Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Best of the Best: 2003

An amazing film.

Year: 2003
Movie: The Last Samurai
Game: Soul Calibur II (Gamecube version)
Album: We've Come For You All by Anthrax
Song: Frantic by Metallica

The year 2003 was a year that began with both a new beginning of sorts, as well as an ending. At the age of 21, I finally managed to get my first place, my first home that was all my own, on my own. And just as I was in the midst of moving in, and still going to college, the mother that I had had such a strained relationship with for most of my life, passed away. For as long as I could remember, she had been mired in all sorts of health issues, that only got worse over time as she did not take good care of herself at all. By the end, she could barely move on her own, and was on more pills than I cared to count. And she eventually slipped into a coma and passed. It was a rough, interesting time for me. I say "interesting" because my feelings were certainly mixed. This woman had never been my "mom", in fact I had grown up without the privilege that most kids get, of having actual parents of any kind. I had a grandmother that often felt like more of a jailer at times, and when my mother was around, she was just there, if anything an annoying sister. So when she passed, I was certainly sad, I mourned...but though it may sound fucked up to say, I mourned not just because of her passing, but also for the mother I could have had, the parent I had deserved to have as a child. It's complicated.

But regardless, on in life I went, and as ever, at this juncture at least, entertainment was still there to help me make my way in life. Many movies caught my fancy, such as Adam Sandler's Anger Management, or the awesome Chow Yun Fat film Bulletproof Monk, which was honestly a strong contender for Movie of 2003. I can't recommend that movie enough, it's one of the best martial arts movies I've personally ever seen. Although many criticized it for dumb reasons, I also for the most part really enjoyed Ang Lee's Hulk film. And of course The Return of the King, the incredibly long last installment of Jackson's LOTR trilogy. But the movie that wins the prize, is a movie that really touched me, in a real way. The Last Samurai, directed by Edward Zwick, and starring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe, is a really wonderful film that attempts to show the transition time in late 1800s Japan, from the last vestiges of the old era of the Samurai, to the more modern, more "Western" influenced era. Not 100% historically accurate of course, but it tells an incredible story, and is a moving, romantic take on the simple older ways, versus the modern machine. Cruise himself gives perhaps, I feel, his best performance (and that's saying something, because weird or not, he's an incredible actor). There were, of course, idiots who tried to criticize that "Oh, why is a movie about Japanese Samurai starring a white guy as 'The Last Samurai'?" And naturally, like most such opinions, it is founded in uninformed drivel. Cruise's character is an observer, he is seeing their world through our "Western" eyes, and he never himself becomes a Samurai, though he does embrace their ways while acting as their prisoner. Instead, he bears witness to the final stand of The Last Samurai, that being the actual warriors who he comes to call friends. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend it.

A once great series.

Going from Samurai to some more Samurai, while there were some games I dug in 2003, including as I mentioned before, the GBA hit Harmony of Dissonance, as well as F-Zero GX (which was fun but ridiculously hard), the game that gets my pick for Game of 2003, is the Gamecube version of Soul Calibur II. Better in many ways than the original Calibur game (itself the sequel to the often forgotten Soul Edge), this was the first time in the series that they decided to throw in a gimmick, that gimmick being that each platform would receive an exclusive character. Now, on the one hand, throwing in characters that do NOT fit the game world at all (such as Star Wars characters in SCIV, which was beyond dumb), is lame. But, as it so happened, while Heihatchi from the Tekken series in the PS2 version (he has no weapon in a weapons based fighter), and Spawn in the Xbox version, were nonsensical inclusions, Link being in the Gamecube version somehow fit. Perhaps not the more realistic setting of the SC series, but his swordplay was right at home. And naturally, they managed to fit in all of his signature moves and weapons, even boomerangs and bombs. It was, in all honesty, the last good entry in the series. SCIII (which for some insane reason was PS2 exclusive), was okay, but the series really went downhill overall after SCII.

They've come for you all.

2003 was a better year in music than 2002, and among other things, the two "big ones", for me anyway, were a new Anthrax album, and a new Metallica album. Now, while I did like several songs off of "St. Anger", and in general, in spite of the purposefully garage sounding production and goddamn snare drum sound, enjoyed the album, it is not my fav. album from that year. In fact, it's easily the worst Metallica album of all time, and I say that not hating it at all. But comparing it to any of their other records, it's no contest. I think with better production (as Bob Rock was otherwise known for great sound to his albums), it would have done the songs more service. But, ultimately, it still would have likely been their weakest record, and that's somewhat understandable, given that it was born from the most uncertain point in the band's history, when they came very close to ending. But, St. Anger did produce my favorite song of the year, as the lead track "Frantic" REALLY spoke to me for a long time, of how I felt about my life and life in general.

But, the album that then does win my Album of 2003, is Anthrax's "We've Come For You All". Easily the best entry in the John Bush era of Anthrax, this album was a punch to the face (in a good way) from start to finish. The band was really on fire, and while they never really WENT anywhere (the previous albums had good music to be found), this was definitely a return statement. Sadly, it would also wind up being the very last John Bush record, because after that, the other band-mates decided they wanted to do this silly 80s reunion tour with their old singer Joey Belladonna, and wanted John to participate too, and he was not feeling it at all. And I don't blame him. It was really stupid, to be honest, they had just put out their best album in years, and should have built on that momentum and released an even BETTER album to follow it up. Instead, they take several steps backwards, do the stupid reunion tour so that old metal-heads with 80s jean-jackets and mullet hair-dos could party for a few minutes. They lose John Bush, their singer of many years, in the process, and eventually lose Joey as well, because the guy is a flake. And the band basically wound up in limbo for many years, without another album release until late 2011. They even briefly got John Bush back for some live tour dates, but he ultimately decided he didn't want to rejoin full time, which of course made me sad all over again. They finally got Joey to come back, did a new record that was okay, and that's where they've been since. I will always wonder, if they hadn't been fucking idiots, what potentially great albums Anthrax might have put out, still with Bush all these years. Oh well.

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