My Highlights Of 2016

As the year comes to a close various top ten and  best of  lists will be published. Many of these lists can be fun to read. This is not really a true top ten list, plus it contains eleven items.  It is an brief overview of some entertainment highlights that come to mind from 2016.

Unfortunately 2016 was a year full of far too much bad news, negativity, hate and division. At times during 2016 the world seemed like a very dark place. At the end of the year it’s good to reflect on some of the entertainment that brought some light into my life in 2016.

Phil Collins’ Reemergence

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Phil Collins’ slow and steady reemergence from retirement. Not one event, but a series of live appearances, interviews and the release of his autobiography Not Dead Yet. All of this is leading up to some large scale concerts in 2017. At 65 years of age Phil Collins may look a little rough around the edges. But he is still one of my favorite musical artists. The man’s music has brought a lot of light to my life over the years.

Xiphea – Once Upon A Time

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Xiphea are a fantastic symphonic metal band out of Germany. They call their brand of music Fairytale Metal. With song titles like Beauty And The King, Masquerade, Cinderella and Power Of The Dwarfs one can understand the label. Do not let the song titles fool you, this is a serious and heavy band.  Once Upon A Time is Xiphea’s third release.  So far they have released one EP and two full length albums.  The future looks bright for this band.   I plan on writing more about them in a future blog.

The Genesis Show

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The Genesis Show are an absolutely amazing and talented Phil Collins era Genesis tribute band that, for now, focuses on Genesis live circa 1976-1977. Tribute bands can be hit or miss, either really good or downright silly. The Genesis Show are a serious band that are passionate about playing the music of Genesis. I had the great pleasure of seeing them live this year. As a huge Genesis fan since 1981 I was extremely impressed by The Genesis Show. The musicianship on display was incredible. I highly recommend seeing them live.

Kansas – The Prelude Implicit

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I count Kansas among my top 20 favorite bands. Their newest release, The Prelude Implicit, is a strong argument for classic bands continuing to record new music. I would definitely place The Prelude Implicit on my top ten favorite Kansas albums list. The band’s new singer Ronnie Platt has some incredibly big shoes to fill. He does so quite well. I look forward to more new music by this great band.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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A very, very good Star Wars film that falls short of being great by playing it too safe in the second half of the movie.  But I will say that the movie contains one of my absolute favorite scenes from any Star Wars movie. I just hope that the success of this film will allow for more ambitious Star Wars movies in the future.

Arrow: Season Five

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A fantastic rebound from the disappointment of season four. It would seem that in the off season the creative team revisited the things that made the show great in the past. Half way through season five and  I would say that Arrow is back on track.  Stephen Amell, in the title role, continues to play this character with such conviction.

Metallica…Hardwired To Self-Destruct

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It’s been eight years since Death Magnetic, but overall it was worth the wait. The double disc release showcases a collection of fast and heavy songs by a rejuvenated band. Unfortunately all of the songs are not equal. I would say that if the band had trimmed the fat and lost two songs they would have had a killer single disc.

Captain America: Civil War

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A movie that contained not only great action, but also great drama. Civil War and the prior Captain America movie The Winter Soldier have really brought superhero movies to a new level. There is a lot going on in this movie, but the performances of Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. provide a solid foundation and help keep the movie grounded.

Doctor Strange

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Doctor Strange is Marvel’s latest superhero movie.  It stars Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role.   Benedict Cumberbatch joins the ranks of actors  like Hugh Jackman, Christopher Reeve, Harrison Ford and Patrick Stewart. What do they have in common?  It seems that they were born to bring to life certain iconic characters. Wolverine, Superman, Indiana Jones, Professor Xavier and in Cumberbatch’s case Doctor Stephen Strange. A great movie with a fantastic performance by Cumberbatch.

Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

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I know it had it critics, but I loved this movie. Henry Cavill is super as Superman. Ben Affleck really nails the true essence of Bruce Wayne/Batman. His portrayal of Bruce Wayne is my favorite of any actor to date. I love Diane Lane as Martha Kent. Gal Gadot’s fantastic performance as Wonder Woman may be my biggest and most pleasant surprise of the year. The only real downside for me was Jesse Eisenberg’s performance as Lex Luthor.  His was a different take on the character that did not really work for me.

Epica – The Holographic Principal

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I feel that Epica, a symphonic metal band out of the Netherlands, are the best band in their genre. The Holographic Principal is their seventh studio album and it is phenomenal. Epica continues to grow and evolve with each new album. Their unique and dense mix of thrash metal, opera, progressive rock, classical music, death metal and soundtrack scores continues to delight this metal fan a great deal.

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Goodbye Princess Leia Organa

Wow, what can be said, Carrie Fisher has passed away. Like so many my age I can honestly say that the original Star Wars trilogy changed my life. There are not many movies that I would say that about. Seeing Star Wars in 1977 as a seven year old boy was quite an eye opening and mind expanding experience. A big part of that experience was of course due to Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. I did not have a crush on her as many fans did. I was to busy wanting to be like Luke Skywalker. But there is no doubt that she was an attractive and vibrant woman.

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A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi are films that I have viewed numerous times since their first release. I count myself fortunate that I was old enough to see the films in the theater on their initial release. I would rate them, especially The Empire Strikes Back, among my favorite movies. Princess Leia’s part is so pivotal to the films. Whether she was in the role of a member of the Imperial Senate, a leader of the Rebel Alliance, Han Solo’s love interest or Luke Skywalker’s twin sister, her part was so important to the success of the trilogy.

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The prequels and the two most recent Star Wars films have built on Leia’s legacy. They have offered portrayals of strong, confident women. Padme Amidala, Rey and most recently Jyn Erso have followed in Leia’s footsteps. However, I would say that none of them will have the same impact as Princess Leia.

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Goodbye Leia Organa.  Goodbye Carrie Fisher.  Many of us may have first met you in a galaxy far, far away…… but you have left us far too soon.

Merry Christmas 2016

Between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve we cram so much celebration and goodwill into such a short period of time. When it’s all over it almost feels as if there is no more cheer  left, until the next holiday.   With all of the craziness of buying turkeys, eggnog and noise makers we sometimes lose sight of what’s really important.  I hope that we all can take some time and reflect on the things in life that are truly important.  Merry Christmas!  Just a reminder that He is the reason for the season.

Troy T.

Steve Hackett: A Selection Of Album Covers

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Information on Steve Hackett’s newest album was recently released. The new album, entitled The Night Siren, will be released March 24 2017. This is extremely exciting news. The man already has a very impressive discography, but new music is always welcome.

Steve Hackett has been quite prolific and productive for the last several years. He has released several solo albums and recorded an album with the late great Chris Squire. It seems as if he has been on tour nonstop. Somehow he also found the time to guest on other artist’s albums including John Hackett, Nick Magnus, Dave Kerzner, Steve Rothery, Nad Sylvan and John Wetton among others.

One of the constants of Hackett’s long career, besides his fantastic music, has been many wonderful album covers. For the bulk of his career most of the album covers featured artwork  produced by his now ex-wife, Kim Poor. An unfortunate aftermath of their divorce in 2007 was a shift to the use of photography for his album covers. Gone are the beautifully dreamlike painting of Kim Poor.

The reveal of the upcoming album cover for The Night Siren left me a bit underwhelmed. As it stands now I would rate it as one of my least favorite Steve Hackett album covers. With that being said, here are my favorite Steve Hackett album covers.

Guitar Noir (1993)

An album cover where  the colors used by Kim Poor reflect the sounds and atmospheres of the music.  A beautiful album cover for an incredibly emotional album.

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Spectral Mornings  (1979)

Once again the cover, beautifully rendered by Kim Poor, reflects the feel of the music. Arguably Hackett’s definitive album musically. One could argue the same for the artwork.

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Guitar Noir / There Are Many Sides To The Night (2008)

Two of Hackett’s prior albums reissued together.  The cover contains my absolute favorite photo of Steve Hackett.  I would love to have been sitting at the same table enjoying  a cup of coffee and this moment in time.

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Live Archive 90’s (2001)

I love this photo, the man at work live.

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Live Archive 70,80,90’s (2001)

Like Genesis, Steve Hackett over the years has effectively used lighting during his live shows.  This photo captures one of those moments.

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Momentum  (1988)

An incredibly   intimate painting by Kim Poor.  A wonderful reflection of the intimate acoustic music contained on the cd.

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Live Archive 04 (2004)

Another great live photo, so full of mystery.  Somehow the colors convey the sounds of the Hackett concert experience.  The filter used on the photograph gives the image an impressionistic look.

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Defector (1980)

Musically and art wise Spectral Mornings and Defector are an excellent one-two punch.

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Out of The Tunnel’s Mouth (2009)

The start of a new era in Steve Hackett album covers.  Kim Poor’s painting are now just  in memory.  There is something about the cover photo that has a sense of new beginnings.  As a photograph it does has a bit of a painterly quality to it.

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Metamorpheus (2005)

Another fantastic dreamlike Kim Poor painting.  Like much of her work there is a sense of stillness, drama and mystery.

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Harrison Ford’s 21st Century Trifecta

The teaser trailer for Blade Runner 2049 was just released. The trailer offers the first glimpses of  an older Rick Deckard and the movie’s release date, 10/06/2017. Upon it’s release Blade Runner 2049 will complete Harrison Ford’s 21st century trifecta. The trifecta being Ford revisiting his three most iconic movie characters: Indiana Jones in 2008, Han Solo in 2015 and now Rick Deckard in 2017.

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I welcomed his return as Indiana Jones with open arms. The original Indiana Jones trilogy was all that one could ask for in action and adventure moviemaking. Yet there was still a desire in me for more from this great character. It felt like there was some unfinished business. The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull was a fun and satisfying way to see the character off. For me his adventures, as portrayed by Harrison Ford, now felt complete. But I am open to the role being recast, with the right young actor.

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Ford’s return as Han Solo in The Force Awakens is a different story. The original Star Wars trilogy felt complete to me. There was a window of time in the late 1980’s where another trilogy, post Return Of The Jedi, felt right. But as time moved on and the actors grew older I felt that the limited window had closed. As a fan I was not clamoring to see an aging Han Solo. I understand the force of nostalgia, but I was good with the memories of a young Han Solo. The Force Awakens obviously proved that  I was in the minority. I must admit that it was good to see Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker on the big screen again. However, the only character that really made sense being involved in a new Star Wars movie was Luke Skywalker. But, that’s just one fan’s opinion.

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The world of Blade Runner is wide open with possibilities. Rick Deckard is just one of a group of Blade Runners, so the story possibilities are vast. After viewing the teaser trailer I am now a bit excited and intrigued. Seeing Ford as Deckard, at least one more time, should be a thrill. I am still keeping my expectations low, but I do look forward to this long awaited sequel. Whether he is involved in further Blade Runner movies remains to be seen.

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Han Solo: A Smuggler’s Trade – A Star Wars Fan Film

I know that there are a lot of fan made films out there.  Some are excellent, some are rather cheesy, but fun. Honestly I would love to watch them all, but it is a matter of priorities and time.  Every now and then one fan made film slips through that really nails it.

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Someone recently posted this video, Han Solo: A Smugglers Trade. The title and image displayed  on the posting really caught my attention. When I initially saw the image I thought that it was the first trailer for the upcoming  young Han Solo movie. Than I realized that it was a fan made film.  Being a huge fan of  Harrison Ford and the Star Wars films  I immediately clicked on the link.  Wow, what a pleasant surprise!  Jamie Costa portrays Han Solo and he is superb. He looks like a combination of a young Harrison Ford mixed with a young Kurt Russell. He really has many of Harrison Ford’s mannerisms down.  The short film captures the feel and look of the Star Wars movies, even down to the soundtrack.

I do not want to give away the story, but this was an absolute pleasure to watch.  Kudos to those responsible for this short film.  A lot of love and passion, as well as skill, went into this production. The Force is indeed strong with this one.

DC And Marvel TV Midseason Roundup

Many shows on television are currently  in the midst of a Winter break. This feels like a good time to give a brief overview of the DC and Marvel television shows that I currently watch. I have put them in order of favorite to least favorite, based only on the current season. This is not to say that I dislike any of the shows listed.  I enjoy them all  for different reasons.  Beware there are many spoilers ahead!

Arrow

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Arrow is back on track! Wow!!! This season has been an extremely pleasant surprise after a lackluster and utterly disappointing season 4. Stephen Amell has been the glue on this show. One of the great things about him is that he is just as compelling to watch whether he is the Green Arrow or Oliver Queen.

For me the show was at it’s best when Team Arrow was just Arrow, Diggle and Felicity. I do understand the desire to expand the team and grow Arrowverse. However, the more metahumans and costumed characters that appear do pull the once reality grounded show closer to a living comic book. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but some of  the choices may not be the best ones for this show.   I am choosing to go with the flow of the show.

Overall the newest version of Team Arrow works. However the incredibly hardheaded and impatient Wild Dog may one day wear out his welcome on the show. Ragman is just so cool, no issues here. I was really getting into Artemis, but a great plot twist revealed that she is not who she said she was. I have a feeling that she may come around, maybe. Curtis has gotten less annoying, however the code name of Mr. Terrific just does not work in real life.

The two villains this season have been a breath of fresh area. Damien Darhk was a great villain last season, however I do not feel that Arrow and the use magic were the best of combinations. The introduction of Tobias Church, with his incredible fighting skills and brass knuckles, was a return to form. And the reveal that Prometheus, another masked archer, was the real villain of Season Five was a great surprise.

This season has done so many things right, it’s amazing. Oliver as Mayor, his new love interest, a new and improved mask for Spartan and an engaging flashback storyline. Speaking of the flashbacks, who had the absolutely brilliant idea to cast Dolph Lungren? He has been fantastic, this man can really act when given the opportunity. I hope to see a lot more of his character as the season progresses. And the mid-season ended on quite a cliffhanger!

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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It’s incredible how this show continues to improve and mature with each season. After an enjoyable, but slightly underwhelming, first season this show has really skyrocketed to it current great state. One of the major turning points of the whole series was the introduction of Mack. He has added so much to the team and to the show. He is an incredibly physical presence and his character brings so much richness to the show.

There are so many interesting plots and subplots happening this season. The most obvious being the introduction of Ghost Rider. When this was first announced I was not excited at all. I did not see the correlation between Ghost Rider and S.H.I.E.L.D. I stand corrected, what a fantastic storyline it turned out to be. The new director of S.H.I.E.L.D, played by the great actor Jason O’Mara, being an Inhuman was a twist. Daisy/Quake’s new gritty and goth persona. Doctor Radcliffe’s secret project, AIDA, and all of it’s potentially harmful ramifications leading into the next story arc Life Model Decoy.

Of all the shows on this list S.H.I.E.L.D is far and away the one that has grown and improved the most.

Gotham

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Let me make a confession. Last season I was secretly hoping that Gotham would get cancelled. The show veered so far off track that I was losing interest. There was just enough there to keep me curious about the overall storyline. But I didn’t really want to have to sift through the dreck to discover what was going to happen next.

When Gotham was first announced I really did not see a reason for the show. Once again I was quickly proven wrong. Season One produced a surprisingly engaging show. Ben McKenzie as James Gordon and David Mazouz as a young Bruce Wayne quickly won me over. Jada Pinkett Smith was mesmerizing as Fish Mooney.

Sad to say that many of the things that made Season One so great were lacking in Season Two. The second season spent far too much time dealing with Arkham Asylum, Hugo Strange and his experiments. Plus the level of violence and gore was escalating far too much. Was this a show based on comic books or was it a horror movie?

This season, thankfully, the gore has been minimized and the emphasis put back on great storylines and character development. That being said, whose bright idea was it to turn the Penguin into a lovesick schoolboy pining away for the very heterosexual Riddler? Speaking of the Riddler, his character continues to be one of the highlights of the show. The Mad Hatter storyline and it continuing after effects has been quite interesting. It’s effects on Captain Barnes, played by one of my favorite actors Michael Chiklis, have been bittersweet. His story arc was great, however as a result it looks like he may no longer be on the show. I do hope that this is not the case.

The focus on great stories and deeper character development has really reignited my interest in Gotham this season. I hope that the show can continue on this track going forward.

The Flash

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So far a great, but slightly uneven season. The ramifications of Flashpoint just keep unfolding. This is an all-encompassing storyline that if handled wrong could have been a disaster. Well, so far so good. Grant Gustin as Barry Allen/ The Flash continues to excel. I must say that I have never been 100% happy with his costume, but Gustin really makes it work.

Just like the prior shows mentioned, so many great plots and subplots going on here. Caitlin Snow emerging as a metahuman. Wally West’s long journey to becoming Kid Flash. A new love interest for Joe West. The introduction of Julian Albert and his reveal as Doctor Alcemy. The introduction of the very Transformer like speed god Savitar. There is a lot going on in Central City this season! The Flash has been excellent since season one and, so far, that trend is continuing.

Supergirl

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I was a big fan of the first season of Supergirl. Melissa Benoist was fantastic in the lead role She was given the opportunity to regularly flex her muscles by fighting a wide array of super powered criminals and aliens. Calista Flockhart was such a strong presence as Cat Grant. She really helped to keep the show focused and grounded.

Season Two began strong with the unexpectedly cool Tyler Hoechlin portraying Superman/Clark Kent. But as the season has progressed I feel that the overall quality of the show has slipped a bit.

There are definite positives this season. The introduction of Mon-El, Lena Luther and James Olsen’s emergence as The Guardian have really helped the show. Other storylines include deeper character development for J’onn J’onzz and the slowly unfolding mysteries of Cadmus. All of these plotlines have been big pluses.

But everything about Season Two has not been a hit with this fan. The loss of Cat Grant, Maxwell Lord and Alex Danver’s all consuming identity crisis storyline have helped to weaken a once great show. Another negative is the writers apparent desire to show us that she may be Supergirl, but she is not invulnerable or all powerful. It seems to me that in this new season Supergirl has been knocked around and defeated on a regular basis.

I am hoping that some of these missteps are just a temporary sophomore slump. But I really do miss Cat Grant and Maxwell Lord and what they brought to the show.

Legends Of Tomorrow

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Season Two has been a busy one. Nate Heywood/Steel has been a great addition to the show. The introduction of the Justice Society of America was incredibly cool. But Rip Hunter is sorely missed! Without him leading the team the show feels a bit loose. Sara Lance/The White Canary was a much more interesting character when she appeared on Arrow as The Canary. Having her lead the team is not the show’s best moment, she is no Rip Hunter. I thought for sure that Nate Heywood was going to be the new team leader after Rip’s exit. Another great addition to the show has been Vixen from the JSA. She has a great look and I really like her super powers.

The time travel storylines are still interesting and at times fun.  I would like to see more traveling to future times. Vandal Savage as a villain is sorely missed. But bringing in Damien Darhk, the Reverse-Flash and Malcolm Merlyn has helped to compensate for the loss of Vandal Savage. Of course bringing in villains from Arrow and The Flash has helped to pull the Arrowverse tighter together.

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Of course this season also featured the four part Arrowverse crossover. For me the crossover was exciting, but perhaps a bit too cartoonish with the Heroes vs Aliens storyline. It was cool to see the various pairings, but I fell that a more grounded storyline might have better served the whole of Arrowverse. I am curious to see what they will do next time.

All of the shows, in varying degrees, gave us quite a bit to digest so far. I am greatly looking forward to the second half of the season. I am sure that some questions will be answered. And at the same time some mysteries will deepen.

Troy T.