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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

My 75 Favorite Songs of the 80's - Part 1: 75-61

I had planned on writing a "favorites" list again and decided to start here. I will release this in parts of 15 over time. I apologize in advance if the embedded videos do not play in the article for you, but some of these videos (most of these videos), despite being from almost all legit channels, are blocked from being viewed outside of YouTube because of the site's Draconian policies. If you follow the link in the error message, it should open the video in a new tab for you.

I hope you enjoy...

75- “If You Leave” - Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (1986)
Album: Architecture & Mortality & More
Writers: Martin Cooper (OMD and The Listening Pool), Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey

John Hughes was a voice of the 80’s and his movies touched millions.  So, naturally, a song
From the soundtrack of one of his hit movies would become a hit itself.  If You Leave is OMD’s
Most successful single in the US, due largely to its exposure in Hughes’ 1986 classic Pretty In Pink.  

While the whole of the song is filled with tonally-soft vocal melodies, what makes this song stand out is its striking synth riff that is its most recognizable feature.  It adds a bright sound that makes it fit more along with the pop acts of the early 80’s as opposed to the more dramatic, minor key sounds of its time.

74- “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” - Wham! (1984)
Album: Make It Big
Writer: George Michael

    Speaking of ‘bright and cheery’, next up is Wham!’s chart-topping hit Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.  The song makes my list solely because of George Michael’s vocals.  His high notes mixed with the song’s tone lift this one up more than it would have otherwise been as this sort of bubbly, overly-cheerful pop music is usually a turn-off for me.  Still, I can’t help but smile when I hear this song.

73- “Turn It On Again” - Genesis (1980)
Album: Duke
Writers: Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Mike Rutherford

Genesis is one of the all-time essential bands.  They are among the most successful rock acts of all time, and were utterly ubiquitous in the 80’s.  As inescapable as they were and still are today, it’s easy to forget that it took former frontman Peter Gabriel’s departure, and drummer Phil Collins’ move to lead singer to really bring this band to the forefront of modern pop/rock, where they rest as one of the most successful acts in the genre’s history.  

Turn it On Again is one of the singles that defined Genesis’ distinct sound.  While they are widely known for songs such as In Too Deep and Invisible Touch, their B-Sides and unreleased tracks really expressed the range of the band’s musical complexity.  It is here that they really show off their upbeat, lyric-heavy style meshed with unconventional rhythm and time signatures.  It’s now a classic icon of their live shows, so much so that it became the official name the band’s reunion tour in 2007.  It’s one of a number of songs of theirs that were never given an official single release, but still carry on their legacy today, another will show up later in this list…

72- “Whip It” - Devo (1980)
Album: Freedom of Choice
Writers: Gerald Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh

In an effort to shake the negative stigma of late-70’s pop and disco, New Wave artists worked hard to distinguish themselves with a fresh style that removed them from the sound that tried to linger in the wake of the 70’s.  New Wave had been growing for a few years leading up to this point, but it was just starting to make waves in the very late 70’s.  During this time, a lot of bands flooded the scene with a very different sound.  Some were successful, many were not, but the novelty of the time drove the genre, which is why so many of the biggest hits were a little… odd.

Whip It featured all of the iconic elements of popular New Wave in its time while maintaining a certain level of integrity, lacking the over-the-top, attention grabbing evident in many of Devo’s contemporaries.  It featured the aggressive synth, the vocals lacking sustained notes, the short-but-sweet composition… All of the characteristics of New Wave at the time, but feels much more mature and mathematical than most of the hits it shared the charts with.

71- “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” - The Smiths (1986)
Album: The Queen Is Dead
Writers: Johnny Marr, Morrissey

As the 80’s came around and mainstream New Wave dominated the scene, indie rock acts were making the rounds in the background.  The Smiths had a few things going for them early on.  They had crossover appeal, they were unique and they had a moody tone that really lifted their music up beyond being typical pop-rock.  This is where the Alternative subgenre comes into play.  

Alternative has a few definitions in industry terms, but what it typically boils down to is a general pool of artists who have some rock, blues and pop influences that aren’t “poppy” enough for the pop mainstream or “rockin’” enough for the rock charts.  This is reserved for your Collective Souls; your Counting Crows; basically, any group that sort of treads the lines of rock with many of songs, or at the very least, their singles.

The Smiths have this unique ability to draw you into the mind of songwriter and frontman Morrissey.  The deeply personal, tonally-odd lyrics of many of their better songs were a real contrast to the upbeat, saccharin, hot-pink pop of the period.  There Is A Light That Never Goes Out is told from a perspective of a person who feels isolated alone at home.  Implications are that other people there cause this feeling, but he feels freer with the one he’s with.  This feeling is so strong he would be satisfied with dying that night with the driver rather than staying at home.  It’s a powerful statement, and one that has turned this into one of the most beloved songs of its time.  

That said, it did not chart in the US.  It failed the test of NA popularity against other acts of the time, as the tastes in the UK rock scene clashed heavily from what was consumed Stateside.  Over the years, as more and more popular artists cited The Smiths as a strong influence, they garnered more attention and are now rightfully recognized as the titans of creativity they are so well known to be in their home country.

70- “I Ran” - A Flock of Seagulls (1982)
Album: A Flock of Seagulls
Writers: A Flock of Seagulls

Going from underground rock acts to the massive mainstream, we have “I Ran”, a song that hovered just inside the Billboard Hot 100’s Top Ten spot in 1982.  After its run on the charts as a hit MTV tune, it become a contender for one of the most definitive songs of the decade, and for good reason.

Comparing A Flock of Seagulls’ biggest North American hit to other songs of its day, it seems to fit right in.  It had the upbeat pace, the synth, the simple lyrics, the immediate-recognizable intro… all of it.  It was just the right single to land this act in the annals of pop history, and remains their biggest hit.  Aside from the success of the song, A Flock of Seagulls also exemplified the look of the 80’s.  Foregoing the pretty boy look of the 70’s, they become known for their outlandish hairstyles.  This was also increased as MTV made the look of the artist more accessible in the 80’s to anyone with cable.  

Their style of sound were mimicked for the better part of the decade after this hit landed them into stardom, but they would begin to peter out in the U.S. as music tastes began to evolve but continued with a string of successful hits throughout the 80’s internationally.  The band dissolved after the falling out of brothers and founding members Mike and Ali Score.

69- “Hold Me Now” - Thompson Twins (1984)
Writers: Tom Bailey (Thompson Twins), Alannah Currie and Joe Leeway
Album: Into the Gap

I find it hard to define specifically WHY I like Hold Me Now.  It’s repetitive, the chorus is slow, it’s way too long for what it is, yet for some reason the mix of melody and the interesting percussion make this one stand out.  It is Thompson Twins’ biggest-selling single and rests as one of the most well-known 80’s hits.

I don’t really know what more to say about this one.  It’s certainly a simple song that’s easy to sing along with.  This is a good thing for a pop song, which is designed to get stuck in your head and to be memorable.  No one pop song is ever released with the intention of becoming a timeless classic.  It just sort of happens.  Hence, that indefinable quality.  

68- “All I Need Is A Miracle” - Mike + The Mechanics (1985)
Writers: Mike Rutherford, Christopher Neil
Album: Mike + the Mechanics

In the 80’s, Genesis was unstoppable.  They would continue a string of hits through the years, but as the band grew in success, other acts were operating on the side.  This includes solo and collaborative performances from frontman Phil Collins, and guitarist Mike Rutherford starting his own band, Mike + the Mechanics.  

In the US, the band is mostly known for the single All I Need Is a Miracle, an upbeat and memorable pop tune.  It has a fair share of schmaltz slathered on top, but that does not detract from the fact that this is a legitimately-enjoyable tune.  It is certainly the sort of single that could only have become popular in the mid-80’s, but it still manages to capture elements of a greater sound that would become big in its time.

67- “Big Time” - Peter Gabriel (1986)
Album: So
Writers: Peter Gabriel

As Peter Gabriel’s 2nd hit single after his split from Genesis, Big Time helped to introduce his larger-than-life sound after his previous hit Sledgehammer.  It was a common theme of the 80’s to talk about rising up to success and making it “big”.  This was due to the mostly-up economy and the general attitude of flash and decadence of the period.  The song is one of the best of its kind, with a catchy, singable pop chorus and an awesome animated music video in the tradition of Sledgehammer.  

The song’s host album “So” is one of my favorite albums of the decade, and in terms of style, it’s also one of the most diverse.  I can promise you will see more from this album on the list in the future as it truly is one of the 80’s great music masterpieces.  If you have not heard it, I suggest giving it a full listen.

66- “Land of Confusion” - Genesis (1986)
Album: “Invisible Touch”
Writers: Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Phil Collins

Invisible Touch is an amazing album and Land of Confusion is one of its best singles.  The hard-hitting sound makes it stand out from the album.  The composition definitely has a lot of power to it, and the intensity of Collins’ vocals only helps to accentuate the tone of the lyrics.  This “The World Is Just So Messed Up” theme that so many hit songs of the era shared adds to the emotional tone of the song, and in an era saturated by bad “Save the World” songs, this one is a breath of fresh air.

Aside from the sheer quality of the song, the music video has stuck with people over the years.  The puppeteering is definitely creepy and bizarre.  The imagery is both funny and dark and it contrasts strangely with the tone of the song, but I think that works in its favor.  It gives it staying power.  

65- “Drive” - The Cars (1984)
Album: Heartbeat City
Writer: Ric Ocasek

The Cars are largely known for their driving, upbeat pop rock tunes, but Drive is actually their biggest overall hit.  As part of the excellent album Heartbeat City, it serves as a moody, melancholy break from an otherwise energetic tracklist.  The song is incredibly simple, smooth and it doesn’t build to much intensity, but the warmth of the lyrics are its strength.

Common opinion states the song is about a man who is speaking to a friend (likely a female) who is struggling or suffering from something in their life, and how he is reaching out to let him help.  It’s a plea for change and intervention.  Sung by bassist Ben Orr, the song has a much more serious tone than The Cars’ other singles of the 80’s.

64- “Burning Down the House” - Talking Heads (1983)
Album: Speaking In Tongues
Writers: David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth

One of my favorite artists of all time are Talking Heads.  They have such a great, unique sound and what I like most is how they are willing to experiment and try different musical ideas and styles.  Burning Down the House is the brainchild of drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth, who were “jamming” after a Parliament-Funkadelic concert.  David Byrne then wrote the lyrics by spouting out random lines then picking the ones that “worked together”.

Of all of Talking Heads’ singles, Burning Down The House remains their most successful, peaking just inside the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 back in 1983.  It is easily among their most accessible songs.  There’s nothing too eclectic that would drive away more casual listeners, and the funk-inspired groove made it a popular dance tune.  It also performed well on the rock charts, granting Talking Heads even more underground credibility, which cemented the early 1980’s as the height of the band’s storied career.

63- “About A Girl” - Nirvana (1989)
Album: Bleach
Writer: Kurt Cobain

That’s right!  A Nirvana song on my 80’s music list!  I went there!  About A Girl is an odd little Beatles-inspired tune from the iconic band’s 1989 debut album “Bleach”.  The song was reportedly written by Cobain about his then-girlfriend.  It was a reflection of their complicated relationship.  Cobain kept the inspiration for About A Girl a secret that would not come to light until after his death.

About A Girl is a very simple song, using a verse-chorus structure that is very common in the grunge scene, with bands often simplifying their music; a staple of grunge’s rival genre: punk.  If you listen to most rock of the late-80’s, then listen to About A Girl, it is easy to see why Nirvana had so much promise in terms of guiding rock music into a new era.

62- “Don’t You Want Me” - The Human League (1981)
Album: Dare
Writers: Jo Callis, Philip Oakey, Philip Adrian Wright

Through the history of popular music, there are many examples of hit songs hated by their artists.  Don’t You Want Me is the most successful single from synth-pop act The Human League, who had three previously-popular singles leading up to this point.  The story of Don’t You Want Me involved frontman Philip Oakey and producer Martin Rushent butting heads over the song, which Oakey despised.  He felt it was too poppy and too far-removed from their known sound at the time, demanding it be relegated to a B-side and shoved at the end of the album.  Little did he know then that not only would it be successful, but it would become one of the biggest pop songs of the decade.

The song tells the story of a relationship as told from both the point-of-view of the male and the female.  The dynamic of the song is enhanced by this dual perspective and the two vocal styles work well together.  I think, even over this interesting songwriting idea being done well here, this is just a catchy, accessible song.  It’s stuck with me for years as a song that is distinctly 80’s, while also sounding a little ahead of its time for 1981.

61- “Love Bites” - Def Leppard (1988)
Album: Hysteria
Writers: Joe Elliott, Phil Collen, Steve Clark, Rick Savage, Robert John Lange

Def Leppard, one of the definitive rock acts of the 80’s, had only one number one single in the Billboard Hot 100.  That single was Love Bites.  “Hysteria” was a different direction from Def Leppard’s Pyromania, which had a harder edge to it.  Instead of grit, Def Leppard added emotional depth with their song writing and while they still have some of that desireable rock styling in the album (audible in tracks like Woman and Don’t Shoot Shotgun), “Hysteria” certainly feels like the band’s “grown up” album.

Love Bites definitely sounds like it comes from the perspective of a person who struggles with holding things together with his lover.  He feels the drive to maintain a physical relationship with a woman who is obviously cheating, but struggles with his own desire.  It’s a common trope in this sort of “cheating girl” ballads.  The song’s slower tempo allows it to build to a massive, harmonious chorus, with the background vocals picking up the intensity.  I feel Love Bites shows off the band’s vocal talents more than just about any of their other tracks.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

2016 Update

I have a tendency to stop posting on and off.  There really is no particular reason outside of laziness and other things going on that make it difficult.  I will try to get back into regular updates here starting with some reviews.  I will keep people updated on Twitter as well as Facebook in the meantime.  Thanks for sticking with me while I get myself back into the swing of things.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron Review (2015) - SPOILERS!!!


The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015;
Marvel Studios)
Going into the Avengers: Age of Ultron I had high hopes.  I think everyone did.  I made a point to not check out information on the movie.  I stayed away from online sources containing anything about the film and its cast and went in entirely objectively and unspoiled.  I begin the movie wanting to know two things: How did they pull of the Ultron storyline and how badass was Scarlet Witch?  I essentially satisfied in both respects.  That does not, however, mean Age of Ultron is a perfect movie.

The problem with making a sequel to a movie as big as the Avengers is it will be very hard to top it.  Initially, I was unsure about what they were going to do, but by the beginning of the third act, I was pretty certain I had guessed at exactly what was going to unfold by the film’s conclusion with around 60% accuracy.  The movie steps things up by having the swarms of enemies that were certainly meant to be more menacing than the Chitauri, and is successful in that… kind of.  Early in the movie, a struggle breaks out with a group of Stark’s automaton sentries that come off as would-be cannon fodder but there is a sense of menace with the team battling just a handful of Stark’s creations.  However, by the end we see the Avengers decimating hundreds of them with little-to-no effort.  Did they discover their weak points?

This is a recurring problem in Age of Ultron, too.  Action scenes are built up and are, for the most part, concluded and only briefly addressed until we get to the end and the lead characters find themselves facing off against Ultron’s hoards in the climactic battle.  However, each scene that has a strong start is often cut into with momentary lapses in tension.  A key character is killed and we get a few moments of sadness, followed by more explosions, then he’s never really addressed again.  A major event will occur, and will be negated or disregarded almost as quickly as it began.  This goes most notably for the film’s anti-climax.  It ends exactly how you expect it would by the start of the third act and it just sort of peters out.  It literally ends with a bang but hits like a shot from a Nerf gun, really.  Honestly, it feels like a step down from the New York set piece in the first movie.  This isn’t helped by the fact that it uses one of the most cliched and most often-horribly done evil-plan cliches and does it well, but only as well as this goofy, overused premise can be done.

Other major problems occur in the characters.  The first Avengers had a small team of characters and we are able to get a lot of characterization in their interactions.  However, Age of Ultron goes the sequel route of adding so many characters (nearly doubling the size of the team by the end of the movie) that most of their little moments end up lost in the shuffle.  I appreciate the attempts to flesh out some of the more overshadowed characters from the first movie (like Hawkeye, for instance) but this is still the Robert Downey, Jr. Show.  I do not blame Whedon for this, though.  RDJ’s magnetism is on full display, driving up the arrogance and intellectualism of Tony Stark much more than the first movie.  He’s still a wise-ass, but he comes off as more of the brilliant character he is in this outing.  Yet, the problem with having such a big cast and only a few characters dominating the foreground is you have a lot of questions, and a lot of characters that really just feel pointless.  Quicksilver suffers this in many respects, as he is mostly just relegated to “clean-up duty” while his much more prominent sister, Scarlet Witch is elevated to full-on goddess (even though, in-canon she is significantly more-powerful than almost all of the other Avengers).  She gets her big moment.  Quicksilver doesn’t.  Don Cheadle makes his appearance as War Machine which is welcome, but he is also given next to nothing to do, and just feels like a pointless addition in the end.

Now, with all of the negatives aside, this is still a good movie.  It isn’t complex.  It will not wreck your brain-area with convoluted exposition and over-blown pseudoscience.  It gives you just enough to lay the foundation for some truly well-done action scenes.  Like in the first film, Joss Whedon lines up wonderful moments of kineticism with smart, interspersed, and occasionally funny dialogue.  Sure, some of the action scenes go on a little long, but they never drift into Michael Bay/Roland Emmerich-Level CGI Porn.  Instead, each scene is clearly-lit, everything is vivid and easily discernable (with a few brief exceptions) and the layout of each scene is solid.  Whedon also employs his trademark single, long tracking shots that flow to each character nearly-seamlessly multiple times and it’s always a welcome technique, never coming off as exploited or poorly done here.

Acting is good all-around.  The only truly weak performance comes from Linda Cardellini, who I liked in ER and loved in Freaks and Geeks, but here, she just plays Worried Pregnant Housewife #2.  Despite having a direct association with one of the MAIN characters, she’s wasted.  We cut back to the occasional worried-wife-shot then back to the action.  The editing in that one cut to her is awkward, too.  It just felt… off.  That said, James Spader was immensely entertaining as the ultimate super-intelligence, Ultron, though his reasoning does fall squarely into Final Fantasy villain territory.  Aside from that, there really was no reason to have a big supporting cast.  This is the Avengers’ show and do you know what?  That’s okay.  That is exactly what we all went to see, and Joss Whedon seems to recognize that.  He didn’t flood the movie with too many pointless subplots (there are a few, but they aren’t too awfully intrusive) and, thanking all that is holy, no obnoxious comic relief characters that are so endemic in action movies these days.  

Now I’m going to touch on Ultron a little more as a villain here.  As I said, James Spader is awesome and I do not think I’ve ever disliked a performance from him.  Even when he’s in a bad movie, Spader still busts his butt to craft a memorable character for the audience.  His inflections work very well in the role as his subtle, personal touches on Ultron’s voice gives the entity life.  Lesser writers would have just made it a cold super-T-800-style-villain-bot.  However, Whedon knows how to write characters and its dialogue, mixed with Spader’s performance makes a nice blend.  That said, in all of his efforts, I think Whedon failed to really build Ultron up to be the force it really is.  Ultron’s a powerful dude here, for sure.  Is it menacing?  Yes.  Yet, by the end of the movie, one of the most powerful figures in comic book lore is dispatched in an anti-climax that has it fade away quicker than it appeared.  With the rest of the action scenes in this movie lasting in the 10-20 minute range, the fact that the final showdown that leads to the villain’s end lasts only about two minutes in total was just a big letdown.  Note that I’m only referring to the machine Ultron built for himself, disregarding his consciousness in the rest of the sentry bots because… well, so does the movie.  This was all an obvious hint at Ultron’s return.  Which, it seems, will certainly happen.

My final thought is as a big, loud, packed action movie.  This one is a lot of fun.  It’s accessible, there’s nothing in it that’s too disturbing for younger audiences, nor does it feel like a cartoon.  It is a well-balanced movie overall.  I would say it’s probably the lesser of Whedon’s most recent film projects factoring in the first Avengers movie AND Cabin in the Woods (which he co-wrote), but it’s not obnoxious outside of being about thirty minutes too long, and it has enough fun action moments and entertaining dialogue that I would give a whole-hearted recommendation.  It won’t be topping any “greatest action movies” lists, but it’s definitely better than most of what we get from Hollywood these days.  Given the chance, I’d see this again.  It’s a balanced movie and though I feel Joss Whedon is a much, MUCH better character writer than he is an action film director, I respect his choice to make an accessible movie that cuts the fat and delivers exactly what fans want.  The Avengers: Age of Ultron a pretty fun movie.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Animation Therapy - Turbo Teen (1984)

Turbo Teen (1984; ABC Network)
Sometimes there’s a show that is both very easy to describe yet impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it.  That said, I cannot fathom a scenario where the people behind Turbo Teen weren’t met with either uproarious mocking laughter, or an irritated slap to the face.  A lot of the shows I really got into were from the late 80’s, so this was just shy of that period for me, and it was too big of a failure to really maintain any post-run momentum in syndication or home video that I recall.  Now, even as a kid I was very picky and didn’t like a lot of the shows my friends did either because of the way the characters looked, or because of the show’s pacing or tone (not that I really understood what that meant back then, but it’s a quality that is often recognized without definition).  So, I guess even then I was sort of a jerk when it comes to entertainment (wink).  That begs the question: Do I regret watching an episode now?  Nope!  Because this is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in my life!

The awesomely stupid premise for Turbo Teen is as follows: Brett Matthews is a teen driving home from work in his sports car when a tree is struck by lightning, forcing him to swerve and sending him flying off the road, over a cliff and into the side of a secret lab where he crashes right into the path of a ray that merges the molecules of Brett’s body with those of the machine’s, giving the teen the power to transform into his car.  When exposed to heat (hot water, food, ect.) Brett uncontrollably takes the form of his car where cold then turns him back (Where have I heard a similar premise before..?)  Together with his friends Patti and Alex (who have skills of their own) and Comic-Relief-Dog, Brett goes on crime-fighting adventures against powerful enemies.  Yes!  This exists!!!  I am SO happy about this!

In the 80’s there was no absence of bad animated series.  Really, the quality spike didn’t peak until the late 80’s when Disney Animation Studios started hitting their stride and series like Transformers and G.I. Joe reached their pinnacle.  Things will stay good for a while until the airwaves became flooded with bad knockoffs and celebrity-themed animated shows like Wishkid (THAT damn show’s day is coming…).  Before that, there is this strange dead zone filled with bland animated tripe from Hanna-Barbera Productions (who were already starting to fade in quality by that point) and a few other companies like Dic, for instance.  Turbo Teen lands somewhere in-between debuting in 1984 and lasting just one season.  It never really gained an audience, probably because it is such a ludicrous premise that a kid may find it more stupid than anything.  It takes a few years (or decades) for a show like this to re-emerge and become a sort of cult favorite.  I think, from what I’ve seen, Turbo Teen is ripe for that sort of cult rebirth.

Now, as out-there as the show’s premise is, knowing the episode I saw as a jumping-off point will make things even more enticing.  The episode is entitled “Video Venger” and opens on the teens playing an arcade game but when Brett has a piece of pizza land on his face he transforms into his car right there in the Pizza parlor while playing the game.  Still wanting to beat Alex’s highscore, Brett has his friend plug him into the arcade cabinet via a universal cable in his dashboard so he can control the game as a car.  This causes a military insurgent group monitoring the game to unleash an army of robots onto the city resembling enemies from the game and only the Turbo Teen and his friends can save the day.  This episode ends with the group saving the President by having two ice-firing tanks crossfire into each other through some Turbo-Teen-Trickery right in the White House… driveway..?  Ultimately the President awards them with medals.  

Okay, so if I missed anything it could be that while watching this I was mesmerized by its existence and was also somewhat distracted with bouts of hysterical laughter.  There is so much stupid in that last paragraph that I can understand you wondering why I would recommend this to anyone.  All I will say is, if you’re a fan of over-the-top, so-bad-it’s-good entertainment, and are just in awe by really, really awesomely bad TV in-general, you will probably love this show.  If you go in with the right attitude, you may be surprised by how much enjoyment you get out of it.  I went in expecting it to be one of the worst shows of the decade by reputation.  It isn’t.  The worst animation from the 80’s-90’s is either boring, a cheap cash-in, or is MEANT to be funny but isn’t.  This is none of those things.  It’s too insane to be boring, there really isn’t much like it (unless you pick out parts from about six different shows), and it isn’t really meant to be a comedy.  It’s an action show.  Sure there are gags in it but for the most part it was played straight.  I love so-bad-it’s-good stuff and this is up there for me.  I enjoyed the Hell out of Turbo Teen!

Watch Turbo Teen: Video Venger in Cartoon | View More Free Videos Online at

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Generation Wars: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) vs. TMNT (2007)

Now, I know I’m not the first person to do this, but I would like to see how many of these classic series have evolved over the years and I decided to start this series with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  

Originally based on Mirage Comic’s violent cult series of the same name (created by the duo of Laird and Eastman), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made their mainstream debut in the late 80’s.  Now, it’s important to note that this was a time where a lot of major companies were seeing great success with animated series based on toy tie-ins.  The two biggest ones before TMNT were G.I. Joe and Transformers.  These two series drew huge fans to the stores to buy every toy for everything they saw on the 30 minute TV series.  The fact was, these shows really didn’t have much in terms of plot.  They were really just toy advertisements.  The same goes for a lot of hit series from the time, including The Real Ghostbusters and Thundercats.  Then came 1987…

‘87 was a bad, BAAAAD year for movies, but on TV, things were changing.  Some of the biggest shows ever made their debuts in this year.  Three notable entries were Star Trek: The Next Generation, Duck Tales and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The latter of the two did something very different.  Unlike a lot of their tie-in contemporaries, these two animated series attempted to craft short stories around existing characters with established relationships and arcs.  They weren’t Shakespeare, but they were smart, funny and entertaining.  These two shows were essentially responsible for the huge boom of Saturday Morning animation in the late-80’s and early 90’s, a genre that was starting to fade a little at the time.

Fast forward to 1990.  A series as big as Ninja Turtles was not going to escape the Hollywood treatment, and on March 30th, fans of the series were treated to a hard-edge, energetic, fun and somewhat edgy action flick.  This was NOT a kids movie, in spite of its rating.  It had pacing, action, and the characters that were mostly known by everyone at that point were treated well in terms of their nature and relationships.  It must be said, that if you did not grow up in this period, you likely have no idea just how massive this series was.  Compare it to anything big today, and you may be close, but just short.  TMNT was a phenomenon, and it was everywhere.  So much so that it never actually went away.  The series lasted well into the 90’s, running for nearly a decade (that was HUGE for an animated series), and other animated shows, comics, games, movies (to a lesser extent) and other spin-offs continued to come out.  Still, the question is, does the 90’s movie hold up?

Well, not too long before writing this article I went back and watched it and was astonished by how good it still is.  No, seriously.  The action was good, the characters were spot on, they stayed true to the overall story and, thanks to help from Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, the Turtles themselves were amazing.  The movie hit the nail on the head, transporting the Turtles out of the realm of 2D and bringing them to life.  Naturally the movie was a big hit.  The sequels… not so good, though.  They didn’t hold up and tried too hard to be more kid-friendly, ultimately losing some of the momentum the first film built.  This was partially in-response to some backlash that the first film was “for kids” but was too violent and dark for a few parents to handle… Boy how times have changed.

As a sort of hiatus, the Turtles went back to the shadows and remained out of the mainstream for a short time until being revitalized in a new 2007 animated film.  TMNT debuted to mixed reviews.  It sits at a 37% on Rotten Tomatoes and was generally panned by critics.  Two things are wrong with this picture.  First, having watched the movie, it was not a bad film; not by any means.  It was certainly better than a 37%.  I have SEEN what a 37% looks like and it’s a Hell of a lot worse than this.  No, I think there was some backlash to the tone in some cases.  First, the new movie addresses some of the things that were just glossed over in the original film and series more directly, in-particularly, April O’Neil’s restlessness and Raphael’s rebelliousness.  The latter is a prominent plot point early in the movie as it is an established and ongoing trait of the character.  No complaints there.  

Another point of contention is the 2007 film’s plot.  The story revolves around an ancient immortal warrior who is able to resurrect his ancient generals when the stars align, and with the moment right, he can open a portal to conjure up monsters and take over the world.  It’s like something out of a Final Fantasy game, and it’s goofy, but it’s not the worst I’ve seen from that type of story.  The other subplots involve a barely glossed-over relationship between fellow-vigilante Casey Jones and April O’Neil and the returning theme of Raphael’s lone crime fighting ways.  What I liked about TMNT is how it addressed the latter.  Leonardo, who returns from a prolonged absence of self reflection, finds his family in disarray and is faced with bridging a severed relationship with Raph.  It turns out, another armored vigilante hero has been taking out thugs around New York and Leo, in an attempt to stop him, finds that this so-named Nightwatcher is actually Raphael.  This leads to the two brothers having a nearly-fatal brawl on the rooftop.  As a long-time fan of these characters, THIS was satisfying to me.  It was the obvious and inevitable result of their rough relationship and at that point I was sold.

As a standalone movie, TMNT is not a masterpiece, but it does what it set out to do: Make a fun and solid TMNT adventure.  The only real complaints I have about the movie is it has that odd, jagged CGI animation a lot of series do today, that has these 3D characters with Disney eyes that looks sort of odd in the high-detail world around them, and a few of the “chase” scenes are a little overlong and are basically just filler.  These long action scenes make the few more meaningful ones seem longer than necessary by association.  Lastly, the plot is nothing fresh or astonishing, but it sets the stage for some cool character design for the villains, and a few pretty solid fights.

Really, I do not see why this has such bad reviews.  It is NOT a bad movie.  It’s faithful, it was obviously made by people with a lot of love for the source material, it has a lot of quality animation (especially in the case of the Turtles) and the attention to detail in the production design is great.  I also like that they didn’t go overboard with references to the old series.  Sure they’re eating pizza, Splinter is watching soap operas and Casey Jones is donning his trademark hockey mask, but it isn’t abused and shoved in our faces like a lot of throwback remakes and reboots tend to try to do.  It’s respectful is what I’m saying.

So, which one is better.  Well, in this case it really isn’t a contest.  The 1990 film was engaging and had warmth as well as tension.  There is just something about seeing these characters in the “real world” that brings them to life.  Also, practical effects always look better than CGI and while at least the 2007 movie is entirely animated, the tangible Turtles from the earlier film are much more believable.  For anyone who didn’t grow up during Turtlemania, I would say watch the original movie.  It is not too dissimilar but definitely feels more real and, on the whole, is a much better movie.