This year Chilean to US transplants Inquisition made their best record yet; female multi-instrumentalist Myrkur stripped songs from last year’s great M. album and added a few covers–recording them live in a mausoleum backed by a girl’s choir. Her hauntingly beautiful vocals sing the songs in her native Danish language and showcase black metal as high art. Two of the year’s best BM records came from Canada–Gevurah‘s esoteric and challenging Hallelujah and best of all AMSG’s disturbing, terrifying and captivating Hostis Universi Generis.

Other Notable Mentions: Experimental post-metal artists Neurosis made their most accessible yet uncompromising work yet with  Fire Within Fires, Veteran sludge metal band showcase riffs galore with Crowbar: The Serpent Only Lies, Meshuggah perfected their formula decades in with The Violent Sleep of Reason, Neko Case and pals Laura Veir and K.D. Lang showed everyone how to actually do a “supergroup” with Case/Lang/Veir, American R&B proved more exciting than hip hop for the year with, in addition to Beyonce, great new albums from Maxwell, Alicia Keys, and Frank Ocean and speaking of hip hop–I almost forgot Common’s Black America Again. I’m leaving a lot out as it was one of metal’s strongest underground years ever and there was even great new jazz to be found.