Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Silence! I Kill You!

There are an awful lot of lame comicbook villains out there, especially from the Comics Code era. Once the Code was deemed unnecessary and ridiculous, plots in comics became, like any fictional medium, relatable again. This meant villains could be villains again worthy of super heroics to stop them, and not a bunch of schoolyard pranksters and petty thieves best left to rookie cops and mall security. If the criminals in your neighborhood are tougher than the villains in your fiction, there is something wrong. But still, stupid villain concepts popped up now and then.

For a long while different writers for comics, movies, and games have been trying, mostly successfully, to reboot Batman villains in ways that make them less of a joke and more like realistic horror shows. I was never ever sold on The Ventriloquist. A puppet with a machine gun never scared me.

Created in 1988 by Wagner, Grant, and Breyfogle for Detective Comics #583, the original Ventriloquist was a study in dissociative personality disorder. Arnold Wesker, a son of a mob boss, witnesses the assassination of his mother. After the trauma of watching the mob hit, instead of devoting his life to fighting crime, he develops dissociative disorder to cope, his psyche fractures, and he transfers his personality over to a puppet, a ventriloquist dummy. While Wesker retains his scared, shy, milquetoast personality, Scarface, the dummy, exhibits his aggressive, and violent criminal traits.

Somehow, a kid who looks like an accountant, with a dummy dressed as a 1920s gangster builds a criminal empire and has to fight the Batman. At no point in this story does another gangster with a gun laugh at this pair and then shoot the accountant looking motherfucker in the head? Or, the police don't arrest the crazy person and send him to therapy? Arnold Wesker doesn't need the Batman, he needs a clinician.

In order to try and make this character work, there have been writers who have tried to imbue the dummy with mystical powers, or ghostly possession, or something. But even then, actual stories of actual dolls who may be possessed (like Annabelle, or Robert) still manage to be contained by normal everyday people, no superheroes or law enforcement required.

There have been two other attempts to portray this creepy ventriloquist/real dummy idea as something actually scary. In 2007 Paul Dini and Don Kramer resurrect Scarface and pair him with Peyton Riley, daughter of an Irish Mob boss and former girlfriend of Tommy Elliot (Hush). She sure is more attractive that Arnold Wesker, but still, just a person with a puppet.

Again in 2013, the character is rebooted, this time with a third ventriloquist. Gail Simone and Fernando Pasarine created Shauna Belzer for Batgirl #20. This character is no longer just a criminal with a dissociative disorder. Belzer has telekinetic powers and her dummy resembles Jigsaw from the Saw franchise. This third character, while sharing the name, seems to share nothing with the older characters and finally appears to be an interesting, scary villain. I am skeptical that Simone's creation is in fact a rebooted Ventriloquist, and not an entirely new character, but if she is, then it is telling that the character needed an entirely new premise, direction, and origin in order to be taken seriously.

Monday, November 20, 2017

New Ideas for an Old Franchise: Indiana Jones Edition

There have been many who have realized the corporate culture of movie making has ruined film. The tendency for capitalism to double down on a great success in order to continue to make profits has led the movie industry to continue to produce terrible sequels and reboots (followed by more sequels) of existing series and franchises instead of creating anything new.

This has been well documented by Ethan Anderton from First Showing, and by Andrew Allen from Shortoftheweek who both use the same infographic from Box Office Mojo. The guys at Cracked have also weighed in, like they often do, with 5 reasons. If you type in phrases like "Hollywood unoriginal", or "no new ideas from Hollywood" into google, there is a wealth of similar articles, tweets, blogposts, and commentary about this problem. We've also known about it for quite some time, most of these articles are 5 or more years old.

However, There are some franchises that I think we can all agree should never stop. James Bond is a great example, no matter who plays the characters, or what evil villain Bond is stopping, those movies are super fun, and never a bad time. If Disney were to remake those awful Star Wars prequels (pleeeease, pretty pretty please, make them not suck), I'd be the first in line to buy a ticket.

Also, on this list, is Indiana Jones. Now, I know Harrison Ford is super old, but so is Sean Connery, and that didn't stop the Broccoli's from making 24 films with 6 different actors. Like James Bond, Indiana Jones could potentially be played by anyone. Knowing this, I propose an idea for Disney and LucasFilm.

The mystical and cryptoarchaeological (is that a word?) themes of Indiana Jones is what makes the franchise, I think, so attractive. Aside from Harrison Ford's portrayal of the hero, the quests for macguffins based on legendary artifacts turn the plots of these movies into high stakes scavenger hunts full of far-away, secretive places, borderline illegal hijinx, and sinister competition and doublecross.

I would like to see Indiana Jones tackle the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. 

Think about this: In my opinion, the most successful Indiana Jones films are Raiders and Last Crusade, both dealing with biblical artifacts. The mythology of apocryphal Abrahamic religions, the power imbued into seemingly worthless artifacts, surrounded in archaic mystery, unlocking ancient powers, but without relying on extraterrestrial origins made these movies special. Why not the Cthulhu mythos?

To my knowledge there hasn't been a successful adaptation of anything Lovecraftian. There sure have been plenty of science fiction/horror stories that are heavily influenced by the Cthulhu mythos, like Hellboy and Batman, Scooby Doo, Supernatural, X-Files, South Park, Rick and Morty, The Ghostbusters, True Detective, Evil Dead, and many others. But not yet have we seen a major motion picture explore the horror suspense created by Lovecraft, culminating in a situation where "top men" had to bury the evidence.

Just put it in a box, between the ark of the covenant and Jimmy Hoffa
Imagine Indiana Jones, searching for some kind of artifact... the Necromonicon perhaps, or eltdown shards, or g'harne fragments. Along the way he visits Arkham, Commoriom, The Nameless City, runs into the Black Brotherhood, the King in Yellow, The Great Race of Yith perhaps, and ultimately stops the awakening of Cthulhu.

I think there is great potential for this mashup. And, well, if Indiana Jones doesn't work out, I'm sure the Tombraider camp would take a crack at it.

Someone with Photoshop has the same idea

Friday, October 27, 2017

Purple Hairy Elephants!

Awhile ago, I wrote about Amherst College, and their recently solved dilemma regarding their problematic namesake, Lord Jeffery Amherst. The college had publicly severed ties with the unofficial mascot, and adopted their first official mascot, the mammoth.

On October 20, 2017, they announced their official mascot design/logo. It's pretty cool. I posted it below. This is a follow up to this blog post right here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Once Upon a Planet Burning

Hardwired... To Self Destruct
Blackened, 2016
produced by Greg Fidelman

James Hetfield - rhythm guitars, vocals
Kirk Hammet - lead guitars
Robert Trujillo - bass
Lars Ulrich - drums

I have had a love/hate relationship with Metallica for a very long time. When I was a kid, my friends and I listened to '80s era Metallica, the "Cliff Burton is alive-Hetfield sounds like a girl-they had long hair-thrash" Metallica. And I thought it was awesome, mostly because it was miles different than the classic rock blues and jazz based bands my dad favored. But, soon after the release and tours for the 1991 Black Album, they all cut that crazy metal hair, and started writing unthrashlike pop-metal songs.

They released two albums back to back like a pair of terrible movie sequels. This new direction seemed dull, lazy, eager to capture quick pop success, the songs seemed like throwaway one-timers. 
It took them 30 years, but they finally produced a record worthy of comparisons to ...And Justice for All, and dare I say it, Master of Puppets

Hardwired to Self Destruct has built on the successful resurgence of the old school Metallica found on Death Magnetic, and just about completely redeemed them from the abortion that was St. Anger, and the sell out disappointments of the Load and ReLoad era. They refine their signature brand of metal on this record. Metallica finally comes to terms with their thrash metal past while at the same time remaining fresh and new, something that I think they struggled with in the '90s. 

My friend, a known prog-rock, metal enthusiast, posted this new album was the first time in a long time that he could publicly endorse a new Metallica record as being worth the buy. I agree, and would go further to say that, since all of the records made before 1991 were all old news when I started listening, this is the only new Metallica record I've ever been able to fully endorse as worth buying.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

Best Years for Music: Making a Case

Every decade or so there is one pivotal year for music that defines the decade and becomes a watershed of influence. I plan on making the case for the best year in music for each of the last few decades. I'll start with the 60's and work my way up.

1967 - Summer of Love

The 1960s are remembered fondly as the age of psychedelics, and hippies, but the decade was important for all genres of music. In the age of sexual liberation, political rebellion, and the civil rights movement, music had its own period of exploration, which saw folk, blues, soul and r&b, reggae, country and rock develop from earlier forms into what we recognize today as major genres. 1967 was the high point for this incubation period and saw major debuts, and great follow up records from soon to be great artists. Many of the records I will list in this post are considered by many to be among the top records of all time, genre definers, influential pieces, one of the best in that particular artist's discography, or at the very least a debut of one of music's legends.

The Doors (debut)
Miles Davis - Miles Smiles
Jefferson Airplane - Surrealistic Pillow
Byrds - Younger than Yesterday
Dolly Parton - Hello, I'm Dolly (debut)
Mamas and the Papas - Deliver
Velvet Underground and Nico
Donovan - Mellow Yellow
Electric Prunes (debut)
Gordon Lightfoot - The Way I Feel
Tim Hardin - 2
Country Joe and the Fish - Electric Music for the Mind and Body (debut)
Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced?
Mothers of Invention - Absolutely Free
Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Willie Nelson - Make Way for Willie Nelson
David Bowie (debut)
Booker T and the MGs - Hip Hug-Her
Moby Grape (debut)
Canned Heat (debut)
Aretha Franklin - Arrives
Pink Floyd - Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Bee Gees - Bee Gees' 1st
Merle Haggard - Branded Man
Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign
Waylon Jennings - Love of the Common Man
Kinks - Something Else by the Kinks
Doors - Strange Days
Arlo Guthrie - Alice's Restaurant
Gladys Knight and the Pips - Everybody Needs Love (debut)
Vanilla Fudge (debut)
Cream - Disraeli Gears
Moody Blues - Days of Future Past
Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour
Love - Forever Changes
Jimi Hendrix Experience - Axis: Bold as Love
The Who - Sell Out
Miles Davis - Sorcerer

1971- Rock's Greatest Year

To be fair, this idea is not new. There are plenty of music nerds out there who have played this same game. David Hepworth wrote about 1971 as being special in Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year that Rock Exploded (2016). So close to the close of the '60s, 1971 piggybacks on 1967, sharing common themes. Due to a variety of circumstances, 1971 saw a massive output of talent, older bands coming out with some of their best material, new groups putting together fresh sounds, an overarching idea that creativity wont last forever and there is no point in overworking something when usually the first ideas are the best.

In addition to the albums released in 1971, The Eagles, New York Dolls, Foghat, Earth Wind and Fire, Manfred Man, and Wings were all founded this year.

Some of the 1971 releases are below for your consideration:

Carol King - Tapestry
Jethro Tull - Aqualung
James Taylor - Mudslide Slim and the Blue Horizon
Carly Simon (debut)
The Doors - LA Woman
Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
Paul and Linda McCartney - Ram
The Carpenters
Marvin Gaye - What's Goin On
Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells a Story
Emerson Lake and Palmer - Tarkus
Joni Mitchell - Blue
Hot Tuna - First Pull Up, then Pull Down
Funkadelic - Maggot Brain
Black Sabbath - Master of Reality
Moody Blues - Every Good Boy Deserves Favor
The Who - Who's Next
Al Green Gets Next to You
John Lennon - Imagine
Santana III
Bee Gees - Trafalgar
Cat Stevens - Teaser and the Firecat
Frank Zappa - 200 Motels
Don McLean - American Pie (debut)
The Who - Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy
Van Morrison - Tupelo Honey
Curtis Mayfield - Roots
Led Zeppelin IV
Elton John - Madman Across the Water
Genesis - Nursery Cryme
Alice Cooper - Killer (debut)
Sly and the Family Stone - There's a Riot Goin On
David Bowie - Hunky Dory
Badfinger - Straight Up
John Prine (debut)

1987- Goddammit I hate the '80s!

Even though the 1980s is probably the worst decade for music (although 2000-2010 is pretty terrible too), it still had a bright spot, and 1987 seems to be the year, even though Bruce Willis released the Return of Bruno. Things start to get interesting in 1987, just as electronic sounds and drum machines appear to have taken over pop music, hip hop is gearing up to be taken more seriously, and punk/grunge/garage rock is poised to destroy glam metal once and for all. Below is a little look into some of those releases, and once again, if the record isn't considered a top 100 record, it is still probably considered to be a huge influence on one or more genres in the future. The Smiths and Pixies records are good examples. In addition, Alice in Chains, Danzig, Fugazi, Gin Blossoms, Kid N Play, Nirvana, and Operation Ivy were all founded.

The Smiths - The World Wont Listen (debut)
The Smiths - Louder than Bombs
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - Rock the House (debut)
Anthrax - Among the Living
Butthole Surfers - Locust Abortion Technician (debut)
U2 - Joshua Tree
Prince - Sign O the Times
the Cult - Electric
Public Enemy - Yo, Bum Rush the Show (debut)
Whitney Houston- Whitney (debut)
the Cure - Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me
LL Cool J - B.A.D (debut)
Heart - Bad Animals
Sonic Youth - Sister
the Replacements - Pleased to Meet Me (debut)
Boy George - Sold
Echo and the Bunnymen (debut)
Grateful Dead - In the Dark
Eric B and Rakim - Paid in Full (debut)
Guns N Roses - Appetite for Destruction (debut)
Tom Waits - Frank's Wild Years
Michael Jackson - Bad
George Michael - Faith (debut)
Pixies - Come on Pilgrim
Ice T - Rhyme Pays (debut)

1994 - The Beginning of the End

The 1990s has been revered by many now between their 30s and 40s, mostly due to nostalgia. Children's programming on television was bonkers. Everything got pierced or tattooed. The internet, laptops and cell phones were very new things. Music hit a turning point from the innovations made in the late 80s to the industry-led, cookie cutter, pop factory made sounds that ultimately killed rock and roll and country and drove hip hop back underground. Everything became digitized, recording studios became smaller, more efficient, cleaner.

1994 was the pivot year. Kurt Cobain died, Green Day exploded, and the grunge/alternative revelation of the past few years crumbled and gave way to a wave of pop-surfer-emo punk rock that would hang around in mediocrity for the next 10 years. Nas happened, Biggie and Tupac happened, The Wu-Tang Clan was huge, which spurred another golden age for hip hop. The next generation of the British Invasion kicked off too this year. Jam bands, a second generation of 60's inspired rock groups, took off in a major way. 1994 was also the year of Girl Power, the careers of Liz Phair, Tori Amos, Veruca Salt, and Hole all took off. There are a few strong debuts from groups who would make large footprints in the next decade and a half, including one of the best albums of all time, Jeff Buckley's Grace.

Alice in Chains - Jar of Flies
Tori Amos - Under the Pink
Green Day - Dookie
Ben Harper - Welcome to the Cruel World (debut)
Cake - Motorcade of Generosity (debut)
Pavement - Crooked Rain Crooked Rain
Beck - Mellow Gold
Elvis Costello - Brutal Youth
Nine Inch Nails - Downward Spiral
Soundgarden - SuperUnknown
Phish - Hoist
Pink Floyd - The Division Bell
Offspring - Smash
Hole - Live Through This
Nas - Illmatic (debut)
Blur - Parklife
Johnny Cash - American Recordings
Outkast - southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (debut)
Sonic Youth - Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star
Weezer (debut)
Beastie Boys - Ill Communication
Seal II
Purple - Stone Temple Pilots
Warren G - Regulate: G Funk Era (debut)
Aaliyah - Age Aint Nothin but a Number (debut)
Da Brat - Funkdafied (debut)
Hootie and the Blowfish - Cracked Rear View (debut)
Live - Throwing Copper
Coolio - It Takes a Thief (debut)
Marilyn Manson - Portrait of an American Family (debut)
NoFX - Punk in Drublic
Jeff Buckley - Grace (debut)
Rusted Root - When I Woke
Oasis - Definitely Maybe (debut)
Boys II Men - II
Usher (debut)
Bad Religion - Stranger than Fiction
Eric Clapton - From the Cradle
Notorious BIG - Ready to Die (debut)
Blues Traveler - 4
Liz Phair - Whip Smart
2 Pac - Thug Life: Volume 1
Veruca Salt - American Thighs (debut)
REM - Monster
Dave Matthews Band - Under the Table and Dreaming (debut)
The Cranberries - No Need to Argue
Korn (debut)
Jamiroquai - Return of the Space Cowboy
Black Crowes - Amorica
Nirvana - MTV Unplugged in New York
Tom Petty - Wildflowers
Guster - Parachute (debut)
TLC - CrazySexyCool
Mary J Blige - My Life
Pearl Jam - Vitalogy
Bush - Sixteen Stone (debut)

2007 - We Wont Go Quietly

Sometime between now and the close of the 90's, the corporate music model sucked the soul out of rock and roll. Music enthusiasts starting looking elsewhere for good music, and the rise of internet sharing gave us a marketplace. The first decade of the new millennium may be seen as a musical void, but 2007 is a bright spot. Indie music finally hit its stride, flourishing in the void. Our collective love of nostalgia created an opening for older acts to resurface for reunions. And occasionally, in the midst of formulaic genres like pop-punk, and whatever genre Nickelback created, there could still be some surprisingly good bands. There are always islands of good music, even in the face of an innovative decline.

The Smithereens - Meet the Smithereens!
Radiohead - Rainbows
Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
Kanye West - Graduation
Timbaland - Shock Value
Feist - the Reminder
Jay Z - American Gangster
Kittie - Funeral for Yesterday
Modest Mouse - We were Dead even Before the Ship Sank
Norah Jones - Not Too Late
Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
Bjork - Volta
Kings of Leon - Because of the Times
the National - the Boxer
Paramore - Riot
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
White Stripes - Icky Thump
MIA - Kala
Metric - Grow Up and Blow Away
Rihanna - Good Girl Gone Bad
Spoon - GaGaGaGaGaGa
Talib Kweli - Eardrum
Teagan and Sara - the Con
St. Vincent - Marry Me
Linkin Park - Minutes to Midnight
Andrew Bird - Armchair Apocrypha
Bright Eyes - Cassadaga
the Weakerthans - Reunion Tour
Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight

I think, after all has been considered, 1994 would be my choice as best year in music, all time. This is not to say that there haven't been major influential albums produced in other years, or artists from other decades who didn't leave very important footprints. But I do think 1994 was the last (so far) watershed year for several genres and subgenres, rock in particular, but also country music, and hip hop. Since then there has been very little innovation within genres. Corporate music making has killed country and rock as genres. And hip hop, while it continues to redefine itself, had an explosive year in 1994.

Please leave comments (no one reads anyway) challenging my opinion, I welcome the discussion. But please, be cordial, and come with some good arguments for why I'm wrong and your choice is better.