Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 in Review



By Jerry Chandler

Looking back at 2017, I realized that a lot of my 2017 was catching up on the 2016 stuff I missed. I did catch a fair bit of the 2017 highlights, but a good chunk of my year was spent ensuring that I’ll have to play pop culture catchup in 2018. I mean, I still have not ventured out to see Justice League, The Last Jedi, Coco, or The Disaster Artist with less than three days left in the year. Although, I may be getting the kids out to Coco this weekend, so I might get that one in before the ball drops. I was also underwhelmed by some of the things in 2017 that blew so many people away. I found both Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to be closer to just really good than great, and I was one of the few I knew to be almost totally disappointed with Kong: Skull Island outside of the post credit scene. So, yeah, a lot of 2017 was me coming late to the 2016 party or being less enthused about 2017 hits than most were.

As one example of the former, one of my favorite shows to discover this year was Westworld, but it doesn’t count for a look at the larger pop culture hits of 2017 because it was a 2016 show. Still, I suppose I can call it one of my favorite Blu-Ray releases of 2017. So, yeah, I’ll start from there. 


Runner Up – Favorite Blu-Ray Release

I was largely on the fence about the idea of a remake of Westworld. We’ve been hearing the talk of a remake for decades now; at one time with talk of it being a bigger budgeted Arnold Schwarzenegger film. While the original film threw out some interesting ideas here and there that could lead to interesting bits of philosophical science fiction, it wasn’t really that kind of film. It was a straight up technology goes wrong with a cat and mouse hunt element to it. But, still, it was a bit more than a big budget shoot ‘em up with a Terminator styled killer robot.

Then they announced a TV series coming to HBO. I may have been even more on the fence about that. While the film was indeed more than a big budget shoot ‘em up with a Terminator styled killer robot, it wasn’t much more than that. The story could easily get stretched way too thin and become way too tedious a show to watch over a proposed 8 to 13 episodes.

Fortunately, the creators behind Westworld chose the right creative direction to go with the series, and they made it a compelling show that anyone who loves good science fiction needs to see. I caught it on an HBO free weekend promotion, coming into it several episodes in. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I wanted to see it again to both catch the episodes I missed and to see what might be there that I missed in the first viewing. For those of us not subscribing to HBO or to the HBO streaming service, the Blu-Ray release- being sold for less than $30 by some retailors -was fantastic. If you love good science fiction and good storytelling, you need to buy and own this now even if you’ve never seen the series

Now, there have been so many contenders for my favorite Blu-Ray release this year. I’ve seen so many obscure horror films that I’ve loved for decades now getting beautiful treatments on Blu-Ray in 2017. The Dawn of the Dead remake as well as Land of the Dead both got amazing releases this year, and a George Romero set covering his films in between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead gave us some overlooked films to enjoy. Arrow continued to impress with releases like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and the obscure Don’t Torture a Duckling. I ultimately got down to considering making the pick American Gods because of all the bonus materials on the last disc, but I decided to not go with that one to avoid putting the show up here twice. Instead, I ended up going with a choice I loved based purely on the enjoyably retro whimsy of it.

Favorite Blu-Ray Release

Stranger Things was a bit of a fandom sensation when it dropped on Netflix in 2016. The story itself was enjoyable and engrossing, and the story having a 1980s setting with a lot of nods to classic 1980’s genre films made it even more enjoyable for, well, the now growing old people like me. However, the earliest word about any release had a then prospective release being like so many other Netflix original series releases; kind of bare when it comes to special features. If you’re not going to give fans something to want about the discs that they don’t already get by being a Netflix subscriber, you’re not doing it right. Then the early word coming out also included comments about the rather long string of Netflix ads that couldn’t be skipped for long minutes on end and thus you had to sit through them to get to the program you were actually buying.

Nope, it did not look like it would be worth the money to own. Then the bastards hooked up with Target and went and played on nostalgia by making a retro case.

I’m not actually a collector of many things. I don’t have too many shelves devoted to collectibles, and those shelves that are have my collectibles sharing lots of space with every day, mundane items. But this struck my collectible funny bone in just the right way. I grew up in the 1980s of the mom & pop video rental stores. I used to look forward to going to these places and renting out a VHS release with oddball artwork on a (sometimes) oversized box that had been through the ringer and looked more than a little worn. With the Target exclusive release of the Stranger Things series, they married the 1980s nostalgia feel of the show with packaging that made you feel like you were holding one of those oversized VHS boxes in your hand.

They took a series that felt like it came from the same era as some of the films I grew up watching, and they sold it in a nostalgia package every bit as strong as the nostalgia nods of the series itself. It may be an odd reason to make it my favorite release on Blu-Ray when there have been so many more releases that are technically better in so many ways, but sometimes things that just strike that right chord with a person don’t make sense when you try to look at it rationally. This is just one of those things.

Favorite TV Show of 2017

I bought and read the novel that American Gods is based on when it first came out in 2001. The main story itself was fascinating, and the various short bits about the older gods were entertaining and helped establish ideas built upon as the story moved forward. I loved it, and I immediately decided that it was not a Neil Gaiman story I wanted to ever see translated to another medium of any kind; even graphic novel. To come close to the scope of visuals the book created in my head would require a major motion picture budget, and there was no way a movie was going to do the dense narrative of the almost 600 pages any justice. A TV miniseries might do the story justice, I had thought at the time, but the heyday of the epic, network event miniseries concept I grew up on was well past the point of starting to see a decline. But, even if someone wanted to go that path with it, they still wouldn’t be able to nail the visuals and there were a number of things in the story that would never fly on any network television station and damned few cable stations back then.

The unlimited FX budget of a graphic novel, ink costing the same no matter how it’s arranged on a page, might come close to giving readers the visuals the story conjured up, but, despite a lifelong love of comic art, I felt no one working in comics was going to really nail the visuals and there is a huge sense of awe difference when it comes to artwork on a comic page vs realistic images on a screen. Talking to friends who also read the book, there was to greater or lesser degrees from individual to individual much agreement on these points. Then, sixteen years after the book’s release, Starz came along and did American Gods for television.

Wow… Was I ever so happy to finally be proven wrong.

Show creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green both had a passion for the source material and the creative vision to do it justice. They also had the intelligence to know that they were working on a project that couldn’t be directly translated to television, and the best ear to bend about changes that might need to be made belonged to the man who wrote the novel. They approached Neil Gaiman and started a working relationship with him where all involved respected the creative muses of the others involved and sometimes found creative decisions that improved on the story found in the pages of the book.

First, we have to talk about the visuals. Everyone involved with the cinematography, the direction of the episodes, the art direction, costume design, general production design, and FX deserves a huge thank you from the fans. The series is beautiful to look at, and captures images and moods that make it look and feel like the book. While not 100% on target when it came to the world created in my head- because, really, what adaptation ever will do that for any of us –it more than met my expectations and felt like the world of American Gods for me.

The casting was nothing short of brilliant. A lot of early buzz focused on the casting of Ian McShane, Gillian Anderson, Crispin Glover, and Ricky Whittle, but I left the first season with Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney as my favorite casting for the show. Pablo Schreiber did something that good actors can do but don’t do as often as one would hope. His performance helped to make a character I only mildly enjoyed in the book into a first season favorite. Granted, this is also attributed to the writing for the character as his arc is expanded on and altered quite a bit from what was in the book. Not the only example of this in the season.

The series largely took the slow road to establish everything in the first three episodes, but once it hits Git Gone it moves like a speeding locomotive to the finale of the first season. But they also packed every episode with something (or a lot of somethings) that make them worth going back to look at to see what you may have missed now that the series has hit Blu-Ray and DVD. Plus, the Blu-Ray release is loaded with bonus materials.

The good news for fans of the series was that the show was renewed for a second season rather quickly, and the creative team already had most of the first half of a second season largely written. The bad news was Starz parting ways with show creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. Industry rumors have it that the split was over the show’s budget having grown to Game of Thrones levels without it becoming the money making, buzz generating series GoT has become. Neil Gaiman was reportedly approached to be a showrunner, but his plate was full with his writing and speaking engagements as well as working as a show runner on the forthcoming Amazon Prime Good Omens series.

If you haven’t seen American Gods yet, go and get the Blu-Ray set ASAP.

Favorite Movie Find of 2017

Technically, if you look this film up, it’s going to say it’s a 2016 film. The reason for this is it screened at four film festivals in late 2016; only one of which was in the US. It didn’t see a theatrical release (and a limited one at that) until 2017. As such, I’m calling it a 2017 film since it wasn’t available for most people to see until its 2017 theatrical release and 2017 Blu-Ray release.

Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal is a monster movie in the kaiju monster movie tradition, but only just. The film starts you out by letting you see a giant monster making its appearance some decades before the setting of the film. You then get dropped into the disastrous life of Gloria (Anne Hathaway) just as her drinking and lack of focus in life has gotten her kicked out of her now ex-boyfriend’s New York apartment. With nowhere else to go and seemingly no ability to get her life back on track, she heads back to the small New England town (the fictional Mainhead) she left some years ago. She immediately runs into her old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and a crew of for her familiar faces in familiar places as much of the town has gotten older but remained largely as she left it.

Slowly she begins to find a job for herself and a group to hang out with (and drink with) to fill her time with some laughter. Then, it starts to happen. The news reports on a giant monster appearing and then disappearing in Seoul, South Korea. The creature does a large amount of damage to parts of the city, but seems oblivious to the destruction around it. As someone in the local bar points out, the creature displays an odd habit during its appearances. It never actually looks down at the things it’s destroying or at the destruction around it. It acts almost like it’s moving under remote control.

The news pulls an old story from the archives of a what was believed to have been a hoax stunt decades earlier about a monster appearing in the same location and then disappearing just as this new monster does now. The few photographs of the creature show it to be the same one now destroying part of the city. Gloria becomes as obsessed with the creature as everyone else, and her obsession leads her to an unbelievable discovery that changes her life as well as the life of another person in the town.

Colossal is an amazingly well done dark comedy with drama elements. If you haven’t seen Colossal yet, you need to track down the very affordable Blu-Ray and give it a look.


Favorite Wrestler of 2017

There were a lot of talented performers in the squared circle this year, but none of them consistently performed for my money to the level that AJ Styles did in 2017. It doesn’t matter who you put AJ in the ring with, because AJ can get an entertaining match out of almost any opponent. But give AJ an opponent that’s close to or on his level of talent? Somehow, amazingly, he can up his game beyond expectations. AJ came into the WWE in 2016 and blew the roof off of the joint by starting out damned near at the top and only going higher from there, and in 2017 AJ went even higher and proved he is easily the best wrestler working today.

Favorite Wrestling Mark Out Moment

There were rumors circulating at the time, but there are always rumors like this in wrestling. There’s always talk about wrestlers leaving this company and/or heading for that company. For a short while, the talk was all about a Hardy Boyz return to the WWE as soon as the word came out that their run with whatever TNA was calling itself that week was coming to an end. Then Matt and Jeff appeared in Ring of Honor using their Broken personas to challenge the RoH champions and a lot of people largely put the idea of an immediate return out of mind.

Then WrestleMania 33 happened. There was a triple-threat ladder match set for the card, but there was also a seemingly odd decision made by WWE creative. The New Day, arguably the most popular tag team in the WWE was not wrestling on the card. They were advertised as the hosts for WrestleMania, and acted as hype men in between the matches. 

Then the match in question was set to start. The three teams made their way to the ring and the referee was going through the pre-match motions. Then New Day walked out and starting explaining that there needed to be another team in the mix. Millions of people sitting at home and thousands in the arena started thinking the same thing. The chants in the arena were clearly calling for the Hardy Boyz. But the New Day kept hyping the forth team in an ambiguous way, and with each step down the ramp they made it seem more and more like they were about to enter the mix and reclaim tag team gold. The audience in the arena was even starting to loudly switch from “Delete!” chants to chanting for New Day.

Then the music hit and everyone watching lost it.


The Hardy Boys returned to the WWE on the Grandest Stage of them All, and they made in a matter of seconds one of the biggest WrestleMania moments of the show just by walking out for the match. Then they topped that by winning the titles at the match. It was absolutely one of the high points of the night, and a high point of the year for many.

But 2017’s pop culture landscape wasn’t just filled with sunshine and lollipops…


Staying with wrestling for a moment, we have to talk about the WWE creative direction in 2017. Frankly, there were times when it felt like they didn’t actually have any creative direction. They continued to misuse Bray Wyatt and others to the point that some fans stopped caring about any push they were giving him because they knew it would be botched in the end. A large part of that was brought on by the mistaken notion that wins and losses don’t count in a predetermined, scripted entertainment event. That idea, combined with the 50/50 booking it seems to inspire more often than not in WWE creative decisions, is absolutely, laughably false. When you lose the big events as often as or more often than you win them, people stop caring because they figure there’s no point in supporting a push. When WWE creative starts and stops and changes directions at the drop of a hat, it creates a situation where you just don’t feel like there’s going to be a payoff to a story worth rooting for or sticking around for.

Now, some of this is also not entirely the fault of the creative teams. Some of it is Vince no longer having his finger anywhere as close to the pulse of his audience as he once did, while quite a bit of it was also the fault of the injury bug (and one nasty flu bug) biting the living hell out of the roster this year. We saw a number of planned feuds suddenly fall apart when an injury put someone on the shelf for weeks or months more than a few times in 2017. Still, it then goes back to creative to come up with things to do with the wrestlers who are still healthy, and a lot of times it seemed like all they could do was write them into stories where they would just spin their wheels.

Still, when it comes to being a mess, the real sporting competition that is the UFC spent most of 2017 becoming a bigger mess than the WWE. The UFC, and a lot of American MMA in general, has been becoming a bit of a mess for some time now, and a large part of this is from the booking.

The idea of a true #1 contender in almost any UFC weight division has become a joke with the fans. Champions hold divisions up for months at a time by not facing challengers, top five and top ten fighters on a winning streak get shoved to the side for fighters who are coming off of a loss getting to challenge for a title, the most consistently good fighting champion in the company is often treated as an afterthought by the people in charge if not actively mistreated by those people, increasingly cringe worthy commentary during fights was becoming common, and the most recognizable face of the company continued devolving to be even less professional about how he talks about and treats fighters. Throw in injuries derailing fight cards within days of an event and failed drug tests overturning title fight results and former champions walking in the door after years away to win and then vacate a title and you have a company that’s largely a mess right now.

2017 saw some bad numbers with PPV buys and ratings for UFC, and deservedly so. The situation looks to only get worse in 2018, because the powers that be who now own the company don’t seem interested in looking for a course correction.

RIP

Horror fans saw the continuing rise of Shudder as the subscription service to go to for a good horror fix whenever they wanted one, and Netflix showed some nice horror chops in 2017 with content like Santa Clarita Diet, 1922, The Babysitter, and Gerald’s Game as well as picking up a number of smaller budgeted horror films for streaming. Still, at the same time the horror community got the news of the impending shuttering of the (largely already limping) Chiller TV channel.

2017 also put the final nail in the coffin for anyone thinking that Fangoria was going to continue on in any meaningful way on any platform. While the website still exists, it feels like a shadow of what it once was. The articles can have days, weeks, or even months between postings, and the familiar names that helped to define Fangoria for many have all moved on or been fired. The talk of the magazine going to an all-digital format also seems to have ended with a 2016 attempt to digitally publish the Kevin Smith edited issue #348.

In December 2017, Bloody Disgusting posted an article featuring images from the unpublished Fangoria #345 that was announced back in 2015. Seeing how much of the magazine was finished and learning they just no longer had the people or resources to publish it spoke volumes; as did the comments where more than a few people claimed a similar experience to mine. A lot of people renewed their subscriptions and have never seen another issue- paper, digital, or to be determined format -or been able to get a refund on that subscription. What exists right now feels like Fangoria in name only, and it’s a far cry on any level from the magazine that was THE news source of choice for so many in the horror community for so long.

Likewise, the long suffering Ain’t it Cool News was once a major force in fandom; read by many and cited often in discussions in geek circles. Slowly over the years the excesses and idiosyncrasies of Harry Knowles have turned off the once regular readers. 2017 then saw Knowles join the ranks of the many celebrities and politicians accused of improper behavior targeted at women around him, and that was then followed by several longtime defenders of Knowles taking the knives out and suddenly discussing how much they saw and what they should have known and said for all those years. This was followed by a rather odd statement by Knowles and his stepping away from the site. While technically still up and running as something of a shadow of its former self under the guidance of his sister, 2017 was basically the end of the site for many who once frequented it for better reasons than simply trolling the Talkback section. Many saw the events of 2017 as the beginning of the end and the final falling dominoes leading to the site’s inevitable demise.

Box Office Death

2017 saw theatrical releases that caused the summer to be the worst performing box office summer in a decade and the summer that gave us worst box office summer weekend in 16 years. But what made it worse was the studios seemingly continuing to make the same mistakes with what should be surefire hits and turning them into something other than the financial successes they should be. It’s one thing to see films like Monster Trucks, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, or CHIPS bomb, but it’s another thing entirely to see studios mishandle film budgets and extra costs so badly that $800 million worldwide takes are considered financially disappointing or mishandling franchises so badly that what should be surefire box office bets start to stall out at around $600 million worldwide when similar films handled better cross the $1 billion worldwide threshold with seeming ease.

But, out of all the examples of mishandled films and film franchises that hit theaters in 2017, the one that hurt the most was seeing the absolutely idiotic fumbling around the proposed Dark Universe focusing on a shared universe for the revamped Universal Monsters. If there was nothing else that warranted the world’s biggest faceplam by a group of genre fans, it was over watching what should be a sure thing once again bungled by studios. After several proposed false starts and one sort of false start, 2017 saw the start and death of the Dark Universe concept with The Mummy. Sadly, it was seemingly an obvious failure to most people not actually working for Universal Studios.

Universal has some of the most famous horror creations in the world in their library of intellectual properties, and there are literally thousands of people out there who could put together a Dark Universe with ease, so it boggles the mind that a major studio can’t seem to find them to save their financial lives. It is a franchise failure that rivals the missteps of Warner Brothers with the DC superheroes not named Wonder Woman; and that’s made even more of a facepalm moment given how well the CW television superheroes have been chugging along.

But, to go back to a more positive note on that topic…

Favorite Mark Out TV Moment

The CW superhero universe launched its first crossover event with Invasion in 2016, and it was a somewhat mixed bag. Largely seen as a success, it still felt like they aimed too big and didn’t have the resources to make the final effort match the vision for it. When the 2017 crossover was announced, I was not alone in both being excited but wondering how well they would pull of Crisis on Earth X.

The idea for the concept seemed like a winner if they could pull it off, but it also seemed like a concept with a bigger and grander scope and scale than Invasion. By the end of Crisis on Earth X, they not only met expectations but blew them apart. It was an event executed so damned near perfectly in every way that it’s hard to criticize the only thing that seemed to me to be wrong with it. I really loved seeing what Matt Letscher has brought to the role of Eobard Thawne since his original go at it, and I was disappointed to not see him in the role here. But that’s pretty much the only complaint I and some others had, and that’s a pretty good sign that they got a lot right with this crossover event.

I really can’t wait to see what next year brings for the CW’s superhero universe.

Favorite New Gig of 2017

I’m now a part of the Assignment: Horror Podcast found on Soundcload on iTunes right now. Check it out.

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. When not wasting too much time on social media, he can be found writing regularly here at Needless Things, but has also written for websites like Gruesome Magazine as well as remembering to put up the occasional musings on his on blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, Decades of Horror, and the Subject Matter. He has also recently become a regular cohost of The Assignment: Horror Podcast.

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