MOVIE/ALBUM REVIEW: KISS rolls the dice in Vegas

Movie reviews, Music reviews, Uncategorized

kissroc

 


In November of 2014 KISS did one of the very few things they hadn’t tried up to this point: a Vegas residency. After all many hard rock artists have tried their hand at Vegas —successfully so— over the years; Both Guns N’Roses and Motley Crue twice, Def Leppard and more recently, Scorpions and Billy Idol. Las Vegas, Nevada is no longer the place where acts go to die, the stigma has faded with time. It seemed obvious KISS would roll the dice in Sin City eventually.

Vegas would force the hottest band in the land to play shows on a smaller scale than it is accustomed to resulting in a slightly more personal performance. That is not to say KISS toned down the fanfare. The antics like pyrotechnics and fire-breathing are still there—they’re just a little less elaborate. While Rocks Vegas is not a particularly fresh concept, it sure is good to see some new live KISS content in an albeit unique setting.

KISS Rocks Vegas initially saw selected showings in movie theatres on May 25th before its impending home video release. KISS looks spectacular on the big screen but watching the Blu-Ray/DVD at home is the next best thing. The last official stand-alone KISS live concert DVD come over ten years ago —Rock the Nation back in 2005— and featured the same lineup.

 

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The accompanying CD also marks the first official live album KISS had issued under this current lineup (unless you count the Instant Live CDs). Is it necessary for a band like KISS to put out a live album in what is likely the twilight of their career? For one thing it would shock many to know at just how few live albums KISS has in comparison to bands like Rush and Iron Maiden. If anything I’m surprised we haven’t had more live KISS. Documenting live performances becomes important as a band ages.

Its latter-day KISS, a lineup that features Tommy Thayer on guitar and Eric Singer on drums alongside Gene and Paul. That means no Ace and Peter, a fact that should be well outlined by now. This lineup, although quite capable, has its hit-and-miss moments— a fact that becomes more evident when listening to the CD. Let’s be honest for a minute: Paul’s voice is shaky, Gene forgets lyrics and Tommy’s solos are sloppy on ocasion. They may no longer be in their prime, yet KISS is still more than capable of putting on an incredible and visually compelling show.

KISS doesn’t stray too far from its usual setlist of classics like Love Gun and Detroit Rock City, but nevertheless the band took a chance and added Tears Are Falling to the set and chose to play no less than three songs from fan-favourite Creatures of the Night. The inclusions of Parasite and War Machine are worth mentioning as is Hell or Hallelujah from the latest studio effort, Monster.

 

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As an added treat, Rocks Vegas features a 7 song acoustic setlist. Paul Stanley shaking his head after filling in for Gene’s forgotten lyrics during Christine Sixteen is simply priceless. Seeing a relaxed KISS as people with no makeup, pyro or costume playing as Love Her All I Can and Goin’ Blind is a great experience. I think it really says something about KISS that the band is this effective in an acoustic setting. I initially was apprehensive of Eric Singer doing Beth, a song that was always Peter Criss’ baby, but its the definitive highlight of the session. You can watch the acoustic performances but if you want to hear them on CD you’ll have to shell out more money as they are part of an $80 box set exclusive to Amazon. KISS and marketing, indeed. 

It’s a monumental task to substitute the live concert experience for a DVD or CD. Rocks Vegas doesn’t quite achieve that feat, but it displays a determined KISS giving a crowd-pleasing performance. The Blu-Ray version is crisp and looks great on my HD TV and the live CD kept those imperfections and mistakes giving a real live feel and that’s a good thing.

Now bring back I Stole Your Love, pretty please.
Setlist:

01. Detroit Rock City
02. Creatures Of The Night
03. Psycho Circus
04. Parasite
05. War Machine
06. Tears Are Falling
07. Deuce
08. Lick It Up
09. I Love It Loud
10. Hell Or Hallelujah & Tommy Solo
11. God Of Thunder
12. Do You Love Me
13. Love Gun
14. Black Diamond
15. Shout It Out Loud
16. Rock And Roll All Night

 

Acoustic set:

01. Coming Home
02. Plaster Caster
03. Hard Luck Woman
04. Christine Sixteen
05. Goin’ Blind
06. Love Her All I Can
07. Beth

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Weekend Hangover: The top 50 Hair-Metal albums of all time

Features, Music reviews, Uncategorized

hair

When men were men who wore big hair and makeup


It’s the genre that simply refuses to die. It always ends up peaking its teased-up hair, leather and spandex through the underground from which it came. While the eccentricities and the hair have been toned down ever so slightly over the years, the music went underground, but it never quite left us. Sometimes maligned in the Metal community, often prone to shaming. I’m talking of course about Hair-Metal. It’s been called Glam-Metal, Cock-Rock, Stripper-Metal and Butt-Rock among other names.

The songs had chunks of hooks, the choruses were simply too catchy to ignore, and no power-ballad was too big for MTV. The genre never fully went away thanks to camera ready stars like Bret Michaels, Dee Snider and Sebastian Bach who kept themselves in the public eye as they turned to outlets such television, radio and yes, even broadway. It was the golden age of something.

While a talented few within the genre some want to be seen as respected musician who care about more than image —with the implication being that Hair Metal is all about image— others could care less about the music’s label as long as they’re being talked about, just ask Vince Neil.

The musicians are as much fun to talk about as the music they play. Rumours, dirt about band members, lineups with one original member, whispers about hair pieces and who’s —wait for it— bald. I can’t think of too many other genres of music where rumours and speculations go hand in hand with the genre as much as Hair-Metal. Talking about the music as is as much part of the fun as listening to it.

While there likely isn’t a Hair-Metal revival happening anything soon, bands like Steel Panther, Crashdiet, Reckless Love and Crazy Lixx are keeping the genre alive and well. Besides everyone likes at least one Hair band, if you don’t admit to it, you’re lying plain and simple.

A few rules for this list: No one band can be featured twice. No Greatest Hits. No modern Glam bands. Van Halen and Guns N’Roses are not Hair-Metal. Finally, no originators (that means no New York Dolls, Sweet, Slade, Hanoi Rocks and no 70s-era Aerosmith and KISS albums).

Keep your death-metal, alternative and indie darlings to yourself, I’m off to spin Cinderella and Poison’s debuts.

 

warlock

50. Triumph & Agony, Warlock (1987)

With songs like All We Are and Make Time For Love Warlock carved themselves a spot on the list. Doro Pesch’s unique voice is as powerful as the music. The album cover suggest a Dio-type Dungeons and Dragon type of metal but Warlock so  clearly belongs to Hair-Metal.

 

 

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49.  Enuff Z’Nuff, Enuff Z’Nuff (1989)

Enuff Z’Nuff proved to be a hippy-ish, weird form of Hair-Metal with their colourful imagery (mostly peace signs) over the years as they did their own thing but they do belong in the genre. The New Thing and the tender ballad Fly High Michelle from their debut are wonderful remnents of the era. Donnie Vie and Chip Z’Nuff should never be without one another.

 
damn yankees

48.  Damn Yankees, Damn Yankees (1990)

Known as Glam-Metal’s very own supergroup the Damn Yankees featured an all-star lineup in Ted Nugent, Jack Blades (Night Ranger), Tommy Shaw (Styx) and that one guy who join Lynyrd Skynard on drums. It’s the ballad High Enough that put them on the map but songs like Coming of Age aren’t too shabby either.

 

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47.  In Rock We Trust, Y&T (1984)

Saxon had Denim & Leather, Y&T had Lipstick & Leather. One of the lesser known bands of their era they were certainly ahead of their time. Almost the Glam version of Anvil, people took influences from them and left them dead. In Rock We Trust is not their most Hair-Metal sounding-release but it is quite possibly their best.

 

pantera

46.  Metal Magic, Pantera (1983)

Bet you weren’t expecting to see Pantera on this list were you? I’m sure Pantera wasn’t either. It is sometime whispered on the internet that the mighty Pantera’s first three albums are straight up Hair-Metal. The allegations are true. Metal Magic is Pantera’s first album, and their best of the pre-Phil Anselmo era. Terry Glaze was their singer then and boasted much of the same vocal qualities as many frontmen did during those days. Quite a change from the Anselmo-fronted Pantera metal fans know. Songs like Ride My Rocker and Tell Me You Want It displays their KISS and Van Halen influences as well as a touch of NWOBHM, but make no mistake it is glam.

 

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45.  Trilogy, Ynwgie Malmsteen (1986)

Where else was Yngwie going to show off his musical dexterity but in a Hair-band? Say what you want about the music but the shredders of the era were technically proficient on their instrument. The man is better known as a guitar hero but when restrained Malmsteen is capable of producing some fine candy-coated songs. Case in point: You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget, Queen In Love.

 

hanoi rocks

44.  Two Steps from the Move, Hanoi Rocks (1984)

It’s true I said no originators. Hanoi Rocks aren’t just originators, they were doing the music as others were making their way up in Hair-Metal. The band’s drummer Razzle got in a car with a drunk Vince Neil and Hanoi Rocks was never the same. They never got due credit outside of their native Finland and were the country’s most famous rock export for years before bands like Children of Bodom, Nightwish and HIM made their mark on metal music. Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Up Around The Bend make for excellent blues-rock wrapped up in glam coating. Better known for being one of Guns N’Roses’biggest influences than their own music.

 

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43.  Black N’ Blue, Black N’Blue (1984)

Produced by none other than Gene Simmons, Black N’Blue never hit the big time but they did feature a future KISS collaborator and current-Spaceman in Tommy Thayer. Some of the songs have held up better than time would suggest. Tell me Hold On To 18 doesn’t flat-out rock. There’s plenty to like: Chains Around Heaven, Wicked Bitch, The Strong Will Rock.

 

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42.  Lita, Lita Ford (1988)

With Kiss Me Deadly we have one of Lita’s signature songs. Then there’s Close My Eyes Forever the duet with Ozzy Osbourne she later famously abandoned. Falling In and Out of Love was written by ex-beau Nikki Sixx. Best Lita Ford album? No. But it is her most recognizable work and fits every criteria on this list.

 

 

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41.  Trouble Walkin’, Ace Frehley (1989)

It took years for Ace Frehley to surface as a solo artist following his departure from KISS but “Ace is back when he told you so”. It was hard to choose between this and the debut Frehley’s Comet album but Trouble Walkin’ just edges it out. Frehley is known for covering other artists and so it should be no surprise that the best tunes of the album are covers. Ace covers The Move’s Do Ya brilliantly and put out an effective version of KISS’Hide Your Heart.

 

night ranger

40.  Midnight Madness, Night Ranger (1983)

Some would call Night Ranger rock but I disagree. The sleek and polished sounds of Don’t Tell Me You Love Me, Rumours in the Air and their band’s definitive song Sister Christian have more in common with Glam-Metal than rock. If you get one Night Ranger album, this is it.

 

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39.  Bulletboys, Bulletboys (1989)

Often described as Van Halen-esque, Bulletboys are more than carbon copy or one hit wonder. Marq Torien’s voice made the band unique. It’s a shame they’re only known for Smooth Up In Ya because they added different flavours to their brand of music; they swing with Shoot The Preacher Down and get a little funky with For The Love of Money.

 

lee aaron

38. Metal Queen, Lee Aaron (1984)

She come like thunder risin’ from the gound. Lee Aaron was the Metal Queen (sorry Doro). Although she became more pop as the years went on —including a period where she became a Jazz musician— Lee Aaron’s 1984 opus remains her most memorable album to this day largely due to the title-track and Lady of the Darkest Night.

 

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37. Britny Fox, Britny Fox (1988)

The album jacket just screams Glam. Looking and sounding like Cinderella’s Gypsy cousins, Britny Fox were not one of the top-tier Hair-Metal outfits but they’re better than logic would dictate. Long Way To Love, Girlschool and Gudbuy T’Jane have held up better than you remember.

 

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36.  Vixen, Vixen (1988)

Is it sexist if I call them the female equivalent of Poison? Too late, I just did. Yes, we all know they didn’t write Edge of a Broken Heart but that doesn’t detract from how catchy the song is. Besides, I always preferred Want You To Rock Me and songs like Cryin’ are worth their salt.

 

laguns

35.  Cocked & Loaded, L.A. Guns (1989)

Any of L.A. Guns’ first two albums could be considered as their best but if pressed I’ll have to give the edge to Cocked & Loaded. Sleazy Come Sleazy Go and I’m Addicted just ooze junkie Hair-Metal. It also happens to features their signature song in the form of The Ballad of Jayne.

 

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34. Faster Pussycat, Faster Pussycat (1987)

Faster Pussycat was too sleazy for MTV— OK maybe except House of Pain—but in a post-GNR era they found a niche ready to pounce on their filthy Glam-Rock. Unlike their contemporaries, they sound like they listened to the New York Dolls instead of just stealing their look. With tunes like Bathroom Wall and Babylon Faster Pussycat is vulgar, sexist and occasionally disgusting —all by design, of course.

 

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33.  All Systems Go, Vinnie Vincent Invasion (1988)

KISS axeman Vinnie Vincent teamed up with future Slaughter members Dana Strum and Mark Slaughter on his second and best album. Vinnie Vincent lnvasion had commercial success with That Time of Year on MTV and Love Kills was on the soundtrack for Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. The only reason the band disbanded was sadly Vinnie Vincent himself. Mark and Dana went on to form Slaughter. Vinnie Vincent went on to co-write songs with KISS for their Revenge album, sued his former employers a gazillion times (never winning once) and became a recluse.

 

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32.  Leather Boys With Electric Toys, Pretty Boy Floyd (1989)

Pretty Boy Floyd made exactly one worthwhile album and that’s Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz. The melodic Wild Angels and I Wanna Be With You would’ve made be great songs on any Hair-Metal record. They also did a decent Poison-esque cover of Motley Crue’s Toast of the Town. This debut is often more remembered for its album cover than the music, but Pretty Boy Floyd delivers.

 

firehouse

31.  Firehouse, Firehouse (1992)

Its rock sprinkled with pop and its done oh so well. For my money Firehouse’s debut album is still the best thing they’ve ever made. Infectious songs like Don’t Treat Me Bad and Shake & Tumble scream good times while ballads like Love of a Lifetime are powerful and genuine.

 

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30.  Trash, Alice Cooper (1989)

By the end of the decade Hair-Metal was so big that even of the granfathers of rock, Alice Cooper himself, tried his hand at it. The result is an Alice tailor-made for 1989. It gave him a shot in the arm and his highest charting song in 12 years with Poison. Songs like House of Fire and Spark in the Dark are fun to this day. The guest list is impressive: Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry (and most of Aerosmith) and Kip Winger among others.

 

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29.  Winger, Winger (1988)

The band Beavis and Butt-Head made cool to hate. Metallica once threw darts at a picture of Kip Winger in the process of recording the black album. How could we possibly have an all-glam list without Winger? Sure it’s very pop and sometimes borders on the creepy —Seventeen may not see a release in this age— but Winger were undeniably some of the finest musicians in the genre.

 

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28.  Steelheart, Steelheart (1992)

Miljenko Matjevic’s voice. The man possessed an impressive instrument capable of vocal summersaults. Steelheart seemed poised for success before an onstage accident nearly killed their singer and put a halt to their career. The band’s debut remains one of the strongest album in the genre with essentials like She’s Gone and Everybody Loves Eileen.

 

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27.   …Twice Shy, Great White (1988)

Its difficult choosing between this or Once Bitten but …Twice Shy sounds more glam to my ears. Great White were more a blues-based band than anything until they were locked in the studio to produce catchy, radio-friendly rock and they did exactly that. Once Bitten, Twice Shy, House of Broken love and The Angel Song are bonafide Hair classics.

 

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26.  Aerosmith, Permanent Vacation (1987)

Once originators now less um, original, this is the one that brought Aerosmith back to the big time. More of a Hair record than Pump and sleazier than anything they’ve done in ten years. This began a new era for the band, one featuring outside writers like Jim Vallance and Desmond Child. Cock-rock opener Heart’s Done Time, the poppy Magic Touch and the groovy Rag Doll are Aerosmith’s best shots at Glam-Metal. Angel is one of their all-time great ballads and who could forget Dude (Looks Like A Lady)?

 

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25.  Exposed, Vince Neil (1993)

Speaking of Dude (Looks Like A Lady), Vince Neil was the inspiration behind the song. Released after the Grunge explosion was already in full swing, Exposed lived in a vacuum that ignored everything surrounding itself. You’re Invited but Your Friend Can’t Come was the hit from the album, but thankfully its not the only good song as its accompanied by the likes of the heavy Sister of Pain and the cruelly underrated Living Is A Luxury. Steve Stevens of Billy Idol does once again an admirable job on guitar.

 

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24.  After the Rain, Nelson (1990)

The Nelson twins. Boy can they ever craft a well-written song that will stay in your head for days. Say what you will about these songs being quote-on-quote soft, Nelson had better musicianship than many of the peers. It never got better than the debut as far as Nelson is concerned but this collection of song is fantastic. Oh and it did sell 10 million copies.

 

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23. Pride, White Lion (1987)

A thinking man’s Hair band? Cries for the environment and the children’s future? White Lion was something of an oddity in the Glam cannon even then, now they stand out even more. Tunes like Wait and Hungry were all good-natured fun but there’s a definitely a somber side to songs like Lonely Nights and When The Children Cry. Oh yeah, before I forget, Bratta shreds.

 

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22.  To Hell With The Devil, Stryper (1986)

Good Christian boys can’t rock, can they? It turns out they can and they still deliver great albums even today. Besides, a little research will show you that Michael Sweet and the band weren’t always walking along the righteous and holy path (check out Against the Law). The band’s ’80s output is great Pop-Metal but To Hell With the Devil was their breakthrough album with the title track, Free, and the tender god-loving ballad Honestly.

 

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21.  Turbo, Judas Priest (1986)

In 1986 Judas Priest wasn’t a Heavy-Metal band dabbling with Glam, they were drenched in it. Listen to songs like Locked In, Parental Guidance and the somber ballad Out In The Cold and tell me I’m wrong. Or the title-track. It’s a more accessible Priest, one that crafted very good pop songs at that.

 

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20.  Lick It Up, KISS (1983)

It’s no wonder KISS chose to take the makeup off with Lick It Up. The band’s new pop-metal direction and look was in style and this remains their strongest Hair Metal release. KISS emphasized visuals as did MTV who showcased the band’s exclusive unmasking live. The only album to officially credit the lost Egyptian Ankh warrior Vinnie Vincent. A Million To One is of the best things ’80s KISS ever did.

 

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19.  The Ultimate Sin, Ozzy (1986)

It’s better than the jacket sleeve, I swear. Ozzy with bouffant hair and ridiculous costumes is a sight to see. The music made during this time period is largely ignored by the Ozzy camp but there’s some gems on The Ultimate Sin. Shot ln the Dark is one of Ozzy’s catchiest song and one of his biggest hits. Hair gems such as Secret Loser and Lightning Strikes have a respectable place among Hair-Metal classics as do melancholic tunes such as Killer of Giants. Jake E. Lee,man.

 

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18.  Eat ‘Em & Smile, David Lee Roth (1986)

I’m talking about a Yankee Rose! I know, I said no Van Halen but surely David Lee Roth solo has to count? DLR replaced Eddie Van Halen with Steve Vai and the party continued as if nothing happened. Eat ‘Em and Smile sounded more like Van Halen than Van Halen did at this point. Many of the songs on here are up to par with Van Halen classics. Shy Boy, Going Crazy and Yankee Rose make for good argument.

 

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16. The Great Radio Controversy, Tesla (1989)

It was a tough decision between this and Mechanical Resonance but I’ll give a slight edge to The Great Radio Controversy. Tesla were more of a ’70s Arena-Rock band than anything else but their songs fit right in the ’80s landscape. Love Song was the hit here but hard rockers like Hang Tough remind us of why Tesla was more than your average Hair band.

 

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17.  Blow My Fuse, Kix (1988)

Kix unleashed many great songs in the ’80s and Blow My Fuse has a good chunk of them. Never has a more beautiful anti-suicide ballad been written than Don’t Close Your Eyes. One of the guitar players in a band l was once in sang this song just about every time he opened his mouth. Cold Blood is one of the anthems of the era and songs like Gets It While Its Hot and She Dropped the Bomb are well-worth a listen.

 

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16.  Metal Health, Quiet Riot (1983)

Hold the distinction of the first #1 Metal album on the Billboard charts. Of course by reaching the top so early it was all downhill from there. Maybe there was too much tension within the band, perhaps they ran out of Slade songs to cover, but if you put on Metal Health and close your eyes, it’s 1983 and you feel the “noize” again. Surprised to see it a little low on the list? The singles were the best songs and the rest paled Thunderbird and Slick Black Cadillac never did much for me. That or Kevin DuBrow’s attitude.

 

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15.  Danger Danger, Danger Danger (1989)

Lexxi Foxx’s favourite band. I swear they’re not on the list just because I like to repeat the words Danger Danger. Drummer-turned-singer Ted Poley has one of the best voices in Glam and the band’s debut is full of upbeat pop-metal anthems. Songs like Naughty Naughty, Bang Bang, Don’t Walk Away and Feels Like Love are no good for anyone’s IQ but we’ll forgive them because they’re so damn catchy.

 

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14.  The Final Countdown, Europe (1986)

Yes it’s the one with that song, but there’s more to this band than a hit single. The Final Countdown is filled with chunks of hook-laden songs like Rock the Night, Cherokee, and tender ballad Carrie. Although Europe tries very hard to distance themselves from the genre these days, this is the version of the band —and Joey Tempest’s hair— we liked most.

 

 

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13.   Love At First Sting, Scorpions (1984)

Scorpions made their teeth long before the Glam explosion, but it doesn’t change the fact that for a period time in the 80’s and ’90s they were for all intends and purpose a Hair band. They also had massive hits but never more so than on Love At First Sting. Mid-paced rocker Big City Night aged like fine wine. Still Loving You is one of the most poignant power-ballads. Do I even need to bring up Rock You Like a Hurricane? 

 

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12.  Slaughter, Slaughter (1990)

If you ask me some of the best Hair-Metal came out in the early ’90s. Slaughter is a prime example of that. The band’s eponymous release features many glamtastic songs: Eye to Eye, Burning Bridges (about none other than Vinnie Vincent), Spend My Life and that’s not including the hits Up All Night and Fly to the Angels. Like many bands on this list, Slaughter’s debut album marked their commercial and career peak.

 

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11. Under Lock And Key, Dokken (1985)

Sure, Tooth & Nail was heavier and Back for the Attack has Dream Warriors and Mr. scary but Under Lock And Key has the hits and some of Dokken’s most melodic, memorable work and if there’s one thing the band was about it was melody. Songs like Unchain the Night, The Hunter, It’s Not Love and In My Dreams are enough to make any album great. Oh and they had a certain George Lynch on guitar, you may have heard of him.

 

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10.  Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, Warrant (1989)

Where’d the down boys go? Say what you want, this one is still miles ahead of Cherry Pie althought Bobbie Brown was nowhere in sight. Jani Lane could write, RIP. Down Boys, Sometimes She Cries and what is the band’s ultimate song, Heaven. Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich is one of the must-have Hair-Metal albums.

 

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9.  Detonator, Ratt (1990)

Shocker! I’m sure many would’ve expected Out of the Cellar to make it on the list, but I feel Detonator is a little stronger overall. Ratt’s 80s output is well-known but this early ’90s effort contains gem after gem. Shame, Shame, Shame is pure Ratt. Lovin’ You’s a Dirty Job is sleazy, let’s do it in the back of the car-rock. Then there are songs like the mature Givin’ Yourself Away, the flashback-inducing One Step Away, the speedy Can’t Wait On Love. Stephen Pearcy never sounded better than he did on Detonator and Hard Time is still my favourite vocal performance of his.

 

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8.  Whitesnake, Whitesnake (1987)

Has such a simple keyboard pattern ever been used more efficiently than the one in Is This Love? This album is home to the one video every car-humping scene in cinematic history has attempted to reproduce. There’s more than the display of affection for cars that is Here I Go Again or the masturbatory Led Zeppelin-esque Still of the Night. Gimme All Your Love and Cryin’ in the Rain for instance. The album sometimes known as 1987 was a monster Hair-Metal album. It repackaged David Coverdale for a new generation and made a video vixen out of Tawny Kitaen, thank god.

 

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8.  Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi (1986)

Although he probably would never admit any correlation to the genre, Bon Jovi was glam. The early incarnation of the band was, at the very least. Slippery When Wet is as big as it gets for Bon Jovi or Hair-Metal for that matter. Livin’ On A Prayer, You Give Love A Bad Name, Let It Rock, that’s quite the list. Wanted Dead or Alive was so good it transcended the notion of musical genres. Without Love is a sleeper hit. Not my favourite Bon Jovi (that would be the debut), but how can you go wrong with this one?

 

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7.  Stay Hungry, Twisted Sister (1984)

There’s more to Twisted Sister than two big singles. I’ll even go on record and say We’re Not Gonna Take It and I Wanna Rock are not, I repeat not the best songs on the album. Burn In Hell and Horror-teria are both infinitely better. A mighty fine Hair album and one that could swing with some of the heavier bands out there too. Metallica once opened for them.

 

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6.  W.A.S.P, W.A.S.P. (1984)

A little heavier, rougher around the edges and definitely more metallic than their peers, W.A.S.P irked Senator Al Gore’s wife and is the main reason parental advisory stickers even exist.Blackie Lawless’voice is so good because it sounds like he’s broken. He literally sounds like a soul-sucking demon from hell who just experienced a painful breakup and learned to play melodic Heavy-Metal. There’s so much to like about W.A.S.P.’s debut. The explicit Animal (F*** Like A Beast). The catchiness of I Wanna Be Somebody. The pop qualities of L.O.V.E. Machine. The irresistible, occultism of Sleeping (In The Fire). The jury is still out on what the name W.A.S.P. means. Lawless once said, “We ain’t sure pal”.

 

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5.  Skid Row, Skid Row, (1989)

While 1992 Skid Row could swing with Pantera, 1989 Skid Row were playing pretty-boy rock and earning a living doing it. It’s also the Sebastian Bach-fronted incarnation of Skid Row that most of us remember. It’s the ballads 18 and life and I Remember You that stole the show but let’s not forget Youth Gone Wild.

 

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4.  Long Cold Winter, Cinderella (1988)

Night Songs may be more glam but it’s Cinderella’s sophomore album that takes the cake. It’s a blusier, better-written and more mature effort.  With melodic tunes like Gypsy Road and Last Mile, the dirty blues of Bad Seamstress and the honesty of Don’t Know What You Got (Till Its Gone) it’s no wonder Cinderella and Long Cold Winter is so high on the list.

 

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3.  Pyromania, Def Leppard (1983)

I like Hysteria, but I love Pyromania. It just rocks harder. With Pyromania Def Leppard were able to crossover to mainstream commercial success while keeping the rock crowd happy, no easy feat. This was when Def Leppard was still cool to like. If you ask me the sound of Def Leppard is perfectly encapsulated in Photograph. Its got some serious companionship with the anxious Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop), the memorable intro to Rock of Ages, the desperation of Too Late for Love and the beauty of Stagefright.

 

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2.  Look What The Cat Dragged In, Poison (1986)

An argument could be made for any of Poison’s first three albums but the debut edges everything out by a single Aqua-Net sprayed hair. It was the first time the world heard of and saw them. MTV, the album cover, from the moment they first showed up on TV screens across America the very image of Poison had been etched into popular-culture. As such Poison is perhaps the utmost definition of glam and Hair-Metal. Between Talk Dirty to Me, I Want Action, Cry Tough, I Won’t Forget You and the title track there’s enough bubblegum-rock to chew on for days. A favourite now as it was then.

 

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1.  Dr. Feelgood, Motley Crue (1989)

Best Crüe album? Arguably. Glammiest? That would be Theatre of Pain. Biggest album with the most hit singles? It has to be Feelgood hands-down. Dr. Feelgood blends together everything that was fun about the ’80s —and the genre for that matter— in a decadent, unapologetic cocktail. The title track, Kickstart My Heart, Same Ol’ Situation, Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Got Away), Without You, Slice of Your Pie, Time For Change are all reasons why Dr. Feelgood is numero uno.

 

 

Uncategorized

Coke vs Pepsi. Nike vs Adidas. Jordan vs LeBron. Nintendo vs Sega. Some of the greatest philosophical debates of our time —at least in the context of popular-culture.

I’m not going to take sides on the whole Sega versus Nintendo argument. I enjoyed and played Nintendo and Sega equally as much in the 1990s. That said, gamers of today have Sega to thank for the delightfully violent and blood-filled games that sit on their shelves. Sega targeted a different audience than Nintendo, a cooler, more mature one. Someone’s older teenaged brother perhaps. Looking back, Sega seems to be focused towards feeding the hardcore gamer crowd. They were edgy and something about them was cool in a way Nintendo wasn’t. I was too young to comprehend the whole console wars as it was happening in the ’90s but my fascination with this era of gaming remained. Why all the Sega talk? Because Console Wars focuses on Sega.

Soon to be adapted for the big screen, Blake J. Harris’ Console Wars is largely told from the perspective of former Sega CEO Tom Kalinske. This choice will perhaps raise gamer’s eyebrows but it makes perfect sense. How can a book on a pivotal moment in video game history be seen from one point of view? The short answer is somehow, strangely, it works. Telling the story through Kalinske’s eyes—at least for the most part—creates a narrative and emotional connection with the reader. Harris could have chosen just as well to tell it from a faceless, corporate point of view or that of an obsessive and enthusiastic fan. Instead, having someone whom the reader can actively live the console wars through works to maximum effect.

To this aspect, a lot of names are thrown and mentioned. Many are recurring and given importance, others get a mention here and there. That’s not to say readers will remember everyone who was mentioned in the book and played a part in the war, they won’t.

The book portrays Sega as an underdog and rightfully so. Even if one isn’t a fan of The company or overtly prefers Nintendo, its hard not to root for Sega with each page turned and newly arising conflict. Most serious gamers already know how the console war ends (as well as the eventual downfall of Sega as a hardware manufacturer). It’s a long road to get there and Console Wars does an admirable job of helping the reader relive these moments. From the creation of the blue blur, Sonic the Hedgehog, and his rivalry versus Mario and Nintendo, to the internal struggles at Sega, its a journey.

Truth is while the book centers on the console wars, a large part of the book comes down to strategy, advertising and marketing. In that sense, it’s a very good business book. Console Wars delves into tactics, resources used by Nintendo and especially Sega. Some tactics are fairly ridiculous and over-the-top and on occasion, downright slander. How appealing that will be to someone who enjoys video games might vary, unless they enjoy the history of games that is.

In retrospect, it is fascinating to read about Sega’s imminent implosion. In this case the manufacturer tried to push too many different products at once effectively cancelling some of its own revenue and marketing. Too much, too fast, too soon.

Most of Sega’s troubles were caused by… Sega. They stuck it to Nintendo and gained the bigger share of the market only to effectively dismantle its own success through internal conflicts. Therefore Sega’s biggest competition may have very well been itself. For instance, it is almost comical that Sega of America was given the task of finishing Sega of Japan’s 32X concept, a console SoA didn’t want on the market, in order to let their subsidiary concentrate on the Sega Saturn. It’s interesting how Tom Kalinske wanted to prolong the life of Genesis—a system who was dominating the video game market—only to be met with opposition from his Japanese.

There a few issues with Console Wars. The book focuses almost entirely on Sega. While Harris really delves into Sega it feels like Nintendo is either ignored or overlooked most of the time unless they are mentioned in the context of rivalry. The book takes a look at the history of Nintendo, it’s relationships with third-party publishers such as EA Sports and Rare, it’s grip on the gaming industry and the development of the Nintendo Power publication. There is Nintendo content. Yet I still can’t help but feel the book is extremely one-sided. Nintendo’s coverage is minimal compared to Sega’s. There are a few recurring names from the Nintendo camp, but it’s only a fraction of the amount devoted Sega employees. Same with promotions, games and events. As such, Console Wars  might have benefited from an alternate title —one preferably using the words “Tom Kalinske” and “Sega”.

Harris tells the reader in the introduction that he had to recreate dialogue for the story to take shape. The problem is that we’re left with dialogue that is not 100% accurate and some of the quotes and sentences are overemphasized and exaggerated for dramatic effect. The author adds dramatic effects and colourful adjectives that, although movie-ready, are out-of-place. I also wasn’t a fan of the occasional two-page chapters, I felt they took away from continuity.

There are great lessons in Console Wars. A lot of what caused Sega’s eventual fall was due to what happened on the inside. The divisions between Sega of America (SOA) and Sega of Japan (SOJ) most notably. It is clear that a company split into parts without clear focus on one singular goal cannot succeed.

Console Wars looses steam towards the end where it feels slightly rushed at some point after the launch of Sonic 3. Reading transcripts of a Nintendo conference and a play performed by Nintendo employees is about as thrilling as it sounds. There is no definitive ending to the war as we know it in the book: Donkey Kong Country came out for the SNES and sold 7.5 million copies, the Saturn came out and Tom Kalinske leaves Sega. It would’ve benefited from more reflection and insight.

The foreword by Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg is both amusing and engaging. They are clearly video game fans and I was surprised to see their names in the book and delighted at how their personalities shone through their words.

Is it worth reading? Yes. It’s insightful and offers a worthwhile look at the events that shook the video game industry between 1989-96. Fans of video games will no doubt find great content but it doesn’t delve as deep into the games as they might hope from this type of book. As previously mentioned, it is very business-oriented. I really enjoyed Console Wars and liked that the book was told from Tom Kalinske’s perspective. It is well researched and provides good information. With the issues I’ve addressed, it lacked a certain closure, was too focused on Sega and the recreated dialogue wasn’t always on point.

Some key/interesting points:

*Tom Kalinske’s career pre-Sega, how he came to be at Sega, his decisions, marketing strategies, advertising, etc.

*Nintendo making life difficult for software publishers, stores carrying their products and video rental stores.

*Sega taking advantage of Nintendo’s difficult relationships with the above. Making deals with Electronic Arts, publishers and retailers.

*Nintendo essentially shrugging their shoulders at how bad the Super Mario Bros. movie was.

*Sega’s use of marketing and advertising to brand itself as a hip, edgy alternative to Nintendo.

*Sega gaining the lead in the war only to repeatedly shoot itself in the foot.

*Sega of Japan’s constant insistence on wanting to be in charge, going as far as deliberately sabotaging Sega of America’s efforts.

*Nintendo’s stubborn ways, effectively being labelled as a bully by many game publishers. Console Wars almost pushed the notion of Nintendo as a villain in the video game industry.

*Nintendo’s early relationship with Sony leading to the development of Sony’s Playstation.

*Relationships of Sony with Nintendo and Sega and entry into the world of video games.

Batman, the joker and one long overdrawn joke

Misc, Movie reviews, Uncategorized

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Just remember. “All it takes is one bad day…”        DC Comics


 

A celebrated, yet often divisive and debated entry in the Batman library, The Killing Joke is dear to a many a Bat fan’s heart. While there’s room to ague the comic’s rank and merits, there is no denying Alan Moore’s brainchild is one of the darkest, most sadistic Joker stories ever put to paper.

In The Killing Joke, the Joker went over the edge —even by Joker standards. He no longer behaves like a lunatic buffoon, the man who laugh is out to prove a point: all is takes is one bad day to reach insanity. The story represents a case in character study, examines the morbid aspects of human nature and what drives a sociopath from a comic book’s point of view—essentially its a deliciously macabre Joker origin story.

I love that DC didn’t change the main story and formula too much. The Killing Joke is already a memorable chapter for Batman and the Joker, it didn’t need to be tinkered with or alternated in any shape or form. The animated film adaptation did quite well in regards to staying on par with the comic.

The main gripe I have with The Killing Joke is with its first 30 minutes where material that wasn’t in the book was added. Sure it’s related to the story and they did their best to tie it in but the storyline they tried to develop for Barbara Gordon/Batgirl simply didn’t work as well as DC might have anticipated.

 

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DC promo

 

Barbara/Batgirl is a pivotal character in The Killing Joke, therefore it is understandable that DC wanted to give its audience a semblance of insight as to her personality. I’ll give the writers credit for trying to add to Batgirl’s story, but rather than attain its desired effect it feels like it was merely pasted onto the original story to stretch out the film. The further dialogue and backstories really didn’t end up adding anything crucial. Although I won’t go into details, Batgirl’s relationship with Batman in the film was in particularly poor taste and very much unlike the character fans have known.

I was happy to see a few of my favourite lines from the comic were left intact as there are many memorable quotes. As a fan, hearing the words I’ve read so many times over being brought to life by Mark Hamill was fantastic. At The Killing Joke‘s apex, the satisfying confrontation and word exchange between Batman and the Joker kept the same spirit as its source. The dialogue isn’t always on point however. One “joke” in particular is in bad taste. A criminal receiving a beating courtesy of Batgirl looks at her and says, “Must be that time of the month”. BadCringe-worthy.

Speaking of Mark Hamill, his voice acting is possibly the best aspects of The Killing Joke. Hamill as made left his mark on the comic book genre with his work as the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series and various Batman video games.

The animated film doesn’t quite match the intensity or pace of the comic largely due to its first part. They managed to get some of the art direction right yet the tone of the story isn’t as dark and perverse, but it tries. The Killing Joke falls short in its attempt to prolong the story, but it is a very faithful adaptation of its comic counterpart.

At an hour and sixteen minutes (including credits) it is by no means a long Batman film, however it feels longer due to added Batgirl backstory which decidedly does not work in its favour. Do yourself a favour and skip the first half-hour of movie, you won’t regret it. 3 stars.

Retro-gaming: the choice of a new generation but at what cost?

Features, Uncategorized

 

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You can almost smell the cartridges, admit it.


 

Nostalgia is a very lucrative business with many believing in the value behind the sentiment, ready to relive or cash in on this phenomenon. Retro-gaming as a hobby is rapidly gaining traction among gamers young and old, allowing many to get immersed in the nostalgia surrounding vintage school video games. The devout retro-gamer and collector sleeps with one eye open, a list of must-have titles in one hand. Much like The Legend of Zelda, there is a continuous quest to find the Triforce, the holy grail so to speak. On the surface it seems like a harmless and glamorous hobby if one judges by the impressive collections displayed by various YouTube channels. A collector posts a video of a stacked collection and every fan in the comment section is in awe and just about faints. Instant gratification. The bigger the collection, the greater the fawning. That’s not to say there isn’t a somber side to collecting coins, princesses and old-school video games.

 

    $ is the name of the game

It is difficult to be upfront about retro games without mentioning their cost. It is one expensive hobby! Collectors will no doubt find it expensive to purchase every game they want with the sheer amount of overpriced and in-demand titles. The reality is that being the devout fan with near-complete collections (even if it is console, franchise or genre specific) requires a lot of time, money and effort. A great bargain can still be found of course, but hunting for certain games can take years of rummaging through flea markets, thrift stores and gaming shops. With retro-gaming, most of the games that marked my childhood will cost me more than I’m comfortable spending on a single item— especially when buying complete games including the box/case and manual. Never mind video game consoles, that’s another story. It’s also hard to escape the fact that many vintage titles will cost more than a brand new video game that just hit stores.

 

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I used to spend a lot of time going through shelves that looked just like this one.

       eBay

The advent of the internet and eBay has made it easier to obtain nearly any game in multitude of conditions. However with eBay, people often name their prices on specific items. Games such a Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64 can fetch as much as $200 if they include the original box/container and manual (if your eyes widened even slightly please do not google Earthbound). Not too shabby for what was essentially dormant market in the late 1990s to early 2000’s when you could often find older titles for a minimal price.

 

      It’s a very addictive hobby

Perhaps too addictive. When I was collecting retro video-games I wanted more, all the time. It didn’t even need to be quality stuff, I just wanted more of it. I was like a smoker contemplating his next cigarette, done before I ever inhaled. As a result my collection grew. Before I knew it I had amassed titles in my collection I never played — not even once (NHL Stanley Cup, Yoshi’s Cookie, anyone?). In my mind they served as trophies to boost my cred among my fellow collectors. Surely someone would be impressed by my collection, or so I thought. Although I did play most of them, what the games really represented were dusty reminders of an unhealthy, possibly OCD-driven obsession.

 

      No money back guarantee

It can prove difficult to make your money back if you’re trying to part with pieces of your collection, even rare, sought after titles. When time came for me to move out it was necessary for me to part with my retro-games and systems. I was in great need of money and didn’t have the time to put all the items I possessed on eBay. Here’s the deal: everyone is looking for a bargain with hardly anyone buying. Shopping them around earned me only a small fraction of what I had paid for them.From experience, collecting vintage video games is not about turning a profit (unless you manage to find a rare steal). I would sell parts of my collection and then purchase what I had sold at a later time. Then I would miss a system or game and had to buy the item once more; it became a vicious cycle and I was helpless.

 

      Competition

I tried selecting only the games dear to my heart, I really did, but temptation is everywhere. A part of me always felt in competition with other collectors due to the nature of the hobby. Sometimes I would buy games because it was mentioned on greatest video games lists on the internet and magazines. Maybe people would find it impressive that I owned a piece of their childhood somehow. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of retro-gaming is it is often about what one doesn’t have than what they own.

 

       More than games

It is no longer about owning the games. There’s all sort of toys and decorative figurines adorning gamers’ shelves. Whether its classic figurines or the recent Amiibo and Funko characters, there will always be the need for more stuff. Framed posters, mini-arcades, plushies… the list goes on. It used to be about owning the games but now it is also about the extras. Special editions, imports, the list goes on.Where do we draw the line? I like games, but not to the point of it consuming every single inch of living space. Collectors dedicate entire rooms and create shrines to their 8, 16 and 64 bit possessions.

 

         Time’s up

For me it was time to wave on my fellow collectors goodbye as the retro-gaming ship passed me by. I loved holding the controllers of my beloved Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo between my hands and devouring the classics from my childhood, but I could no longer continue financially or mentally. I became entrapped by the possessions I owned, always on the search for more. Never would I be able to own all the games I wanted nor compete with others and I decided I’d had enough. I still have a fondness for retro-gaming and certain games will always hold a place in my heart. I’ll forever enjoy the occasional rounds of Mario Kart 64 and I’ll always have fond memories of Contra and Castlevania, but I am no longer a card-carrying member of the retro-gaming community.

Looking in the rearview mirror, I think I made the right choice.

 

gamess

 

Which is your favourite retro-gaming console? Are you a retro-gamer? If so what do you collect? Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

Short on “magic”

Book reviews, Uncategorized

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      Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, Arthur A. Levine Books; Special Rehearsal ed. edition 2016.


 

           Harry Potter was one of the most singular, defining moments of my generation. We anticipated and devoured each book as it arrived, embracing seeing our favourite characters on the big screen year after year. I love these characters and their strange, magical, sometimes dark universe. Simply put, I grew up with Hogwarts.

I wanted to find out what happened to my childhood friends. I had grown up and so had they. We last got a glimpse of their future as Harry and Ginny waved goodbye to son Albus on the train that would take him to his first year at Hogwarts. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 1 & 2 picks up exactly at that moment we were left off all these years ago. To be honest, Cursed Child is not quite the HP I grew up with. Many factors come into play. For one, it doesn’t feel written by the same author. The pace is altered and it is not as complex and rich as is usual. J.K. Rowling approved the script, but it seems that’s all she did.

Sometimes words spoken or actions taken by the characters feel slightly out-of-place. When Rowling wrote the books she knew the characters inside out and there was no questioning that fact. As such, many fans feel like they know these characters. It was interesting to see how Harry and other characters aged, but I can’t help but imagine some Potterheads might be disappointed by some of their beloved wizard’s actions. I found myself questioning some actions thinking they were out of line with the character. On occasion I felt they were dead-on with Ron and at times I thought they were making him out to be a big goof with little substance.

However, much of the intrigue and action of Cursed Child lies in two characters, Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (child of Draco Malfoy). A lot of Cursed Child‘s development happens between those two characters. To have this much weight cast upon  new additions to the Harry Potter world is a considerable and bold move. A good portion of the book focuses on the boys’ relationship. It almost feels fan-fiction driven in that regard. In the HP books we knew Harry, Ron and Hermione were great friends and meant a lot to one another, we weren’t reminded of that fact every five minutes. Neither did we have their friendship shoved down our throats the way Cursed Child does with Albus and Scorpius which wasn’t necessary.

Without revealing too much, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has more to do with time-travelling and alternate dimensions —and frankly, what ifs?— than anything else. It’s mildly interesting but mostly confusing. The idea of revisiting the past is baffling in the first place. I feel J.K. Rowling would have moved forwards in her storytelling, not backwards. Fans have become attached to the stories as they already were and it doesn’t allow this new chapter of the HP universe to truly be its own.

In fact all these time travelling elements hinder from the Cursed Child feeling like its own story. Too much of the play is focus on specific events that happened in the past that we’re forced to revisit. Part 1 was mildly interesting but the good elements of the first start to derail in the second. The ending was fitting but didn’t feel particularly rewarding. There is a big theme in Harry and Draco’s difficult relationships with their sons and the struggles of fatherhood. This added a different perspective to the characters and franchise. If you were hoping for another traditional HP volume, this is not it by any means.

Surely some were apprehensive at the idea of the book being written as a play instead of a novel, I had my own doubts. The play format works surprisingly well and is probably one of the best aspects of the book. The only negative was it made for an especially quick read in comparison to heftier volumes in the series. I was impressed by how strong of a flow Cursed Child had given its format. The brief descriptions and narration complement the story.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will no doubt be a divisive topic among fans of the series. That’s not to say it’s all bad. I liked some aspects of the book and felt it flawed in others. It’s not the heartwarming story it aims to be. Cursed Child struggles with its legacy and embraces parent-children dilemmas combined with the drama and turbulence of teenage years. Try as it might, this chapter doesn’t feel like the true continuation of the tales of our beloved wizard. There is simply less magic this time around. 2 & 1/2 stars.

“I love legends! Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Bon Jovi…”

Movie reviews, Uncategorized

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The Final Girls, Stage 6 Films/Vertical Entertainment, 2015.

     Disfigured mask-wearing killer bent on revenge? Check. Campy origin story? Check. Display of typical stereotypes? Check.

More comedy than horror, The Final Girls is part-tribute, part-spoof of it’s subject. I’ll give this one some credit because l’ve never seen a horror flick like it before. It’s very hip these days to do throwback to good old ’80s slasher-style horror, but this time we are presented with a twist rather than a formula. The audience is taken literally inside an ’80s slasher film along with our cast of loveable misfits and stereotypes as they try to survive. The movie is incredibly self-aware and pokes fun of itself at every opportunity. The Final Girls knows what it is and is not afraid to have fun with it.

The movie wears its influences, or should I say influence — Friday the 13th — on its sleeve. On occasion it even feels like a Friday sequel, albeit probably not one of the better sequels. It even rips-off the Friday theme, it clearly knows what it’s doing. The camp, the masked villain, the backstory, a child tormented by others for being different and the list goes on, it’s all here.

Characters over-act, under-act, but this is horror — it is expected, even encouraged in such homage work. It’s part of the territory. Taissa Farmiga (youngest sister of Bates Motel’s Vera Fermiga) may be the film’s lead actress, but Malin Akerman who steals the show, delivering what is a surprisingly convincing performance. The Final Girls doesn’t get everything right but the mother-daughter relation between the two actresses leads to some genuinely heartbreaking moments (the Bette Davis Eyes scene is at least). Adam Devine provides the comedic relief as Kurt, a stereotype so hellbent on being a stereotype it almost hurts.

The way the film is glued-up together and dances between comedy and horror doesn’t always work, but it puts a fresh spin on a classic genre. The Final Girls is nothing groundbreaking, rooted in nostalgia and hardly essential. Yet it’s an entertaining and creative piece of horror cinema. It’s funny minus the scary, lacks gore and threatening kills but for this type of project it makes perfect sense. There was also the previously mentioned surprising mother-daughter drama/relation that stirred up unexpected emotions, something a horror movie hasn’t been able to do to me in quite some time.

It’s a mindless horror-comedy with a heart that deserves but doesn’t necessarily require viewing. 3.5 stars.