Monday, April 28, 2014

Guest Post For a Friend

Here's a guest post I did for a friend that went live today. You can find it here.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

My Top Ten Favorite Albums of the 90s

Being born in 1983 technically makes me an 80s baby, but I've always pledged more allegiance to the 90s than the 80s since I remember that decade clearer. And one thing I will always remember was the great music from that era. Sure, the 80s had its own distinct sound, as did every preceding decade before it. But there's just something about the edgy, almost nihilistic music of the 90s that just does it for me. There are SO many great albums from that period, that it was hard picking out my ten personal favorites, but these were the albums that influenced me the most growing up. Have you heard all ten of these masterpieces?

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10. Flood by They Might Be Giants

Just making it as a 90s album as it was released in January of 1990, Flood was the album that introduced me to TMBG. Like many young people, I first heard the album on Tiny Toon Adventures, where they played a great deal of the songs and made sort of music videos to accompany them. A classic, bizarre, and wonderful album. I listened to it on repeat as a child at my aunt's house. May she rest her soul.

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9. Illmatic by Nas

I still love rap music to a certain extent, but I definitely went through a rap phase. And while I listened to a lot of garbage in that period, Illmatic still holds up today. Nas' debut album encapsulates the sound of an MC too hungry to stay quiet any longer. Every last track on this relatively short album is a winner, and none of the tracks feel unnecessary. It ain't hard to tell that this album is a classic.

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8. Evil Empire by Rage Against the Machine

Few albums rocked me as hard as this one did back in the 90s. From its buzzsaw riff on the opening track, "People of the Sun" to its heavy snare drums and thunderous bass line on every single track on the album, it's a hard album to beat. But the best part was Zack de la Rocha's political, searing lyrics, which were a step up from the band's self-titled debut album. Because "we're rollin' down Rodeo with a shotgun, therepeopleain'tseena, brown skin man since they're grandparents bought one." Best line ever.

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7. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins

This double album was a monster hit. Between the stylistic videos ("Tonight Tonight" being the grandest), the varied tracks, and the overall vibe of the record, this is the Smashing Pumpkins' at their greatest. It never got any better than this album for the group, and not too long afterward, they fell apart and reshaped to form Zwan. The less said about that group the better.

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6. 311 by 311

While not the greatest album ever made, this was the album that got me into the band. And for anybody who knew me back in the 90s, I was DEEPLY in love with 311. Deeply. "Down" was the video that did it for me. This was the first group I ever heard rap and rock work so effectively together. Soon afterward, a whole lot of other rap/rock groups starting forming, with only 311 really doing it well. The two albums before this one (Music and Grassroots were really great, too). It kind of went downhill after this one for the band. They would never reach this kind of wild popularity again.

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5. Pinkerton by Weezer

Some prefer the Blue album, and that's a great one, too. But for me, Pinkerton is it. Seen as a failure when it was first released, it is the quintessential emotional album (I hate the term "emo".) River Cuomo was in a pretty fragile state when he put the songs together, and it shows. You can feel his thumping heart on every song, and they're all really catchy, too. This will always be the last, truly great Weezer album, which is a shame, given it was only their second.

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4. Enter the 36 Chambers by The Wu-Tang Clan

Believe you me, there are plenty of rap albums I bemoan not putting on this list (Aquemini, Ready to Die, The Chronic, Only Buily 4 Cuban Linx, etc). But if I were to encapsulate all of those great albums into the one that truly got me into rap music, it would have to be Enter the 36 Chambers by the Wu-tang Clan. It was gritty, it was raw, and it sounded like it was recorded in somebody's basement (Which I believe it was). Not all of the tracks are great, and there are a lot of better Wu-Tang albums (Supreme Clientele comes to mind, as does Liquid Swords), but this was the album that truly got me into the group. You best protect your neck, son!

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3. Purple by Stone Temple Pilots

I honestly don't know why this album is called Purple, given that I don't ever remember seeing the word "Purple" on the cassette I had, but whatever. This is STP's best album. And besides 311, STP was probably my favorite group back in the 90s. I did love their debut album, Core, but it all had the same kind of grungy sound. Purple let the group spread their legs a bit more, while still retaining that signature, husky sound of theirs. It was the perfect medium, as I think their follow-up album, Tiny Music...Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop was a bit too expansive and odd for its own good. Purple was perfect. It was the second album...with 12 gracious listen.

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2. Nevermind by Nirvana

Yeah, I know. I'm sorry it's so predictable, but Nevermind truly was the greatest album of the 90s (Though, not my favorite). I can't stand "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but the rest of the album is solid gold. If there were only one Nirvana album that one would have to listen to to get a sense of what they were all about, this is the one. Angst-ridden, angry, poetic, hard, and catchy, let's not forget catchy. I wore out my Walkman listening to this gem so many times. A pure masterpiece of the most astounding kind.

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1. Pony Express Record by Shudder to Think

Okay, even I must admit that I'm cheating a little bit here, as I never heard this album back in the 90s, even though I heard of the band because of Beavis and Butt-Head, where they actually made fun of one of their videos (Even though I actually liked the song they were mocking). That said, once hearing this masterpiece, I can undoubtedly say that I would have adored such a dark and haunting album back then, just as much as I love it now. And given that you've never even heard of this group before, I think you should take it upon yourself to try and track this album down. It's very difficult to find, but it's worth it. It's a masterpiece of sonic brilliance. Probably the most underappreciated album of the 90s. I'm not kidding.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Professor X Has Fart Propulsion in Latest X-Men Poster

I swear, why can't they make decent posters for X-Men movies these days? First, we got that horrible, face in the crotch poster for X-Men: First Class

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And now, we have this hideous joke of a poster.

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Granted, not all of the poster is a disaster, but, c'mon! Look at Professor X at the bottom. It looks like he has fart propulsion. I mean, why couldn't they just show his wheelchair? Why did they have to position him over a fireball like that, making him look like he regrets going to Taco Bell last night? I mean, what the hell were they thinking? Was this a joke? I can't see them doing this by accident, as they purposely took away his wheelchair. So my only conclusion is that this must be a joke. They honestly put Sir Patrick Stewart in a position where he's shooting up into the air by his ass while Sentinels fly in and Wolverine does his best romance cover impression. I mean, my God. Who did they think Professor X is? Gamera?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: The Gunsmith: Andersonville Vengeance

Andersonville Vengeance (The Gunsmith Giant, #15)Andersonville Vengeance by J.R. Roberts
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is the second Gunsmith book I've read, and man, is it a stinker. While the first one I read was decent, now that I've read a second book in the series, I think it will be my last. The book is a "Gunsmith Giant Novel," but all that really means is that even more time is wasted with dead ends and little payoff. Plus, the writing is poor, the sex scenes are terrible, and for a western, there really isn't that much action at all. I hate the characters and I hate the series. Don't even bother reading them.

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Review: Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the WestBlood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blood Meridian is probably the most horrific and terrifying novel I've ever read, and made even more so by the fact that most of it really happened. The story, which has the subheader: "The Evening Redness in the West," should really be called, "White People Acting Terribly to Others," because that's what it basically is. The plot concerns a group of horrible individuals scalping Native Americans for profit, which really happened. The cast of characters are mixed with real, historical figures, like Judge Holden, and characters who may or may not be fictional, like the protagonist of the story (If you really want to call him that) "The Kid."

One of the things that makes this book such a masterpiece is the way it's written. I have never read a book with so many stylistic risks that actually worked. There are a multitude of characters who all have speaking parts, and there are no quotation marks or punctuation besides periods and scant commas whatsoever. Even so, you fall into a sort of hypnotic spell seeing the sprawling page so barren of any clues as to what's going on. It's almost like you're being read a bedtime story and piecing it altogether in your head. It's magnificent.

The other thing that makes this sickening book a masterpiece is the overall scale of it. I've heard many compare this book to Moby Dick, and for good reason. The madness, the journey, and the sheer breadth are all there. But that's where the similarities to the two books end, as Blood Meridian is a sickening novel. Bloodshed and violence are sprayed over almost every page, and it's the most horrific story you will ever read. At times, it made me sick. None of the characters are likeable, and all of them do terrible things to others and also one another. It's an elusive story where you're not supposed to be happy or care for the characters. You're just meant to sit and read and watch, and I've read very few books that can be of that nature and still entirely captivating at the same time. Fear the Judge.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review: The Gunsmith (The Last Trail Ride)

The Last Trail Drive (The Gunsmith, #342)The Last Trail Drive by J.R. Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was good enough. Having never read a Western, besides Shane, of course, I didn't know what to expect with this book. What I got was some cheesy romance, a bland protagonist, and a lot of the tropes that come with westerns. Still, it was a fast read, and it seemed to be from the three pages a chapter, James Patterson school of reading, so it had that going for it. I might read a few more in the series (This was book 342!) when I have the time. It wasn't bad.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: We Are What We Pretend To Be

We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last WorksWe Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Being a Kurt Vonnegut fanatic who has read every work of fiction by the author (Or so I think), I was super psyched to get my hands on my favorite author's first and last works, both unpublished. Well, after reading the two stories, the best word I have for the book is "uneven," which is to be expected since neither story was ever published. I can say this--his first work, which preceded Player Piano, "Basic Training" is much better than his last work, "If God Were Alive Today," which was part of an unfinished novel. "Basic Training" concerns a young man who becomes a farmhand on his uncle's farm, and while that may seem boring, the story is actually quite brilliant. "The General" is a fun character in the story, as he's part John Wayne, part Patton. Quite frankly, I loved it.

I wish I could say the same for "If God Were Alive Today," but I just can't. It's a jumbled mess. The story is about a comedian who...well, I don't know. Most of it is just rambling and bad jokes. I'm sure if it was worked on and hammered out more, it would probably be a good, and even funny novel. But as it stands, it's a colossal misfire that I wish I never read at all, as it does nothing to further Vonnegut's career in my eyes. What is interesting though is the glimpse we get into Vonnegut's writing process. With this unfinished story, we get a sense of just how Vonnegut pieced together his stories. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Vonnegut is spinning in his grave now that we're able to see such an unedited piece of Doggerel.

All the same, if you're a completist like myself, then you have to read this book. Now, if only I could get myself to read "Letters," which is just what it sounds like, a series of letters written by Vonnegut and others, I would have read EVERYTHING by the author. But it's just so boring, and I'm not sure that if even I, a devout Vonnegut reader, can get through it. Ay, caramba! What a cash-in.

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ten Comic Book Characters Actually Done RIGHT In the Movies

I'm sorry, but Hugh Jackman sucks as Wolverine. He always has, and he always will. Besides being WAY TOO TALL (Wolverine is only a slight 5'3), he doesn't have the bottled up rage that makes everybody's favorite 'ol Canucklehead such a fan favorite. He's just kind of bleh. But you know who's not bleh? These next ten picks. Rookie.

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10. Michael Chiklis as The Thing

Both fairly recent Fantastic Four movies were abominations, but the one thing the flicks got right was Ben Grimm, otherwise known as The Thing. The costume was great (for the time), and the acting and mannerisms were spot on. You really felt for the big guy, and that really says something when the rest of the movie was a flaming train wreck.

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9. Ray Stevenson as The Punisher

Here's another case of the movie being trash around an otherwise excellent performance. Out of the three (!) Punisher movies, Ray Stevenson has hewed the closest to the tough as nails, no remorse/no regrets killer, Frank Castle. He shoots people in the face with a shotgun and calls it justice. Now that's badass.

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8. Michael Keaton as Batman

Props to Christian Bale for making Batman dark and intimidating again, but the dude makes for a subpar Bruce Wayne. Michael Keaton, on the other hand, made for an excellent Batman and an even BETTER Bruce Wayne. Honestly, it's a dual role that only Michael Keaton has only truly pulled off. All others have been mediocre at best.

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7. Patrick Stewart as Professor X

If not for his portrayal as Captain Jean Luc Picard of the U.S.S. Enterprise, I'd say Professor X was the role Patrick Stewart was born to play. Besides the bald pate, Stewat brings gravitas to a role that truly deserves it. He takes his shit seriously, and he's the strongest part about the whole franchise. Magneto be damned!

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6. Ron Perlman as Hellboy

Both funny and a total tough guy, Ron Perlman was perfect for the role as Hellboy. He even kind of looks like him even without the red makeup and the trimmed down horns. Still hoping for another sequel.

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5. Mickey Rourke as Marv

Another tough as nails character, Mickey Rourke made for the perfect Marv. With his beaten up face, gruff personality, and fists used for smashing people's faces in, you truly believed Rourke. In fact, this may have been the role that reinvigorated his career, so he's got that going for him.

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4. Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach

Personally, I wasn't a huge fan of Zack Snyder's Watchmen movie, but Jackie Earle Haley shined as Rorshchach, especially when the mask came off in the prison scenes. Those would be the hardest to pull off, but Haley truly made the diminutive man a real terror. If I ever see him in a line to get food, the last thing I want to do is piss him off.

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3. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man

Though we never actually saw him get drunk and become a raging alcoholic like in the comics (Which would have actually been perfect given RDJ's track record), he still played the part of the wealthy playboy who doesn't seem to care about anybody but himself, but then shows that he really cares for all of humanity. Plus, he's extremely funny and charming. He was the beginning of the long road of success for Marvel in the multiplex, and for good reason. He's perfect in the role. Absolutely perfect.

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2. Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man

Say what you will about The Amazing Spider-Man movie, Andrew Garfield IS Peter Parker. He's got the rhythm of the character, the build, and he can even deliver goofy one-liners with aplomb. While Toby McGuire wasn't bad as the ol' webhead, there was just something missing. It didn't help that Spider-Man was all but silent once he put on the mask, which was a directorial choice, but a bad one. But Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man really works. It reminds me of my childhood, and I can truly see the Spider-Man I always envisioned in my head when I watch Garfield on the big screen. Perfect casting!

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1. Karl Urban as Judge Dredd

I had my doubts after the Sly Stallone "impression" (That's the best I can call it), but Karl Urban truly pulled the deadliest and scariest Judge of them all, off. Utilizing a constant scowl, there's not a second that you don't feel the spirit of Judge Dredd in Karl Urban's portrayal. Now THIS is how you represent a comic book character, not like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. This is how it's done, baby!

Friday, April 11, 2014

I like the Idea of Highlander Much More Than the Franchise Itself

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"There can only be one." One what? One good movie in the entire franchise? Being a massive nerd, I've always wanted one science fiction/fantasy franchise to really cling on to. I like Star Trek and all, but I could never call myself a Trekkie. Star Wars has its merits, but I don't share the enthusiasm that its true blue (lightsaber) fans share. So what then? Stargate? Nope. Fringe? Ummm...nope. Firefly? Well, I want to love it, but I just don't (Does that make me a bad person?) The only show I've truly grown obsessive over is Breaking Bad, but it doesn't fit the sci-fi/fantasy quota I've been looking for. I'm a pretty big fan of Harry Potter, but I'm not obsessive about it, and I WANT to be obsessive for a fantasy/sci-fi world. I really do.

Well, a few years back, I thought I might have found what I was looking for in Highlander. The first movie was amazing. It featured Christopher Lambert (Raiden!), Sean Connery (James Bond!) and a theme song by Queen (Queen!). It had pretty much everything I was looking for in a fantasy/sci-fi world. Lightning, decapitations, and a pretty cool lore. I had finally found my series!

Or so I thought. After being totally jazzed after watching the first Highlander movie, I quickly watched its sequel, Highlander II: The Quickening, and my God! What the hell happened? For those who don't know, Highlander II basically takes a dump over everything you liked about the first movie and then vomits all over it for good measure. It is one of the worst movies I have ever seen, and the follow-up flicks (Highlander: The Source in particular) are all travesties. And the TV show, I'm sad to say, wasn't much better, either. Sure, it had its qualities (Adrian Paul being its prime one), but other than him, the series lacked in anything relatively interesting or groundbreaking like the first film did.

In many ways, the biggest problem with Highlander is that it never one-upped its first outing. It had, and still has, so much potential, but I much prefer the concept of Highlander to the actual franchise. We'll see what happens with the supposed reboot we're supposed to be getting sometime down the line.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: Lone Wolf and Cub Vol. 1

Lone Wolf and Cub, Vol. 1: The Assassin's Road (Lone Wolf and Cub, #1)Lone Wolf and Cub, Vol. 1: The Assassin's Road by Kazuo Koike
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up this gem a couple of weeks ago and blew through it. I love how some of the stories in this book are pretty much panel for panel what happens in the movie, Shogun Assassin, as the movie is based off of Lone Wolf and Cub series. If I have just one complaint, it's that the text is sometimes hard on the eyes, what with all the whiteness on the page at times. But if you like samurai epics, which I certainly do, then you can't do any better than this. I'm going to pick up the next few volumes soon.

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Review: E.L.F. White Leaves

White Leaves (E.L.F. #1)White Leaves by M.P. Ness
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let me just start this off by saying that I'm not a big fantasy guy. I mean, I can enjoy fantasy if it's light on the fantasy and more on the realistic side of things, but I've never been a guy who's into elves or sorcery. E.L.F. starts off on a realistic note, given that it's about eco-terrorists, but then it goes off into a different territory involving elves and stuff like that. That's where it threw me a little. That said, I am probably one of the only people who cannot get through the Lord of the Rings books, and I did get through this book, so that's definitely saying something. M.P. Ness shines when he's writing action scenes, as I know another critic noted. The story of the black leaves and Lady White Leaves is intriguing in that there is a good central female character in Shannon Hunter, who it takes a little while to like, but once you do, you're with her all the way. The writing is good, even though I feel there could have been more description with setting scenes, and the pacing goes quickly once you get to about to page 50 or so. Overall, if you dig fantasy, give this book one more star to my review. It's a good book. It's just not my thing.

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