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.

Troy T.

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.

Heroes Walk Amoung Us

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What a great time to be a fan of superheroes! In any year having both Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice and Captain America: Civil Wars would be more than enough. But 2016 also has  X-Men: Apocalypse as well as Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles: Out Of The Shadows and Dr. Strange.

As a lifelong fan of comic books the last several years have been phenomenal and the future is looking even more so. Tonight I am going to see Batman v Superman. While I am watching the movie CBS will be airing Supergirl which will be featuring a crossover with The CW’s Flash!!! How cool is that!

At some point this superhero craze will slow down. With DC Comics heroes finally emerging the craze should continue a bit longer. In the meantime I will continue to watch and enjoy all of the great superhero movies and television shows with a huge grin on my face.