X-Men at 20: A Look Back

Twenty years ago today, Bryan Singer’s X-Men arrived in theaters and it’s not hyperbole to call it one of the most influential pictures of the 21st century. The 20th Century Fox release found the comic book genre at a rather low point at the end of that said century. While Blade was a nice size hit in 1998, the years prior found at a lot to be desired with the quality of the genre. 1995 brought us Judge Dredd and 1997 saw the release of Batman and Robin, which found the Caped Crusader with Bat nipples and bad reviews.

X-Men, though it’s hard to remember now, was released at a time where the idea of superhero tales was an uncertain box office prospect. This is two years before Spider-Man broke all kinds of financial records. This is five years prior to Christopher Nolan reinvigorating the Bat franchise with his Dark Knight trilogy. And this was eight years before Robert Downey Jr. was cast as Tony Stark/Iron Man, officially kicking off the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In the summer of 2000, X-Men was by no means a guaranteed hit. It did, however, have credibility with the behind the scenes talent and cast. Bryan Singer was known for his heralded The Usual Suspects. Acclaimed actors Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen (fresh off an Oscar nod for Gods and Monsters), Anna Paquin, and Halle Berry were among the onscreen players. And it was another casting decision that provided its most enduring legacy. Russell Crowe, who headlined that summer’s Oscar winner Gladiator, originally turned down the part of Wolverine. Dougray Scott was then cast in the role, but had to drop out when his role as the villain in Mission: Impossible II (also out that summer) prevented him from filming. So it was the unknown Hugh Jackman who donned the claws. He would go on to make it his signature role as he played Logan/Wolverine in numerous sequels and spin-offs (including three stand-alone projects of wildly divergent qualities).

Let’s back up. Before the 2000 release, X-Men was in development for over a decade and a half. At one point, James Cameron was slated to produce with his then wife Kathryn Bigelow attached to direct. Later on, Robert Rodriguez turned the project down. A gander at the pic’s Wikipedia page is an entertaining read (Mariah Carey was in the mix for Storm at one juncture and Angela Bassett was first choice). X-Men was rushed to make its summer release date 20 years ago today after it was originally intended for Christmas 2000.

That rushed feeling does show on up on screen a little, but the overall end result speaks for itself. What occurred two decades ago is a major mark in the comic book movie renaissance that continues to this day. The franchise has certainly had its ups and downs. X2: X-Men United was the first sequel in 2003 and it is generally considered a high point. Three years later, Brett Ratner took over directorial reigns with The Last Stand and (while a huge hit) the quality took a dip. Matthew Vaughn would reestablish critical kudos in rebooting the series in 2011 with First Class (bringing Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence to the screen playing younger counterparts to key characters). Jackman’s first spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine faced deserved backlash while 2017’s Logan was lauded and landed an Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination. And a cheeky and R rated offshoot called Deadpool with Ryan Reynolds would dazzle audiences and critics alike. Last summer’s Dark Phoenix didn’t do any dazzling and was another low ebb in the series. Spin-off The New Mutants has seen release date changes that began in 2018 and it’s pretty much a running joke as to whether it will ever come out.

That long road began in 2000 and has shaped the cinematic universe since. And if you had to mark a spot for the comic book landscape today as it stands now on the screen, it started that day.

Top Ten Summer Hits of 1998: A Look Back

Each summer on the blog, I recount the top 10 summer hits from 30, 20, and 10 years ago. Last week was 1988 and the sounds of three decades ago. If you missed it, you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/06/21/top-ten-summer-hits-of-1988-a-look-back/

Today we move to 1998 and the tunes burning up our CD players (if we were lucky enough to have one in our car) 20 years ago. As with previous posts, I rank each track from 1 (summer bummer) to 10 (summer smash) and reveal the most important truth: is said song on my Apple Music?

Let’s get to it!

10. “All My Life” by K-Ci & JoJo

We start off quite well with this ballad from K-Ci and JoJo, who originally rose to fame with the R&B group Jodeci. It’s schmaltzy, yes, but in the best way and it gets the job done with the singers expert vocal performances.

My Ranking: 9 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: Yes

9. “Crush” by Jennifer Paige

I must confess to having no recollection of this track when I saw it was #9. Listening to it again, it’s a pleasant enough ditty from the one-hit wonder. That said, it’s also rather forgettable.

My Ranking: 6

It Is On My Apple Music?: No

8. “Make It Hot” by Nicole featuring Missy Elliot and Mocha

Timbaland was mostly busy around this time stirring up classics for Aaliyah and Missy Elliot. Yet he concocted this gem for Nicole with assists from Elliot and Mocha. It was her only major hit, but it’s a terrific example of its producer’s wizardry behind the boards.

My Rating: 9

Is It On My Apple Music?: Yes

7. “Come with Me” by Puff Daddy featuring Jimmy Page

Combine Puff’s love of sampling with the guitar riffs of Jimmy Page’s “Kashmir” and promoting the summer’s unfortunate Godzilla reboot? You get a hit… albeit one that is just as ultimately disappointing as the film in which it appeared on the soundtrack.

My Rating: 5

Is It On My Apple Music? No

6. “My All” by Mariah Carey

Ms. Carey has certainly had her share of powerful ballads. “My All” is an effective one, though I don’t rank it among her most memorable.

My Rating: 7

Is It On My Apple Music?: Yes (but mostly because I have her greatest hits and don’t listen to this one hardly at all)

5. “Adia” by Sarah MacLachlan

The Canadian singer is now mostly known for causing you tear up during commercials to help dogs, but she had a string of hits including this one. I’ve never been a big fan and this track does little for me, despite her lovely voice.

My Rating: 5 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

4. “My Way” by Usher

The title track from Usher’s multi-platinum album is a Jermaine Dupri produced banger that spent lots of time being played loudly in my 1987 Ford Thunderbird 20 years ago. Check out Tyrese in the video as well.

My Rating: 9

It Is On My Apple Music?: Yes

3. “Too Close” by Next

An incredibly catchy R&B song from a band that didn’t produce many more hits. This one, however, could still be a massive hit today.

My Rating: 9 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: Yes

2. “You’re Still the One” by Shania Twain

Another Canadian crooner had her first major crossover hit with this ballad. It moved Twain out of just being known as a country act to one with serious pop appeal.

My Rating: 8

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

1. “The Boy is Mine” by Brandy & Monica

It’s no “The Girl is Mine” by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, but this mid-tempo pop track paired two of the era’s most successful R&B singers to hugely successful results on the charts. Looking back now, I don’t love it (I could list stronger tracks by both Brandy and Monica) but it’s decent.

My Rating: 7 and a half

Is It On My Apple Music?: No

And there you have it! The sounds of 1998 in the summertime…

I’ll return soon with 2008.

The Star Box Office Prediction

Sony Pictures is hoping family and faith-based audiences make the journey to The Star next weekend. The animated tale is centered around some talking animals and their adventures as the first Christmas is occurring. Some familiar faces in both the film and music world provide voices including Steven Yeun, Gina Rodriguez, Keegan-Michael Key, Tyler Perry, Kristin Chenoweth, Zachary Levi, Tracy Morgan, Anthony Anderson, Mariah Carey, Kelly Clarkson, Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias, Patricia Heaton, and even Oprah Winfrey.

Made for a small reported budget of just $18 million, The Star will hope to shine brightly with its intended audience before Pixar’s Coco arrives just five days later for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Prognosticating for this one is a little tricky. I could certainly see it exceeding expectations with a gross high in the teens. However, I believe a more likely scenario is an opening weekend in the lower double digits to maybe lower teens with hope that it holds over well the following holiday weekend (even with the Coco competition).

The Star opening weekend prediction: $10.3 million

For my Justice League prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/11/07/justice-league-box-office-prediction/

For my Wonder prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/11/08/wonder-box-office-prediction/

The Lego Batman Movie Box Office Prediction

Three February’s ago, Warner Bros hit the animation jackpot with The Lego Movie. A proper sequel is on its way come 2019, but in the meantime we have a spin-off based on one of the most popular characters as The Lego Batman Movie hits theaters next weekend.

The 3D computer generated pic returns Will Arnett as the Caped Crusader in this action comedy from director Chris McKay, who was animation co-director on Lego. Zach Galifianakis voices The Joker, Michael Cera is Robin, Rosario Dawson is Batgirl, and Ralph Fiennes lends support as butler Alfred.

As the original is only three years old and the Lego line has a dedicated base, Lego fans should come out in droves for this. That said, I don’t quite expect this to match the $69 million achieved in the first weekend by its predecessor (it eventually made $257 million domestically). A high 50s to potentially high 60s gross seems more feasible, meaning it should debut at #1 ahead of Christian and Anastasia in Fifty Shades Darker.

The Lego Batman Movie opening weekend prediction: $65.8 million

For my Fifty Shades Darker prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/02/01/fifty-shades-darker-box-office-prediction/

For my John Wick: Chapter 2 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/02/02/john-wick-chapter-2-box-office-prediction/

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping Movie Review

In the humorously titled Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, there’s a gag involving the terrific Will Arnett that only takes up maybe three minutes of screen time. He plays the host of “CMZ” (think TMZ) as he hilariously chats with his staff of gossip reporters and furiously downs big gulps and other assorted beverages. It struck my funny bone so much that I found myself wondering how good a movie would be if it were just about them. Then I remembered that taking memorable three minute bits and stretching them into feature length comedies usually doesn’t work.

There are other moments in Popstar that work. Yet it didn’t quite change my theory above. Fans of “Saturday Night Live” are familiar with The Lonely Island, Andy Samberg’s music group responsible for several YouTube friendly videos packed with catchy lyrics and musical icon cameos. Here, Samberg and his colleagues Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone (that pair share directing duties) make up The Style Boyz – a hip hop pop trio that hit it big. Yet it’s Kid Connor (Samberg) that was the Justin Timberlake (who cameos), Beyoncé or Method Man of the group and branches out on the solo tip. Taccone’s Kid Contact becomes his DJ and Schaffer’s Kid Brain leaves the business to become a farmer in Colorado (wonder where that development will lead to??).

We pick up as solo act Connor4Real is set to debut his sophomore album, which is a disaster looming. Along the way, Popstar parodies the extreme narcissism of its industry while throwing in plenty of ridiculous songs. None of them really hold a candle to the brilliance displayed in the granddaddy of music doc spoofs, This is Spinal Tap.  As mentioned, there’s just not enough solid material to totally justify the 90 minutes here.

One mistake is that the Lonely team who wrote the screenplay seem to believe that cameos count as jokes. There are tons and tons of cameos. Admittedly some work (Seal’s bit is a trip and Timberlake gets to flex his comedic chops), but many others leave no impression. For the performers not playing themselves, a little of Samberg’s Connor goes a long way. Sarah Silverman and Tim Meadows are mostly background players as his publicist and manager. And the versatile Joan Cusack pops up so briefly as Connor’s hard partying mom that I can only think her part was left on the cutting room floor.

While there are laughs to be had here, you’re probably better off looking up the trio’s SNL work. They’re shorter and more consistently funny. See if you can find Arnett’s scenes too…

**1/2 (out of four)

Top Ten Summer Music Hits of 1996: A Look Back

As I do in the summer on this sweet blog o’ mine, we take you back 30 years and 20 years and 10 years recounting the top ten summer hits of those years. Last week, we kicked it off with the jams of 1986… they’re here if you didn’t catch it…

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/05/26/top-ten-summer-music-hits-of-1986-a-look-back/

This week – it’s 1996 and the songs that were playing on your fancy car CD player (or if you were like me, portable CD player into your tape deck) during those hot months some two decades ago. As with the previous entry, you’ll get track my rating to 0 (total summer bummer) to 10 (hot summer fire) and whether or not said track populates my iTunes.

Let’s get to it!

10. “I Love You Always Forever” by Donna Lewis

This Welsh singer and one-hit wonder had this poppy concoction that got stuck in all our heads. Catchy? Yes. Eventually annoying? Kind of. Sorta forgettable? Little bit.

My Rating: 6 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? No

9. “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion

Produced by David Foster and penned by Diane Warren, this is one of Ms. Dion’s most well-known power ballads and for good reason. Her vocals are soaring, as ever. This was actually a giant hit in the spring of 1996 from the soundtrack to the Robert Redford/Michelle Pfeiffer weepie Up Close and Personal and its staying power bled over to the summer months.

My Rating: 8

Is It On My iTunes? No

8. “Always Be My Baby” by Mariah Carey

Now we’re talking! Mariah’s had tons of pop gems, but this Jermaine Dupri produced track from her Daydream album has always rivaled “Fantasy” as my very favorite. It’s just a fantastically constructed song that represents the best of 90s R&B.

My Rating: 10

Is It On My iTunes: Yes (doo-doo-doo…)

7. “Twisted” by Keith Sweat

Mr. Sweat experienced a major career resurgence in the mid-90s and “Twisted” is the memorable and silky slow jam that kicked it off.

My Rating: 8 and a half

Is It On My iTunes: Yes

6. “C’Mon Ride It (The Train)” by Quad City DJ’s

One of the highlights of the jock jam craze of the decade, Florida group Quad City DJ’s capitalized in a huge way with this track. Built for sporting events, weddings, and looking stupid dancing in your car, it’s undeniably stays with you.

My Rating: 8

Is It On My iTunes? No

5. “How Do U Want It” by 2Pac featuring K-Ci & JoJo

With an assist on the chorus from Jodeci’s K-Ci & JoJo, “How Do U Want It” was 2Pac’s mainstream R&B tinged rap smash that hit it big the summer before his untimely passing. It’s not one of my very top songs from his magnificent All Eyez on Me album, but it’s still pretty great.

My Rating: 9

Is It On My iTunes? Yes

4. “Give Me One Reason” by Tracy Chapman

Eight years after her hit “Fast Car”, Tracy Chapman released the biggest song of her career with this – a perfectly pleasant bluesy ditty.

My Rating: 7 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? No

3. “Tha Crossroads” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony

The Cleveland rappers rose up to new heights with their rapid fire yet touching tribute to their founder, Eazy-E. Total classic.

My Rating: 10

Is It On My iTunes? Yes

2. “You’re Makin’ Me High” by Toni Braxton

The lead single off her second album, this mid-tempo track from producer extraordinaire Babyface represents Braxton at her best.

My Rating: 9

Is It On My iTunes: Yes

  1. “Macarena” by Los Del Rio

If you’re old enough to remember the summer of ’96, this was undeniably the track you heard the most. It set off a dance craze that had Presidential candidates, soccer moms, your Grandma, and everyone else doing it. I’ll give credit to this Spanish duo for catching lightning in a bottle… even if, like the rest of the world’s population, I thought it got really tiresome eventually.

My Rating: 6

Is It On My iTunes: No

And that will do it for now. Next week… 2006 where we will be ridin’ dirty and seeing if our hips lie…

 

Top Ten Summer Music Hits of 2005: A Look Back

We’ve arrived at day three of my look back at the top 10 Billboard Summer Songs from the past 30 years, 20 years and tonight – from 10 years ago. If you missed my first two posts, they should be linked at the bottom of this here post. As with the previous entries, I’ll offer my thoughts on each track on a scale of 1 (summertime blues) to 10 (summertime classic). And I’ll reveal the all important answer as to whether said song is on my iTunes.

Let’s get to it with the ten most listened to songs of summer 2005:

10. “You and Me” by Lifehouse

OK, the list isn’t starting out so well. I’ve never been a fan of this band and “You and Me” (which I had completely forgotten about) didn’t change that. Listless and dull pop rock.

My Rating: 3

Is It On My iTunes? No

9. “Let Me Hold You” by Bow Wow featuring Omarion

The Columbus based rapper dropped the Lil from his name and entered grown folks territory with this R&B flavored ditty that samples Luther Vandross. It’s a perfectly passable radio diversion that is easily forgotten.

My Rating: 6

Is It On My iTunes? No

8. “Just a Lil Bit” by 50 Cent

Two years prior, 50 had a hip hop classic with “In Da Club”. This one isn’t close to that classic but it’s a pretty good effort from Mr. Cent.

My Rating: 6 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? No

7. “Lose Control” by Missy Elliot featuring Ciara and Fat Man Scoop

Now we’re getting somewhere! This is a genuine club banger from Missy and her brilliant producer Timbaland. Sounds as fresh today as it did a decade ago.

My Rating: 9 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? Yes

6. “Pon De Replay” by Rihanna

This is how it all started for superstar Rihanna and her debut single is a reggae influenced dancehall jam. Even better work would follow, but this was a nice start.

My Rating: 7 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? Yes

5. “Don’t Phunk With My Heart” by The Black Eyed Peas

The first single off their album Monkey Business, “Phunk” employs the sound we’ve come to expect from BEP. It’s goes down well and is easy to dance to, but this is not among their very best work.

My Rating: 7

Is It On My iTunes? No

4. “Behind These Hazel Eyes” by Kelly Clarkson

The inaugural American Idol champion followed up the massive “Since U Been Gone” with another tailor made hit to belt out alone in the car and only feel slightly guilty about it.

My Rating: 7 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? No

3. “Don’t Cha” by The Pussycat Dolls featuring Busta Rhymes

The group may have been manufactured but this single is a pop gem with a rap assist by Busta Rhymes that came from producer Cee-Lo Green.

My Rating: 8

Is It On My iTunes? No, but it should be

2. “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani

You might have grown sick of it, but this Pharrell produced infectious groove was a monster hit for a reason. It’s impossible to forget, especially that addictive chorus from No Doubt’s lead singer.

My Rating: 9 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? Yes

1. “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey

It was a juggernaut of a song and a major comeback for Miss Mariah. It’s a slow tempo and simply produced track and there’s nothing really wrong with it, but it’s far from one of my favorite tunes from her.

My Rating: 6 and a half

Is It On My iTunes? No

And there you have it! The summer songs of 2005. I hope you enjoyed reading my throwback look back at the seasonal hits of 1985, 1995 and 2005.

 

Top 90 R&B Songs of the 1990s: Nos. 20-11

We have reached the Top 20 of my personal Top 90 R&B Songs of the 1990s, with the Top Ten coming tomorrow! For those wishing to peruse my previous entries, scroll through the homepage of the blog or click the Music tab to easily find them.

Let’s get it going!

20. “Back & Forth” by Aaliyah (1994)

The debut single from the late singer’s first album was written and produced by R. Kelly and remains one of her classics, staying at #1 for three weeks.

19. “Bump n’ Grind” by R. Kelly (1994)

This is the sultry track that turned Mr. Kelly into a superstar and it spent 12 weeks atop the R&B charts.

18. “Always Be My Baby” by Mariah Carey (1996)

From her Daydream album, this Jermaine Dupri produced track marks Mariah’s highest hit on my list.

17. “Humpin’ Around” by Bobby Brown (1992)

Bobby’s lead single off his Bobby album is a New Jack Swing classic from mega producers L.A.&Babyface.

16. “Only You” by 112 (1996)

This absolute banger includes rap verses from the great Notorious B.I.G. and Mase.

15. “If Your Girl Only Knew” by Aaliyah (1996)

The first single of her One in a Million album, this was the first time we heard the magic of Timbaland’s production with her voice.

14. “Right Here (Human Nature)” by SWV (1992)

Teddy Riley produced this fantastic track that incorporates Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” with the girl group’s vocals. A masterpiece.

13. “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” by Maxwell

The soulful classic was the debut single from Maxwell’s acclaimed Urban Hang Suite album.

12. “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan (1995)

This one still kills if it comes on the club and Montell’s signature tune spent seven weeks at #1.

11. “That’s the Way Loves Goes” by Janet Jackson (1993)

Ms. Jackson’s first single off her janet album is her most memorable track of the 1990s, where she put out many terrific hits.

Alright folks! Tomorrow: the Top Ten!

 

Top 90 R&B Songs of the 1990s: Nos. 30-21

We are a week into my Top 90 R&B Songs of the 1990s and that means part seven and numbers 30-21!

Please click the Music category of the blog to review previous entries. Let’s get to it:

30. “Doo Wop” (That Thing) by Lauryn Hill (1998)

Hill left the Fugees to start a solo career and hit it big with her first album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and this great first single that marks her only #1 solo hit.

29. “You Make Me Wanna…” by Usher (1997)

The lead single from Usher’s My Way album is among his finest tracks with production from Jermaine Dupri.

28. “I’m So Into You” by SWV (1992)

The female trio had their first top ten hit with this terrific uptempo groove.

27. “Don’t Walk Away” by Jade (1993)

The New Jack swing club anthem gave this girl group their signature hit.

26. “Cream” by Prince (1991)

The Purple One has joked that he wrote this song in the mirror. At least I think he was joking.

**Blogger’s Note: Prince doesn’t allow his videos on YouTube

25. “Not Gon Cry” by Mary J. Blige (1996)

Ms. Mary’s ballad from the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack is among her top career highlights.

24. “Rub You the Right Way” by Johnny Gill (1990)

The New Edition singer had the biggest hit of his solo career with this banger from producers Jam and Lewis.

23. “Too Close” by Next (1997)

The male trio had a monster hit on their hands with its infectious beat and highly suggestive lyrical content.

22. “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd (1991)

The group’s biggest hit came from the New Jack City soundtrack and has certainly stood the test of time.

21. “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey (1995)

Carey’s lead single from her Daydream album is a classic among her staple of #1 hits. It also has an awesome Puff Daddy remix featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

Tomorrow – we’ll get into the Top 20!

 

Top 90 R&B Songs of the 1990s: Nos. 40-31

We’re at day six of my personal Top 90 R&B Songs of the 1990s. For those who wish to read my previous entries, just click on the Music category of this here blog and they’ll magically show up. Today brings us to numbers 40-31 and let’s go to it:

40. “Killing Me Softly” by The Fugees (1996)

This hip hop trio was tremendously influential in their too brief time together. This Roberta Flack cover is their one smash hit that can safely be classified as R&B with Lauryn Hill’s beautiful vocals.

39. “Motownphilly” by Boyz II Men (1990)

The hit single that started it all for this trio. They may be best known for their slow jams, but this deserves its spot on the list.

38. “I Get Lonely” by Janet Jackson (1998)

Ms. Jackson’s single on her acclaimed Velvet Rope album also featured a remix with Blackstreet.

37. “My Love Is Your Love” by Whitney Houston (1999)

“I Will Always Love You” may be her signature tune from the decade (it made #50 on here), but this Wylcef Jean produced track is my personal Whitney favorite of hers from the 90s.

36. “Any Time, Any Place” by Janet Jackson (1994)

Janet’s sultry and unforgettable single from her 1993 janet album earns her yet another entry.

35. “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey (1990)

The great ballad that started it all for Mariah and was her first #1 single of many more to come.

34. “No, No, No Part 2” by Destiny’s Child (1997)

Most of their biggest singles came the following decade, but Beyoncé and company got off to their storied career with this gem from Wyclef Jean yet again.

33. “Scream” by Michael and Janet Jackson (1995)

The brother and sister finally got together for “Scream” and a fantastic song and video were the result.

32. “I’ll Make Love to You” by Boyz II Men (1994)

Coming off a successful first album, the Boyz became a phenomenon with this first single from their second album… an unforgettable concoction from producer Babyface.

31. “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days” by Monica (1995)

This Dallas Austin production gave Monica her first of many hits. For Monica, her debut single is still her best.

And that’s tonight’s edition! We’ll get into the top third of the list tomorrow with numbers 30-21.