Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Feel Alright: This Is 42



Look - I'm ridiculously fortunate. I try to never lose sight of that.

Like most people, I've had my challenges in all aspects of life. I've had my ebbs and flows, my ups and downs. But what a ride it's been!

Several months back, I was in my office, stressing out about whatever the day's metaphoric fire was. I was scanning Facebook and seeing some of the posts of the people I grew up and went to high school with, most of whom I never actually communicated with back then, or more accurately who never chose to communicate with me. (Hell, this previous blog explains a lot of that.) I got up, looked outside my office window and realized, wow. I have an office. On Sunset Blvd. In Hollywood, California. Working as a "studio exec" for an independent movie company. No matter what each day brings, I've freakin' made it. And it's all led me to the person I am today.

All that said, the impossible or improbable is always possible. All ya gotta do is try.

My birthday is August 15th. It's officially here and I'm one notch further in my 40's. As always, I try to think up of some sort of fun group activity I can share with my closest friends that would be intimate, unique, and special. Last year, the mighty Christian James Hand was kind enough to do one of his infamous "The Session On Air" song breakdowns. (We ended up doing one by Soundgarden and Nirvana, which you can read about right here.) Before that, it'd been screenings of some of my favorite movies. Rodney Dangerfield's BACK TO SCHOOL for my 40th was one for the books. But ...how the hell do you top all that?

Well, I had interviewed Jonah Matranga for my "mix tape" documentary last year, and we've been in touch on and off for the last 20 some odd years. And both him and his music have been such a huge part of my life, a lot of it explained here. Needless to say, with all that life experience between the two of us, I'm comfortable saying he's more than just one of my all time favorite musicians and influences. He's a friend.

So, would it be odd if I asked my favorite musician to do a private acoustic performance of his tunes for my birthday? Well, you never know until you ask. And much to my surprise. He agreed!

We had Christian on an episode of Shock Waves a few months back where he walked us through the musical masterpiece that is Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells," more popularly known as the theme to THE EXORCIST, and at the tail end of the episode, he said he would gladly do something for my birthday again this year. You'd better believe I held him to his word!

And so on Saturday, August 4th, I had a very small group of people over to my apartment in the Valley, a venue I was quite nervous to host a party at, because for one, it feels small once you get more than 10 people in here, and also it gets ridiculously hot. But somehow, magically, it all worked out perfectly. We just moved a table out of my main living room and made that the central spot for the evening's entertainment.

First up, I surprised the gang by debuting 30 minutes of my documentary project. After 3 years of meticulously putting this thing together, it was a great thrill to finally test out some of this material for a general audience, and the response was beyond my expectations. It set the positive tone for the whole evening.

Then, Jonah pulled up a stool and kicked off the night with a beautiful rendition of his song "Tides," which at one point slowly morphed into "Release" by Pearl Jam and then back to "Tides." At this point, I'll be candid... I was pretty tipsy and still in disbelief that this was really happening.


I can't remember exactly what the full set for the night was but it included solo songs like "Every Mistake," Gratitude tunes "Feel Alright" and "This Is The Part." And plenty of FAR songs, such as "Really Here," "Job's Eyes," "Wear It So Well," and "Bury White." He closed it off with New End Original's "Lukewarm."

I personally didn't take any photos or video, because I wanted to live in the moment and really appreciate it, and hope everyone in the room was feeling what I was feeling, which I confirmed after the party that they were. But thankfully, Spooky Dan Walker (bless him) got the following snippets.









For me, there is at least one key lyric in each of Jonah's songs that resonates and feels totally relevant to me right now, at this point in time, at this age.

In "Lukewarm," its screaming out, "I never want to say my best days are behind me." Or the bridge in "Feel Alright," a song about just wanting all your friends to be OK, where he sings, "we are all so brave. We are all so scared. We are all afraid. We're all not falling. All not dead."

I can go on and on, but instead, I'd rather share with you my playlist that prepped me for this evening. These are some of my favorite Jonah songs from all his bands, spanning his entire musical career. And yes, I've tested this mix and think it's pretty rockin'!

Jonah Matranga mix:

1. Lukewarm by New End Original from "Thriller"
2. Bury White by Far from "Water & Solutions"
3. Feel Alright by Gratitude from "Gratitude"
4. This Is The Part by Gratitude from "Gratitude"
5. I Like It by Far from "Water & Solutions"
6. Mother Mary by Far from "Water & Solutions"
7. Hostage by New End Original from "Thriller"
8. Tides by Jonah Matranga from "The Three Sketchys"
9. Every Mistake by Jonah Matranga from "And"
10. Give Me A Reason by Far from "At Night We Live"
11. I Really Love Yr Company by Jonah's onelinedrawing from "Me And You Are Two"
12. In The Aisle, Yelling by Far from "Tin Cans With Strings To You"
13. Water & Solutions by Far from "Water & Solutions"
14. The System by Far from "Water & Solutions"
15. Bittersweet by I Is Another from "I Is Another"
16. Roosevelt Champion III by Camorra from "Mourning, Resistance, Celebration"
17. Shake by I Is Another from "I Is Another"
18. Parting Friends by Camorra from "Mourning, Resistance, Celebration"
19. Really Here by Far from "Water & Solutions"
20. Be Quiet & Drive by Jonah Matranga from "Voices & Dedications"

And for those that want a You Tube playlist, here it is in that form.



After that, we took a few minutes to eat some ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins, my personal favorite. (Awkward high fives and hugs and all...)





And then, Christian did his thing. I chose "Under Pressure" by Queen, because I had seen Christian do this one before a few years back, and it blew me away back then. And more than anything, I knew this music oriented evening had to culminate in hearing Freddie Mercury and David Bowie's isolated vocal tracks.







And now, here we are, a few hours away from my actual birthday, and I'm just reflecting back on how lucky I am to have celebrated in this way. With love and music.

Regarding both of those incredible artists who were so kind with their time and talents, please support and check out Jonah's music on his BandCamp page. He's the only musician I know that keeps it personal, and one on one, which in this day and age truly means a lot.

And while we're at it, you can hear a bunch of Christian's breakdown's via this Soundcloud account. In particular, his "Under Pressure" one here.

And by the way, this is my favorite photo of the evening of the two of them in conversation.



I know I'm known as the horror guy, but music is where my heart is.

And music is the best way for me to share my heart.

Love you all

Here's to 42...!



Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Healing Power Of Music: 2018 Music Discoveries So Far

So, it's been one hell of a year so far, huh?

For most of us!

Hence why I haven't had the chance to really chime in here in quite a while. Music is such a big part of my life, so the initial point of this blog was two-fold. One, at a time where my "job" required me to crank out 5 horror related news pieces a day, with the occasional inspired essay, I wanted an outlet to write about music for fun. And two, it's my own document for the 3 year journey (and counting) that has been my new documentary project ANALOG LOVE. (Which I swear is alllllllmost done.)

But why so long between blogs? This is literally my second of 2018.

I have close friends say to me all the time, "I don't know how you do it all."

Well, to be candid, I can't do it all. I had a mini-meltdown; an anxiety and stress induced breakdown a few months back, which was scary for a few weeks there. But I'm totally fine for now. Sometimes, you really do have to put a halt on everything and figure out how to help yourself. And a big part of what's gotten me through has been new music. But let's go through the bullet points of what's happened this year and how I've managed to maneuver around it all.

NEW JOB!


Last September, I was hired by Epic Pictures as the "Director of Distribution" for their all-horror label Dread Central Presents. Short version - they're known for their cult titles such as BIG ASS SPIDER, TURBO KID and TALES OF HALLOWEEN, but they also make family films, dramas, animated features and shows. When Dread Central, the website, was in danger of closing shop, Epic got involved, and as a owner on the entity, they figured it'd be smart to brand any of their future horror and cult titles as "Dread Central Presents" titles. And that's where I come in. I even got a Deadline article about me!

Last week, we released TO HELL AND BACK: THE KANE HODDER STORY which, I believe, marks my 10th (!) movie I've helped release in 2018. 10 movies by July!



Here's the slate so far.

Currently on VOD: TO HELL AND BACK: THE KANE HODDER STORY, TERRIFIER, THE LODGERS, DIRECTOR'S CUT, VIDAR THE VAMPIRE.

Now streaming on Amazon Prime: IMITATION GIRL, ZOMBIOLOGY: ENJOY YOURSELF TONIGHT, #SCREAMERS, VILLMARK ASYLUM, ZONE OF THE DEAD.

Coming later this year: EXTREMITY, LASSO, SLAY BELLES.

Whew! On top of this whole movie biz thing, myself, Andrew Kasch and Jim Kunz have gotten involved in activism for some local causes we care about deeply. The first was the most personal to me. My best friend Jennifer Tung is one of the many victims of the Porter Ranch Gas Leak, which unbeknownst to the residents, was leaking and poisoning them between October of 2015 through December of that year. (It still leaks to this day.) Teachers from the area had died. Pets have died. And the people there have gotten very, very sick. I've never seen a more severe case then Jen's. And after nearly 3 years of frustration, delays in the civil lawsuit, next to no support from the press, Erin Brockovich doing her one public appearance & then swiftly abandoning these people, and a clear attempt to "cover" this all up, we got together and made the following video.



While drastic changes can never happen over night, I feel like helping to get Jen's story out there has finally shined a spotlight on this problem, and got some people talking about it. It's still not getting the press it deserves, but you can't deny the power of what we put together, and I hope it inspires more people to speak out and share their stories. You can keep following this story on the Facebook page we created.

After finishing this video, Andrew had heard rumblings that the rents in our beloved Magnolia Blvd. strip were starting to get doubled and tripled in some cases. This particular spot in the Valley is affectionately referred to as "monster row." It's where little independent stores thrive. And it's a destination for family and friends anytime they're in town. I live 5 minutes away from this strip, and I pop over there at least once a week. It's got that suburban quality you saw in all those indelible 80's movies we grew up with. And so far, we've lost Creature Features and Pin Up Girl, with Geeky Teas closing at the end of July. We didn't know exactly how we could help, but maybe another video could at least inform people of what was going on. And so, with Andrew taking the lead, here's what we made.



Much to our surprise, this became a viral sensation with close to 400K views on Facebook. (Almost 7K on the You Tube link!) And while it might not make a difference in the long term, the shops and community are aware and actively looking for ways to help. The Facebook page has also taken on a life of its own. What more could we ask for?

So to back up, I was doing this high stress level new gig and enjoying it immensely, coordinating and putting together these activist videos, co-hosting not one, not two, but three podcasts! Shock Waves, Two Dudes Talking and The 90's Corner. Trying to squeeze time in between all that to work on my documentary that's now going on three years in-the-making, and have fun somewhere in between all that? Something had to give, and it finally did. I woke up one day and couldn't eat. That night, I collapsed while going to the bathroom. I went to the doctor, got medication to spur my appetite back because you have to eat. And scaled back on all strenuous activities. As much as it broke my heart, there was no real legitimate reason for me to be co-hosting 3 podcasts, not to mention the numerous guest appearances I make on other shows like Just The Discs. Maybe a year ago, I felt the desire to "brand" myself more, but the current version of me doesn't share that desire anymore. I narrowed it down to Shock Waves, since it's the primary show most people know me from and has been active for 5 years now. (First as Killer POV, the last 3 years as Shock Waves.)

The one advantage is I get to enjoy The Damn Fine Network and all its shows as a fan now! I subscribe to the Patreon for $5 bucks a month and you should too, because if you take music seriously and you don't subscribe, you're missing out on some great content. Like... a stellar episode devoted to the film scores of Christopher Young, or an all HALLOWEEN (the franchise music) episode. Exclusive interviews, early episode access, and now the flagship show The Damn Fine Cast is a Patreon exclusive. Get to it!

Other podcasts I'm enjoying? My friends Chantal Claret and Jimmy Urine (who both appear in ANALOG LOVE) launched their own show chronicling their move to New Zealand! On top of being completely irresistible when they're together, it's been fun to hear about what it's like to live in a completely different country. Listen to PODCAST AT THE END OF THE WORLD right here.

Lastly, I'm a huge fan and admirer of Mark Ramsey and what he's been able to do with his "Inside Series," first focusing on one of my personal favorites with INSIDE PSYCHO, and then tackling the superior INSIDE THE EXORCIST. Right now, we're more than half way through INSIDE JAWS, and I'm loving it. You can find that show right here, and while you're at it, go back to the episode of Shock Waves where we had on Mark Ramsey and got to hear all about his creative process right here.

Through all of the above stress, the overwhelming workload, the concern over Jen's health and beyond, I've been cranking the following tunes very, very loudly.

L7 - I Came Back To Bitch

L7 is currently recording a new full length album. Last year, they dropped the one off single "Dispatch From Mar-a-lago." Earlier this year, they dropped "I Came Back To Bitch," which has got that catchy "Pretend We're Dead" vibe to it. More than anything, it's just good to have them back, especially in a time when there is plenty to bitch about!



A Perfect Circle - Disillusioned

I rather like the new album "Eat The Elephant" from A Perfect Circle. They started by releasing three songs several months apart before revealing there was a full album forthcoming. And "Disillusioned" was the second single. The album, and this song in particular, are fairly different than what we're used to from this band, but I also don't want artists to do the same ol' thing over and over again. This album is a reflection of who they are in 2018, and it'll forever now be one of my soundtracks to this era in my life. Structurally, "Disillusioned" feels like the verse is the rockin' chorus, and the chorus drops down to a fragile, melodic verse. It's experimentation like this that excites me, and although it might not stick with you on first listen, trust me, keep listening to this song, and album, on repeat and you will develop a deep, deep appreciation for it.



Pearl Jam - Can't Deny Me

If you go way back to the beginnings of this music blog, you'll find my Nirvana Versus Pearl Jam debate. I will forever be a Nirvana guy, but I also love and appreciate that Pearl Jam is still around and making music. Not sure when the full album is coming, but this is their first single in 5 years. And it's a pretty straight forward rock tune. Looking forward to hearing more in the context of a full album, but for now, I'm happy to groove to "Can't Deny Me!"



Stone Temple Pilots - Meadow

Scott Weiland may be gone, but the guys from Stone Temple Pilots have decided to carry on. And much like Alice In Chains before them, I'm glad we continue to get new music from these artists. New singer Jeff Gutt sounds very much like Weiland, but if you strip away the tragedy behind the band and their former singer, you just have a straight forward, totally rockin' album with their 2018 self titled album. Here's the first single "Meadow," one of the many stand outs.



Belle & Sebastian - Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying

So, this is an old song, but a new discovery for me. We shot a whole bunch of new footage for ANALOG LOVE last month, and the main new segment featured me trying to help a 15 year old gal make a legitimate mix tape for her dad, as a surprise to him. (And it was!) We combed through his music library to figure out the appropriate songs to put on his mix, and she pulled this song out. I knew Belle & Sebastian, and I even had this album in my collection! But it wasn't until I heard it in the context of this mix tape that I fell absolutely head over heels in love with this song. The sentimental dork in me loves the line, "I always cry at endings." Because I do!!!

PS: Can't wait for you guys to see this scene in the doc!



Nine Inch Nails - God Break Down The Door

Finally, Nine Inch Nails have completed their ambitious 3 EP series with "Bad Witch," which dropped earlier this summer. Overall, I like all the EP's but think they play better as one consecutive album. So, do what I did - make a playlist in your iTunes, and put all three in order: Not The Actual Events, Add Violence and Bad Witch. The result sounds like what you'd expect as a proper follow up to their album "Hesitation Marks." (Which is much better than you remember!)



The Polyphonic Spree - Lithium

Once in a blue moon, I'll stumble down the rabbit hole looking to discover cover versions of my favorite songs. I'm not even sure how I found this one, but basically, I was looking for alternate versions of Nirvana's "Lithium," and low and behold, I got this Polyphonic Spree reinterpretation, which apparently appeared on the soundtrack to SUICIDE SQUAD!? It's actually a rather beautiful version of this classic tune, although I'd recommend not watching the live video floating around You Tube. The music on its own is so, so much better.



2 Cellos - Eye Of The Tiger

I love 2 Cellos! These guys are talented lunatics and more metal than most metal bands! I discovered them when I saw their video for their killer cover of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper," and now they tackle the theme to ROCKY III! (As performed by 2 cellos!)



The Pauses - Go North

If you read my last entry, you'd know a bit about the band that backed Jonah Matranga on his recent tour celebrating 20 years of FAR's "Water & Solutions." The day after the show, I randomly picked up an album by The Pauses titled "A Cautionary Tale," and fell in love with this song, the album opener. You can find even more from them on their official Bandcamp page.



Marilyn Manson - Cry Little Sister

I like Marilyn Manson, but I wouldn't call myself a big fan. I check out each album as they come out and dig them, but that's about it. However, I will say, the man is damn good at cover songs! His biggest breakout was probably "Sweet Dreams," but now he tackles the obvious theme to THE LOST BOYS "Cry Little Sister," and rocks it! He really should do a collection of all cover songs one of these days.



I don't know what I would've done without these songs and podcasts over the course of this extremely difficult year. And hey, there are a lot of terrible things happening right now, both in this country and the world. So, I consider myself very fortunate. I only hope that the power of music can help you the way it helps me.

And again, I'll try to be a more frequent contributor over here on this blog. If anything, to make some recommendations. Until next time, take care of yourself.

Oh, and if you get a chance, please go see the documentary WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? It is absolutely the type of positive influence we all need right about now. You won't be disappointed. And hopefully, you'll walk away inspired...



Sunday, June 10, 2018

Going Back To The Late 90's!


Wow. I just realized I have yet to contribute a single blog post here since 2018 began, and we're already in June!

A lot has been going on. Personally. Professionally. Creatively.

And I'll delve into all that on my next blog post, which I swear won't be 6 months from now. But these past two weekends, I got to experience two performances by two of my all time favorite musicians, and I was reminded just how magical the show going experience can be. And how music, no matter where you are in your life, can always resurface to comfort you like an old childhood friend.

First up was Jonah Matranga who performed with The Pauses last Sunday night at the Hi Hat over in Highland Park, Los Angeles. Jonah has been a part of my life for well over 20 years. First through his band FAR, one of the late 90's quintessential post-hardcore bands that came up on multiple tours with the Deftones, System Of A Down and Incubus. If FAR had stuck together for just a little longer after their second album "Water & Solutions" had made the rounds, I have no doubt they would've been just as big as those other bands I just mentioned.



However, despite not reaching massive commercial success, they were one of the most influential bands of that period, and heroes to all of the "emo" bands that came in their wake.

Back in early 1998 when FAR's "Water & Solutions" came out, I was working as a store artist at Tower Records in Carle Place, NY. I was already a huge fan having discovered their first major label release "Tin Cans With Strings To You." And so when an advance EP single called "SOON" arrived in my promo box, I was anxious to hear what the boys had cooked up next! "Mother Mary" was the song that popped out at me instantly. And I created a massive 6 foot long foam core display using the "Mother Mary" single image. You see, back in those days, all the Tower Record locations had store artists re-create the album covers out of foam core and paint. For me, it was always more exciting to do something a little different, whether it be a logo, or an image from the liner notes; just something that would excite a fellow fan if they happened to be walking the aisle of our store and see it. So, I went with the "Mother Mary" image.


The band has seen it through our local Sony rep, and I was invited (along with my best friend Steve) to go see them open for Incubus and System Of A Down at Coney Island High in Manhattan, NY. We were able to meet the band in a neighboring restaurant beforehand and they couldn't have been more humble or nice, especially Jonah. I can still vaguely remember little bits of our conversations. I was surprised to learn that Shaun (the guitarist) was the Sunny Day Real Estate fan of the bunch, a band I was convinced was a primary influence on them all. Instead, Jonah was telling me it was The Beatles that influenced him most! I remember arguing that as great as The Beatles were (and trust me, I do love them!), they weren't flawless. I noted that "The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill" on The White Album was "annoying." And he countered (or corrected me, more accurately) by saying, "yeah, but you remember the chorus, right? You can sing it right now and know all the words?" Of course, he was right.

My buddy Steve was a die-hard FAR fan, and the main reason either of us discovered the band in the first place. I'm pretty sure he had heard "Love, American Style" on some local college radio station and it inspired him to get that first album. He told Jonah that he was going to jump up on stage and sing with him, and he encouraged him by saying, "Bring it. We'll have fun."

Cut to a packed Coney Island High. Now, this was our first time seeing FAR live. We didn't know exactly what to expect, but we knew the albums and songs pretty well. Much to my surprise, they were far heavier and more rockin' and energetic than I possibly could've anticipated! They opened with "Boring Life" and launched into this synchronized head banging back and forth sway on stage when the main riff kicked in. By the time the final chorus came up, Steve launched over my head and tackled Jonah to the ground, the both of them screaming the last verse into the mic. It was truly one of the most energetic and rockin' shows I'd ever been to. Probably top 5 of my life!

(This isn't that Coney Island show, but it's got the same spirit & energy!)



Several months later, FAR were coming around on tour again, and I had convinced the local Sony rep to book a show with them on a Sunday, their day off, so they could play specifically for the Long Island scene. This was a few short years before bands like Taking Back Sunday, Brand New and Bayside broke big, but a post-hardcore scene that leaned a bit more towards emo-esque bands, rather than straight forward NYC hardcore was already a brewin', and I knew it'd be a great opportunity. Plus, I really, really, really wanted my band Pretty Polly to open the show. And that was part of the deal!



However, once the other Long Island bands of the time got wind of this, the same ones that had never invited us onto their bills, everyone wanted in on that show. By the time the gig came, there were now 5 opening acts, then FAR. And guess who got to be first? Yep. My band. At 2PM. When the venue first opened and there would, no doubt, be no one there.


Before the show, I'd chit-chatted with Jonah out back and was just catching up about how I just put my notice in at Tower Records and was trying to give this whole "band thing" a shot. He said, "hey you're still making art, right?" I noted that I was bummed to be first on the bill and that no one was going to see us, and to my surprise, just as we were about to begin, Jonah walked in, stood right in front of me, and rocked out during our entire set. I've since told him that that meant the world to me, and if I never played again in my music career, that'd be OK because one of my musical heroes 100 percent came and supported me.

I also remember that this was one of two shows with James Barbella on guitar for Pretty Polly! We flirted with having a second guitarist for a bit, and we only managed to have James on board for this gig, and a backyard birthday party show. (Whole other story.) He was in a very well regarded popular hardcore band called Soulsick. And so, it was the only show I remember other bands even being remotely nice to us. I think one of the main hardcore bookers (Christian McKnight?) helped him with my amp on stage! (But never once booked us before or after.) And the band INSIDE had finagled their way on the bill just before FAR. The singer (who I can't remember anymore, rightfully so) tried to shoo me away at the end of the night when I was tried to say goodbye to Jonah and the rest of FAR. (Naturally, no one saw it but me, but whatever dude. I'm still around. Where are you?!)

Man, being in a Long Island band in that era totally sucked and felt like high school all over again. Anyways, I digress!!!



Over the years, Jonah has continued making his own music. Sometimes in bands like New End Original, Gratitude, and most recently Camorra; other times as a solo artist or under the moniker of onelinedrawing. I recently read his autobiography Alone Rewinding: 23 Years Of Fatherhood & Music, and it was incredibly emotional for me to hear about the history behind all that music I'd listened to for the last two decades. I actually listened to his audiobook version on a long drive to see my family in Arizona, and would stop periodically to listen to the album he had just talked about. If I didn't have it, I'd buy it from his Bandcamp page and listen. It made the whole thing incredibly interactive and intimate.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of FAR's seminal album "Water & Solutions." And while the band itself couldn't find a way to get back together, which happens when people are in just different points in their personal lives, Jonah decided to celebrate anyways with a tour touted as "Jonah and Friends play Water & Solutions."

Let me cut to the chase, this show was exceptional. It wasn't totally packed but there was a healthy amount of people there. They played the whole album, but in a different order than it appears on the album, and Jonah told stories, sometimes reading straight from his book, before certain songs. I've heard these tunes a bunch with the band FAR. Having The Pauses play as his backup band & reinterpret them gave these songs a slightly different, unique and exciting energy. I mean, it was pretty rockin' to see a female bassist rocking' the F out to FAR songs. Slowly but surely, the group standing at the front of the stage started dancing around and screaming aloud. I captured a few video snippets. These days, I try my best to concentrate on the show itself rather than experiencing it through the screen of a cell phone, but I limit myself to two snippets a show during my favorite songs.

He told a funny story early on about when FAR opened for the band Monster Magnet, and how their audience hated them with a white hot ferocity. But... there were always a small group of weirdos dancing below the stage that "got it." And now, all these years later, these are all those weirdos gathered together. Strength in numbers, and a celebration of being weird. That was our audience.





About 10 years after their initial breakup, I had the opportunity to interview Jonah for my then-offshoot of Icons Of Fright.com, Icons Of Punk. (Sadly, it no longer exists, but you can read that epic chat right here on this very blog!) He totally remembered me from that Long Island show, and we later crossed paths again when I interviewed him for my upcoming documentary project ANALOG LOVE. We've kept in touch sporadically over those 20 years. After Sunday's set, I went to say hello at his merch table and he gave me a great, big gracious sweaty hug and told me how great it was to see my face in the audience. It's moments like this where no matter where you are in life, you believe in that magic of music bringing us together.

I held onto the glow from that show for a few days into the work week. Something that rarely ever happens to me these days.

Then this weekend, I got to do it all over again, in a different context. Jeremy Enigk, the singer/songwriter for the band Sunny Day Real Estate was embarking on a tour to celebrate his first solo album "Return of The Frog Queen," technically 22 years old now. It just got a fancy new re-issue, but he planned on performing this album in its entirety, with a full band, including some orchestrated instruments. And I couldn't be more thrilled!


I ended up going with my buddy, and talented director, Nick Simon. He just finished shooting a new movie, and the last time we'd gotten together to catch up and shoot the shit was at the last Jeremy Enigk solo show a year back! So it seemed only fitting.

I won't go into details of my sudden stomach problems prior to the show, or the LA Pride Parade that prevented us from finding dinner for a solid hour, or the poor choices I made in beer through out the evening. Ask me again if I see ya in person. You'll laugh at the punchline to the end of the night. Thankfully, Nick brought Tums! But the show itself...

I'd seen Jeremy perform with a full orchestra way back in 1996 when he first released this album, and it was, by far, one of the most intense periods in a performers career. I've since seen him several times over the years for other albums, and while always great, he's mellowed out a bit, and didn't freak out the F out during key points in songs, which I always found thrilling and awesome. For example, this show from Knitting Factory in NYC from 1996. Watch at the 3:27 mark!



I actually have a video that my friends and I shot from a much better angle of this very show on VHS. I'll have to dig that one out one of these days and digitize.

Anyways, this set came close to capturing that same spirit, and was truly special.

Here's a few snippets I got on my phone last night. (Again, I only allow myself 2 short clips per show.)





While not the same as actually being there and feeling the music and strings pulsing through your body, you can watch this video of his current live band performing the majority of their set below.



What is it about music from this time period of the 90's that still gets me right in the center of my heart?

Is it nostalgia? Is it just that this music was, in fact, more genuine than anything any current artist is capable of putting out into the world? Is it a reminder of a much simpler time in my life? (Which at the time, sure as hell felt complicated.)

While I understand the need to document every aspect of our lives, the one thing I do miss is the days when you didn't have a phone at a show. Granted, I'm guilty of this too. Checking my phone repeatedly before the set begins, trying to find a way to help the time pass. But last night, and at Jonah's show last week, there were several times where I just stood in place, closed my eyes, and let the music take me over as I sang along. Then when I'd open my eyes, I'd see several people around me filming the entire thing on their phones. Again, I get maybe capturing a few seconds of the night to relive later on, but the whole thing? What's the point of being there then? Watch it on You Tube later!


So, I don't know. Maybe my few snippets will inspire you to go and spend a little time with your favorite musicians. Live in the moment. Remember that this connection between artist and listener is a two way street and the energy you give them only fuels the energy they give back.

Jonah came out and played several songs as an encore, even after his bassist put her bass down on two occasions! Just felt right to do a few more. Jeremy played the entire "Frog Queen" album, and then came out and did an additional 5 songs for an encore! Much more than I'm used to, but this crowd was far more enthusiastic and vocal than the last time he came to town and played only acoustic tunes from his yet-to-be-release album Ghosts that none of us really knew.

Do yourself a favor. If you're not familiar, start with FAR's "Water and Solutions," and then explore all the incredible music Jonah has done since via his Bandcamp page. (I recommend AND.)

And for Jeremy, you can't go wrong with "Return Of The Frog Queen" (embedded below) and then find whatever you can via his Bandcamp page. You can also check out my extensive 2008 interview with him right here.



Take that journey back to the late 90's. We could use it more than ever in the present.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Get Out! My 10 Favorite Horror Movies Of 2017


I've already listed my 10 favorite non-genre films in one of my previous posts. And also, my 2017 music discoveries. I've even done the best vinyl soundtrack releases of the year! But what about the horror? Oh, the horror!

If you're a listener of the Shock Waves podcast, then you already know my top 10 horror movies of the year! But regardless, people love to see a list. And so, I'll provide that here below, but I still strongly recommend you check out Shock Waves Episode 77 embedded below first.



The obligatory preface, these are just my personal highlights of the year, mostly based on one time viewings and my experiences of seeing them. I missed out on a few titles: RAW, THE TRANSFIGURATION, IT COMES AT NIGHT, CREEP 2, JIGSAW. I'll list a few notable mentions at the end of this piece, but for now, here's my top 10!

10 - A DARK SONG


An extremely ambitious and impressive debut from writer/director Liam Gavin, A DARK SONG is a contained story with two people in one house; a determined woman and a damaged occultist attempting to perform a dangerous ritual in order for her to communicate with her dead child. But is there more going on than meets the eye? Of course there is!

9 - HAPPY DEATH DAY


It's been so long since we've had a traditional "slasher" movie play in theaters! And while this one takes a queue from GROUNDHOG DAY and puts it in a horror setting, it's an absolute blast. This is definitely catered to a much younger audience, but I still enjoyed the hell out of it, mainly because I loved the characters, in particular leads Isreal Broussard (as the innocently charming Carter Davis) and Jessica Rothe as Tree Gelbman, who begins the movie as the traditional bitchy girl and morphs into "the final girl." Plus, the killer is pretty darned cool looking. This one's just pure fun.

8 - LIFE


This one surprised me! I didn't watch it until after nabbing it during a Black Friday sale, and what struck me about it was how unpredictable and scary it was! An all star cast fronted by Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Rebecca Ferguson, this was pretty much a modernized "ALIEN" with maybe a bit of THE THING. Go in blindly, let go of all expectations, and just let yourself be swept away by this tense, paranoid thriller. (Germophobes, beware!)

7 - 1922


This was the year of Stephen King! And we got not only one, but two Netflix original movies based on his work. I knew next to nothing about 1922. I wasn't familiar with the source material, but I'm a huge Thomas Jane fan, and here, he gives an incredible performance as farmer Wilfred James, who conspires with his son to murder his wife. It's a dark drama of the Coen Brothers variety. And it's compelling and fascinating to watch how this story unfolds, especially in the aftermath of said murder! Highly recommended.

6 - ANNABELLE: CREATION


David Sandberg is two for two in terms of taking simple straight-forward scripts and elevating the material in a way that most filmmakers would be unable to do. The first ANNABELLE has its moments, but is a bit of a misstep for this shared "CONJURING universe." But ANNABELLE: CREATION is a prequel that brings it all together and ties up all loose threads. It actually retcon's the story in a way that makes the first ANNABELLE a better movie! And it's scary! A fun rollarcoaster ride that doesn't simply focus on one possessed doll, but evil demons, entities, and even a fun mention of "The Nun!" In terms of pure popcorn horror, this prequel delivers!

5 - THE BLACKCOAT'S DAUGHTER


Here's a film that myself and Elric from Shock Waves have been praising for years. I caught it at Beyond Fest under the title of FEBRUARY, and I was completely engulfed by Oz Perkins' classy, atmospheric and stunning debut. I wonder if this loses it's power on the small screen, but regardless, I'm just glad it's finally out in the world. Admirers of Ti West's work, take note. It's as if David Lynch made THE SHINING, and added a Satanic element to it. Also, Elvis Perkins' score is terrific and unsettling. You can find this one on Amazon Prime right now.

4 - IT


Probably the cultural horror event of the year, IT surpassed all expectations and was much bigger than I think any of us could've anticipated. Much like ANNABELLE: CREATION, this version is a nearly perfect studio horror film. It hits all the beats you'd expect, delivers scares like clockwork every 10 minutes, and at least in spirit, stays true to the original King novel, even if it isn't exactly all that faithful of an adaptation. I still have a soft spot for the 90's TV mini-series, but this was a great theatrical horror movie, and now I patiently wait to see how it'll all resolve itself when IT: CHAPTER 2 arrives in theaters in 2019. This is one of those rare cases where the sequel will either strengthen or weaken the impact of this first movie on repeat viewings. I have faith in director Andy Muschietti.

3 - GERALD'S GAME


Mike Flanagan proves yet again that he's our modern "Master of Horror." This time, he adapts Stephen King's novel GERALD'S GAME, often thought of as an un-adaptable King story, and does it with finesse as a Netflix original movie. The majority of the book finds Jesse handcuffed to a bed after her husband Gerald suffers a heart attack. How does one film everything that follows? Flanagan found the most logical way, and delivers easily the most cringe-inducing and horrific horror scene of any movie this year, let alone of the decade! It's not traditional King, but for those that like their horror a bit different, you should definitely watch this on Netflix ASAP. (They'll also be putting out Flanagan's long-delayed and excellent BEFORE I WAKE on January 5th, which features yet another stellar Thomas Jane performance.)

2 - THE DEVIL'S CANDY


This is a film I was fortunate enough to catch on the big screen very early in the year, and although I've only seen it once, it stuck with me and remains one of my favorite modern horror flicks. I'm talking about filmmaker Sean Bryne's sophomore feature THE DEVIL'S CANDY. Having been a fan of his first flick THE LOVED ONES, I was curious how this story revolving around an artist/metalhead, played by Ethan Embry, would play out. It's the relationship between Embry's Jesse Hellman and his wife and daughter that really make you care about these characters. They've moved into a home where the previous tenant went crazy over supposed Satanic forces. He'd block it out by playing a distorted electric guitar really, really loud. (Hence, heavy metal is the cure, in this case!) Are those same forces speaking to Jesse? Loved the hell out of this movie, and I think you will too.

1 - GET OUT


What can I say? Jordan Peele's first foray into the horror genre couldn't have come at a more perfect time. Once in a blue moon, a horror film will tap into the public subconscious and really hit a nerve, and this was that movie. Playing like an expanded TWILIGHT ZONE episode, or more accurately BLACK MIRROR, Chris (the great Daniel Kaluuya) is brought home by his new girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her family. But, things aren't as they seem, both with Rose's folks and the entire town. You've probably read plenty about this movie, so for those of you that have seen and loved it, I'll present to you a fun video of Jordan Peele answering fan theories regarding GET OUT.



Notable Mentions:

A lot of people hated THE DARK TOWER, but I've seen it twice now and on its own, I think it's a fine modern Western fairy tale with a great third act showdown between good and evil. Now, I'm not well versed in the source material; I've never read any of the books, so I can understand that people that have been invested in those for years and years would be disappointed by this adaptation, but as I mentioned earlier, I don't think IT is faithful to the novel at all. And yet, it works for most people. Hey, I like THE DARK TOWER and that's that. Take it or leave it.

SPLIT was a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan. It's always great to see how Don Mancini continues the CHILD'S PLAY franchise while still maintaining continuity! So, CULT OF CHUCKY was a wild ride. And there was a little indie flick called AARON'S BLOOD that I thought had a unique spin and told a great, modern vampire story. I recommend that one too.

I loved Guillermo del Toro's latest THE SHAPE OF WATER, but I struggled to call it a "horror" movie, and hence it's on my best of (non-genre) list instead.

If you want to see all of the Shock Waves crew's picks, one of our savvy listeners created this Letterboxd list for your convenience.

Be sure to listen, rate, and subscribe to Shock Waves on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, or direct: http://shockwaves.libsyn.com/ (We're also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram)

Here's to another horror filled year in 2018! (Hopefully just on the big screen! We've had enough real life horror to last us a while!)


UPDATE: Go in blindly, and check out BETTER WATCH OUT as well! A modern Christmas horror classic in the making. 'Nuff said!




Friday, December 22, 2017

Where's The Revolution? 2017 Music Discoveries!


As we close out yet another year, one of my favorite things to do is look back, in particular on what was going on musically. You get a good idea of the year's soundtrack (and in essence your own personal soundtrack) based on what came out that year, and which of your favorite artists have pushed new boundaries with their music. For me, hearing new, exciting things inspires, and forces me to push my own creative boundaries.

So, some of these are new discoveries. Most are new music from musicians and bands I've known and loved for years. I missed out on a few key releases here. It seems like post-September, we got bombarded with a ton of great new stuff, so it got hard to keep up! I missed the new albums from U2, The Killers, Bjork, The XX, Lorde, Quicksand, and so on. But I did enjoy the following.

ST VINCENT: Masseduction


This is probably my favorite album of the year. I honestly didn't discover St. Vincent until she was 4 albums deep (5 if you include her collaboration with David Bryne), but once I saw her perform Lithium with the remaining members of Nirvana for the Rock n' Roll Hall Of Fame, I did a deep dive into her discography and fell instantly in love. I've been anticipating new music, just like the rest of the world, since then. "Masseduction" didn't disappoint. It's a natural progression for her as an artist, and the perfect amalgamation of everything she's done before, except there's a new underlining confident sexiness to the songs. I compare it to what both Prince or David Bowie were able to exude in all of their music, and St Vincent is the heir apparent. Just listen to when her voice goes up for the chorus of the title track when she sings, "I can't turn off what turns me on."



The whole album is solid, but another standout is the first single "Los Ageless." If you haven't gotten into St. Vincent yet, you should! And you can easily start with this album and work your way backwards.



A PERFECT CIRCLE: The Doomed (Single)


It seems every few months, every music related publication posts some sort of "TOOL album coming soon" obligatory post. And that's fine, and I'd be excited to hear more TOOL music, but what about Maynard's other band A Perfect Circle? I know they did a recent tour, but I assumed they weren't officially a "band" anymore. So, when they abruptly dropped the new single "The Doomed," it was a complete pleasant surprise! The downside? It's only one track with no signs of it coming from a more elaborate full length. Will there be an album? Or was this just a one off? The upside? Because it's only one song, I listened to it on repeat several times in a row and really fell in love with it by the third or forth listen, primarily because the song structure is vastly different from your tradition "pop" or "rock" song, and it clicked with me on subsequent listens. Here's hoping 2018 gives us more from A Perfect Circle!



Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross: HALLOWEEN


When I heard news of this on the week of Friday, October 13th, I was convinced it was a practical joke. But alas, it was not! The mighty Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails reinterpreted John Carpenter's infamous theme for HALLOWEEN. The result is the below 7 plus minute mood piece that weaves in and out of what you know while sprinkling in that NIN touch. Can you imagine? Nine Inch Nails covering John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN theme? That happened in 2017. Michael Myers would be proud!



L7: Dispatch From Mar-A-Lago


Another one off single that I hope leads to more, L7 returned to the stage in these last few years picking up where they left off in the late 90's. On top of that, we also got the excellent documentary L7: PRETEND WE'RE DEAD. And surprisingly, in honor of Trump, they dropped this new song "Dispatch From Mar-A-Lago." It's like they didn't miss a beat, and it's just as rockin' and fun as any of their earlier albums. Fingers crossed we'll hear more from the gals in L7 in 2018. They deserve all the accolades in the world for rocking harder than almost every other band out there.



JEREMY ENIGK: Ghosts


Sunny Day Real Estate has been, and remains, one of my all time favorite bands. And so, I'm always curious and excited when frontman Jeremy Enigk promises new music. This actually started as a Pledge Music campaign a few years back and took all that time to push it to the finish line. The result is this lush, mellow, and beautiful batch of new songs as only Jeremy could sing and play. This came out simultaneously with a "Rarities" compilation, and if I may be candid, that collection is the album I gravitated towards more, for personal reasons. It was great to finally hear a proper demo of the track "Asleep Under Last Weeks News," which Jeremy used to play way back on his first solo tour. Early demos of "Carnival" and "Abigail Anne" are also a treat. I almost look at Ghosts and Rarities as a double album representing past and present. Both are worth picking up!



FOO FIGHTERS: Concrete & Gold


Sonic Highways, both the show and the album were released back in 2014, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that there was a new Foo Fighters record this year, but it was surprising! I didn't learn about it until a friend texted me a week or two after it was released, and so it was fun to jump on iTunes and instantly download an album I had no idea existed. At this point, the Foo Fighters tend to get a lot of shit from music "purists" (snobs), but I'll always have respect for Dave Grohl, just for the sheer body of work he consistently puts out into the world. With the Foos, you kind of know what you're going to get, and this album is a pretty solid rock record. If anything, their love of Led Zepplin (and Queen) is at its peak here, and they're channeling the rock gods across all 11 tracks. Not one of their best, but there's some great trademark Foo Fighter riffs and melodies all over this thing.



QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE: Villains


OK, so the Foo's channeled some Led Zepplin for their latest, and then the Queens Of The Stone Age came along and doubled down on that with their new album Villains, which rocks even harder! My fave track is the opener "Feet Don't Fail Me Now," but be patient, the song doesn't kick in until the 1:48 mark and when it does, the album doesn't let up! In terms of pure rock, this is one of the best of the year and just grooves and rumbles from start to finish. It's only 9 tracks and clocks in at about 48 minutes, but it packs a punch.



NINE INCH NAILS: Add Violence


Last year, Nine Inch Nails promised new music before 2016 was over, and they delivered right at the tail end of December with an EP titled "Not The Actual Events." It was intended to be the first of three EP's. And while I do like it, I'll admit to being a bit underwhelmed by those 5 tracks, and thought maybe they rushed them out to fulfill that "new music" promise. But then the second EP "Add Violence" dropped mid-summer, and the grander picture started to emerge. "Add Violence" was a bit more straight forward, traditional NIN, kicking off with the single/opening track "Less Than." But I decided to create a playlist that combined both EP's chronologically, and went back to their previous album "Hesitation Marks." (Which is better than you remember.) When you listen to the first 2 EP's together as an album, it feels and sounds like the logical next progression to "Hesitation Marks." Now I can't wait for the third EP, so we can hear the whole thing come together!



ROYAL BLOOD: How Did We Get So Dark?


Royal Blood's debut was one of my favorite discoveries of 2015. I doubt a rock song of the last decade is going to top the sheer furiosity and power of "Out Of The Black." And the rest of their self titled debut kicked just as much ass. So, with their follow up "How Did We Get So Dark?" they maintain their stature as the most epic sounding two-piece band of ever, without stepping too far outside the sound they established. I don't think this album is as strong as the first one, it's probably equally as good and delivers the same type of rock. It's just 10 solid tracks and a respectable sophomore, but I'm looking forward to what their 3rd record will sound like and if they'll deviate from the rock sound they've already perfected. Regardless, it's still great and how many bands deliver an equally great second album?



LIFE OF AGONY: A Place Where There’s No Pain


Another pleasant surprise I discovered while skimming through records at a local shop, I knew that Life Of Agony had reunited for a handful of shows across the country, now fronted by Mina Caputo (formally Keith), but I didn't realize they'd also recorded and released an album with 10 brand new tracks! Their 1993 debut "River Runs Red" is the quintessential East Coast hardcore album. And while I've loved all their albums in between, those records sound like an amalgamation of all the individual band mates influences and tastes as opposed to tapping into what made that first album so special. "A Place Where There's No Pain" sounds like the spiritual, appropriate follow up to "River Runs Red." With Mina embracing her life as a transgender person, there's even more passion behind the lyrics and vocals than ever before. And riff-wise, the album just rocks so hard.



JIMMY URINE: The Secret Cinematic Sounds Of Jimmy Urine


This is a fun and totally wacky album. Jimmy Urine, the frontman of Mindless Self Indulgence and The Left Rights, released this "solo" album "The Secret Cinematic Sounds of Jimmy Urine" which is exactly as the title implies. The opening track "Fighting With A Melody" is a trademark Jimmy Urine song with vocals, while the rest of the album is comprised of instrumental tracks to a non-existent movie. Lots of fun themes that make me long for a corresponding movie to go along with them! Worth a listen if you're looking for something a bit off-kilter and unique. Check out my personal fave track "I Want To Be Human" below!



BODY COUNT: Bloodlust


Yes. Just fuck yes. In these turbulent times, there's no one better to rage against the machine than the band that original shouted "Cop Killer" back in 1992. Ice T and crew are back with one of the fiercest metal albums of the year, "Bloodlust." "No Lives Matter" and "Black Hoodie" are the stand outs, but there's plenty to love across the 11 tracks here, including a guest appearance by Megadeth's Dave Mustaine on the opening track "Civil War" and a killer cover of Slayer's "Raining Blood." This is the epitome of the type of music we need in this post-Trump era America. "No Lives Matter" should be our freakin' anthem right now.





THE FLASH (Grant Gustin): Running Home To You


Shut up! I'm not crying! You're crying! Ah yes. I love the DC TV shows on the CW, the stand out for me being THE FLASH, and this year, they did an all musical episode showcasing Barry Allen/The Flash actor Grant Gustin's post-GLEE vocal abilities with a guest appearance by fellow GLEE alumna Melissa Benoist, SUPERGIRL herself! An EP was released on iTunes to coincide with the episode, which I bought immediately after watching it. Sure, there's something fun about The Flash and Supergirl singing a duet on an album together, but the track that pulled at my heart strings was "Running Home To You," a ballad that Barry sings to his fiance Iris West (Candice Patton) in the closing moments of that episode. Gets me every time! Damn this kid for being so ridiculous talents and for having that voice too!



DEPECHE MODE: Spirit


We got a new Depeche Mode album this year! And yet again, it came a mere few months after Trump's inauguration, and although the album was probably in the works for a while, it's hard not to see the correlation between modern politics and their first single "Where's The Revolution?" Perhaps the song was a direct result of the election and written at the tail end of recording? "Poorman" is another track that seems awfully timely. Regardless of its inspiration, the entire album has a sense of urgency and energy that comes only with the best of Depeche Mode's discs, and "Spirit" is one of their best efforts in years.



THE FUTURE IS POINTLESS: EP


Last but not least is this obscure EP from a mysterious band called THE FUTURE IS POINTLESS. My friend Will Rot directed a video clip for the band, otherwise I might have completely missed out on this rockin', blistering debut.



The above is only the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the EP is just as fierce and reminiscent of the early 2000's "nu metal," done with much more finesse, and much better than any band of that misogynist era. It's strange, mysterious, and just really, really great.



So there you have it! A lot of tunes rocked my world in 2017. Here's hoping I turned a few of you onto something new!

I'm sure there's plenty I missed or haven't gotten to yet, so tell me in the comments - what were YOUR favorite music releases of the year?



Sunday, December 17, 2017

My 10 Favorite (Non-Horror Genre) Movies Of 2017!


What's this?! A blog post that is neither music related nor horror-centric?

Well, look, it's my personal blog! I can do whatever the hell I want here!

And it dawned on me that because of my 14 year history writing exclusively for horror web publications, I've never actually cataloged my favorite non-horror movies in any sort of "end of the year" list. So, I'll be damned, I'm going to do it right here, right now!

Fair warning, if you're familiar with my general tastes either from listening to the Shock Waves podcast, or the much broader "pop culture" show I co-host with Tony Giles TWO DUDES TALKING, you'll know that my sensibilities tend to fall on the "commercial" side. Meaning, my entire list isn't going to be compromised of "art-house" fare or festival darlings or solely new foreign films. I like what I like! And really... it's just my opinion. What does anyone care about that?

But, for the select few that do care, here we go. And naturally, I missed quite a bit this year: DUNKIRK, WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, I TONYA, THREE BILLBOARDS. Anything "genre" will be in my next blog dedicated to my top 10 horror movies of 2017. (Which I already revealed in the latest episode of Shock Waves!) For now, here's my favorite 10 films that came out this year!

10 - JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND


I have a love of documentaries, especially ones that offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of movies. This Netflix original, however, I initially had a lot of trouble getting through. JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND features a new interview with Jim Carrey and never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage of the making-of MAN ON THE MOON, the Andy Kaufman bio-pic from director Milo Forman, dating about 20 years back. What we never got to see was Carrey's transformation into Andy Kaufman and his vulgar counterpart Tony Clifton. This takes "method" acting to a new level, and hence, it was really, really uncomfortable to watch some of the annoying antics Carrey put the entire cast, crew, and the nearing-a-nervous-breakdown director on set. But, it's also the incredible story of how Carrey "made it" and how even after all your dreams are fulfilled and you make 10 million dollars for a movie, the problems you had before are still there. What else is there to achieve? A fascinating look at fame, a troubled artist reflecting on the period where he was on the top of his game, and a loving tribute to the one comedian who couldn't take any of this stuff seriously.

9 - LOGAN


This was a pleasant surprise! After the success of the R rated DEADPOOL, and a few X-Men movies that I enjoyed, but that definitely started to feel a bit repetitive, I was initially nervous about this "R rated" take on Wolverine by director James Mangold with Hugh Jackman claiming this would be his final time playing the title character. And in fact, for the first 20 or so minutes, with an excessive amount of F bombs, I was convinced this wasn't going to be for me. BUT, what emerged was one of the most emotionally poignant stories about a "family," stripped down to simply Logan, Professor X (as the father figure), and Laura, an angry young mutant that shares Wolverine's abilities and rage, trying to stick it out and survive. It also has the key underpinnings of a traditional Western. When the trio end up with the Munson family in the center part of the movie, and things go South for all of them, it hurt. I genuinely cared about all these characters introduced, along with the ones I've watched on screen for 17 years now. By the end, I was, in fact, sobbing in my seat. If this truly is the last time Jackman plays Wolverine as he promises (same for Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier), they went out on such a high note. Only downside? We never got Wolverine's yellow and brown comic book costume!!!


8 - I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE


The directorial debut of actor Macon Blair premiered on Netflix as one of their originals back in February of 2017, and was one of the wildest, most unique, and at times shocking new films I saw this year. Melanie Lynskey plays Ruth, a woman who is passive about the negative things in her life up until she's burglarized. Along with her eccentric, nunchuck touting neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood), she sets about getting her stuff back and evening the scales a bit. They inadvertently get in the path of a group of deranged criminals, led by Jesus Lizard singer David Yow! The conclusion to this black comedy is absolutely bonkers and goes way beyond what you'd expect. I love Blair as an actor, but as his writing & directorial debut, I can't wait to see what other kinds of stories he has to tell!

7 - WONDER WOMAN


I love superheros. I grew up a ginormous comic book fan. I want all these comic book movies to be good, so when I critique one of the DC movies, it's not because I'm predetermined to make some sort of Marvel versus DC argument. Hell, I grew up on the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movies and Michael Keaton's BATMAN. I want all of these movies to be awesome, and I'm glad I live in a time where they're getting made! That said, it's been a rocky start for the DC cinematic universe these last few years. While I appreciate some of Zach Snyder's films, he has proven to be the absolute wrong choice for SUPERMAN and the JUSTICE LEAGUE. And I tried to watch SUICIDE SQUAD a second time when I got the 3D Blu-Ray, and just couldn't make it through it again. The entire point of these stories with superheros is to show us the best that we can be; how they can inspire us to be better. And finally, WONDER WOMAN was the movie to get that spirit 100 percent right. On top of that, it was thrilling, fun, and full of heart, not to mention filled with irresistible characters, including Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), Etta (Lucy Davis), Ewan Brenner from the TRAINSPOTTING movies, and many more. Sure, the third act fell into the usual CGI finale battle we've come to expect, but Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins delivered exactly the hero we absolutely needed this year, especially considering what's going on in the world right now.

6 - OKJA


Another Netflix original, but one I was fortunate enough to see on the big screen. I wonder if this had the same whimsical magic at home for people as it had with a sold out crowd the way I got to experience it? The New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles had a 35mm print created exclusively for their theater and programmed a full week of Joon-ho Bong's latest. (On some night's, it was paired with his other features, such as SNOWPIERCER.) The gist of the story revolves around this giant corporation, fronted by Tilda Swinton's Lucy Mirando, in which they're breeding this new animal and raising them for eventual consumption. But one of these beautiful creatures, affectionately named Okja, has formed an incredible friendship with 10 year old Mija in an isolated part of South Korea. When they take Okja back to the States, she sets out on an adventure to get her friend back, and teams up with a group of anti-animal cruelty advocates. Very much like Joon-ho's THE HOST, this film crosses a lot of genres and mixes a whole lot of tones through out, but deep down, it's got a lot of heart. The only thing that sticks out like a sore thumb for me is Jake Gyllenhaal playing reality TV survivalist Johnny Wilcox. He makes a "choice" with how to play that character, and goes for it. I just think it's the wrong choice. (And hey, I loved him in LIFE, also out this year.) Paul Dano on the other hand, and Steven Yeun absolutely shine in their respective roles as Jay and K. If you haven't seen it yet, put it on your Netflix Instant queue. And be sure to wait until after the credits for one more scene...

5 - SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING



At this point, we've now had 5 Spider-Man movies. And Spider-Man is my all time favorite comic book character. I recall seeing Sam Raimi's first film 7 or 8 times in theaters!? 4 times within the first 24 hours of release! At the time, I was just so happy that a Spider-Man movie finally existed and now look where comic book movies are at! That said, it was amazing to hear that after many years of rights entanglement, Sony had wisely made the decision to let Marvel use the character and collaborate on future movies. With 2 scenes in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, Marvel managed to return Spider-Man to all his glory and give us the best cinematic version of him yet! So what could director Jim Watts bring to the table that would be new in his next solo outing? A lot!

My favorite thing about the new Spider-Man is that almost every aspect of it was brand new and not based on some pre-existing version of the character. Nothing directly lifted from any comic books stories, or recycling characters or villains we'd already seen on the big screen. We got the mighty Michael Keaton as Andrian Toomes aka The Vulture (who isn't nearly as big a villain as Tony Stark is!), the Shocker and The Tinkerer (in minor roles, rather than the traditional over-stuffing of multiple villains), a rich, diverse cast of irresistible supporting characters (Ned Leeds, Liz Allen, Michelle). A companion in artificial intelligence Karen (aka the Spidey suit's voice) played by Jennifer Connelly. The answer to what happens when Spider-Man doesn't have buildings to swing from, and much, much more. It relies very heavily on embedding itself in the pre-established Marvel Cinematic Universe, but they pulled it off. As a die-hard Spidey fan, it managed to surprise me multiple times through out, and instantly became one of my favorite Spider-Man films. Can't wait for Tom Holland's return in THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR!

4 - BABY DRIVER



I like Edgar Wright movies, but I don't love them the way most people do. Sure, SHAUN OF THE DEAD is a horror/comedy masterpiece and among one of my all time favorites, but... SCOTT PILGRIM? Oof. So, I wasn't in too much of a rush to see his latest, filled with the usual quirky actors, great soundtrack, fast paced editing, and everything else that comes along with Wright's style. Even worse is that everyone kept telling me how much I'd love this movie, which also deterred me from seeing it sooner. But, I took advantage of a Black Friday deal, kicked back when it arrived, and made a Friday night of it. Damn those friends that kept pushing me to see it, because they were right. I loved it. It kicks off with the John Spencer Blues Explosion, so I perked up at that. And the first act played like a traditional Wright film. But then, it just takes a wonderful, surprising dark turn. And suddenly the stakes are incredibly high! And Jamie Foxx is scary as hell! And so is Jon Hamm! And the soundtrack continues to kick ass! By the end, I was taken aback by the underlining romantic story, which reminded me in spirit of TRUE ROMANCE. (With, of course, a heavy influence from Walter Hill's THE DRIVER. A masterpiece if you haven't seen it.) I'm extremely smitten by the characters that Ansel Elgort and Lily James brought to life. Go in the way I did, knowing as little as possible, and let go & enjoy!

3 - STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI



I had a really tough, stressful, long week at work. But last Thursday, with the impending holidays, things started to lighten up. We had a board game day in the office and my fellow co-workers and I enjoyed a round of MIXTAPE MASSACRE. Then, I trekked over to the Arclight Cinemas in Sherman Oaks, because low and behold, a freakin' new STAR WARS movie was out and I almost completely forgot about it with my workload. 2 and half hours later, I was all smiles. I had a good, enthusiastic audience. There were maybe 5 key moments that elicited applause. And I was so thrilled by how little I knew about the movie going in. I managed to avoid all spoilers and only had the two trailers as reference, but Rian Johnson managed to deliver one of the first STAR WARS movies that truly kept me guessing the whole way through, thoroughly entertained me, let me spend some time with characters of past and present that I love, and took me to where no other STAR WARS movie has as of yet. Basically, I'm just happy they keep making these now that I can enjoy them as an adult. I mean, Luke Skywalker!!! In a new STAR WARS movie! Then, the next morning, I was baffled by the tremendous amount of hate and negativity this film seems to have garnered. I genuinely don't know what people want out of a STAR WARS movie anymore? It's a space opera! It's entertainment. I just want to let go and forget about this incredibly toxic world we live in nowadays, and the crap that's consistently hammered at us on social media. I loved them all, but the major complaint on the last two movies were that they skewed a little too close to the original film. Now this one is too different for peoples tastes? So again, I don't know what other people want. But I know that I loved this movie. Kylo Ren has proven to be one of the most fascinating, conflicted characters of the entire saga, and I love Rey. You can read my buddy Eric Vespe's spoiler break down on the themes of the movie if you want more specifics on why I loved it as much as I did, as he sums it up better than I ever could. This was one of my favorite theatrical experiences this year. And it will one day go down as one of the best STAR WARS movies, mark my words.

2 - THE DISASTER ARTIST



I've never seen THE ROOM. I've seen enough of it via You Tube clips, and have heard enough about the bizarre and surreal cinematic experience created by the enigma known as Tommy Wiseau that I felt I didn't really need to subject myself to a movie people referred to as "so bad it's good," a term I actually despise. But, I also have a tremendous soft spot for movies about making movies. And so, James Franco literally channels Tommy Wiseau and directs a stellar adaptation of the stranger-than-fiction book THE DISASTER ARTIST. ED WOOD remains my favorite Tim Burton movie, and even to this day I haven't seen a whole lot of Ed Wood movies, so I didn't think it'd matter if I saw THE ROOM going into this one. And it didn't. This film skews that fine line of being a bit sad and depressing. Does it make fun of someone that genuinely was trying to make a great film? Or deep down, is it a heartfelt tale about two friends not letting each other give up on their dreams? Maybe it's all of that and more, but having now seen it twice, it's heart is absolutely in the right place. And Franco deserves an Oscar. OK, and maybe now I will check out THE ROOM.

1 - THE SHAPE OF WATER


Last but not least is the new movie from Guillermo del Toro, which as most people are saying (and I agree) is his best film. The screening I caught at the Arclight had a video Q & A with del Toro following the presentation and in it, the interviewer asks him when did he first get the idea for THE SHAPE OF WATER? Del Toro recounts seeing the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON for the first time on TV when he was 6 years old, and in particular the scene when the Creature is swimming in what could be considered an operatic dance with Julie Adams. In that moment, del Toro thought, "wow, I really hope they end up together!" And hence, that's what this movie is about.

It's 1962 and a lonely, mute janitor discovers that a merman is being held captive at the facility she works at, and they form a bond. Sally Hawkins is incredible as the sweet, mute Elisa. Del Toro regular Doug Jones is the creature, of course. Richard Jenkins is her neighbor Giles. And Michael Shannon plays the villainous Richard Strickland. At this point in his career, del Toro absolutely has complete command of the camera, and I couldn't help but marvel at the constant fluidity of the first 20-25 minutes or so. The whole movie just moves and flows like the adult fairytale it really is. And while I loved the majority of it, I was a bit baffled by a few bits. Things like creature sex, cat consumption, and a musical number. Sometimes I wonder if del Toro brings us to that edge, and pushes us a bit just to see what we'll accept, or what he can get away with. But those things can't deter from the fact that this is still one of the best, most unique movie experiences I've had all year.

NOTABLE MENTIONS!


Another surprising, and incredible cinematic experience this year was THOR: RAGNOROK, directed by WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS' Taika Waititi. It took the last dark and serious THOR movie, and basically threw out every major plot point as a joke in this new one. (Much like THE LAST JEDI did of THE FORCE AWAKENS, now that I think about it!) At first, I was alarmed by this tonal shift into comedic territory, but by the time the Hulk shows up in the movie, it completely won me over, and I just walked out of that movie having had a total blast. Similarly, seeing KONG: SKULL ISLAND at the beginning of this year in 3D IMAX was equally as fun a time as I've ever had at the movies. All I wanted was Kong, a giant monster, to fight other giant monsters, and I got that in spades. Plus: John C. Reilly? Samuel L. Jackson? Brie Larson? Shea Whigham? Solid cast across the board. It was just pure fun.

Now that the holiday break is almost upon us, I'm looking for a little downtime to catch up on whatever movies I may have missed, not to mention some great TV we had this year. And even more Netflix originals that just dropped!

For the curious, my previous blog post focused on my favorite horror vinyl soundtrack releases. Check that out right here!


UPDATE: With 3 days left to spare until the end of the year, I just watched writer/director Martin McDonagh's latest flick THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. And it is a masterpiece! Several years back, my roommate pushed me to watch McDonagh's first feature IN BURGES, if anything, to solidify that Colin Farrell is a pretty darned great actor and deserves a pass for everything because of IN BURGES, and I agreed. Haven't seen his second feature SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS yet, but after checking out THREE BILLBOARDS, it's shot up to the top of my Amazon Prime queue. The less you know the better, but in broad strokes, it's about a town rocked by the murder of a teenage girl, and the three billboards posted from a grieving mother asking why. Top notch performances by Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell, multiple twists and turns, and a gut-wrenching character drama, THREE BILLBOARDS is my favorite of the year.