Michael Winslow is best known for making a wide range of sound effects with his voice, a talent that led him to star in all seven Police Academy movies (and each of its two television series it spawned) from 1984 to 1994 as Sgt Larvell Jones, often delivering the biggest laughs. For better or worse, the series became a part of American culture during the ’80s heyday of National Lampoon, Mel Brooks, Porky’s, and the subsequent ‘slob’ genre. These comedies were simple, juvenile, and crude. But most importantly, they were fun.
This formula, derided by critics, was a big hit with audiences. The inevitable saturation of the genre made it hard to know where and when lightning would strike. Police Academy struck big and became a low-brow comedy success story. Growing up, I enjoyed the series’ stooge-like, raunchy antics. Winslow had an undeniable comic presence. And his brief part as a nameless radar operator in Spaceballs (1987) is one of the film’s many highlights, where he did all the sound effects himself.
And to be referenced in an episode of The Simpsons some years later is no small feat either. The seventh season Christmas-themed episode “Marge Be Not Proud” (1995) saw Bart struggling to regain Marge’s trust after he stole a video game, which led to one of Homer’s best rants; Homer: “STEALING! How could you? We live in a society of laws. Why do you think I took in all those Police Academy movies? FOR FUN?Well, I didn’t hear anybody laughing. DID YOU? Except at that guy who made sound effects [makes noises and starts giggling]. Where was I? Oh yeah, stay outta my booze!”
Winslow has performed live shows for decades. He’s also an accomplished beatboxer. I witnessed this firsthand at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, where Winslow delivered a two-hour set of comedy and music to troops abroad. In doing so, he made us all feel at home. I recently arrived in Kuwait as part of a nine-month Army deployment. Arifjan is a big base with lots of military personnel. Armed Forces Entertainment is a morale-based organization that sponsors and coordinates entertainment for service members.
I saw posters of Winslow’s upcoming performance and knew I had to go. Billed as ‘Michael Winslow and His Band of Armed Forces,’ the show was one of eight appearances at deployed locations throughout January. From what I saw, Winslow did not disappoint.
Josh Firestone, stand-up comic and former Army Ranger, had the thankless job of warming up the stone-cold sober crowd on a Tuesday night. He delivered several funny bits about military/post-military life, parenting, and other humorous topics. The initially subdued audience made me wonder how many were even familiar with Michael Winslow. Seeing someone I had admired from childhood was exciting. Maybe like me, they didn’t know what to expect.
Winslow then took the stage to hearty applause. Microphone in hand, he stood behind a dizzying array of electronics. This included a laptop, mixing board, vocal effects pedal, and cables running everywhere. His natural speaking voice was instantly recognizable. Drummer Bryan Lash provided some extra kick to the one-man show. The rest of the band, Winslow explained, couldn’t afford the airfare. It might have been a joke or an excuse to provide all the sounds of the instruments himself.
He belted out multiple genres of music with comedy bits in between. A few awkward pauses followed some technical difficulties, but Winslow effortlessly pushed on with energy, talent, and passion. Plus, the man can sing. Winslow joked about an ongoing bingo event next door by imitating the jittering ball sounds and the announcers blaring voice over the microphone. He then gave us all the sounds you’d expect from a supermarket check-out line. His Eddie Murphy and Chris Tucker impressions, among others, were spot on. There seemed no sound or voice he couldn’t imitate. Most of the show, however, was dedicated to music.
Utilizing vocal loops and effects, Winslow provided the tempo, bass line, guitar, and synthesizers for several familiar songs. He belted out Bob Marley, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, Prince, the Beverly Hills Cop theme, George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone,” country, bluegrass, jazz, and some freestyle jams. His energetic, multilayered performance was a sight to see.
“This is what I do,” Winslow repeatedly said. “I make noises.”
He encouraged us to make our own around the base. “But remember, if you get in trouble, my name is Kevin Hart.” Winslow must have been exhausted by the show’s end, but it didn’t show. He stuck around to get pictures with every service member who wanted one. I thanked him for coming, and he told me, “Remember, you can make noises too.”It was a bit of inspiration from the self-proclaimed “man of ten-thousand sound effects.” Strangely enough, I heard he lives in Winter Springs, Florida like me. If true, that makes us neighbors on the other side of the world.
I’m always grateful when performers/celebrities come out to see us. I’ll never forget meeting Robin Williams during my 2004 Afghanistan deployment. Like Williams, Winslow was gracious and kind. I hope he enjoyed performing for us as much as we enjoyed having him.
Roger Waters finally graced Orlando as part of his This Is Not a Drill North American tour. The three-hour, visually stunning spectacle covered his legendary career as co-founder, bassist, co-lead vocalist, and principal songwriter for Pink Floyd and the solo work that followed his departure from the band in the early ‘80s.
The tour, originally set for July of 2020, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s clear, however, that after experiencing Waters “in the flesh” at the Amway Center, it was well worth the wait. As a Pink Floyd fan from youth, who still considers them my all-time favorite band, I’m also a fan of Waters’s solo work. I even love Radio K.A.OS., the 1987 album later disparaged by Waters himself. Understandably, he was going through a difficult time back then.
The tensions between Waters and his former bandmates ultimately erupted after the resounding success of their 1979 rock opera masterpiece, The Wall. As a cohesive band, they produced one last album, The Final Cut (1983) before Waters’s bitter exit and lengthy court battles that followed. Egos clashed as he tried to single-handedly lay claim to the Pink Floyd name and material. It was a fight he eventually lost.
Guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour, keyboardist Richard Wright, and drummer Nick Mason retained the name, and Waters ventured into solo territory, competing against the very band he launched to stardom with The Dark Side of the Moon in 1973. Thus ended the Waters era of Pink Floyd.
Gilmour assumed front man duties, with the release of A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987 and a world tour that completely “eclipsed” Waters’s own earnest solo endeavors. The times, however, have somewhat changed. Following the passing of Richard Wright in 2008, all hopes of another Pink Floyd album after The Division Bell (1994) diminished. Gilmour rightfully stated that, “It would be wrong to continue as Pink Floyd without him.”
In their absence, Waters has since ironically done his part in bringing Floyd’s music to the fans throughout the past twenty years. This Is Not a Drill follows his Us + Them tour (2107-2018) that followed The Wall Live (2010-2013). I was fortunate enough to see him perform The Wall in Tampa, Florida in 2010. Experiencing the album in its theatric entirety still ranks as one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.
The thrill of seeing Waters again (for possibly the last time) was every bit as exciting as attending the Paul McCartney concert months prior in Orlando. In both cases, we’re increasingly aware of their inevitable retirements on the horizon. The vitality of rock and roll defies expectations, when two men close to (or in) their eighties can embark on such sweeping tours.
I’ve heard enough live Waters albums to know how he performs the Floyd material without the soulful voice and guitar playing of Glimour and the equally strong backing of Wright and Mason. Waters without Floyd is the same as Floyd without Waters. They’ve both become their own thing equal to the sum of their parts. With This Is Not a Drill, I can confidently say that Waters delivered in every way.
From the center of the stadium, massive LED screens hung above the cross shaped stage that extended in all four directions. The show started promptly at 8:30 pm in darkness as text scrolled across each lit screen accompanied by a British announcer, instructing patrons to turn off their cell phones and “fuck off to the bar,” if they like Pink Floyd’s music but don’t care for Waters’s politics. From the start, I expected a politically charged show evident in Waters’ own poignant songwriting for decades past. He’s an artist of conviction, consistently political throughout most of his career. Alas, I was there for the music, while also aware how seriously Waters takes “the message.”
The show started with a slow, moody version of “Comfortably Numb,” accompanied by dystopian visuals on the screens. Waters and his sizeable touring band remained unseen during its lengthy duration. An abundance of flashy, colorful lights followed as Waters ripped into the precursor song, “The Happiest Days of Our Lives,” accompanied by its famous helicopter droning and exhilarating crescendo of “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.” Waters then hammered through “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 3” as the audience erupted in jubilation.
Things shifted down a notch with “The Powers That Be” from Radio K.A.O.S and “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” from Amused to Death (1992). I was ecstatic to hear two songs from his solo albums, but the energy didn’t seem as infectious upon the crowd. Nonetheless, “The Powers That Be,” featured fantastic visuals of fascistic animated foot soldiers marching through town, while “Being Out of Range” gave us the first moments of Waters “stripped down” on the screen in black and white, strumming his acoustic guitar and singing.
To capture an “intimate moment” in a stadium show is quite the feat. But Waters pulled off just that with what appeared to be completely new material for an endearing, personable segue entitled “The Bar.” Waters, seated at a grand piano, played and sang beautifully, while calling for unity of all peoples from all cultures and stripes.
It was a touching moment from an otherwise intentionally divisive artist. His band belted out another Floyd rock anthem and radio mainstay “Have a Cigar” from the iconic Wish You Were Here 1975 album. This was then followed by none other than “Wish You Were Here,” which predictably brought the place down.
Around this point, I felt most excited, because I had no idea what would follow. Anything could happen. Scrolling text and narration then discussed the early days of Floyd and its founder Syd Barrett, whose mental illness and drug use during the ’60s propelled a swift exit from the band after their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967). Barrett led a private, solitary life that became the stuff of folklore among Floyd fans before he passed away in 2006. Many Pink Floyd albums have been dedicated to or written about Barrett, and to continue to honor his legacy in such a way was particularly touching. Waters continued music from Wish You Were Here with the second half of Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI-IX), capturing the raw power and energy of the song from beginning to end.
A giant, remote-controlled inflatable sheep then floated around the stadium to introduce a powerhouse rendition of “Sheep” from the 1977 album Animals, a personal highlight for me. A brief intermission followed, bridging the gap between the two sets, and the best was yet to come.
After intermission, the stage was draped with x-shaped hammers from above, signifying a return to The Wall. We were treated to the closing anthems, “In the Flesh” and “Run Like Hell,” featuring Waters in full, black leather fascist gear, mimicking moments where he gunned down the audience with a fake, illuminated machine gun.
Giant inflatable pigs, flashing lights, and the barrage of vivid imagery against a red visage became a delightful assault on the senses. Two songs followed from Waters’s majestic Is This the Life We Really Want? (2017). The Nigel Godrich-produced album is, in my opinion, his best solo work, and it virtually came out of nowhere, which made it uniquely special hearing live.
Waters then delved into his greatest commercial triumph with a series of songs from The Dark Side on The Moon. “Money,” “Us and Them,” “Any Colour You Like,” “Brain Damage,” and “Eclipse” thundered through the stadium in consecutive order with captivating visuals and light show motifs. A string of laser triangles filled the center stage with a stunning backdrop of faces, sunsets, and fire.
An encore followed with the apocalyptic “Two Suns in the Sunset” from The Final Cut, more material from “The Bar,” and the appropriate closer “Outside the Wall,” before sending us home, wanting more. Waters’s fantastic visuals, touching tribute to his former band, and love for performing was on full display. As the tour title suggests, his concert presented an alarming view of current times, while keeping the music alive.
I looked past the ego, sanctimony, and destructiveness of an artist who once tried to end Pink Floyd after “deciding” they had reached their peak and witnessed the sheer talent and passion of an artist who believes in the power of it all. Being active is perhaps the greatest gift Waters can offer. I hope he was as thrilled to host Orlando as we were to have him.
Few things can tap into our inner fears like ghost stories. Gothic ambience, supernatural mystery, and fears of the unknown often drive the fascination with the haunted house sub-genre popularized in books and films throughout the ages.
Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House remains a literary landmark of psychological horror finely adapted into The Haunting in 1963 and later a Netflix series directed by Mike Flanagan. The classic film House on Haunted Hill (1959) starred Vincent Price as an eccentric millionaire, offering unsuspecting guests $10,000 to spend the night in his haunted mansion.
George C. Scott left his mark on the genre, starring in the 1980 thriller The Changeling. Stanley Kubrick adapted Stephen King’s The Shining into one of the most influential horror films of all time with his epic take on the modern ghost story. We’ve witnessed the mediocre fare of The Amityville Horror series, the found footage phenomenon of Paranormal Activity, Japanese imports like The Grudge, and a slew of others from the likes of Blumhouse and A24.
There are too many to mention, but one thing is clear, horror sometimes works best when it’s consigned to the familiar surroundings of home. No other film in recent memory captures this localized premise quite like the 1982 horror hit Poltergeist, where one family faces malevolent spirits from beyond.
The film’s opening credits impose over a closeup of an American flag on television with The Star-Spangled Banner playing, followed by white noise. The Freeling family sleeps soundly as their youngest daughter Carol Anne awakens and approaches a flashing television. She then engages in conversation with an unknown entity. After placing her hands on the screen, an apparition bursts from the TV and flows into the wall above her parents’ bed. The room rumbles, shaking the parents awake. They find their daughter unfazed and welcoming their new visitors with the now iconic line, “They’re herrre.”
Five-year-old Heather O’Rourke made movie history with that line. She was perfect for the role as was the entire cast. Since its release, Poltergeist has become a mainstay of our culture. It remains a timeless work, boasting impressive special effects courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and Robert Edlund of Star Wars and Ghostbusters fame.
The movie embodies a uniquely idyllic time and place, centering on an average American family facing an unreal situation. Their plight intensifies after Carol Anne is sucked into parallel dimension, with little hope of getting her back. This frightful spectacle of suspense, drama, and horror was achieved through the combined forces of movie master Steven Spielberg and horror legend Tobe Hooper. Rarely would we ever experience such a film from two artistically opposite spectrums. Their differing sensibilities created a perfect balance of heart and horror amid a movie embroiled in controversy over creative control and the tragic fates that would later follow some key actors involved.
Poltergeist concerns the Freeling family who reside in a quaint California subdivision complex. The father, Steve (Craig T. Nelson), is a realtor who sells homes among the very complex he lives in. His wife Diane (JoBeth Williams) spends her time raising Carol Anne, eight-year-old Robbie (Oliver Robins), and teenage Dana (Dominique Dunne). Their seemingly normal existence is upended upon the presence of an unexplained paranormal phenomenon. TV channels change on their own, glasses spontaneously break, chairs move, and the family dog seems fixated on the wall above the parents’ bed. These strange and subtle occurrences are only the beginning of an increasingly sinister threat determined to wreak havoc on all who occupy the home.
After Carole Anne’s inexplicable disappearance, her parents enlist the aid of an investigative parapsychologist team to provide answers and help recover their daughter. The sympathetic team soon determine that the house is besieged by the presence of a “poltergeist” that must be studied and recorded with video cameras and audio equipment. The stakes are raised, and the true nature of what they’re up against becomes more apparent (and frightening) as the story proceeds. Rescuing Carol Anne is the catalyst for a desperate family pushed to the brink. After bouts of sleepless nights, the father discovers matter-of-factly from his boss (James Karen) that their entire housing development was built on a former cemetery, where they moved the headstones but not the bodies underground.
Poltergeist is the kind of movie dominated by everlasting set pieces. I don’t find the movie “scary” in a traditional sense today, but there were moments as a child, where I was too frightened to watch. The giant oak tree crashing its branches through the children’s second-story bedroom window, the clown doll coming alive, skeletons spilling out of coffins, and the house imploding into another dimension are just a few memorable moments of macabre. And who can forget the hapless researcher tearing his face off in a bout of hallucinatory fervor?
It’s a gripping story, where everything on screen works, including Zelda Rubinstein’s turn as the predominant medium who attempts to “clean” the house once all hell breaks loose. All is not what it seems, and just when we think it’s over, the movie pulls us back in, accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith’s heart-pounding score.
As viewers, we’re invested in the family’s plight because they’re down to earth and relatable. Such traits have always been Spielberg’s strong suit with characters. The movie feels very much like a Spielberg film, which fueled endless debate over who actually directed it. As writer and producer, Spielberg was contractually obligated to E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)at the time and unable to direct. He hired Tobe Hooper based on the strength of Hooper’s landmark horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and his first studio film, The Fun House (1981). Hooper, in turn, wanted to emphasize the horror aspects over what was originally a science fiction story, with wondrous results.
During production, A Los Angeles Times article insinuated that Spielberg was the real director of the film based off comments Spielberg made about “taking charge.” This, coupled with marketing Poltergeist as a Spielberg film, further casted doubt on Hooper’s role, but the record has since been made repeatedly clear…mostly. Anyone who knows and admires Hooper’s work (as I do) can clearly see his directorial touches. It is undoubtedly a Tobe Hooper film. Despite it being his most commercially successful work, he never quite recovered from the implications following the film’s release, which has since become Hollywood lore.
Further infamy arose around the murder of actress Dominique Dunne by her ex-boyfriend shortly after the film’s release. Heather O’Rourke then succumbed to a rare form of intestinal septic shock after filming Poltergeist III in 1988. There has been countless speculation of a Poltergeist “curse” due to the use of real skeletons in the film’s climax and its overall exploration of the supernatural. Such notions are common but no less disrespectful to the talents lost and their families.
An entire piece could be written about the television symbolism portrayed throughout Poltergeist, for starters. The film’s endearing relevancy comes down to its realism, intelligence, and innovative take on the supernatural. Such rarity is further distinguished by its status as one of the most notable PG-rated horror films out there. Spielberg and Hooper successfully appealed the MPAA’s initial R rating. It’s a movie that left a huge impact on my childhood that can still be enjoyed and embraced by fans and newcomers alike. Just leave the light on after watching. You can never be too sure.
I’ve witnessed greatness on stage many times in the nearly three decades since I first started going to concerts. I’ve seen many early rock and heavy metal bands from “back in the day,” including pioneering acts such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, and even The Rolling Stones. But never before have I managed to catch one of The Beatles, the ones who started it all, and undeniably my earliest memory of rock music going back to when my parents had first introduced me to them so many years ago.
But that finally happened this past Saturday, May 28, when legendary former Beatle himself Paul McCartney took the stage at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL. I was there to witness this much anticipated event with my wife, son, mother-in-law, and extended family and friends of the Rewind It Magazine family. I don’t think a single one of us could issue a word of complaint if we tried.
Opening with the classic Beatles track “Can’t Buy Me Love,” I was instantly transported back to childhood memories of seeing old black and white footage of the fab four bobbing around on stage together. For the next two and a half hours, I found myself so transfixed on that stage, possibly the most lost in music I’ve ever been in my lifetime prior.
The next few songs, “Junior’s Farm,” “Letting Go,” “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and “Come On To Me” all served as decent enough warm ups that were paving the way to better things, the blues-ly Wings staple “Let Me Roll It” and the Sgt. Peppers-era “Getting Better” being a couple of said things. “Let ‘Em In” followed before McCartney dedicated “My Valentine” to his wife (who was in attendance for the show) and oddly enough featured actors Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman “signing” the lyrics on the video screens.
“Nineteen Hundred Eighty-Five” was up next with some retro lazer light work, while more classics like “Maybe I’m Amazed” and The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face” followed. Paul then dug deep with a track from his pre-Beatles Quarrymen days, “In Spite of All the Danger,” as well as “Love Me Do,” each featuring a little history of their original recordings from McCartney.
The semi-newer track “Dance Tonight” was next before McCartney took the stage solo with an acoustic guitar to perform “Blackbird,” another chill-inducing moment. “Here Today” was next up, before McCartney joked about the lack of interest usually reserved for newer music, before appropriately going into a newer track in the form of “New,” featuring the refrain “We can do what we want.”
Another Beatles number, “Lady Madonna,” proceeded before the interesting “Fuh You,” and although the Sgt. Pepper track “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite” attempted to bring the psychedelic vibe with it, it was definitely one of the weaker moments of the night. A little backstory on late Beatle George Harrison preceded a ukulele-driven version of “Something” before picking things up again with the goofy but harmless “Obla Di, Obla Da.”
From then on it was nothing but the best, including some Abbey Road (my favorite Beatles album) era classics like “You Never Give Me Your Money” (which McCartney explained he and his current band had never performed live before) and “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window,” before launching into “Get Back.”
Another Wings track, “Band on the Run,” followed before McCartney took the piano again to serenade the crowd with “Let it Be,” blow everyone away (literally with various pyros and explosions) with the James Bond theme “Live and Let Die,” and invoke the entire stadium to sing along with “Hey Jude,” the unforgettable, massive Beatles anthem from 1968, and close out the first set.
It didn’t take long for McCartney and company to take the stage again for an encore, beginning with “I’ve Got a Feeling,” which he explained Get Back director Peter Jackson had isolated John Lennon’s vocals for specifically for the tour, and fans were therefore given a rare treat. “Birthday” and “Helter Skelter” got the crowd on their feet again, while the epic climax of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End” (hands down one of my favorite Beatles medlies) was finally enough to choke up an old dog like myself, as I became overwhelmed with emotion, knowing just what greatness I had just experienced.
As if this wasn’t all enough in itself, a chance encounter on the way out of the stadium found us actually crossing paths with Alter Bridge and Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti (see photo below), who was more than happy to briefly chat with us about the concert we had all just witnessed (among other things). I couldn’t possible write a better ending to an already epic story if I tried.
Each year brings the inevitable loss of another cultural icon. It seems this has been happening a lot lately, especially for those of us who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
The recent passing of Ivan Reitman at 75 is another reminder of irreplaceable talent in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Reitman was one of the most reliably talented in his field. As the director, producer, and/or writer of countless seminal classics, his work behind the camera helped define the essence of modern American comedy. His films launched the careers of several comedic legends throughout the ‘80s, while reveling in absurd, wildly original concepts that always delivered.
Reitman’s strength lied in his dedication to offbeat premises and the realism necessary to keep them grounded. His track record wasn’t perfect, but there’s a reason his films remain so beloved today. He respected audiences and sought primarily to entertain. But none of that would have been possible without an adept storytelling methodology and greater understanding of the comedy formula overall.
Reitman was born in the Slovakian town of Komárom in 1946 to parents who were both Holocaust survivors. His family later immigrated to Canada, where Reitman studied music and directed several short films. After years of TV and stage production gigs, his first professional foray into film production began with two films from Canadian horror legend David Cronenberg, Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977).
Soon after, he found early success as producer behind the anarchic comedy hit Animal House (1978), notable for its memorable ensemble cast, including the great John Belushi. Reitman’s directorial debut Meatballs (1979) gave Bill Murray his first starring role as a clownish camp counselor. This was followed by another Reitman-directed comedy hit Stripes (1981), starring Murray and Harold Ramis, who sadly passed away in 2010.
Stripes further set the tone of the anti-establishment comedy prevalent during that time and featured Murray and Ramis as two aimless slackers who join the Army on a whim. Reitman seemed to have a knack for cultivating comic talent in what critics deemed the “slob genre,” mainstreamed by movies like Caddyshack (1980). But nothing could contend with the multi-million dollar cultural phenomenon that followed.
Ghostbusters exploded into cinemas in 1984 and quickly became the highest grossing comedy of its time. The supernatural special effects extravaganza was scripted by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, introducing a group of eccentric scientists who start their own ghost-catching business. Everything about the film has become a mainstay in our culture. The ubiquitous Ray Paker Jr. song and merchandise that followed continue the endearing legacy of a cherished film and its subsequent franchise.
As director, Reitman was primarily responsible for establishing a realistic backdrop to make the story more believable, and thus, more effective. Aykroyd initially envisioned the Ghostbusters battling supernatural entities in space. After several rewrites with Ramis and additional guidance from Reitman, the story was set in its now iconic location in the heart of New York City. Reitman hired effects wizard Richard Edlund and his company to deliver the groundbreaking special effects, including the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s downtown rampage. Reitman knew that for the film to work, everything needed to be convincing. He also expertly merged comedy, suspense, and horror into the proceedings. The results are pure movie magic and a testament to his directorial abilities.
Reitman followed his biggest hit with the moderately successful comedy drama Legal Eagles (1986), starring Robert Redford, Debra Winger, and Daryl Hannah. The idea stemmed from Reitman to emulate the sophisticated legal thrillers of the 1940s. But its impact paled in comparison to his next comedy, Twins (1988), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (in his first comedic role) and Danny De Vito as two “twins” reunited after being separated at birth. By this period, Reitman displayed a mastery of the form and once again delivered a fantastical premise with heart, suspense, comedy, and broad appeal.
Ghostbusters II (1989) was released during a summer of blockbusters that included Batman, Back to the Future Part II, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It held its own and successfully brought back the original cast for more supernatural adventures in NYC. As a child, Ghostbusters II was the first film of the franchise I saw in theaters. It left me enthralled, even rivaling Batman as my favorite movie of the year. Today, the film holds up just as well as the original, despite what the naysayers say. Reitman’s direction remains reliably solid, utilizing the effective chemistry of the film’s key players and equally impressive special effects.
Kindergarten Cop (1990) saw Reitman once again team up with Schwarzenegger to deliver a raucous comedy blockbuster based on an improbable concept turned real. In this case, Schwarzenegger’s hard-edged detective character goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to catch a bad guy. The movie was criticized as being too intense for children, which speaks to Reitman’s knack of fusing several genre elements together. Reitman was still at the top of his game, delivering the comedy hit Dave in 1993, the successful but embarrassing Junior (1994), and his welcomed return to science fiction comedy with Evolution in 2001.
When not directing, he produced dozens of notable films throughout the ‘90s and 2000s. He never stopped working, even producing the latest incarnation of the Ghostbusting franchise, Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021), directed by his son, Jason. For someone beholden to comedy, it’s evident by the sheer quality of his work that he took his profession and work seriously.
The passing of a film director may not have the same impact as an actor, musician, athlete, or noted celebrity. The same could be said for scientists, authors, physicians, or anyone whose grand achievements occur outside of the limelight. We only know what we see. To me, a director’s work represents one piece of their catalog. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but I always look for the stylistic similarities.
I remember seeing the Twins trailer in the coming attractions before The Land Before Time (1988). It showed two newborn babies crying, still in the hands of doctors, with caption across both infants that read, “Danny De Vito” and “Arnold Schwarzenegger.” I was intrigued, especially when Reitman’s name was listed in the credits. I recognized his name from the sleeve of my worn-out VHS copy of Ghostbusters. Today, I remain grateful for his work. He gave us with laughter, excitement, and a love for the memorable characters and situations that will live on for generations to come.
The makings of a good horror movie can be subjective. Within multiple horror subgenres exists a consensus of “greats ones” or influential classics that made an undeniable cultural impact. When trying to examine my own love of horror films, I’ve found excitement to be a prime motivating factor.
Danger, mystery, and suspense coupled with a dark, brooding atmosphere are perfect elements of any effective horror film. The creative ingenuity displayed in horror from the past hundred years is a remarkable testament to the human spirit. The sheer talent behind and in front of the camera throughout the twentieth century is overwhelming to consider. Today, we’re fortunate enough to witness horror from its infancy in the silent era to the movies of today.
Different things scare different people. Some people don’t like to be scared at all. I’m naturally drawn to the macabre, most likely due to the wealth of ‘80s horror films from my childhood. The 1980s were, after all, when horror was perfected. It’s a known fact. Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible without the springboard of the preceding decade’s “New Hollywood” movement that saw a new generation of filmmakers shifting control of studio system to a more independent, artistically driven one.
Before such notable times, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) singlehandedly changed the suspense/horror landscape, and studios took notice. The ‘70s gave us The Exorcist (1973), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Jaws (1975), and Halloween (1978), among others. These were serious films that made serious amounts of money, while leaving their mark as cultural milestones.
John Carpenter’s Halloween soon became the most successful independent film of its time. Carpenter followed with a string of hits that included The Fog (1980) and Escape from New York (1981). His next and most ambitious film would later stand as one of the greatest horror films ever made and a movie whose initial failure and unfair critical dismissal soured his career for years to come.
Carpenter was heavily influenced by the films of Howard Hawks, whose prolific, multi-genre career spanned decades. In 1951, Hawks produced a film adaptation of John W. Campbell’s 1938 science-fiction/horror novella Who Goes There? called, The Thing from Another World. This influence can be seen during scenes in Halloween, whereblack & white clips from the movie are shown on TV. Carpenter was initially reluctant to direct a new version of Campbell’s classic novella after being approached by Universal. But he soon realized the potential of updating the story for modern audiences and put his entire directorial forces behind it.
Much like the original story, John Carpenter’s The Thing takes place on an Antarctic outpost besieged by a shapeshifting alien monster unwisely unearthed from its frozen state by curious scientists. The alien has no known identify or feature. It simply consumes, absorbs, and replicates every living thing around it. Carpenter’s version focuses heavily on atmosphere, utilizing the isolated, secluded backdrop to its fullest. The ominous score by Ennio Morricone is also the first time Carpenter didn’t do the music himself, though he did contribute.
Kurt Russell leads a talented cast of twelve men as no-nonsense helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady, based on meteorologist McReady from the original novella. He’s joined by the great Keith David as Childs and Wilford Brimley as Blair, the chief surgeon. Fear and paranoia overtake the men as they soon realize that the alien has infiltrated their ranks. Anyone of them could be the Thing, and there’s no way of telling. The alien is relentless in its objectives. It also has the added advantage of fully existing within in a single drop of blood.
The Thing’s groundbreaking special effects were dismissed by critics at the time as nothing more than a grotesque spectacle. Carpenter had tapped Rob Bottin, a young, ambitious make-up effects artist known for his work in Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981). It’s said that Bottin spent an entire year creating the shape-shifting effects for The Thing. Such dedication shows, as the results remain some of the best and most horrific creations ever captured on film. Bottin would go on to work Robocop (1987) and Total Recall (1990), among other films before strangely disappearing from movies altogether.
After years of struggling with its initial failure, Carpenter has said that he considered The Thing his personal favorite of all his films. I agree, and I’m grateful that it has received the recognition it deserves. It’s a serious horror film. There’s little to no humor, the threat is real, and the nihilistic ending remains legendary. It’s also a work of art, created by a filmmaker in his prime. If you’re looking for a good horror movie, there’s no better place to start than this 1982 masterpiece.
Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella A Christmas Carol is as familiar as the holiday itself. As a quintessential story of redemption, it’s hard to imagine a world before Ebenezer Scrooge. Roughly a hundred years later, director Frank Capra delivered a similar redemptive tale with the Jimmy Stewart classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).
Both stories had elements of darkness within their exploration of humanity, but neither delved into the murder and mayhem of the Christmas slasher films that followed. It was only a matter of time before Santa Clause became a serial killer, which audiences would get their first glimpse of on screen in the brief “And All Through the House” segment in the 1972 film Tales From the Crypt.
The1970s and 80s introduced a decidedly macabre take on the holiday genre. Nonetheless, these films exhibited a certain charm amid their profitable nihilism. It was a special time and place, where young filmmakers thrived in merging horror tropes with the holidays, long before Tim Burton arrived on the scene. One of the earliest examples of this twisted trend began with the aptly titled Black Christmas, a horror film that remains frightening to this day.
Black Christmas (1974)
Director Bob Clark played a pivotal role in launching the slasher genre with this tense, atmospheric film that entirely lives up to its reputation. Initially dismissed by critics, the movie has since gained a deeper appreciation for its artful cinematography, serious themes, and stark horror. Clark helped shape the prototype slasher film with a level of quality not often associated with the genre. There have been two worthless “name only” remakes, largely unrelated to the original plot.
The story involves a group of sorority girls being harassed by an unseen psycho who may or may not be known by them. Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and Kier Dullea round out the talented cast, with some other familiar faces in the mix. As the murders continue unabated, we never learn the identity of the killer, which was something rarely, if ever, seen before. Black Christmas heavily inspired John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), which led to the slasher boom of the 80s. Not content with one genre, Bob Clark later went on to direct the cherished holiday classic, A Christmas Story (1983).
Ralphie’s childhood quest for a Red Ryder BB gun is quite different than anything seen in Black Christmas, and it’s a testament to Clark’s versatility. Writer Jean Shepherd’s humorous, semi-fictional accounts of growing up in the 1950s is about as far from a slasher film one could get. Both films, in my opinion, can be appreciated on different levels. Clark cemented two equally enjoyable holiday classics for generations to come.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (Part I-V)
The abundance of slasher films throughout the 80s weren’t without controversy. Bloody, elaborate special effects were often removed, following a merciless MPAA crackdown. In short, fans were left with tedious buildups to off-screen kills, amid other frustrations.
These films were seen as an affront to decency by parents and religious leaders alike, and maybe they were right. But nothing angers gore-loving teenagers more than censorship. I can attest to that. One movie, Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), earned special derision from critic Roger Ebert, who called the profits from the film “blood money” in his heated review. He may have had a point as well. Horror movies, in general, are driven by profit. Violence sells, especially when it’s holiday themed.
Silent Night, Deadly Night continued the psychological tropes first introduced in Christmas Evil (1980). In both cases, traumatized, disturbed men unleashed their fury on society, dressed as Santa Clause. I’m still amazed that Silent Night, DeadlyNight garnered five sequels, rendered unrecognizable by the fifth installment. The first film remains the best one, and the lengths they went to extend the series are a riot.
The initial outing tells the story of Billy Chapman (Robert Brian Wilson), who witnessed his parents’ murder at the hands of a Santa Clause-costumed killer. Chapman’s subsequent attempts at a “normal life” are derailed when he takes a job as a mall Santa and predictably snaps. It’s a straight-forward slasher that contains a certain depth to its portrayal of an orphaned child, doomed to the failures of the system.
The movie was pulled from theaters, following an outrage campaign in response to its commercials portraying an ax-wielding maniac dressed as Santa Clause. Simpler times, indeed. The shameless sequel presents forty minutes of footage from the original film through flashbacks recited by the brother of the original killer.
Ricky Caldwell (Eric Freeman), our demented lead, supposedly remembers everything about his brother’s descent, even though he was an infant at the time. All of this was intentional. Due to the first movie being pulled so quickly from theaters, the producers didn’t think anyone would notice if they “reassembled” the first film into a sequel. In the end, we were given an enjoyably bizarre suburban rampage, containing the brief but immortal “Garbage Day” segment. The movie is trash, but earnestly tries to breathe life into a pointless endeavor.
Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out (1989) is an anemic straight-to-video concoction, featuring a girl with psychic powers inexplicably linked to the killer, ala Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988). Back then, plenty of films shamelessly stole from the Brian De Palma’s masterful Stephen King adaptation Carrie (1976). It’s a movie so dull and boring, that it completely earns Ebert’s ire from the first installment.
The best thing that could be said about Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990) is that it tries to be something completely different, even while copying Rosemary’s Baby (1969). It’s a cult movie, directed by the talented Brian Yuzna and starring the legendary Clint Howard. A young, ambitious reporter gets intertwined with a deadly witch cult. There’s plenty of mystery and intrigue that’s as enjoyable as a fourth entry can be. I appreciate their attempts to change things up, even if it has nothing to do with the original. It does take place during Christmas, allowing the cynical holiday tie-in to continue.
They weren’t even trying for consistency by the time Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991) rolled around. This bizarre entry features a deranged toy maker, as promised, portrayed by Mickey Rooney. My explanation of the plot wouldn’t do it justice, but it’s worth seeing out of morbid curiosity. In retrospect, I give it even more credit for shifting away from the source material. It’s the most ridiculous Christmas-themed movie you could see outside of Santa Clause Conquers the Martians (1964). One thing is for certain, Silent Night, Deadly Night films are less disturbing than the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, which still ranks as the most traumatic viewing experience of all time.
Since then, there has been an explosion of sorts of modern Christmas horror films, including a loose Silent Night, Deadly Night remake simply titled Silent Night (2012), as well as Krampus (2015), A Christmas Horror Story (2015), and Red Christmas (2016), among others. Each of these tried to put their own unique spins on the holiday horror genre, and all with varying results. But the above-named earlier films will always remain the go-to’s for anyone searching for true fright during the Christmas season.
The FX series What We Do in the Shadows is top-notch, quality entertainment. No detail is spared, from the sets, costumes, special effects, and makeup, the show retains every theatrical element of the 2014 New Zealand horror comedy film of the same name.
The movie was directed by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame and Taika Waititi, writer/director of the acclaimed Jojo Rabbit (2019), among other films. Their unique, fresh, and often hilarious take on the vampire genre was seamlessly adapted into a television series that just wrapped up its third season. Clement and Waititi are heavily involved in the show’s production and even reprise their roles from the film as sitting members of the esteemed Vampiric Council.
The series continues the trend of portraying centuries-old vampires living together in modern times. Their escapades are captured by a documentary crew in the vein of The Office and other “mockumentary” comedies. This is Spinal Tap (1984) was an early example as was the Albert Brooks satire Real Life (1979). Brooks’s movie is about a documentary filmmaker living with an all-American family to capture their daily lives, but in Shadows, we don’t know who the documentary crew is. Most of the time, we forget they’re even there.
I contend that Shadows is the best comedy show since It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (now approaching its fifteenth season). They both rank, in my twisted opinion, as the finest sitcoms of the past decade. Their sharp, outlandish humor and perfect casting lead to hysterical results. They’re also both property of the FX network, who played their cards right with two gems that continually restore my waning faith in American comedy.
What We Do in the Shadows premiered on television in 2019. At the time, I was a tad confused by the trailers showing a different group of vampires living together in New York. I didn’t know if it was a direct adaptation of the movie or something completely different. A few episodes in, I was sold by its fast-paced humor, deft comedic timing, and high production values.
The show follows four vampire roommates in their gothic Staten Island home, having traveled to the U.S. from Europe decades prior. There’s suave, sex obsessed Laslzo Cravensworth (Matt Berry), his vampire bride Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), bachelor Nandor the Relentless (Kayvan Novak), dedicated familiar (now bodyguard) Guillermo de la Cruz (Harvey Guillén), and energy vampire outcast Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch).
Each character plays a vital part to the overall story. As roommates, the vampires are dysfunctional, aloof, and completely moronic. That, among other traits, is just part of the charm. The undeniable chemistry between the cast propels the show’s offbeat, unique brand of humor and clever writing. Though seemingly episodic in nature, there is an evolving plot that advances with each season. And if the largely brilliant third season showed us anything, it’s that Shadows shows no signs of slowing down.
The premiere of the ten-episode season begins with “The Prisoner,” featuring hopelessly loyal familiar/servant Guillermo locked in his vampire masters’ basement after slaughtering a hoard of vampires who had entrapped Nandor, Nadja, Laszlo, and Colin into attending the prestigious Nouveau Théâtre des Vampires. The entire event was a trap to execute them for murdering other vampires, namely the ancient Baron Afanas from the earlier season. What no one knows is that Guillermo has been inadvertently behind all the vampire deaths thus far. As a descendent of famous vampire killer Abraham Van Helsing, it’s in his blood.
Following the theater massacre, the vampire roommates are unsure what to do with Guillermo. He saved their lives, but he is also a vampire killer by nature. Though Guillermo is caged and presumably prisoner, the gang don’t notice as he slips out of his cage each night to do his chores at night and look after them. He even has time to go to Arby’s during the day. They eventually decide to let him live and “release” him with a promotion to bodyguard. This, of course, follows an ineffective ritual where they engage in a hypnosis ritual to prevent him from harming them.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Vampiric Council deliver a videotaped message, informing Nandor, Nadjga, Laszlo, and Colin that since all the powerful vampires of New York area were killed, they, in fact, will be appointed the head a new council. Nandor and Nadjga immediately square off for the throne as Guillermo schemes in the background.
Guillermo’s intriguing development throughout the series continues unabated. After ten years of service, he remains entirely dedicated to his master, Nandor with hopes of becoming a vampire one day. It’s revealed early on, however, that no familiar ever actually becomes a vampire. But Guillermo’s budding confidence and increasing friction with Nandor provide some of the show’s most genuine depth.
The third seasons contains four brilliant episodes, four good ones, and two that are slightly filler. In one particularly stellar episode, the troupe go on vacation to Atlantic City, where they barely survive due to the cleaning woman throwing out their bags of native dirt needed to sleep. In another, Nandor joins a cult-like wellness center of “formerly fanged” iconoclasts who have rejected vampire lifestyle and wish to become human.
We see the return of the Baron Afanas (what’s left of him anyway), incredibly played by Guillermo del Toro regular Doug Jones. Nadja rises in the council ranks as Nandor grows sullen and depressed by his loneliness and immortality. Laszlo strangely links up with Colin Robinson for many episodes, and we soon find out why. Energy vampires only live for a hundred years, and Colin is nearing his 100th birthday.
The third season begins and ends on a high note. Both episodes are perfect bookends to an engrossing storyline that provides real growth for its characters, despite their farcical environment. Shadows shows that, human or vampire, we all desire purpose. By the finale, Nadja has been invited to join the Supreme Council in London and frets leaving Laszlo, her love, due to his hatred of the old country.
Nandor, meanwhile, embarks on his journey of self-discovery, leaving Guillemro feeling distraught and abandoned. Their shocking all-out brawl is a series highlight, where Nandor, acquiescing to Guillemero, turns to the camera and says, “That little fucker can really move when he wants to.” A lot more happens, including Colin’s death and bizarre rebirth, and we’re left with a litany of questions by the end. The fourth season can’t come soon enough.
For the first time in its ten-year history, the massive Welcome to Rockville music festival came to the International Speedway in Daytona Beach, FL for four straight days and nights from November 11-14. And with press credentials extremely limited for the event, it did not look likely that Rewind It Magazine would be able to make it. But as luck would have it, our very own photographer Brooke Striewski managed to pull off winning four day passes from local rock station WJRR.
Each night featured an array of different bands on the stage (and to anyone that was able to make it all four days and survive, I applaud you), and having just acquired wristbands the day of the first show and having numerous prior engagements, there was no way we would be able to make much more than the headlining acts. But photo passes be damned, we were still determined to get in as much as possible, and see as many friends of the extended family also attending as possible (including Mike Jones, Josh Kelly, and Rewind It Magazine contributor Shawn McKee).
Although I’m ninety-nine percent sure the first band we saw onstage upon entering that first night on Thursday, November 11 was indeed Brass Against, we did not witness the now-infamous “peeing” incident from lead singer Sophia Urista (shame, I know). Our first “real” introduction to the music was via A Day to Remember, a band I first saw back in 2011. Can’t say I was ever a huge fan of theirs, but songs like “Mind Reader,” “Resentment,” “All Signs Point to Lauderdale,” “Brick Wall,” and “All I Want” were all decent enough live numbers.
From there it was on to catch hip hop icons Cypress Hill, who just about any middle/high school misfit in the ’90s will remember as the go-to stoner group. Along with Public Enemy’s DJ Lord in tow, the group actually started off somewhat promising with tracks like “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That,” “When the Shit Goes Down,” “A to the K,” and “Hand on the Pump.” But as soon as they did “Pigs” and started preaching their hypocritical anti-law enforcement rhetoric from their oh-so protected stage (From what again? That’s right, law enforcement!), they began to lose us. More stunning achievements in songwriting followed, such as “Bilingual,” “I Wanna Get High” (where a nearby fan became falsely excited, mistaking it for another, similar sounding song), “Dr. Greenthumb,” and “Hits From the Bong.” By the time they reached their biggest hit “Insane in the Brain,” we were already making our way over to the main act of the night.
Slipknot are one of those rare exception, nu metal acts that I can actually tolerate. and having previously photographed frontman Corey Taylor and guitarist Jim Root on stage with Stone Sour for another magazine at Earthday Birthday back in 2013, I was actually intrigued to finally see them behind their “other” faces. They were also our fifteen year old son’s favorite act of the entire festival, so to be able to watch them alongside him was no doubt a special moment for me. They definitely did not disappoint, coming out strong with somewhat newer track “Unsainted” before finally launching into the likes of “Before I Forget,” “The Heretic Anthem,” “Psychosocial,” “The Chapeltown Rag,” “Wait and Bleed,” “Vermilion,” “All Out Lie,” and “Duality.” At some point during the night, Taylor also took a minute to address the recent tragedy at Astroworld, forging a moment of honest solidarity between band and audience.
Night two was definitely a step up, and one to remember. By the time our crew arrived this time around, Chevelle (another band I once photographed at EDBD, but in 2012) were mid-way through their set. Although more up my son’s alley once again, hearing tracks like “The Clincher,” “Send the Pain Below,” and “The Red” took me back to another, more simple time.
Social Distortion has been a band on my list for some time now, and although I’ve had close calls of seeing them in the past, I was finally able to catch them this past Friday night. Tracks like The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb,” “Ready For Love,” “California (Hustle and Flow),” “Far Side of Nowhere,” “Lude Boy,” “She’s a Knockout,” “The Way Things Were,” “Story of my Life,” “I Was Wrong,” “Ball and Chain,” “Don’t Drag Me Down,” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” were all powerful in a live setting (although I would have liked to have heard just a little more older stuff, like maybe “Mommy’s Little Monster” at the very least). The laid back demeanor of founder and lone original member, frontman Mike Ness (now joined by former U.S. Bombs/Youth Brigade guitarist Johnny Wickersham in place of the late Dennis Danell since 2000) was a stark contrast to Cypress Hill’s set the previous night around the same time frame, and just echoed an overall coolness.
Former White Zombie frontman Rob Zombie was up next, and like Slipknot, was playing his final show of 2021. Although there’s still plenty of visuals to behold throughout his shows via videos of everything from clips of his films, to half naked go go dancers, I remembered not being all that impressed the last time I caught him live in 2006, either. Now joined by not one, but two former members of Marilyn Manson (guitarist John 5 and drummer Ginger Fish), Zombie and his crew made plenty of noise with tracks like “The Triumph of King Freak (A Crypt of Preservation and Superstition),” “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown,” “Superbeast,” “Living dead Girl,” “The Eternal Struggles of The Howling Man,” “Well, Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO,” “More Human Than Human,” “House of 1000 Corpses,” and “Thunder Kiss ’65.” A quick solo from John 5 followed before closing things out with “Dragula,” but overall, it was not much more than simply a pretty “meh” performance.
And finally, after waiting forty years (the age of both myself, and the band themselves), I was able to come full circle and complete seeing the last missing piece of the “Big Four” of thrash metal that also includes Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer. It was truly surreal to hear Metallica tear through “Whiplash” off of 1983’s Kill ’em All album, before going into “Ride the Lightning” from the album of the same name. More classics new and old followed, including “Harvester of Sorrow,” “Cyanide,” “The Memory Remains,” “One,” “Frantic” (yes, from 2003’s St. Anger album, which lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield even poked a bit of fun at), and “Moth Into Flame.” More classics like “No Leaf Clover,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Whiskey in the Jar,” “Fade to Black,” “Master of Puppets,” “Fight Fire with Fire,” “Fuel,” and “Seek and Destroy” followed. But I also noted how, curiously, nothing from TheBlackAlbum was performed, and I would indeed find out why soon enough (stay tuned). Although packed in like sardines in one of the largest crowds any of us have ever been in, it was truly an unforgettable experience to have together.
Having already seen the majority of bands on Saturday night’s roster – including The Offspring, Staind, Lamb of God, and Gwar – and having previously committed to the third annual Stogies and Spirits event at Henry’s Depot in Sanford, FL (where we watched local cover act Skin Deep perform instead) we wisely took a night off from Rockville and waited until Sunday to return, which was a gamble that paid off perfectly. Upon arrival on Sunday afternoon, the weather had cooled down considerably, and the all-female trio The Warning were well into their set. Not only were some pretty faces a welcomed addition after staring at nothing but dudes for days now, the girls actually rocked pretty damn hard, too…
…Yet not as hard as the mighty Anthrax. The last time I saw them back in 2010 (where I photographed them at Hard Rock Live along with Megadeth and Slayer), they were full of energy, and absolutely tore up the stage. And despite a member change since (Shadows Fall guitarist Jonathan Donais has since taken over for Volbeat’s Rob Caggiano), the band still had it. Staple tracks like “Among the Living,” “Got the Time,” “Caught in a Mosh,” “Madhouse,” “Finale,” “I am the Law,” “Anti-Social,” and “Indians” still all sounded crushing live, making Anthrax easily one of my favorite bands of not only the night, but the entire weekend as well.
Former Escape the Fate frontman Ronnie Radke’s band Falling in Reverse were next up. Although another of the many bands I photographed at the three consecutive Earthday Birthdays I covered (I believe it was 2012 this time around), the appeal has definitely worn off for me, and is once again something more appreciated by my teenager. Still, it was interesting hearing “The Drug in Me is You” again alongside newer tracks like “Believe in Me,” “Drugs,” “Just Like You,” and “Popular Monster.”
Mastodon were up next, and admittedly, we only caught a glimpse of their set due to it being time to find some grub. But we filled our bellies just in time to catch a reunited Mudvayne, who, despite their laughable costumes and makeup, did not cause anyone to lose said dinner. I can’t say I was ever a fan of Mudvayne, or vocalist Chad Gray and guitarist Greg Tribbett’s other band HellYeah, who once again I photographed at – you guessed it – Earthday Birthday! The only songs I even recognized in their set were the early 2000’s hits “Not Falling” and “World So Cold,” and after listening to Gray struggle to hit the right notes (to be fair, I understand he may have recently recovered from a case of Covid), we began making our way to the next stage.
Legendary southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd have somehow also managed to escape from my radar until now, but it was totally worth the wait, even with virtually no original member present at the time (sole surviving member Gary Rossington was out due to recent medical issues, leaving long time vocalist/younger brother to late original vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, Johnny, and guitarist Ricky Medlocke, who played briefly with the band in the early ’70s and has been back with them for a good twenty five years now, as close as it gets). Still, this did not stop them from bringing the house down.
Thin Lizzy/former Brother Cane guitarist Damon Johnson took over duties for Rossington with ease and enthusiasm, and the band opened their set admirably enough with “Workin’ For MCA.” More classics like “I Ain’t the One,” “Saturday Night Special,” “That Smell,” “Gimme Back My Bullets,” “The Needle and the Spoon,” “Simple Man,” “Gimme Three Steps,” and “Sweet Home Alabama” followed before ending with an epic, ten-plus minute rendition of “Free Bird” (all these years of hearing it yelled at concerts, and we finally heard it live). Skynyrd’s set was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the night, and the entire weekend.
Things could have easily ended there and been just fine. But instead, Metallica had to play a second show of the weekend, and it was immediately apparent the energy of Friday night’s show just wasn’t quite there this time (from both band and audience), and opening with the semi-newer track in the form of “Hardwired” was a clue of what was to come. Things did actually pick up briefly though, as the guys dove through a couple of classics (and two personal favorites of mine) “The Four Horsemen” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).”
But then, the unexpected happened; they started playing The Black Album (remember what I had said about Friday night’s set?), and to top it off, backwards. That’s right, the most boring album in Metallica’s “classic” era catalog, was played from “The Struggle Within,” all the way to “Enter Sandman.” I get that it’s a milestone for the band and recently just turned thirty years old, but I could have easily lived without hearing every moment from it (and judging by the crowd’s reaction, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way). The Black Album was actually the first Metallica album I ever owned, and it did little to nothing to win me over as a fan; it took going back to their earlier efforts to finally win me over.
Although the band did briefly redeem themselves afterwards by ending with “Damage Inc.” and “Creeping Death,” it still did not measure up by any means to their Friday night set. But I think it’s safe to say that all those who attended and lived through the incredible, exhausting experience that was Welcome to Rockville 2021 will surely have many a story to tell for a long, long time.
Last Night in Soho is one of the most visually impressive films I’ve seen in a while. Its vibrant cinematography, sweeping camera movements, and gorgeous colors effectively recreate London during the Swinging Sixties. Though set in present day, the movie shifts back to a different time and place through multiple dreamlike segments, while presenting the mysterious and tragic downfall of an ambitious singer caught up in the glitz and glamour of a bygone era.
We don’t see movies like this too often, an entirely original concept with a large budget and backing of a major studio (Universal). It’s not related to any franchise or pre-existing property. As a psychological horror film, it’s also not associated with the Blumhouse “horror” assembly line or A24 cerebral art house fare. The story was conceived by British writer/director Edgar Wright. And how much you enjoy his film is based on how willing you are to get immersed in its world.
Like any worthwhile art, Last Night in Soho is inundated with symbolism. There’s a lot going on in every scene. On the surface, the serpentine story unfolds as a full-length Twilight Zone episode. It’s unlike anything Wright has ever done before, and if you know his versatile body of work, you can appreciate how far he’s come.
Wright is known for the comedy horror film Shaun of the Dead and its equally farcical action counterpart Hot Fuzz, featuring the dream team of British comic actors, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Both films are notable for their striking wit, over-the-top violence, and fast-paced editing, for starters. Wright then went on to make the superbly crafted and hilarious Scott Pilgrim vs. the World based on the comic series of the same name. His unique brand of fast-paced British humor was established early on with the TV sitcom Spaced, also starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
For movie lovers and film buffs alike, Wright remains the gift that keeps on giving. Even with a misfire such a Baby Driver, in my opinion, his artistic talent is clear. His films can also be bombastic and tend to go haywire in the third act. I was expecting as much in Soho. I can’t say that it doesn’t fall into the same trap, but what I witnessed overall was any cinephile’s dream. The abundance of clever camera shots that masterfully blend its real world and dream world segments together must be seen to be believed.
In a time of unending corporate factory filmmaking, Soho stands on its own. The characters are appealing, the suspense is brooding, and the payoff is well earned. It’s an unlikely film from an unlikely director, made with the careful precision as love letter to 1960’s cinema and music. The soundtrack thunders along with songs of the era and even more recent songs reimagined as sixties tracks. But Wright also doesn’t shy away from reality as he demystifies nostalgia to present a nightmarish underbelly that existed during that time. Through it all, the movie is a tour de force of sight and sound with excellent performances of its two female leads.
The plot involves an aspiring fashion designer named Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie), who gets accepted into the London College of Fashion. After some friction with her inconsiderate dorm roommate, Ellie rents a room from an elderly landlady named Ms. Collins (Diana Rigg). The room, however, turns out to be haunted, and Ellie vividly dreams of a mysterious singing beauty from the 1960s named Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). The dreams grow more intense as time goes on, and Ellie finds herself engrossed in a murder mystery that she’s unable to separate herself from.
By sheer quality alone, Soho should be destined to become a classic. Its enthralling visuals, carefully selected period music, and topnotch storytelling form an exciting two-hour tale of macabre. It might just be one of Wright’s best films. There were some moments that tested my patience, but the abundance of imagination on display won me over. I walked into the movie knowing nothing about it beyond being an Edgar Wright film. The gamble paid off, and I was pleasantly surprised. Movies like this breathe life back into cinema, making that trip to the theater well worth it in the end.