Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, or How to Make Tom Cry Like a…

James Gunn kicked me in the balls this weekend. He didn’t do it to me, intentionally. Shit, he doesn’t even know me, let alone who I am. Well, I can’t say that, he is aware that I exist. I interviewed Oreo Raccoon’s handlers for my old gig at This Is Infamous back when I got started in this industry. Oreo was the living breathing raccoon that was scanned and animated for Rocket’s CGI mastery. Yep, I interviewed a raccoon. But I digress, my ADHD is leading us away from our topic at hand. Where were we? Oh, yes. For all intents and purposes, Gunn pulled his leg back and let it swing forward and connected with my family jewels when he wrote Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. And he did with such skill and precision I might not be able to bring myself to watch the second chapter of this film arc in the Marvel Cinematic Universe again.

I’m a Star Wars guy through and through, I was 10 when the first film hit theaters. I loved Han Solo, my favorite character. The rogue, the bad guy that gets the good girl. Now, when Han Solo died in The Force Awakens, it hit me in the feels. But I didn’t cry. My emotional attachment to Han wasn’t strong enough to bring me to tears. You see, it’s because Han was fundamentally only an archetype. He was an image to me, of something that I aspired to be, and nothing more. His death was part of the story and its placement in the narrative made perfect sense.

When Guardians of the Galaxy came out in 2014 I immediately fell in love with it. I felt the same wonder and awe that I felt with Star Wars, but there was something more. A connection to Peter Quill that I didn’t have with any character in Star Wars. On the surface, you can say why, because he had a Walk-Man? Why yes, even something that superficial can help an audience bond with a character. I’d say in this case, that the Walk-Man and the accompanying music were the glue that bound it all together.

I don’t know who my biological father was. My father, my Dad, whom passed away in February, married my Mom when I was 6 months old and adopted me some time later. I don’t think I was more than 2 or 3. I do know I remember going to the lawyer’s office on the day that, in hindsight, I determined he finalized the deal. It was a big office with a large bow window overlooking the city. A man in a suit, that my mind has morphed into former Syracuse mayor Lee Alexander, asked me who the man in the room with me was.

“My daddy,” I replied.

The man smile and said something to my father about me, they laughed and some papers were signed. I had no idea what they were for. I learned he adopted me when I turned 13. I rebelled against him and we had some trying times, much of it was my fault, we’ll leave it at that. As time went on, we appreciated one another more. At one point, the rebel in me imagined what my bio-dad would be like, much like Peter Quill did. I didn’t have a David Hasselhoff, my fantasy father was always different, sometimes an adventurer, sometimes a musician or writer. But as time has moved on, I’ve lost any desire to seek out my biological father, he’s someone I don’t care to ever know. Yes, I realize Episodes IV, V & VI of Star Wars deal with a child who lost their father, then found him. But Darth Vader was a dark villain, and I never saw my father or Dad in him, same as I didn’t feel a bond between myself and Han when Ben killed him.

Fast-forward to February 5th of 2017. Losing my Dad who was by my side nearly 50 years, that’s something different. This year has seen the worst thing that has ever happened to my family, the passing of Jack Clark. He was the glue that held us all together, the voice of reason in chaos. He was our leader, our back bone. He fought that godammed disease for 5 years until he couldn’t fight it anymore.  Fucking prostate and bone cancer.

James Gunn couldn’t have known that my Dad would die in February, 3 months to the day before his movie would be released. He had no idea of knowing that a fan of his film would share similar character traits with his lead protagonist in an ensemble piece, I’m sure there’ plenty of peeps out there who don’t know the identity of one or more of their bio-parents. He couldn’t have known that his movie would bring forth such an emotional response from someone like me, or anyone for that matter. He made his art and he unleashed it on the world, the end result a whopper of a kick, right in the balls.

Every emotion I felt in February came back as Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2’s final act came to a close. At first it was silent, subtle, a tear in the corner of my eye. Then it grew into a full on cry as my mind found every correlation between the story’s themes and my life. I sniffled and snorted, tears swelled in my eyes. I’m sure the families to my left and right wondered why this middle aged man was blatting like a baby, but I didn’t care. Yondu’s Ravager funeral had as much impact on me as the pipes playing at my Dad’s service

Is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 a good movie? You bet your sweet ass it is. It has all the charm and fun of their first adventure, with the added bonus of focusing on the characters and breathing more life into each of them, more so than any other Marvel property. No film has ever brought forth such an emotional response from me. Ever. Should you see it? Absolutely. Should I watch it again? I don’t know if I’m ready to, yet. At least not alone.

Earlier this year, Gunn said Yondu’s portrayal by Michael Rooker is Oscar-worthy. I’m going out on a limb here to say I’m down with that. But my opinion is soured by bias. Yondu became everything to me that Han Solo never could. He became an artistic representation of my Dad, Peter Quill’s adoptive father. Wait, he’s not Quill’s father, that’s right.

He’s his Daddy.

Cue tears.

What Gives, Man?

I’ve got this blog and I don’t use it. I mean, it’s here, I’ve always had it. I pay for the domain name and the fancy template. Yet, I don’t use it. Why? Is it a victim of the 115 characters you get on Twitter or the social cesspool that is Facebook? Is it a result of complete laziness? Do I blame the current political administration? Who is to fault here? Netflix and the binge worthy television program? Hearthstone or any number of other video games? Someone or something is to blame! Or are they? Wait! It’s got to be the podcasting, right? Nope. Not one of those. No one is to blame but me.

With the exception of a few instances, I took the last year off from writing about movies, TV, music or other mediums in long form to focus on my fiction. I wrote more short pieces than ever in my life. A cursed rocking chair, a camping trip gone wrong, a twist on I Am Legend with (gasp!) zombies, a mermaid in love, a girl’s favorite band. I’ve chronicled all of these the past year. I began work on my first novella that quickly became a novel and now needs a major re-write, for the better. It’s been a ponderous project, acclimating myself to thinking outside the traditional box of tropes, finding subjects to write about. As it is, life has provided me with more than enough material.

My family, especially my grandson. He’s a joy to me and I’ve often considered using his name as my pen name, C.W. Hyatt has a bad ass ring to it. My pets, a pair of Jack Russell dogs and a ten pound killer rabbit. Combined, they are a constant reminder to me that life is precious. Especially with the horrors that lurk in our darkest corners. I lost my cat last fall, his kidneys failed. It broke my heart. I’m not a cat person, but Bacchus and I were tight. Then, just before Christmas, a former associate smashed a woman’s head in with a brick, which led to the narrative changes in my novel. But ultimately, it was my father passing away that has had the greatest effect. Without a doubt, it has been the most cathartic experience I’ve gone through in my life. As a result, it’s become a catalyst for what I believe is the best thing I’ve ever written.

You see, I’m pissed I dragged ass on my novella, thinking that my Dad would be here for it when my assumed finish date, sometime this year, came. I could never have been so wrong. He fell in the bathroom on Superbowl Sunday and cancer finally beat the toughest Irishman I ever knew. I learned, instead of writing something for him to read, I must instead write something to honor his memory. I decided not to let his death defeat me in the same manner learning of his illness had once before. I wanted to write something that he would have enjoyed, something that spoke of my Dad.

And I think I found it. It makes me cry while I write it. That says something, right? It’s an idea that started in my mind as a joke, as something my Dad might have said while sitting at the campfire. I’ve never had a narrative speak to me in the manner this one has. The characters, the story, all of it is a perfect package. One part Richard Adams, one part Brian Keene, one part Greek myth… straight up without training wheels.

On the same token, my opinions about the current state of the entertainment industry need an outlet and since I’ve got this blog… I might as well use this as my soap box, my Vault perse, as it was intended to be.

Nightmare on Elmo Street

“Nightmare on Elmo Street” is the latest creation brought forth from the mind of indy flimmaker and “King of the B Movies,” Bill Zebub. Bill Zebub is a metalhead, a magazine editor, a radio personality, a social commentator and a self proclaimed clown who has been making movies since the early 2000’s. Such movies include comedies like “Indie Director” and “Stereotypes;” sexually explicit works like “Loving a Vegetable;” documentaries like “Death Metal: Are We Going to Watch You Die;” and straight up horror movies like “Night of the Pumpkin” & “Holocaust Cannibal.”

So what is “Nightmare on Elmo Street” about? In this film, you have a world where puppets and humans are living together but not necessarily in harmony. You see, some people don’t like puppets and treat them as second hand citizens. But some people do like puppets and have relationships with them. Like Lydia. Lydia, portrayed by Lydia Lael, is a starving artist who has recently hooked up with a puppet but her lesbian roommate, portrayed by Erin Brown, isn’t too keen on the idea as she is not a fan of puppets and also has a major crush on Lydia. Most of the movie revolves around these ladies relationship and it’s ups and downs. By the way, one particular puppet Erin doesn’t care for is Jesus. Yes, in this movie, Jesus is a puppet. Oh and don’t forget about the cable guy, Barbara, who is played by Bill himself. Barbara is a felon who installs cable as part of his community service. But Barbara also has a dark secret; one that gets revealed at the end of the movie. Just be wary of anytime Barbara asks if you don’t like puppets because if you don’t, something is going to happen to you and you won’t like it. There is a lot more to it, but I don’t want to ruin anything or give spoilers away. That’s not what this is for.

Simply put, Bill Zebub makes fun movies. Sure they are full of weird, quirky humor; they are loaded with gratuitous female nudity; and there is a lot of anti-religious dialogue, but overall….they’re fun. “Nightmare on Elmo Street” has all these things and more. A lot more. What you ask? How about Teddy Bear rape, girl on puppet sex and a ton of pussy………cats. Oh and it has a message. Wait….what? A message? Yes……A MESSAGE! Now basically, this movie looks like a weekend project for a film class. Some of the camera shots are static, the editing is not very tight and a few of the acting performances come off as rushed. Not to mention it also has a fecal matter consuming puppet called “The Cocky Monster.” Get it? Instead of “The Cookie Monster?” Yeah it’s got all that. Now don’t get me wrong, I like Bill’s movies. But there are some things you’ll probably end up fast forwarding through. Like the fight scenes for example. The fight scenes in this movie, and several of Bill’s other films, are usually produced in slow motion which drag them out in my opinion. Plus there are some scenes which seem to move the film away from it’s main focus. But  if you can get through all that, you get to the message. And what is the message you ask? Well I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to see for yourself. But trust me, when you get to the message, it will be a big WTF moment.

You see above the editing and the slow mo fight scenes, that’s the thing I really enjoy about Bill’s movies. He has all these weird things happening on the surface that normal people will turn their noses up at and ignore but just under the surface is some intriguing dialogue that indiscreetly exposes religious hypocrisy and also engages in breaking down our common American English language for it’s inconsistencies. What a concept? A movie featuring a woman having oral sex with a puppet also includes these highly thought-inspiring themes. Well, not to mention, the lovely ladies that adorn this film like, Lydia Lael, Erin Brown, Scarlett Storm, Vanna Blondelle & Dangrrr Doll.

So if you don’t have the attention span to make it through the 2 hours and 7 minutes of this movie to get to that message I mentioned, don’t bother. If you want to look at some beauties in little to nothing, go for it. If you want to have a film that you and your friends can let roll while you polish off a few bottles of Jack, Jim & Crown, this is for you. Or if you’re like me and can appreciate the time, work and effort it takes for an indy film to be made and want to see how the director did it with very little resources, then you should see this movie.

If you want to see it, go to Bill’s Vimeo page where you can rent or buy this movie and stream it online: https://vimeo.com/billzebub/vod_pages

As of this writing, Bill has an Indiegogo page up to help fund his next project, “Dickshark.” https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dickshark#/story. I made my donation so why don’t you.

Here is one final clip for you. It’s an outtake featuring Bill and Dangrrr Doll. And as a former Pro-Wrestler, Bill, my advice to you is learn how to bump. It will still hurt but not as much.

The Maxx Axe can be found on line on Facebook.com/TheMaxxAxe and Twitter @themaxxaxe.

THE NECROCASTICONTEST (UPDATED!)

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NO COMMENTS YET?  HOW ABOUT WE UP THE ANTE!

Who likes free stuff? We’ve got a Necrocasticon prize package to give out, featuring:

A rare, worn paperback copy of THE KILL RIFF from David J. Schow, one of the seminal splatterpunk novels of the late 20th Century. (Because you should own this book.)

Digital Copies of ALTERNATE HILARITIES: VAMPIRES SUCK and HYSTERICAL REALMS, featuring short stories by Necrocasticon host, Token Tom. (They’re funny. And scary)

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A complete set of Azriel Mordecai Cthulhu art prints (drive your friends crazy jealous).

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A $5.00 iTunes credit to purchase the IT’S WAR ep (Cos we love it and you will, too).

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Plus more to be announced.

How do you get this awesome stuff?

Simply rate us and leave a comment on your preferred podcast outlet, be it iTunes, Stitcher, Roku, etc. We’ll compile a list of those that leave comments and rate us. Each comment/rating is an entry! Multiple entries are allowed. The more you rank and comment, the better your chance to win! We’ll pick a winner in a month! Yes, you are allowed to go back and comment and rank on the previously produced shows.

Oh, the contest starts TODAY!

The Paradox of TERMINATOR GENISYS

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I remember seeing the first James Cameron TERMINATOR film as a young man, 17 years old. We had heard the scuttle on the film, mind you this is an era with instant news and the internet, and advance word through magazines indicated the film was revolutionary and would make a star out of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now, we all loved Arnie in CONAN: THE BARBARIAN from a couple years before, so he was fast becoming a genre action hero. Knowing how excited we were, my friend’s Mom felt we should see it, and sneaked us into the R rated flick. The deal was we never tell. I think the statute of limitations has expired on that, some thirty-one years later. Needless to say, I was amazed at what I saw. THE TERMINATOR told a simple story, the themes engaged me and the special effects amazed me. I’d already been exposed to the nihilistic, post-apocalyptic fair of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE ROAD WARRIOR and BLADE RUNNER during the preceding few years. But as the opening sequence of THE TERMINATOR unfolded with a tank tread crushing a road of human skulls, my life changed. From that moment forward, nothing could top THE TERMINATOR or my adoration of the film. It also encouraged my interest in time travel, something we’ll do through out this essay. Starting… then…

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Last night I watched TERMINATOR GENISYS. IMAX 3D, of course. If the advance word I had on this entry into the venerable series held any truth, I would need the 3D. The theater was empty, for the most part. I blame that less on critics panning the film than the actual advertising campaign. Here’s where we add TERMINATOR GENISYS to a select group of films that aren’t actually bad, but suffered from a marketing faux pax, ala JOHN CARTER, and are now prejudged to be awful in advance. The advertising for TERMINATOR GENISYS has been off the mark since day one. Couple that with revealing the “twist” of the story three months prior to its release, and you have a recipe for disaster. Now, I can picture the pitch to the studio, “In this one, John Connor is the Terminator!” And the studio heads approved the film. It looks good on paper, right? When initial reactions to the first trailers were met with fanboy hate, an unwise marketing rep decided to make an executive order to cut the infamous twist-reveal trailer. If it worked with the studio, it will work with John Q. Public, right? Wrong. When people watched that trailer, they shook their heads, proclaimed, “John Connor is a Terminator?” And checked out. Why bother watching it, we found out all we needed to know in the trailer. And that’s a shame. TERMINATOR GENISYS isn’t exactly a horrible film, it’s certainly flawed without a doubt, but it doesn’t deserve the vehement hate it has received. At least that’s how I felt after watching it and during my ride home. Time to go… there…

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I got home and started making notes for this review. What I liked, what I didn’t like. Something didn’t sit right with me. So I watched THE TERMINATOR again. This wasn’t good for TERMINATOR GENISYS. I found myself very unhappy with TERMINATOR GENISYS for the same reasons I dislike 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. Someone, and I’m not sure if it was director Alan Taylor or writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, forgot what made both THE TERMINATOR and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, work. The blame does not lie with Arnold, oh no.  He plays the Terminator like a pro. He’s the most refreshing thing of the film, and he’s oldest part of the franchise! The in jokes surrounding this are abundant. Part of the blame lies in the casting of Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese. Courtney is a solid actor, but he’s not the right actor for this part. Kyle Reese, as given life by Michael Biehn, is an embodiment of The Man With No Name, he’s gritty and flawed, a man of few words. Jai Courtney transforms Reese into a wise cracking motor mouth and he’s not very likable. His presence on screen often took me out of the film, wishing for Biehn. By contrast, Emelia Clarke’s Sarah Connor is done very well, but it’s almost over the top, she’s less morose than Linda Hamilton, and acts somewhat like a spoiled teenager. Yet it’s not either of those that bring the film down. It’s the dick whipping Terminator count and time traveling run amok.

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More Terminators doesn’t mean better, and this is where they forget what made both T1 and T2 work: the Terminator films are horror films, simply put. The Terminator is a scary, unstoppable force. It is supposed to frighten you. Yet in TERMINATOR GENISYS, they’re plentiful and get knocked off left and right. It’s like a porn convention of Terminators. Everyone is a Terminator. Even John Connor. And that is the ultimate problem with TERMINATOR GENISYS. Starting with TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, John Connor became the series protagonist. He was the hero we bonded with. Making him into a Terminator caused a disassociation with the audience, predicating the film’s imminent failure. Yeah, it looked good on paper, but it didn’t play out that way on screen. It also doesn’t help that Jason Clarke has played the least likeable John Connor since the franchise launched.

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Just as more Terminators are bad for business, so is more time traveling. It’s a cop out plot MacGuffin when you answer your problems with a hop on the time travel machine. But more so, the time traveling issues are an ironic representation of the movie’s inherent pacing problems. There’s no sense of urgency in the narrative, no suspense. We aren’t given an opportunity to build any, and that’s due in part to the plot line. There’s so much going on, we can’t waste a moment for any development. This is evident from the opening credits, as we get story from the opening frame. Which leads us to… now.

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TERMINATOR GENISYS has come out, people are hating on it. There’s no doubt that the TERMINATOR franchise has hit some bumps in the road, and TERMINATOR GENISYS is one more but as a film on its own, it really isn’t that bad. It’s certainly better than TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES, which can be machete cut out of your viewings of the saga. TERMINATOR SALVATION is solid stand alone film, albeit misguided in its McG-ness, and I would say TERMINATOR GENISYS is a notch better. But when comparing modern films to classic cinema such as THE TERMINATOR and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, the bar is already set so high, it is nearly impossible for the newer film to achieve any positive notoriety. Plus, keep in mind that THE TERMINATOR ascended its B-Movie status to become much more than it was intended to be. So give TERMINATOR GENISYS a chance. You might enjoy it for what it is, a B-movie homage. I did.

Breaking Benjamin Goes Crazier For DARK BEFORE DAWN

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Often, when a band takes a long hiatus, their return to the recording world isn’t relevant. Or good. Generally this is because they stopped taking drugs, their time off attributed to legal issues surrounding them or a loss of a key member or two because of their abuse. Drugs, hate them or leave them, are one of the back bones to the music industry. The old adage and battle cry of music; Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘N Roll wouldn’t be complete without the drugs. I’m not condoning illegal drug use here, but let’s face it, Guns ‘N Roses sucked after they stopped doing drugs. Once Metallica removed booze from the equation (and their name is an amalgam of metal and alcohol!), we got ST. ANGER. Seether’s best material came from the darkness of drinking, and the magnificent opus that is FINDING BEAUTY IN NEGATIVE SPACES is the result of years of abuse Sean Morgan put himself through. Drugs are bad, hmm…kay. Unless they make music, then I’m all for the tragic bard, ala Jim Morrsion or Kurt Cobain. There is a flip side to this, which involves people not taking drugs when they should be. These are the members of the music community that are fucked up in the head without the need for substances. Axl Rose falls into this category, his special kind of crazy combined with the abused spirits and junk that were prevalent topics throughout Guns ‘N Roses’ library of early songs created magic. As does the ever neurotic hypochondriac, Benjamin Burnley of Breaking Benjamin.

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This review is not here to extrapolate on the issues behind the band’s five year absence from music, yet we can’t tell this story without touching on it in some manner. Burnley went a little nuttier than his normal whacky self, his friends and former band mates were lured into the deceptive web of record company bullshit. This led to Ben gaining a moment of clarity (?) and shit canning his band after winning a legal dispute over the band’s name. Ben replaced them with what is essentially a super group of musicians, including former members of Red, Adelita’s Way, Forever Oeuvre and Picture Me Broken. The outcome of this, DARK BEFORE DAWN, is a literal phoenix rising from immolation, a melodic modern emo-metal masterpiece, ripe with hooks and harmonies, drenched in Breaking Benjamin’s familiar, melancholy sound.

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Throughout DARK BEFORE DAWN you can feel Ben and his troubles, his angst isn’t that of being young. It is a consequence of his personal madness. And it’s something any fan of music can relate to. We’ve all got our own crazy, and Benjamin Burnley has been able to build a bridge between himself and his audience through his depressing lyrics and the symphonic morose of the instruments. We’ve had teases of the album throughout the year, leading up to last week’s debut of the completed record. Failure, Angels Fall and Defeated were a sampling of what was to come. The final product is as good as you would assume, confirming that 140,00 people weren’t wrong when their purchases of the album catapulted DARK BEFORE DAWN to the top of the Billboard Hot 200.

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What concerns me is the 140,000 sold, yes that was enough to give the number 1 album, but it’s a small number, considering we have over 300 million people in the United States alone. It is a testimony of the swan song of the old music industry, and the only way to survive in this horrible economic climate is to produce quality music. Ben Burnley has done it again on DARK BEFORE DAWN, and with only five albums of original material, he has entered Breaking Benjamin into a select group of bands that have survived the test of time.