Film Review “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”

Starring: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett and Michael Constantine
Directed by: Kirk Jones
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hr 34 mins
Universal

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

In 2002, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” came out of nowhere to become one of the most successful, and beloved, romantic comedies of this young century. The film told the story of Toula Portokalos (Vardalos) and her search for love. The film ended with her marrying the very handsome Ian (Corbett) and living happily ever after in the house next door to her parents. 14 years later she’s still there.

If I had to sum up this film in one word it would be “familiar.” With most of the same cast doing a lot of the same things, the film depends a lot on the fact that you have seen the original. If not you won’t understand family patriarch Gus’ penchant for using Windex for everything, or why the hilarious Andrea Martin as Aunt Voula is the film’s comedic highlight. The story, in a nutshell: Toula and Ian have a teenage daughter. Her name is Paris (Elena Kampouris) and like other kids her age she’s looking for someone to go to prom with. School is hard because Ian is the principal. Toula continues to help out at the family restaurant, run by her parents. While Gus appears to be in charge, it is his wife, Maria (Lainie Kazan) that runs things. Proud of his Greek heritage, Gus is convinced that he is a direct descendent of Alexander the Great. In researching his family tree he finds his wedding certificate and notices that the priest that performed the service didn’t sign it. Does this mean he and Maria are not married? I sense a wedding in their future. Perhaps a big, fat Greek one.

If the film has anything going for it it’s the cast. As I said, many of the cast are from the first film and your familiarity with them is a plus. As a big fan of both Lainie Kazan and Michael Constantine, I enjoyed most of the film. As a couple they are perfectly matched, and even when they are fighting it’s easy to see the love. And the film is filled with everything Greek. From John Stamos, who is wasted in a cameo as the local weatherman married to Rita Wilson (who in real life is a full seven-years older than Stamos). The film also features a nice montage with the Billy Idol song “White Wedding” blasting out on a Greek bouzouki! Opa!

 

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Adventure Games That Made It Big in Vegas

Video games (as your Nan used to call them) have crossed over into many other genres in popular culture. There was a time – if you care to remember the days of Atari’s and ZX Spectrum’s – when games were just games; standalone titles with their own original plots, and let’s be honest here, generally basic gameplay.

How times have changed. Complex storylines, online play, 3D graphics and vast budgets have made gaming unrecognisable compared to those glorious and innocent early days (I’m still fond of Pacman!). It was way back in 1976 when the first game to be based on a movie was released – Death Race was an arcade game based on the cult 1975 film of the same name – and by the early 1980’s developing games from movies was all the rage. The likes of Tron, Alien and King Kong were all given the treatment for the Atari 2600, with Raiders of the Lost Ark becoming the first officially licensed game-from-a-movie in 1982. It was quickly followed by Star Wars and E.T., although the latter became an infamous flop and the subject of an urban legend.

The line between the two industries has become progressively blurred over the years, and the release of the Super Mario Bros. movie in 1993, heralded a new era where all of a sudden video games started to become the inspiration for films. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat quickly followed, while classic games like Doom, Resident Evil and Tomb Raider were developed into movies in the early 2000’s. This trend shows little sign of stopping, with an eye-watering 30 plus games currently being made into movies. These include Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, and if they’re as good as movies as they are as games, I can’t wait!

However, it isn’t just the film industry that has borrowed inspiration from gaming, and some of these well-known adventure titles have also made their way to the bright lights of Las Vegas. The Arcade and slots industry has always overlapped with the gaming industry (some software firms such as Konami actually develop both slot machines and video games), and it made perfect sense for slot-makers to latch onto the popular themes.

Better graphics and faster software have made today’s video slot machines much more of ‘gaming-like’ experience rather than a simple ‘one-armed bandit’ style slots experience. Animations and high-quality graphics have drastically changed the look of slots, and bonus games can take on a much more complex nature than ever before. Some of these games get pretty close to playing the real thing, and what’s more, you can win money playing them! It just doesn’t get much better than that, and below you can find five of the best adventure games that made it all the way to Vegas:

  1. Dungeon and Dragons

A classic; it’s as simple as that. A classic franchise of cartoons, books, toys, movies, and of course games. The Dungeons and Dragons: Fortress of Fortunes slot machine by software house, IGT, took the theme to Las Vegas in 2009 and it’s proven to be one of the most popular slots at land-based and online casinos.

It features five reels and twenty pay lines, and gives you the option to play as one of three warrior heroes. The background and sound effects behind the slot provide an air of fantasy, and wins are accompanied by mystical music. A free spins bonus game takes you into a dungeon with up to five levels where you can earn extra multipliers by defeating enemies with the roll of a virtual dice.

It’s an iconic game, but could be surpassed in the next few years, by an officially licensed slot from Konami Gaming Inc. The software giant and its Las Vegas subsidiary, KGI, signed an agreement with Hasbro to develop a Dungeons and Dragons game using the original cast of characters. The slot is aimed at land-based casinos and attracting a younger generation of players, and will feature two games – ‘Conquests and Treasures’ and ‘Enchanted Riches’ – in pods of 2, 3, or 4 machines. The pods will include high quality chairs, custom logos and a themed bezel with authentic designs.

  1. Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider was an iconic game of its time, and Angelina Jolie made the movie equally as iconic when it was released in 2001. The franchise has spawned books, comics, toys, and several sequel games, as well as a classic Vegas slot machine.

Microgaming is the software giant behind the slot machine, which features five reels, 15 pay lines and a max. bet of 75 coins. The Graphics are crisp and sharp, with symbols such as a tiger, gadgetry and Lara Croft herself earning the wins. There is a ‘Tomb Raider’ wild symbol which can substitute for other symbols to create winning combinations, and the game features two different bonus rounds. The scatter symbol is a gun-toting Lara Croft, and if she appears on 3, 4, or 5 of the reels she will launch the free spins round. There is also a bonus symbol, which is signified by a golden idol, and launches the tomb bonus round – a pick ‘em style game where you get to choose three from a number of idols to reveal three cash prizes.

The franchise is one of the most popular of the last 15-20 years, and changed the face of video gaming. It has taken Vegas by storm too, and become one of the most popular slot machines out there.

  1. Worms

Yes, that’s right. Worms. The brilliantly addictive game that is so simple in style but so engrossing to play. Well it’s also been made into an online slot, and it will come as no surprise to learn that it is incredibly popular.

Everything about the slot is as colourful and humorous as the original game, and it features many of the classic sound effects too. It has five reels and a whopping 50 pay lines, with some great animated symbols of the crazy worms with ridiculously large weapons. Remember waiting for supply crates to parachute down from the sky with new weapons? They’re here too, and are used as a bonus symbol to launch the feature round when three or more land on the reels. The bonus round lets you select one of three crates to win one of the three different bonus games. These are a ‘space trail bonus’, a ‘crate escape’ game, and a ‘free spins battle’ bonus; each of which could earn a top jackpot of $500.

There are other great little quirks like a hand grenade which drops onto the reels and explodes, turning another symbol wild; and the infamous shout of ‘incoming’ when two crates land on the reels and you await the third. With equally addictive gameplay, it’s no wonder this slot has become so popular among video gamers as well as casino regulars.

  1. The Dark Knight Rises

The Batman franchise has been around since video games and online slots were the vision of a distant future, with his first appearance coming in a 1939 comic book. However, the caped crusader has been the subject of numerous video games over the last twenty years on a huge variety of platforms, and he deserves a mention here as he remains one of the most popular figures in Las Vegas (on the slot machines, at least).

The Dark Knight Rises is an adaptation of the final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s dark trilogy, starring Christian Bale and Morgan Freeman. The game is a cutting edge video slot, which does away with standard reels and features 243 ways to win. The Graphics are superb and include real footage from the movie; while a bonus feature where Batman fights Bane rewards players with free spins and multipliers.

This is part of a new wave of slot machines which are moving away from the traditional ‘fruit machine’ style gaming, and incorporating much more interactive gaming features. It’s naturally popular in bricks-and-mortar casinos due to the popularity of the films, and it’s also made a big splash in the online world. It’s an absolute visual treat, and well worth checking out.

  1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Well, if we’re talking about popular games it would be remiss not to mention the behemoth of the gaming world that is Call of Duty. It has arguably become the single most popular gaming series of all time, and continues to captivate the soldier inside all of us the world over. It should come as no surprise then, that there is a movie in the offing. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare has sold over 13 million copies, and the slot machine by Cryptologic has proven to be just as popular in Vegas and online.

The game itself features amazing graphics and animations that are true to the original. Symbols include grenades, gas masks, and assault rifles, across the five reels and 25 pay lines. An animated marine scurries across the front of the reels on some spins, and plants a timed explosive which blows up various symbols, turning them wild and creating winning lines. On other spins a grenade rolls in front of the reels and the explosion causes the same effect. The wild soldier symbol is a nice touch as after the explosion it shows video footage from the game. All of this is before the excellent bonus game which features some great gameplay. It’s launched by landing three of the Call of Duty scatter symbols, and allows players to gain extra wins by targeting and shooting enemies on the battlefield. Up to four free games can be earned by hitting enemy soldiers, with bonus prizes for headshots; and a five-in-a-row kill streak earns an airstrike which rewards players with a multiplier for the free games.

Various other symbols also include game footage, and there is action on practically every spin in this game. Sound effects are perfect for the game, and there is that tense silence between spins before an explosion sets off a hail of gunfire – just like the real game when I play it!

Video Gaming Vegas Style

As seen on VegasSlots.co.uk, a recent change to the laws in Vegas means that casinos can now introduce more skill-based games alongside the archetypal slot machines. This is the industries attempt to convert ‘millennials’ from video gamers to casino goers; and it might just work. The aim is to introduce the skill element and link it to the prizes on the game, so a fast lap or a long kill streak will result in a bigger pay out. Rather than playing a game of chance, players will be able to use their skill at gaming to earn money – and that sounds like a perfect combination to me!

Film Review “The Big Short”

Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale
Directed by: Adam McKay
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 16 mins
Paramount Pictures

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

They said it could never happen. That any financial institution could do so poorly that it could affect the world. But that is what happened in 2008 when the housing industry imploded. Thousands of people lost money and even thousands more lost their homes. Yet, even in the toughest times, a fortuitous group of investors bucked the odds. Such is the story of “The Big Short.”

The year is 2005. We meet Dr. Michael Burry (Bale). Burry is not your typical money guy. He spends days in his office, sans shoes, and is more apt to have a pair of drumsticks in his hands then a prospectus. However, his uncanny ability to read upcoming trends in stocks and banking has made him a valuable asset to his firm, where he is given carte blanche to invest the firm’s money as he sees fit. And he’s seen fit to invest $1.3 billion in home mortgages. Rather, in home mortgages that will fail. Is he a genius? Or did he just blow a lot of people’s college fund?

Smartly written and skillfully directed, “The Big Short” is the last film you’d expect to see from Adam McKay, best known for his long association with Will Ferrell. But McKay delivers here in spades. He is helped by an amazing script, based on the book by Michael Lewis and co-written by McKay and Charles Randolph. Here we are introduced to the key players, headlined by Bale, Carell, Gosling, Brad Pitt and others. The dialogue is sharp (“who the hell doesn’t pay their mortgage?” one character asks early on) and the actors are up to the challenge. Characters sometime break the fourth wall to explain things and the film also contains some very funny cameos who also keep the audience up to the minute on the events unfolding. As the film progresses we learn more about the characters and what motivates them. Each has a reason they’ve arrived at the same conclusion and no two are the same.

To say any more would equate to “spoiling” the film so I’ll leave you with this: make an investment in “The Big Short”…it’s a sure thing!

Blu-ray Review “Big Game”

Actors: Samuel L. Jackson, Ray Stevenson, Victor Garber, Felicity Huffman, Ted Levine
Format: Blu-ray, Widescreen
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Starz / Anchor Bay
DVD Release Date: August 25, 2015
Run Time: 87 minutes

Film: 3 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 2 out of 5 stars

Samuel L. Jackson playing the President of the United States?! Sounds like a winner! “Big Game” is a fun film but it is also a very simple film. It is a straightforward tribute to 80s/90s adventure movies. It is definitely predictable and the a bit generic but at the same time it is fun due to its simplicity. Other than Jackson, the film posts an impressive cast including Onni Tommila (Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale), Ray Stevenson (Insurgent, Starz’ “Black Sails”), Victor Garber (Argo, Starz’ “Power”), Ted Levine (Shutter Island, American Gangster), Felicity Huffman (Cake, Transamerica) and Jim Broadbent (Cloud Atlas). All together this makes this film worth checking out as a rental.

Official Premise: In the rugged countryside of Finland, a young thirteen-year-old (Onni Tommila) embarks on a traditional quest to prove himself by spending twenty-four hours alone in the wild, armed with only a bow and arrow. After witnessing a spectacular crash, he discovers the escape pod from Air Force One, containing the President of the United States (Samuel L. Jackson). When they realize a group of kidnappers is hot on their trail with the intention of taking the president, this unlikely duo must escape their hunters as they search for the American Special Forces team sent out to find them.

The Blu-ray itself both looks and sounds great. The 1080p transfer really highlights all the films beautiful shooting locations and action scenes. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track also works well with the big scope of the film. The only “special feature” included is an unrated cut of the film (not really a special feature though). The PG-13 cut runs just over 86 minutes while the unrated version runs about 90 minutes, so there is a little more there but nothing life changing plus the unrated cut features only a Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track, so it is definitely not the ideal way to view the film.

Concert Review: Breaking Benjamin “Dark Before Dawn Tour” Big Flats, NY

“Dark Before Dawn Tour”
Breaking Benjamin, Starset
Date: Tuesday, July 14th 2015
Venue: Tag’s Summer Stage, Big Flats, NY

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Breaking Benjamin kicked off their summer tour run in support of their most recent album “Dark Before Dawn” at Tag’s Summer Stage in Big Flats, NY on July 14th. Despite torrential down pours which prompted flash flood warnings mixed with heavy periods of thunder and lightning the show seemed to go off without a hitch.

Razor & Tie recording artist Starset would open the night hitting the stage performing their unique blend of techno infused rock. Clad in spacey lighted costume the members of the band laid a solid foundation for vocalist Dustin Bates who split his time behind the microphone and a giant touch screen control panel that seemed to be straight out of an “Iron Man” film. The group performed a variety of songs of their debut album “Transmission” including the hit single “My Demons” prior to the conclusion of the set. After a rather lengthy set change and still under foreboding skies the members of Breaking Benjamin would hit the stage to instant applause as they performed the song “So Cold”.

Throughout the bands 22 song set the band took time to show their appreciation for the crowds support throughout the numerous bouts of bad weather leading up to the bands performance. The nights set list was a combination of both new and old material with a handful of covers including Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever” and Tool’s “Aenima” to name just a few. The addition of the covers made me questions the bands decision as with 5 albums worth of material to choose from why not give the fans a little more of your own material as opposed to someone else’s. Either way all the hits were still there including the group’s 2002 break out hit “Polyamorous” which certainly was one of the songs garnering the night’s biggest applause.

With this being the bands first night of the tour I was a bit skeptical as you never know what to expect as things are generally still being worked out 2 to 3 shows into a tour however the band sounded great and right out of the gate seemed to be firing on all cylinders. Breaking Benjamin did not let bad weather hinder their performance and the sizeable crowd was very gracious. The tour runs through August so if you haven’t gotten tickets yet for the show closest to your area what are you waiting for?

Breaking Benjamin Set List:
1.) So Cold
2.) Angels Fall
3.) Follow
4.) Break My Fall
5.) Who Wants to Live Forever (Queen Cover)
6.) Unknown Soldier
7.) Sooner or Later
8.) Blow Me Away
9.) Failure
10.) Breath
11.) AEnema (Tool Cover)
12.) Phase
13.) Away
14.) Give Me a Sign
15.) Shallow Bay
16.) Imperial March/ Schism/ Smells Like Teen Spirit/ Walk
17.) Polyamorous
18.) Evil Angel
19.) Until the End
20.) I Will Not Bow
21.) Lights Out
22.) Dance with the Devil
23.) Intro
24.) The Diary of Jane

Howie Fields and “Big” John Wallace discuss music and Harry Chapin

As much as I admire many of the actors, musicians, ball players and others that I’ve grown up watching, I’ve only cried at the death of four of them:  John Lennon, because it was so senseless; Roy Scheider, because he was my friend; Ron Santo, because he was my first “idol” and Harry Chapin… just because.

When I was 13, Chapin’s song Cats in the Cradle came out.  It struck a chord in me that I never forgot.  It was almost like Harry was singing about my father and me.  My son is going to be 31 later this month, and that song still rings true.  Where I was once the little boy that wanted to spend more time with his dad, now I’m the father who has to accept that my son now has a family of his own.  As I got older I became a fan of Harry Chapin’s music and I was crushed when he was killed 34 years ago today, July 16, 1981.

Today, Harry’s music is still being played, the torch being carried by his brothers Tom and Steve and the members of Harry’s band.  I recently asked drummer Howie Fields and bass player “Big” John Wallace a few questions about Harry Chapin and his music.

Mike Smith:  What were your musical backgrounds before joining up with Harry?
Howie Fields: Drum lessons at age 15 followed by a parade of teenage basement and garage bands playing Beatles, Stones. Rascals, Dylan, Kinks, Hollies, Who, etc. Better bands WITH PAY in my college years leading up to my entry into Harry’s band in 1975.
John Wallace:  I started out as a vocalist in the Grace Church Choir in Brooklyn, New York, where I met Harry and the other Chapin brothers.  I dabbled with the bass guitar in my teen years and my first public appearance on bass was in my teens when Harry asked me to perform his songs with him in people’s homes in Brooklyn. Fast forward approximately 10 years when he asked me to join his band.

MS:  When did you join the band?
HF: 1975
JW: I was a founding member, 1972.

MS: How was Harry to work with – was he open to collaboration when working out his songs with the group?
HF:  That ran the gamut. Sometimes Harry would run down a new song or two and ask us to come up with some ideas during concert sound checks (which he rarely attended) and at other times he would come in with a song and have very precise ideas. The rest of the time it would be pretty equitable collaboration in the recording studio.

MS:  Is there a favorite song you enjoyed playing live?
HF:   “Mercenaries,” “Odd Job Man,” “The Mayor Of Candor Lied”
JW:  Too many to choose from.

MS:  Do you have a favorite memory you’d like to share?
HF:   Quite notably for me, within the run of the show (NOTE – in early 1975 Harry and the band performed on Broadway in a show titled “The Night That Made America Famous” with words and music by Harry.  The show went on to earn two Tony Award nominations), was the night of March 1, 1975. Both Saturday performances were completed and Harry entered the band dressing room and asked Big John if he would come with him to attend the Grammy Awards ceremony at The Uris Theater for which he had one extra ticket and for which he had been nominated as Best Male Vocalist for “Cat’s In The Cradle”. He was also performing the song that night but John politely declined. Harry then put the ticket up for grabs and only after it appeared no one else was taking, I found myself in a cab with Harry, his wife Sandy, and his dad Jim, rushing over to the Grammy’s which had already begun. We entered the building and as we approached the doors leading from the lobby into the actual theater, a young usher (about 20) noted that Harry was overburdened with a guitar (not in its case), a leather bag, and one or two other items. He offered to take the guitar which Harry gladly gave up and then, somehow, as the usher was holding the guitar and at the same time attempting to open the door to the theater for us, he simultaneously dropped the instrument and tripped in such a way that one of his feet came down right on the guitar. So…there the guitar lay…smashed on the ground. It happened in a nano-second and it wasn’t pretty. All I remember at that point was Harry putting his arms around this devastated and horrified kid, saying “Don’t worry about it bro”. He could be like that.

MS:  Harry was killed on his way to perform at a benefit concert.  Did that show ever go on?
HF:  No, that show did not occur but one year later the band plus Tom Chapin did a memorial show on the same stage in Eisenhower Park in Long Island.

MS: Are you amazed that, three decades after he passed away, Harry’s music continues to gain new fans?
HF:   I am, as it’s pleasantly remarkable to me that Harry’s music has endured AND in many circles/families has been passed down to younger generations. The variety of age groups are evident at many of our concerts.

Rock and roll fans take notice:  I first “met” Howie when I was working on a screenplay about Harry’s life.  I contacted Howie and asked him if he had any idea what the set list was at Harry’s last show.  He sent me a copy of it.  Not a list of the songs, but a copy of the actual set list.  Howie runs a web site called “Rock Paper” and I’ll let him tell you about it:

HF:   Rock Paper is a business I have had going for over 20 yrs. It’s an archives of rock music and its two main entities are a complete archives of Rolling Stone magazine, whereby ANY article, record review, concert review, advertisement EVER published in the magazine can be located. Rock Paper has over 10,000 back issues o the magazine going back to the issue #1 (1967). There are also thousands of other back issues available of other classic rock magazines….Crawdaddy, Circus, Creem, etc, etc, etc,

It also has an archive of concert ads cut from newspapers from NYC & the UK.

You can search for whatever you’re looking for at www.RockPaper.net.

All photos copyright www.harrychapin.com

 

Blu-ray Review “Big Hero 6”

Actors: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Jr. Damon Wayans, Genesis Rodriguez
Directors: Chris Williams Don Hall
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Run Time: 102 minutes

Film: 5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

When I first saw “Big Hero 6”, I had high expectations from the film since Walt Disney Animation Studios has been really delivering some hits recently with “Frozen” and “Wreck-It Ralph”. After a few viewing though (and quickly becoming one of my daughters favorites) “Big Hero 6” and the lovable Baymax (voice of Scott Adsit) has won me over. This film won the Oscar last night for Best Animated Film and looking back on the year, I couldn’t agree more. I did love “The LEGO Movie” but all around this was the best animated film of the year.  If you haven’t seen this film yet, I highly suggest it since it will definitely will you over! Fist bump!

Official Premise: With all the heart and humor audiences expect from Walt Disney Animation Studios, “Big Hero 6” is an action-packed comedy adventure that introduces Baymax, a lovable, personal companion robot, who forms a special bond with robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada. When a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo, Hiro turns to Baymax and his diverse group of friends — adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred — who transform into a band of unlikely heroes. Bring From Walt Disney Animation Studios (“Frozen,” “Wreck-It Ralph”), Disney’s “Big Hero 6” introduces you to a lovable robot who will change your world. Join Baymax (voice of Scott Adsit)home Disney’s “Big Hero 6,” featuring comic-book-style action and hilarious, unforgettable characters — it’s fun for the whole family!

Disney is releasing this film on a Collector’s Edition combo pack with Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy included. The 1080p transfer is beautiful but Disney is still slacking with neglecting to including a 3D Blu-ray of their films. I wish they would smarten up and start releasing 3D Blu-ray’s again. This film looked amazing in 3D and I would love to watch it in 3D again. Still though, I love the colors in this film, The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is outstanding. The action sounds amazing. Why Hiro and Bayamax are souring through the sky, it was a thing of beauty.

In terms of special features, Disney delivers here. First we have the Oscar Winning Theatrical Short “FEAST”. “The Origin Story of “Big Hero 6”: Hiro’s Journey” is hosted by Jamie Chung, voice of Go Go Tomago and takes us behind the scenes. “Big Animator 6: The Characters Behind the Characters” features the film lead animators talking about their creation. There are a few deleted scenes including two alternate openings with intros from Directors Don Hall & Chris Williams. There is also an Easter Egg included called “Big Hero Secrets” which tells you about the film’s secrets.

The Rods’ Dave “Rock” Feinstein and Carl Canedy talks about new song “Great Big Fake Ones”

Media Mikes had the great pleasure recently to speak to not one but two legendary heavy metal musicians. Dave “Rock” Feinstein and Carl Canedy make up 2/3rds of the band The Rods a band which has been carrying the flag for heavy metal and hard rock since the late 1970’s. Both members have new solo albums out along with a newly released Rods single titled “Great Big Fake Ones” and we spoke with the guys recently about these new releases and their plans for the coming year.

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us about the decision to re-issue “Heavier Than Thou” and
“Hollywood”?
Dave “Rock” Feinstein: “Heavier than Thou”, and the “Hollywood” albums have been albums that wanted by the fans for a long time.  We felt that now was a good time to re-issue them.  They are both slightly different than a traditional RODS album, so I think that’s what makes them so interesting to the fans.
Carl Canedy: We’ve been in the process of re-issuing a lot of our back catalog that we own the rights to. These two CD’s in particular were something the fans had not had a chance own in a re-issued, re-mastered format. Fans have been emailing us for years asking when they’d be available. So like Dave said it simply was time.

AL:  What can you tell us about the newly recorded Rods track “Great Big Fake Ones”?
DF: There are many words that have been used to describe the song, but when Carl brought the song in, the three of us just felt that it was so funny, and just different enough to make the fans want to hear it.  You have to take it for what it is.  It’s not a traditional RODS song, but it is a very catchy tune that should make you laugh.
CC: The guys have been really cool about doing a song this since I initially brought it to them. It’s clearly a “one-off” type of song. The fans who’ve heard love it. I think as long as you realize it’s “tongue-in-cheek” you can enjoy it for what it is. Personally I love it and think it’s quite amusing. I gave it to the guys and when it came time to record it was done quickly. Rock and Garry really nailed the vocals.

AL: You both recently released new solo albums. Can you tell us about those and some of the guests who appear on the albums?
DF:  “Clash of Armor” is my forth solo release now and was done mostly by myself and Nate Horton. On my previous releases I have had quite a few guest performers. In the past guys like John West, Michael Butler, Jeff Howell and Matt Barnes have all come in to help me on various tracks as has Nate. On the song “Bitten By the Beast” from my 3rd solo release I had Carl and Garry come in. I played guitar and Ronnie James Dio did the vocals.
CC: On my CD, I have John Hahn, a Leviathan artist who is a Mike Varney discovery. I’ve known John for quite a few years as I played on his first solo CD in the “90’s. Mark Tornillo has 3 vocals, Joe Comeau has 2 vocals and David Porter has 2 vocals. Chris Caffery came in and did some soloing on 2 tracks as well as several other artists who graciously brought their talent to this project.

AL: With a career spanning multiple decades what do you find these days to be the most rewarding part of being a musician?
DF: It’s rewarding to still be able to create new music.  Of course playing live is the ultimate rush, and to know that there are still fans around the world checking out our music and wanting more.

AL: Are there any plans to perform this new material live and what type of
plans do The Rods have in place for 2015?
DF: I think I can speak for the three of us that we love to perform live, and if a song of ours merits being performed live, then we will do so.  Right now for us we take every request to perform seriously, and try to do as much as we can to make these live appearances happen, For us and for the fans as well.
CC: We do have a few dates in the works that are not yet confirmed and we have confirmed the Defenders of Old Festival in March with Exciter. We’re excited about this show as it’s the first time in years we’ve been to the NY area. Also, I love the band and the guys in Exciter so I’m looking forward to the reunion.

Nintendo 3DS Video Game Review “Big Hero 6: Battle in the Bay”

Release Date: October 23, 2014
E10+ for Everyone 10 and older: Cartoon Violence
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Game Mill Entertainment
Developer: 1st Playable Productions

Our Score: 2 out of 5 stars

Right from the start, “Big Hero 6: Battle in the Bay” was off to a bad start. I thought there was something wrong with my 3DS and it turned out the game isn’t presented with 3D effects. I mean come on, there are indie games that are coming out in 3D and a big game like “Big Hero 6” is not. Very disappointing. The game difficulty is extremely easy. The bad guys are no challenge at all, in fact I beat the first boss while checking my email on my phone. You play as each of the five main characters mixed up throughout the game’s 20 levels, which will take the average gamer about an hour or two to beat. The other main issue is that Baymax, who is the best character in the movie is merely background noise. Big miss here for sure.

Official Premise: Following on the heels of their super hero debut, the Big Hero 6 team has targeted a dangerous gangster named Yama and his legion of out of control fighting robots! Take control of the stars of the film in this action packed combat platformer! Send robot’s flying across the screen as Hiro with his electro-mag gauntlets! Zoom through levels at top speed as Go ! Slice and dice as Wasabi with his plasma blades! Smash and burn as Fred in his Kaiju monster super suit!

“Big Hero 6: Battle in the Bay” features no spoken dialogue or cut scenes at all along with bland and repetitive sound design. One thing this game does have though to add slightly more game play instead of jump flying through each level is that there is some in-game collectibles. You can collect various hidden items in each level including a cat, a plus symbol consisting of five cubes and the word HERO spelled out. Finding these items will provide health upgrades as well as trophies, art work and more. Unless you are completely obsessed with “Big Hero 6” and need to have everything from the movie, this is a definite pass.

 

Film Review “Big Hero 6”

Starring: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans, Jr., Génesis Rodríguez, T.J. Miller,
Daniel Henney, Maya Rudolph
Directed by: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Distributed by Walt Disney Studios
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 108 minutes

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

For those that do not know “Big Hero 6” is inspired by the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name, which was released back in 1998. In fact, “Big Hero 6” is the first Disney animated film to feature Marvel Comics characters. They aren’t well-known characters like “The Avengers” but still Marvel characters nonetheless. I have to admit, I was expecting a little more from this film. I enjoyed it overall but I didn’t walk away screaming “WOW!!” like I did with recent past Disney animated films like “Tangled”, “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Frozen”. I absolutely loved those films but I only liked “Big Hero 6”.

Official Premise: “Big Hero 6” is an action-packed comedy-adventure about the special bond that develops between Baymax (Scott Adsit), a plus-sized inflatable robot, and prodigy Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter). When a devastating event befalls the city of San Fransokyo and catapults Hiro into the midst of danger, he turns to Baymax and his close friends adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago (Jamie Chung), neatnik Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), chemistry whiz Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) and fanboy Fred (T.J. Miller). Determined to uncover the mystery, Hiro transforms his friends into a band of high-tech heroes called “Big Hero 6.”

Let’s start off with the fact that I love Baymax. I love him. He is literally the main star of this film. He steals the show. Other than him, I really wasn’t in love with any of the other characters at all. It all felt a little generic to me. Luckily, the film had a lot of heart to it and it ended up winning me off in the third act. There was some quite intense moments in the film as well that I questioned “is this really a kids film?”. I have a two year old daughter and she has seen “Tangled”, “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Frozen” numerous times each and I will NOT be showing her this film for many years. There are also some parts that are downright creepy with the Kabuki-faced villain.

I loved the fictionalized created city, San Fransokyo. It is very bright and quite beautiful especially during the flying scenes. The animation is great and no complaints there at all. Viewing the film in 3D, there are some great epic scale shots for the effect but I wasn’t very blown away with it anyway. There are no in your face gags either. If you want to see it in 3D though, check it out in theaters since Disney doesn’t release 3D Blu-rays anymore. The score is epic by Henry Jackson but nothing too memorable. I don’t really see myself listening to the score after seeing the film unlike “Tangled”, “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Frozen”, which are all on my phone still today.

The voice cast is good but not filled with an all-star cast. Hiro is voiced by Ryan Potter, who is only known for the TV series “Supah Ninjas”. His older brother Tadashi is voiced by Daniel Henney (“X-Men Origins: Wolverine). The inflatable nurse robot turned superhero, Baymax, is voiced by Scott Adsit, known best for “30 Rock”. Tadashi’s college friends are voiced by T.J. Miller (“Transformers: Age of Exinction”) , Jamie Chung (“Sucker Punch”), Genesis Rodriguez (“Identity Thief) and Damon Wayans Jr. (“Let’s Be Cops”). Fun fact, co-director Chris Williams, voiced the fan-favorite character Oaken from last year’s “Frozen”.

While “Big Hero 6” is not one of my favorite films of the year, it is still a fun time to be had. Like I said it has a lot of heart and even might be able to get a few tears out of you if you are feeling emotional. The visual effects are great. Baymax is easily one of the coolest and most lovable characters. I liked it but I do not see it being very memorable. In my house, we must watch  “Tangled”, “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Frozen” each at least one a month at the least, I do not see many repeat viewings of this film. Be sure to get to the theater early to catch the short film “Feast”, which is nothing short of outstanding and easily outshines the film it precedes.

 

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  • Book Review “The Art of Big Hero 6”

    Author: Jessica Julius
    Hardcover: 168 pages
    Publisher: Chronicle Books
    Release Date: October 28, 2014

    Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

    If there is one movie that I am excited to see this fall it is easily “Big Hero 6”. Walt Disney Animation Studio has been delivering some of the best product recently including “Tangled”, “Wreck-It Ralph” and “Frozen” and even wiping the floors with Pixar’s lackluster recent films. “Big Hero 6” looks like yet another winner for Disney. The animation in the film is so colorful and vibrant. The book is a little heavy in character designs and less in the high-tech city of San Fransokyo the film is based in. If you are looking for a great behind-the-scenes look into this film, Chronicle Books has done it again!

    Official Premise: Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Big Hero 6 is the story of Hiro Hamada, a brilliant robotics prodigy who must foil a criminal plot that threatens to destroy the fast-paced, high-tech city of San Fransokyo. This new title in our popular The Art of series, published to coincide with the movie’s U.S. release, features concept art from the film’s creation—including sketches, storyboards, maquette sculpts, colorscripts, and much more—illuminated by quotes and interviews with the film’s creators. Fans will love the behind-the-scenes insights into Disney’s newest action comedy adventure.

    The author of the book Jessica Julius is also a creative executive at Walt Disney Animation Studios. She has worked on such films as “Frozen”, “Tangled”, “Wreck-It Ralph”, “The Princess and the Frog”, and “Bolt” aka all of my favorites in the last decade. So if you looking for a good inside look, she is definitely a trusted source for the topic at hand.  John Lasseter gives a great preface to the book. Co-directors of “Big Hero 6”, Chris Williams and Don Hall serve up a fantastic foreword as well. I really enjoyed reading this book and I have a feeling that I am going to enjoy it even more getting to revisit once I have seen the film.

     

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    Marvel and Disney Kingdoms Take You for a Ride with “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad”!

    New York, NY—October 23rd, 2014— Coming in spring 2015, the world famous, thrill-packed Disney attraction – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – roars to life as an all-new Marvel and Disney Kingdoms comic book bursting with action, romance, mystery and adventure. The new series, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, continues the unique collaboration between Marvel Comics, Disney Kingdoms, and Walt Disney Imagineering. This five-issue series, created by rising star writer Dennis Hopeless (Spider-Woman, Avengers Arena), fan-favorite artist Tigh Walker (Avengers Undercover), invite readers all aboard an all-new adventure that reveals the never-before-told saga of how the gold mine in Big Thunder Mountain became the haunted legend it is today!

    A mainstay of Disney Parks since 1979, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has entertained countless guests on this classic attraction in four Disney theme parks around the world. Now, Disney Kingdoms is proud to add ‘the wildest ride in the wilderness’ with an all-new tale of mystery and adventure set in the wild Frontier!

    “Building on the momentum of the sold out Figment series, we are excited to embark upon what may be our wildest adventure yet,” says editor and Creative Director Bill Rosemann. “As one of the most famous Disney attractions, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is packed with a combustible combo of drama, humor, and thrills that will explode across the page and deliver all the action and surprises that the Disney Kingdoms imprint has quickly become known for.”

    Series writer Dennis Hopeless continues, “Everybody knows Big Thunder Mountain Railroad as a rumbling, tumbling runaway train car attraction through an exploding gold mine. But it’s always been more than that. It’s a trip back in time to a Gold Rush town where daring men and women risked their lives in the daily battle between man and mountain. And let’s be honest, it’s the perfect setting for an adventure comic.”

    Earthquakes! Floods! Dynamite-chewing goats! Can the denizens of Rainbow Ridge survive the clash between mankind’s greed and nature’s fury? And what is the protective power that dwells deep within the mysterious mountain? Surprises await you in the latest Disney Kingdoms saga coming in spring 2015.

    BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN RAILROAD #1 (OF 5)
    Written by DENNIS HOPLESS
    Penciled by TIGH WALKER
    Elements based on Big Thunder Mountain © Disney
    32 PGS./All Ages …$3.99

    About Disney Kingdoms:
    Created as a collaboration between Marvel Comics and Walt Disney Imagineering’s designers, producers and creative directors, the Disney Kingdoms line is home to exciting new comic stories expanding upon already beloved lands, attractions, characters and worlds of Disney Parks and Resorts. Launching in 2014 with Seekers of the Weird, Disney Kingdoms showcases some of the best and brightest Marvel creators as they craft new adventures that can be enjoyed by Disney and Marvel fans of any age.

    About Marvel Entertainment:
    Marvel Entertainment, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, is one of the world’s most prominent character-based entertainment companies, built on a proven library of more than 8,000 characters featured in a variety of media over seventy years. Marvel utilizes its character franchises in entertainment, licensing and publishing. For more information visit marvel.com. © 2014 MARVEL

    Book Review “Big Hero 6: Hiro and Tadashi”

    Author: Brittany Candau
    Illustrated by Jeff Clark, Scott Tilley
    Age Range: 6 – 8 years
    Grade Level: 1 – 3
    Hardcover: 32 pages
    Publisher: Disney Press
    Release Date: September 23, 2014

    Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

    If you are digging this superhero take over of Hollywood like myself, then I am sure that you are looking forward to “Big Hero 6” like myself. It is Disney’s answer or as close as we are going to get for a while to an animated superhero. From the studio that has brought us films like “Wreck-It Ralph”, “Tangled” and “Frozen”, I have a feeling that this is going to be extremely epic! Counting down the day.

    Official Premise: This beautifully-illustrated picture book timed to release with Big Hero 6, focuses on tech-wiz Hiro and his older brother, Tadashi, as well as their unique styles and tastes in building robots! Readers will get a feel for their fun, compelling relationship, their mutual love for technology, and get to know the characters behind the super team, Big Hero 6!

    “Big Hero 6: Hiro and Tadashi” is a great setup to the film and gives you a chance to learn a little bit about the characters as we wait until its release this November. The style of the book really drew me in the cover since it has a certain fuzzy, 8-bit feel to it which I really dug. This is only the first and Disney should be releasing a great deal of books for “Big Hero 6”, so I can’t wait to see what else they have planned for this!

     

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    Blu-ray Review “The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Seventh Season”

    Starring: Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Melissa Rauch
    Number of discs: 5
    Rated: Unrated
    Studio: Warner Home Video
    Release Date: September 16, 2014
    Run Time: 485 minutes

    Season: 4 out of 5 stars
    Blu-ray: 3.5 out of 5 stars
    Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

    The Big Bang Theory” is TV’s most popular comedy. It is going on it’s eight season and shows no signs of fatigue in fact this show is better than ever! This season actually got off to a slightly slow start but really ended up a bunch of the best episodes that this series has ever had to date. This season has amazing guest stars including James Earl Jones, Carrie Fisher and Bob Newhart (one of my favorites). Season five ended with Howard going into space, which was good. Season six ended with Leonard going on a research trip on a boat for months. But season seven has a very real and almost not funny yet absolutely amazing Sheldon revelation that might change the dymanic of the show moving forward. I absolutely love this show and this season is the reason why. Can’t wait for season eight to start…count down the days.

    Official Premise: Socially challenged they remain, but the scientific geniuses of The Big Bang Theory always deliver hilarious results. Leonard returns from his North Sea expedition to find that his relationship with Penny involves more beta-testing than he’s ever done in a lab. Howard’s attachment issues with the women in his life in particular and Raj’s social breakthrough with women in general provide more laughs. Bernadette and Amy stand staunchly by the men in their life, even when they’re sitting in marathon role-playing games. Sheldon sees his mom (Laurie Metcalf) in a totally different way, parties with James Earl Jones, establishes a (sort of) bond with his idol Professor Proton (Emmy® winner Bob Newhart) and makes a scientific breakthrough that breaks down before you can say Science Friday.

    “The Complete Seventh Season” hits Blu-ray as a combo pack with a Blu-ray + DVD + UltraViolet digital copy of the season. The 1080p transfers with their DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks are in line with the previous seasons, which were all exceptional for this show. The special features are also a blast to enjoy after watching the season. Here’s the list of the included special features: String Theory Serenade, James Earl Jones: The Un-Conventional Guest Star, BBTea Time, The Big Bang Theory’s May the 4th, The Big Cendrowski, 2013 Comic-Con Panel, Johnny Galecki Crashes the BBT Writers Panel, and Gag Reel. The only thing missing that would make this perfect would be some commentary tracks.

    Own it on Blu-ray™ Combo, DVD & Digital HD September 16

     

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    Concert Review: Goo Goo Dolls, Daughtry, Plain White T’s – Tag’s Summer Stage, Big Flats, NY

    Goo Goo Dolls, Daughtry, Plain White T’s
    Saturday, August 16th 2014
    Tag’s Summer Stage, Big Flats, NY

    Our score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

    The quiet town of Big Flats, NY sprung to life on Saturday, August 16th as New York natives the Goo Goo Dolls made a stop at Tag’s Summer Stage as part of their summer tour which also featured season 5 American Idol finalist Chris Daughtry along with the Plain White T’s. Though the weather was touch and go throughout the night it didn’t stop those in attendance from enjoying the night of music.

    Opening up the nights show was Plain White T’s who burst on the music scene a few years back with their hit song “Hey There Delilah”. The group performed an intimate acoustic tinged set that sounded great however with the exception of one or two more well know songs the bands time on stage did little to ignite the crowd’s attention. Daughtry would take the stage next opening up his set with the title track off his newest album “Baptized” and instantly had the crowd in his hand. As the set progressed Daughtry and company treated the crowd to a variety of songs from his current and previous albums including hits like “Feels like Tonight”, “It’s Not Over” and “September” before closing out his set with “Long Live Rock & Roll”. Though the crowd seemed appreciative of the bands performance there were several points during the set where Daughtry seemed to push his voice a little too far past his range making those parts a bit harsh on the ears. Personally I also would have enjoyed hearing a few more of his edgier rock tunes this time around however that did not happen.

    As darkness fell on the semi-remote venue the Goo Goo Dolls would take the stage to close out the night with an impressive 21 song set which ran the gambit of the bands 20+ year career. The group opened the set with the song “Dizzy” which gave way to other classic tracks like “Big Machine” and “Slide” before the night was closed out by songs like “Broadway” and “Iris”. I found the band’s sound to be tight and well rehearsed however with the exception of bassist Robby Takac whose energy kept the show interesting the other members seemed to be just going through the motions. It was also a little disheartening to see the absence of vintage Goo songs like “Long Way Down” and “Naked”.  Despite my own feelings toward the nights set those in attendance seemed very appreciative of the bands performance and showed that by large periods of applause after each and every song. If you have never seen any of the bands or you are a seasoned show going fan make your way out to one of the remaining shows for a solid night of music and fun as the tours lineup has a little something for everyone.

    Plain White T’s Set List:
    1.) American Nights
    2.) Helium
    3.) The Giving Tree
    4.) 1,2,3,4
    5.) Should’ve Gone to Bed
    6.) Hey There Delilah
    7.) Rhythm of Love

    Daughtry Set List:
    1.) Baptized
    2.) Feels like Tonight
    3.) Over You
    4.) Renegade
    5.) Traitor
    6.) It’s Not Over
    7.) What About Now
    8.) Wild Heart
    9.) Battleships
    10.) Home
    11.) September
    12.) Waiting for Superman
    13.) Long Live Rock & Roll

    Goo Goo Dolls Set List:
    1.) Dizzy
    2.) Big Machine
    3.) Slide
    4.) Rebel Beat
    5.) When the World Breaks Your Heart
    6.) Already There
    7.) Another Second Time Around
    8.) Come to Me
    9.) Black Balloon
    10.) Stay With you
    11.) Here is Gone
    12.) Caught in the Storm
    13.) Name
    14.) January Friend
    15.) Bringing on the Light
    16.) Better Days
    17.) Slow It Down
    18.) Broadway
    19.) Let Love In
    20.) Iris
    21.) Give a Little Bit (Supertramp cover)