Media Mikes 2016 Fall/Holiday Movie Preview

Labor Day has come and gone, and unless you’re dressing up as a ghost, you better not be wearing anything white! With the end of summer comes the beginning of fall and the start of Hollywood’s “Prestige Movie Push!”

We’ll take a look at what the studios hope are their best bets to fill the multiplexes and bring home the Oscars. Once again, a big thank you to our friends at Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) for some synopsis information. Opening dates noted are subject to change at the whim of the studios. Enjoy!

OCTOBER 7

THE 13th

Documentary
Directed by: Ava DuVernay

The director of “Selma” gives us an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.

OSCAR CHANCES: Will surely make the short list.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION

Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer
Directed by: Nate Parker

Set against the antebellum South, the film follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities – against himself and his fellow slaves – Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

OSCAR CHANCES: After last year’s #OSCARSOWHITE controversy, the early buzz on this film almost guaranteed a bounty of nominations. However, it was recently revealed that writer/director/star Nate Parker and his co-writer, Jean McGianni Celestin, were accused of raping a fellow college student in 1999. Though Parker was not found guilty and Celestin had his conviction overturned, their alleged victim committed suicide. Not sure how this news will affect the Academy voters.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett and Justin Theroux
Directed by: Tate Taylor

In the film, being compared to “Gone Girl,” a recently divorced woman
takes the train to work every day and imagines the lives of a young couple she
sees every day. Things get weird when the young wife disappears.

OSCAR CHANCES: Blunt is already getting raves for her performance.


OCTOBER 13

MASCOTS

Starring: Christopher Guest, Parker Posey and Jane Lynch
Directed by: Christopher Guest

Simply described as “a look into the world of competitive mascots,” this is the latest opus from the great Christopher Guest. Sadly, unless I missed it, this is the first of Guest’s films that does not include Eugene Levy.

OSCAR CHANCES: Possible screenplay nod.

 

OCTOBER 14

THE ACCOUNTANT

Starring: Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons and Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor

A forensic accountant un-cooks the books for illicit clients. What I like about the trailer is that Affleck seems to be a young genius. Maybe this is his chance to play Will Hunting?

OSCAR CHANCES: Maybe.


KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW?

Starring: Kevin Hart
Directed by: Leslie Small and Tim Story

Kevin Hart performs his comedy in front of 50,000 fans.

OSCAR CHANCES: No.


OCTOBER 21

AMERICAN PASTORAL

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning and Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Ewan McGregor

In 1968, a hardworking man, who’s been a staple in his quaint community for years, watches his seemingly perfect middle class life fall apart as his daughter’s new radical political affiliation threatens to destroy their family. Based on the novel by Philip Roth.

OSCAR CHANCES: Adapted screenplay?

IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE

Starring: John Travolta, Ethan Hawke and Karen Gillan
Directed by: Ti West

A mysterious stranger and a random act of violence drag a town of misfits and nitwits into the bloody cross-hairs of revenge. Ethan Hawke’s second western this season and John Travolta in a cowboy hat for the first time since “Urban Cowboy.” Yee-hah!

OSCAR CHANCES: Sadly Western’s very rarely get recognized.

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK

Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Edward Zwick

Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Director Zwick has helmed three of my favorite films (“About Last Night,” “Glory” and “Legends of the Fall” but only has an Oscar for co-producing “Shakespeare in Love.” It’s about time this man was recognized, though I don’t think it’s going to be for a Jack Reacher film.

A MONSTER CALLS

Starring: Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver
Directed by: J.A. Bayona

A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom’s terminal illness.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects.

TYLER PERRY’S BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN

Starring: Tyler Perry
Directed by: Tyler Perry

Madea winds up in the middle of mayhem when she spends a haunted Halloween fending off killers, paranormal poltergeists, ghosts, ghouls and zombies while keeping a watchful eye on a group of misbehaving teens. I’m scared.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’m going to go out on a limb and say “no”

OCTOBER 28

INFERNO

Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones
Directed by: Ron Howard

When Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe against the clock to foil a deadly global plot. The second Felicity Jones film in as many weeks.

OSCAR CHANCES: Sorry, Tom, but your nomination this year is coming from “Sully”

 

NOVEMBER 4

BLEED FOR THIS

Starring: Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart
Directed by: Ben Younger

The inspirational story of World Champion Boxer Vinny Pazienza who, after a near fatal car crash, which left him not knowing if he’d ever walk again, made one of sport’s most incredible comebacks.

OSCAR CHANCES: Both Robert DeNiro and Hillary Swank won Oscars for portraying boxers so never say never. Hell, Stallone got nominated…TWICE!

DOCTOR STRANGE

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen
Directed by: Scott Derrickson

A neurosurgeon with a destroyed career sets out to repair his hands only to find himself protecting the world from inter-dimensional threats.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects.

HACKSAW RIDGE

Starring: Andrew Garfield and Sam Worthington
Directed by: Mel Gibson

WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Mel doesn’t appear in this one but his dead-ringer son, Milo, does.

OSCAR CHANCES: Gibson (Mel, not Milo) already has an Oscar for directing so you never know. I’m sure people have forgotten what all of the hub-bub was about concerning him a few years ago.

LOVING

Starring: Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton
Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Back in the dark ages, Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married. Apparently they had nothing better to do in Virginia at the time.

OSCAR CHANCES: Acting, picture.

TROLLS

Starring the voices of: Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake
Directed by: Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn

Remember those little plastic things with long hair that you used to put on the end of your pencil? When I was a kid we called them Kewpies but apparently they are Trolls and they have their own movie. Good for them!

OSCAR CHANCES: Maybe best hairstyling?

NOVEMBER 11

ARRIVAL

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

OSCAR CHANCES: Picture, director, acting.

SHUT IN

Starring: Naomi Watts and Jacob Tremblay
Directed by: Farren Blackburn

A heart-pounding thriller about a widowed child psychologist who lives in an isolated existence in rural New England. Caught in a deadly winter storm, she must find a way to rescue a young boy before he disappears forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Unsure, but young Mr. Tremblay should have been nominated last year for “Room.”

USS INDIANAPOLIS: MEN OF COURAGE

Starring: Nicolas Cage and Tom Sizemore
Directed by: Mario Van Peebles

The harrowing true story of the crew of the USS Indianapolis, who were stranded in the Philippine Sea for five days after delivering the atomic weapons that would eventually end WWII. If you saw “Jaws,” this is the tale that Quint tells. Other “Jaws” related facts: this was the original idea for “Jaws 2.” Also: Mario Van Peebles starred in “Jaws the Revenge.”

OSCAR CHANCES: To me it looks like a “made for TV” movie. How about Emmy chances?


NOVEMBER 18

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

Starring: Hailiee Steinfeld, Blake Jenner and Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig

High-school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother. Is that weird? When I was in high-school I wanted to date my best friend’s older sister. Hopefully Stevie Nicks got some money from this.

OSCAR CHANCES: Nada

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jon Voight and Ezra Miller
Directed by: David Yates

The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards 70 years before Harry Potter reads his book in school. Even though Harry Potter and his pals are less than 20 years old it seems like they’ve been around forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, music (the great James Newton Howard)

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Starring: Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan

An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

OSCAR CHANCES: Both Affleck and Williams have been nominated in the past so I’m not ruling anything out.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Starring: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Tom Ford

An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale. November is Amy Adams month.

OSCAR CHANCES: Across the board


NOVEMBER 23

ALLIED

Starring: Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war. Cotillard isn’t married so maybe we can look forward to reading about “Bradarion” soon.

OSCAR CHANCES: Pitt, Cotilliard and Zemeckis have been there before.

BAD SANTA 2

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates and Tony Cox
Directed by: Mark Waters

Fueled by cheap whiskey, greed and hatred, Willie teams up once again with his angry little sidekick, Marcus, to knock off a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve.

OSCAR CHANCES: I thought Billy Bob deserved a nod for the first film but I’m going to say no.

MOANA

Starring the voices of: Dwayne Johnson, Alan Tudyk and Nicole Scherzinger
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall and Chris Williams

A young woman uses her navigational talents to set sail for a fabled island. Joining her on the adventure is her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui.

OSCAR CHANCES: Animated feature, original song

RULES DON’T APPLY

Starring: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins and Ed Harris
Directed by: Warren Beatty

An unconventional love story of an aspiring actress, her determined driver, and the eccentric billionaire who they work for. Beatty has been wanting to do a Howard Hughes-based film since the 1970s. Not sure if this is what he had in mind back then but, after a 15-year absence, it’s great to see him both in front of and behind the camera.

OSCAR CHANCES: Only two people have been nominated in the same year for acting, directing, writing and producing the best picture: Orson Welles and Warren Beatty. And Beatty did it TWICE!


NOVEMBER 25

LION

Starring: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Garth Davis

A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

OSCAR CHANCES: Many


DECEMBER 2

LA LA LAND

Starring: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
Directed by: Damien Chazelle

From the creator of “Whiplash” comes a film about a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. And it’s a musical!

OSCAR CHANCES: Early film festival buzz say’s this may be the film to watch (both on screen and at awards time!)


DECEMBER 9

MISS SLOANE

Starring: Jessica Chastain
Directed by: John Madden

An ambitious lobbyist faces off against the powerful gun lobby in an attempt to pass gun control legislation.

OSCAR CHANCES: Actress. Madden directed the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love.”

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

Starring: Jason Bateman and Jennifer Anniston
Directed by: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

When his uptight CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand.

OSCAR CHANCES: Zip

DECEMBER 16

COLLATERAL BEAUTY

Starring: Will Smith and Keira Knightley
Directed by: David Frankel

A tragic event sends a New York ad man on a downward spiral.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’ve already had to apologize to Will Smith twice for doubting he’d get nominated for “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.” There won’t be a third. Good luck Will.

FENCES

Starring: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis
Directed by: Denzel Washington

An African American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. Based on the August Wilson play.

OSCAR CHANCES: YES!

THE FOUNDER

Starring: Michael Keaton and Patrick Wilson
Directed by: John Lee Hancock

The story of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc. You may look at your next hamburger differently. Keaton is said to be so good that they pulled the film from it’s original release date.

OSCAR CHANCES: Keaton

A KIND OF MURDER

Starring: Patrick Wilson and Jessica Biel
Directed by: Andy Goddard

In 1960s New York, Walter Stackhouse is a successful architect married to the beautiful Clara who leads a seemingly perfect life. But his fascination with an unsolved murder leads him into a spiral of chaos as he is forced to play cat-and-mouse with a clever killer and an overambitious detective, while at the same time lusting after another woman. This will be a day of decisions for Patrick Wilson fans.

OSCAR CHANCES: Don’t see any

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

Starring: Felicity Jones, Jimmy Smits and Warwick Davis
Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Or, as I like to call it, “Episode 6.5” The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans to the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow. Holy crap! The Death Star, Leia’s family, Darth Vader AND Wicket the Ewok? I’m already in line!

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, make up.

DECEMBER 21

20th CENTURY WOMEN

Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Laura Wiggins
Directed by: Mike Mills

The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.

OSCAR CHANCES: Can anyone tell me why Annette Bening hasn’t won an Oscar yet? Didn’t think so. Keep your fingers crossed.

ASSASSINS CREED

Starring: Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Justin Kurzel

When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society. This synopsis seems so crazy considering the cast. I wonder if the two leads made the same mistake Bill Murray did when he thought “Garfield” had been written by one of the Coen brothers!

OSCAR CHANCES: Fassbender elevates everything he’s in so I’m not saying no!

PASSENGERS

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt
Directed by: Morten Tyldum

A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early. It’s so weird to see Lawrence in a movie at the end of the year NOT directed by David O. Russell. Oh well, there’s always next year.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, technical stuff

PATRIOTS DAY

Starring: Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Monaghan
Directed by: Peter Berg

An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it. Sounds better than what I thought it was – knowing Wahlberg is a huge New England Patriot fan I thought it was about a day with Tom Brady. The third film by Wahlberg and director Berg and second this year.

OSCAR CHANCES: Oh yes.

SING

Starring the voices of: Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Garth Jennings

A koala named Buster Moon has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.

OSCAR CHANCES: Animated film….maybe.

DECEMBER 25

GOLD

Starring: Matthew McConaughey and Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Stephen Gaghan

An unlikely pair venture to the Indonesian jungle in search of gold. When he was outrageously thin in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” McConaughey still looked good. In this one he’s bald and….dammit!

OSCAR CHANCES: No sir.

WHY HIM?

Starring: James Franco and Bryan Cranston
Directed by: John Hamburg.

A dad forms a bitter rivalry with his daughter’s young rich boyfriend. Based on a story by Jonah Hill. Somebody needed money.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’m ashamed that I have to include those words with this film.

DECEMBER 28

PATERSON

Starring: Adam Driver
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch

Set in the present in Paterson, New Jersey, this is a tale about a bus driver and poet.

OSCAR CHANCES: Love Jarmusch. Maybe a witting nod.

Concert Review: Wizards of Winter “The Magic of Winter” – Syracuse, NY

“The Magic of Winter”
Wizards of Winter
Date: Sunday, December 27th 2015
Venue: The Oncenter Crouse Hinds Theater
Syracuse, NY

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

The Tri-State area based Wizard of Winter brought their own unique brand of holiday cheer to the Syracuse, NY area on December 27th as part of the group’s 2015 “Magic of Winter” tour. The night proved to be a great extension of the Christmas holiday as the night’s performance took you on a magical music adventure which made for a very enjoyable concert experience.

With this being the groups first time in Syracuse anticipation was certainly high as concert goers filled in the seats at the multi tiered Crouse Hinds Theater. The show began promptly at 8pm as the band kicked off their impressive 26 song performance with a song from their debut album “The Magic of Winter” titled “Flight of the Snow Angels”, a fitting opening number which set the stage perfectly for the rest of the night’s performance. Former Trans-Siberian Orchestra narrator Tony Gaynor would take the stage several times painting a vivid picture of the upcoming number which helped those in attendance sink deeper into the spirit of the night’s performance though, I personally found these moments (which also included a 15 minute intermission) to sort of halt the night’s momentum as it seemed like the band would no sooner start to get in a groove only to have it broken up by brief pieces of commentary. All of the members of the group put on stellar performances including several standout moments by former Trans-Siberian Orchestra vocalist Guy LeMonnier, Violin/Vocalist Natalia Niarezka and lead guitarist Fred Gorhau who blazed his way through intricate solo after solo without missing a beat. Songs such as “Ebeneezer” Savatage’s “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)”, “Season’s Lament” and the upbeat “Gales of December” sounded really great as they made their way into every nook and cranny of the theater prolonging the Christmas holiday just a touch longer.

As the night’s performance came to a close the Syracuse crowd seemed pleased with the show they had just witnessed. As the band left the stage the crowd thanked the performers with a heavy blanket of applause which the performers seemed very appreciative of. With such a good response from the groups Syracuse debut my hope is they continue to make stops in Orangeman country for many more holiday season to come.

Set List:
1.) Flight of the Snow Angels
2.) Magic of Winter
3.) Arctic Flyer
4.) Special Feeling
5.) First Snow (Trans-Siberian Orchestra cover)
6.) A Night of Reflection
7.) Sing Alleluia/ 3 Ships
8.) Once Long Ago
9.) 3 Kings
10.) Nutrocker (Electric Light Orchestra cover)
11.) Ebeneezer
12.) Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24) (Savatage cover)
13.) March of the Metal Soldiers
14.) Season’s Lament
15.) Just Believe
16.) Gales of December
17.) Whoville
18.) Waken to the Sound
19.) Toys will be Toys
20.) The Journey
21.) Queen of the Winter Night (Trans-Siberian Orchestra cover)
22.) Electric Blue (Trans-Siberian Orchestra cover)
23.) Little Help (Joe Cocker cover)
24.) Spirit of Christmas
25.) Requiem (Trans-Siberian Orchestra cover)
26.) With One Voice

Concert Review “Winter Warriors Tour” Rochester, NY

“Winter Warriors Tour”
Battlecross, Havok, Nekrogoblikon, Black Fast
Date: Monday, December 14, 2015
Venue: Montage Music Hall, Rochester, NY

Our Score:3 out of 5 stars

Metal Injection’s 2015 Winter Warriors tour made a stop at the Montage Music Hall in Rochester, NY as part of a brief 6 show run. The bill which featured Black Fast, Nekrogoblikon, Havok and Battlecross was certainly not one for the faint of heart as all 4 bands commanded the crowd’s attention before pummeling them with a barrage of bombastic sonic landscapes.

After a small spattering of local talent the main bills opener Black Fast would be first to take the stage. The 4 piece progressive thrash group hailing from St. Louis, Missouri did an impressive job with the short time they had as they did a great job loosening up the crowd with their set which was a mixture of older songs along with a couple from the group’s latest release “Terms of Surrender”.

Up next would be the group I was definitely most excited to check out. Los Angeles, CA natives Nekrogoblikon who up until now have been relatively scare here on the east coast made up for lost time as they shredded through a 30 minute set complete with several appearance by the bands mascot Mr. John Goblikon who assisted the band in working the crowd into a feverish frenzy. The band’s unique brand of mythical tinged metal rang through the venues walls as the band performed songs of their latest release “Heavy Meta” before closing out the set with an impressive rendition of the song “Powercore” which was complete with over the top synth and guitar work that easily made your head spin. Filling the difficult spot of performing after Nekrogoblikon on this night would be bestowed upon Century Media artist Havok. The band which formed in Denver, CO in 2004 mixed classic thrash elements with modern day accoutrements. The groups sound could be described as early Megadeth on speed as each of the bands 4 members are certainly no slouches at their respective instruments. Though lead vocalist/guitarists David Sanchez’s expletive filled rants became a bit tiresome as the bands set went on the group still did a solid job keeping the night’s energy level high.

Tour headliner Battlecross would close out the night in impressive fashion. Having just seen the band opening for GWAR in September I was anxious to see what the band from Detroit could do with a full length set. Needless to say I was not disappointed as the guys seem to only get better each time I see them. With the added time to their set the members of the band wasted no time going right for the throat. The set list was a solid blend of new and old as the band performed a variety of songs from its back catalog however the set lacked any material from the bands August 2015 release “Rise to Power”. Vocalist Kyle Gunther and company certainly appeared to be in top form despite being at the end of months and months of touring proving BattleCross can certainly bring it any place at any time. Though you can never be too sure of a Monday night club show the audience and bands alike seemed to enjoy the night’s festivities making this unseasonably warm night in Rochester, NY a good one for heavy music.

Battlecross Set List:
1.) Force Fed Lies
2.) My Vaccine
3.) Beast
4.) Ghost Alive
5.) Never Coming Back
6.) Flesh & Bone
7.) Get Over It
8.) Kaleb
9.) Push Pull Destroy

Wizards of Winter’s Fred Gorhau talks about album “The Magic of Winter”

Fred Gorhau is the guitarist for the NY, NJ, and PA metro area band The Wizards of Winter. The group which formed in 2010 has strong classical and progressive rock influences features several former Trans Siberian Orchestra members. The group recently released their second full length album titled “The Magic of Winter” which is a continuation of the groups 2014 self titled release. Media Mikes had the chance to speak with Frank recently about the new album, the group’s ties to the Trans Siberian Orchestra and the bands upcoming holiday tour.

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us about the group’s initial formation?
Frank Gorhau: We all come from different backgrounds. Me personally I come from a rock and heavy metal background. The group was put together by our keyboardist Scott Kelly, his wife Sharon and Steve Ratchen the bass player. The whole concept behind the group was there was a food pantry in the area that needed help. Scott and company wanted to do something so they decided to put a band together. The first year they were performing they did strictly Trans Siberian Orchestra (TSO) music. I joined the group in the second year when things really started picking up. People were asking where they could get our music and there really wasn’t a place. We decided we better do a CD so we did and now we are just releasing our second album. We have some former members of TSO appearing on the album and have had the chance to tour with 5 former members thus far. It’s great to be able to get together and do something that has grown exponentially. The group has gone from being a TSO tribute act to performing 20 of our own original songs with just a couple TSO classics thrown in for the member of that group who our now playing with us. We are doing a holiday rock concert of our own so it’s fitting to throw in some of those great TSO pieces.

AL: You recently started working with Jonny Z and Chuck Billy how did that partnership come about?
FG: I think Jon had seen some things from us and he reached out to me while we were on the road last year. He asked me for my info which I jumped at right away because Jon’s pedigree speaks for himself. We spoke and he asked if we had any video of a full show. Sadly I did not have any pro-shot material at the time. He really wanted to see our full show and as luck would have it he happened to be in Philadelphia when we were playing in nearby Easton, PA. The show was sold out and from there one thing just led to another. He started Breaking Bands with Chuck Billy and Maria Ferrero and they have been making things happen for us quite a bit this year. We are super excited and can’t wait to get out there.

AL: What can you tell us about the new album which came out earlier this month?
FG: I think “The Magic of Winter” is sort of a continuation of our first album. I am really happy with my playing on this record and our producer Eric Rachel did a fantastic job on things. It’s a really great sounding record. Tony Gaynor who was the original announcer for TSO does a great job not only announcing the song but tying the story in with everything. The story acts as this metaphorical train which takes the listeners from one place to another as it looks into various people lives during the holiday season. At first I wasn’t too sure of the story line and how it would all work but after seeing how it affects our fans and having some of those fans come up to me crying after the show really meant a lot. The album was a lot of fun and with it being the holiday season people can get emotionally involved with this release. We try to address all aspects of the holidays both happy and sad with our songs. We know that sometimes the holidays can be difficult for people and we do try to address that. I think people appreciate at that as it shows that they might not be the only ones with those feelings at this time of year.

AL: Were you more involved with the creation of the new album as compared to the previous when you were still relatively new to the group?
FG: I did play on the whole first album but only really had my hands in a couple of the songs. Most of the stuff was already there and I just put my spin on things. With “The Magic of Winter” I was intimately involved with the writing and arranging. We started putting all this stuff together in March or April so to have it all done for a November release is pretty good. There was a lot of good feedback that happened during the creation of this project and I am just super happy and proud of what we came up with in such a short time.

AL: How does the writing process work for the group being that there are quite a few members in the group?
FG: If there is one person more than any that brings in material I would have to say it is Scott. He comes up with a lot of ideas just sort playing around. Scott and I work well together whether we are retooling a traditional Christmas song or working on a new piece of material. Everyone brings something to the table. All twelve of us don’t normally get together to write but there is a core four or five that do work together and throw ideas back and forth. From there we bring the more solid ideas to the rest of the group and share with them what we think would benefit the track. It’s just been a really great experience.

AL: Having a history that is really entrenched with pieces of the Trans Siberian Orchestra be it through starting as a TSO tribute band to recruiting former TSO members, how do you go about differentiating those similarities from your own material?
FG: We are definitely similar and that’s not something I am going to pretend we are not. We started as a TSO tribute, our name comes from a TSO song. I wear that on my sleeve as sort of a badge of honor. I am a fan and to get to know these guys as friends now is something very special to me. We do have some differences in that we don’t take as much of the traditional Christmas music and rework it with a modern spin. TSO has done quite of bit of that. I think a larger portion of our material has vocals too it where TSO is mostly instrumental. We try to have about a 60/40 split between songs with vocals and straight instrumentals. We try to keep things interesting for the listener without going too far outside of the normal song structure.

AL: What can you tell us about the bands current holiday tour run?
FG: We are bringing out a few new effects with us this tour to help enhance the stage show. We have changed up the storyline a little bit as we don’t want to keep doing the same thing year after year. We won’t be doing all of the new record but we will be doing somewhere between 5 and 6 songs from that. The idea of the show is that it all takes place within a snow globe and as the globe is shaken the scenes change. The new material is sounding really great live and I think people are going to really enjoy what we have in store for everyone this year.

Book Review “Disney Minnie: Minnie’s Winter Bow Show”

Age Range: 3 – 5 years
Grade Level: Preschool – Kindergarten
Paperback: 24 pages
Publisher: Disney Press
Release Date: September 16, 2014

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

It is getting to be that time of the year! Fall is already here and we are entering the Holiday season. My two year old daughter loves nothing more than Minnie Mouse and especially Minnie’s Bowtique on Disney Junior. “Minnie’s Winter Bow Show” is the latest book in the series and is based on a movie event airing on Disney Junior this Winter (or on DVD November 4th). This is already going to be an instant classic in your house. The book is so incredible colorful and come stocked with 70 special sparkly stickers!

Official Premise: Minnie’s Winter Bow Show is quickly approaching-Minnie needs to make preparations, but she also needs to keep an eye on her two rambunctious nieces, Millie and Melody. One morning, the twins are playing in the glove balloon when it suddenly flies off with Minnie in tow! The balloon takes them on a wild winter wonderland adventure all the way to the Clubhouse North Pole! Will Minnie be able to make it back to her Bow-tique in time for her Winter Bow Show?

Book Review “Disney Fairies: Winter Wonderland Reusable Sticker Book”

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 3
Series: Disney Fairies
Paperback: 12 pages
Publisher: LB Kids
Release Date: October 21, 2014

Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars

My daughter loves two things…Disney Fairies and stickers. This book should be a win-win! But I have to admit, I was really disappointed with it. She loves the sticker and character portion of it but as a consumer, the book is sold as a “Reusable Sticker Book” and there is nothing reusable about this stickers. Once these suckers are pasted down, they are down for good. Personally if something is called reusable, I would expect it to be reusable. Big let down!

There are still pages and pages of stickers included and my daughter didn’t seem to care much. There are some pages where you have a blank background and you can fill in characters and accessories. Another page includes you matching outlines with stickers. Other pages allow you to change outfits to each character but like I said once you put them down once they are stuck, so if my daughter was a little older and wanted to change something she wouldn’t be too happy here.

Book Review “Jake and the Never Land Pirates: Winter Never Land”

Age Range: 3 – 5 years
Grade Level: Preschool – Kindergarten
Board book: 12 pages
Publisher: Disney Press
Release Date: September 16, 2014

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

Like their last board book, “Jake and the Never Land Pirates: Sailing the Never Sea”, this latest book from the hit Disney Junior series, “Jake and the Never Land Pirates: Winter Never Land” is shaped like a Christmas tree and is a great way to get into the holiday mood. Even though this book is coming out in September, I welcome the holiday season with open arms. The story is fun and this sums up another great addition in the “Jake and the Never Land Pirates” series.

Official Premise: This holiday board book is sure to get every pirate into the Christmas spirit! Never Land has become a Winter Wonderland! The night before Winter Treasure Day, Peter Pan leaves gifts and the Forever Green Tree on the beach for his favorite pirate crew. But before Jake, Izzy, and Cubby can celebrate together, Captain Hook steals the holiday treasures-even the tree! In their quest to reclaim their treasure, Jake and the crew realize that friendship is more valuable than any gift.

Blu-ray Review “Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

Actors: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Run Time: 136 minutes

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3 out of 5 stars

Is there simply any stopping Marvel at this point? “Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is the latest film in the Cinematic Universe that Marvel is building, all so well! The film is really well done. It follows the events of “Captain America: The First Avenger” and of course “The Avengers”. There are tons of Easter eggs hidden throughout the film. It is well-paced and takes a very important stand in Marvel Cinematic Universe. Chris Evans is great as always. Scarlett Johansson gets some more screen time and a chance to chat as Black Widow…but when is that solo movie going to be announced. I have to say I think that Anthony Mackie steals the show as Falcon for sure. I wanted more of him. Sebastian Stan, played the Winter Soldier, signed a nine picture deal with Marvel/Disney, so are going to be seeing a lot more of him. Can’t wait to see how this all comes together now in “The Avengers 2”.

Official Premise: From the Studio that brought you the greatest Super Hero movie of all time, “Marvel’s The Avengers”, comes “Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, the global phenomenon that teams Captain America (Chris Evans) with the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and a new ally, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), in a fight for the future of mankind. Following the cataclysmic events in New York with the Avengers, Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, is living quietly in Washington, D.C. and trying to adjust to the modern world. But when a S.H.I.E.L.D. colleague comes under attack, Steve becomes embroiled in a web of intrigue that threatens to put the entire world at risk. As the conspiracy deepens and it’s no longer clear whom to trust, Captain America, Black Widow and the Falcon must join forces to overthrow their insidious enemy’s most mysterious and powerful weapon yet – the Winter Soldier.

Disney/Marvel Studios deliver easily one of the best Blu-rays this year. The 1080p transfer is absolutely perfect and just visually amazing. I was disappointed not seeing it in 3D but in 2D it was just so impressive still. Same goes for the very epic DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track, which delivers an amazing experience. The film is very action packed and this works extremely well. Special features are good but not outstanding. There is a audio commentary track with Directors Anthony & Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, which is very extensive. “On the Front Line: An Inside Look at Captain America’s Battlegrounds” takes a look into the production. “On Set with Anthony Mackie: Cut the Check!” focuses on Falcon. Steve Rogers’ Notebook looks into the film’s differences in various international versions of the film. Lastly there are a few deleted, extended scenes and gag reel included.

Film Review “Captain America: the Winter Soldier”

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 2 hours 16 mins
Walt Disney Pictures

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

CAP IS BACK!!

Fresh from his adventures in New York with his Avengers buddies, Steve Rogers (Evans) is still trying to adjust to his life in the 21st Century. Each day he refers to a notebook he keeps, where he writes down new information to research. A couple entries: NIRVANA (Band?) and ROCKY (Rocky 2). While jogging along the tidal pool in Washington D.C. he meets fellow soldier Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), who gives him another name to put in his notebook, telling him that listening to his “Trouble Man” album will give him all the answers he needs. The artist: the great Marvin Gaye.

It’s almost an understatement to say that, since his revealing to the world, the nation has fallen in love with Captain America. In fact, there is an exhibit detailing his life (so far) in the Smithsonian. Sometimes, when he’s feeling low, Steve visits the exhibit incognito, taking in the sights. And, each time, he finds himself thinking about his friend Bucky Barnes, who gave his life so many years ago. Right?

As exciting as the first film, with wall to wall action from start to finish, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is another perfect piece in what is becoming the most profitable super-hero puzzle of all time. Long time television directors Anthony and Joe Russo (yes, they’re brothers) have crafted an exciting tale that perfectly encompasses not only the adventure that is happing on screen but helping to foreshadow what will probably be the highest grossing film of 2015: “The Avengers: Age of Ultron.” I’m hedging my bets and saying probably because that is the same year that “Star Wars: Episode VII” is due. I wonder if I can buy a movie theatre between now and then.

This adventure finds Cap and friends taking on a new Russian villain known as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Cap is a little taken aback because his new adversary bears a strong resemblance to someone from his past. Led by Nick Fury (Jackson) and assisted by Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) and his new friend Sam, Cap soon finds himself battling a member of his own government, the slick and weasely Alexander Pierce (a well cast Robert Redford) as well as the evil group known as HYDRA.

The filmmakers do an incredible job of keeping the action front and center and I dare say there isn’t a boring minute in the films two hour plus run time. The visual effects are outstanding and comic book fans will enjoy the various hints dropped for future films, including a very quick Doc Strange reference! A great addition to the Marvel heroes family, “Captain America: the Winter Soldier” is another testament to the powers that be at Marvel Studios that anything worth doing is worth doing well!

Concert Review: AFI “Burials Winter Tour”

“Burials Winter Tour”
AFI, Youth Code, Coming
Date: Saturday, February 1st 2014
Venue: Town Ballroom, Buffalo, NY

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

 AFI played the final show of the “Burials” winter tour on February 1st at the intimate Town Ballroom in Buffalo, NY to a near capacity crowd. The California based band has been out in support of their 9th studio album titled “Burials” which was released in late fall of 2013.  Though it’s been 4 years since the bands last album and quite some time since the band has performed in the upstate NY area they certainly made up for lost time with the evenings stellar performance.

Kicking of the night was a 3 piece band by the name of “Coming”. The groups sound could be describes as a mixture of Reagan Era punk rock with a bit more edginess and experimentation. Though the idea was promising the group seemed to lack any real talent. Drums dominated a good portion of the band’s sound and what space was left was filled buy one line vocal passages screamed well past the point of be able to be recognized just what the singer was actually trying to sing. Though the venue was only partially full by the end of the groups set those in attendance did provide the band with ample applause. As the venue slowly began to reach capacity a two piece Industrial EDM group by the name of “Youth Code” would take the stage and by the end of the group’s first song you could almost hear a pin drop as the crowd, myself included were left completely baffled by what we were seeing and hearing. Unoriginal 80’s era beats mixed with schizophrenic yelling and behavior plagued the groups 30/40 minute set that when the duo finally left the stage it was if a collective sigh was heard throughout the room.

After a sizeable gap between acts AFI would finally take the stage basked in a glow of red, purple and blue lighting. Lead vocalist Davey Havok wasted no time acquainting himself with the audience as by the bands second song he had already made one trip in to the audience via a quick leap from the security barrier. This would not be the first time Havok would make his way out into the three tiered venue which only added to the excitement which filled the now tightly filled room. The band performed songs from their varying catalog which dates back to 1995. The band known for their energetic live performances certainly didn’t disappoint as bassist Hunter Burgan and guitarist Jade Puget made tracks all over the stage jumping and spinning throughout the 17 song set. Even though it was the bands last night of this tour run they gave the crowd something special by performing the song “Greater Than 84” live for the first time which sounded just as good, if not better than the recorded version. Before finally leaving the stage for the night the band performed a 3 song encore made up of “The Conductor”, “Dancing Through Sunday” and “Silver and Cold” which left fans cheering for more. Every time I am able to see AFI it makes me wish that they toured more extensively and this night’s show has once again left me with that same feeling.

AFI Set List:
1.) The Leaving Song Pt.II
2.) Girl’s Not Grey
3.) I Hope You Suffer
4.) Wester
5.) Love Like Winter
6.) Ever and a Day
7.) 17 Crimes
8.) The Leaving Song
9.) Beautiful Thieves
10.) Kill Caustic
11.) Greater Than 84 (Live Debut)
12.) The Days of the Phoenix
13.) 6 to 8
14.) Miss Murder

Encore:
15.) The Conductor
16.) Dancing Through Sunday
17.) Silver and Cold

Theatre Review “Alice Lost in Wonderland” Garden Theatre – Winter Garden, FL

“Alice Lost in Wonderland”
Writer/Director: Rob Winn Anderson
Garden Theatre
160 W. Plant St, Winter Garden FL
October 20, 2013

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Since I moved from New York (and missing Broadway), the Garden Theatre, located in Winter Garden, FL, has been my answer to fill that void. When I saw they they were going to be presenting a darker take on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”, I knew I had to see it. The play “Alice Lost in Wonderland” made its world premiere this weekend and I was left quite speechless while leaving the theatre. I am a sucker for this classic story and always jump at the chance to see it portrayed in a difference view. The story was unique and backed with very impressive performances from the cast.

Official Premise: “Alice Lost in Wonderland” uses Lewis Carroll’s classic book to inspire the story of a woman frantically searching for what she has lost. Years of falling in and out of mental institutions have broken her and now she finds herself in a terrifying situation where chances are final and journeys into dark places are both wonderful and haunting.

This show is definitely not for kids. It is quite intense and contains some very mature themes. In terms of visual, the show consisted of only one set. So there wasn’t much of a visual “wow” factor. So the weight of the show rested on our cast of performers…and luckily like I mentioned they all were very impressive. I have seen plenty of local theatre productions and you always have talent that just isn’t quite up to par. Well, not at this theatre, the performers all pulled their weight and gave great performances.

If you are drawn in like myself to see a twisted production of “Alice in Wonderland”, you should be enjoy this quite a bit. The use of light and smoke in the show is very effective and add great atmosphere. It kept my interest the whole production and had me guessing as well to where they were going to take it. I have seen plenty of shows where I lose interest, but not here. Highly recommended to catch this play during its world premiere at the Garden Theatre (just leave the kiddies at home).

Cast of “Alice Lost in Wonderland”
Jane- Becky Eck
Alice/Dr.Alice/Cheshire Kitten- Taylor Anderson
Queen of Spades/Dr. Barb- Meaghan Fenner
White Rabbit/Mr. Gwynn- Alexander Mrazek
Ducky/Duchess/Crumpet/Pigeon- Julie Snyder
Mouse/White Knight- Erik Nelson
Carter/Mad Hatter- Wesley Slade
Louis/Sir Time/Tweedle/Gardener- Mike Deaven
Bill/Caterpillar- Tod Caviness
Campbell/Mock Turtle- Nicholas Bethencourt Neto

When: October 18th-November 3rd
Where: Garden Theatre, 160 W. Plant St., Winter Garden
Tickets: $25; $21 students and seniors
Call: 407-877-4736
Online: gardentheatre.org

DVD Review “Frosty’s Winter Wonderland”

Narrated by: Andy Griffith
Starring: Jackie Vernon, Shelley Winters, Dennis Day, Paul Frees
Studio: Warner Home Video
Running Time: 25 minutes

Overall Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I think that the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials are honestly the best. The only special that has come close recently is Disney’s “Prep and Landing”. This film is the sequel to the 1969 special “Frosty the Snowman”. I hold the original very high as on of my favorites and this one is fun and cute but doesn’t compare. At least we get the return of Jackie Vernon voicing Frosty the Snowman. In this sequel, Frosty gets a girlfriend and also an enemy, Jack Frost. The DVD is clear and the sound is decent especially for DVD but I wish they transferred this on to Blu-ray and included more extras.

The only special feature is called “Fun Filled Look At The History Of Snowmen And The Birth Of Frosty”. It is a decent feature but the same goes for the recently released “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”, no idea why they are being pitched as “deluxe edition”. They are far from deluxe and at least “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” was transferred to Blu-ray. For the last DVD release of this film in 2003, it was paired with the “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. So you might be better picking up that edition rather than this one if you are looking for best value.

Available on DVD 10/4 at http://bit.ly/pdBEWq
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Synopsis: From beloved song to animated holiday classic: Frosty meets his match in a glistening Remastered Deluxe Edition! Andy Griffith, Shelley Winters and Jackie Vernon lend their voices to this captivating cartoon about the Snowman’s winter return to the children of a small town for a winter season of fun and games. But he?s lonely at night when left by himself. So the grateful kids build him a beautiful snowlady companion. Jealous of the attention given Frosty, Jack Frost blows up a blizzard and swipes Frosty’s magical, life-giving hat. Only true love can bring Frosty back to his old fun-loving self. Two songs that have proven to be enduring seasonal favorites highlight the soundtrack: Frosty the Snowman and Winter Wonderland.