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Why The ‘5 Best Baseball Movies’ Are Actually Terrible

Monday, April 20th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

$212.46. That is what the average family of four spent at a major league ballgame last year.  For the budget-conscious, that price tag makes it mighty tempting to stay home and enjoy the boys of summer on TV—either a live game or a classic baseball movie.

But watching some of the most fondly remembered films about the national passtime suggest that maybe both the game’s time and what made America great are passing. Here are five films that make the case.

 

5. Moneyball (2011)

Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill take the Oakland Athletics from a mediocre, going-broke franchise to a cash-cow winner by using analytical, evidence-based “sabermetrics.” The film garnered six Academy award nominations, critical acclaim, and box-office success.  That’s terrible. Celebrating the “corporatization” of baseball is not a good thing. Sure, making money is a good thing. “Last season,” Forbes reports, “MLB saw gross revenues of over $8 billion, and the expectation is it will reach $10 billion within a year or two.”

But where is the gut, the intuition, the love of sport for sport’s sake that we learned from movies like Pride of the Yankees (1942), Gary Cooper’s epic portrayal of the greatest star of baseball’s finest hour?

 

4. Field of Dreams (1989)

A disembodied voice tells Kevin Costner to build a diamond in his cornfield. Costner gets to meet “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) and the voice of Darth Vader (James Earl Jones). It’s sentimental slop, but this New Age comfort food of a film was the smash summer hit of ‘89.  But it is missing all the courage, sacrifice, and teamwork—the core values we want the sport to teach our children.

Damn Yankees (1958) is fantasy movie that imparts the real values of baseball. In this musical comedy, Tab Hunter not only beats the devil, he helps his hapless team win the pennant.

 

3. The Natural (1984)

What could be more natural than to take one of Hollywood’s hottest stars, Robert Redford, and turn him into an unbeatable baseball star? And it works. Fine acting combined with an incredible musical score earned this handsome film four Academy Award nominations. But the movie is more an homage to the film star than a story about the perseverance and hard work needed to be a real hero in sports or life.

The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (2000) is a real movie about heroic baseball.  Greenberg battled antisemitism, interrupted his career to fight in WW II, crossed the color line to welcome Jackie Robinson into the big leagues, and still found time to come within a hair of Babe Ruth’s home run record.

 

2. Bull Durham (1988)

Kevin Costner is a minor league veteran who teaches a rookie how to become an all-star. This romantic comedy won all kinds of awards and made all kinds of money, but it is hard to find a less admirable cast of characters in a sports film.

For an uplifting contrast, try The Rookie (2002), starring Dennis Quaid. It’s the true story of a small-town, married veteran who—at 35 years old—gets a second chance to pitch in The Show. It’s a moving sports movie that far too few have seen.

 

1. Major League (1989)

It’s fine to have fun with baseball. And no film has better time with the game than this comedy starring Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, and Wesley Snipes. It’s entertaining to watch an oddball collection of talent help the hapless Cleveland Indians become a winner. The film was a winner too debuting at #1 at the box office.

But why settle for just laughs when there are films that also have real heart. In The Kid from Left Field (1953) Dan Dailey knows everything about baseball even though he is only a peanut-vendor. His young son, however, is a bat boy who passes dad’s advice on to the players. The team gets so good the kid becomes manager, and they battle their way to the World Series.

The virtue of baseball is that it teaches our young how to fight as a team and what it takes to win. But some films are so “sophisticated,” they lead us away from the best lessons of sport.  The more we gush over those movies, the more we diminish the sport and ourselves.

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5 Deadly Director’s Cuts You Should Avoid At All Costs

Friday, April 17th, 2015 - by Roy M. Griffis

Among the many blessings of civilization is the BluRay. BluRays (and DVDs and home video before them) meant that if you loved film, you, too, could finally own a copy of some classic like Casablanca and sigh over its greatness time and again. But like many other gifts of Western capitalist culture, there is a downside.

One of them is the “Director’s Cut.”

Film history would be a lot more boring without the stories of enfant terribles (and later, adult pain-in-the-asses) like Orson Welles battling against the men with the souls of accountants over their art. Most of the time, it turned out the accountants had a wicked right hook and the artist would end up on the canvas while their vision was butchered.

Some director’s cuts are good. Dances with Wolves added additional backstory without seeming like Costner was giving himself a public handjob. Peter Jackson hit the height of his craft as a director with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and he gave his fans more of what they wanted, more time in a Middle Earth that was both familiar and fantastic.

Then there are those… other efforts. Recompilations of beloved, fondly remembered work that are suddenly as welcome as a visit from your creepy uncle who just finished a 25-year stretch in San Quentin for his bad habits.

Ego? Ambition? Pharmaceuticals?

Whatever it is, there are some “Director’s Cuts” that took otherwise fine, fun films and turned them into something as thrilling as watching a carousel slide show of your eight year-old nephew’s geology field trip. Here is just a palate-wrinkling sample of some of the worst of the once-good.

(Note: we’re going to completely overlook that charming genre “UnRated and Now with More Torture Porn!”)

 

1. Last of the Mohicans

What a great, thrilling film this was. I saw it three times in the theatre when it was first released and owned the soundtrack on CD. Then came the day Michael Mann looked at either his bank account or the film and decided, “let’s take another run at that.”

Mann, a notoriously demanding director, for whatever reason hadn’t quite gotten the verisimilitude he was hoping for when he made a great movie out of a justly-mocked book from the 1800s. To give the Mann-iac his due, the additional character scenes and background were acceptable, but to really put us into the world of the time, he apparently randomly airbrushed india ink over huge sections of the film.

By God, he wanted you there, and if we were watching a scene set in the forest on a cloudy night, then it was going to be dark. Not just artfully shadowed, but blackcat inside a coal mine dark. I’m talking “Mommy, we wandered off the trail four days ago and I think the bears are coming down from the mountains to eat us, but they’ll only be able to find us by scent because I haven’t seen a shimmer of light in hours” dark.

For whatever reason, Mann took a compelling adventure/love story and turned it into a lengthy exercise in eye-strain.

 

2. The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Most comedy seems to work when it has heart, and this film had that, with Steve Carell channeling a kind of Jim Carrey vibe while managing to remain recognizably human (hint: guess which one will have a longer career).

But that heart and the sweet story of a guy finally finding love was hidden underneath MORE potty jokes and MORE ad-libbing that went on way too long (were they stoned only when they filmed those scenes or did the party continue back in the editing bay?) and MORE whacky boobies.

Take a movie that borders on eew (while it was funny, about 20 minutes in I was finding the gratuitous profanity kind of battering) and what do you add?  MORE eeeewwww.

 

3. Blade Runner 

This film (and Watchmen, below) are ones that many cognoscenti (and even myself, depending on the day) would argue against including on this list.

The original Blade Runner as I first experienced it in a strip mall in Alexandria, Virginia, is still my favorite (confession…I loved the bored voice-over… it was right out of 50’s noir). But as of last count, there have been 176 “authorized” versions of the film pressed onto plastic disks for purchase and I’m pretty sure there’s a Lego-version in the works.

Was it just a cash grab? A tax-write off?

No matter, because after one has waded through the work-print, the first Director’s Cut, the re-release version, and the final Authorized Gold-Stamp of Approval, what do you get?

(Spoiler warning! Editor’s note: a page break speed bump put in for anyone who still hasn’t seen Blade Runner)

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The 10 Best Steven Spielberg Films

Friday, April 17th, 2015 - by Kyle Smith

10. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Though a bit silly in places, this followup starring Harrison Ford and Spielberg’s soon-to-be-wife Kate Capshaw was also bursting with energy and wickedly amusing stunts, not to mention the thrilling moment when Indy avoids death by slipping below a sliding door but then reaches back for his battered fedora. It’s a quintessential example of Spielberg’s good-natured wit.

 

9. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Spielberg’s definitive WW II picture frequently makes no sense —  why would a simple infantry platoon try to take on an armored battalion, when all Capt. Miller’s troops have to do is stroll across a bridge and blow it up behind them? But it deserves a place in the annals of cinema history for its breathtaking, nerve-shattering opening scene of the D-Day invasion, a tableau that redefined what gritty, gruesome war realism could be.

 

8. Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Leonardo DiCaprio has never given a better performance than he did as the boyish con artist Frank Abagnale, who breezes through the 1960s on forged checks and pretends to be a pilot, a surgeon, a lawyer and anything else that strikes his fancy. Alas, Tom Hanks’s Boston accent as the FBI man on his tail is unfortunate.

 

7. Always (1989)

A beautifully told, romantic ghost story, this uncharacteristically disarming adaptation of Spielberg’s childhood favorite A Guy Named Joe featured the most nuanced and appealing female character he ever conjured up, Holly Hunter’s Dorinda, who loses her courageous boyfriend (Richard Dreyfuss) when he dies piloting a plane in the course of trying to put out a forest fire. He continues to exert a supernatural pull on her life even as she finds love with another man.

 

6. Jurassic Park (1993)

That the film was a special-effects landmark wasn’t really the key to its success: Spielberg made the dinosaurs matter by taking the time to establish his cast of characters and their conflicts well before any monsters appear. And he found brilliant ways to use his trademark tongue-in-cheek humor to offset the terror. Who else but Spielberg could get a laugh out of the familiar legend, “Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear”?

 

5. Jaws (1975)

Forty years on, the shark thriller has lost much of its shock value, and its pace now seems deliberate rather than frenzied. But the 27-year-old Spielberg’s ability to manufacture dread and suspense from a malfunctioning prop (the crew couldn’t get the damn mechanical shark to work half the time) was uncanny, and the manly camaraderie of Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss as they ventured out alone into the wilderness to save the townsfolk was like that of a trio of gunslingers daring to settle the West.

 

4. Schindler’s List (1993)

Releasing two defining films in a single year proved Spielberg was still operating at peak levels two decades into his unprecedented career. The problem of how to do a Holocaust film was one that had essentially flummoxed Hollywood for 50 years before Spielberg found the proper approach: Amid the squalor and the massacre, he cast his vision toward the shining light of humanity embodied by the savior Oskar Schindler, personified by the quiet dignity of Liam Neeson in a star-making performance.

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6 of History’s Biggest Military Failures Memorialized on Film

Friday, April 10th, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

Spring is the time “when kings go off to war.” It’s in the Book! Twice!! (2 Samuel 11:1 and Chronicles 20:1.)

Springtime therefore has seen more than its fair share of military defeats. On April 1, 1865, for example, General George Pickett suffered a defeat far worse than “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg. His troops were cut off and crushed at the Battle of Five Forks, Va. The loss of Pickett’s forces pretty much ended Confederate hopes of defending Richmond. The Confederacy surrendered just eight days later.

America has seen more than a few military setbacks of late. The administration’s latest reversal came this week, when it had to hastily pull our special operations forces from Yemen.

Americans prefer not to dwell on defeats, but they are worth pondering. Sometimes the worst setbacks can be the best teachers. Here, courtesy of Hollywood, are six cinematic accounts of thumping failures that are worth revisiting.

 

6. Khartoum (1966)

You think Obama has an Islamist insurgency problem? In 1883, the “Madhi” leads a revolt that overruns much of the Sudan. The British government dispatches Major General Charles George Gordon (Charlton Heston) to Khartoum. Gordon decides to defend the city. It doesn’t end well for the Brits: the garrison is slaughtered, 4,000 civilians are put to the sword and the general loses his head (literally). Gordon hoped that if he refused to retreat, the British would send reinforcements to crush the Madhi. They didn’t.

The lesson: Hope is not a strategy.

 

5. Zulu Dawn (1979)

In 1879, the British dispatch a column under Lord Chelmsford (Peter O’Toole) to beat back the Zulu tribes. The Brits are armed to the teeth with the most modern military weapons of the time including rockets, field artillery, and breach-loading rifles. Yet 1,300 of Chelmsford’s 1,800 troops are cut down by spear-carrying warriors.

The lesson: God isn’t always on the side of the biggest or best-equipped battalions. Never underestimate your enemy.

 

4. Gallipoli (1981)

During World War I, Winston Churchill had an inspired idea: “Let’s outflank the enemy, attack Turkey and seize a key maritime chokepoint—the Dardanelles. How hard can that be?” ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand) troops land on April 25, 1915. They are joined by forces from Britain, France, British India and Newfoundland.  Lacking accurate maps or solid intelligence, the invading army has no idea what it is in for. Eight months later, the allies withdraw in abject failure. They have taken 180,000 casualties. The film shows the futile campaign through the eyes of young Australian trooper named Frank Dunne (Mel Gibson).

The lesson: Know your enemy before you pick a fight.

 

3. Hamburger Hill (1987)

America may have lost the Vietnam War but our troops won most of the battles. One of the bloodiest was the assault of Ap Bia Mountain, aka “Hamburger Hill,” in 1969. In a 10-day fight for the summit the US troops suffered over 400 casualties. In the film, future television and movie stars including Dylan McDermott, Steven Weber, and Don Cheadle are part of a platoon that fights its way to the top. In real life, after the troops took the hill—they abandoned it. Ap Bia Mountain had no strategic value.

The lesson: Even victories can be blunders. Winning wars is about imposing your will on the enemy—that is not always measured in how much you territory take or how many enemy you kill.

 

2. Diên Biên Phu (1992)

In 1954, the French had the bright idea that they could hold on to Vietnam by seizing a base deep in enemy territory, then launching attacks to control the surrounding area. Unfortunately for the French, they seized a base in a valley. The enemy occupied the surrounding high ground. Cut off, after a 55-day siege the last of the garrison were overrun, surrendered or fled. The film provides a docu-drama history of the battle, in part recounted by an American reporter, Howard Simpson (Donald Pleasence,) based in Hanoi.

The lesson: Don’t cede your enemy a decisive competitive advantage.

 

1. They Died with Their Boots On (1941)

It’s 1876. An over-confident, over-zealous George Armstrong Custer (Errol Flynn) leads a punitive expedition along the banks of the Little Bighorn River. They are all wiped out—Custer, two of his brothers, a nephew, a brother-in-law and 261 other soldiers. The movie is horrible military history, but Custer’s reckless, vainglorious leadership made for a horrible military operation, so maybe it was a good fit.

The lesson: Hubris hurts.

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The 8 Worst Steven Spielberg Films

Friday, April 10th, 2015 - by Kyle Smith

8. The Terminal (2004)

While certainly well-intentioned, and endearing on a certain level, this Tom Hanks comedy about a baffled immigrant who is forced to live at JFK Airport because of political turmoil that dissolved his native country while he was en route was thin, bland, and obvious. Spielberg’s point about America being a wonderland and a melting pot isn’t wrong, but he makes it in a saccharine — bordering on cloying — way.

 

7. Empire of the Sun (1987)

Again: not a horrible movie but still a major disappointment. Loose, meandering, and soporific, this early Christian Bale film combined several of Spielberg’s favorite themes (WW II, childhood, airplanes) in a stiff, would-be epic about a British boy separated from his parents in Shanghai after the Japanese invade. Atmosphere and the exotic setting supersede all else as young Jim (played by a 12-year-old Bale) learns to get along at an internment camp where a rascally American (John Malkovich) teaches him the ropes.

 

6. Lincoln (2012)

Daniel Day Lewis’s strangely captivating performance fails to rescue the film from feeling airless and procedural. Veering from highly improbable and dramatically clunky (would ordinary soldiers from the battlefield really chat so familiarly, and dismissively, with the commander-in-chief, as they do at the start of the film?) to shouty (Tommy Lee Jones’s performance), this snail-paced work was like watching 50 pages of the Congressional Record come to life.

 

5. 1941 (1979)

Spielberg’s first flop, a huge money loser that was meant to be Universal’s big Christmas entry for 1979, had an amusing premise (an overestimation of Japanese military capabilities that led to fears that bombings would reach all the way to the American mainland). But this loud, wearying, only intermittently funny film starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as troops sent into a tizzy by the attack on Pearl Harbor fell awkwardly between action spectacle and slapstick comedy. The goal seemingly was to spend as much money as possible rather than to tell a coherent story.

 

4. The Color Purple (1985)

A shameless piece of weepy, four-handkerchief Oscar-mongering, this period piece that takes place over 40 years in Georgia was a transparent attempt for Spielberg to be taken seriously. Instead of earning that, he wallowed in cliches about abusive black men and passive but enduring black women. Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey made their mark, though.

 

3. Amistad (1997)

Anthony Hopkins’ off-putting performance as John Qunicy Adams is the least of the film’s problems. Another lumbering historical message picture, this time about a slave uprising aboard a ship that landed near New Haven, Connecticut, in 1839 and resulted in murder trials for the slaves. The movie could have been trimmed by an hour.

The legal case was fascinating, and the moral stakes could hardly have been higher, but Spielberg bludgeons all the life out of the case and practically shouts all of his points.

Spielberg’s preachy side led him to make poor use of Morgan Freeman and Matthew McConaughey (though not of Djimon Hounsou, who effortlessly inhabited his part as the leader of the uprising and should have received an Oscar nomination). The climactic courtroom scene, in which Adams pleads for the slaves’ lives at the Supreme Court, not only bears little resemblance to what actually occurred but comes across as playing to the cheap seats.

 

2. The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

The lifeless and weird motion-capture animation makes the film unengaging on even the most basic level, but the crusty, old-fashioned slapstick humor, the insistently cardboard characters and the tiresome and convoluted boy-detective plot make the film worse than interminable and close to excruciating.

 

1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Could Indy 4 be the most disappointing film ever made, even considering that the previous two installments fell well short of the standard set by Raiders of the Lost Ark? Discuss.

Likewise: Who was more annoying, Shia LaBeouf or Cate Blanchett? Could the mushroom-cloud ending have been any more wrong?

Certainly George Lucas bears much, if not most, of the responsibility for this bizarre, ridiculous campy and heartbreaking desecration of the legacy of Indiana Jones. But Spielberg directed it, and we should never let him live it down.

*****

image illustration via here

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7 Big Bible Movies for Your Holiday Weekend

Friday, April 3rd, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

In 2013, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett produced The Bible, a television miniseries that drew a cable audience of over 13 million. They then recut the miniseries into a successful theatrical release: 2014’s Son of God.

Late this March, the National Geographic Channel attracted a record-breaking audience with its adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s best-selling book, Killing Jesus.

The Christian ratings rampage seems a bit of a head scratcher. The statistics say our nation is rapidly becoming less religious. The Pew Forum finds, for instance, that “[w]hile nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic.” And, for the first time, Protestants are on the verge of becoming an American minority.

Yet, the Almighty’s resurgence on screen is not restricted to niche cable channels. A.D. The Bible Continues, a sequel to Burnett’s original mini-series, has a primetime broadcast premiere on Easter Sunday.  The suits at NBC wouldn’t green-light a project like this unless they thought it would pull a broad audience.

Maybe the Bible is back because it never left. While Americans may be less likely to self-identify with a particular formal religion, they are part of a nation whose roots are grounded in a strong religious heritage. “We ignore at our peril,” writes scholar Mark David Hall,

“the Founders’ insight that democracy requires a moral people and that faith is an important, if not indispensable, support for morality.”

The Judeo-Christian faith has always been entwined with American culture, even in hedonistic Hollywood.  Here are seven of the most significant Bible-based movies from Tinseltown.

7. The Ten Commandments (1923)

Cecil B. DeMille was, as one paper wrote, “the Golden Age of Hollywood in a single man.” He knew the kinds of films the American public would hand over their hard-earned cash to see. DeMille delivered a string of films based on the Bible, beginning with this silent screen epic depicting the exodus from Egypt (as well as a modern-day morality tale showing the wisdom of following the 10 Commandments). At the time, it was one of the most expensive movies ever made—and a huge box-office hit.

6. The King of Kings (1927)

DeMille followed-up with a film based on the life of Jesus. He enlisted a cadre of religious advisors to help steer clear of charges of antisemitism. However, not everyone was satisfied on that score. The resulting controversy, in part, led Hollywood to adopt the 1930 Production Code provision that barred “[w]illful offense to any nation, race or creed” from the silver screen. Still, it was a good film on the final days of Jesus’ ministry, better than many of the “talkies”—such as The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)—that followed.

5. The Ten Commandments (1956)

DeMille returned with a remake of the story Moses, this time on an even grander scale (and in Technicolor!). It was the height of the Cold War and Americans craved a shot of moral courage. With Charlton Heston in the lead, the film was a phenomenal success at the box office and nominated for seven Academy Awards. One wonders how Ridley Scott thought he could top that. His 2014 remake was a disaster for the Egyptians and moviegoers. Many consider it the worst movie Scott ever made. Stick with Heston and DeMille.

4. Barabbas (1961)

Not every Bible-themed movie was made by DeMille. Indeed, some of them—like Barabbas—have precious little to do with the Bible. In this gritty, action-packed movie, Anthony Quinn plays the thief Pontius Pilate freed instead of Jesus. The movie imagines the rest of Barabbas’ life, including his own confession and redemption.

Similar films like The Robe (1953) and Ben-Hur (1959) also played on themes related to the life of Jesus Christ, part of Hollywood’s effort to cash in and be bigger than the Bible. Barabbas also marked the beginning of the end of Hollywood’s Bible craze. After the upheavals of 1960s, the only way God could get on the silver screen was in rock-n-roll musicals like Godspell (1973) and Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) or an irreverent comedy like Life of Bryan (1979).

3. King David (1985)

Trust me, this movie is not on the list because it’s particularly good. Making heartthrob Richard Gere the king of the Israelites must have seemed like a good idea at the time but the movie bombed. Gere was nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award for worst actor (though he lost to Sylvester Stallone). What was significant about the film was that the Bible was back after a long hiatus in Hollywood. Hollywood’s anger and post-Vietnam War, anti-establishment angst mellowed in the Reagan era.

The Bible was once again okay—although King David’s dismal box office dampened the suits’ enthusiasm for Bible epics for a good while.

2. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Another not very good film that needs to be on the list. “Artsy” types liked the Martin Scorsese movie, but the box office was just so-so. For years, this and other films that played with the Christian story were disconnected from Americans. As a result,they received little attention.

1. The Passion of the Christ (2004)

It’s hard not to respect this controversial and disturbing film by Mel Gibson. “The violence aside,” wrote the film critic for Christianity Today, the movie conveys “the divinity and humanity of Christ, respectively; and, more than any recent director, Gibson captures the grand supernatural conflict which gives the death of Christ its meaning.”

Compare this movie to recent “big” Hollywood productions like Scott’s Exodus or the unwatchable Noah (2014) and you’ll see why films that try to tell the Christian story touch something in Americans, while those that try to cash in by turning the Bible into another Fast and Furious sequel flop with most movie-goers.

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You’re Trapped on a Desert Island & Can Pick Only 5 Video Games…

Saturday, March 28th, 2015 - by Jeremy Swindle

Editor’s Note: We’re beginning a new series of discussions and debates to determine the greatest titles by genre in video games, music, movies, TV, and everything else of consequence in culture. The infamous Lord Reptile will preside as fight master and referee to ensure both fairness and maximum bloodshed. He was originally asked to start the series by providing his list of best “desert island video games” — the titles one would most want while trapped forever if one had to play the same games over and over again. Being a snarky, overly clever, cold-blooded creature, he then realized that some of the greatest games of all time actually take place on islands and that one could assemble a literal “Desert Island Video Game” list. And so you now have it. A more traditional, “greatest video games of all time” list will be coming later in the tournament. For now, this will more than suffice… 

WELCOME TO REPTILE’S ISLAND, HUMAN SCUM. DURING THIS COMING ONSLAUGHT OF VIDEO GAME LISTS, YOU WILL DISCOVER THE MOST DEADLY GAMES THAT OUTWORLD HAS TO OFFER. FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, MY ISLAND SHALL BECOME YOUR BATTLEGROUND. SEND YOUR KOMBATANTS TO THE COMMENT SECTION TO MEET CERTAIN DEATH BY LORD REPTILE HIMSELF. HOW WILL EARTHREALM HANDLE THE MOST LITERAL OF ISLAND VIDEO GAME LISTS?

1. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (Wii U)

How could you not want to play The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker if you were trapped on a desert island for eternity? If you can’t sail away and feel the wind of the gods upon your face as you explore the vast open seas, then you might as well just sit there and do just that in a Zelda game. It beats potentially drowning.

THE REPTILE CAN’T SWIM. BETTER SIT INSIDE AND PLAY VIDEO GAMES INSTEAD.

Many people (DUMMIES FOR LACK OF A BETTER WORD) were upset by Wind Waker’s ridiculously fresh and gorgeous cel-shaded visual style. It was quickly labeled a baby’s game by morons who compared it to the darker, more mature looks of Ocarina of Time.

THESE AMATEURS OBVIOUSLY DID NOT MAKE IT FAR ENOUGH INTO THE GAME TO WITNESS THE TOTAL DARKNESS THAT WAS THE EARTH TEMPLE. WHAT A FUN ROMP THROUGH THE CATACOMBS.

If you’ve got a Wii U, then you’re out of excuses: get this game and get lost in the ocean forever.

2. Super Mario Sunshine (Gamecube)

Some fools may argue that Super Mario Galaxy had the edge over Super Mario Sunshine, but they’re wrong.

THE REPTILE WILL NOT HEAR SUCH TALK. KOTAKU SHOULD STICK TO REVIEWING GUNDAM DONUTS AND COLOSSAL TITAN BURGERS.

Super Mario Sunshine is vastly superior to every 3D Mario game, period. It took the already fun and intuitive controls of Super Mario 64, fine-tuned them so they felt perfect, and then gave Mario a sick water jetpack that transforms the foundation of the game into an even more ridiculously fun platformer. But the most obvious strong point is in the graphics and fresh level design. Every stage has its own unique flow and bosses, and you’ll soon unlock all of the levels and have way too many shine sprites to collect. WHAT A FEAST.

The main levels aren’t even half of what this game has to offer. Around the islands there are dozens of challenging mini levels that will put your platforming chops to the test.

Playing this game feels like a vacation from the merciless vacuum of dreary adventure and shooter games saturating the market.

ALL OF THOSE BORING GAMES WITH THEIR BLAH GRAPHICS CRAMP THE REPTILE’S STYLE. SUPER MARIO SUNSHINE LOOKS GREAT AND WILL MAKE YOU FEEL HAPPY.

3. Donkey Kong Country (SNES)

Everyone knows that during the ’90s Mario and Sonic competed directly with one another for the title of heavyweight platforming world champion, but in 1994 a new challenger for the belt emerged from the depths and descended upon them like a gorilla with the strength of a thousand lesser apes: DONKEY KONG COUNTRY. NO ONE HAD EVER SEEN A GAME THAT LOOKED SO GOOD AND HAD SUCH A SWEET SOUNDTRACK. THE REPTILE STILL GETS GOOSEBUMPS ON HIS SCALEY HIDE EVERY TIME HE FIRES UP THIS GROUNDBREAKING GAME.

If you ever watched the Donkey Kong Country promotional VHS tape you had a small inkling of how this title was going to revolutionize platform gaming, but it wasn’t until you were swinging through Jungle Hijinx and smashing through kremlins with Rambi the Rhino that you realized this was a Mario killer. With the combined abilities of DK and his side chimp Diddy Kong, the duo was far cooler than Sonic and Tails. DKC can be beaten easily in a matter of hours if you’re a platforming genius, but very few players will find all the secret areas.

THE KREMLINS MAY BE JEALOUS OF THIS DONKEY KONG’S BANANA HOARD BUT THE REPTILE IS NOT ONE OF THEM. THE REPTILE ONLY EATS MEAT. HE HAS NO USE FOR BANANAS.

4. Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (Gamecube)

HEY LOOK EVERYONE, IT’S SNAKE PLISSKEN AND HE’S HERE TO SAVE THE WORLD FROM A GIANT ROBOT AGAIN.

Whoa, wait, that’s not what happened in Escape From New York. Perhaps the Reptile shouldn’t have been feasting on Hamm’s when he wrote that review.

Solid Snake is Kurt Russell’s name in this story, and this time he’s going to Shadow Moses Island in Alaska to embark on a tactical stealth espionage conquest.

SHADOW MOSES ISLAND. YOU WILL NEVER FIND A MORE WRETCHED HIVE OF CRUMMY FOOT SOLDIERS AND BADASS SUPERVILLAINS. Most of the enemies in this game are just a bunch of generic goofuses, but they have strength in numbers. The members of Fox Hound are the ones who really steal the show with their over-the-top combat abilities and supernatural powers. Every character has their own unique personality that makes for a well-rounded cast that’s often missing from the plot in an average action game.

Stealth games had been around long before Metal Gear Solid, but none of them could match the sheer intensity and brilliant story that the first MGS had to offer. Playing this game is like living an American action movie that’s heavily influenced by anime.

If the playstation version of the game hurts your eyes, there’s a solid remake for the GameCube that uses a visual style similar to the sequel and even boasts the same first-person shooting mode.

5. Resident Evil: Code Veronica (Dreamcast)

Don’t let recent installments to the Resident Evil series fool you. Resident Evil used to be an extremely unique game with a killer atmosphere. It didn’t rely on using overly long and flashy cut scenes throughout the game to tell a story. No, the classic Resident Evil game would have one cheesy opener, and then it would throw the gamer into a survival situation where you had to be just as good at conserving health and ammo as you were at killing enemies. Resident Evil: Code Veronica X was arguably the last classic game of the series before Capcom opted for a behind-the-shoulder action style in Resident Evil 4 on the GameCube.

You start the game as Claire Redfield on a military prison island filled with zombies, zombie dogs, and several new monsters as you try to find a way off the island. They also bring back classic favorites like the Tyrant, who comes after you like a Terminator robot as you try to escape the island. The game is filled with jump scares and hilariously cheesy voice acting throughout, and tons of great gore.

Code Veronica combines everything that made the previous games so compelling and makes the controls much more manageable.

Much to the Reptile’s dismay, the survival horror genre has been buried under action titles posing as horror games.

LEFT 4 DEAD IS NOT SURVIVAL HORROR. IT IS AN ACTION GAME. DEAD RISING IS AN ACTION GAME ABOUT ZOMBIES IN A MALL. ZOMBIE U IS A GAME ABOUT BEATING UP ZOMBIES IN LONDON WITH A CRICKET BAT. THIS IS ALSO NOT SURVIVAL HORROR. STOP MAKING ACTION GAMES ABOUT ZOMBIES. THEY WERE NEVER THAT COOL.

THAT’S ALL FOR NOW, HUMANS, MAYBE NEXT TIME THE REPTILE WILL BESTOW HIS KNOWLEDGE OF SOME CLASSIC GAMES YOU AND YOUR LOSER FRIENDS CAN ALL PLAY.

INDEED, TRUE KOMBAT ONLY OCCURS IN THE MULTIPLAYER REALM. STAY HYPED FOR THE SEQUEL MULTIPLAYER ISLAND: RETURN OF THE DESERT LIZARD.

******

And check out some of Lord Reptile’s previous lists:

Lord Reptile’s 10 Most Sacred 2-D Fighting Games

Press Start: Lord Reptile’s 7 Ultimate Heavy Metal Albums To Begin Your List Quest

Lord Reptile’s Top 5 Apocalypse Movies

The 10 Most Overrated Heavy Metal Guitarists of All Time

The 10 Worst Horror Films on Netflix: Drinking Game Edition

The 10 Most Irritating Fast Food Items You Must Avoid

Do you disagree with the selections? Would you like to start a new debate of your own about the best in a particular category? Contact the Swindle Bros and their loyal colleague/assassin Lord Reptile with your ideas and challenges: TheSwindleBros @ Yahoo.com. Image illustration via Geek Improvement.  

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5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics

Saturday, March 7th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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WARNING: this post contains plot spoilers! If you haven’t seen Big Hero 6, go watch it – RIGHT NOW! – and then come back to read this.

I recently watched Disney’s latest Oscar-winning animated feature Big Hero 6 for the first (and second) time. I loved the film so much that I watched it twice in less than 24 hours. The story of Hiro Hamada, his robot buddy Baymax, and their college pals who become unwitting superheroes surprised me in so many ways that I believe Big Hero 6 deserves a place among the classics of Disney animation, and here are a few reasons why.

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5. Big Hero 6 contains some of the most appealing characters Disney has introduced in a long time.

Over nearly a century, Disney has brought us some memorable and wonderful characters, and though the Big Hero 6 originated in the Marvel universe, the characters in the film Big Hero 6 wind up being some of the best Disney characters in recent memory.

Hiro takes many character tropes – the young teen, the plucky orphan, the prodigious genius – and overcomes them with his sense of wonder at the world around him. Tadashi’s selfless nature manifests itself beautifully in his love for his brother, and Aunt Cass is both high-strung and grounded as guardian of her nephews.

Hiro and Tadashi’s friends are terrific characters in their own right. Go-Go counters her surface misanthropy by revealing her heart at just the right times, while Honey Lemon breaks through a vapid exterior with intellect and concern for others. Wasabi’s quirky neuroses belie a maturity that drives him, while Fred proves he’s more than just an apparent stoner ne’er-do-well.

And then there’s Baymax, my personal favorite. His robotic deadpan turns out to be the perfect delivery for some of the movie’s best lines (what he mines from a simple “oh no” is worth its weight in gold). Baymax proves that artificial intelligence can generate genuine heart.

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4. The self-esteem message in Big Hero 6 contains more substance than anything else in our culture today.

Nowadays pop culture tends to send the same message to young people – embrace your weirdness, let your freak flag fly. It seems like films, music, and television tell our kids that unless they’re an oddball in some way they’ll never fit it.

Big Hero 6 conveys a self-esteem message that runs counter to current pop culture: the notion that everyone has talents and ways that they can make the world a better place. Sure, the Big Hero 6 are weird, but their value lies not in embracing their weirdness but in the skills and knowledge they possess (or, to paraphrase Tadashi, their big brains). That’s a message that carries more substance than the freak flag ever will.

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3. Big Hero 6 appeals to boys better than most of Disney’s prior attempts.

Let’s face it: Disney’s animated output has been princess-centric since the beginning, and it seems like the studio has upped the ante since discovering the princesses’ marketing power a few years back. Disney has attempted to appeal directly to boys over the years, but for various reasons, those attempts haven’t really stuck long term.

As wonderful as The Sword In The Stone is, it has never ranked among the classics with long-term staying power. The Black Cauldron? Nope, too dark. Unfortunately, Aladdin has had to suffer the “Princess Movie” label, despite the fact that the protagonist and titular character is a guy. The Lion King is one of the rare Disney “boy movies” that rank among the classics, and I firmly believe Big Hero 6 will join that short list.

Big Hero 6 is the total package for a guy’s movie: edge-of-the-seat action, high and low comedy, and a heroes-versus-villains tension (even if the villain’s evil is driven by family revenge). The movie balances these elements with the right amount of heart, as well as including sly jokes that parents can laugh along with. I feel strongly that the film has the kind of staying power that will resist changing trends and attitudes, despite it’s current cutting-edge style.

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2. There are elements of countercultural conservatism in Big Hero 6.

Whether the filmmakers intended them or not, we can find threads in Big Hero 6 that suggest countercultural conservative themes. I’ve already discussed the unique (and positive) message of self-esteem we see in the film. We also see evidence of the value of hard work and perseverance when Baymax shows Hiro the footage of Tadashi working on his prized robot.

In spite of his off-the-charts intelligence (the kid graduated high school at 13, for crying out loud!), Hiro must work hard to produce a unique invention to ensure his admission into the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology’s robotics program. He even receives in invitation to work with the billionaire industrialist Alistair Krei as a result of his presentation.

The most interesting countercultural conservative thread runs through the villain story. When Alistair Krei approaches Hiro after his robotics presentation, the earnest Professor Callaghan decries Krei as a selfish robber baron. Yet the villain turns out to be Callaghan, and Krei is his target. It’s also worth noting that, with Krei’s obvious success, his major failure is the government-sponsored teleportation project.

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1. Big Hero 6 conveys a message about innovation that would make Walt himself proud.

One underlying – and possibly intentional – lesson from Big Hero 6 has to do with innovation, and the movie delivers it in a way that would make Walt and his inner circle proud.

For starters, the competition which results in Hiro’s admission to SFIT is one where prospective students seek to create truly innovative robotics applications, and Hiro wins over both Krei and Professor Callaghan with his microbots. But the kicker is Tadashi’s encouragment to Hiro which leads to his invention of the microbots.

When Hiro hits a dead end in coming up with ideas for the competition, Tadashi gives his younger brother advice in an unusual way:

Tadashi: Hey, I’m not giving up on you.

[Tadashi grabs Hiro by the ankles and hangs him upside-down over his shoulders. He begins jumping around the room, with Hiro flopping behind him.]

Hiro: Ahhǃ What are you doing?

Tadashi: Shake things up! Use that big brain of yours to think your way out!

Hiro: What?

Tadashi: Look for a new angle.

[Hiro groans and decides to humor Tadashi. He looks around the room from a new angle and spots Megabot. He gets an idea.]

Tadashi’s advice would make Walt proud and even reads like a page out of The Imagineering Way. Hiro dishes it out when the team runs up against trouble in their battle against Callaghan. He tells the team, “Listen up! Use those big brains of yours to think your way around the problem! Look for a new angle!”

And while we’re at it, let’s consider the coolest innovation of all – Baymax. Tadashi set out to help people, and in doing so he created the ultimate innovation in health care, one that didn’t require massive federal bureaucracy.

I’m telling you, Walt would be proud.

*******

Please join the discussion on TwitterThe essay above is the twelfth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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Press Start: Lord Reptile’s 7 Ultimate Heavy Metal Albums To Begin Your List Quest

Friday, March 6th, 2015 - by Jeremy Swindle

All of you feeble mortals can consider this list Lord Reptile’s love letter to classic heavy metal albums. The Reptile does not necessarily like any genre of metal more than the other, but that might be because the standards that he holds metal to are actually quite narrow. If you want to begin to have a true grasping of what metal is, you must go back to the beginning. Only then will you notice when some heavy blues and psychedelic rock bands shed their flower rock influences and evolved into something darker and much heavier.

1. Judas Priest – Stained Class (1978)

Judas Priest may have been the most important band when it came to the full realization of heavy metal in the eighties. Their album Stained Class is but one of several monstrous heavy metal albums that they released back when heavy metal was only a term and had yet to be truly defined. But Stained Class was far more metal than anything that came before it.

From that often-imitated double kick bass at the beginning of “Exciter,” to Rob Halford’s hair-raising falsetto screams throughout the entire album, or Glen Tipton and KK Downing’s blazing riffwork on tracks like “Savage” and “Beyond the Realms of Death,” this album appeals to the heavy metal maniac in all of us.

Essential Tracks for biker metallers: “Exciter,” “Better By You,” “Better Me,” “Savage,” “Beyond the Realms of Death”

2. Motorhead – Overkill  (1979)

If Stained Class raised the question “Just how much is a 70’s heavy metal band capable of?” Then Motorhead’s Overkill album is the answer. Although Lemmy may simply refer to Motorhead’s music as “Rock n’ roll,” this album is the closest sounding thing to speed metal. If Black Sabbath is responsible for creating heavy metal, then Motorhead invented speed metal. With those punk-influenced lyrics and fast tempos, Motorhead was arguably the biggest band to influence thrash metal until Venom released their debut Welcome to Hell. Overkill is the perfect album for going fast.

Best tracks for going fast: ”Overkill,” “Stay Clean,” “(I Won’t) Pay Your Price,” “No Class,” “Damage Case”

3. Rainbow – Rainbow Rising (1976)

Ritchie Blackmore was arguably just as important as Tony Iommi when it came to his influence on heavy metal. Deep Purple’s early albums were ridiculously abrasive for early 70’s hard rock, and Ian Gillan’s high-pitched shrieking left a huge impression that would later influence falsetto giants like Halford and King Diamond.

But why would the Reptile review one of Deep Purple’s albums when Rainbow Rising is vastly superior? As much as I acknowledge Ian Gillan as one of the very first metal vocalists, he has nothing on Ronnie James Dio. Before Dio’s solo band, before he replaced Duke Osbourne in Black Sabbath, RJD had already established himself as the greatest heavy metal singer of all time in Rainbow.

Personally, my favorite release from them is the live album Rainbow On Stage but I’ll talk about that at another time. When you hear the song “Stargazer” you’ll be hooked on Rainbow Rising. That was the first epic metal song ever made. Ritchie Blackmore’s neo-classical harmonic minor scale abuse, which was somewhat rare at the time save for Uli Jon Roth’s early mastery of shred, also served as an influence to the power metal genre.

Top tracks to listen to while praising Lord Dio: ”Tarot Woman,” “Starstruck,” “Stargazer”

4. Black Sabbath – Master of Reality (1971)

Black Sabbath’s debut is widely recognized to be the very first heavy metal album, making Black Sabbath the very first metal band. But it wasn’t until a year later that Reptile is convinced the master doom rockers released the album that truly DEFINED heavy metal once and for all: Master of Reality. This was the very first metal album young Reptile bought on vinyl.

When Sweet Leaf comes on you know this is the album that if it could talk, its breath would reek of liquor, stale beer and great weed. Sweet Leaf was the first anthem of stoner doom metal. The galloping song of doom that is “Children of the Grave” might as well be my funeral dirge. Then you flip the side and “Lord of this World” comes on and crushes that nerd Eric Clapton and his silly flower rock band Cream into bits. As the placid flute ballad Solitude comes on take a minute to reflect on your pathetic life until the low tuned opening riff of “Into the Void” lurches into the scene like a George Romero zombie. Near the end As Lord Iommi rips some nonsensical guitar solo over Master Butler’s heavy bassline you ponder if this flawless slab of metal could have come from human hands. Well they didn’t: Tony Iommi’s fingertips are fake.

Best tracks to listen to while blazing: EVERY SONG. THE REPTILE ENDORSES EVERY SINGLE SONG ON LORD IOMMI, MASTER BUTLER AND DUKE OSBOURNE’S TIMELESS METAL MASTERPIECE.

5. Mercyful Fate – Melissa (1983)

Heavy metal simply doesn’t get much better than Mercyful Fate. King Diamond is arguably the most iconic frontman of all time. His early lyrics focused on themes of Satanism and witchcraft, and this album stands out for telling a story of sorts. Concept albums were an almost non-existent gimmick in metal at the time, as was corpsepaint. Mercyful Fate was really the first band of their kind. To this day I still think King Diamond is one of the only legitimate heavy metal musicians to use corpsepaint.

But when you peel away all the theatrics and evil lyrics, you’re left with an undeniably solid heavy metal band. Hank Shermann and Michael Denner are easily one of the most underrated guitar duos in the genre. The solo exchange in “Evil” can match the intensity of any Judas Priest or Iron Maiden solo. Mercyful Fate’s twin guitar approach was as groundbreaking as it was heavy and melodic.

Top tracks for your Halloween metal playlist: ”Evil,” “Curse of the Pharaohs,” “Black Funeral,” “Satan’s Fall”

6. Iron Maiden – Killers (1981)

Iron Maiden’s last album before their acrimonious split with frontman Paul Di’anno is one of the last truly memorable albums of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). Although Bruce Dickinson was definitely the right frontman for Maiden and they went on to create some of the greatest ’80s metal albums with him, to me Killers stands out by representing everything that one could possibly hope for in a NWOBHM album.

The sheer intensity of Di’anno’s vocals on tracks like “Wrathchild” and the titular track are simply unmatched. Steve Harris serves as an example to all bassists that even when there’s two dueling guitarists like Adrian Smith and Dave Murray trying to blow everyone away it’s those galloping and abrasive bass licks that really make the songs move. “Genghis Khan” is also arguably the finest instrumental heavy metal song of all time, very technical but also unforgettable.

Top tracks to listen to while stalking the subway: ”Wrathchild,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “Another Life,” “Genghis Khan,” “Killers,” “Purgatory,” “Twilight Zone” (special edition only)

7. Angel Witch – Angel Witch (1980)

The most heroic sounding band of the NWOBHM was years ahead of everyone else when it comes to their heavy riff game. If you don’t get hyped when you hear the first solo on the title track you should probably check to make sure you still have a pulse. Guitarist/vocalist Kevin Heybourne sings in the melodic yet gritty style that NWOBHM is known for but his high-pitched wailing is a far cry from that of Biff Byford of Saxon or Paul Di  Anno of Iron Maiden. Still, he makes up for this with his fantasy-themed lyrics and the fact that he’s handling both lead and rhythm guitar duties while still being a competent vocalist.

Tracks for NWOBHM enthusiasts: ”Angel Witch,” “Atlantis,” “White Witch,” “Gorgon”

******

This article begins PJ Lifestyle’s Culture List Project, in which we begin looking backward at the section’s previous years of lists that argued about and ranked everything in popular culture, while also starting to think about the future for new approaches to the infamous “Listicle” genre that has come to conquer the internet both to jeers and applause.

What pop culture lists and debates do you want to have at PJ Lifestyle in the future? We want to figure out the best, worst, most overrated/underrated across all categories and genres. Movies, TV, Video Games, Food, Books, People, Culture and History — on Fridays it’s List Day. Get in touch with The Brothers Swindle on Twitter with your suggestions and ideas for what you want to read and argue about. (Submissions can be emailed to DaveSwindlePJM AT Gmail.com Here’s an assortment of Lifestyle lists across genres to chew on in the meantime:

Lord Reptile’s Top 5 Apocalypse Movies

The 20 Best Films of the 1930s

The 10 Most Overrated Heavy Metal Guitarists of All Time

The 10 Most Cringe-Worthy TV Flops

10 Movies Much Sexier Than Fifty Shades of Grey

The 20 Best Films of the 2000s

4 Fallacies Killing Feminism

The 10 Worst Horror Films on Netflix: Drinking Game Edition

The 10 Most Underrated Movies of 2014

13 Reasons to Fall in Love with Lana Del Rey

15 Songs Millennials Must Listen to in Order to Understand the 1980s

The 10 Most Irritating Fast Food Items You Must Avoid

The 20 Best Films of the 1990s

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Lord Reptile’s Top 5 Apocalypse Movies

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015 - by Jeremy Swindle

You’re reading the concluding post for Preparedness Week, a weeklong series of blogs about disaster and emergency preparation inspired by the launch of Freedom Academy’s newest e-book, Surviving the End: A Practical Guide for Everyday Americans in the Age of Terrorby James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. You can download the e-book exclusively at the PJ Store here.

5. Mortal Kombat

If the apocalypse means having my skull smashed open on the rocks by Goro while Napalm Death plays then count me in. After all, Reptile is just Shang Tsung’s humble bodyguard for swatting down mortal weaklings in this film. The Reptile can take a few body slams with no problem.

Anyway, if you’re unfamiliar with the Mortal Kombat video games’ plot it shouldn’t matter. The movie involves a brutal tournament between the mortals of Earthrealm and Shang Tsung’s flunkies of Outworld. If Earth’s warriors lose the 10th tournament, the emperor Shao Khan becomes the ruler of Earthrealm.

I’m not going to spoil the ending but it should be fairly obvious that a certain Shaolin monk by the name of Louis Kang lays the smack down on the evil sorcerer and reappears for the sequel, Annihilation. This is the only proper MK film. Don’t bother with any others.

Mortal Kombat is a fine apocalyptic movie for parties or any situation.

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The 20 Best Films of the 1930s

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 - by Kyle Smith

Editor’s Note: This is the last list in Kyle Smith’s series ranking films by decade, an expansion of his top 10 films of the 1930s list from July of 2014 here. Previously he expanded his ’00s list to a top 20 herehis ’90s list here, his ’80s list here, his ’70s list here, his ’60s list here, his ’50s list here, and his ’40s list here. Also see his list of the Click here to read “What Makes a Great Movie?,” Kyle’s essay explaining his criteria for these lists.

20. Duck Soup (1933)

The Marx Brothers’ freewheeling word association, irreverence and physical comedy were all in high gear in their funniest film, in which Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, the appointed ruler of the fictional land of Freedonia. The much-imitated mirror scene is a tour de force of precision physical comedy.

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R40: The 6 Best Rush Albums

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - by J. Christian Adams

This summer Rush launches the R40 tour celebrating 40 years as a band. The Canadian trio was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, years after other acts like ABBA, Jefferson Airplane and Grandmaster Flash were inducted.  Unlike those era-centric acts, Rush has 24 Gold, 14 Platinum and three multiplatinum albums spread across 40 years. Their most recent studio album, Clockwork Angels, debuted at #2 on Billboard’s 200 album chart in 2013. Only the Beatles and Rolling Stones have more consecutive gold and platinum albums.

Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart have been producing music since they they first took the stage together at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena in August 1974. Peart was the new guy in the band then, but has since become its voice, penning lyrics that made hipster critics cringe – touching on, in chronological order – Tolkien, male baldness, the Solar Federation, starship Rocinante, forced equality of outcome, FM rock, automobile bans, Space Shuttle Columbia, concentration camps (Lee’s parents survived Auschwitz), Enola Gay, China, clever anagrams, chance, AIDS, the internet, expectations shattered by 9-11, more expectations shattered and finally, carnies.  It’s hard to find a list of rock’s greatest drummers that doesn’t include Neil Peart.

Over the decades, hipster critics praised acts like Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and the Talking Heads while they mocked Rush. But 40 years later, Rush fills arenas and tops album charts, forever reinventing a sound that defies categorization. It’s just Rush.

This summer, you can catch Rush in hockey arenas as well as lots of outdoor venues starting May 8.  Here’s a PJ Lifestyle ranking of the six most important (and best) Rush albums.

6. Roll the Bones (1991)

Roll the Bones is the album where Rush got its groove back.  The first Rush album to hit the Billboard Top 5 since Moving Pictures (eventually going Platinum) Roll the Bones marked the end of a ramble through the electronic wilderness where the songwriting and the sonic grandeur returned. After Moving Pictures in 1981, Rush released a series of roaming (yet often very good) albums dabbling or drenched in synthesizer and driven by aural tones rather than raw guitar energy. Grace Under Pressure, for example, was a very good, but very alienating work. By the time Hold Your Fire was released in 1987, the biggest rock power trio was drowning in synth. Presto in 1989 broke free from the trend with excellent songs that were shrunken by timid production.  It was Roll the Bones where it all finally came together.

“Dreamline” received massive radio airplay in an era when massive radio airplay mattered. “You Bet Your Life” is about how everyone rolls the bones on their life, they take their chances and either win or lose. “Heresy” might be the only rock song about the fall of Soviet Communism:

The counter-revolution/ at the counter of a store/ people smiling through their tears/ who can given them back their lives/ and all their wasted years?

The album is simply filled with good songs, period.

Highlights: “Dreamline,” “Bravado,” “The Big Wheel.”

We travel in the dark of the new moon
A starry highway traced on the map of the sky
Like lovers and heroes, lonely as eagle’s cry
We’re only at home when we’re on the fly, on the fly

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The 13 Most Shocking Insanity Pleas: Does Chris Kyle’s Killer Qualify?

Saturday, February 14th, 2015 - by Alex Shelby

#Honor #ChrisKyle and #ChadLittlefield

A photo posted by Andrew (@andrewdecker593) on

Since the release of the movie American Sniper a collective interest has surrounded the trial of Eddie Ray Routh, the killer of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield. Now that Routh’s trial is officially underway, his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity provokes a sense of, shall we say, injustice.

Less than 1% of defendants charged with homicide attempt the insanity plea, and about 25% of them are actually successful. This comes out to about 25 murderers annually in the United States who end up in a mental hospital rather than a prison. Nearly half of the residents in mental hospitals are there as a result of a crime conviction, misdemeanors and felonies alike.

So where does Routh fit in to this mix? How does his case compare to some of the most notorious insanity pleas and, based on what we currently know, will he be able to avoid prison?

1. Andrew Goldstein (1999)

Exhibiting behavior consistent with schizophrenia, Andrew Goldstein shoved a woman into the path of an oncoming N train in New York. Prior to this murder he voluntarily attempted to check himself into a mental hospital 13 times, but was put on a waiting list due to overcrowding.

Verdict: Guilty – 25 years to life (he eventually admitted to being consciously aware of his actions)

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The 10 Most Overrated Heavy Metal Guitarists of All Time

Friday, February 13th, 2015 - by Jeremy Swindle

Editor’s Note: this list is an expansion of “The 5 Most Overrated Guitarists in Heavy Metal“ from earlier this month. It’s also a continuation of an on-going series exploring the highs and lows of the genre. Send Jeremy your ideas and arguments for which bands and albums are worthy of praise and others in need of rhetorical decapitations. He can be challenged to battle on Twitter here.

Due to the commotion that was roused in the comments section by Lord Reptile’s Guitar list, he has returned with a vastly superior lineup this time. Lord Reptile enjoyed reading your petty squabbles and thought it appropriate to KO 5 more guitar players. Lord Reptile is a generous god.

Every guitarist on this list (except maybe the dude from Avenged Sevenfold) was hugely influential to Reptile when it came to learning how to play guitar. That being said, as a musician it’s very important to look at other musicians objectively and poke fun at each other’s antics from time to time.

If you can’t handle some internet writer’s witty jabs to your guitar idol then maybe you’re just better off hiding under your bed until your mom says it’s okay to use the computer again.

No disrespect is intended towards anyone here unless they have stupid hair or tribal tattoos.

10. Nigel Tufnel (Spinal Tap)

Spinal Tap is an absolute rubbish band. The fact that they cannot even function on the same level of stupidity without lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel is quite pathetic, really. His solos are among the clumsiest in heavy metal, one is almost reminded of master Angus Young but without any sense of finesse or substance.

And then there’s his infamous guitar solo where he kicks a guitar on the ground and plays his main guitar with a fiddle. I know it’s a joke, but let’s be honest: he probably couldn’t play an impressive, self-indulgent guitar solo even if he had a sheet of acid in his headband.

9. Richie Faulkner (Judas Priest)

Come on, Judas Priest chose this scrub to replace the retired master KK Downing? What were they thinking? They probably could have picked any world-class guitarist, but no, they had to choose this nobody. The fact that Richie Faulkner was the guitarist who composed Christopher Lee’s cringe-inducing Christmas metal album should have been a huge red flag.

Priest simply just does not have the same blazing, dual-guitar approach that helped make them the greatest heavy metal band of the ’70s. On the one hand you had Glenn Tipton’s superior finesse and melodic soloing, and then BAM, KK Downing kicks you in the face shredding on the other channel playing the most passionate rock ‘n’ roll guitar solo to finish off the exchange. Glenn and KK played off each other brilliantly, and that’s sadly missing from the newest Priest album. Hopefully Lord Halford will release a new solo album because he’s still shattering skulls with his screams of vengeance.

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10 Movies Much Sexier Than Fifty Shades of Grey

Friday, February 13th, 2015 - by Kyle Smith

The erotic bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey has hit the screen with some sizzling bedroom (and dungeon) action featuring leads Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as a naive college student and a zillionaire with peculiar bedroom demands. Let’s take a look back at the sexiest mainstream movies (not counting outright porn) ever made.

10. Body Double (1984)

Brian De Palma’s fixation on Alfred Hitchcock drove his sexy 1980 thriller Dressed to Kill, which was obviously inspired by Psycho, and also this even more erotically charged thriller, which was an homage to both Rear Window and Vertigo. Deborah Shelton plays the dancing neighbor whose nightly routine attracts the voyeuristic attention of a journeyman actor (Craig Wasson) who discovers a strange link between the girl he watches through the telescope and a porn star (Melanie Griffith, then a red-hot ingenue). 

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Looking for Something to Netflix this Weekend? Here Are the 10 Best Films of the 2010s

Friday, January 30th, 2015 - by Kyle Smith

Editor’s Note: This is one of the last lists in Kyle Smith’s series ranking films by decade. Recently he expanded his ’00s list to a top 20 here, his ’90s list here, his ’80s list here, his ’70s list here, his ’60s list here, his ’50s list here, and his ’40s list here. Do you disagree with Kyle’s choices? Do you have your own ideas for lists of movies or other cultural subjects? Which years and what subjects would you most like to see covered at PJ Lifestyle? Email: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com. Also check out Kyle’s top 10 movie picks for the ‘30s before he expands them to a top 20 too, completing the series. Click here to read “What Makes a Great Movie?,” Kyle’s essay explaining his criteria for these lists.

The second decade of the century has seen a surge in effects-driven, superhero-centric movies. But that’s okay, because there is so much money floating around the system that talented independent filmmakers seem to have little difficulty evading the strictures of the popularity-chasing studio system and producing personal artistic statements. Moreover, the blockbusters are pretty good too: they’ve gotten increasingly sophisticated and now attract some of the best writers and directors. Here’s one critic’s look at the best films of the first half of the 2010s:

10. War Horse (2011)

Looking at WW I’s madness, evil and destruction through the eyes of an innocent beast, Steven Spielberg’s best film since Catch Me If You Can resonated like a parable. Only rarely does a war film take in such a broad panorama.

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10 Science-Themed Rock Songs For Your Internet Debates

Thursday, January 29th, 2015 - by Allston

Back when, I was a Moderator/Science Expert at a certain large, science-themed message board. Here and there, debate points would be illustrated by a person’s posting a piece of music to illustrate their points, or to emphasize what they were stating, or just because. It’s all good.

There has been the all-too frequent debate over, “what would a helicopter do on the moon?”  Billy Preston essentially nailed the question.

1. Billy Preston – “Go round in Circles”:

I wanted the SSC. I needed the SSC. Sadly, it was not to be. We were fools, because we instead spent the money on what? Paying to study gay whales in Patagonia?

2. Tribe – “Supercollider”:

We know that Closed Timelike Curves are possible, as well as other, more esoteric methods of time-travel not precluded by the Standard Model.  Listen, if you find a blue police box in your den, just go for it. We won’t think the lesser of you, assuming that you ever return.

3. Timelords – Doctoring the Tardis”:

Who knew that Vanadium and Americium could be so…entertaining?

4. Tom Lehrer – “Elements”:

He is simply insane. Then again, Brain does, in fact, match the personality of many a multiply-degreed scientist I’d worked with. Come to think of it, I also recollect some graduate students who bore a close resemblance to Pinky too.

5. Pinky and the Brain – “Brainstem”:

Scientists can be like that – think up some astounding idea, and be so fixated on it that they’ll walk out into moving traffic while pondering it all.

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5 Songs for Surviving a Blizzard

Monday, January 26th, 2015 - by Allston

Written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in July 1945, during a heat wave, no less:

1. Frank Sinatra – “Let It Snow”

A call-and-response duet, in which the male singer tries to convince the female to stay at home for a romantic evening, because the weather is so fierce:

2. Ray Charles and Betty Carter – “Baby It’s Cold Outside”

What with two (plus) feet on the white stuff en route, oh yes, we will all assuredly be “blue”:

3. Muddy Waters – “Cold Weather Blues”

The 1933 song was featured in the 1943 movie of the same name:

4. Etta James – “Stormy Weather”

From a master of cool jazz for a cold day:

5.  Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond – “Wintersong”

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The 20 Best Films of the 2000s

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015 - by Kyle Smith

Editor’s Note: This is an expansion of Kyle Smith’s list of the 10 best films of the 2000s published here in July 2014. I’ve asked Kyle to expand his series as PJ Lifestyle begins offering more lists, articles, essays, and blog posts exploring culture, art, technology, and history by decade. Recently he expanded his ’80s list to a top 20 here, his ’70s list here, his ’60s list here, his ’50s list here, his ’90s list here, and his ’40s list here. Do you disagree with Kyle’s choices? Do you have your own ideas for lists of movies or other cultural subjects? Which years and what subjects would you most like to see covered at PJ Lifestyle? Email: DaveSwindlePJM [@] gmail.com. Also check out Kyle’s top 10 movie picks for the ‘30s before he expands them to a top 20 too, completing the series. Click here to read “What Makes a Great Movie?,” Kyle’s essay explaining his criteria for these lists.

20. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

A glorious union of Eastern martial arts and Hollywood production values, Ang Lee’s timeless 18th century story is magical, exciting, romantic and sweeping, one of the most beautiful and bewitching action films ever made. 

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Which of These 7 Versions of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony Is Your Favorite?

Monday, January 5th, 2015 - by PJ Lifestyle Classical Music In the Morning

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The 10 Most Underrated Movies of 2014

Friday, January 2nd, 2015 - by Kyle Smith

You’ve seen the superhero movies, but what about all the great films that didn’t have $50 million marketing budgets or didn’t attract much of an audience? There were plenty of sleepers in 2014, and many of them are now available on home video or on streaming services such as Netflix. Here are some don’t-miss films.

10. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Chris Pine isn’t much of an actor to play the Tom Clancy take on James Bond, but in this origins story Pine isn’t expected to be Harrison Ford but merely the fresh-faced, slightly nervous young recruit just gaining his footing. A careful, methodical spy thriller that puts story over cheap thrills, Kenneth Branagh’s film features an able supporting cast including Kevin Costner as the mentor, Keira Knightley as a wily girlfriend and Branagh himself as a Russian terrorist with a plan to kneecap the U.S. economy.

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7 New Year’s Resolutions for Conservatives

Thursday, January 1st, 2015 - by Paula Bolyard

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The conservative movement faces many challenges as we turn the calendar to 2015. There are ongoing battles with those on the left who think we are stupid or evil (or both) and with those in the Republican Party who find more in common with the big-government Democrats than with those on the right who favor smaller government and traditional values. As we look forward to a new year, it’s a good time for all of us to consider how we can be more effective activists, so I offer a list of some areas for improvement. This is in no way an indictment of the entire conservative movement or an attempt to stereotype anyone — I am fully aware that most movement conservatives already do these things. But I’ve needed to work on all of them at one time or another (and need to do so on a continuing basis) and so I thought perhaps they might inspire you to set some new goals for 2015.

1. Talk to People with Whom You Disagree

It’s tempting to think of people on the other side of the political spectrum — both those in the other party and those within our own party — as enemies. And while it’s true that there are some extremists who are literally trying to destroy this country from the top down (and the bottom up), the vast majority of people we have disagreements with are really decent people who see the world differently than we do. They have children and families and go to work every day and really do want to make the world a better place, however misguided their efforts may be.

The truth is we have very deep divides in this country and they’re not going to be healed if we demonize our opponents and shun dialogue, so let’s resolve to have more meaningful conversations with those on the other side of the political spectrum in 2015.

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The 10 Most Essential Christmas Specials and Holiday Movies

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

Editor’s Note: This article was first published as “Essential Christmas: The 10 Best Holiday Specials And Movies” in 2011 and is now resurrected and republished as part of today and tomorrow’s Ghost-Lists of Christmas Past Series.

In a day when parents and children rarely watch the same TV shows, Christmas TV specials and holiday movies still somehow manage to continue to bring families together.

These days it’s even easier than it used to be to share these traditions. ABC Family has made an art out of holiday programming with their “25 Days of Christmas” programming blocs that package specials throughout the month of December. Home video and streaming services also allow families to watch programs whenever they want.

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m offering to you this list of the ten most essential specials and movies of the season.

We’ll start with a pair of very different types of animation from a production company synonymous with Christmas specials…

10. The Year Without A Santa Claus

Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass are synonymous with their stop-motion Christmas specials of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Viewers not familiar with their names will recognize their unmistakable round-headed characters, candy-colored landscapes, and softly falling snow. A few of their specials are on this list, starting with The Year Without A Santa Claus.

In this 1974 special, Mrs. Claus (voiced by Shirley Booth) tells the story of the year Santa (voiced by Mickey Rooney) decides — on doctor’s orders — to take a vacation. Two of his elves and the young reindeer Vixen take a trip to find enough Christmas spirit to cheer Santa up. Along their way, the elves battle the Heat Miser and Snow Miser and visit Southtown, USA, where they get lost. Santa journeys south to find Vixen and discovers that the children of the world need him. He can’t skip Christmas.

The Year Without A Santa Claus is a clever story with some memorable scenes and catchy songs, including those involving the villains.

It’s not as ubiquitous as Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer or Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, but The Year Without A Santa Claus is trippy holiday fun.

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12 Wonderful Christmas Songs

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 - by Allston

An Irving Berlin song about an old, traditional Christmas, this was one of the wonderful songs featured in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, this is the number one hit single of all time, with over 50 million copies of the Bing Crosby version sold, and over 100 million counting all of the remakes.

1. Bing Crosby – “White Christmas”

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