Well, here we are at the end of another year. And of course that means it's time to compress everything down to an attractive list of the best and worst of the last 365 days. I decided to forgo the list format again this year and just ramble incessantly until you say "fuck it" and go back to watching your tri-racial, tentacle rape midget porn, or whatever it is that you're into. So, open up a new window and lets get it on.
It's been a hell of a year in the House of VonKlingele this year. A lot of ups and too many downs. Had a blast as a first time vendor at Crypticon Seattle this year with Guts & Grog and Critters & Gods. We did a lot of things wrong, but we learned a lot for the next time around. I released my first limited run figure in my Jason inspired horrorball, with another one on it's way, and fulfilled one of my life long dreams. Made some new friends on these here fancy interwebs and in the real world. At the end of the day it was a good year and gives me hope for next year.
Ok, lets move on to the really important stuff, what happened in the wonderful world of pop culture this year. I'll kick things off with my first true love, toys. We finally saw horror toys gaining some more ground this year. It's seems like it's been a downward trend the last few years, but I think we've finally turned a corner. Neca brought it hard as usual this year giving us some of their best offerings in the last few years. The real stand outs are the 8 bit version of Jason and Freddy. An idea that seems obvious in retrospect, and was a really nice breath of fresh air for two characters we've seen a thousand times before. Add in their retro MEGO style figures, power glove Freddy, and the continued Aliens and Predator lines and Neca ruled the aisles this year. They weren't the only ones though.
What really warmed my heart this year was seeing some new original properties pop up this year. Nothing frustrates me more than the fact that every toy on the pegs has to be from some existing franchise. Growing up in the 80's some of my favorite toys were the ones that were made just to be toys, I mourn the loss of creativity and inspiration in plastic form. It's the same feeling I get from an endless parade of sequels and remakes. This year we got two new toy lines that try to change that.
First up, we have Ugglys. The spiritual successors to Boglins. These are ugly, slime covered dog head puppets that make burping and farting noises when you open and close their mouths and they make my inner ten year old giddy every time.
Then we have Monster 500. In a just world these would be the next Garbage Pail Kids. A series a Rat Fink inspired racers based off of a who's who of monsters, mutants, and red neck hillbilly killers. These have a great design and the final product is really nice. There's also an accompanying app/game to hopefully hook these short attention span kids and pull them away from tweeting pictures of there dicks to their teachers, or whatever it is kids do for fun these days.
Another style of toy managed to enter the realm of "shit I care about" this year. Blind package toys have been a big thing for a long time, but I usually don't care about it unless it's a Lego. This year we got two lines that's I'm all about though. Funko released a series of stylized horror icons, and they look amazing. For the most part I really don't care for Funko's designs on their bigger figures, but these smaller ones really work. The one I've been buying the most of this year though have been the Garbage Pail Kids minikins. You get a couple roughly 1 inch rubber figures in different colorways based on some of the best GPK cards out there. These are a great way to display my love for the king of 80's gross out humor.
Hands down my favorite figures this year come from Super 7. The vintage Alien line is a thing of pure beauty. Super 7 managed to get access to the molds for the planned, but unproduced, line of Alien figures from Kenner. Originally planned to continue Kenner's success with the Star Wars line that was dominating everything, they ultimately decided that a terrifying, rape monster from space wasn't the best way to go for a line of toys for the kiddies and canceled it. The final product perfectly captures that vintage feeling, from the package design to the spot on paint apps. Also exciting is the news that Super 7 plans to continue the vintage treatment for some more cult movies Like Predator and Escape from New York, so hopefully I'll be writing about those here next year.
Lets move on to music. Like most years in recent memory I find that I find less and less new music that excites me. That's less a statement on the music industry and more me being a grumpy old man. There were a few gems that got regular play this year though. We got a really solid new album from Motorhead. Lemmy just won't quit making good solid metal. There were a couple soundtracks that served as regular back ground music to sculpt to. The Maniac score is one of my favorites of the last few years and the score for Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was pitch perfect 80's synth. In the world of hip hop Sadistik's new full length Flowers for my Father was pure art. Beautiful and haunting, it would have made the top of my list if not for one album.
Anyone who knows my surely saw this coming, but Hesitation Marks, the new album from Nine Inch Nails, was amazing. Trent Reznor has stayed busy in the past few years since he put NIN on hiatus and he's put out some of his best stuff in that time. The full length How to Destroy Angels was fantastic and could have taken this spot any other time. I had a lot of expectations for a new NIN album, and the fact that it was announced out of nowhere didn't help matters. Some of the singles released for the album didn't quite ease my uncertainty, but once I had it in my hands and the head phones on that all washed away. It's a very different album, and not all of the songs work, but as a whole it's some of the best raw, emotional work NIN has produced in years. Add in the awe inspiring live show I was lucky enough to catch and it's clear Reznor still has plenty to offer.
And now on to the main event, movies. As usual I didn't get to see everything I wanted this year, but most of what I saw I really enjoyed. There were really only a couple of movies that didn't live up to my expectations. Elysium was a good movie, but it really wasn't on par with what I wanted as a follow up to the amazing District 9. My biggest disappointment this year was easily Man of Steel. A visually beautiful movie, that really showed what Zack Snyder can do when he reigns it in a little. Unfortunately they manage to completely miss the point of who Superman is and what he stands for.
Spoilers and ranting ahead
Superman doesn't let his dad die for no reason after repeatedly being told to hide and not help anyone by his gaping vagina of a father, he doesn't lay waste to a densely populated urban spread without once trying to save any of the millions of people in very real danger, and he doesn't murder someone unless there is absolutely no other option. I'll leave it at that and move on to greener pastures.
Lets start with the comic book movies we got this year. Outside of Man of Steel, I was pretty pleased. I really liked that they tried something different with Iron Man 3. Instead of trying to compete with the spectacle of the Avengers we got a story that reminds us why Robert Downey Jr. is awesome and why Tony Stark is the smartest guy in the room. At the end of the day though, the most fun I had in the theatre with a superhero was Thor: The Dark World. Equal parts Lord of the Rings and Star Wars it's a entertaining, brisk movie with a great sense of humor and two great leads.
Outside the world of comics, sci-fi and fantasy were everywhere this year, and a lot of it didn't really deliver. Like Elysium above, Star Trek: Into Darkness was a fun movie, and I really enjoyed it, but it just didn't live up to it's potential. We did get a couple of goodies though. G.I. Joe was fun as hell and had some sweet ninja action, plus The Rock, Europa Report was surprisingly good for a found footage flick, Manborg was a really fun reminder of the days of ridiculous 80's movies churned out to capitalize on the popularity of VHS from Astron 6, The World's End was a great mix of comedy, sweet sci-fi action, and surprisingly heartfelt emotion, and Ender's Game was one of my favorites of the year. The one that stood taller(heh, heh) than the others for me was Pacific Rim. A simple idea, executed with a genuine love for the material by Del Torro. It has it's flaws, but damn if it isn't fun as hell. Plus you have to love something original and new in a sea of remakes and sequels, that reminds you of the wonder of the movies.
This year, as usual, the world of fantasy tends to be geared toward tweens or brain dead overweight children, and gets churned out in the hopes of making a quick buck. Thankfully we have Peter Jackson to help remind everyone that fantasy movies don't have to be shit, and you can still sell out for money. The second Hobbit movie was an improvement over the last one in almost every way, and I loved the first one. The Desolation of Smaug really got it's groove back. It felt like we were finally getting a story worth investing all this time in. We finally get a little less walking and talking and more escaping from elves in barrels, plus Benedict Cumberbatch straight kills it as Smaug. Easily one of my favorite movies of the year, I can't wait for the final chapter next year.
It's not all lighthearted fun in the VonKlingele living room. I still like to put on my pretentious hat and watch some solid cinema. This year a good chunk of my favorite movies fall into this category. First up we have Only God Forgives. I've got to say I really don't understand the hate for this movie, I loved it. The only thing I can figure is everyone was expecting another Drive, and instead they got a slow burn, beautifully shot, with some great moments of brutal violence. Another highlight that I barely managed to catch before this list was The Iceman. Michael Shannon is incredible in this movie and really elevates it to the next level. These next two movies really fought for my top spot this year. Springbreakers was a movie that threw 3 or 4 different movies into a blender and somehow made an immensely enjoyable movie, with an amazing performance by Franco. Antiviral just edges it out and honestly everything else on this list as my favorite movie of the year. I love the , all too believable, concept behind the move, and Cronenberg the younger really pulls it off. Beautiful sterile set designs, convincing and squirm inducing effects, and a brilliant lead come together for a bleak, affecting movie.
OK, lets move on to horror and finish this long winded crap up. I'll preface this by saying I didn't watch near the amount of new horror I intended to, but what I did watch was an improvement over last year. There was a lot of fun to be had with horror movies this year. Sharknado was amazing in the worst way possible, despite the Internets best efforts to completely ruin it. Hatchet 3 was exactly what I wanted in another sequel, ridiculous gore and good laughs, and This is the End gave us some straight up laughs and demon cock. We saw a really, really solid return from Chucky, ditching the humor of the last two and bringing the franchise back to it's roots in a totally genuine way. Hell, even V/H/S/ 2 managed to be an improvement over the mediocre first one.
There were two movies that were in a whole different league though. I've been back and forth on my thoughts about Rob Zombie as a film maker. I like a lot of what he does, but it starts to feel a little one note after awhile. Because of that I went in to Lords of Salem with pretty low expectations and had them completely blown away. Just imagine Roman Polanski and Stanley Kubrick making out while David Lynch sits there and watches, then Polanski starts talking about little girls and everything gets really awkward so Rob Zombie steps in and attempts to lighten the mood. That's this movie, mesmerizing and strange as hell. It's always nice to see the more cerebral horror turn it's head every so often. Now my favorite horror movie of the year...
If you had told me this time last year that I would be getting ready to type up a paragraph about how fucking good the Maniac remake was I would've slapped you right square in the balls. And yet here we are. To say my expectations were low for this would be a huge understatement. Then I heard the score and was really impressed, even picking it up before I had seen the movie, and thought maybe I'll give it a watch some time. Jump to one of my visits down to the land o' hipsters to visit Tromeric and he insists I have to watch it. I roll my eyes, finish my special rice krispie treat, and settle in for what I was sure would be a waste my evening. Then the movie starts and I can't take my eyes off of it. It's a beautiful movie, and the use of first person is shockingly good. One scene in particular where the camera shifts to a third person view in one smooth, seamless move in the middle of a kill was worth watching all by itself. Elijah Wood somehow pulls off a genuinely threatening killer and they tell the same story without shitting all over the original. It stands on it's own, which is one of the largest problems facing remakes. So, in closing, if you've been putting this movie off, don't. It's well worth your time.
Man, I really let this one get away from me. I guess last year was a good year in pop culture. If you actually made it through these ramblings, thanks for reading. I've got big plans personally next year and there looks to be some pretty fantastic stuff coming up in the magical land of pop culture. Lets meet back here next year and see what I can bitch about from 2014.
- Jacob VonKlingele