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Countdown to Hell: The Ten Best Horror Movies from the 80s!

At heart this blog is your standard 80s horror movie villain. Like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, no matter how many times I think Retrobacktive is dead it always seems to come back to life. It’s been three months since my last post. I was going to end the site on what I felt was the apex of what I wanted this blog to be, informative, researched and to some degree disruptive. But I should have known as soon as autumn rolled around and another Halloween fell upon us, throwing my two cents into the cultural macabre would be inevitable. This time we’re going to try a little something different.

As noted throughout the history of the blog a lot of inspiration is taken from James Rolfe’s Cinemassacre website. Every October James hosts “Monster Madness,” a retrospective of horror movies, both young and old. For myself, and legions of fans, it’s the highlight of the Halloween season. So drawing inspiration from James, I’ve decided to compile my own Top Ten Best 1980s Halloween Movies.

Obviously I won’t be showing clips or going into the depth James does on his site, but let this rundown serve as a quick guide to some of the best thriller films to enjoy for the remainder of October, or all year round.

First some quick preliminaries: I’m not saying these are the best, or necessarily scariest movies, of the decade. While all great films, my criteria was based on how well they embrace the spirit of Halloween; I envision these movies excelling in a group setting where everyone is up for a good spook.

Also, unlike my typical analysis, this is going to be much more informal. I’ve done absolutely no research into these films. Retrobacktive has a history of heavy deconstruction, and it requires a ton of research – and is one of the reasons I can’t maintain the site. Therefore everything in this list is what’s already in my head.

So here we go: the Top Ten Best 1980s Halloween Movies.

10.) The Blob (1988) – This is a remake of the Steve McQueen b-movie classic. It stars Shawnee Smith and Kevin Dillon and for the most part doesn’t stray too far from the original’s premise, save the monster’s origin whose reworking is a nice touch. Like all 80s remakes the gore level is cranked up and even child characters are fair game for the gelatinous title creature.

9.) The Monster Squad (1987) – As a child I was infatuated with this movie mainly because it featured a whole cast of classic Universal monsters. There’s Dracula, the Wolf-Man, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Gill-Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon. The heroes are a bunch of kids and it is admittedly a kids movie, but not a bad option if you’re looking for lighthearted Halloween fare that’s good for all ages.

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8.) Gremlins (1984) – Of all the movies on this list I’d expect this one to be the most controversial; is it horror? Is it comedy? Is it technically a Christmas movie? It doesn’t fit a perfect mold, but it does deliver a great blend of mayhem, hilarity and the supernatural. Joe Dante is one of those director’s with a great sense of dark humor. There are lots of tales of how morose the film would have actually been had the studio not interfered (e.g. Billy’s mom gets her head chopped off and thrown down a flight of stairs). But as it stands it’s a great film if you don’t mind your monsters small, plentiful and totally insane.

7.) Friday the 13th, Part III (1982) – With little effort this whole list could have been filled with slasher flicks, but for me Jason Voorhees is the standout. The character has become an institution where culturally he’s more significant than any one film in the series. Can’t say the same for Freddy or Michael. While many will argue the best film in the series is Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, the third film stands out as it features Jason donning the hockey mask for the first time. It’s the first in the series to showcase the iconic Jason as we all know him, and there’s no lack of scares or gore.

6.) Day of the Dead (1985) – With zombie fiction all the rage right now it’s easy to forget George A. Romero started it all in 1968 with a budget that in today’s big Hollywood market would equal peanuts. Romero has continued to make zombie films right up through present day (though he considers the monsters in his films to be “ghouls”), but most recognize his first three as the seminal trilogy. Day of the Dead is considered the weakest of the first three, but in many ways it fits in better with the current landscape of zombie culture with much of the threat centered not on the “ghouls” but the survivors’ inability to cooperate in self-preservation. A must for zombie fanatics.

5.) My Bloody Valentine (1981) – This one keeps it simple: a small town, a vicious killer with a pick-axe on the loose, lots of gruesome murders. There is nothing cerebral about this film. Hollywood did a remake; I’m sure it sucks. For pure Halloween fun, get the original, sit back and enjoy.

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4.) Return of the Living Dead (1985) – It’s one of cinema’s more interesting but lesser known feuds; after the success of Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero and his production partner Dan O’Bannon got into an argument over the direction of the franchise. Ultimately they decided to go their separate ways and settled on Romero moving forward with his Dead series, and O’Bannon getting the rights to the name Living Dead for his. This was the latter’s follow up to Night of the Living Dead with a vastly different tone and directorial style. Return of the Living Dead is laced with off-beat humor, camp, and general exploitation. Not nearly as highbrow as the Dead series, but definitely more fun.

3.) The Fly (1986) – This is another remake of a campy 50s sci-fi film only with a much bigger budget, better actors, and under the helm of “body horror” master David Cronenberg. There’s nothing campy or “fun” about this one; it’s a direct assault on the senses. Jeff Goldblum plays a scientist who develops a means for teleportation but ends up splicing his genes together with a housefly that gets into the teleportation machine with him. The result requires a pretty strong stomach to sit through, but Goldblum’s performance is a tour de force not to be missed. the_thing_1982_theatrical_poster

2.) John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) – Next time you feel like complaining about all the reboots Hollywood keeps churning out these days, remember it’s nothing really new. The only difference is in the 80s they were good. Like Cronenberg’s The Fly, John Carpenter’s The Thing is an improvement over the original – saying a lot considering the original is fantastic. While Carpenter elevates the gore level to new heights, it’s the psychological breakdown among the human characters that creates the movie’s unnerving suspense. It also features the greatest setting of any horror film ever: the middle of Antarctica.

1.) An America Werewolf in London (1981) – Here’s how you make a spectacular Halloween movie: start with a classic monster, like the Wolf-Man, put him in a modern setting, add plenty of blood and gore, some horrific dream sequences, sprinkle in a little light humor and a love story for grounding, and presto! A horror film classic. This John Landis gem gets the number one spot because of its versatility; it works on its own, in a group setting, or as the perfect background flick to your Halloween party.

There you have it; ten great Halloween movies, and it just so happens there’s ten days left before Halloween. Stay tuned for another list I’ll be putting together over the next couple days featuring my favorite Halloween movies outside of the 1980s. That’s right, folks; this Halloween we’re breaking all the rules!

The Best, the Beautiful, the Only…Ghostbusters

It’s been just over three months since Sony Pictures Entertainment released the first North American trailer of Ghostbusters (2016) on YouTube. Since then the preview has garnered more than 33.6 million views, 250,608 “likes,” and 872, 947 “dislikes.”*

To put this in perspective, 20th Century Fox’s teaser trailer for the 2015 reboot of the Fantastic Four received 17.5 million views, 71,285 “likes,” and 20,239″dislikes.” That means roughly 78 percent of viewers responded favorably to Fantastic Four while the same percentage responded negatively to the new Ghostbusters trailer.

The reason I bring this up is because Fantastic Four is considered by several prominent critics and aggregate review websites as one of, if not the, worst movies of 2015.

Now at the end of the day these are just previews, and one could argue that perhaps 20th Century Fox was just better at making a good trailer that ultimately failed audience’s expectations. Or it could mean that Sony’s new Ghostbusters movie is going to be an unequivocal ammonia-wrenched bowl of donkey piss so reviled that it will go down in history as a film that failed before it even got off the ground all the while puking on the grave of one of the great comedy screenwriters of all time.

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Original artwork from 1984

It could be that. And in fact, it will almost certainly be that. Based on the 4 minutes and 51 seconds of official North American preview of Ghostbusters (2016) there can be no doubt Hollywood has finally gone too far. Sony Pictures, and Paul Feig and Katie Dippold, and everyone involved in this dumpster fire have begun plucking at the last of a handful of unsoiled cinematic masterpieces all in the name of profit. What’s most disheartening about this entry is it doesn’t even bother to honor the original; it rides on the coattails of what came before and aggrandizes itself for getting a pig in a dress and calling it the prom queen.

Now before anyone goes off, I am going to state it for the record: my negative attitude for this film has nothing to do with the all-female reprisal. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t get it. Is it supposed to be a political statement? If you’re going for a philosophical point, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a gender-mixed team? Maybe a homosexual Ghostbuster? The LGBT-community is woefully lacking in prominent film roles; wouldn’t that be more reflective of the makeup of our society?

But I digress, they’re all women. Who cares?

Well, apparently a lot of people. As it turns out I’m not the only one who is sick of seeing Hollywood bilk every last cultural milestone of my generation into a bloodless shell of itself. Take it from a guy who is an even bigger Ghostbusters fan than I am.

For those of you who don’t know who James Rolfe is, he is a filmmaker and critic better known as The Angry Video Game Nerd of the popular eponymous web series. If his rhetoric seems a little similar to the writing on Retrobacktive, it’s not coincidence. Rolfe was a huge influence on the tone and direction of this blog; the idea being to create a literary version of his website, Cinemassacre. Rolfe is a wunderkind when it comes to interpreting allegory and was an early practitioner of celebrating films indelible to Gen X’ers.

Recently, however, he was skewered online by opponents who called his “non-review” of Ghostbusters (2016) as “sexist.”

Watch the video again if you need to, but at no point does Rolfe make any reference to the female cast of Ghostbusters (2016) other than to say it’s the only way to differentiate this version from the 1984 original. There isn’t a shred of sexism in that review, but there is plenty of defiance and somehow this has been interpreted as misogyny.

And this is what’s sinking Ghostbusters (2016) into an even deeper level of cinematic excrement. Based on the “polarized” reactions (i.e. wanton hatred) from online reviewers, Sony is aware they are sitting on a potential time bomb. So the filmmakers and cast have sunk to the lowest denominator and conjured up a preemptive excuse for the movie’s likely failure: blame it all on misogyny.

That’s right, if you don’t like Ghostbusters (2016) then you must hate women. That’s the only reason to dislike this film. Well, I’ll admit any picture starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones is a strong reason to dislike it. Wiig and McCarthy have made careers out of one-dimensional characters who lost any semblance of charisma years ago. And Jones is in the process of dismantling Saturday Night Live one awkwardly unfunny sketch at a time. So yes, I’ll will stand out on a limb and say the cast has something to do with it. But being a women doesn’t mean you get a pass from criticism. Funnier women could have been cast; it wouldn’t have saved the film because a Ghostbusters remake is already a bad idea, but it couldn’t make it any worse.

Still not convinced this isn’t misogyny talking? Let’s look at another Internet icon’s take on the trailer:

Danika Massey, better known as Comic Book Girl 19, preceded Rolfe’s video by a couple of months, but to much quieter fanfare. Is that because she’s a woman? Sort of, in so much as there’s nothing for anyone to attack. She made an apt video that summarized what most Ghostbusters fans were thinking. She even goes so far as to tell us not to go see the new movie. All Rolfe said was he wasn’t going to see the new movie. Well, take from that what you want, but both reviews share the sentiment most moviegoers are feeling: Ghostbusters (2016) is going to suck. And if you want to know who I most directly blame for this upcoming pile of bear shit, I’ll tell you. It’s Bill Murray.

Okay, so not really Bill Murray. It’s impossible to be angry at Bill Murray. But in a way Murray, and the rest of the original Ghostbusters creative team, converged to create a media vacuum that brought Paul Feig’s imminent disaster to life. In order to grasp its origins we need to go back almost 30 years.

The success of the original Ghostbusters film led to the creation of a spinoff animated series for ABC called The Real Ghostbusters. The Real Ghostbusters aired for seven seasons beginning in 1986, and was an instant hit. Based on continued interest in the franchise, Columbia Pictures pressured Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis to come up with a script for a second movie. Aykroyd and Ramis had gone on record stating that the intention was to create a conclusive film with the first Ghostbusters, and that a second shouldn’t be made. Murray, likewise, was against a follow-up as he has been plainly dismissive of sequels throughout his career, stating in a 1988 New York Times story, “The reason most people do sequels is greed. But if you do it for business reasons, you should be put to death.”

In a rare act of concession, Murray, as well as Ramis, Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver, and director/producer Ivan Reitman, returned to make Ghostbusters II.

Released 27 years ago today, the film was a commercial success, but fell short among critics. Even the actors involved seemed to be aware that the original spark had fizzled. Murray noted in a 2012 interview with David Letterman, “It’s hard. Even the second ‘Ghostbusters‘ wasn’t as much fun for me as the first one. It’s hard to make a sequel.”

It was clear to everyone that the original Ghostbusters was lightning in a bottle. They tried again; it didn’t work. All was forgiven. Best to leave well enough alone, and move on.

Somewhere around 1995 Aykroyd gets this idea for a new Ghostbusters movie. It’s called Ghostbusters: Hellbent and it centers around the team entering a parallel New York that resembles a hellish version of their own. There’s no telling what inspired Aykroyd to come up with this new Ghostbusters story after the critical disappointment of Ghostbusters II, but the plot seems to share some elements with the very first Ghostbusters script Aykroyd wrote in the early 80s.

By this point Murray was a well established comedic star. Harold Ramis moved behind the camera and became a successful director. Aykroyd, however, had hit a slump. Failed big budget vehicles like Nothing but Trouble and Coneheads virtually sidelined Aykroyd into smaller, character roles. Some were commendable (My Girl; Feeling Minnesota), but his bankability was depleted. It’s all speculation, but in this case it may have been Aykroyd chasing down Hollywood.

One laudable story arc in Ghostbusters: Hellbent was a proverbial passing of the torch. The script called for an older, haggled Ghostbuster team (Aykroyd, Murray, Ramis, and Hudson) to train and hand down the mantle to a group of young cadets. Ramis stated in a 1999 Entertainment Weekly article, “dream plan is that Danny and I would produce it, I would direct it, and we would recruit some newer, younger, popular Ghostbusters to star.”Alas, the studios weren’t buying it (literally) as production costs for such an elaborate film were seen as too high.

Despite the transitional plot point in Ghostbusters 3, Murray remained disinterested, and by 2004 rumors of a third film petered out. Ramis revived interest a year later when he suggest in an InFocus magazine interview that he would like to cast Ben Stiller in Ghostbusters 3, but little came of his comment. Four more years passed before an interview in the Guardian Guide found Aykroyd speaking emphatically about the new Ghostbusters film.

By this time the big joke had become that Murray would only reprise his role as Peter Venkman if the writers “kill me off in the first reel.” Well evidently this only drove Aykroyd’s, Ramis’, the studio’s, whomever’s fervency because Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, writers and producers for The Office brought in to work on a GB3 treatment, actually came up with a story line where Murray’s character is killed off and comes back as a ghost. Even Murray remarked “well, that’s clever anyway” in a ComingSoon.net interview.

But nothing came of it. Murray held out. And for years the back and forth went on. Aykroyd told reporters in almost every interview he did that the new movie would go into production…soon. And Murray consistently declared disapproval. Eventually Aykroyd and Ramis decided it would be best to move on without Murray. Said Aykroyd in a 2011 interview with Dennis Miller, “The concept is much larger than any individual role and the promise of Ghostbusters III is that we get to hand the equipment and the franchise down to new blood.”

Well it turns out a big draw to the concept is one individual. In a 2012 interview with IGN Aykroyd said Ghostbusters 3 was in “suspended animation,” production had stalled, and that they couldn’t recreate the Venkman character without Murray’s approval. It seemed without Murray’s star power, there was no interest in a third Ghostbusters movie.

This should have put it all to rest. But here’s where my frustration with Murray kicks in. Just two months later at a Cubs game, a reporter for a local news affiliate, WGN, asks Murray about involvement in a second Ghostbusters sequel. Murray’s response: “Well, it’s a possibility…”

Really? After years of lambasting Aykroyd and Ramis for pushing the project, steadfast in his objection to a third film, Murray tells the world “It’s a possibility.” It’s by no means committal, but it appears it was enough to reignite the flames. Aykroyd seemed spurred on in suggesting the door was always open for Murray to return to the role.

Shortly after his Cubs-game comment, Murray appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman. Pressed about his interest in GB3, Murray said, “Well, I think… we’ll try again. I always drag my feet on it.” I’m sorry, over 15 years of saying “no” is dragging your feet? I’d hate to see how long it takes Bill Murray to buy a car.

Perhaps Murray was just tired of answering the question: will he or won’t he? Maybe Aykroyd had finally warn him down. Or still yet it could he was in perennial jest with the world, ambivalent to his professional direction but happy to puppeteer his fans and colleagues emotions because they made it so easy for him.

By the end of 2013 only two things were certain about Ghostbusters 3: it involved a passing of the torch to a new generation, and Aykroyd really wanted to make this picture. Sadly it would not be Bill Murray who would have final say. On February 24, 2014, Harold Ramis died from complications with vaculitis at his home in Chicago. Any hope of a full Ghostbusters reunion was gone. And though Ramis’ involvement in any future Ghostbusters entry would have been downplayed in light of his illness, fans the world over realized the gravity of the situation. It was time to let it go.

Of course when there’s money to be made, who cares about things like desecration, exploitation, and greed? Certainly not Hollywood. Hence Ghostbusters (2016), a film that in four minutes and 51 seconds of preview pays no homage to the genius that came before it. Nope. We’re just gonna slap together some slick CGI, toss in a few caricatures, throw in a cheap cameo for blanket nostalgia (seriously, Murray, you came back for this?!), and bam, you have the definition of modern cinema: a gutless, vapid cesspool of timidity and impossibly low standards that intrigues audiences only by how low it can sink.

At the end of the day, I’m not really mad at Murray for stalling so long, or anyone else from the original production, even Aykoryd who championed the idea long after it should have crumbled. But I’m with James on this one. This movie is going to be a 35-foot-long, 600-pound pile of shit. I won’t see it. Instead of buying a ticket I’m going to use my money to buy a new copy of the original on Amazon, and encourage discerning fans – and from the looks of it there are many – to throw their own Ghostbusters (1984) viewing parties on July 15.

 

*As of this writing.

X-Men: Apocalypse – a pre-Preview…of Why This Film Will Suck

You will have to forgive informality in this latest Retrobacktive post. We live in a fast world and there is barely enough time to climb atop the soapbox, let alone proselytize.

Summer is upon us, and hence the season of the blockbuster. But we are a far cry from Jaws and Star Wars. Today, May 27, marks the release of the ninth installment in the X-Men film series. And what 20th Century Fox seems to be bating audiences with is star power and little more.

X-Men: Apocalypse features on ensemble cast of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Olivia Munn. For the most part these are all reprisals for actors who have appeared in one, if not multiple, X-Men films already. So there isn’t much here to tempt your average movie-goer.

Oscar Issac joins the franchise as the titular villain Apocalypse. This acts as the movie’s lure. Apocalypse has been a prominent nemesis in the X-Men comics for 30 years. And we finally get to see him on the big screen!

That ought to be exciting for about 20 seconds. Then we get to go back to watching McAvoy and Fassbender ham-handily deliver their best Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen impressions, and see Jennifer Lawrence emerge as the new de facto leader of a young X-Men team. Why is Lawrence the new de facto leader of the team? Because of her star power. There is no other reason to explain it. Her character Mystique was never anything more than a secondary villain in the comics, but why relegate an Academy Award-winning actor to a bit part? That would requiring lending the audience respect.

Despite the fact that Bryan Singer has returned to the director’s chair, it seems the film studio and the writers, perhaps in tandem, have forgotten what made the first film in the series, 2000’s X-Men, a hit. With the exception of Stewart and McKellen – who still weren’t considered bankable actors at the time – the film was a collection of lesser-known players. James Marsden was up-and-coming; Famke Janssen was still known mostly for her Bond-girl status, and Hugh Jackman was virtually unheard of stateside. Halle Berry was the film’s only bona fide movie star, yet she graciously down-played her performance to give ample room to her teammates. Fortunately the acting trumped any grandeur and character development was allowed to flourish.

Now admittedly, this judgment is based on this movie’s cover, but it appears all 2oth Century Fox is giving us is a flashy new villain. It represents a bigger problem endemic in today’s cinematic culture: the bottle-feeding of American audiences. Major movie studios seem to have no faith in audiences’ ability to perceive thematic interpretation, that we may be able to comprehend allegory, mythology, metaphor, and god forbid, complex characterization.

No, instead it is simply more lasers, more explosions, more costumes, and more Wolverine.

It ought to be clear, however, that audiences want more than re-purposed junk. Two of the most successful action films of the last year have been Mad Max: Fury Road and Deadpool. Both rated “R,” both considerate of the audience’s intelligence. These were not perfect films, but breathed hope of life in the movie industry’s atrophied lungs.

Just as this summer’s new Ghostbusters film…(shutter)…panders to the lowest common denominator of attendance, so shall the latest installment in the X-Men franchise. Unless of course the sight of a bald Professor X is enough to push film-goers over their collective edge of excitement. Who needs a story – or brain activity for that matter – when you have the guy playing the guy from the comics looking like the guy in the comics?

Daredevil: Season 2 Review

Believe it or not I don’t actually live in a self-manufactured time capsule surrounded by gratuitous 1980s paraphernalia. I am aware and immersed in the social fabric of our current age. It just never seemed appropriate material for a blog dedicated to history.

Yet there is little in our present media to suggest innovation in entertainment. Sure, we have new ways of absorbing media, but over the last ten years the content has become almost solely rehashed material from earlier generations. It’s gotten to the point where we are now simply rehashing the rehashes.

No one can spend all their time, however, watching reruns of Predator on TBS. A few weeks ago I took up Netflix’s original series, Marvel’s Daredevil. The show is based on the Marvel Comics hero created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett in 1964, and stars Charlie Cox in the titular role.

One of the interesting elements in the emergence of live-action comic-book adaptations of late is that many of the plots are pulled from 80s and 90s era story lines, with “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Knightfall” (i.e. The Dark Knight Rises) being two high-profile examples. When you consider that most of the writers for such movies and television shows fit in the age demographic that would have grown up reading these comics the occurrences seem less coincidental.

In its publication history the Daredevil comic could best be described as steady. Popularity has ebbed and flowed through the years as a myriad of writers have come and gone. During the 1980s the comic saw a particularly sharp rise in readership thanks to the contributions of Frank Miller. Daredevil’s literary appeal was steeped in heaps of human interest, something many other superhero characters lacked. And then a movie adaptation was released by 20th Century Fox in 2003.

It sucked.

When Netflix released their own serial version of Daredevil 12 years later, I was skeptical. Part of Daredevil’s charm is the aforementioned relatability; he has “super” powers, but they are probably the most subtle in the Marvel Universe – the character Matt Murdock is blind, by has superhuman hearing, smell, taste, and sense of touch. He also possesses an enhanced form of echolocation that works like sonar. These attributes combined virtually neutralize his blindness, but he has no super strength, or speed, or flashy weapons. He is, however, a master martial artists and combat specialist.

In other words, he’s a blind Batman. And admittedly that is how I always saw him in the comics. But while Christopher Nolan was able to develop Batman into the most successful comic-book movie franchise in history (okay, at least in this critic’s mind*), it always felt as though Daredevil was a bit too bold in appearance (it’s bright spandex, people) and a bit too dry in attitude for the silver screen.

Well, kudos to Netflix for changing my mind. Although we are skipping right to season 2 – because we missed the boat on Season 1; newsflash: it was a hit – there are a number of components spread out over both seasons that make the show mostly enjoyable…on top of all the crap that leaves me fuming in frustration. Let’s start with the good.

  • The Punisher! I’m biased as this was my favorite comic growing up, and most on-screen adaptations have been lacking (Dolph Lundgren’s 1989 vehicle was previously the best). Jon Bernthal is a great cast as Frank Castle, and plays the jaded vigilante with nuance not normally seen in the comics yet emanates seamlessly in the show. His final act in the season was criminally underplayed, but leaves open room for his return in Season 3.
  • Scott Glenn as Stick. He was awesome in Season 1, and delivered even more helpings of cynical one-liners to help offset Daredevil’s often preachy righteousness in Season 2.
  • Peter McRobbie as Father Lantom. While Matt Murdock’s confessions frequently espouse a self-inflated sense of grandeur, McRobbie’s Lantom consistently delivers sage advice without ever delving into rote judgement. It’s a deeply restrained performance, but he steals every scene he’s in.
  • The fighting. Arguably the best thing about Marvel’s Daredevil is the fight cinematography. It was brilliant in the first season, but the showrunners took it up to 11 in Season 2. The hallway fight in Episode 3 is can’t miss for action fans.
  • Daredevil’s armor. First off, the relationship Daredevil has with his armorer, Melvin, is one of the more enigmatic in the show. It’s a true bro-mance, where neither party wants to admit vulnerability, but they both seem to have each others interests at heart. And the suit itself looks awesome. Bright red spandex would never have worked in today’s realistic superhero market; Netflix figured out a way to make the character signature without being ridiculous.

The bad:

  • Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page. Yeah, she’s still in the show. In the comic book, she dies. I wish they would do that here. Woll’s Page is annoying, whiny, self-possessed, constantly meddling, and has even managed to get another popular character killed through her own selfish and reckless behavior. Woll’s acting is atrocious and she has no chemistry with any of the actors on the show. Fingers crossed Bullseye is brought in during Season 3 to kill this useless character like in the comics.
  • The writing is Dumb – oh yeah, big capital “D.” The writers are clearly aware of the source material, but have not actually read it. At some points it’s nonsense (how did Nobu survive being burned to ashes exactly?) to just plain lazy (Daredevil has super hearing, but that doesn’t mean he can stand on a building and selectively discern police transponder information from miles away – how much easier would it have been to just a write in a bit about Melvin putting a police transponder in Daredevil’s helmet?). And why do they keep referring to New York as Hell’s Kitchen? Yes, it’s where Daredevil lives, but is it the only place he operates as a vigilante? Hell’s Kitchen takes ups about 18 square blocks. It’s about the size of a baseball stadium. Does anyone in this show ever leave there? Is this the only neighborhood in all of NYC plagued by crime? I lived in New York for 10 years; I can’t recall ever meeting anyone in that time who referred to their work and social life exclusively by their neighborhood. In Marvel’s Daredevil someone mentions it about every 12 seconds.
  • Elektra. Elodie Yung is much more convincing than Jennifer Garner, but her talents are clearly underutilized here. The series has made a hallmark of delaying character development (i.e. not revealing trademark outfits till the final moments of the seasons’ last episodes), but it’s particularly cumbersome when a good actor is given limited range in order to play up a big reveal that ultimately fizzles.
  • Not enough Rosario Dawson. This is simple: get rid of Karen; focus on Claire. Like Yung, Dawson is also hampered by bad writing, but she is still 1000x more likable than Woll. Elektra is Daredevil’s perennial femme fatale, but Claire ought to emerge as Matt’s main love interest.

Overall, Marvel’s Daredevil is much akin to Law & Order: SVU. It’s dumb, the writing is dreadful, and their is a seemingly endless string of annoying side characters no one cares about. Yet for some reason it is maddeningly addictive. I left Charlie Cox’s performance off the breakdown because it really falls somewhere in between. He plays the character well, but you get the sense about a half-dozen other actors could have been dropped in the role and done just as good a job. Not sure if he’s performing his own stunts, but if so, two thumbs up, sir.

Vincent D’Onofrio is, likewise, a solid addition to the cast, but doesn’t stand out. Most fans have especially praised his performance as the Kingpin. Between strong and weak, D’Onofrio leans towards the former, but again could be inspired by some tighter writing.

In sum, Season 2 of Marvel’s Daredevil will sate action junkies and multiple generations of comic book fans, but will also leave the more sophisticated viewer (i.e. fans of The Watchmen) a little cold in it’s sophomoric delivery. But hey, sometimes a little cheese goes a long way.

*Is this the most successful comic book film franchise? Because there’s like 8 million X-Men movies…which I’ll delve into in our next post…which will be dedicated to why X-Men: Apocalypse is going to suck.

 

 

 

 

It’s Rock or…Busted Eardrums

What do you get when a rising rock band meets an untimely tragedy only to respond by unleashing one of the most critically acclaimed and best-selling albums in the history of the world?

Brian Johnson.

Never has a vocalist so deftly swooped into a dire dilemma and dramatically turned the tide. On July 27, 1979 Australian hard rockers AC/DC released their breakthrough album, Highway to Hell, which climbed to number 17 on the Billboard album charts. Helmed by famed producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, the album propelled AC/DC to fame beyond Australian and UK borders. After the successful Highway to Hell Tour plans were underway to record an explosive follow-up. But less than one month after the tour ended lead singer Bon Scott was found dead in a car in London. He had choked to death on his own vomit after a night of heavy drinking.

Successful bands are generally the result of synergistic personalities coming together. Regardless of audience approval, most reconstructed bands fail to replicate the spirit of the original. It’s a nearly impossible task when the absent member is the singer. The surviving members of AC/DC were aware of this. Scott was a particularly charismatic vocalist and acted as the de facto leader of the group. Founding members Malcolm and Angus Young considered dissolving AC/DC. It was only after encouragement from Scott’s parents thay they chose to press on.

Dealing with the problem of finding a suitable replacement, Angus Young recalled a story Scott once told of an English singer from Newcastle who had impressed him at a local show one night. That singer was ex-Geordie vocalist Brian Johnson.

History unfolded fortuitously; AC/DC hired Johnson who promptly contributed lyrics and vocals to Back in Black. The album, released on July 25, 1980, was a smash success launching AC/DC into global super-stardom. With worldwide sales estimates at 50 million units, Back in Black became the second best-selling album of all time.

Thus it has come as a shock to many fans that after 36 years of tenure with AC/DC  Johnson is now on indefinite hiatus, and that Guns n’ Roses frontman Axl Rose will be completing the final shows of the band’s Rock or Bust Tour.

While some controversy exists over the true nature of Johnson’s departure, officially he has left the band voluntarily after being diagnosed with severe hearing damage that could result in permanent deafness should he resume touring. Johnson cited his resignation as the “darkest day of my professional life,” a sentiment shared undoubtedly by countless fans around the world. In honor of the raspy-voiced wailer Retrobacktive presents the Top 10 Brian Johnson Moments of Kick-ass-ery!

1) It’s all because of that jacket and those boots. Pre-AC/DC, Johnson shows off his pipes from hell.

2) One of his earliest interviews demonstrates an awesome-because-it’s-barely-understandable speaking voice.

3) Angus may be the rare guitar playing frontman, but Johnson’s look is equally as iconic. You’ve likely heard this one before, but it’s one of the greatest recordings ever captured and always worth another listen.

4) The title track from AC/DC’s first #1 album.

5) After two lackluster albums AC/DC bounced back in 1986 with Who Made Who, the soundtrack to the Stephen King film Maximum Overdrive. Is it just me, or does Brian’s hat keep getting bigger?

6) When your band’s history spans over 40 years you can believe there were numerous peaks and valleys. This may be AC/DC’s apex, the Monsters of Rock Festival at Donington where they just fucking owned it.

7) AC/DC/s first number 1 song on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock list. While the band has never performed the song live, this video at least gives us Arnie on stage with Johnson and crew.

8) One of Johnson’s most endearing aspects is his willingness to interact with fans. Here he relays a story involving one of his idols, Chuck Berry, that aptly represents the Englishman’s natural aplomb.

9) It isn’t all just rock and roll for Johnson, an avid race car enthusiast. His popular guest spot on Top Gear shows he can grind out impressive turns while crooning Louis Jordan.

10) Although they are one of the best selling bands of all time, 2015 marked the first year AC/DC performed on the Grammy Award Show. Nothing quiet as satisfying as seeing the look on all the snooty artists’ faces that collectively says, “oh yeah, this is what rock and roll is supposed to sound like.”

Dearly Beloved, We R Gathered Here 2 Celebrate His Life

In the last four months this blog has come to feel more like an obituary than a cultural chronicle. We opened the year in memorial of David Bowie whose secret battle with cancer came to an end on January 10. Then the Eagle’s frontman Glenn Frey died eight days later. Alan Rickman, Merle Haggard, one by one the entertainment world mournfully reported the loss of yet another great artist.

Yesterday that trend continued with perhaps the most shocking loss since Michael Jackson’s death in 2009.

Prince Rogers Nelson, better know as Prince… or that weird symbol no one could pronounce…died in his home studio at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota. He was 57 years old.

While an autopsy investigation is set to take place on April 22, little indication has been give to the cause of death for the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter. The news of Prince’s sudden and unexpected demise has left fans the world over in disbelief.

If this description sounds a bit sterile it’s because I’m sick of writing about great artists from my childhood dying. It’s a somber experience. As a writer I want to use my skill set to capture the memory of the departed as eloquently as the English language can. But I would prefer to go back to writing about cartoons and movies; 2016 has been a rather morose year.

Nonetheless, we will celebrate the life of a musical icon who rose to prominence in the 80s with hits albums such as 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign “O” the Times. Now one thing we can’t do is post a bunch of cool videos from YouTube because Prince was vehement about copyright issues and fair trade. But to be honest posting even a fraction of the highlights from The Purple One’s illustrious career would probably crash the WordPress server, so here’s a quick list you can feel free to explore at your leisure:

1999 – Prince’s career began in the late 70s, but this 1982 album was his breakthrough which featured the hits “Little Red Corvette,” and the title track which probably earned Prince half-a-billion dollars in royalties on December 31, 1999 alone.

Purple Rain – his biggest selling album, certified platinum 22 times over. The soundtrack to the movie of the same name starring Prince as “The Kid,” the album held the number one spot on the Billboard charts for 24 weeks and spawned the hit songs, “When Doves Cry, “Let’s Go Crazy,” and the title track.

Parade – follow up to Purple Rain featuring the number one hit song, “Kiss.”

“Manic Monday,” “Stand Back,” “Nothing Compares 2 U,” et al. – despite a prolific catalog, Prince still found time to pen and play on hit songs for other artists, often using writing pseudonyms so no one knew they were his.

TAFKAP – Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in 1993. Why? It was a giant middle finger to his record label, Warner Bros., who he felt was stifling his artistry. Ever the provocateur, Prince was also a coy adversary who leveraged his image to discourage his opponents. It was kind of a bad ass move.

Super Bowl XLI – Billboard.com has called it the greatest Super Bowl half-time performance ever. Appropriately a downpour ensued for “Purple Rain.” Can’t make this stuff up.

Doin’ it All – it’s also not widely known but important to note that as a multi-instrumentalist Prince played most, if not all, the instruments on his albums. His live performances were perennially lauded, and he was critical in the development of many well know musicians and entertainers such as Vanity, Apollonia Kotero, and Carmen Electra.

As a cultural figure, Prince was an icon. His absence leaves a bottomless chasm in the musical landscape, one further cratered by the losses of Bowie, Frey, and Haggard. Indeed, death is a natural circumstance of life. But if life is just a party, and parties aren’t meant to last, it sure seems 2016 has its number of the metaphorical curfew.

“The afterworld – a world of never ending happiness; U can always see the sun, day or night.”

                     – Prince Rogers Nelson

 

In Other Words, Free Learning

NOVA, the 42- year- old PBS television series, is citizen science’s best friend – thoughtful, balanced, free of charge, and available to millions of people via several media platforms. That makes Senior Executive Producer Paula Apsell NOVA’s fairy godmother. Apsell has shaped and guided the award-winning science documentary series for 30+ years, calling upon a … Continue reading NOVA: Citizen Science at its best

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