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JASON MAKES UP SOME YEAR-END CRAP!

Year end lists are always the shits. You forget things, you can’t rank them right – a person could obsess about the whole thing for weeks. I’m sure anyone who reads this will tell me I’m wrong – but isn’t that the whole point of the Year in Review thing when you’re the “critic”? You put up the list, and people tell you you’re wrong?

Might be tougher to do to me than it is to assault the CHUD staff’s Top 15 lists – I created dumb categories for mine, which makes them confusing and allows me to hedge my bets. On top of that, I’m speaking to more of the significance of the release rather than the quality of the film itself – which further complicates things. Enjoy!

THE “THE MOST GORGEOUS BLU” PRIZE:

THE AVENGERS

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GAME OF THRONES: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

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Modern/current stuff should look fantastic – but in the case of both of these titles, I was astounded by the vast improvement over their initial debuts. Avengers is a typically wondrous Disney master, and the home 3D is immersive and expansive, and Game of Thrones is warmer and colder, richer and deeper and mistier than its HBO presentation. It looks so much better than broadcast that I dropped HBO and figure I’ll just buy the season sets as they come. I want to watch the series in the best possible quality – and that’s Blu.

BEFORE ‘13 IS DONE:

With all this talk about 48fps/HFR as wondrous/ruinous, will The Hobbit be 2013’s most visually stunning home video release? Will Wreck-It Ralph astound? How about Gatsby?

THE “THEY FINALLY DID IT” PRIZE:

BATTLE ROYALE

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UNIVERSAL CLASSIC MONSTERS: THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION

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For one brief moment, Anchor Bay became what it once was and pulled out all the stops to release Kinji Fukasaku’s cult classic to DVD and Blu Ray, while Universal reanimated their legendary monsters with intense new high-tech restoration projects, including an astonishing 3D presentation for the original Creature from the Black Lagoon. Universal claimed that the previous DVD remasters didn’t justify their costs. They changed their tune in this, their anniversary year – but it’s up to us to show them that the treatment was deserved. So do.

BEFORE ‘13 IS DONE:

I wish Warner Brothers would get off their asses and give Ridley Scott a shot at restoring Blade Runner, ‘cause – well…they’ve simply not exploited that film to its potential on home video

THE “I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY DID IT” PRIZE:

DEATH WISH 3

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FIVE ELEMENTS NINJAS

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MIAMI CONNECTION

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RED SCORPION

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ROADRACERS

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THEY LIVE

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The masters may not look like The Avengers, but in most cases, it’s sorta’ miraculous these films exist on Blu Ray at all at all. Death Wish 3 is bare bones, and doesn’t really look like much – but every once in awhile it gives you that Blu Ray pop. Five Elements Ninjas was once a pan-and-scan, dead-color big-box VHS release that gets a glorious widescreen treatment and a vibrant color pass – and becomes an entirely new film in the process…Miami Connection was released to tape via Columbia/Tri Star home video in the late ‘80s and finally sees the 21st century via hipster label Mondo…Red Scorpion is given a fantastic master and cultural context with an enlightening interview with disgraced lobbyist/producer Jack Abramoff…Roadracers was prepped for a Blu bow before the Weinies got kicked to the curb by Disney, so the Echo Bridge release is better than you expect for a tiny film (that happens to be one of Rodriguez’s best) from a dogshit label…

But the real blessing here is Shout/Scream Factory’s superlative work on They Live. With an excellent transfer, a commentary (ported from Momentum’s Euro DVD) every bit as good if not better than Carp and Kurt’s collaborations, and some sharp talking heads via Michael Felsher’s always excellent Red Shirt Pictures, this classic film finally sees the release it has always been owed.

The only drawback is the new cover art that looks like it belongs on the side of a van. Nathan Thomas Milliner should be the only guy for that job from now on.

BEFORE ‘13 IS DONE:

Shout needs to license Streets of Fire from Universal. Give us a Pare/Lane/Dafoe/Madigan commentary, Walter Hill interview, Dave Alvin/Blasters career retrospective, vintage EPK and music videos, and Expanded Soundtrack/Score package featuring Ry Cooder’s fantastic music for the film.

That said – we can count on them to deliver a great new Night of the Comet disc. They just need to hire me on for the new cover (I know I said Milliner was a must, but here’s the one exception).

Finally, maybe Mondo can “discover” the amazing King of the Kickboxers starring Billy Blanks and Loren Avedon before the year is out?

THE “THEY FINALLY GOT IT RIGHT” PRIZE:

THE GAME

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THE FRENCH CONNECTION

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OUTLAND

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PATTON

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Each of these films have had tortured life cycles on home video. But this year, Voyager finally re-upped on the rights to The Game. Fox corrected the DNR’d-to-Hades Blu of Patton and fixed Friedkin’s French fiasco, and Warners buried the awful non-anamorphic Outland DVD, granting Peter Hyams otherworldy western (and great companion piece to Alien) a new lease on life. These films finally have the home video releases they deserve.

BEFORE ‘13 IS DONE:

Two words: THE FUCKING ABYSS.

I guess that’s three, but seriously – C’MONNN!

THE “DID THEY SHOOT THIS YESTERDAY” PRIZE:

CHINATOWN

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JAWS

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LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

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Chinatown was the beneficiary of a sterling high-def remastering, while Jaws and Lawrence underwent full-blown restoration from vault elements. The results truly speak to the “timeless” nature of the films – as they look so clean, clear, and vibrant they feel as though they were recently-produced period pieces. The only tip-off Chinatown gives you is that its lead actually seems invested in the material instead of going through the motions and grinning like a dick.

BEFORE ‘13 IS DONE:

Will we see the revelatory new transfer James Cameron signed off on for The Terminator?

THE “CRITERION CREAM OF THE CROP” PRIZE:

IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE

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THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO

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Two Criterion releases I’ve longed to see come to Blu Ray did so this year – we finally got In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar Wai’s swooning, swirling miasma of longing and remembrance, and Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco, the most glittering and upbeat movie about venereal disease ever made. Both transfers are lovely, with Mood being a technical tightrope walk between maintaining Christopher Doyle’s intoxicated gauziness and his inky blacks without sacrificing the intense colors. Stillman’s film is conversely as clear and bright and flawless as its young cast. Great films. Great discs.

BEFORE ‘13 IS DONE:

Oh, I dunno’ – some Croneneberg, perhaps…?

Those films are, to my mind, the best stuff released this year. Each of those films belongs in your collection, so get on it.

Oh – and there was some stuff released this week, too!

 

COSMOPOLIS

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Cronenberg directs Pattinson in Don DeLillo’s tale of one man’s personal apocalypse set against a backdrop of  cultural and financial ruin he and his are responsible for.

JUSTIFIED: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON

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I could watch Tim Olyphant smack the shit outta’ shitheels every day. As a matter of fact – I think I’ll go do that now!

LOOPER

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Rian Johnson keeps doing this thing where he proves he’s one of the best filmmakers working today. Weird tech, brutal fights, moral weight, deep love, and an uncertain future – Johnson has made his generation’s Terminator…and it’s better.

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2012 In the Rearview Mirror: Music Not Going Over the Cliff

Three years into covering new release music for The Special Edition, and for some reason, 2012 feels like the slightest year so far. I suspect that probably has to do with a certain level of fatigue— I used to try and cover 10-12 new releases each week; these days I’m lucky to manage 3 or 4— but I think there was, for me, a diminishing sense of discovery. Certainly, compared to 2010 or 2011, my repeat playlists were more stocked with familiar names and long track records this year than before.

So, no real Top 100 from me this year, and not really even a “list”: just a quick recap of the music that stuck with me over the course of the year (including several I didn’t have a chance to review upon release); I’ve likely managed to overlook at least a few good ‘uns that I’ll be kicking myself about tomorrow.

You don’t have to be in my chronological demographic for the events of 2012 to have had you musing on the fragility of life and inevitability of its conclusion: Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas, and Loudon Wainwright III’s Older Than My Old Man Now, both found the middle ground between “My Generation” and “Tonight’s The Night”: we’re all heading down the same road, at someone else’s pace, and the only bigger joke than how we die is how we live. I’d also note that Loudon’s kids also provided pleasure this year with the smooth white soul of Rufus’ Out of the Game and Martha’s prickly Come Home To Mama.

In years to come, Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball will probably be seen as the rough oddball in the lesser regions of his catalog: more tuneful than Tom Joad, looser than Devils and Dust, funnier than Working On A Dream; but in the bleakly scary year of 2012, it felt alarmingly prescient, deeply empathetic, and very much of the moment, its fear tempered here with hope, underscored there with fatalism. And for all its rabble-rousing, its most startling moment might have been the unearthing of the two-decades-old “You’ve Got It,” from the days when the Boss’ vocal exemplar was the warmth of Roy Orbison rather than the nasality of Woody Guthrie.

Blues album of the year was Heritage Blues Orchestra’s And Still I Rise, which demonstrated a stunning command of every region and dialect of the form, from field holler to swing to jump to electric Chicago grit. Septuagenarian Andre Williams reunited with The Sadies for Night and Day, another funny and foul-mouthed old school blues/R&B outing. Jack White’s Blunderbuss picked up where Black Keys left off, and while his singing remains an acquired taste at best (trust me, “I’m Shakin’” sounds better when sung in English), he offered one of the year’s best guitar freakouts. Blues fans should also check out Gary Clark Jr.’s Blak and Blu, 3 Skulls by Luther Dickinson with David Hidalgo and Mato Nanji, and the odd, unconventional, and ethereal Blood Speaks, from Smoke Fairies. Oh, and, yes, Tom fucking Jones did it again: Spirit in the Room was even more down and dirty than 2010′s Praise and Blame: his cover of “All Blues Hail Mary” might be the most chilling piece of music I heard in 2012.

Pop and vocal music made the darkness go down easier with First Aid Kit’s gorgeous The Lion’s Roar, Saint Etienne’s glossy Words and Music by Saint Etienne, Aimee Mann’s Charmer, and the Burt Bacharach-meets-Brian-Wilson of The Explorers’ Club’s Grand Hotel. Brazil’s Ceu released her strongest album yet, Caravana Sereia Bloom, all sex and sun over inescapable dance beats. And for someone who’s never previously listened to a Norah Jones album twice all the way through, I found Little Broken Hearts deliciously nasty and insinuating, with her writing finally starting to match her interpretive abilities.

Smart, sharp songwriting married to music that grew, rather than diminished, with repeated listening, characterized Corin Tucker Band’s Kill My Blues, Tame Impala’s Lonerism, Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan, Japandroids’ Celebration Rock, Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp, and Bob Mould’s Silver Age. Listenable, but not as satisfying as their previous releases were Avett Brothers’ The Carpenter, Mumford and Sons’ Babel and The Mynabirds’ Generals.

In the rough category of Americana, Jamey Johnson’s Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran celebrated the simple pleasures of a well-crafted lyric, Punch Brothers’ Who’s Feeling Young Now continued to defy expectations of both bluegrass and progressive, Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale leavened decades’ worth of Nashville professionalism with backporch ease on Buddy and Jim, there was great American music from down under in the second collaboration between Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson’s Wreck and Ruin, the expanded Carolina Chocolate Drops offered their best collection of original material yet on Leaving Eden, and the new voice of the year for me was Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard; hopefully, they’ve got a more complete album in them than the hit-and-miss Boys and Girls. And maybe the most pleasant surprise of 2012, even given the involvement of Miller and T-Bone Burnett and the Civil Wars, was the soundtrack to the glossy TV soap Nashville.

In a good year for jazz, I’d give pride of place to Mary Halvorson’s Bending Bridges, with all votes counted for Vijay Iyer’s Accelerando, Ravi Coltrane’s Spirit Fiction, Fred Hersch’s Trio Alive at the Vanguard, Sam Rivers, Dave Holland, and Barry Altschul’s Reunion: Live In New York, and the not-quite-jazz-it’s-maybe-better-than-that of Neneh Cherry & The Thing’s The Cherry Thing.

I’ve never covered the Rough Guide series here, since I don’t get to preview their stuff in advance, but the label’s started an exciting series of revisits to some of their previous successes, usually with bonus CD’s from one of the anthologized artists: this year, I highly recommend their new surveys of African Highlife, the music of Morocco and Ethiopia, and the collection of previously-unreleased gems, Undiscovered World. And for those impatient for the next Dengue Fever, grab the Bollywood-by-way-of-Malibu You Me Bullets Love from The Bombay Royale.

Also giving much pleasure, in no particular order: Shearwater’s Animal Joy, Donald Fagen’s Sunken Condos, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, Dan Deacon’s America, Kendrick Lamar’s Good kid, m.A.A.d. City, Diamond Rugs’ Diamond Rugs, The xx’s Coexist, Cat Power’s Sun, Grimes’ Visions, Twin Shadow’s Confess, Divine Fits’ A Thing Called Divine Fits, ZZ Ward’s The Channel Drops, and whatever the hell the name of that Fiona Apple album was. Impressive but somewhat ultimately underwhelming for me were Swans’ The Seer, Beach House’s Bloom, Chromatics’ Kill for Love, David Byrne and St. Vincent’s Love This Giant, Muse’s The 2nd Law, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! At least half of Bob Dylan’s Tempest was the equal of his best recent work, which is something most artists can’t claim, Neil Young’s two 2012 releases (Americana and Psychedelic Pill) were evidence of perseverance, if not always inspiration, and Richard Thompson’s year included the limited CD release of the fascinating pseudo-cantata Cabaret of Souls, and the stunning live DVD/Blu-Ray Live At Celtic Connections, which in either format was the guitar album of 2012, even if it hasn’t yet hit CD.

Next week, back to bidnezz.

TONY LOGO

Before we get to the fun part, I just wanted to say that this will be final contribution here and I couldn’t leave without thanking all the readers – and especially Jason and Jeb – for the great time I’ve had writing for The Special Edition. The Special Edition is something, well…special. It’s been great to be a part of the Special Ed team and work with all the great writers at CHUD. It’s tough to say goodbye, but I just don’t have the time anymore.

If for whatever reason you still want to hear me blab on about video games, you can find me over Rantgaming.com – where I’ll be spewing vitriol about dem interactive games daily.

Enough with the goodbyes and shameless shilling – let’s talk about some games.

TONY’S BEST OF 2012:

THE DARKNESS II

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I’ll be honest, there is probably a more deserving title for this spot, but The Darkness II gets it for just being shamefully ignored. It’s a great shooter, an evolved version of the first game, and an all-around solid title. Even though original developer Star Breeze wasn’t on board, Digital Extremes made it their own. You should play The Darkness II. No one else did.

MASS EFFECT 3

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Mass Effect 3 is full of problems, but it’s also full of amazing achievements that remind me why I love video games. As the conclusion to an epic (and ambitious) generation long story, it works. And that’s the important part. It doesn’t matter that the side missions are ridiculous fetch quests, with possibly the most inane and borderline creepy delivery mechanism. Or that Magic Robot Ghost Kid was the laziest way possible to end the story. The truth is, I can live with all of that because I got to spend more time with Mordin and Garrus.

THE WALKING DEAD

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Until now, I’ve hated everything about The Walking Dead. But then this game comes along and does exactly what the franchise has been trying to do in a quarter of the time. It’s devastating. The Walking Dead actually hurts to play. Horror gaming is usually about making you afraid to go into the dark because you’ll jump or get a game over. The Walking Dead isn’t about that kind of fear. The Walking Dead is about dread. Dread that is very real, and at any time can turn into something horrible. As a game, The Walking Dead isn’t fun to play or even very videogame-like, but as a storytelling experience it’s exciting and – hopefully – revolutionary.

XCOM ENEMY UNKNOWN

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I would spend my hours not playing XCOM thinking about XCOM. The tactical combat had just the right amount of depth and complexity without being overwhelming, not to mention it’s surprisingly snappy for what it is. The random elements, huge variety of maps, and sheer challenge make it one of the years most repayable games. Firaxis have done the impossible and turned one of the most challenging, anachronistic game designs in history and made it accessible to everyone while not losing what the original game a classic in the first place.

FAR CRY 3

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I thought Far Cry 2 was an almost amazing experience that was undercut by a number of glaringly stupid design decisions. Far Cry 3 is proof I was right. It makes all other sandbox shooters worthless. It’s the most Crytek-y game Crytek never made. Far Cry 3 takes the tactical openness of the first game, steals some ambition from the second, and turns it into what is easily the most entertaining shooter I’ve played this generation. Sending a burning bear into a pirate-filled outpost and watching the havoc that ensues play out is some of the most fun I’ve had this year, but picking off the flaming survivors with a sniper rifle from 100 feet away unnoticed is what makes Far Cry 3 a fantastic experience.

And that’s it. One last time, I want to thank Jason and Jeb – they truly are bad enough dudes to rescue the president.

And I want to thank Tony for his insightful – and often hilarious – musings. If you feel as I do and don’t want to let the sun go down, visit him at RANTGAMING.

2012 is over. People like to think that, as one year dies away, the coming year brings a reset button and a new set of downs.

I don’t buy that. I think that time is a predator, and it stalks us all our lives. I say quit running. Cover yourself in mud, light a torch, and fistfight that ugly motherfucker.

Peace to you, my friends.