The Un-Thankful List 2016

So it’s the week of Thanksgiving and, like the rest of the country, except for enjoying a couple days off, I’ve chosen to kind of ignore it as a topic and just do my own thing!

As someone with a wide breadth of interests I find it fascinating how many super popular trends never catch on with me.  I tend to become obsessed with anything that even slightly grabs my attention long enough for it to become a “hobby” (of which I have far too many), but often the biggest or most prevalent of trends, or at least the ones everyone I know seems to be in to for extended periods of time, always turn out to be anti-interesting to me.  So in lieu of being thankful in a post, I thought I’d share a few of the most popular trends I can think of that I simply just don’t get…  If you like any of these things no strike against you!  Like Jim Sterling always says, I wish I could too because being able to enjoy more things would only improve life.  But here’s this year’s list:

  • Pokemon: This one has been around forever and from day dot I never understood the appeal. Gathering Tamagotchi, training them, then battling them is something that just makes me scratch my head as to why it’s popular. Plus it all seems like rock-paper-scissors while you try to increase numbers so your numbers are better than your opponent’s numbers.  It’s also so nakedly commercial even as mercenary as I am I can’t see past it…  Definitely not for me.

  • Game of Thrones: My sister bade me watch this show when it was early in its second season. I watched the first four episodes of season one and gave up on it.  R rated fantasy soap opera designed to shock you in the same way The Walking Dead did with the “no one is safe” philosophy.  I’m not actually shocked by anyone who died because I don’t care about any of them.

  • Internet Overreaction: Wow has this gotten out of control.  Every rumor, every bit of news, every story snippet is met with a wall of people who bitch endlessly.  Now I’m firmly in the Anti-Ghostbusters remake camp, but the internet reaction was ludicrous.  Pro people acting like a movie represented an entire social movement; anti people acting like a film was destroying all pop history.  In the end it’s just a mediocre comedy.  Any time Games Workshop brings out news it’s declared “the worst thing ever.”  Film casting is the end of the world.  The internet is like a herd of retarded gazelles; they panic at the slightest alarm but all run staggering in chaotic directions.

  • Dubstep: This one has faded into the general EDM noise, but it all still sounds like Sega Genesis music to me. This kind of music just makes me think I need to gain a few extra lives in Streets of Rage.

  • Anime: For a period of three or four years I was all about anime.  I watched tons of it and then…well I’d kind of seen enough.  I still love a few, Rurouni Kenshin, Full Metal Panic, You’re Under Arrest, Love Hina…  But so much of it is so…well poorly written while at the same time being so self-indulgently proud of itself I kind of lost all interest in it.  And the way it has worked itself into all kinds of art and media has turned so many creative ideas into a gray hegemony of anime style.  And wow can these writers really not end a story to save their lives…

  • Beards: I honestly don’t know why this has become the guy fashion trend of the 2010s or who started it. It’s almost like all guys who think it’s too “girly” to spend a lot of time on their hair decided they would grow beards instead and spending time working on their beards would be more “manly.”  Then most of them spend a lot of time on their hair too.  An entire cottage industry of shaving paraphernalia has sprung up around it.  It’s like any fashion trend it’ll pass eventually but it is still essentially just doing your hair guys…

  • Online Multiplayer: We all have been online at some point and watched people interact. It is, with possible exception of sitting in traffic, the worst of humanity on display for all to see.  So why not put a competitive element in it as well?  MMORPGs, First Person Shooters, the new MOBAs that are taking over.  I can’t imagine a more aggravating way to spend hours of my life than dealing with virtual people behaving anonymously for competition.

  • Beverage Obsession: This has gone on a long time…but with the prevalence of hispters in the world it’s only gotten worse. Designer coffees, craft beers (I hate that term), wine culture, I’ll never understand spending ungodly amounts of money on things to drink; it just seems so unusual.  I mean there are so many books and Warhammer models to buy, am I right?

  • Ninten-culture: For some reason Mario and the Legend of Zelda get a world’s free pass as cultural icons. When I was at DragonCon you couldn’t move through the vendor hall without face-planting into some kind of Mario or LoZ  I know a lot of it is my generation grew up with it and now we buy products that remind us of our youths…but retro gaming, and hell even Nintendo, was a lot more than two franchises.  No love for Double Dragon, or Dragon Warrior (Quest)?  Where is all the Atari or classic arcade based merchandise (not counting YOU Pixels…)?  Sure love the two retro-giant franchises but not at the expense of the rest.

  • Device Fixation: Did you get the new iPhone? Or see it? Or bitch about what features it has/doesn’t have?  Yeah I didn’t.  I’ve been asked several times “what phone do you have?” and/or “When will you get the new one?”  My response usually is “A Samsung Galaxy something” and “Whenever this one breaks…”  The amount of time people spend staring at little screens is also astounding.  They’re great tools.  I use mine for social media (I take lots of cat pictures), communication, and workout regimens, but to see the number of people with two headphones in everywhere (even in their cars which I’m pretty sure is illegal) or see how many people are constantly staring down at whatever is on their handheld glowing screen at the moment remains a culture shock.  Karl Pilkington said it best, it’s not about people wanting more information or music than ever before, it’s all about having the accessory.  Sing-it Pilkie01.

So that’s my gripe list for the year.  Yeah some of these are probably repeats but it just goes to show how long a lot of these trends have been lingering.  It’ll be interesting to see if any of these finally die off in the new year…or how many will appear on next year’s list!

Doom (2016) – A Return to Form

I would say the game I spent the most time on as a kid was id Software’s Doom.  I played it on 32x, I played it as Shareware (yes, kiddies this was a thing) on my hard-drive-less PC (yes that was a thing too), and I played it on my regular PC when graphics hardware wasn’t even a thing and the most important aspect of getting a game to work was ensuring your SoundBlaster was functioning.

I spent hours on Doom and the best game sequel ever, Doom 2.  After beating both games I spent hours in god-mode just running around blasting monsters.  I’d write my own narratives and, because the player avatar really didn’t have his own personality, I could pretend to be anything as I went from level to level stomping demons.

I never got into Doom 3 but I did very much enjoy Bethesda’s Wolfenstein: New Order and Old Blood.  When I heard they were releasing their version of the venerable first person horror shooter I was excited but tentative.  I couldn’t get into the grim joylessness of the franchise’s third entry and capturing the free-roaming fun of the 90s originals seemed like a tall order in the modern era.

I finally got Bethesda’s Doom (2016) in October and…I love it.  It is as close to Doom as I think we’ll get without just getting graphically overhauled versions of the original games (which I would be for).  How does Bethesda get it right?

Finding an updated take on the classic Doom Marine Armor is incredibly exciting.
Finding an updated take on the classic Doom Marine Armor is incredibly exciting.
  • Mood: Original Doom was fun. It had some brutal imagery and scary moments but it was really a power fantasy.  Your Doom marine could take on hordes of undead monsters and massive demons with a chaingun and a rocket launcher and come through with just gritted teeth and maybe a bloody nose.  The narrative, which was there despite what some critics believe, took place in text crawls between chapters.  This game has a far more “Bethesda” story, which is to say it’s involved and excellent.  But you don’t have to pay attention to any of it.  This incarnation of the Doom marine certainly doesn’t.  The tone is just as power fantasy and irreverent as the original games; except here you can literally rip off demons’ arms and beat them to death with them or shove a mancubus’ explosive cells down his throat.  It’s all done with cartoonish hyper-violence and humor.  It’s brutal and violent but in more like a bloody looney tunes episode than Call of Duty.
I know and Imp, Revenant, and Cacodemon when I see them!
I know and Imp, Revenant, and Cacodemon when I see them!
  • Design: One of the problems I had with Doom 3 was the design. It felt more like Aliens and later Dead Space than Doom.  Everything was dark and cramped.  The monsters just vaguely resembled their origin creatures.  In Doom (2016) as soon as each monster appears Doom veterans will identify them.  Imps, Pinkies, Cacodemons, and Barons of Hell all resemble the original game enough that you get excited when you first see them.  Even the guns, the super-shotgun, the chaingun, the plasma rifle, all show their 90s origins.

  • Game Play: The most important aspect of any game and the one that concerned me the most about new Doom. But it got it right.  Of course it’s updated but the elements are there but you never reload your weapons; if you have 300 shots you can shoot 300 shots.  You don’t hide behind walls to heal; you brutally execute demons or find health power ups to heal.  The camera doesn’t wobble around like a drunk camera operator is in control of your character; it’s static and the gun moves when you run.  It feels like an old school shooter in a modern wrapper.  Brighter colors, faster pace, but with all the junk that clutters modern games stripped out.  The junk that makes them more “realistic” and less fun.

I can’t recommend Doom (2016) highly enough.  It’s a terrifically fun game and is a blast from the past for classic shooter fans.

One footnote, the music is TERRIFIC!

HalloWarhammer: Horror in the World of Warhammer 40k

So as most know I’m a huge fan of Games Workshop’s fictional world.  One of the best aspects of this world is it can essentially house every kind of genre imaginable.  There are Ciaphas Cain comedies, Ultramarine traditional war stories, Last Chancers underdog guerilla stories, and even a few romances thrown in for good measure.

One genre that really lends itself to the world of daemons, monsters, and heroes is horror.  The Warhammer world has its fair share of horror stories (if you go into Fantasy Battles that’s even more true what with vampires, zombies, and Hammer Horror atmosphere everywhere) but I thought I’d share a couple of my favorites!

Old Soldiers Never Die (Sandy Mitchell) – Ciaphas Cain and his Valhallan 597th end up on the planet of Lentonia to assist in the quashing of a recent rebellion.  During their time there a host of plague zombies arise and the put-upon commissar is forced to deal with a near spot-on Romero zombie uprising and a chaos cult.  Even driving his command vehicle through the streets running them down.  It’s a great little story and a perfect Halloween zombie fix for fans of 40k and the hero of the imperium.  For even more Ciaphas Cain zombie fun also check out Dead in the Water, a great audio drama about Cain on his own Apocalypse Now adventure.

Waiting Death (Steve Lyons) – The galaxy’s quintessential tough-guy Colonel “Iron Hand” Straken and his Catachans are stationed on Borealis Four.  During a long march his unit stumbles across a mysterious village where the regiment comes under siege by shadowy monsters who appear from nowhere, assault the wily jungle fighters, and vanish again.  The description of the monsters is horrific and the tension voiced marvelously by Toby Longworth causes a wonderfully suspenseful narrative.  It has a bit of a twist to it and the final monster is downright frightening.  Not really “gothic” horror as such but its reminiscent of 80s action horror.

Alone (Joe Parrino) – This is the one that inspired me to write this article.  Raven Guard Librarian Ithkos Jevel is lost on his own in an abandoned imperial ship.  As he attempts to contact his battle brothers he is accosted by a presence who mocks him over the vox.  The voice acting by Gareth Armstrong, Robin Bowerman, and Jonathan Keeble is amazing.  Especially the eerie, shrill voice of the mocking daemonic presence that continuously torments Ithkos during his journey down the dark corridors, often imitating the voice of one of Ithkos’ fallen comrades.  Especially the evil reading of the line “You walk in dark places!”  The imagery provided in the audio drama is equally frightening.  The lifeless eyes of statuary truly has the feel of an Exorcist or Omen film.  One scene in particular stays with me as true horror.  One of the statues of saints comes to life and assaults Ithkos.  The statue described as moving in a horrific, spider-like manner reminds me of something out of Silent Hill.  This audio drama more than any of the others makes me realize just how effective horror radio shows must have been during the heyday of the serial radio program.  If you’re looking for something thematic to paint or build your armies this season it doesn’t get much better than this!

psych tuesday 17th

Psych Tuesday the 17th: Must Watch Halloween 2016

Psych’s Tuesday the 17th ranks in my top three, if not No. 1, in my favorite Psych episodes. It’s the perfect mix of horror/comedy and has some of the most memorable scenes from any episode. Also, anyone who enjoys the Friday the 13th series will enjoy it, as audiences can see the Psych crew loves the series just as much. So much so that James Roday was interviewed in His Name Was Jason, the documentary that spans the 30-year franchise.

For those reasons and many more, I’ve picked Tuesday the 13th as the must watch for this Halloween. Here’s why:

Friday the 13th – Psych Style

As a fan of the earlier Friday the 13th movies, I was beyond excited when Psych released the trailer for their Tuesday the 17th episode, which aired on Friday the 13. Imagine … Camp Tikihama (Camp Crystal Lake, Camp Blood), with stereotyped counselors, a creepy old guy, and Shawn and Gus.

I won’t go into much detail because I don’t want to ruin anything, but the Psych crew did an amazing job with this episode. The first half is the set-up, packed full of comedy and suspense as everyone looks for a missing counselor, Annie. You may recognize the name as the optimistic counselor from the original who’s hitchhiking her way to camp. Then the twist happens, and the second half goes much darker. Even though it goes dark, it never loses its Psych sense of humor.

Homage to Friday the 13th

Tuesday the 17th pays homage to the first two films. And the show references the movies throughout the entire process. Here are just a few examples:

  • It’s shot in classic 80s style atmosphere. Usually, Psych episodes are bright and crystal clear, but not this one. It’s a little fuzzy with smart use of lighting, playing on light vs. dark. Psych actually does this much better than most horror movies that have been released in the last 10 years.
  • The entire episode takes place at the camp in the woods.
  • The group plays a game of strip cribbage, similar to the strip Monopoly in the original movie.
  • Erwin. The creepy old janitor who yells, “You’re all doomed,” which is a throwback to the second movie.
  • There is a Jason. No spoilers!
    They reference the movie and the fact that they’re in a slasher-movie scenario. There is indeed a killer on the loose, and he’s wearing a potato sack.

Role Reversal

The audience immediately knows this episode will be different because Shawn and Gus switch roles. From the beginning, Shawn is skeptical of the entire situation, while Gus shows no fear. Any Psych fan knows Gus is not fearless and runs from danger, so it’s nice to see him in a more fearless role, and he is hilarious.

Lassie’s Side Plot

Psych often had a couple of plots in each episode, ensuring the show never got too silly or too dramatic and the audience never got bored. When not at Camp Tikihama, the audience is with Lassiter during a very important life change. As it happens, you’re a little thrown off, but it’s huge in Lassiter’s character development. Each subplot scene lasts only a couple of minutes, and by the end, you know nothing will be the same … for anyone.

Rewatch Value

When this episode premiered in 2009, I was still recording on DVD. This was before the wonderful DVR was available. The night it premiered, I fell in love. I watched it twice that night, then several times over the weekend, and I’ve seen it a hundred times since. It’s that good.

It pairs well with the Friday the 13th traditions of watching the movies on every Friday the 13th, as you can watch Psych the following Tuesday on the 17th. I also recommend watching Friday the 13th 1 and 2, then watching Psych to get all the references.

If you love horror and horror/comedy, this show is a must. Also, I you’ve never seen the show, then watch this one episode. Tuesday the 17th is Psych doing everything the cast and crew loves to do: Have fun and keep the audience entertained while paying homage to a horror classic.

We hope you enjoy it and have a happy Halloween!

A quick note to Netflix fans: Netflix has announced it will remove Psych on November 1, so this Halloween may be your last chance to see it there.

Fallen: Underrated Horror at its Finest

When a list of great modern horror films is made the 1998 supernatural thriller Fallen never seems to make the cut.  This is a serious shame because Fallen has a sophistication and concept lacking in most modern horror films.

Starring Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Donald Sutherland, and with a terrific cameo by Elias Koteas, Fallen tells the tale of detective John Hobbes.  Its introduction follows one of Akira Kurosawa’s best pieces of advice.  Kurosawa once stated that all samurai movies start the same, a rider gallops up to a watchtower and shouts a greeting and a guard in the tower shouts back; a scene immediately followed by set up dialogue.  Kurosawa said to add dynamism, he wanted to start at the guard’s response.  Immediately immersing the audience in the world and story.  Fallen does this wonderfully.  As the film begins we see Hobbes (Washington) speaking with a serial killer he has caught, Edgar Reese (Koteas) on the day of his execution.  Reese makes statements, speaks unusual languages, and seems surprisingly cocky for a man about to meet his end.  All while terrific moody narration from Washington enhances the scene.

Koteas is terrific as Reese
Koteas is terrific as Reese

It all sounds like typical police procedural story telling until Reese is executed and we see in first person POV his spirit leave the dead body and take residence in a new one…setting up the true narrative, a demon, Azazel, that can possess bodies via touch, continuing his murderous ways.

As the narrative continues we follow Hobbes as elements from the Reese case begin to appear in new cases, and he pieces together than there is something going on beyond just a normal crime.

The film is absolutely filled with amazing performances and memorable scenes.  Washington and Goodman as terrific as always, truly selling their decades long partnership effortlessly.  Hobbes’ brother and nephew bring additional dimensions to the character and further explain without boring exposition why Azazel’s selected Hobbes as a target.

Washington and Goodman both bring their A game to this movie and are 100% believable as long-time police partners.
Washington and Goodman both bring their A game to this movie and are 100% believable as long-time police partners.

Azazel’s string of victims is also impressive, as each pick up the mannerisms exhibited by Koteas in the opening scene, always being believable as the same character inhabiting different bodies.  Not only is the character always the same, but each one of his victims sings or whistles The Rolling Stones’ “Time is on My Side,” a perfect song given ominous subtext by the crafty demon.

My favorite scene involves the character Gretta Milano (Embeth Davidtz) is being stalked by Azazel.  She flees through a crowd and Azazel chases her by touching successive members of the crowd each one closer and closer to her.  It’s a tense and extremely creative chase scene.

The ending also has a legitimate twist.  Not an M. Night Shayamalan twist, but a legitimate one that you is wonderfully executed (except for one piece of early narration that doesn’t quite fit).  I won’t spoil it here but it alone makes the film worth watching.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend Fallen, especially during the Halloween season.  Watching it now you can see where subsequent films and TV shows took some of their ideas (Supernatual’s entire founding story is very similar to Fallen with the demon even sharing the same name)  It’s not your typical dumb slasher movie and at times runs a bit slow, but the care it took to craft its world and story is remarkable and it is by far one of the best supernatural thrillers I’ve seen.

From Dusk Till Dawn Puts the Bite Back in Vamps

Photo: IMP Awards
Photo: IMP Awards

Some wouldn’t consider From Dusk Till Dawn a horror movie, but I’m not one of them. IMDB has it listed as “action, crime, fantasy,” which makes it sound like a mob movie with dragons. However, From Dusk Till Dawn contains several horror movie elements, and some scenes are quite scary.

The movie ranks pretty high in my favorite vampire movies list. It premiered in an era with so many awesome movies, known as the 90s, when other vampire movies were celebrating the beauty and sexiness of the vamp culture. Think Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and Interview With a Vampire (1994). However, From Dusk Till Dawn brings the monster element back. Let’s dig in. (Contains spoilers.)

Quentin Tarantino’s Character

I love Tarantino movies, so the fact that he co-wrote and co-stared in From Dusk Till Dawn automatically wins in my book. But what makes this so special is his character, a horrifying human being with no soul.

Tarantino (Richie) and his brother (Seth), played by George Clooney, seek refuge in Mexico after committing a violent crime and take several hostages in the process.

From the opening scene, you realize Richie is insane and possibly a psychopath. He is paranoid, has no problem killing, and leers at every woman who crosses his path. And not in the ‘I hate women’ way but in the ‘I’m going to rape and kill you way’. You realize if his brother wasn’t supervising, Richie would be one of the most dangerous serial killers in the world.

I love this element because as you watch the movie, you never feel safe. You actually fear for poor Juliette Lewis (Kate) because you know they are one bathroom break away from a disaster. Tarantino plays a creepy murdering/rapist so well, he absolutely steals the spotlight from Clooney and Harvey Keitel and makes the audience very nervous through the first half of the movie.

Vampires!

Killers and crime aside, From Dusk Till Dawn is at its core a vampire movie. The group eventually makes it to Mexico and stops at late-night bar that’s rowdy and packed … packed full of vampires.

At first watch, you’re not sure where the movie is going because you know it’s not going to be that easy. Once they arrive, the audience can sit back, enjoy the music, get into the party atmosphere, and get lost in a very seductive dance by Salma Hayek. And then all hell breaks loose.

When the people change, these vamps are anything but pretty. They are vicious monsters that hunt and kill, and when it all goes down, you know they have been here a long, long time. I also enjoy that the audience can clearly see how Rodriguez and Tarantino pay homage to the lore and look of vampires. These monsters come in all shapes and sizes, and resemble bats, wolves, and zombies, all honoring some of the best things about the genre, makeup and costumes. Some are scary, some are funny, some are gross, and they all know how to do gore.

Scare Factor

Is From Dusk Till Dawn scary? Maybe to some. If being isolated in the Mexico desert with robbers, killers and vampires scares you, then yes. Vampire movies don’t scare me, but I find them very entertaining and they are some of my favorite horror movies to rewatch.

From Dusk Till Dawn is different because it’s also action-packed and funny (if you like Rodriguez and Tarantino humor) and makes sure the audience has a good time. You won’t have long intimate conversations about the vampire curse or romantic love twists. From Dusk Till Dawn keeps your heart racing and your tickle bone happy.