Series Review: Willow Season 1 (Disney +)

By: Jesse Striewski

Since its premier last November, Willow, the sequel series to the 1988 Ron Howard film of the same name, has received mixed reviews to say the least. But if swords and sorcery are your type of thing, there’s plenty of adventure to be had here, if you can get past the silly-ness at least.

Warwick Davis returns as the titular character Willow, the not-so-great sorcerer who leads a rescue mission to find the kidnapped Prince Airk (Dempsey Bryk) along with his sister Kit (Ruby Cruz), her soon-to-be knight lover Jade (Erin Kellyman), and Arik’s love interest Elora Danan (Ellie Bamber), who just so happens to be the same baby Willow protected all those years before with Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and the future Empress of Tir Asleen. Another prince (Tony Revolori), and a boorish treasure hunter named Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel) are also along for the ride.

Joanne Whalley and some other familiar faces also reprise their roles from the original film, and one of the better episodes features Christian Slater as Allagash, a former companion of both Madmartigan and Boorman’s. And while Kilmer only appears via archival footage, his son Jack does some voiceover work here as well.

But if only the writers could have kept things straight forward instead of trying to stay “hip” or “witty,” this new series could have been a complete smash. Unfortunately they choose to veer into the absurd far too often, with everything from the dialogue, to questionable choices with the music, making it hard to take things too seriously. The final episode alludes to possible future chapters; hopefully by season two they’ve actually learned from their mistakes.

Rating: 2.5/5 Stars

Book Review: The Lives of Brian By Brian Johnson (Dey Street Books)

By: Jesse Striewski

The very first concert that started it all for me was AC/DC – fronted by the unmistakable Brian Johnson – all the way back in 1996. Since then there’s been no turning back as rock n’ roll has become not only my strongest subject, but my savior, largely in part to Johnson and the rest of the guys in the band that night.

It’s always been fascinating for me to learn just how the musicians I listen to get to that stage in front of me. Johnson’s life story is not unlike many before him; humble upbringings, paying dues, and plenty of mistakes and hardships along the way. Everything, from his early days with Geordie (a band name I had only ever heard over the years, though never really took the time to look up until after reading the book), to his one and only encounter with his AC/DC predecessor Bon Scott, to his eventual joining the band in 1980 and finding worldwide success, is covered here.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit too much information sometimes however, and at times I found myself wishing Johnson would simply get to the point a little faster. But to be honest, I’ve always been more of a fan of Johnson’s era of the band than Scott’s. As a whole, it’s the perfect source for those about to rock their reading material; if you’re already an established AC/DC fan, there’s no doubt this should be right up your alley, too.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Series Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi Season 1 (Disney +)

By: Jesse Striewski

There’s a lot to choose from in the Star Wars universe (one might even say the market has become “saturated”); but if you look carefully enough, you might just find something worth investing your time in. Such is the case with Obi-Wan Kenobi, a dream come true for fans of the series who have always wondered about the title characters’ most secluded years on Tatoonie.

Ewan McGregor returns nearly two decades later since last portraying the role of Kenobi in Episodes I-III, and it’s as if he never left. Long story short, he is thrust into helping a young Princess Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) after she is captured, then escapes, from the Galactic Empire. This forces him into uses his long-suppressed Jedi powers while fighting off new foes from the Empire like Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram), and ultimately coming face-to-face with his former apprentice Anakin Skywalker for the first time since their battle in Episode III that transformed him into Darth Vadar (Hayden Christensen also returns in the role, with the legendary James Earl Jones voicing the character once again as well).

There’s a few other appearances that fans should also enjoy, such as the return of Jimmy Smits to the franchise, and even a small role from Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea. But chances are if none of what I just mentioned made any sense to you, then this show is most likely not going to be your cup of tea. But if these characters have been embedded in your life since birth as they have been for myself, you’re likely to eat it up, too.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Lockhart – No Chance (Self-Released)

By: Jesse Striewski

My go-to response when asked what type of music I listen to is almost always “metal.” But unlike the average fans’ definitions of metal, I’m not referring to the likes of Korn (to be fair, I love all genres of it, though nu/mainstream metal remains at the bottom of the list for me…). Canada’s Lockhart – a “supergroup” of sorts featuring members of bands like Cauldron and Annihilator – are right up my alley.

Their new EP No Chance contains the type of AOR /classic metal sound that makes me making music myself (if I were still in a band it’d be exactly the sound I would want to achieve). And while it’s just three brief tracks in length, each one packs enough of a punch that it hardly matters.

Opener “No Chance in Heaven” is simply addictive with it’s synth-driven hooks a la Van Halen’s “Jump,” and “Just Can’t Wait” is equally poppy and gets stuck in your head. “Under Fire”is no doubt the heavy-ist track here, and is also worthy of turning up to eleven.

This is not just music assembled here, it’s the soundtrack to lives captured on tape (or whatever it was recorded on, though it sounds like it should’ve been recorded during the analog era!). I honestly love this in every way possible. Do yourself a favor and crank this instead of whatever they’re feeding you on mainstream radio these days…you might just be glad you did.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Series Review: The Santa Clauses Season 1 (Disney +)

By: Jesse Striewski

After all these years, Tim Allen finally returns as the big guy in red, although I wasn’t sure if it’d work after 2006’s embarrassing Santa Clause 3 (I still couldn’t tell you if I’ve ever sat through that one from start to finish). But surprisingly, it held my interest long enough to make it through all six episodes of the new sequel series.

The concept is nothing all too revolutionary; Santa (Allen) is poised to retire, but must first find his replacement. After ruling out his own offspring, he quickly pics a single father (Kal Penn), whose innovative intentions quickly prove to be more harmful to Christmas than anyone could have ever expected.

Along with Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell also returns as his wife, Carol Calvin, and Eric Lloyd briefly returns as his oldest son, Charlie. Allen’s real life daughter, Elizabeth Allen-Dick also appears as his teenage daughter. There’s plenty of seasonal in-jokes along the way and appearances from everyone from the O.G. Saint Nicholas of Myra (Mitch Poulos) and Krampus (Dirk Rogers).

I can remember going to see the original Santa Clause when it came out in theaters back in 1994; it wasn’t a flawless Christmas movie by any means, but decent enough for what it was. I suppose the same can be said about The Santa Clauses; although it’s not perfect, it brings back some of that magic that was missing from its two lackluster sequels.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Film Review: Violent Night (Universal Pictures)

By: Jesse Striewski

For years now I haven’t been able to get behind what’s become of the action film genre, not impressed by the over-the-top fast pacing, seemingly dumbed-down a little more each year. I was really hoping Violent Night could’ve been the film that got me back into them, but alas, I found very little to like here.

It starts out promising enough; we’re instantly introduced to David Harbour of Stranger Things fame as a jaded, drunken Santa. Seems like a decent enough concept. But things quickly take a turn for the worse when the film becomes a blatant ripoff of Die Hard, finding him the lone wolf inside of a terrorist takeover (lead by John Legumizo) at one of the mansions his deliveries brought him to. What unfolds is some of the most (literal) painful screen time I’ve witnessed in a long time.

I know most people my age group and below are likely to disagree with me, but I found no redeeming qualities with this film whatsoever. The action scenes are unbearable, the jokes beyond lowbrow, and the characters some of the most unlikable in screen history (I especially despised seeing Beverly D’Angelo playing a heartless heiress). It then somehow manages to even parody Home Alone (which in hindsight maybe the film would have benefited from had it taken a more lighthearted tone throughout).

I went in really hoping to like Violent Night, but unfortunately that was far from the case. This movie was not “fun” in anyway to me at all, just utter garbage that I’d much rather permanently remove from my memory bank. In fact, the only thing keeping me from giving this a zero star rating is the inclusion of the Slade track “Merry Christmas Everybody” during the ending credits. Other than that, I’ll be fine if I never see this film again as long as I live.

Rating: 1/5 Stars

Book Review: Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me By Ralph Macchio (Penguin Random House)

By: Jesse Striewski

Everyone’s favorite Karate Kid Ralph Macchio describes what it was like to go from near total anonymously, to a literal pop culture phenomenon in the blink of an eye during the mid-’80s in his new memoir, Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me.

From start to finish, it’s a fascinating ride that wastes no time getting to the good stuff. Macchio simply glosses over his upbringing and acting roots before offering behind-the-scenes insight on landing the breakout role that would forever change his life. Everything from the audition process, meeting his co-star Noriyuki Pat Morita initially, to seeing the original film on the big screen for the first time with a public audience, is covered in great detail here.

Macchio of course addresses the aftermath of being typecasted for many years, his feelings on the sequels (I especially found it interesting he’s still never viewed The Next Karate Kid from start to finish to this day!), and the path that eventually lead him to the hit series Cobra Kai alongside his former co-star William Zabka.

Truthfully, there’s not much more one can ask for from a biography than this, and I only wish they could all be as direct to the point as Waxing On. The only “complaint” (if you can even call it that) is I would’ve liked just a tad more elaboration on a few things, for instance the making of Part III. But if you’re as in to geeky nostalgia like I am, than this is the book for you (or at the very least it’ll make a great Christmas present for someone on your list who is).

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Album Review: Tiffany – Shadows (Deko Music)

By: Jesse Striewski

I never expected to be reviewing a “new” Tiffany album here in 2022, but alas, here we are. And what’s more surprising, her latest effort, Shadows, is actually pretty damn good. Forever known best for her 1987 hit cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Tiffany sets out to prove she can be more than just an ’80s pop princess. In fact, Shadows closely resembles the New Wave sounds of the Go-Go’s more than what one would expect from a Tiffany record. But as previously noted, it works.

“Hey Baby” and “I Like the Rain” start things off with plenty of adrenaline, while “Cried For the Last Time” brings listeners back down to Earth, with guitar riffs akin to something one might expect from a Replacements or Cult record. There’s slower numbers that could be classified as ballads, with “I Love You” being the most effective. And then there’s the title track, an infectious little number deserving of radio play it will sadly never receive, and clearly the most well-crafted song on the entire album.

Are there some forgettable sleepers among the more memorable ones? No doubt about it (“Always in My Head” comes to mind as the most generic-sounding). But I’ve actually had the chance to see Tiffany live in concert a couple of times (and even met her on one of those occasions), and should there be a third time, I’d be more than happy to hear a few of the previously-mentioned tracks thrown in her set list; open your mind, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Book Review: Why I Stand By Jonathan Isaac (DW Books)

By: Jesse Striewski

I knew there was a reason NBA star Jonathan Isaac was one of my favorite Orlando Magic players, and after reading his new book, Why I Stand, it was immediately clear why. Isaac clears the air on anything and everything on his mind here, while offering insight on his upbringing and how not only he has gotten from point A to point B, but the world around us has as well. And his faith in Christ and the courage he has as a result of it is nothing short of phenomenal.

I couldn’t agree more with Isaac’s views as he calls out the hypocrisies of such groups as BLM and its followers, and likens them to the same mob-minded folks who, at the height of the pandemic, felt people who weren’t vaccinated should be forced to be. Yet he also notes how the intentions of most of these groups are well-meaning at heart, but merely misguided by the wrong, loud voices (often the ones filled with the most anger) and follow along blindly with the masses, under the guise of “doing the right thing.”

I can personally relate to Isaac all too well, considering once upon a time I might have actually fallen in the same category as many of these groups. Most people who encounter me nowadays are usually surprised to learn that I am not some sort of anger-filled alcoholic or atheist just based on the types of music I listen to (which couldn’t be further from the truth). Perhaps once upon a time I might have fit some of these descriptions, but thankfully I’ve learned to grow, and have since evolved. And like Isaac, I firmly believe the pitch fork mentality is not the way, and calls for rage should be left in the hands of a higher power, and not the eye-for-an-eye mindset of man.

To quote Isaac; “I don’t have all the answers. I can only point you to what I’ve learned and, importantly, the One who continues to give me the courage and the strength to stand up and not be afraid to tell the world there has to be a better way; there is a better way.” If only we could all agree on such a simple concept in this complex world of ours, maybe we could actually have that world peace certain factions are so dead set on achieving at all costs, no matter who they hurt along the way.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Film Review: Dio: Dreamers Never Die (BMG)

By: Jesse Striewski

I’m sure I’ve probably mentioned this a time or two before, but one of the biggest personal regrets I have is not catching the late, great Ronnie James Dio in concert before his death in 2010 (the closest I ever came was a 2019 Dio Returns show, where several former members of the Dio band paid tribute to their former singer while using live backing tracks of Ronnie behind them, along with a hologram of him). The recent documentary Dio: Dreamers Never Die certainly helps confirm this regret.

Spanning his entire life and career, the film covers every aspect of his time in rock music. From Elf to Rainbow, to Black Sabbath to Dio, there’s no shortage of story to tell. And featuring interviews and insight from fellow personalities and rockers like Rob Halford, Eddie Trunk, Lita Ford, and Jack Black, as well as former wife Wendy Dio, and a host of many of Ronnie’s former bandmates.

“The Man on the Silver Mountain,” “Heaven and Hell,” “We Rock,” “Holy Diver,” “Rainbow in the Dark,” “The Last in Line,” and “Rock and Roll Children” are just a few of the titles Dio gifted us during his time on this Earth, and remain unmistakable classics to this day. The origins to many of these tracks are meticulously covered in great detail, among many others.

But of course, there’s only one way Dio’s life story can possibly end…with his unfortunate death. The results are some of the most tear-jerking moments compiled on film in recent memory (no doubt enough to make a grown man such as myself shed a tear or two). But that just stands to reason the true testament of Ronnie James Dio; every bit of praise is not only accurate, but deserved. He left behind a legacy that most artists today could only dream of ever having, and those of us who knew his music, understood his deep impact and worth.

Shot from the Dio Returns show Rewind It Magazine covered at The Plaza Live on 6/2/19. Photo by Brooke Striewski.

(Shot from the Dio Returns show Rewind It Magazine covered at The Plaza Live in Orlando, FL on 6/2/19. Photo by Brooke Striewski).

Rating: 5/5 Stars