Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Shane’s Favourite Movies of 2015

If you need an introduction, read the title again. Some spoilers ahead.

5. Kingsman: The Secret Service
Plot Rundown: A punk-ass street kid is recruited into a gentleman spy organization and must defeat a mastermind planning mass genocide.

Now here’s a movie that I did not expect would be on my top five list. I remember seeing the trailer for this film and thinking, dear god this is going to be stupid. I rolled my eyes so hard I think I tore something. But the truth is, the movie is stupid. But it’s also hella fun.

Seriously, this movie is more entertaining than I’d ever guess. It’s funnier, crazier, and much more violent than it has any right to be. It introduced me to something I never knew I wanted: Colin Firth kicking severe ass. One amazing sequence that takes place in a church is this year’s hidden action gem. It’s worth watching the movie for that alone.

Kingsman has a bunch of well known actors, it’s full of fun sequences that veer off from conventions, and it has constant energy. This is, without a doubt, my guilty pleasure of the year. I had a blast seeing it in the theatre and I pity anyone who watched Kingsman and dismissed it as silly. The movie knows it’s ridiculous, and it embraces that fully.

4. The Revenant
Plot Rundown: A trapper, named Hugh Glass, is wrecked by a bear and must survive countless other horrific things in order to seek revenge against the man who left him for dead.

The most striking thing about this movie are the amazing visuals. The cinematography in The Revenant is stunning, and the use of only natural lighting really makes the setting more vivid. It pulls you into the past. The opening raid on the hunters’ camp was wild and visceral, and extremely well shot. In fact, all the moments of action feel raw and brutal.

DiCaprio has very limited lines to say, Hardy’s character is often unintelligible, and huge portions of the film have no dialogue at all. Because of this the movie draws you in, and lets you focus on the characters’ actions moment to moment. You feel like you have an intimate view of Glass’ struggle to survive.

It’s a long ass movie but I was invested the whole time and desperate to know how Glass would find his way back and if he would have his revenge. The Revenant is awesome filmmaking and storytelling from start to finish.

3. Ex Machina
Plot Rundown: A programmer wins a contest to visit a private mountain retreat and be part of an experiment with a female A.I. robot built by a reclusive CEO.

I’ve seen people really gushing over this movie. A lot. I really enjoyed the movie, but c’mon now, this is not a ground breaking film. It’s a beautifully shot, well acted movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s also filled with things I’ve seen dozens of times before.

Even if the story is often predictable, the details are what make it interesting. There’s a particular dance scene that stands out; guaranteed to have you confused, laughing, or grinning from ear to ear. The weirdness keeps it compelling, no question.

Ex Machina is dark and seductive. It sticks the audience in a sterile, often claustrophobic setting, and slowly unravels a mystery where each character’s motivations become clear. The whole movie I was waiting for twists that I thought Ex Machina was leading me to, but it turned out the twist was … there isn’t one. You may not be blown away by the ending, but it felt right. Any fan of science fiction should give it a look. Just don’t walk in expecting a masterpiece.

2.  Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
Plot Rundown: Thirty years after the fall of the Empire a new threat arises as The First Order, and key information about the location of Luke Skywalker is entrusted with a pilot’s droid who teams up with a renegade stormtrooper and a scavenger with a mysterious past.

Man, it’s so good to have a new Star Wars movie that I care about. It feels damn good.

The first time I watched the film was great, but I think a part of me was tense with the worry of walking into another Phantom Menace. But The Force Awakens proved that it had recaptured the spirit of Star Wars that I remembered growing up. With those concerns out of the way, my second time watching was pure joy. It’s such a fun movie.

The Force Awakens does so many things perfectly. The characters, creatures, weapons, vehicles, costumes, and set pieces all felt true to the Star Wars universe. They were built with love, often as practical effects, and that infused life into the movie. By comparison, the prequels gave us cold green screen settings inhabited by dead-eyed characters delivering wooden dialogue to CGI creatures who weren’t physically there. So it was a great relief to see Episode VII finally showing us interesting characters who could look at the world around them with awe and emotion. Rey, Finn, and Poe are engaging in the world of Star Wars with enthusiasm. Our heroes look like they give a shit! They’re likeable, and they share a sense of wonder with the audience. There’s even humour and charm! You know, the things that have been missing from the series since 1983.

A weird complaint I kept hearing again and again was that The Force Awakens was too similar to the original film. Are you jerks serious? The prequels stepped far away from the familiar and people hated it for not feeling like the Star Wars they knew. Now people are going to gripe about it being too similar? Make up your mind!

The new characters to the series are great, as I mentioned. Daisy Ridley is a standout performance for me, and Rey is a hero you can care about from the first moment. Plus, characters returning from the original trilogy haven’t just been sloppily written into the story. Their actions are meaningful and true to their characters. Han Solo’s story in particular is handled with care, and by the end of the movie the stakes have been raised in a way that fans old and new can appreciate.

I loved Kylo Ren as a villain. He’s powerful but undisciplined, making him all the more dangerous and unpredictable. The First Order may look like the Empire, but they are something quite different. They are desperate to be the Empire, but haven’t earned power by the same means. They are so blinded by the Empire’s legacy that they haven’t learned from their mistakes (eg. another Death Star!?). The First Order is just as reckless in their pursuit for dominance as Kylo himself.

The greatest thing about The Force Awakens is that it has reignited my love of Star Wars, and made me hopeful again for the future of the franchise. I’m already starving for Episode VIII and my head has been spinning with possibilities and theories. It feels like there are so many surprises and adventures ahead, and I can’t fucking wait.

  1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Plot Rundown: A drifter named Max is captured and ends up joining forces with a rebel named Furiosa who is trying to liberate a group of female prisoners from a tyrant pursuing them through the post apocalyptic wasteland.

Star Wars is a tough one to beat, but Mad Max is another returning franchise that blew my socks clean off. I watched the trailers for Fury Road dozens of times and I could feel in my bones that something incredible was on the horizon. The hype was real, my expectations were through the roof, and it still exceeded those expectations. I walked out of this movie high on adrenaline and completely satisfied. If you haven’t seen it already, stop everything and watch it now. I mean it. Drop your baby, leave work early, jump out of that moving car and go.

I adored how this movie looked. The colour palette is rich and vibrant, and every explosion is a deep fiery red that that looks like hot magic blood. The design of all the characters and their insane vehicles was goddamn incredible. Every time I thought the movie had exhausted its creativity, another slew of freakish bad guys would come riding into action on all manner of motorized death machines. Spikes and blades and claws and guns and fire-shooting guitars. Everywhere you looked there were details of the scavenged pieces used to build these chariots from a desert hell.

The movie’s energy is incredible. The action starts almost immediately and doesn’t let up for the duration of the film. In the trailers you can see a giant sandstorm with lightning, explosions, and cars being thrown around. I had thought... well, that must be a scene from the climax of the film. Nope. It’s first act material in this fucking juggernaut.

So many characters are memorable, they feel almost iconic from the moment you meet them. Immortan Joe, for example, is a ghoulish motherfucker and a great villain. He leads the pursuit to retrieve “his property” and his presence is pure menace. The peril our heroes experience always feels real.

I’d like to address a dumb complaint I’ve heard about Fury Road: that Furiosa outshines Max as the main hero. Look, Max doesn’t have to be at the forefront of the film. He’s just a tough dude who roams the wasteland and gets caught up in other people’s shit. He’s a hero because he’ll fight injustice when he encounters it, but that doesn’t mean he has to be considered the main hero. That’s why he didn’t stick around at the Citadel when they triumph at the end. He’s going to keep moving on because it wasn’t his fight to begin with. Charlize Theron played the part of Furiosa perfectly and was a total badass. She was the hero, and that doesn’t take anything away from the film.

I will never forget the experience of seeing this film at the theatre. It completely knocked my dick in the dirt. I mean that in the best possible way. Fury Road is endlessly inventive and a one of a kind experience. It looks gorgeous, the action is frenetic and creative, and it moves at a pace that I’ve never seen before. It’s George Miller’s epic vision come to life, and he’s delivered a spectacular chase that will leave you breathless. See it.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Moon Knight's Most Badass Moments (so far)

For those of you who haven't been paying attention or just really suck at remembering stuff, my favourite comic book character (also: I'm the one who's into comic books) is Moon Knight. And for those of you who aren't me or like twelve other specific people, Moon Knight is a "superhero" in the Marvel Universe.

He looks like this:


While it's hardly a unique trait among comic book characters, particularly superhero types, one of the major things that makes Moony my main man is that he's a total badass. He's a maverick who plays by his own rules and when he's not being outright ignored by the superhero community at large, he's being actively shunned by them. Even Deadpool winds up doing more team-ups than him. This also makes him something of an underdog - he doesn't really have any powers and when he's in trouble he (usually) doesn't have the option of calling up Tony Stark or Nick Fury.

Now before I launch into an essay on all the stuff that makes Moon Knight my avenging spectre (ha) of choice let's return to the main point which is he's badass. With that said, here is a sampling of some of his most badass moments.

Spidey didn't like posing for this one
Honourable Mention: Ultimate Moon Knight crazies himself back to life (Ultimate Spider-Man #110)
Haven't done the honourable mention thing in a while because I don't want to somehow undermine the five choices I make, but I thought that since this isn't the regular 616 version of Moon Knight, I could get away with it.

Moon Knight only appears in a couple of arcs of Ultimate Spider-Man but writer Brian Michael Bendis definitely does him justice. I think that's partly because he's really not very different from his classic incarnation. He's still former mercenary Marc Spector, now wealthy and sometimes moonlighting (I had to) as a New York cabbie who also dresses in the aspect of Egyptian god Khonshu and fights crime. The costume is given a bit of a tweak (as you can see) but his methods, personality(ies) and genuine craziness are all pretty much intact, although the personalities are shuffled a bit.

Our moment occurs in the second arc containing Moon Knight, "Ultimate Knights", a nod to the Marvel Knights comics in 616. Moon Knight first met Spider-Man in the arc "Warriors". The two fought for awhile and Moony succeeded in totally freaking Spider-Man out. Here, Moon Knight teams up with him, Shang-Chi, Daredevil, Iron Fist and Dr. Strange in an effort to take down the Kingpin, who is pretty much EXACTLY the same as his 616 counterpart. Shang-Chi had previously attempted to infiltrate Fisk's organization via posing as a skilled assassin for hire (actually to replace Elektra who had been killed by...Moon Knight) but his cover was blown rather quickly and he barely escaped alive. The group decides this was still a good idea, and, as part of their larger plan, should be attempted again. Moon Knight volunteers to be the one to do it and everyone agrees at once since Fisk isn't that familiar with him (as he was with Shang Chi and is with DD and Spidey).

Ultimate Ronin
It goes quite well at first as Moon Knight creates the character of Ronin (a nice nod to something concurrently going on in New Avengers, also written by Bendis) and is quickly hired. Of course it still winds up a disaster as ruthless assassin Ronin eventually asserts its dominance over all of Moony's personalities and he goes from undercover agent to full on baddy. The situation in his head is actually visually illustrated for us as we see the personalities all meeting and discussing the situation together. But in addition to Steven Grant (who is now the cabbie - there is no Jake Lockley), Marc Spector (businessman) and Moon Knight, Ultimate Moony also has a nameless little girl personality. She's also eyeless. Because that's cool. Ronin murders Moon Knight, drives off the others and takes over. Spider-Man actually has to fight Ronin after the latter is ordered by Kingpin to apprehend him and is quickly defeated. But taking out the hero in his own book isn't Moony's badass moment here. No, that comes when he finally is discovered by Fisk (ok, actually Kingpin had known all along but the last thing this entry needs is more explanations) and is promptly executed by two mooks. Shot in the head and dumped in the outskirts to send a message to other costumed vigilantes in New York.

Except Moon Knight eventually gets back up. How did he pull this off? No healing factor, no illusion powers, nothing like that. Back in his messed up mind, we see the other personalities urging the seemingly dead Moon Knight persona to wake up. The little girl screams at him a bit to no avail. Then Ronin comes over and gives a try, grabbing his head and yelling "Get up!" It does the trick.  The personality revives and so does his physical self. He staggers to a police station, takes off his mask and has Fisk formally charged with attempted murder leading to his arrest (something none of Spidey and the others could achieve).

So there you have it: Moon Knight is actually too crazy to be killed. Badass.


5. Burning His Ties To The Avengers - Literally (Marc Spector: Moon Knight #50 Volume 3)
Yeah, screw those guys
While the Marc Spector: Moon Knight series was the longest running, it really wasn't one of the more memorable runs for the character. The creative team was always in flux, causing the tone and direction to fluctuate along with it. Sure, some cool and important stuff happened like Punisher killing Marc's insane brother Randall (something he thought he'd done himself years previously), visiting a couple of alternate universes and participating in Acts of Vengeance hijinks, but as a whole it was kinda weak.

Still, one of Moony's most badass moments does indeed happen in this series. I'm not entirely certain of the order of events but I'm reasonably sure that at the time of the series's opening, Moon Knight was a member of the West Coast Avengers. He (along with Tigra and Mockingbird) leaves the team in issue #41 but it's established at some point later on in Marc Spector Moon Knight that he's still considered a reserve member and thus has a membership card. So-called misuse of said card was one of the actions that led to Moon Knight's fiery resignation from Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

The Avengers, in disarray after the events of Operation Galactic Storm and Captain America's subsequent resignation as team leader, became increasingly concerned with Moon Knight's actions, particularly using his membership card to gain access to the Latverian consulate and attack Doctor Doom (an extremely badass act in itself), his ties to the Punisher as well as villain Tombstone and the revelation (captured on television no less) that he'd been housing some kind of demonic presence in his body - Demogoblin by way of Hobgoblin. Anyway, Moon Knight, busy with his own affairs, repeatedly ignores the team's calls insisting he come in for a meeting.

 Finally, he agrees to go after an altercation with Thor. They spend so much time debating the pros and cons of having him on the team as well as whether or not his actions require some sort of disciplinary measures on their part, that he up and leaves while they're babbling. They don't even notice until seeing the smoke from the flaming membership card he leaves behind.

4. The Raid, Superhero Style (Moon Knight #5, Volume 7)
I'm assuming the elevator wasn't working
This one doesn't require much setup. In the latest Moon Knight series, kicked off by writer Warren Ellis, standalone stories limited to single issues replaced the common practice of story arcs spanning multiple comics. After six great stories Ellis moved on but later writers mostly followed his example. In this particular issue, the second last written by Ellis, Moon Knight storms a dilapidated apartment complex to rescue a kidnapped young girl.

In what is a clear homage to awesome action movie The Raid, (director Gareth Evans's name can be seen spray painted on a wall in one of the panels), Moony makes his way from the ground floor to the sixth, cutting a brutal and bloody swath through all resistance.  His nasty fighting style has been showcased in many issues over the years but perhaps this is the single one that celebrates it the most. I'd point out some of the highlights except: 1. Pretty much every panel is a highlight 2. I really couldn't do them proper justice. So just seek out the comic for yourself, in print or digitally.


Moony with a sidekick?
3. The Final Moon Knight/Midnight Reunion (Moon Knight #12, Volume 4)
One thing Charlie Huston firmly re-established in the Moon Knight mythos is that for someone without any powers, the guy can take a hell of a lot of punishment. This is illustrated in spades in the two Huston story arcs "The Bottom" and "Midnight Sun". The next badass moment comes from the latter.

Way back in the very first Moon Knight series, our hero came up against a flamboyant art thief called The Midnight Man. Despite his initial seeming lack of a threat, he would quickly become something of a nemesis for Moony, culminating in his going insane after having his face disfigured from a fall in one of their encounters. He went from daring cat burglar with a thing for theatrics and mind games to another damaged opponent, bent on revenge. Then he died.

Years later, during the Marc Spector: Moon Knight run, Marc would be faced with a new chapter in the saga between himself and Anton Mogart (Midnight Man's real name): a young man named Jeff Wilde, who claimed to be Mogart's son. But this wasn't the old "son of a vanquished villain shows up for revenge" schtick; Jeff wanted to help Moon Knight. His reasons were never all that clear. He said something like he wanted to make up for all the trouble his father had caused Marc but by offering his services as costumed sidekick Midnight, he just caused trouble of his own.

Still, Moony reluctantly agreed to take him on, feeling somewhat responsible for what happened to the kid. But Jeff, while not entirely without guts and talent, wasn't very effective as a crimefighter and more often than not blatantly disregarded Moon Knight's advice and orders. Eventually his bumbling got him captured by the lunatics at the Secret Empire (an offshoot of Hydra considered too crazy even by their standards) and they did the logical thing: turned him into a superpowered, killer cyborg. Sometime later, he apparently died.

But years after that, Huston revealed in "Midnight Sun" that Midnight was still alive and had become completely unhinged and completely obsessed with having a showdown with his former mentor. To get his attention he went about murdering people and ripping their limbs off to use them as hands in clocks traced in blood. The hands pointed to midnight.
"I knew I could save you, Jeff."

Moon Knight tracked him to a makeshift lair in the sewers (much like one Mogart fashioned years before) and was promptly overwhelmed when attempting to ambush Wilde. With the aid of a female cyborg assistant, who apparently had nursing skills, Midnight (now dressed in his own Moon Knight costume) tortures the bound (to a giant clock face) Moon Knight by removing parts of his spine with a pair of pliers. Yup.

So this goes on for a few minutes until lady cyborg gets upset, clobbers Midnight and frees Moony, who is, you know, not in the best of shape. She whines to him for a bit about how she and Midnight are unable to die and how Midnight had assured her Moon Knight would be the one to "save them". She expresses her disappointment in him. Moon Knight, having somewhat regained his wits says "I can save you." He rips the minute hand off the clock and leaping off the platform, plunges it down Midnight's throat, ending the latter's torment. A pretty emphatic form of closure on the whole Midnight Man/Midnight saga.

(That was the badass moment but if you're wondering about loose ends, I'll just inform you Moon Knight also "saved" the woman by telling her walk out of the tunnel and gaze at the full moon for her salvation. In doing this, she is blown away by the heavy ordinance of Moony's helicopter.)

Moon Knight: Secret Avenger
2. Making Deadpool Say Uncle (Vengeance of the Moon Knight #8, Volume 5)
Charlie Huston's resurrection of Moon Knight in 2006 (his first ongoing series since the mid nineties) was what absolutely solidified his status as my all-time favourite not only superhero but comic book character, period. As with Ellis nearly a decade later, Huston kicked off the series but only stayed on for about a third of its run. He wrote two amazing arcs (named in the previous entry) then writing duties were taken over by others. While I enjoyed seeing an overmatched Moony take on the Thunderbolts after Norman Osborn (head of H.A.M.M.E.R. at that time) sicced them on him, the final arc of that series, "Down South", with a mostly out of costume Moon Knight fighting cartels in Mexico, was a big letdown for me.

This was immediately followed by a new series, Vengeance of the Moon Knight (Volume 5), that had a somewhat new direction: Moon Knight trying to be a bit more "heroic" (this being The Heroic Age of Marvel at the time) and erase some of the ill will he'd built up in the superhero community and public eye. So he's basically making a concerted effort to not, you know, kill or horribly maim his opponents or cause too much collateral damage. He does so well in this he impresses Steve Rogers enough to recruit him to a new Avengers team, albeit a secret one (um, Secret Avengers) that no one outside of it will be aware of. A pretty big turnaround after Rogers's "I don't like your style, mister," speech to Marc Spector back during Huston's run.

Anyway I'm mentioning all this to properly set up the next badass moment. Sure, Moon Knight has been playing by the rules and even playing well with others - things he's definitely not known for - all to very encouraging results. But he's still Moon Knight and operating this way was...kind of getting to him.

Enter The Merc With a Mouth, Deadpool.
You shouldn't have mentioned the healing factor, Wade

Deadpool was doing what he does - he was on the job to assassinate some crime boss for a woman whose life had been destroyed by said crime boss - when Moon Knight arrived and stopped him. Said crime boss was confined to a hospital bed at the time and of course, the new "good boy" Moon Knight couldn't allow him to be murdered while helpless. Deadpool of course taunts him for this as they fight (Moony didn't know who the heck it was and would later refer to him as "that welfare-looking Spider-Man) and asks: "Come on Casper, where's that killer instinct?" Moon Knight tells him he's about to see it but Deadpool is incredulous: "Sure. You're Lee fucking Marvin with me - who can't be killed."

Well. He shouldn't have said that. Moony draws a sword (OF COURSE he has a sword) and declares: "Game on." Deadpool answers with his own blade but now that Moony isn't holding back anymore, it's really no contest. He proceeds to slice and dice the annoying mercenary until there's not a whole lot left to cut. He dispatches one of the most badass characters in the Marvel U with ease. Deadpool concedes defeat with a: "*Kkkkkkkkk* Uncle*" and Moon Knight stalks off remarking how he really needed that. And so did we.


1. Another Faceoff With Bushman Ends In A Face...Off (Moon Knight #2 Volume 4)
Well, it really was a face only a mother could love
As this list has already demonstrated, acts of horrific violence are pretty routine for Moon Knight. And while I hope I've shown that he still has badass moments that don't directly involve them, you shouldn't be all that surprised that our number one entry is yet another. And this one tops them all.

Moon Knight #1 of the 2006 series ends with a broken and disheveled Marc Spector. We're shown he's been out of the hero game for quite awhile and that his life has subsequently fallen apart, lashing out and alienating the small handful of people in the world that actually care about him. We see him sporting a beard while sitting in a chair yelling at his Khonshu statue. It appears he doesn't even have his faith anymore. Not in his god and not in himself.

Moon Knight #2 gives us the flashback that shows how he arrived in such a state. Fittingly, it's a battle with his arch nemesis, the man who inadvertently created Moon Knight, the vicious Raoul Bushman. The two are slugging it out on a rooftop. Moony provides some great running commentary as they go at each other:

How many times before a guy figures it out? How many times do you beat a guy down? How many times do you take him out? Before he knows you're better than he is? He never got it. Guess that's why he's called a nemesis. So, how many times can you do the same thing? Before you get sloppy? Blame it on arrogance. Blame it on a bag of tricks grown tired. Blame it on the passing years. Blame it on him. Blame it on our hatred. The hatred born from slaughter. Slaughter born from friendship. Friendship born from recognition. Recognition of a kindred soul. Souls hating each other. Hating as you can hate only one thing. The reflection in the mirror.

Oh, this can't be good

You won't see Batman doing that
Eventually the fight goes over the side of the roof and Moon Knight is badly injured, hitting his legs off a fire escape on the way down. Lying sprawled and broken in the alley, he's nearly defenceless as Bushman, staggering through a barrage of crescent moon darts and collapsing at his side, manages to bite his enemy's face right through the mask with those terrible filed teeth. Moon Knight somehow manages one final punch then grips Bushman's face in one hand while retrieving one more crescent dart with the other.

Then he peels off the guy's face.

I think it's only too appropriate that Moon Knight's most badass moment ever is also the one which led directly to a downward spiral which nearly destroyed him physically, mentally and spiritually. After two years on the sidelines, wallowing in self pity and abusing pain killers, he managed to pick himself up once again (with a little help from his friends, of course). He's a character who has died and been resurrected several times in continuity, but it's this resurrection of his life, pulled off not by an ancient Egyptian god but by the man himself, that is his greatest comeback.



Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Essential K-Pop Songs of 2015

The time has come to share more music randomness from South Korea. This year was tougher than last to sort out the top five slots. There was so much variety and throwbacks to decades past that incorporated old and new genres that I love. Like last year I wanted to highlight a few songs and the artists that made an impression on me. I hope you find something here that entertains you.

Do not be afraid, my friends. The whole point of this list is to present something unfamiliar that you wouldn't have discovered otherwise. Let's go!

5)Wonder Girls - I Feel You

Album: Reboot
Back in 2007, Wonder Girls was perhaps the first k-pop group that I became familiar with and they dominated the airwaves in Korea with some catchy hits. Over the years some members changed, others worked on solo projects for a while, and the group went on hiatus in 2013. They reformed this year as a four member band with an 80's concept, playing instruments for the first time as part of their performance.

I was happy and surprised to find an upbeat number with a music video that captures the neon haze and ridiculous glam of the eighties so well. Even the production quality and mix feels very true to form for the retro sound. Plus, there's something very entertaining to me about a girl performing rigid dance steps in heels and one-piece swimwear while jamming on a keytar. If any of this rings your bell I highly recommend checking out their entire eighties themed album Reboot that features this song. It's a solid eighties concept album that does everything from Madonna-esque dance pop to darker synth-rock, and the whole thing sounds truly truly truly outrageous.

4)Lim Kim - Awoo


Album: Simple Mind
There's something so lovely about Lim Kim's voice. Her breathy singing is unique - often ethereal - and I've enjoyed every song she's put out. So I was thrilled to see her release a full album this year.

"Awoo" has a less than conventional sound with its up and down pitched melody, and simple bass line, but it's that voice that makes it so pleasant and pulls the whole thing together. So many of the tracks on the album are a dreamlike experience, with her quiet voice guiding you over heavy electro beats. I highly recommend listening to it as you drift off to sleep.

If you ask me what is supposed to be going on in the video, it's hard to say. There seems to be a teasing theme going on, and Lim Kim acting like a cat, but besides that I don't have a clue. It's very colourful, well produced, and suits the unusual sound of the song. Like a lot of Korean music, it's the quirkiness that draws you in, and Lim Kim is a talent to watch.

3)Hyukoh - Hooka

Album: 22
Hyukoh is a four member indie band that have been part of the underground music scene for a couple years, but really gained wider success this year with multiple hits. Oh Hyuk, the leader of the band, has been especially busy collaborating with other singers and producers throughout the year and he has lent his soulful vocals to several songs that I love.

While there were other songs for Hyukoh that peaked higher on the Korean music charts in 2015, "Hooka" was the one that I kept coming back to again and again for its chill intro that builds into a solid blues rock tune. The style and especially the chorus reminds me of The Doors, but I have no idea where the band draws their inspiration. I haven't gotten that specific vibe from any other tracks.

Many of their songs have both English and Korean lyrics, but the English is easy to miss because of pronunciation and unclear meaning. I don't consider it a downside, but just an element of their style. In "Hooka" the harsh pronunciation adds intensity as the song progresses.

All in all, Hyukoh is band I'm excited to see more from in the new year. I think you'll agree.

2)Brown Eyed Girls - Brave New World

Album: BASIC
In Korea, Brown Eyed Girls have been making an impression on the music scene for a decade now, and the song in question is from their sixth album, proving that these girls are still working hard to be innovative and to last in this competitive industry. You may even be vaguely familiar with them if you happened to watch Psy's follow up song to "Gangnam Style". In his music video for "Gentleman", the core dance choreography is lifted directly from BEG's hit song "Abracadabra". One member of the group, Gain, even appears in the video alongside Psy performing the dance she made famous.

When I first listened to "Brave New World" it caught me a little off guard. The song changes gears throughout and it felt jarring in the beginning. It was on repeat listens that the song took hold in my brain and I could appreciate the brilliant composition.

"Brave New World" opens strong with a throwback sound reminiscent of late 70's Michael Jackson, then quickly shifts into a more modern beat. The instrumentation driving the song is amazing and I love how the contemporary pop elements melds with an underlying orchestral arrangement that's sprinkled with funk and disco. The chorus hits hard with powerful vocals, and then I can't sit still. Later in the song listen at the rap breakdown (at the 3:17 mark) where the song filters down to something new, and then builds back up with strings as the beat returns. Every time I listen I keeping hearing new details.

The music video also fits the song well, with it's futuristic imagery and settings, and the ladies look stunning. Overall the song is excellent for its creative arrangement, the strong vocals, innovative transitions, blending of genres, and wrapping it all up in a stylish presentation. I can't get enough of this song, and I hope you give it a listen, or two.

1)Red Velvet - Dumb Dumb

Album: The Red
Okay you guys, this last one is crazy as fuck. The first viewing is an all out assault on the senses, and the song is wild and bombastic. Red Velvet debuted in 2014 with four members: Irene, Wendy, Seulgi, Joy, and most recently, Yeri joined in 2015. Fun Random Fact: Wendy grew up in Canada from an early age and auditioned here before joining the group.

The music video alone is worth checking out for the insane production value and screwy imagery. You have objects smashing apart in slow-motion, a rag doll robot dance, cloned girls marching down conveyor belts, giant mechanical claw arms, impossible boxes of flailing legs, and so on. Some people say the imagery in the video is depicting the manufactured idols of the Korean pop industry. That would explain the cartoonish factory producing and packaging identical looking girls. In that way Red Velvet could be making a statement about itself as a group and the nature of pop idols in Korea. Or it could just be more typical wacky k-pop stuff.

Despite being a rookie group Red Velvet is quickly gaining success with the release of their first full album The Red. It hit Number One on Billboard's World Albums Chart in September and this video was ranked #9 in Rolling Stone's 'Best Music Videos of 2015'. Honestly, I don't think I listened to another current album - K-pop or otherwise - more than "The Red" this year. It's just that much fun.

"Dumb Dumb" is brassy, experimental, and like the rest of the album, bursting with energy. These girls have real talent, and their vocals shine on every track. If you enjoyed this, then I recommend "Ice Cream Cake" their single from earlier in the year which I feel is easily as good as "Dumb Dumb", but I didn't want a group or artist appearing twice on the list.

It may seem like nothing but flashy nonsense to some, but Red Velvet delivered a crazy upbeat song with a memorable music video, in one of the best top-to-bottom pop albums I've heard in some time. Check it out.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Cole's Favourite Transformers

When I was a kid, I watched lots of the popular cartoons of the day ("the day" being the mid eighties through mid nineties, mostly). Some of those even included shows geared towards girls, like the original My Little Pony (more because of its timeslot than anything else, I think, although I'm not trying to make excuses here) and Jem (which I genuinely enjoyed for some reason). But still, being a boy, it was stuff like He-Man (and, yes, She-Ra), GI JOE, M.A.S.K. and Voltron (which became my favourite when I was much older) that I liked the most. Hell, even more forgettable stuff like Bravestarr was alright by me.

But one show stood above them all. This was the show that I followed as closely as I could and collected as many of its toys as my parents would buy for me. Since the entire purpose of this show was to get kids to buy their toy line, in my case I would say mission accomplished and then some. This show of course was The Transformers. Even though some episodes and characters were totally phoned in and stupid, and there were animation errors aplenty (more than any other cartoon I can think of) I'd contend that actually the vast majority of the content was really good. I mean, as this was a show created simply to advertise a toy line, it would be understandable if it was all halfassed, forgettable crap. But I believe its creators really put a lot of effort into the animation, characters and stories. It's amazing how well much of it still holds up even all these years later.

Because the series's main mandate was to sell toys, TONS of characters were introduced. Of all the shows I watched as a kid, Transformers easily had the biggest cast. And as I've said, this definitely led to a quantity-over-quality approach. With so many characters, good guys and bad guys, vying for screentime, many of them were one-dimensional and lame, with their only redeeming quality being perhaps their transformed mode.

This also led to a lot of annoying voices since, with such limited time to develop characters, the easiest way to differentiate between them was making their voices and/or way of speaking somehow stand out from everyone else. This gave us results such as THREE characters who spoke in rhyme (Jazz thankfully only briefly, Blaster occasionally and Wheelie ALL THE GODDAMN TIME),  the tank, Warpath, endlessly punctuating his sentences with exclamations of "Bang!", "Zoom!" and crap like that, some weird accents (Tracks, Outback, and someone who appears on this list) and miscellaneous weirdness like the Dinobots (speaking like braindead retards), Blurr (talking like a superfast retard) and Seaspray (gurgling?).

There were some great characters, though. And, of course, Transformers exists in all kinds of media besides the show, like comics, movies as well as tons of different updates of the show. So plenty of characters were given more dimension there. All are in different continuities and sometimes make changes to various characters. For this list I'm considering characters based on ALL their appearances. Let's get to it.

5. Razorclaw (Transformed mode: Lion)
While hardly a major character in any incarnation of Transformers, Razorclaw is still the leader of the Predacons unit, and that has to count for something. Actually, in the IDW Comics continuity, the Predacons are considered one of the most elite units in the entire Deception force. And, typical of being a Predacon I guess, in most media he's shown to be one of the most capable fighters when it comes to hand to hand combat.

He's proven himself a good leader as well, with a sort of all-business attitude that's actually kind of unique among Decepticons. I guess I like him because the Predacons are my favourite Combiners in all of Transformers and, as their leader, he's their best representative. He transforms into a lion and is often able to overwhelm opponents in this mode. When in robot form he wields a really cool sword (officially called a sonic sword as it's able to emit powerful vibrations) and you know I love swords. Not many transformers, Autobot or Decepticon, have swords so this makes him unique as well. An effective tracker as well as commander, it breaks my heart I never had his toy.

Personal Crowning Moment of Awesome: I'd go with the episode "Nightmare Planet" from the original animated series. Specifically when he's forced to team up with Autobot, Springer in battling his way out of a castle created by Daniel Witwicky's dreams (yeah, it's a weird one).  The castle is owned by a fearsome dragon and Springer, wielding some kind of trident, rode Razorclaw (in lion mode, obviously) and they charged the dragon, managing to kill it. Serving as horsey for the enemy may seem like an odd pick but trust me, it's really cool.


4. Galvatron (Transformed mode: Laser cannon)
Well, I think you'd all agree that this guy definitely is a major character. Some people might've even doubled down, taking the old Megatron/Galvatron route, fitting in two characters
for the price of one. They'd certainly be justified in doing so. But to me, Megatron and Galvatron are separate characters and should be treated as such. While in most continuities, most notably the original show, he was formerly Megatron, he wasn't in all of them. In the IDW comics, for instance, he is a completely separate character who actually predated Megatron by millions of years. And even if you are dealing with a continuity where he isn't, I still believe the change (or, transformation, if you'll allow me) was enough that there's really nothing tying him to Megatron anymore besides a fanatical desire to defeat the Autobots.

If this list was a few slots longer I would definitely include Megatron because he is awesome and probably one of the best villains you can find. He's extremely powerful, brutal, charismatic and, even though it's true he kind of loses all the time (such is the fate of the villain), actually quite a competent leader. He's even shown to be quite rational, sometimes putting aside his hatred of the Autobots for the sake of the greater good (although in those cases the greater good only counts because it involves saving his own skin and that of his Decepticons). It seems every time he dies he manages to come back and just his name strikes fear into the hearts (or...circuits, I guess) of Autobots and those on the side of good.

So why am I picking Galvatron over him? For starters, one key difference between him and Megatron is that he (Galvatron) is most definitely NOT rational. While Megatron could certainly became enraged and occasionally fly off the handle, this is basically the permanent setting for Galvatron. He's always screaming and ranting and raving, threatening everyone around him. While that could just as easily be an argument for why he isn't as cool as Megs, personally, it just really appeals to me. Galvatron is a fucking lunatic and I love him for it. It makes him wildly unpredictable and ridiculously dangerous. In the continuity of the Generation One cartoon, it's his defeat at the hands of Rodimus Prime (The Transformers The Movie) that really drives him over the edge. Things get kind of confusing after that because in both this continuity (as continued in the Transformers Headmasters series that never aired in North America) as well as the Marvel Comics continuity, there are diverging timeliness involving his path, so multiple versions of him result.

In the world of IDW comics, Galvatron hails from Cybertron's fabled (and oft-referenced) Golden Age, which predates that continuity's setting by a few million years. That's before there were such things as Autobots and Decepticons and he was actually close friends with that era's Prime, Nova Prime. Here he's part of a spaceship crew (the first Ark) that is lost in an anomaly sending them into what's known as the Dead Universe, where he became an undead being. I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that he eventually shows up in the present to trouble the Autobots.

In most continuities he's presented as even more powerful than Megatron, which is really saying something. Hell, in some he's nigh invincible. I love the purple colour scheme (purple seems to always work so well as the colour of evil in various things for some reason) too.

Personal Crowning Moment of Awesome: For a guy like him, there are many but it's tough to beat his arrival on Char just after his rebirth at the hands of Unicron (The Transformers The Movie). The devastated Decepticons have reluctantly allowed Starscream to assume leadership in the wake of Megatron's demise when suddenly Galvatron touches down with the also newly created Cyclonus.

Starscream: Who disrupts my coronation?
Galvatron: Coronation, Starscream? This is bad comedy.
Starscream: Megatron? Is that you?!?!
Galvatron: Here's a hint! (Transforms into cannon mode and blasts Starscream to ashes)

It's so awesome you should see it. So here you go.




3. Sky Lynx (Transformed mode: It's...complicated)
Here we have a truly unique transformer. This guy doesn't even have a robot mode. Instead Sky Lynx is a sort of triple-changer who actually has FOUR (just three in the Marvel comics though) unique forms, those being: lynx, space bird (?), space shuttle and...space bird with lynx legs? I don't know. But it doesn't matter because he's awesome. And he knows it too. In fact, he repeatedly lets everyone around him know just how awesome he is. Just how full of himself is he? Well, consider this quote from the Generation One show: "Before you do anything, think, 'Is this what Sky Lynx would do in my position?' , and you will not go far wrong." ("Call of the Primitives").

Holding the rank of Lieutenant Commander, which maybe isn't all that impressive because Grimlock does too, I'll always associate Sky Lynx with my memory of the commercial for his toy (which also featured the Predacons/Predaking, something we'll explore in further detail below) which used footage from the show as well as catchy musical hook ("It's Sky Lynx!). I actually had this commercial on tape, as it appeared during an episode of Ducktales, another great cartoon from that era.

By Season Three of the Generation One show, Omega Supreme was still around but Sky Lynx seemed to take over as the Autobots's de facto mode of transportation when going on missions deep in space and/or to other planets. And, unlike the Decepticon equivalent for this, the triple-changer Astrotrain, he actually retained his giant size. Strangely enough, while in his own shuttle mode, Astrotrain is large enough to transport many of his fellow Decepticons (a good example is in the movie right after the battle at Metroplex where Starscream tosses out the nearly-dead Megatron) but as a robot, is the same size as the average transformer. The two have actually battled each other several times. But, as the aforementioned commercial suggests, it's the Predacons Sky Lynx has a real rivalry with, clashing with them on numerous occasions. In the Generation One episode, "Call of the Primitives", where he is front and centre, it must have really galled him to be lumped into the same group as the Predacons as well as the Dinobots and the various animal cassettes. In that instance he immediately named himself leader of that group. Also to his shame, during the show he was often mistakenly animated with a Decepticon insignia. How insulting!

Personal Crowning Moment of Awesome: While his rescue of the Aerialbots (as Superion) in the episode "The Big Broadcast of 2006" (a favourite of mine) deserves a mention, I'd say it was his role in locating and bringing back a Quintesson during the Hate Plague ("The Return of Optimus Prime parts 1 & 2"). Fortunately one of the few Autobots not infected by the plague was the magnificent Sky Lynx as he was the only one left capable of spaceflight. The Quintesson he retrieves is successful in restoring Optimus Prime to life and Prime discovers how to stop the plague. Sky Lynx then helps Optimus against Galvatron and although he later does wind up being infected by Rodimus, his prior actions led to the curing of the plague.


2. Optimus Prime (Transformed mode: varying kinds of 18 wheeler truck)
Like on some of my other lists, we've come to an entry on a character who is so iconic and so celebrated that I'm at a loss for what to say about him. There have been many, many different incarnations of the Transformers over different forms of media. And while some can get pretty different and "out there" when compared to the original show and Marvel comic, the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime, is always present. Although his character doesn't exactly appear in the Japanese animated series Super God Masterforce, his form does at the least (Ginrai) and as far as I can tell, that's really the lone exception.

Naturally it's his depiction in the Generation One cartoon that still stands as probably the most iconic and it's the one I draw the most from with the current ongoing IDW comic series coming in second. I mean, honestly, how could he have had the same initial impact without the brilliant voice talent of the legendary Peter Cullen? Even Michael Bay and the geniuses behind the live-action film series realized that there was no way they'd succeed if they didn't get the man himself to once again voice Prime. And  while you can say what you want about those movies, back in 2007 when I saw the first one, hearing Cullen's voice in the theatre literally sent shivers down my spine.

Optimus is leader of the Autobots but he's not the type to lead from the back. Whatever's going on, he's in the thick of the action. And while it's true that many characters on the original show were often poorly written and forgettable, Optimus was ALWAYS well-written, exuding courage, strength, wisdom and compassion that often transcended the cartoon. As weird as it sounds, this giant transforming alien robot warrior was actually a good role model for the children who watched the show. He always showed reluctance to battle the Decepticons and often expressed his disappointment and frustration with constantly being forced to fight. He lamented that Megatron and the Decepticons couldn't learn that their way of attempting to conquer everything around them by force was wrong, that it was anything but glorious. But when it came time to fight, he was ready.

And really, there was no one better at it. As I said, Optimus was an incredibly "hands on" leader. He wasn't just a brilliant commander and tactician but was unequaled in battle prowess. Whether he was firing away with his ion blaster laser rifle, fighting hand to hand or even in vehicle form, he was a force to be reckoned with, able to defeat many enemies single-handedly, best Megatron one on one and even fight off much larger opponents. The Decepticons knew to fear him and few would dare engage him without plenty of support.

Probably the best depiction of Optimus becoming a Prime is the IDW comic miniseries Transformers: Autocracy. Set on Cybertron just before the Great War (the beginning of the millions of years of Autobots vs Decepticons conflict), Autobot commander (of what was a special police unit back then) Orion Pax is given the task of rooting out terrorist Decepticon cells sowing dissent throughout the city-state of Kaon. The Prime at that time was Sentinel Prime.

As noted above, some version of Optimus Prime exists in every incarnation of Transformers and while they have their differences, all are great leaders. Still, Peter Cullen, much like Kevin Conroy with Batman, gives the definitive vocal performance and his is the voice I hear in my head whenever I read any of the comics.

Personal Crowning Moment of Awesome: Too many to mention, obviously. He had one in nearly every episode of the original show and plenty more were to follow in other shows, comics and movies. He even has some great ones in the much-maligned live action films. Personally, I love his highway battle with Bonecrusher in the 2007 movie. Even his death scene in the animated movie could be considered one. But for me, it's not a moment of glorious combat or even that dramatic a moment that always resonates the most. I'm going to give it a pretty long setup because I think that's the only way to give it proper justice so bear with me.

In the Generation One cartoon, there's an episode called "The Core" wherein Megatron has the Decepticons construct a massive drill to tap into the earth's molten core. The plan is to harvest geothermal energy thus giving themselves either an alternative to Energon or possibly an ingredient to make it; it's never explicitly stated.

The plan, as pointed out by Starscream, is incredibly risky as the deeper they drill, the greater the chance of breaching the core and causing the earth to explode. Megatron brushes this off, saying he has a contingency plan in place: a space bridge capable of teleporting the Decepticons to Cybertron is nearby in the event of the drill threatening the earth's stability. The Constructicons build and operate the drill.

As you would expect, the Autobots discover this plan and try to stop the Decepticons. To counter the power of Devastator, whom they know Megatron would surely deploy against them, Wheeljack and Chip (Spike's wheelchair-bound friend) created "dominator discs" - small discs that need to be placed on each individual Constructicon. Once this is accomplished, when they combine to form Devastator, the discs will activate and allow the Autobots to take control of Devastator.

Blah, blah, blah. They get the discs on the Constructicons, predictably the drill goes haywire and the earth is in danger, the space bridge becomes damaged so now the Decepticons are in the same boat and Megatron agrees to work with the Autobots to save the planet. Devastator, who had briefly been under Autobot control as planned but isn't anymore, uses his strength to destroy the drill. But when he returns he finds Megatron and the other Decepticons have fled. Chip tells him his "noble leader" ran to save his own hide but Devastator, loyal to a fault, states he left to plan his next attack, as a good leader would. He takes off and Chip sighs. He says he was hoping that Devastator/The Constructicons really would join the Autobots but dismisses it as a "dumb old dream." As the music dramatically comes up, Optimus comforts Chip with these words: "Hang onto your dreams, chip. For the future is built on dreams. Hang on."

Maybe that seems like me making a big deal out of something rather simplistic but between the writing, the music and Cullen's delivery, I think it will always be my favourite Optimus Prime moment. It's stuck with me ever since I first saw it more than twenty-five years ago.




1. Starscream (Transformed mode: F-15 Eagle fighter jet [Gen 1]; F-22 Raptor [IDW])
Just like with Optimus Prime, you pretty much can't do a version of Transformers without the scheming, treacherous Air Commander Starscream. So known and revered is he for his conniving nature that he is actually the Trope Namer for such characters across fiction. Simply put, nobody out-Starscreams Starscream.

The earliest indication of Starscream's ambition is in his bio on the box for his original 1984 toy, where it's mentioned that he desires to lead the Decepticons. Then in the very first episode of the original show, within the first five freaking minutes his stance is heavily hinted at and he winds up making a power play, beginning a long streak of failure. Seriously, even in the episodes where he didn't have any specific plan to overthrow Megatron, he's always criticizing him, quite openly. This of course leads one to wonder why a ruthless commander like Megatron would ever tolerate Starscream. Hell, Cracked even did their own list on this subject back in 2009.

The accepted explanation for this is that Megatron, as a Decepticon, actually values and encourages a certain amount of ambition and guile in his troops, plus, since Starscream is so bad at seizing power, he gets to constantly punish him and demonstrate the folly of challenging him to the rest of his underlings. And it isn't lost on Megatron that for all his whining, scheming and criticizing, Starscream still is a very capable and effective soldier. He is the leader of the Seeker jets after all and does instill a healthy amount of fear and respect in the Autobots. This is even shown in the 2007 film.

Still, sometimes he does prove to be more trouble than he's worth. The episode "Starscream's Brigade" may be the best example of this from the Generation One show. After another unsuccessful attempt to take out Megatron, Starscream is beaten by his superior then dumped (by Laserbeak - arguably the most effective Decepticon there's ever been if you stop to think about it) on a remote island in the south Pacific. Here he discovers several old wrecks of military vehicles from World War Two and is inspired to create an army of his own. He brazenly makes his way to Cybertron and steals the personality components of five renegade Decepticons that were stored in a detention centre. He returns to the island and installs them in five of the vehicles. Thus the Combaticons were born.

Starscream, by virtue of activating his new "friends" without installing energy absorbers, leaving them dependent on him to get some for them, is able to get them to do what he wants. Eventually he leads them in an attack against Megatron and the Decepticons and at first, they're winning. Megs plays his trump card, having the Constructicons merge into Devastator. However, the Combaticons show they also are Combiners and form Bruticus, who quickly despatches his giant counterpart. Only the late arrival of the Stunticons saves the day, with their combined form, Menasor, taking Bruticus by surprise and defeating him. For once, Starscream's actions have real consequences as Megatron banishes him and the Combaticons to deep space, having Astrotrain dump them on a distant asteroid.

After so many humiliating defeats and setbacks, Starscream finally does manage to depose Megatron, throwing his nearly lifeless body out of Astrotrain (oh, the irony!) after the disastrous attack on Metroplex. Of course, his stint as leader is short lived as the newly born Galvatron arrives to destroy him. (The Transformers The Movie)

As much as I love Starscream from the original show, it was in the comics where he often really shined. Longtime Marvel scribe Simon Furman  would portray him as more intelligent and often sarcastic. Here he suffered less defeats and humiliation and was often the main focus of many stories. He was a bit more respected by his comrades and his enemies here and he was always very competent.  The IDW comics would follow this approach. He's one of Megatron's first supporters before the Great War and, because of his charisma, was deployed as a Decepticon recruiter. Two of his targets that didn't join up were Blurr and Hot Rod but with many others he was successful. But it wasn't just his silver tongue that made him an effective operative. He, along with an assist from Shockwave, assassinated a room full of senators, beginning in earnest Megatron's rise to power on Cybertron (Megatron Origin). However, it wasn't long before he began to conspire against his leader and aided Scorponok in overthrowing him. Once again, this was a temporary state of affairs and Megatron would resume his position. Starscream would grow disillusioned with the Decepticons, tiring of the state of endless warfare. It was revealed that Megatron chose to keep him around as reminder to always watch his own back, as treachery was part of the Decepticon way.

There's plenty more and not just in the versions of Transformers I've mentioned but that's the stuff I know best and we can't be here all day, can we? Starscream will always be one of the most memorable and prominent characters in Transformers and he'll always be my favourite. He's been a scientist (that's his backstory in the Generation One show, where he was friends with fellow scientist Jetfire/Skyfire), air commander, Decepticon recruiter, Decepticon leader and even a freaking ghost. As previously noted, his scheming, treacherous ways are the stuff of legend even outside of Transformers and his deeds as a warrior shouldn't be overlooked.

Personal Crowning Moment of Awesome: There are many but how about personally shooting down Air Force One in the IDW comic All Hail Megatron #3?