Film Review: “Antebellum”

  • ANTEBELLUM
  • Starring: Janelle Monáe, Jena Malone
  • Directed by: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz
  • Rated: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 45 mins
  • Lionsgate 

Kansas City native Janelle Monáe (“Moonlight,” “Hidden Figures”) gets an overdue opportunity to be a headline star in the alleged horror flick “Antebellum.” While Monáe burns brightly on the silver screen as a successful sociologist in present day and as a slave on a cotton plantation, “Antebellum” is such a meandering, sluggish work of cinema that you want to scream out, “Get on with it!” Furthermore, placing this film in the horror genre is a fallacy because while the story itself is horrific on every level imaginable, it is not necessarily a “horror” film like recent classics as “Us” and “Get Out.” 

We first meet Eden (Monáe) after Confederate officer Captain Jasper (Jack Huston, “Fargo” the TV series) executes a female slave as she tries to escape a Louisiana plantation during the Civil War. Eden is subsequently branded with a hot iron by a disgusting Confederate general who claims her as his own personal property. Despite the failure of the escape attempt, current and newly arrived slaves look to Eden as someone who can lead them to freedom. However, Eden tells anyone who approaches her to keep their eyes down and follow the Captain’s rules about not speaking unless spoken to. 

After being raped by the General, Eden dreams of being renowned sociologist and author Veronica Henley in modern day America. A woman who has found a balance between being a wife/mother and having a successful career, Veronica is often sought after for interviews and speaking engagements. One of whom is a mysterious southern-speaking woman named Elizabeth (Jena Malone in an almost maniacal performance), who bears a striking resemblance to the plantation’s white matriarch. After celebrating with friends, Veronica takes an Uber ride to her hotel, but discovers that Elizabeth, whom she only met via an awkward online conversation, is driving and Veronica is subsequently knocked out with a blow to the head. 

“Antebellum” does have an interesting twist, but there are so many glaring breadcrumbs that it is almost expected. Additionally, just to get to the “surprise” it takes as long to get there as it does to walk across the Sahara Desert. The supposed climax is a little clumsy and not as rewarding as one might hope it to be. Monáe is a delight to watch, though, as she infuses both of her characters with grace and an inner strength that is almost tangible. With superb skill, she contrasts these elements with a sense of sheer terror and tremendous pain when called upon to do so. 

Overall, “Antebellum” does have an intriguing premise with a talented star, but it fails to deliver on almost every level, and unfortunately, Monáe is left to carry the load as her supporting cast is largely forgettable. Much like the film.

Book Review: “Get in the Car, Jane!”

GET IN THE CAR, JANE!

  • Author: Billy Van Zandt
  • Publisher: Van Zandt/Milmore Productions
  • Paperback, 248 pages
  • Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

I first flew to Los Angeles in 2015. After I landed I picked up my rental car and headed to a restaurant to meet Billy Van Zandt.

38-years earlier, Billy Van Zandt did the same thing. Only instead of heading to lunch, he headed to Lucille Ball’s house. Ms. Ball wasn’t home. Billy was informed of this news by a butler who proceeded to slam the door in his face. But fate soon lent a hand and, before he knew it, he and his then-girlfriend Jane Wilmore would soon embark on an amazing four decade journey through Hollywood.

Brilliantly written, “Get in the Car, Jane!” is a hilarious look at what goes on behind the scenes in the wonderful world of television. From wide-eyed kids who wrote their own theatrical shows and aspired to be actors to show runners of their own shows, Billy and Jane’s adventures will keep you in stitches as they work their way up the ropes, rubbing elbows with many of the greatest performers in history, including  Lucille Ball, Brooke Shields, Frank Sinatra, Don Rickles, Martin Lawrence, Andrew Dice Clay, Richard Lewis, Bob Newhart, Jamie Lee Curtis, The Wayans Bros., Richard Mulligan, Alan Arkin, DL Hughley, Dorothy Lamour, Elaine Stritch, Olympia Dukakis and Penny Marshall,

Billy and Jane’s writing samples earn them a spot on the writing staff of “Newhart” and soon they begin working on and writing shows for many of the popular television series of the 1990s, including “Anything But Love,” “Martin,” “The Wayans Bros,” “Suddenly, Susan,” “Yes Dear” and “The Hughleys.” All of these tales are terrific. The pages dealing with the birth, and death, of the Don Rickles/Richard Lewis series “Daddy Dearest” is worth the price of the book alone.

Sadly Jane Wilmore passed away earlier this year but Billy Van Zandt is still writing and still knocking them dead in the aisles. Today’s times require a healthy dose of laughter to help get us by and “Get in the Car, Jane!” is the perfect prescription!

Film Review: “Murder in the Woods”

  • MURDER IN THE WOODS
  • Starring: José Julián, Jeanette Samano and Danny Trejo
  • Directed by: Luis Iga Garza
  • Rated: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 30 minutes
  • REZINATE entertainment

This is an equation we’re all familiar with. Woodsy atmosphere plus amply endowed and oversexed girls plus alcohol, minus clothing divided by a grim anniversary equals amateur orgy meets bloodbath.

“Murder in the Woods,” from writer/director Luis Iga Garza, pulls a lot of familiar notes together with a Latina influence to deliver a safe but enjoyably brisk slash-y adventure. The film features a cast full of Latino actors intended for mainstream English speaking audiences. The absence of cultural stereotypes is refreshing and, frankly, demanded in 2020. It’s interesting to see how this story pulls cues from, essentially, an entire decade of slasher tropes whilst turning that genre on it’s head.

Pressing forward as audiences increasingly support (and insist on) elevating voices of creators of color it can be assumed that this will become more the norm. That said, I can only help that titles like this will prove to be a gateway for more original storytelling to highlight spooky delights from new ancestral wells. It’s imperative that if this route is important to you that you demand it with your support of projects like this. It may very well be the first American slasher featuring exclusively actors of color and that is very much an achievement of note.

That being said, “Murder in the Woods” is rather aggressively force feeding a large helping of nostalgic nods so your enjoyment of this film is going to be largely dependent on if throwbacks are still your jam or not. Although refreshingly diverse, this circle of youths is here to remind us that, no matter their skin color, entitled suburbanites can only behave so progressively.

The trusted roles of smart virgin, loose popular girl and frat-bros are still going strong here. Spooky local sheriff? They made sure Danny Trejo was strong-armed in for that quota too. So again, if the punishment of badly behaved teens via plentiful gore is still in your wheelhouse then this one is a go for you – and face it, sometimes that’s the comfort food that all horror fans crave. After a stint at drive-ins last month, MURDER is coming to VOD on September 18th and I think this might be a perfect title to recreate the drive-in atmosphere in your backyard via projector if that’s plausible. Some popcorn and an outdoor ambiance with flashlights and friends might be all you need to let this one headline a solid night of jump scares and fun. 

Film Review: “TENET”

  • TENET
  • Starring:  John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Kenneth Branagh
  • Directed by: Christopher Nolan
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 30 mins
  • Warner Bros

It’s rare when you can go to a film, notice an actor’s performance and make a mental note that “this person is going to be great someday.”  I made such a note in 1981 when I saw a little comedy called “Carbon Copy,” which was the story of a white man (George Segal) who discovers he has a black son.  The actor portraying the son was so natural on screen…so assured, and I walked out of the theatre thinking I had to keep an eye out for this guy.  Four decades later he is a nine-time Oscar nominee – and winner of two Academy Awards – we all know named Denzel Washington.  I made that same mental note a couple of years ago after seeing Spike Lee’s Oscar-winning film “BlacKKKlansman.”  The actor in question here was John David Washington.  Denzel’s son.  The apple didn’t fall far from the tree, as John David proves with his performance in Christopher Nolan’s latest epic, “Tenet.”

Like another of Nolan’s previous films, “Inception,” it is hard to talk about “Tenet” without spoiling the fun of the movie-going experience.  I think I can get away with saying that it is an espionage-themed thriller with an amazing time bending premise that I really couldn’t discuss if I wanted to because I still haven’t figured everything out.  Nolan has created an incredible storyline that takes the viewer literally all over the world in search of something that, if not located, can have repercussions the world over.

The story is propelled by some amazing on-screen performances.  Mr. Washington takes hold of the screen in every scene he’s in, holding his own against other amazingly talented actors.  Not only is he powerful on screen but he exudes a strong self-confidence.  In fact, may I be the first to suggest that, if Idris Elba doesn’t become the next James Bond, the producers give Mr. Washington a call.  Pattinson, who with recent strong performances in films like “The Lighthouse” and “Highlife,” has left the stigma of the ‘Twilight” series in the rearview mirror.  His character here has a sly air about him, enough so that I feel much better about his being cast to be the next Batman.  As a Russian villain (are there any other kind) Branagh is downright frightening.  As his long suffering wife, Elizabeth Debecki is both heart-breaking and beautiful.

Technically the film is a masterpiece.  The production design is first rate and the various locations jump off the screen like three-dimensional postcards.  The film is reminiscent of the Bond films of the late 70s and early 80s, chock full of brutal fights and hair raising car chases.  The soundtrack literally knocks you back in your seat, so this is a film to pay close attention to less you miss something on screen.

Before the film started, one of my fellow critics asked the following question:  If you are going to recommend people see this movie, are you going to tell them it’s all right to go back into movie theatres?  An excellent question.  I actually did that – suggested putting on a mask and going to the movies – in my review of “Unhinged” last week.  But really that is something only you, the reader, can decide for yourself.  I will say that if ever a movie deserved to be seen on the biggest screen possible it is “Tenet.”

I am confident in saying that if you go to see it you will not be disappointed. 

Film Review: “Unhinged”

UNHINGED
Starring:  Russell Crowe, Caren Pistorius and Gabriel Bateman
Directed by: Derrick Borte
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hur 38 mins
Solstice Studios

It’s happened to everyone.  I know it’s happened to me.  You’re behind someone at a red light and, when the light turns green, they don’t move.  Usually I’ll give them a couple of seconds and give them a courtesy tap
on the horn.  How about you?

On a dark rainy night, Tom Cooper (a beefy and never better Crowe) sits in his truck outside a darkened house.  He removes his wedding ring and tosses it behind him.  After striking a match and letting it burn down to his fingers he grabs a hatchet and a gasoline can and makes his way to the front door.  Soon, the occupants of the house are dead and the home is in flames.  Tom, it seems, is having a bad day.

Rachel (Pistorius) is awakened by a call from her attorney.  Her soon-to-be-ex-husband is asking for more in the settlement.  Realizing she is running late, she needs to take her son, Kyle (Bateman) to school and has a business appointment, she hurries out the door.  Making good time she finds herself behind a truck at a red light.  Rather than giving a courtesy tap on the horn, she blares her impatience.  Then she does it again.  As the light begin to change to red she speeds around the still unmoving vehicle.  Rachel is about to have an even badder day.

A thrill-ride of a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat, “Unhinged” displays its opening credits over images of social unrest and images of people acting out angrily while snippets of newscasts decrying the current situation in the world are broadcast.  Though obviously filmed some time ago, the film could easily be set today.  Tom tracks Rachel down on the road and asks for an apology.  She refuses, informing him that she is having a bad day.  This triggers the bottled rage in Tom (we learn later that he too has been divorced) and what could have been settled with a sincere “I’m Sorry” soon becomes a tragic story with innocent bodies left it its wake. 

I was introduced to Russell Crowe through his performance as the nasty skinhead Hando in the film “Romper Stomper.”  Other roles, like the quick tempered Bud White in “L.A. Confidential” and his Academy Award winning performance as Maximus in “Gladiator” pretty much cement him in my mind as the one guy in Hollywood you would never want to piss off.  Tom Cooper is no exception.  With his soft spoken manner and quiet tone, the rage built up in Tom seeps through his eyes, making him one scary guy.  As Rachel, Ms. Pistorius has a quiet toughness that allows her to stand up to the physical and emotional torment she is being put through.  Young Mr. Bateman is equally strong, portraying a real teen-ager who is both frightened and resourceful.

Director Borte, who directed and co-wrote 2018’s outstanding “American Dreamers” keeps the action moving and doesn’t miss a beat in building up the audience’s suspense.

As theatres begin to open up again, I strongly recommend putting on a mask and heading to see “Unhinged.” 

Book Review: “Do What You Want: The Story of Bad Religion”

“Do What You Want: The Bad Religion Story”

Author: Bad Religion w/ Jim Ruland
Hachette Books
Hardcover: 336 pages

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

From their beginnings as teenagers experimenting in a San Fernando Valley garage to headlining major music festivals around the world Bad Religion has been bringing anthemic punk rock to the masses since 1982.  “Do What You Want: The Bad Religion Story” tells the whole story of Bad Religion’s 40-year career in irreverent style and detail.

Over the course of the books 336 pages author Jim Ruland and Bad Religion members Greg Graffin, Jay Bentley, Brian Baker and Brett Gurewitz among others take readers on an explorative narrative of the bands career the likes of which we have never seen nor read. From the earliest meetings of transplanted Wisconsinite Greg Graffin  and his long time song writing partner Brett Gurewitz and on up through the release of the band’s most recent 2019 studio album “Age of Unreason” the book serves as a up to date document which leaves no stone unturned. Personally I enjoyed the chapters recounting the creation of albums like “Suffer”, “Stranger Than Fiction” and the often forgotten “Into The Unknown” an album which we learn was nearly the end of Bad Religion all together. Included amongst the 27 chapters are a collection of photos from all different eras of the bands career along with early show flyers and magazine covers. Needless to say very cool!

“Do What You Want: The Bad Religion Story” is not just another warts and all band biography. Fans of the band will certainly enjoy hearing the full history of the band which until now has never completely been shared. If you are looking for another tale of the cliché sex, drugs and rock n roll then this is not the book for you. Yes those topics are talked about however not to the extent other books of similar format have. Instead the focus (as it should be) is on the members themselves and their sheer determination to make great music. No matter if you are a casual listener or the most diehard BR fan “Do What You Want: The Bad Religion Story” is an enjoyable read which keeps you turning the pages chapter after chapter.

Effects Pedal Review: Steel Panther “The Butthole Burner”

“The Butthole Burner” Guitar Effects Pedal

Steel Panther

Our Score 4 out of 5 stars

Hot! Spicy! Sexy! And, Feisty! Steel Panther presents the newest edition in its line of signature guitar effects pedals. “The Butthole Burner” distortion pedal will scorch eardrums and backsides with the click of a button.  

Limited to one production run, “The Butthole Burner” is a repacking of the controversial “P**** Melter” distortion pedal which was released in 2019. Housed in a brushed red metal casing complete with multi-colored knobs and light up “peppers” the “Burner” is capable of adding an edgy boost to your favorite tone or craft a completely new sound. With two levels of selectable distortion (Scorched and Balmy) and knobs for Jalepen-Low, Wasab-Hi, Gasoline (load out) and Lava Flow (load in) guitarists can quickly dial in a usable sound without having to read a lengthy user manual or take an advanced electronics class. The pedal can be powered by a single 9 volt battery or via a power adapter (not included).  

After a couple minutes of turning knobs and changing the micro switch between the two distortion options I found a setting within the Balmy mode that paired nicely with my current distortion. Acting as more of a boost in this situation the “Burner” gave me just enough boost and saturation to make my solo’s stand out above our standard mix. The Scorched setting was a bit more than I needed and at times was a touch shrill however, I am sure there are plenty of players out there who will enjoy the razor like attack when the pedal is cranked to the max in this configuration. One other thing worth mentioning is the switching. Like most high end effect’s pedals the “Burner” features a standard tru-bypass switch. The switch included on my pedal was a bit stiff and required a heavy step for it to fully engage. This threw me off the first couple of times I stepped on it as it did not engage like other pedals but after a direct, heavy downward step on the button the dual red LED’s lit up the pepper graphics and we were on our way to sonic goodness.

If you picked up the first iteration of this pedal “The P**** Melter” and are looking for something with a different sound you will probably  want to skip this pedal as aside from the new aesthetics electronically it is built on the same engine as its predecessor making for little to no difference in tonal variety. If you missed out on the controversial pedals initial release and, have been longing for a pedal that is as visually aggressive as its sound then head over to Steelpantherrocks.com and snag one of the remaining units as it will certainly add some excitement to your guitar sound.  

Toy Review: PlayMobil “Back to the Future”

“Back to the Future”

DeLorean/Marty Mcfly & Dr. Emmett Brown

Playmobil

Our Score 4.5 out of 5 stars

Playmobil goes back to the future! With the iconic DeLorean vehicle and Marty Mcfly/Dr. Emmett Brown figure two packs. Following in the footsteps of the companies “Ghostbusters” and “Scooby Doo” lines “Back to the Future” is the most recent property to get Playmobil’s signature toy treatment. Both kids and nostalgic parents will enjoy reliving their favorite moments from the films time and time again with these recently released toys.

After a brief construction period our in house toy tester was on his way with his brightly lit DeLorean and highly detailed figures time traveling to different areas of the house taking breaks just long enough to refuel his vehicle with the included plutonium and then he was off again before you could say “Great Scott!” The DeLorean vehicle features gull-wing doors, folding wheels for hover mode, an illuminated flux capacitor inside and a blue illuminated exterior. Included with the vehicle is Marty Mcfly and Doc Brown in their outfits from 1985 along with a plutonium case, skateboard, remote control and Einstein, Doc Browns lovable companion. Also available is a two figure set which again features Marty and Doc Brown however this time outfitted in their 1950’s clothing complete with a guitar for Marty. With the DeLorean already including both Marty and Doc it would have been nice to see some of the other characters from the film available before these two but that didn’t halt our testers imagination any as he switched between the various versions of the characters and their included accessories.

Our in-house toy tester Ian w/ The DeLorean

As with all Playmobil products the detail on each piece and figures in the “Back to the Future” line is top notch. Even the included cuffs for Marty’s 1980’s attire feature the same print seen in the movie. Very cool! The DeLorean set is priced at $49.99 and for what all is included we thought that was a pretty fair price. You will need to purchase AAA batteries for the lights as sadly those are not included. The two figure set has a price tag of $7.99 which might deter some purchasers as only two accessories are included and the figures are again based off of Marty and Doc. Collectors will definitely want to get both and if you truly want to recreate the scenes from the films then you NEED multiple Marty’s and Doc Browns. With the latest “Back to the Future” release from Playmobil you “don’t need roads”; all you need is your imagination to bring these really fun toys to life.

Digital Review “You Should Have Left”

“You Should Have Left” had the chance to be epic. Kevin Bacon was reuniting with the writer/director David Koepp, they last teamed up on 1999’s “Stir of Echoes”. Throw in one of my Hollywood crushes, Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again“, “Les Misérables”), and you have a winner…right?! Sorry, this slow burn thriller-at best (not horror) doesn’t pay off in the end. Performances from Bacon and Seyfried were OK, no issues there. Well, maybe all except for Seyfried’s over-the-top orgasm (during an off-camera sex scene). The house in the film definitely interested me more than the movie itself.
 
Official Premise: In this psychological thriller from Blumhouse Productions and legendary screenwriter Koepp, Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried star as a couple seeking a restful vacation in a remote home in the Welsh countryside. What at first seems like a perfect retreat distorts into a terrifying nightmare when reality begins to unravel, dark episodes from the past resurface, and a sinister force in the house refuses to let them leave.

I give them credit for attempting to get to where they were trying to get to, since they never quite make it fully. The idea of the haunted house was kinda neat but I would have loved to seen it fleshed more. A little less mystery. Honestly, though if that house is on AirBNB someone tell me because its gorgeous! There are no extra content included with the digital code.

Blu-ray Review “The Outsider: The Complete First Season”

Season: 4 out of stars
Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2 out of 5 stars

After the success of “IT”, there has been a full flow of Stephen King’s novels being adapted into film or TV being kicked into production. “The Outsider” is based off of King’s 2018 book. The show is backed with a great cast packed with great twists and turns that will keep you gripped to the TV until the climax. Ben Mendelsohn has made his name playing lead baddies in “Rogue One” and “Ready Player One” recently. It is nice seeing the other side of him in this series. Jason Bateman nails the dramatic angle again for sure after “Ozark”. This show was a big hit for HBO’s being labeled as its most watched new series in the last three years. So expect a second season in the works very soon!

Official Premise: Based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel of the same name, The Outsider is a new drama series that follows a seemingly straightforward investigation into the gruesome murder of a local boy. When 11-year-old Frankie Peterson’s body is found mutilated in the Georgia woods, police detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) sets out to investigate – with eyewitnesses and physical evidence pointing to Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), a popular high school teacher, Little League coach, doting husband and father. While the case appears ironclad, Ralph is baffled by the emergence of contradictory evidence that places his suspect in a neighboring city at the time of the murder. The mysterious set of circumstances surrounding this horrifying crime leads Ralph, a seasoned cop still grieving the recent death of his own son, to bring in unorthodox private investigator Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo), whose uncanny abilities he hopes will help explain the unexplainable.

The incredible cast of The Outsider includes Emmy®- and Golden Globe nominee Ben Mendelsohn (“Bloodline,” “Ready Player One”), Tony Award winner and Oscar® and Golden Globe nominee Cynthia Erivo (“The Color Purple,” “Harriet”), Bill Camp (Emmy®-nominee for “The Night Of”), Mare Winningham (Oscar® nominee for “Georgia”), Paddy Considine (HBO’s upcoming “The Third Day”), Julianne Nicholson (HBO’s upcoming “Mare of Easttown”), Yul Vázquez (“Divorce”), Jeremy Bobb (CINEMAX’s “The Knick”) and Marc Menchaca (“The Sinner”), with Emmy® and Golden Globe winner Jason Bateman (“Ozark,” “Arrested Development”) as Terry Maitland.

The 1080p transfer of the episodes are sharp, like “Castle Rock”, this show does not have an 4K Ultra HD release. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks work perfectly with the score leading these episodes with great suspense. In addition to all 10 exhilarating episodes from season one, The Outsider: The Complete First Season the Blu-ray features over 40 minutes of behind-the-scenes bonus content including the all-new featurette “EL CUCO. THE BABA YAGA. THE OUTSIDER.” In this never-before-seen featurette you dive deeper into the real-world origins and supernatural abilities of the being at the center of The Outsider with interview from the creators and cast. The rest of the featurettes are worth taking a look at but nothing too stunning to jump out at you. “Invitation to Set” takes you through a tour of the show’s shooting locations. We have brief interviews with Stephen King and Jason Bateman. Lastly, “Adapting The Outsider” talks about bringing the story to life from the book to small screen.

BONUS FEATURES

  • EL CUCO. THE BABA YAGA. THE OUTSIDER – All New Featurette
  • Invitation to Set
  • Stephen King and The Outsider
  • Jason Bateman and The Outsider
  • Adapting The Outsider

10 ONE-HOUR EPISODES

  1. Fish in a Barrel
  2. Roanoke
  3. Dark Uncle
  4. Que Viene el Coco
  5. Tear-Drinker
  6. The One About The Yiddish Vampire
  7. In the Pines, In the Pines
  8. Foxhead
  9. Tigers and Bears
  10.  Must/Can’t

Video Game Review: “Goosebumps Dead of Night”

“Goosebumps Dead of Night”

Playstation, Xbox One, Steam, Nintendo Switch

Cosmic Forces

Our Score 4 out of 5 stars

“Goosebumps Dead of Night” is a family-friendly way for Goosebumps fans of all ages to engage with some of their favorite R.L. Stine stories and characters while getting spooked a bit. Slappy has escaped from the pages of Goosebumps and reunited his family of Monsters. It’s up to you to stop Slappy’s dastardly plan to unleash the Goosebumps monsters into our world. Hide from monsters summoned from classic Goosebumps tales while exploring and solving puzzles in an effort to trap Slappy back into his book. Can you survive Slappy’s wrath and defeat him?

Straight from the pages and screen of your favorite Goosebumps books and films is the latest installment in the Goosebumps franchise. “Goosebumps Dead of Night” is a first person RPG that transports the player directly into the world of R.L. Stine. Players are immersed in dark and eerie locations while being tasked with having to collect missing book pages while warding off creepy clowns, werewolves, angry garden gnomes and the one and only Slappy! Visually the game looks great and captures the spirit of the series quite well. The foreboding soundtrack adds to the games appeal and certainly helps with several jump moments. It was a lot of fun going from level to level and seeing which story characters you were going to encounter next as each task brings the player closer and to closer to a final showdown with Slappy high up within the Tesla tower.

If you are new to first person RPG’s then it may take a little while to get used to the controls and how to navigate around the different levels but, once you have that all down the game provides is a lot of fun. Parents of younger players may want to check the game out first as there are some parts which can be a little frightening. Fans of the books will obviously want to check this out on one of the four available platforms (Playstation, Xbox One, Steam, Nintendo Switch) as “Goosebumps Dead of Night” is a great continuation of the Goosebumps franchise and one that both parents and youth will enjoy playing time and time again.

CD Review: “Skeleton Coast” The Lawrence Arms

“Skeleton Coast”

The Lawrence Arms

Epitaph Records

Tracks: 14

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Chicago Punk’s The Lawrence Arms are set to release their 6th studio album July 17th titled “Skeleton Coast”.  The album which is being released via Epitaph records contains elements of the band’s sound which fans have come to love for nearly two decades. Although it was written and recorded before the Corona virus upended the world, “Skeleton Coast” sounds eerily prescient as it imagines an apocalyptic future where coyotes croon and wolf packs roam free

Coming in at 35 minutes spread over 14 tracks the latest offering from veteran punks The Lawrence Arms provides an upbeat lift during uncertain times. Don’t let the upbeat rhythms fool you as the albums lyrical content cuts deeps leaving a lasting impression that will stick with listeners long after the closing notes ring out. Having caught these guys last year opening for Bad Religion I was anxious to hear what the group’s latest studio album had to offer. Upon first listen I was drawn to tracks like “Quiet Storm”, “Belly of the Whale” and “Last Last Words” which are all straight ahead rockers showcasing the dual vocals of guitarist Chris McCaughan and bassist Brendan Kelly. The mixture of McCaughn’s smoothness with Kelly’s gravelly more rough and tumble approach give the band a solid one, two punch while drummer Neil Hennessy delivers the knock-out blow. For listeners wanting something a little more aggressive and fitting of the worlds current climate check out tracks like “Planes Trains and Automobiles”, “Demon” and “Goblin Fox Hunt” as they will certainly kick up the angst level.  

“Skeleton Coast” checks nearly all the boxes fans of melodic punk will be looking for.  As the follow up to 2014’s “Metropole” the album showcases the bands continued growth over the past six years between while still staying true to the sound which has endeared them to fans since the late 90’s. You have to commend The Lawrence Arms along with the countless other bands who are still putting out new music despite the inability to tour and support that material for the remainder of 2020. When an album is as good as “Skeleton Coast” is, I hope to hear these tracks echoing through our hometown venues sooner than later.

Track Listing:

1.) Quiet Storm

2.) Planes Trains and Automobiles

3.) Belly of the Whale

4.) Dead Man’s Coat

5.) Pigeons and Spies

6.) Last Last Words

7.) Demon

8.) Ghostwriter

9.) How to Rot

10.) Under Paris

11.) Goblin Fox Hunt

12.) Lose Control

13.) Don’t Look At Me

14.) Coyote Crown

Film Review: Babyteeth”

BABYTEETH
Starring: Eliza Scanlen, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Shannon Murphy
Rated: Rated MA-17
Running Time: 1 hr 58 mins
IFC Films 

The tragic teen love story about a girl or boy who is terminally ill yet finds true love with minutes left on the clock is the poster child for cliched storylines. At first glance, “Babyteeth” appears to be nothing more than just that. However, with a quartet of interesting, complex characters trying to find their way in the shadow of a young girl’s terminal cancer, “Babyteeth” becomes something quite unexpected – pure cinematic art. The kind of art that provokes a deep, emotional reaction which will stay with you long after the final credits had disappeared off the screen. 

Based upon the stage play by Rita Kalnejais, who also wrote the screenplay for the film version, and directed by Shannon Murphy (“On the Ropes,” “Rake”), “Babyteeth” starts us at a train station where Milla (Eliza Scanlen, “Little Women,” “Sharp Objects”), bedecked in her high school uniform, stands gazing at the tracks in a way that suggests she is pondering death. This is when Moses (Toby Wallace, “Boys in the Trees”), a rat-tailed young man a few years her senior, bumps into her. When her nose starts to bleed, Moses, who may be high on something and possibly homeless, bends over backwards to help her, and from that point on Milla is smitten with him.

 Scanlen draws us in with a profound sense of innocence, despair and longing all rolled into one. There is an air of tragedy about her so thick that it is hard to breathe. Still, a visible spark is ignited within her and Scanlen plays it masterfully as Milla’s passion to live life is reawakened by what will become her first and only love. Wallace, the recipient of the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress at the 76th Venice International Film Festival for this very role, is damaged goods himself. He longs to have a relationship with his estranged mother, but Moses would rather play the tough, street thug card. On the surface, his character seems stereotypical, yet Wallace manages to subtly infuse several degrees of complexity into his role that is both surprising and rewarding. 

Rounding off the quartet is Milla’s psychiatrist father, Henry (Ben Mendelsohn, “Ready Player One,” “Rogue One”) and her pill-popping, former classical pianist mother, Anna (Essie Davis, “True History of the Kelly Gang,” “Assassin’s Creed”). With his daughter’s terminal diagnosis looming over him, the pressure on Henry to get through each day keeps growing. It eventually pushes him to make a pass at his pregnant, much younger next-door neighbor, who symbolizes a way out to a more normal or at least alternative existence for him. All the while, Anna takes a wide array of pills as her way to escape from a reality that she knows deep down will not include her daughter for much longer. 

Mendelsohn and Davis share a great onscreen chemistry with one another as they face any parents’ worst nightmare. There are times when, especially towards the end of Milla’s life, they press on with a sense of grace that tightens their bond. They are even able to laugh at the craziness of letting Anna date a small time drug dealer in Moses who even breaks into their house at one point to steal Anna’s pills. However, how can they deny her the experience of a first love? Especially one which serves as a means for Moses to transform himself. 

We know how “Babyteeth” is going to end. It is clear as day. The brilliance of Murphy’s direction is that when we do reach the end, we are still emotionally moved to the point of tears.

CD Review: Lamb of God “Lamb of God”

“Lamb of God”

Lamb of God

Epic

Producer: Josh Wilbur

Tracks: 10

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

After a five year lapse veteran Virginia Metallers Lamb of God return with a brand new studio album simply titled “Lamb of God”. The ten track release which was produced by Josh Wilbur and is being released via Epic Records is the follow up to the bands critically acclaimed 2005 album “VII: Sturm und Drang”. “Lamb of God” is the first studio release to feature drummer Art Cruz who replaced Chris Adler after his departure from the group in 2019.   

Lamb of God wastes no time getting to the point with their latest self titled studio offering. The albums opening track “Momento Mori” features a haunting spoken lyric passage courtesy of Lead singer Randy Blythes while an equally eerie rolling guitar riff plays in the back background moments before giving way to a full on bombastic assault of your senses. “Momento Mori” is also the longest track of on the album clocking in at just under six minutes giving you ample time to get comfortable for the remaining nine tracks all of which pack an equally aggressive punch. Tracks like “Check Mate”, “New Colossal Hate” and “Resurrection Man” feature impressive dueling guitar work by Willie Adler and Mark Morton. The two players really complement one another in their attack giving each track a killer mix of equal parts shredding and chugging. Drummer Art Cruz is equally impressive across the board as his playing fits in seamlessly with that of bassist John Campbell providing a thunderous attack of low end thunder. “Lamb of God” also features a couple guest spots courtesy of Hatebreed front-man Jamey Jasta on the song “Poison Dream” and Chuck Billy of Testament on “Routes”. I highly recommend checking out both of those tracks as each of the guest performers spots add a little something special to an already impressive canvas.      

From front to back “Lamb of God” is a full on knock to your senses. Josh Wilbur hit it out of the park with the overall production of the album as it sounds great no matter if it’s played through ear buds or on large speakers. Each member’s performance seems to have been carefully crafted to insure it tied into the next without issue. Art Cruz undoubtedly had some big shoes to fill in his new full time role and he more than delivered as the band has never sounded tighter. Well worth the price of admission “Lamb of God” is a fitting soundtrack to this chaotic and uncertain time.   

Track Listing:

1.) Momento Mori

2.) Check Mate

3.) Gears

4.) Reality Bath

5.) New Colossal Hate

6.) Resurrection Man

7.) Poison Dream (feat. Jamey Jasta)

8.) Routes (feat. Chuck Billy)

9.) Bloodshot Eyes

10.) On The Hook

Be sure to check out our exclusive interview with Lamb of God Bassist John Campbell here

Television/Streaming Review: ESPN 30 for 30 – “Long Gone Summer’

On September 8, 1998 my son Phillip, his friend Bobby and I drove from Kansas City to St. Louis to take in that evening’s Cardinals/Cubs match-up. We witnessed baseball history when J.D. Drew hit his first career home run. I’ve told this story for over two decades.

Most people know Todd MacFarlane as the creator of the popular SPAWN comics and his amazing toys. He is also a huge baseball fan. We learn that as the film begins with McFarlane bidding almost $3 million to purchase a baseball. But not any baseball. This is the ball hit by Mark McGwire for his 70th home run, at the time a new record. The summer of 1998 was a big one for baseball. After the players strike in 1994 caused the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in history, the game began to draw fans back in 1995 when Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2131st consecutive game. But the summer of 1998 is the one that drew fans, old and new, to the game. It was the summer McGwire and Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa swung their way into the history books.

“Long Gone Summer” not only chronicles both players assault on Roger Maris’ then-record of 61 home runs in a season, but the effect the challenge had on America. People that had sworn off baseball after the strike left a bitter taste in their mouth began to pay attention to the game again, while people who had never shown interest began to watch. Having been in Camden Yards when Ripken set his milestone I was already a fan so I followed the exploits of McGwire and Sosa daily, ensuring that ESPN’s SPORTCENTER was a must-see every night.

As the film follows McGwire, Sosa and, for a time, Ken Griffey, Jr, it also talks with some baseball fans who are household names, among them Bob Costas and George Will. Also interviewed are Roger Maris’ sons, as well as Cardinal’s broadcasters Jack Buck (though archival footage) and Mike Shannon. The race had a personal feel to Shannon, who had been a Cardinal teammate of Roger Maris in the mid 1960s.

But the big voices here belong to the two players themselves. McGwire explains his lifelong desire to hit the ball far while Sosa talks about the fun he had. What they don’t talk about are the accusations that both were using performance enhancing drugs. In fact, in a show that runs almost 1 3/4 hours, PED’s are not mentioned until the 45 minute mark, when a container of Androstenedione is spotted in McGwire’s locker. He brushes the questions off, noting that Andro is available over the counter. It’s almost another 45 minutes before the subject comes up again.

Of the two players, McGwire comes off the best. He is insightful in looking back at what he describes as both the best, and worst, time of his life. Sosa, speaking perfect English – when he testified before Congress he had to have his attorney read his statement, as he felt his English wasn’t strong -is more concerned with relaying the fun times he had that summer. Archival interviews with both – again with Sosa speaking English like a native – gives a look into the love and respect Big Mac and Slammin’ Sammy had for each other. As the season ends, McGwire finishes with 70 home runs, Sosa with 66. Sosa would hit 63 the next year and Baroid Bonds would hit 73 in 2001. By then, the PED cat was out of the bag and, in the almost 20 years since Bonds, no one has hit 60 home runs in a season.

Given an opportunity to confirm whether or not he juiced, Sosa will only say that “Everybody was doing them.” After years of denial, in 2010 McGwire admitted to using PED’s. His admission and apology seemed sincere to me. So much so that I can tell you that, on September 8, 1998, my son Phillip, his friend Bobby and I drove from Kansas City to St. Louis to take in that evening’s Cardinals/Cubs match-up. We witnessed baseball history when Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run of the season over the left field fence, directly below where we were sitting. No disrespect to J.D. Drew, but this story is more exciting.

“Long Gone Summer” airs this Sunday night at 8:00 pm EST on ESPN and will stream directly afterwards on ESPN+.