Series Review: Masters of the Universe: Revelation (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

The latest Kevin Smith-created Masters of the Universe incarnation, Revelation, picks up right after the Filmation cartoon series ended in the mid-’80s. Yet many fans have already been critical of its strong use of secondary characters – mainly female – largely taking the place of He-Man/Prince Adam (voiced by Chris Wood) and Skeletor (Mark Hamill), who are seemingly killed off here in the very first episode, much like Optimus Prime had been in Transformers: The Movie back in 1986.

As someone who hasn’t personally kept up much on the franchise since I was indeed a kid in the ’80s (and not concerned by all things “canon”), I actually found Smith’s vision exciting and fresh. With so many endless attempts by Hollywood in recent memory to bring back beloved shows and movies based purely on nostalgia, the results are usually varying, and far too often disappointing. Yet I was fully invested in the first episode of Revelation, struggling not to keep watching the entire five-episode series in just one sitting when I had other things to get to.

Although the story lines are a bit easy to get lost in at times, the animation is nearly flawless, and the stellar voice cast – which also includes Liam Cunningham, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Henry Rollins, Stephen Root, Alicia Silverstone, Tony Todd, Justin Long, Lena Headey, Diedrich Bader, and long-time Smith collaborator Jason Mewes (among many more) – is top notch. Seeing characters like Beast Man, Trap Jaw, Stinkor, Tri-Klops, and Mer-Man battling on the small screen again brought back a rush of memories and emotions for me.

Overall, Revelation is a more mature version to the original series, more dramatic and violent, and with much less Scooby-Doo-like qualities, but still with the occasional silly moment thrown in for good measure. In short, Revelation is almost everything I’ve waited for for far too long now; a guilty pleasure from my childhood brought back, but with very little actual guilt attached.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Dee Snider – Leave a Scar (Napalm Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

The name Dee Snider will forever be synonymous with Twisted Sister, the ’80s hair metal group whose sound he largely helped cultivate after joining in 1976. But unlike his previous, more pop-oriented outfit, Snider’s solo work is more akin with more traditional styles of heavy metal, featuring blistering guitar work, group sing-a-long’s, and headbanging-induced breakdowns. On his latest solo effort (his first since 2018’s For the Love of Metal), he does not let down in any of these departments.

Album opener “I Gotta Rock (Again)” was the typical expected first single aiming at his core audience who can’t see pass his Twisted days. But as soon as that’s out of the way, the fun really starts. The track is immediately followed by one of the album’s best songs in the form of “All or Nothing More,” which is followed by a couple more hard-hitters before Snider truly reaches his peak midway through, screaming his heart out on “Silent Battles,” possibly his best work in years.

Some other highlights include “Crying For Your Life” and “In For the Kill” (the latter feeling ideal for the next Call of Duty game). There’s even a surprising “duet” of sorts featuring the guttural vocals of Cannibal Corpse frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher in the form of latest single “Time to Choose.”

I’ll admit, I was definitely skeptical at first after hearing said initial first single. But without the Twisted Sister banner behind him, Snider is finally fully able to realize his creative abilities that were likely waiting to be unleashed for quite some time. I was lucky enough to see him perform live once with his former band back in 2006 before they eventually threw in the towel (and before drummer A.J. Pero’s untimely passing). But I’d be just as inclined to see him do a solo set knowing much of the material would be as good as what’s found on here.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Retrospective: 25 Years Since ‘The Frighteners’ First Freaked Moviegoers By Jesse Striewski

The ’90s – especially the mid-to-late ’90s – were a unique time indeed for cinema when it comes to horror films; The Silence of the Lambs paved the waved for more ‘sophisticated’ thrillers in the beginning of the decade, while typical slasher franchises originally led by the likes of Freddy, Jason, and Chucky, were laid dormant to make way for the more realistic meta-horror of the Scream franchise and all its numerous copycats. As a fan of both horror films, and Michael J. Fox since his Back to the Future and Family Ties days, I was eager to see this new intriguing horror flick with him in it (something he had not yet attempted to do), and was at the theater to watch it with friends within its first couple of weeks of release (see original ticket stub photo attached below). What ensued was nearly two full hours of dark, brooding insanity, and big budget, zany chaos.

Before it there were also the more surreal horror flicks that bordered on equal parts fantasy, and silliness. Films such as Leprechaun (1993) and Brainscan (1994) stretched one’s imagination while taking liberties with reality as a whole. When Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners was released on July 19, 1996, it definitely ticked many of the same boxes as said previous films, yet in its own unique way. Author and Rewind It Magazine contributor Shawn McKee commented on the film; “The Frighteners is one of those films that has gotten a lot of reevaluation over time. It was both a precursor to (film director) Peter Jackson’s mainstream success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the rise of the Weta Digital and the Weta Workshop, the New Zealand (where the film was also filmed) special effects company co-founded by Jackson.”

He continued; “Upon its release in ’96, the scare trailers that followed made little mention of it as a Peter Jackson movie, who was still unknown at the time to most audiences. It was instead marketed as a supernatural comedy by Universal Pictures and Robert Zemeckis, the film’s executive producer. The trailers also struggled to explain what the movie was even about. This most likely led to its brief theatrical run, low box office performance, and eventual second chance on home video.”

Original 1996 ticket stub from the author’s personal collection

The plot is fairly simple; Fox plays Frank Banister, an ex-architect turned ghost hunter who uses the help of a trio of spirits (played brilliantly by John Aston, Chi McBride, and Jim Fyfe) that only he can see to con locals into believing they have an actual haunting. Things start going awry once would-be client Ray Lynskey (Peter Dobson) mysteriously drops dead (among many others), and his widow Lucy (Trini Alvarado) immediately enlists Frank’s services to solve what happened. Further complicating things for Frank is an aggressive detective (Jeffery Combs) dead set on proving Frank had killed his own wife years before, a newspaper editor (Elizabeth Hawthrone) hell-bent on proving Frank’s a fake, and other spooks like Master Sargent Hiles (played by the late R. Lee Emery in a role which emulates his Full Metal Jacket performance from 1987) disgusted by Frank’s chosen methods.

It turns out that Frank is not the only one with the power to see those from beyond; local patient Patrica Bartlett (Dee Wallace) has been helping her long deceased lover Johnny (Jake Busey) continue his killing spree from beyond the grave for years, and along with a little help from his ghosts and Sheriff (Troy Evans) Frank and Lucy have to put an end to the twosome’s rampage once and for all. In an October 2020 interview, Wallace revealed to me what it was like to play a villain in place of her usual squeaky clean “mom” roles; “Oh God, I had so much fun doing that! I love exploring all of the different sides of me, and the psyche, and I just loved the arc of going from the little victim, to becoming the killer towards the end!”

The Frighteners was far from a runaway hit; grossing just under $30 million on a $26 million dollar budget, it received a lukewarm reception from moviegoers and critics at the time. Though it had the potential to become the Ghostbusters of the ’90s, it was too “out there” for the casual viewer to “get;” too dark for the family friendly crowd, and not gory enough for the usual horror fanatic. Still, a quarter of a century after its release, it remains a stepping stone in Jackson’s flimography, and worth a revisit, whether it’s your first time ever seeing it, or fifth.

Film Review: Space Jam: A New Legacy (Warner Bros. Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

Last week, the world got its first look at the long-awaited sequel to the classic 1996 Looney Tunes basketball film, Space Jam. Despite receiving mostly negative feedback in large part to the film’s overuse of advertising and product placement (and beloved character Pepe Le Pew being the latest unfortunate victim thanks to woke cancel culture), Space Jam: A New Legacy is a shining example of pure family-fueled escapist entertainment, reminiscent of long-forgotten, more simple times.

The plot is fairly cut and dry; a fictionalized version of basketball star LeBron James and son Dom (Cedric Joe) find themselves trapped inside a virtual reality world ran by an evil, artificially intelligent life form known as Al-G Rhythm (played by Don Cheadle). The father and son are quickly pitted against each other in a do-or-die basketball match. James naturally enlists the help of Bugs Bunny and co. to win his son and freedom back.

James does his best in place of Michael Jordan as the lead from the first film, but his acting isn’t quite as on par as his gaming skills (his animated scenes are slightly better than the actual live ones). Many of the jokes are even centered around his “legacy” compared to Jordan’s (the cameo by actor Michael B. Jordan in place of Air Jordan is one of the more amusing gags in the entire flick).

And similar to 2018’s Ready Player One, it’s loaded with a plethora of pop culture references and cameos. Blink and you might miss appearances from The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, The Jetson’s, and the Gremlins on top of more in-your-face and obvious spots from various characters from the universes of Batman, Harry Potter, and The Matrix, among many others.

Will Space Jam: A New Legacy win any awards? Highly doubtful. Will it be studied for artistic greatness, or social commentary? Not likely. Yet it just might put some smiles on a few faces, and add a little bit of light to a world currently filled with so much darkness, which we could all honestly use a bit more of right now.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: Twenty One Pilots – Scaled and Icy (Fueled By Ramen)

By: Jesse Striewski

On their sixth studio release, alternative pop/rock/rap/synth stalwarts Twenty One Pilots seem to be falling more in line with the likes of bands they’ve actually influenced since their formation, rather than leading the charge of the sound they largely had a hand in shaping. On their last effort, 2018’s Trench, it seemed like Tyler Joseph and Josh Dun were peaking on the verge of musical greatness. On Scaled and Icy, it feels a bit like the duo took a step back, even if they did have several years and the downtown from a pandemic to work on it.

Choosing to open the album with the uber-upbeat “Good Day’ seemed unexpected right off the bat and like a bit of a miscalculation on the band’s part. Singles “Shy Away” and “Saturday” are equally poppy, but admirable for what they are, each featuring interesting arctic-themed music videos. Yet they almost feel as if they belong on someone else’s album. The last single, “Choker,” is also another decent number with another literal “fun” music video attached to it.

But as usual the duo are at their best when they venture into more serious territory; “The Outside,” “No Chances,” and “Redecorate” are all as close to flawless as it gets, and enough to save the album from just ‘meh’ status. Overall I wouldn’t say Scaled and Icy is a bad album per say. But if this is your introduction to the band, do yourself a favor and just go through their earlier material first before making this your starting point.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Retrospective: 30 Years Since ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ By Jesse Striewski

In the summer of 1991, there was one film causing massive worldwide hype that seemed like everyone on the planet was buzzing over; the Arnold Schwarzenegger-driven blockbuster sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Once again directed by James Cameron and co-starring Linda Hamilton as Sarah Conner (with Earl Boen also briefly returning from the first film as Dr. Silberman) along with newcomer Edward Furlong as John Conner, T2 featured breakthrough technology in movie special effects, including computer graphic imaging unlike anything else that had been seen on the big screen up to that time.

When originally released on July 3, 1991 (after premiering in L.A. on July 1), I was still just a ten-year-old kid just as excited as anyone else about the film at the time. Having already seen the first film previously at a friend’s house on a rickety old blank VHS tape (which also included the original A Nightmare on Elm Street on it), I instantly fell in love with it’s mix of action and Sci Fi/borderline horror, and still regard it as my favorite film in the franchise (it might just be me, but I preferred Arnold much more as the ‘bad guy’). But alas, when it came time for T2, I could not find anyone willing to take me to see it in the theater, even though I had the NES game, trading cards, and numerous action figures from the film, many of which I still have to this day.

In the sequel, Schwarzenegger returns as the Model 101 Terminator sent back in time, only this time around he’s there to actually protect John Conner, rather than eliminate his existence like in the first film. Robert Patrick is brought on as the new, advanced terminator sent to kill John, the T-1000. After realizing he’s a target, John entrusts the help of the Model 101 to break his mother Sarah (Hamilton) out of the mental institution she has been incarcerated in since some time after the events of the first film. The result becomes one of the most enthralling and immersive cat-and-mouse chases ever captured in cinema history.

Also notable is the the appearance of the hit Guns N’ Roses track “You Could Be Mine” in the film from the band’s then-upcoming Use Your Illusion II album. Like the movie, the song was hard-hitting, and featured an explosive music video that also saw Arnold himself briefly appear. The video helped propel the song’s success, and my want to see the film even more, and I have long since attributed it as the catalyst to my eventual love of hard rock and heavy metal music.

Actor Danny Cooksey, who played John’s equally rebellious friend Tim in the film, offered Rewind It Magazine some insight on how the song ended up being included in the film in a 2019 phone interview; “When we were in the early stages of filming, I was given a cassette of the music that was going to be used in the scene. Originally it was going to be two songs, and I believe they were “Higher Ground” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones, which were, you know, both fine. But at some point I got handed another cassette, and it was an advanced copy of “You Could Be Mine,” in which case I thought I was just the coolest person on the planet since the record wasn’t even out yet!”

In the same interview, Cooksey went on to explain what it was like actually meeting Schwarzenegger on the set for the first time, in this previously-unpublished quote; “I remember somebody taking me to his trailer to meet him, and he was already dressed up in all his gear, so it was definitely a bit intimating. He was such a cool guy though, and it was such an awesome experience to be a part of it at that age.”

T2 went on to gross well over $500 million before it’s run in theaters was over, and helped define the summer ‘blockbuster’ from then on out. It would not be until 2003 before I would finally see Arnold on the big screen for the first time as the Model 101, when Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was released almost twelve years later to the date after it’s predecessor. Three more films and a short-lived TV series would also follow, all with varying results. But nothing that has come since has been remotely able to match the undeniable juggernaut that was T2. In the immortal words of Arnold himself, “Hasta la vista, baby!”

Book Review: Brat: An ’80s Story By Andrew McCarthy (Grand Central Publishing)

By: Jesse Striewski

Back in the ’80s, everyone had their favorite member of the so-called ‘brat pack,’ the group of young actors famously dubbed so by the media. I suppose if there was ever one member of said club that I related to the most, it would have to be the slightly aloof, yet seemingly down-to-Earth Andrew McCarthy. Known for his roles in such popular films as St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty In Pink, and Weekend at Bernie’s, McCarthy has made a career for himself in more recent years as a writer and director.

Unlike so many biographies of its kind, Brat is written with style and eloquence, empathizing well thought-out ideas and stories over the standard ‘tell all’ memoirs that border on bragging about excessive sex and drug usage. Here McCarthy details his childhood growing up in New Jersey (another thing we also share in common), the spark that fueled the fire for his love of acting, and the filming of all of the previously mentioned films and then some. And somehow he even manages to do all this in just over two hundred pages, making it a quick read for those who might suffer from shorter attention spans.

The only complaint I might have here? Unfortunately there is no behind-the-scenes detail of the immortal Weekend at Bernie’s II; McCarthy simply (and swiftly) glances over it as an embarrassing after thought, though most will likely forgive him for that. Still, if you’re like me and salivate over any and all ’80s trivia, then Brat will likely be just as up your alley as it was mine.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Album Review: Helloween – Self-Titled (Nuclear Blast Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

In more recent times, classic power metal act Helloween reunited with two of its core members; guitarist/vocalist Kai Hansen and singer Michael Kiske, each returned to the band in 2016 to form one of the most solidified lineups in the group’s history to date, bringing its current membership up to seven.

The result is this twelve track, self-titled collection of new material (their first new studio album overall since 2015), which finds the band utilizing three vocalists at once for the first time ever. There’s some great moments found through out, with “Fear of the Fallen” leading the charge. Other tracks like “Mass Pollution” and “Indestructible” are some of the heaviest in the band’s career to date.

However, the end result is not completely flawless, either. “Skyfall” and “Out for the Glory” contain some impressive guitar work, but could easily lose the casual listener’s attention with their longer run times (the non-single version of the latter actually clocks in at over twelve minutes). And “Angels” feels incomplete, as if it can’t really decide what it wants to be.

There will always be plenty of naysayers out there looking down on Helloween for past “cheesy” moments (see: the music video for “Halloween”). But the more sophisticated listener should be able to appreciate the band’s highlighted technical skills, and recognize that Helloween have aged gracefully, worthy of being put alongside such contemporaries in the sub-genre as Queensryche or DragonForce.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Album Review: KennyHoopla – Survivors Guilt: The Mixtape// (Columbia Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Last year when newcomer KennyHoopla dropped the brilliant single “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//,” it was apparent there was something uniquely special about this rising star. Now barely even a year later, he proves to be more than just a fluke with this brand new eight-song release.

Listeners first caught glimpse of Survivors Guilt: The Mixtape last November via the straight-to-the-point, 2-minute single and video, “estella//,” which also features Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker on it. Along the way, there’s painstakingly heartfelt slices of pop punk, indie, and emo that perfectly echo the soundtrack to youth. Tracks like “silence is also an answer//,” “smoke break//,” “turn back time//,” and latest single, “hollywood sucks//,” all display the singer’s raw talent and energy perfectly.

Every once in awhile, an act will come along and help restore my love of a music genre that I have often largely lost faith in. KennyHoopla has done just that, and if he keeps this up, he’s sure to lead the way at the top of his very own movement for years to come.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Little Ozzy at Oasis on the River in Sanford, FL on 6/12/21 By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

I’ll be completely blunt here; when it comes to tribute and/or cover bands, I can sometimes border on the “snob-ish” side (my attitude has always been, ‘why would I want to see imitators, if I’ve already seen the original?’). But when it’s done right, a tribute/cover act can sometimes come close to being as fun as the real thing. Such was the case with 4’10 singer Lin Doak, otherwise known to the world as Little Ozzy, who along with his band, rocked Oasis on the River in Sanford this past Saturday, June 12.

Over the course of just a few years, Little Ozzy has climbed his way to the top as one of the world’s leading Ozzy Osbourne tribute acts, even appearing on such multiple TV shows including America’s Got Talent and Ozzy and Jack’s World Detour. And while I have already seen the actual Prince of Darkness himself before, both solo and with Black Sabbath (in 1997 and 2004, respectively), I knew there was something special enough about Little Ozzy to get me to put my usual reservations towards tribute bands aside for one night.

My gut instincts quickly proved right, as the band – which also consists of guitarist Johnny Lawrence, bassist Aaron Rowe, and drummer Draven Blaq – took the stage just after 9:00pm, opening with a one-two punch of “I Don’t Know” and “Crazy Train” (really the only appropriate way to introduce a set of Ozzy classics at this point). Adding to the overall decadence of the evening was the atmosphere of the venue Oasis itself; with a pool filled with bathing beauties directly in front of the stage, there was plenty for the eyes to behold.

I was pleasantly surprised when the band followed up with a bit of a deep cut in the form of “Believer,” before segueing into a number of Sabbath staples that included “Iron Man,” “Children of the Grave” (one of my personal favorites), and “Sweet Leaf.” Solos from Blaq and Lawrence sandwiched more hits like “Mama I’m Coming Home,” “War Pigs,” and “Suicide Solution,” before Little Ozzy told a brief story of meeting late Ozzy guitarist Randy Rhoads’ brother, Kelly.

The band then slowed things down a bit for a spot-on version of “Goodbye to Romance” (always a favorite), before finally calling it a night with epic renditions of “Mr. Crowley,” “Shot in the Dark,” and “Fairies Wear Boots.” Although their set was nearly flawless, I found it odd that mega hit “Bark at the Moon” was omitted from the set, and I would personally love to hear more forgotten tracks like “Breaking All the Rules” included as well (but that’s just me).

Still, there really wasn’t all that much to complain about Saturday night’s show. So the next time Little Ozzy comes through your town, be sure to catch him and his band if you can; it’s sure to put an Ozzy-size smile on your face!