Tom Petty Memories

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I work in the news media and yesterday was a crazy day.  On top of the Las Vegas terror attack, “trusted” news sources rushed to be the first report on Tom Petty’s death.  Although Tom wasn’t in good shape… at all, the initial reports were false.  His daughter lashed out at Rolling Stone magazine last night on social media for jumping the gun, but really (to loosely quote Jack Nicholson’s Joker) the whole damn system needs an enema.  What a world we live in.

Unfortunately, the news did eventually become true.  Tom had suffered a cardiac arrest on Monday morning was gone by late last evening.

I appreciated the many blogs I read yesterday from people who shared their thoughts and feelings about Tom and his music.  Reading how he had touched their lives helped me process his untimely death.  So, I thought I’d do some sharing too.  It is what we do when we are hurting.

I wasn’t always a fan of Tom Petty.  I loved the Travelin’ Wilburys tunes when they came out but I really didn’t know who he was.  To me he was just some guy singing back up to Roy Orbison.  A year later, I was in grade nine when Full Moon Fever came out and I still wasn’t won over.  Our high school cafeteria had a jukebox where we could play tunes for a quarter each and this one girl made sure to bring in enough to play “Free Fallin'” every day, three or four times over.  EVERY day.  Monday through Friday.  She must have been popular or her dad was in the mafia because no one was brave enough to stop her.  Let me tell ya, 40-year-old Mars would not put up with that.

At that point I written off Petty as the “Free Fallin'” guy.  “I Won’t Back Down” and “Learning to Fly” were radio staples but the tunes were not able to penetrate my learned hate for “Free Fallin'”.  Plus, I was one of those kids who ONLY listened to metal.  And as far as I knew, Tom was not metal.

It was a couple of years later when I heard “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” on the radio (a then new track from his Greatest Hits album) and it hooked me.  Suddenly my cold, black metal heart thawed and I was won over.  I ran out the following weekend to pick up his Greatest Hits CD (I still have it!) and I gave “Mary Jane” a few spins when I got home.  After I got the tune out of my system I cautiously gave the rest of the CD a chance and I was floored.  Every song (except “Don’t Come Around Here No More”) spoke to me on some level.  I was able to enjoy “Free Fallin'” now that the daily barrage was years in the past…  I had no idea “Refugee” was his tune….  “I Won’t Back Down” is not metal, but those kick ass lyrics sure are!

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In the following years Full Moon Fever, Into The Great Wide Open, and Wildflowers were added to the collection.  I bought the soundtrack for She’s the One the day it came out.  I still have not seen the movie… or even care too.

I regret never seeing Tom perform live.  I guess let the clock run out on my opportunities.  (I am making it my mission to have that not happen with Neil Young and John Fogerty.)

One cool thing I did learn from my used copy of Into The Great Wide Open was how to keep my ticket stubs with the album the concert was promoting.

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Yeah, I wish I could say I was at that show, but it was most likely the person who owned this CD before I did that got to go.  Still, great way to store you ticket stubs.  Difficult to lose and you’ll always know where to find them!

One final thought, When I bought my acoustic guitar “Yer so Bad” and “Learning to Fly” were a couple of the first songs I learned to play.   “Learning to Fly” is a perfect tune for new guitarists.  It has only four chords, F, C, Am, & G, repeated through out with plenty to time to strum between the changes.  This was instrumental in helping me get the those open chords down pat.  I always wondered if he purposely made that one easy to play so we budding guitarist could learn to fly.

Rest easy, Tom.

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Megadeth: Rust In Peace – Live Review

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Megadeth’s Rust In Peace is easily in my top five thrash metal albums of all time.  It might even be in my top three if I were to sit down and hash them all out.  So I was stoked when I found this live CD used at Deja Vu Discs for a whopping $8.

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In 2010 they went on tour to celebrate the album’s 20th anniversary and played it straight through.  This recording is from the Los Angeles show on March 31st, where the band originally began their Rust In Peace Tour in 1990.  The show was recorded on video as well, which of course is somehow just hanging out on YouTube without any copyright take downs since 2013:

 

As far as band members go, we hit the jackpot as Megadeth’s revolving door lands on one of their best line ups.

Dave Mustaine – of course is present as lead singer and on 1st guitar.  Megadeth’s Lemmy, Angus, Keith and Mick.
David Ellefson – returns on the bass after an eight year hiatus from the band.  Very appropriate since he contributed to some of the writing on Rust In Peace.
Chris Broderick – Chris was with the band for about eight years on 2nd guitar and he was one of the best they had.  He does a solid job recreating Marty Friedman’s licks and arpeggios like a rock ‘n roll beast.
Shawn Drover – A Canadian boy who was with the band for a solid decade from 2004 to 2014.  He left Megadeth the same day Broderick did so they could together form Act of Defiance.  His double bass can sound a little clicky for me at times, but it is a very minor complaint.

The concert itself is solid.  Dave’s voice is twenty years older but it more than holds up.  It sounds great, in fact.  All of Rust In Peace is recreated faithfully including Vic Rattlehead’s laugh to kick off “Lucretia” and the mole-man sucking sounds in “Dawn Patrol” (Although, I’m pretty sure Ellefson and Drover are playing to pre-recorded vocals here).

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Three of the original album’s 1 through 9, “Five Magics”, “Poison was the Cure”, and (shockingly) “Rust In Peace… Polaris” are played live for the first time.  All are attacked and shredded to… deth.  There isn’t much frackery happening with the songs too.  There is a bit of a longer than normal pause in “Rust In Peace” but that might be the only noticeable change.  The songs are played straight up like you’re listening to the album.  I suppose some sour puss could argue, “What would be the point then if you could just listen to the original record?”  Well, these cuts do have a different swing to them and it is cool to hear the more recent band rip through them like they’re new.  You can tell Dave is having a grand time performing them and the show makes for a nice celebration of what made those songs great.

Once the main event is done, I thought “Return to Hanger” from their 2001 album The World Needs a Hero would have been a novel inclusion here, but I guess that would be a little too inside baseball.  “Holy Wars (Reprise)” wraps up the show instead, which is basically them jamming on the Holy Wars riff while Dave thanks everyone for showing up.

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The bonus tracks (“performances”) are up next and they are a solid lineup of Megadeth’s better known tunes:

Skin O’ My Teeth
In My Darkest Hour
She-Wolf
Trust
Symphony Of Destruction
Peace Sells

These are played straight too with the only crowd interaction being to sing the chorus to “Peace Sells”.  I like this.  I find the whole audience participation thing fun when you’re at the show, but boring to listen to on records. (Freddie Mercury is the exception.  He made that an art form in and of itself.)

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Overall Score (4/5)
I love this project and I’m glad it was preserved in CD form.  Some of my favourite albums are when bands go back and rework/cover their old tunes.  Sometimes it is a newer version of the band covering the classic tracks, like when 2004’s Anthrax reworked some of their ’80s tunes on The Greater of Two Evils.  Or like how when Eric Clapton did acoustic covers of some of his tunes from the ’70s and late ’80s on Unplugged.

Rust In Peace-Live is a bit more cut and dry, but it works for what it is.  Considering you get almost 75 minutes of worthy content and three tunes that have never been performed live before, it makes for an easy recommen-deth-tion.

Guardians of the Galaxy Blu-ray Review

Starring:  Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro
Directed by: James Gunn
Film length: 2hrs, 2 min
Theatrical Release: July, 2014
Blu-ray release: Dec, 2014

Good, but safe. That was what was the impression I was left with after watching Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time.  The hype train was at full steam when I watched it and I was slightly let down by how it kept my socks on my feet.  Well, now that the hype has simmered down perhaps I can take in what this film is instead of what it is supposed to be.

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The film (4/5)

“They got my dick message!”
Guardians begins in 1988 on Earth where a young Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) witnesses his mother succumbing to brain cancer.  After storming out of the hospital he is abducted from Earth by a group of space pirates.

The film jumps forward 26 years to present day where adult Peter is now a full-fledged thief who works for the space pirates and goes by the name of Star-Lord.  The pirates’ leader, Yondu (Michael Rooker), assigns him to steal a powerful orb from the planet Morag.  After finding the orb, Peter barely escapes an attack by some subordinates of the powerful villian, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).  Peter barely escapes and discovers how desired the orb is.

After Peter decides to go rogue with plans to sell the orb to keep the profits for himself, Yondu issues a bounty on him and Ronan sends the assassin, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) in pursuit.  Gamora finds Peter attempting to sell the orb on the planet Xandar and nearly snatches it from him.  She is interrupted by a pair of bounty hunters, Rocket, a genetically altered raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and a walking tree-like being Groot (Vin Diesel), who attempt to collect on Peter’s bounty at the same time.

The scene leads to an altercation where all four captured by Xandar law enforcement and are sentenced to prison.  While in prison, they meet with another inmate, a strong alien, Drax (Dave Bautista), who is driven by the revenge he vowed on Ronan for killing his family.  All five form an unlikely alliance to break out of prison, but once Peter discovers the true power of the orb, he now needs to keep his group of misfits together to save the galaxy!

My biggest issue after watching Guardians the first time was how I expected a more meaty story with deeper characters.  The villains are a little too cut and dry.  Both Ronan, and his boss Thanos (Josh Brolin) are hell-bent on ruling the universe, but you are never told why.  They are bad because they are bad, I guess.  It isn’t explained why the space pirates kidnap Peter of all people (Although they do get to it in the sequel).  Why is the Tree guy so loyal to the mean Raccoon?  The film doesn’t take a second to let you breathe in these characters and as a result they come off a bit flat.

It wouldn’t take a long exposition to give us a hint of some reference as to why these things are happening.  Gamora is at odds with her adoptive sister Nebula (Karen Gillian), and at least there we are shown how Nebula is driven by jealousy.  Thanos mentions how Gamora is his favorite daughter with Nebula present; that one line shows us how the sisters’ tainted relationship goes beyond a simple sibling rivalry.

Watching Guardians this time around following a viewing of the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, allowed me to let my hair down.  With a better understanding of who these characters are and where the series is going I was able to take in Guardians as the fun action film it is.

The casting of Cooper and Diesel to voice animated characters might have been unnecessary (I honestly couldn’t find any reason why their talents were needed for the parts.), and Zoe Saldana’s character is understandably a little stiff as she is mostly given the straight-man job.   It leaves the burden of stealing the show on Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista’s shoulders, and they make it look easy while doing it.

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I had no idea who Chris Pratt was before this film and he pulls off a grade-A leading man performance here.  Mixing believable comedy with action is not easy (see Stallone’s comedy films) and Pratt is able carry the two hours with his charm.  I had never heard of Dave Bautista, either.  Many on the internet voiced their disapproval with his casting for the role due to his prior WWE fame, and they could not have been anymore wrong.  He steals every one of his scenes by cramming child like naiveté  into a blood thirsty killer.  It is brilliant.

Memorable Moments / What Stood Out to Me

The Hey look, it’s the guy who’s playing The Tick now

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Haven’t checked out the new show yet.  I hear good things.

Special shout out to Michael Rooker

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In a film with John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro all playing smaller roles, Michael Rooker is the one who stands out best in his.  Probably best known as Daryl’s brother Merle on The Walking Dead, his performance here is as solid as Pratt or Bautista.  His character tows the line between good and bad while switching between a hard-nosed villain and comic relief.  He is good times in this movie.

Bonus: Stan Lee cameo review! (2/5)

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This is not as bad as Iron Man 3 but it is kind of meh.  The joke lies with Rocket as he is looking for his next bounty to hunt.  He spots an old man hitting on a younger girl.  The old man is Stan-the-Man.  And that is the joke.

Video (4/5)

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Guardians is a vibrant film with many colours to take in.  Again, like The Avengers, I need to knock a point off since the black levels are slightly crushed.

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Audio (5/5)

There is a ton of sound effects, dialogue, and music to mix into Guardians 7.1 DTS-HD mix and it is done perfectly.  The ships zipped by though all of the speakers, the music surrounds you with warm tones (like Star Lord’s Mom made the mix tape with dubs from vinyl records), and the dialogue is present, front and center when the action goes down.  Wonderful-sounding disc.

Special Features (2/5)

James Gunn’s audio commentary really dives into the script and gives a scene by scene rundown of the whole film.  The casting, designing the worlds,  the alien technology, and looks of the aliens are all on the table.  He also lets us in on a few easter eggs and gives the film an extra layer that wasn’t there before.  So worth checking out.

The gag reel and deleted scenes are interesting to look at if only to get a peek of the special effects in progress.  A lot of them were incomplete with the CG at different stages and the green screen effect not added in yet.  The gag reel made me smile but there is nothing in the deleted scenes that made me say, “That should have stayed in.”

There are several featurettes but they are all about selling the movie instead of discussing how it was made.  Gunn’s commentary is really where it is at.

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Final Verdict

While there isn’t much practical effects to praise and my eyes did start to glaze over at the amount of CG flashing by on the screen, Guardians is a well-paced, fun action flick that isn’t afraid to get a little goofy at times.  This is comic book stuff, after all.

The story telling can be a little shallow, (I wonder by how much the Disney executives creamed their jeans during the film’s pitch meeting when they found out how Star Lord is an orphan) but now with the sequel to give us a better frame of reference I can raise it high on my recommendation list.  It truly is good times.

How I would rank The MCU movies from best to worse so far:

You may notice I have dropped Iron Man a few spots.  My feelings have changed a bit with reflection and all that jazz.

Thor: The Dark World
Guardians of the Galaxy
Iron Man

Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers

Iron Man 2
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 3
Thor

Alice Cooper Paranormal vinyl LP Review

I know The Coop’s new album, Paranormal, has been written about a few times in our little corner of the intranet already, and I did think about not writing one for that reason… for about a second!  My stance is, it doesn’t matter how many times something has been written about or reviewed.  It hasn’t been done in your voice until you make the effort.  Only you can only do you!  And really, what miserable prick complains about having too many delicious things to read anyway?

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But, enough about my philosophy, you’re here for a review.  To give you some context of where I’m coming from, I’ve always have had mad respect for The Coop.   His past albums, Love It to Death, Killer, and Welcome to My Nightmare are favorites of mine.  Some choice rarer tracks like “You Look Good in Rags” and “Novocaine” are a couple of tunes I like to share with people who don’t know much about his music.

With that said, I am positive I have never bought a new Alice Cooper album before.  I have listened to a lot of A.C. from used CDs, streaming, YouTube and perhaps some mp3s from the Dark Web may have found their way onto my hard drive.  The only legit piece of Coop music I have bought is when I picked up the Wayne’s World soundtrack (which featured “Feed My Frankenstein”) on cassette in 1991.

I was intrigued enough to check out Paranormal after reading Mike Ladano’s review, then moved it to the top of the recommendation pile after it received another glowing review from Deke.  I downloaded the album onto my phone through Groove Music and listened to it… twice back to back.  I can’t remember the last time I did that.  I knew right then how I needed this in my LP collection.

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Besides the music, this is an interesting set for a couple of reasons.  It is a double LP with the playback set to 45 rpm.  Those extra rpms deliver a higher quality record, but it also means there are only three songs per side.  I like having reasons to get off my ass more frequently because I need them, but the track order is different from the CD and streaming versions.  I guess this was done to fit everything nicely onto two discs.  It doesn’t really hurt the flow of the album since only the last few songs are effected, but it is worth noting.

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Also, the extra bonus live tracks are on a separate CD.  Odd way of doing it all, but it works.  Besides, the quality of new songs warrent the 45 rpm treatment.  Now, onto the song breakdown!

Paranormal
Creepy tune that you would expect from the Coop.  It is co-written and features Roger Glover from Deep Purple on bass.  The song opens to Coop’s delicate voice then builds up to some rockin’ guitars.  Solid start to the album.

Dead Flies
Riff rockin’ track.  Not my fav, but good times.
Choice lyric: 
Your sister is high on Angle Dust and so’s your porno brother

FireBall
This tune is about the our little planet Earth succumbing to the impact of an asteroid.  This is really where the album took off for me on the first listen.  Is that a Hammond organ I hear?  The liner notes say it is none other an early Coop producer Bob Ezrin jamming away on it.  (He produced the clean sound on this album too.)  Roger Glover sounds like he’d be more at home on this track than the one he wrote.

Paranoia Personality
Bass line in this one kind of sounds like Ozzy’s “Believer” and is the most darkest, 70’s sounding tune on the album.

Fallen In Love
ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons makes a cameo with his fuzzy guitar tone ever-present.  Of course with Billy on board this one will have a blues-y vibe.  It’s like a Welcome to My Nightmare’s version of  “My Head’s In Mississippi”.

Dynamite Road
I like my rockin’ tunes, so of course I love this hard rock drivin’ track.   Finishes on the line: Did he have to trash my Cadillac, I loved that car to death.  Sooo Coop.

Private Public Breakdown
This one has some heavy lyrics about a politician who is about to do a Peter Pan off of a bridge or building.
Choice lyric: By strange behavior, I got elected, because I’m the savior resurrected!
Hmmm…. Trump vibes, anyone?

Holy Water
Big production number with the horns, background singers and the hollow bone sound of drum sticks tapping away on a hard surface.  One of those Coop tunes with a vaudeville vibe.  This one is about an older evangelist lusting after (and getting) a younger woman.  Rock that cradle.

Rats
Straight up rocker.  Has me singing out loud “Give the Rats what they want!”  Kind of an odd thing to say.

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OK, now here is where the order is different.

You and All of Your Friends
This is the first of two that features the OG Alice Cooper Band from the late ’60s early ’70s with both writing and performing credits.  Catchy, garage rock tune.

Genuine American Girl
This is my favorite song on the album.  It has and old-timey, rockin’ doo-wop groove and it is REALLY awkward to sing along to.  The lyrics belong to those of a teenage girl, but damn does The “pushing 70” Coop pull it off.
Choice lyric: I’m only 30 out of 50 shades of grey
Crank this one up!

The Sound of A
On the CD this is after “Rats” and is the last OG song before The Alice Cooper Band takes over.  This is another creepy tune and I have no idea what “The Sound of A” is or means.  But there is one line that goes “Meaningless noise is everybody’s toys”.  An appropriate line to hear while my neighbor runs a vacuum cleaner under my open window as I try to take this album in.

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Overall score: (5/5)
One of those albums that gets better after repeat listens.  After linking Deke’s blog to this post I had to double-check that it was only August 30th when I first listened to it.  I already feels like I have been soaking this in for six or seven months.  As for the live tracks, I only casually listened to them once.  They are good enough but really the new songs are the reason to get Paranormal in you anyway you can!

 

“New” Music Inspired by AC/DC

A few weeks ago I pulled out my tubs o’ CDs to get into the spirit of writing about music and I stumbled on a disc that was in a card board sleeve.  It was a collection of “new” tunes by various artists who are “inspired by AC/DC”.

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Looks like it was included with issue 125 of Classic Rock Magazine with Angus Young on the cover.  It is probably the reason why I picked it up and I might still have that mag lying around somewhere.  A quick google search tells me the issue is from November, 2008.  So, the “new” music is close to a decade old… time flies!  I thought it would be fun to see what they would recommend for us AC/DC fanatics and maybe we would be turned onto something new… ish!  So, Let’s see what they have for us…

ACDC inspired back

1. Airbourne – Too Much, Too Young, Too Fast

Of course I know these guys.   THE band to bring “hair metal” back in a real way unlike the goofy Steel Panther.  Great band, great tune.

2. Rose Tattoo – Man About Town

Never heard of this band and apparently they have been around since the ’80s.  They “toured with” (which probably means they opened for) ZZ Top, Aerosmith, and Gunners back in the day.  Pretty good rocker and Mars Approved.  Will check out more from them.

3. BugGirl – Ian Astbury

Who is Ian?  The line repeated in the chorus is “After the Show”.  Maybe I should google Ian Astbury?… meh, the singer for this band is kind of annoying.  She is trying to do her best Geddy Lee but it isn’t working for me.  Nice Angus like “chicken pickin” style of breakdown a-la Shoot To Thrill though.

4. Stone Gods – I’m with The Band

This song is more Def Leppard-ish than AC/DC.  This is from their 2008 album Silver Spoons and Broken Bones.  Not really my speed but I could see how others could dig it.

5. Thunderwing – Alive in the USA
New band to me and I’m digging this one.  This is from their 2008 album of the same title.  Getting some real Powerage vibes from this tune.  Will check out more from these guys.  No YouTube video for this one… too bad.

6. Zero Down – Good Times… At The Gates of Hell

This is from their 2008 album of the same title.  Got some Powerage-ish vibes from this one too.  Not bad.

7. Krokus – Hellraiser

This Swiss band started in 1976 and… yes, of course I know these guys!  But, to be honest, I haven’t listen to too much from them.  This is from their 15th album (same title) in 30 years and this tune sounds great!  It is NOT a cover of the Ozzy/Lemmy song.  Legit good tune.  This is in my wheelhouse!

8. The Donnas – Girl Talk

Another group I know.  This is from their 2007 album, Bitchin’.  I have always dug this band, but their chorus/harmonies do sound a wee bit cheerleader-ish to me.  Respect to The Donnas but I don’t go out of my way to listen to them.

9. Broken Teeth – Blood on the Radio

This band from Austin, Texas had an album out with the same name in 2004 but the song is from another album, Electric that came out in 2007.  I guess AC/DC did do that with If You Want Blood, You Got It!  Anyway, this tune has some big time Let There Be Rock influence in it but not interesting enough to keep me going.

10. The Cheaters – All The Drugs
This is from their 2006 album The Cheaters’ L.P.  Their sound leans more towards Aerosmith with the harmonies than AC/DC.  OK, song but forgettable. Not much info on them out there.  When I tried to google them I got one person who was asking on a message board “Are men more likely to  cheat while on drugs?”…. Yes.  If they are human, then yes they are.

11. The Infamous – Inside
Who are these guys?  Good question.  I couldn’t tell you.  I tried doing a Google search and some Mobb Depp rapper keeps coming up.  The song wasn’t worth pursuing further anyway.

12. The Datsuns – Your Bones

OK, a band I’m familiar with!  The Datsuns are from Down Under and have a solid sound.  This is from their 2008 album Headstunts.  Not their best work, honestly.  Sounds like they were aiming for a contemporary pop chorus which really isn’t them.  Just stick to rockin’ guys.

13. Rebolt – Bad Boy (For You)

This is from their 2006 album Made In Spite EP.  Kind of falls off a cliff after a sweet chuggin’ opening.  Meh, It’s alright.  It’s the studio version on the disc but here they are performing it live because that is all YouTube has.

14. The Orphans – Monster
Did you know The Orphans is the name of a gang in the film The Warriors?  Or how it is also the title of a TV series that just started last year on Sci-Fi in the States?  Yeah, another band that is tough to search for on Google.  Song isn’t worth exporting any further.

14. Saxon – Wheels of Steel

Aw, how could you not know The Sax?  Well, I really haven’t listen to much from them outside of this song until Deke wrote up a review their live album from 1982 call The Eagle Has Landed.  I was impressed after giving it spin.  It has been downloaded on my phone since and I’m looking for a legit copy now.  This track sounds like it might be the same 8 min 30 second track from that album.

So, not a bad disc overall.  It is not all gold, but I do have some legit bands with legit tunes to check out.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Blu-ray Review

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo
Film length: 2hrs 16min
Theatrical Release: April 4th, 2014
Blu-ray release: Sept, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a big one!  When I started this project many people singled out this film as their personal favorite in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I do remember enjoying it when I watched it for the first time but I did think it had some flaws.  Well, time to see if that opinion still holds true.

The film (3/5)

“Air conditioning is fully operational.”
The Winter Solider takes place two years after the events in The Avengers.  Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is almost 100 years old (frozen for about 70 of it) and is adjusting to living in contemporary Washington D.C., while working under Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) at the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D.

Fury sends Rogers along with Agent Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to join a strike team, led by Agent Rumlow (Frank Grillo), to take out mercenaries who hijacked a ship full of hostages.  During the mission Rogers stumbles on Romanoff who is downloading top secret data from the ship’s computers under the orders of Fury.

Rogers confronts Fury after the mission and is let in on a top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. plan known as Project Insight.  The plan places three Helicarriers in the air to be linked to spy satellites, and are designed to eliminate threats before they can happen.  The idea of the project troubles Rogers because, although citizens will be protected, they will unknowingly be giving up their freedom.

When Fury discovers the project has been compromised by an unknown entity, he asks senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) to delay the project.  Shorty after Fury is attacked by a deadly assassin known as The Winter Soldier.  Fury is believed to be killed in the altercation, and now it is up to Captain America to find who is responsible for the Project Insight breach and the death of Nick Fury!

I can see why some put this so high on their favourite MCU movie list.  The Winter Soldier is non-stop, well-paced action with some solid performances by the cast.  Samuel L. Jackson finally gets to shine in some action scenes instead of the sitting back, barking orders like a four star general while everyone else takes care of the dirty work.  The addition of Robert Redford to the cast is pretty sweet too.  His role gives off vibes from his ’70s political film work like Three Days of Condor and All the President’s Men.

Overall, I found the film to be competent but bland.  None of the characters in the main cast have any kind of story arc.  Cap, for instance, hates Project Insight because he believes you shouldn’t give up your freedom for protection.  Nick Fury believes in it because they can stop the bad guys prior to innocents getting hurt.  These stances remain the same throughout the film and it goes nowhere.  I understand how these are setups for the next movie in the series, but give me something to chew on.

I don’t know why they give up who the Winter Soldier is on the posters and Blu-ray cover too.

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And if you missed it that time, they gave him his own poster:

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I mean, that’s Bucky from the first movie… Why do this?  I get that Marvel fans already know who he is, but I didn’t.  I never heard of Bucky until I watched The First Avenger where I thought he died in the ’40s.  A lot of the early parts of the film builds up to the reveal and it would have been a good opportunity for some suspense.

There is a lot of action in the film but I found most of it to be flat.  Iron Man 3‘s “Barrel of Monkeys” sky diving scene had tension because it featured non-super power people in free fall.  In the final action sequence of The Winter Soldier, everyone is fighting and hanging onto the sides of the Hellicarriers high in the sky.  It is fine and all, but there isn’t much to stress when the good guys can either fly or survive big falls.

There are a couple of over-the-top moments that were a little too much for me to take too.  The biggest one being Nick Fury’s “front seat compartment gun”.  The gun is in an awkward part of the car and… Why is it there?  Why not just have a gun somewhere that he can carry?  A cheese ball moment but I suppose it is no worse than some James Bond stuff.

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Memorable Moments / What Stood Out to Me

The Corvette

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In the opening part of the film, Natasha picks up Rogers driving a 2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray.  Sweeeeet.

So much low ball cap action

 

As I first pointed out in my The Incredible Hulk review, whenever a character in the MCU goes incognito the move is to put on a ball cap as low as it can go.  Try it the next time you’re out; no one will recognize or pay attention to you.  Samuel L. Jackson goes for the hoodie just to be different, of course.

Bonus: Stan Lee cameo review! (5/5)

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This time Stan-the-Man plays a security guard working at the Smithsonian who “loses” Captain America’s suit.  Great set up with a good line from Stan.  Perfect cameo.

Video (5/5)

The video won’t wow you but it is a competent looking Blu-ray.  Some the scenes, like down in the bunker, look a little dark but most of this film takes place outside during the day.  Might be the best skin tones I have seen on any Blu-ray so far too.  Scroll back up to take another look at Stan for proof.

Audio (4/5)

The Winter Soldier‘s DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track is top-notch with some booming low-end for the subwoofer, and the rear speakers get a work out from start to end.  The sound of Cap’s shield bouncing around my head was worth the price of admission alone.  My only grip has nothing to do with the Blu-ray itself, but the music score.  A lot of what is played during the action scenes is these awful electric screams that I found very distracting.  Cue forward in the video below for an example of what I’m referring to:

Special Features (1/5)

This might be the most disappointing set of extras so far.  All of the featurettes are about selling the movie instead of giving us any insight on making it.  One of them is focused on Steve’s notebook and what they put in it.  Big whoop.

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The audio commentary features Directors Anthony & Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely and mostly dead air.  Very boring commentary with a lot of talk about the characters and hardly any discussion about film making.  Forgettable deleted scenes and a gag reel round things out.  None of it is worth your time.

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Final Verdict

I know I did a lot of griping about this film but I did enjoy it.  There isn’t much substance for me, but it is still a well above average action flick.   Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson are fun to watch together with their Brother/Sister relationship, there are some great hand to hand combat scenes, and it introduces Falcon who is a fun character to have around.  The Winter Soldiers only major fault is how it functions too well as a bridge movie and doesn’t have anything to say on its own.

How I would rank The MCU movies from best to worse so far:

Iron Man
Thor: The Dark World

Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers

Iron Man 2
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man 3
Thor

Mars Your Illusion

Mars' Music Mondays Banner

When reading Mike Ladano’s review for Guns ‘N Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, one of  his “controversial” opinions that stuck out to me is how he felt that the Use Your Illusion albums are better.  I disagree since both for me are not completely listenable, while Appetite is solid from start to end.  I almost commented how the two albums should have been edited down to one, but then I thought, how do I know this is true if I’ve never actually tried to do it?

So, I imagined myself as the Gunners Track List God of 1991.  Axl and Slash delivered to me all of their material for both albums and I would have the final say on how it would appear to the public.  So here is my approach:

First, I threw out the covers and the annoying ballads that made Gunners superstars.

Don’t Cry – Start crying ’cause you cut
Live and Let Die – Your laissez-faire attitude got you cut, buddy.
November Rain – Cut
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – You’re so cut
Yesterdays – Cut you yesterday
Civil War – You’re cut too, Civie.

I know, what could I be thinking?  I’m thinking, I’m making a Rock ‘N Roll album and not something for pop radio and MTV to be comfortable to promote.  No disrespect to those who enjoy these tunes.  They’re just not my bag and I’m the Track List God here.

2nd, the track list will be set with the Compact Disc in mind since it was the lead format in 1991.  The songs would be the same, but their order of appearance would be drastically different if this was an LP.

3rd,  I’m aiming for 45-ish to 55-ish minutes album length.  Would I have too many songs or not enough?  I’m not sure.  Let’s see…

OK, turns out this IS tough to do because I have TOO many songs.  I further dropped songs that I didn’t care for and kept what I liked.  This is what I was left with:

mars your illusion first track list

1 hr and 18 minutes of 13 tunes that, technically I could squeeze onto on a 79 minute CD, but it is too long for a real Rock ‘N Roll album.  I need to trim this down.  I am pretty much set on the first few songs and how Coma will finish off the album, but the rest in the middle is up in the air.  Let’s give this thing one more edit and see what is left.

OK, it took a bit more grey matter and listening to figure it all out, but there is only two tunes that I could cut to make the album better.  I dropped Shotgun Blues which is a rockin’ track but it is filler, and Locomotive is a cool tune but is kind of annoying in parts. So here is the final track list:

Mars Your Illusion

  1. Back Off Bitch – You need a rockin’ track to kick things off and this lets the ears know what they’re in for.  The tune’s build up perfectly launches us into the Gunners’ level of the atmosphere.  The lyrics are a wee bit crass, but this is 1991 and we’re Gunners.  Point Break was the world’s biggest movie this past summer and we’re about making waves too.
  2. Don’t Damn Me – You need a bridge tune here to keep the momentum going since we are not ready to give away the best song yet.  This keeps the rock flowing with high energy all the way through.
  3. You Could Be Mine – The best Gunners tune that isn’t on Appetite.  It’s tie in to the world’s 2nd biggest film of the summer of 1991, Terminator 2 be damned.  This is the album’s show piece and deserves the No. 3 spot.
  4. Estrange – OK, we rocked your socks off for three straight tunes and have now earned the right to slow things down.  Estrange is a better ballad than those overplayed ones I dumped.  The 2nd most underrated Illusion tune.
  5. Dead Horse – The way this tune slowly builds up and brings us back to rockin’ level makes it the perfect fit here.
  6. Double Talkin’ Jive – One of Izzy’s tunes that shows off Slash’s funky guitar style.  Almost had this at number 2 to display some of the Gunners’ chops but we lose too much momentum with the way it winds down at the end.  I’m only a Track List God and not a song editing one.
  7. Pretty Tied Up – Axl’s Iggy Pop-ish slow build up ties in nicely with Double Talkin’ Jive’s wind down.  I would have used to start this album if I didn’t like Back off Bitch more.
  8. The Garden – The rockin’ three previous tracks again lets us slow it down, and I ain’t cutting Alice Cooper’s cameo.  I may be The Track List God, but there are still those with greater powers than me.  Plus, pretty good tune.
  9. Bad Apple – Get back to rockin’.  Can’t stay too far away from it.  Another funky/killer Slash riff to keep us flying towards the end.
  10. Breakdown – Perfect mix of piano and guitar.  A fine track to end the album on if it were not for the most underrated Gunners tune of all time:
  11. Coma – Epic before epic was a thing to say.  The build up, the tonal changes, the ending.  This is how Illusion should and does end.

So, I finished with a total of 65 minutes which I am OK with this since Coma is the extra 10 minutes.  Consider it the hidden bonus track, maybe.

And you know what?  This process totally worked for me.  I friggin’ love this!  I downloaded FLACs of these tunes and made a killer CD that I have been injecting into my ear holes.  I’m enjoying Illusion songs for the first time… ever?  Maybe?   So, for me the answer is yes.  Use Your Illusion I & II were bloated with filler and tracks designed for the radio friendly crowd.  If you drop both I would have a much better rock album that I would be happy to put on the shelf along with Appetite.

Additional note:  I write these blogs ahead of time and delay posting them to keep the content consistent.  So, of course while this was sitting in the “Scheduled” pile, Mike reviews Use Your Illusion I & II and does his own edit of the two CDs.   So head over there and check out his version of a single Illusion album if you haven’t already!