Album Review: Night Ranger – ATBPO (Frontiers Music s.r.l.)

By: Jesse Striewski

In hindsight, I might have been a tad on the harsh side when I reviewed Night Ranger’s previous studio album, 2017’s Don’t Let Up (whether or not it was completely justified is still debatable, though). But I’m glad I did not let my view of said last record deter me from listening to the band’s latest collection of new music (their thirteenth), ATBPO, which no doubt contains some hidden gems throughout.

Album opener “Coming For You,” and recent single “Breakout” are both high-energy rockers with some excellent shredding from guitarists Brad Gillis and Keri Kelli, and almost sound more suitable for a power metal album rather than here. “Cold As December” and “A Lucky Man” also invoke some interest, with the latter standing out as one of the strongest tracks here overall.

That’s not to say they are not some weak moments, though; “Hard to Make it Easy,” “Dance,” and “The Hardest Road” are all catchy in their own ways, but feel more like modern country than rock. And “Bring it All Home to Me” seems to really be reaching for the “Sister Christian” crowd a bit too much. However, “Can’t Afford a Hero” does make for a much more effective power ballad.

If nothing else, I have to give Night Ranger credit for not relying solely on nostalgia from their hey day like so many other bands from their era do; now if only modern radio would actually start playing new material from the groups whose hits they’ve played to death, maybe audiences would finally understand that, too.

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Retrospective: 35 Years Since ‘Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives’ By Jesse Striewski

As a kid growing up in the ’80s, there was nothing more enticing when visiting the video store than the horror section (well, except maybe when they would have one of those “back rooms” in the shop but that’s another story itself). And in those times when I would wander off into the area reserved for horror films, my eyes would usually hone in on those already established, well-known franchises that included the likes of single name villains such as Freddy, Leatherface, Chucky, and of course, Jason.

Each of these individual films had their own unique covers, and I of course had to see them for this reason alone. As stated in a previous interview with actress Deborah Voorhees, the first entry of the series I would ever see was the Jason-less Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. But I would eventually piece them all together slowly over time, with Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives quickly becoming my favorite of the franchise with it’s classic monster movie feel, campy jokes (starting with its James Bond-esque opening credits), and rocking soundtrack featuring then-new music from a revitalized Alice Cooper. When Jason Lives was originally released in theaters on August 1, 1986, it quickly became the first film since the 1980 original to rightfully receive some critical praise.

After the lukewarm reception the previous year from the new concept introduced in A New Beginning, it was clear that the series was in dire need of getting back to basics. Written and directed by Tom McLoughlin, it saw the return of the character Tommy Jarvis (this time portrayed by The Return of the Living Dead star Thom Mathews) from parts IV and V, who mistakenly resurrects Jason with a friend (played brilliantly by the late Ron Palillo of Welcome Back, Kotter fame) at the start of the film. Tommy does his best to warn the local community, but is railroaded every step of the way by the local sheriff (David Kagen). The sheriff’s daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke) is the only one who believes Tommy, and teams up with him to stop Jason.

Actor Roger Rose, who played one of Jason’s many victims in the film, Steven Halavex, recently lent some behind-the-scenes insight to Rewind It Magazine; “The movie had already been shot, and the phone rings and it’s Paramount calling (Director) Tom McLoughlin, saying there weren’t enough deaths in the film and they needed more, so they were going to go back and kill two more people. Tommy hangs up the phone and says, ‘I always wanted to do this…kid, I want you in my movie!’ And that weekend we shot my scenes. I said to Tommy, “Man I’d love to die brutally on film, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do (Laughs)!”

Still from Friday the 13th Part VI of Steven (Roger Rose) and Cythina (Annette Edwards) shortly before meeting their gruesome demise.

He continued; “Originally Jason was going to shish kabob me and my date, and there was this whole big special effect thing going to happen, but there wasn’t any time left. But it was still a real, rusty old machete that Jason “killed” us with, so that was actual fear you see on our faces in that scene!”

Another thing that stands out about the film is the previously-mentioned music. Aside from one track by hard rock band Felony, the majority of the songs featured were from Alice Cooper’s 1986 album, Constrictor. Most notably remembered is the track “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask),” which served as the film’s theme song, and also featured a Jason Voorhees-themed music video to go along with it. I’ve been lucky enough to personally see Cooper in concert three times over the years (see attached photo below), but alas, his material from this particular period in his career has remained long since retired unfortunately.

Jason Lives went on to gross over $19 million at the box office on a $3 million dollar budget, and has since become a fan favorite. Since its release, there have been four more entries to the original Friday the 13th franchise, as well as the 2003 crossover film Freddy vs. Jason, and a 2009 remake. But few have matched the all around heights achieved with Jason Lives, which will likely remain one of the higher points in the series. So if you’re looking to go back to Camp Crystal Lake (or Forrest Green) this Friday the 13th, consider giving Jason Lives a try (and be sure to keep an eye out for our full interview with Rose, coming soon!).

Alice Cooper performing in Orlando, FL on 10/25/13, courtesy of the author’s collection. Cooper provided most of the music for Jason Lives.

Book Review: Way of the COBRA By Sean Kanan (Flip Creative)

By: Jesse Striewski

I’m not going to lie, I had no idea what to expect when I first learned that Karate Kid Part III actor Sean Kanan was releasing a “motivational” book (I tend to be a tad on the skeptical side when it comes to such publications). But almost instantly after picking it up, I immediately understood what Kanan was trying to achieve here with his new book, Way of the COBRA.

When I interviewed Kanan this past May (before having read the book), he explained to me firsthand; “Way of the COBRA is set up with the structure that you are a student of my dojo – the dojo of cobra life – and I’m the sensei. And ‘cobra’ is an acronym formed from the words character, optimization, balance, respect, and aubundance. And a ‘cobra’ is really somebody who is living their best, most authentic life.”

Kanan uses examples from his own life; from his relentless pursuit landing (and nearly losing, after a near-fatal injury) the role of Mike Barnes in K.K. III, to numerous other instances throughout his life. Many of the points Kanan makes throughout manage to resonate on some deep level, yet he never comes off as ‘preachy’ or ‘absolute’ in his quest. Instead, it can be equated to that of a parent passing down their years of experience and wisdom to their child.

If you’re currently seeking some much-needed guidance, or are just looking for a fresh perspective in your life, Way of the COBRA may not have all of the answers you need, but it’s a damn good starting point.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Retrospective: 20 Years Since the Last Great ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ By Jesse Striewski

In the summer of 2001, an ensemble cast of young comedians and actors unleashed the mother of all summer camp romps on an unsuspecting world, Wet Hot American Summer. Directed by David Wain, the film was given an extremely limited theatrical release after premiering in New York on July 27, 2001 (and six months before that at Sundance), and went largely unnoticed at first (I myself didn’t catch it personally until years after its release when I came across it on cable TV).

Set in the summer of 1981, it follows a group of counselers and kids (the majority purposely played by actors far too old for their parts) at Camp Firewood in Maine. Janeane Garofalo leads the group as Camp Director Beth, who does her best to hold together her group of misfits – each focused on wrapping up their own indivdual pursuits and/or love triangles – on the last day of camp, often with over-the-top results.

Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce plays a professor in a role seemingly tailored for him, while several members of the MTV show The State, including Ken Marino, Michael Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, and Michael Showalter, turn in some showstopping moments. Paul Rudd also plays one of the best/worst bad guys on screen to date, while a young Elizabeth Banks slinks across each and every scene as the stereotypical ‘loose’ girl.

But the most unforgettable performance has got to go to Law & Order‘s Christopher Meloni, who cranks out the crazy as a cook/Vietnam vet who talks to a can of mixed vegetables, and helps the kids with their ‘woes’ (the montage with him and Showalter is without a doubt the standout moment of the entire film). This was not the only time Meloni would let the guard to his more serious side down (having since appeared in two Harold and Kumur films as well), but certainly one of his most memorable moments doing so.

Of course the music reflects the time it’s set in as well; tracks by Foreigner, Jefferson Starship, and Quarterflash make their way throughout the picture. Several of the bands featured I have since personally seen live, including KISS (the solo from “Beth” can be heard at one point), Rick Springfield (“Love is Alright Tonite”), and Loverboy, who have not one, but two tracks on the soundtrack with “Turn Me Loose” and “When It’s Over” (hearing the latter two songs used in the film may have actually been the moment I realized Loverboy wasn’t half bad, and might have even helped convince me to go see the band in concert with my wife in 2014, see attached flyer below). Unfortunately, I have very few usable photos of Loverboy, thanks to it being a last minute show, and our not having a SLR camera with us at the time (anyone out there with pics from the show, I would love to see them!).

The characters have since been brought back twice via two Neflix shows; First Day of Camp in 2015, and Ten Years Later in 2017. But I digress; if you have never seen Wet Hot American Summer, now would surely be the perfect time to give it a chance. After all, you still have a few weeks left until the ‘last day of camp!’

Flyer from Loverboy show in Orlando, FL on 5/17/14, from the author’s personal collection.

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!”