Everything was Roses when they Held on to the Guns: Guns n’ Roses Not in this Lifetime

I’ve been lucky enough to attend some pretty impressive concerts.

I got to see U2 live in a relatively small stadium, Journey from just a few feet away, and Ozzy’s last Ozzfest with the Black Sabbath lineup.  I even got to see Axl with his new Guns N’ Roses line up back in 2012, having previously seen Duff McKagan, Slash, and Matt Sorum (the Use Your Illusion line up) with Velvet Revolver at the aforementioned Ozzfest.

At the time I thought seeing the various parts of GnR in their new ventures was as close as I would get to seeing the original line up live; especially considering the legendary bad blood between Axl and his former bandmates.

Then the news broke last year that Slash was quoted making some exceptionally flattering comments about Rose.  And Axl was then quoted reciprocating with some equally complimentary statements about Slash.  The two cornerstones of the band thawing a bit?  Rumors flew quickly, would there be a reunion?

A few months later it was announced that Rose, McKagan, and Slash all signed up for a reunion show at Coachella.  Since I knew I wouldn’t hit the lottery any time soon I figured it’d be something I’d have to miss…until they announced tour dates featuring Axl, McKagan, and Slash.  And that they would be playing the football stadium in my city!

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Duff back on bass!

I’ve been a GnR fan since the late 80s and early 90s.  I grew up watching their videos on MTV (back when they played music) and became borderline obsessed with the group after the Use Your Illusion albums.  Even though tastes and moods can change any time anyone asks “who’s your favorite band?”  Guns n Roses was always the answer.

It's not the same GnR without Slash...
It’s not the same GnR without Slash…

For me the show had a lot to live up to and it came through beyond what I could have imagined.  My best friend Mike (who’s been a fan almost as long as I have) called it “the culmination of his being.”  Over three hours of classic and newer GnR material.  Arrangements that harkened back to the Use Your Illusion tour (I remember seeing Slash play the Godfather Theme on a VHS tape I had of a GnR show from the 90s) and even some surprises; such as two songs featuring the first member to be ousted, Appetite for Destruction drummer Steven Adler.

Adler on drums for two Appetite tracks!
Adler on drums for two Appetite tracks!

What made the show remarkable to me was that it wasn’t just a greatest hits tour.  Yes they played the biggest of the biggest hits and the roar of the crowd was the loudest I’ve ever heard when the opening strains to “Welcome to the Jungle” echoed off the stadium stands, but it was more than that.  “Jungle” was followed with relatively deep cut “Double Talkin’ Jive” which has one of my favorite drum beats and guitar outros ever.    That in turn was followed by the 9 minute epic, “Estranged” which possibly features my favorite guitar solo ever.  Halfway through the show they broke out the ultimate GnR deep cut by playing Coma.  A 10 minute song I never thought I’d experience live.  Casual fans all around me sat down as the song wound its way through its narrative leaving me one of the few in my section standing up and singing along.

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Coma Live in Concert!

The whole show transported me back in time where playing Doom and drawing comics was all I did every day.

It was far and away greatest concert I’ve ever attended.  What’s the future of GnR?  Who knows.  Axl being as unpredictable as he is may decide to drop the act and just tour with AC/DC (which I have to say if they came here with that line up I’d be pretty psyched for that too).  McKagen may ditch it for a solo act.  Slash might do the same.  The camaraderie on stage appeared pretty damn good though, with Axl jamming to Slash’s solos, and Duff getting to do his own Misfits cover.  And I can’t think of a show where bandmates could play for 3 plus hours for as many shows as they have if they weren’t enjoying themselves.

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Nearly 30 years after their debut…Axl still has it..

I shouldn’t hold out hope for a new album featuring the OG GnR line up…but I am.  Maybe someday we’ll hear new material, even just a song or two, from 80s metal’s Lennon & McCarthy of Axl and Slash.

Take a bow!
Take a bow!

But if it never happens, or even if the band happens to implode yet again in the coming weeks, those of us who grew up in the GnR era will always have the masterpieces they produced from 1987-1992.  And I’ll never forget the show they all got together to put on in 2016.

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Positivity and Independence Day (1996)

It’s July 4th and since it’s a holiday I usually have to work I decided to partake in an old tradition from college and high school on July 3rd and watched one of the seminal movies of my generation, Independence Day.

I saw this movie twice when it was new.  Once as a family move in the summer, and again with some friends at the dollar theater during its second run (do movies even have those anymore?)  I loved it.  Though at the time I may not have known why.

Then I went through the cynical phase of my twenties where everything that I thought was “cool” as a teenager must have been “lame” so I decided this cheesy blockbuster probably fit that bill too.  It didn’t help that the production team of this movie ended up churning out one formulaic disaster film after another in the years that followed, or that, by the time my cynical phase hit, the general mood of the country and its entertainment started to turn “dark,” which later resulted in the dreary, joyless action movies that were troughed to us until The Expendables and Marvel reminded us that they could be fun again.

I wasn’t sure quite what to expect.  I hadn’t seen the film all the way through in maybe a decade, and its reputation has faltered as “cliché” in recent years.  But moments in, when the moon shakes and the ominous shadow sweeps over the Apollo landing site…I was sucked in again.  And stayed that way through the entire film.

The characters, while yes are broad ethnic and narrative stereotypes, are still lovable and every one of them has a purpose.  Will Smith is charming and energetic.  Jeff Goldblum is awkward but heroic.  Bill Pullman is tortured but a leader.  Everyone is there for a reason and acts within their purpose at all times.

The alien menace is faceless through most of the movie, but when they are shown they are generic enough that they remain the unknown threat even after the amusement park ride tour of their mother ship.  Their weapons are insurmountable and their motives make them unstoppable.  Which leaves a combination of special qualities to stop them: human ingenuity, creativity, and cooperation.

This movie doesn’t have any chosen ones, or destiny stories.  All of the characters are actually on a bit of a lull when the film starts, Smith’s Hiller can’t be an astronaut, his girlfriend is an exotic dancer working for a loser boss, Goldblum’s David is an overqualified TV network tech, Randy Quaid’s Casse is a drunken incompetent incapable of even providing for his nomadic family, and the President is being lambasted in the media.  All slightly down, all very different but when the crisis occurs they all rise to the challenge.  Each of them a metaphor of the way the disparate nations and ethnicities in the world come together to beat back the alien menace and “not go quietly into that good night.”

Is it all a little optimistic and cheesy?  Hell yes.  And hell yes it’s awesome.  This was before every character’s story had to be told in flashback to give them all “proper motivation” and before Christopher Nolan turned every one of these stories into tales of dark, tormented tales of survival that both over explain motivations and suck all character from the characters.

It’s FUN.  it’s funny.  It’s exciting.  And most importantly it’s optimistic.  Which is something oh so many films and entertainment have seemed to forget they could be.

I know enough of history to know the fables of our country’s “birthday” are heaped in legend and not as glorious as the Revere printing press would have us believe.  But if there’s one thing you could gain out of Independence Day, and not coincidently the main theme of the film that bears the same name, is that hope and optimism are can never truly be defeated.  Maybe beaten down a bit but it will always come back to win in the end.  It’s what people are, and what we really want.

So turn off all the hate and negativity that’s saturating news, entertainment, and politics right now.  Put on Independence Day and remind yourself of the fun and positivity that can be experienced when a group of people, whether they be fictional characters, film makers, or movie goers, turn off the cynicism and remember what life was like as a kid in the movies.

Warhammer Fantasy Painting: Orc Warboss on a Wyvern

Off The Top of My HeadThough I don’t have anything specific against Age of Sigmar I still prefer the regimental blocks and high-concept rules of Warhammer Fantasy Battles.  Something about huge blocks of troops and monsters crashing into each other and fighting in more linear combat than the modern, tactical squad-based war of 40k.

Having recently played Warhammer: Total War (which is a perfect marriage of concepts as far as I’m concerned) I returned to painting my poor fantasy armies.

I started the game with the Orc faction and decided to start with my orc army.

I picked up this metal Orc Warboss on a Wyvern at a friendly local game shop.  The model seemed a little wonky but I liked the look of it and knew these weren’t exactly for sale everywhere any more.  I’m glad I did.

I used all basing and dry-brushing techniques.  These are my favorites and since I don’t have an airbrush tend to give me the best results for most of my models.

The wyvern is a bright green but I used a tan color for the wings instead of flat green.

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It was a lot of layering, shading, and dry brushing, but I was really happy with the result.

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The warboss was actually more fun than the wyvern.

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I was particularly fond of how the squig on his shield turned out.

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This was a terrifically fun model to paint (and Pacific Rim was the perfect movie to watch while painting). I ended up liking him a lot, even though, admittedly, I mostly wanted to paint this guy for practice since the one I really want to do is this guy.  Azhag the Slaughterer!

He’ll be appearing soon!

Agent Carter: What TV Should Be

As a bonus follow-up to the Captain America Series I’d be remiss not to mention the ABC TV Series Agent Carter.

I don’t really watch TV, but there are certain shows worth watching even if it means buying them in physical format or to stream.  This turned out to be one definitely worth it.

TV has a certain feel to it that is usually vastly different from films.  The other “big” network Marvel show, Agents of SHIELD, is a perfect example of this.  Agents is a good enough show.  Kind of fun and with likable characters and a world that ties in well with the movies.  The actors are all quite good, and some of the plot threads really pan out.  But it still has that “TV” sense to it.  It’s not a bad thing and it’s hard to explain without using the word “Cinematic” but it’s definitely palpable in most TV shows.

Agent Carter is actually quite different in that it doesn’t have that feel.  It does feel cinematic and, quite possibly due to the fact that the creators and cast felt they were always kind of “on the bubble” from the beginning, it has the production value, attention to detail, and treatment of a mini-series rather than a seasonal TV show.  Especially in Season 1.

The show follows Peggy Carter’s career in the SSR after WWII.  Her struggles with the boys club that is the rest of the office, her close friend accused of being a traitor, and still coming to grips with Steve’s death.  And it does all of these things remarkably well.  Her character, still magnificently played by Hayley Atwell, retains all of the progress from her previous incarnations and is believably grown through her character arc in the first season.  Atwell’s Carter is everything she should be, tough but vulnerable; clever but not always right; sensible but can be irrational.  Shes a great character because she’s not perfect, but she is without a doubt doing the best she can.  She’s smart, charming, and can absolutely wreck you if she needs to.  Just a great lead.

The supporting characters are all interestingly fleshed out with backgrounds and personalities that aren’t all overly explained, they just are who they are.  Dominic Cooper reprises his role as Howard Stark and he’s as terrific here as he was in First Avenger.  Peggy’s diner waitress friend, Angie Martinelli (Lyndsy Fonseca), is a wonderful addition (I love the story arc of their relationship, and Martinelli is gives a delightful performance); as are Agents Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), and Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) as the progressive guy and the chauvinist/typical guy respectively; with Chief Dooley (Shea Whigham) rounding out the main SSR office characters as the tough, but surprisingly and refreshingly fair as the season progresses.  The villains are mostly cloak and dagger but hyper-assassin Dottie Underwood (Bridget Regan) is truly a standout.  A great cast and each one is pitch perfect.

Carter and Jarvis meet in a Automat diner like proper spies.

The best relationship, however, is the chemistry between Atwell’s Carter and James D’Arcy’s Edwin Jarvis as the tough-as-nails agent brings Howard Stark’s buttoned-up butler on her adventures.  He’s uptight, but not a foppish fool as he could have easily been.  He is a very believable old-fashioned English butler out of his comfort zone but enjoying the adventure.

Most importantly you can actually feel how much everyone working on the show believes in the show and enjoys it.  Everyone is completely ensconced in the story and its characters, and the passion behind the show is apparent on screen.

Of course it’s hard for Atwell herself not to steal the show and its Agent Carter more than the atrocious new Ghostbusters movie that should have been the rallying cry for gender parity in media portrayals.  As mentioned above Peggy is tough but not cliché tough.  She hasn’t buried her sense of femininity under over-the-top masculine stereotyping.  She can shoot, she can fight (I’ve done enough punching to know when she’s hitting the heavy bag in Season 2 she knows what she’s doing), she doesn’t take shit from the sexist agents, and calls their chauvinism out to them to their faces (her “because I’m invisible” monologue toward the end of the first season is terrific), and she’s still all about getting the job done.

Just look at the above video.  It’s a woman in a fight completely devoid of cliches without any reference at all to her being a woman.  She doesn’t “fight like a girl” nor does she go the other way and fight in a hyper masculine style.  There are no goofy moments, no punches to the groin, or quips about kicking in heels.  She doesn’t have a man save her, nor does she have to save a useless man.  She just straight up kicks their asses like a badass Bourne character.  And Jarvis, in keeping with his role as an uptight butler, does what he can but serves a purpose and still packs a punch when he can.  It’s everything I think gender parity should be.  It’s not an in-your-face total “girl power” for the sake of it scene while completely missing the point of gender parity to begin with.  It’s all within the characters and every movement Atwell makes here is 100% believable.  So much that I wouldn’t want to get into a fight with her…  And that music queue…maybe one of the best I’ve seen on a TV show ever.

To be honest I can’t understand why a bigger audience didn’t latch onto such a great character in such unique and interesting storylines.  Maybe it was the “Marvel” tag on it as casual fans may have expected more superhero-ing and were then disappointed not to get lots of the “hey I know that character!” fanservice that SHIELD provides.  Fans of espionage or police shows may have seen Marvel and conversely thought it’d just be small-scale superhero antics the more elitist in that crowd feel are “beneath” them.

Season 2 wasn’t quite as powerful as the first, but it was still better than any other TV drama show I’ve seen in years.  I think Agent Carter does better with more spy-action than sci-fi action, but that could just be down to personal taste.

Cooper, Atwell, and D’Arcy looking very 1940s

It was terrible but not unexpected to hear the show had been cancelled.  It truly shines a spotlight on how outmoded the “ratings” system is now that shows with devoted fan followings can be cancelled for “low ratings.”  Fans like me who don’t watch TV find shows on Amazon or bought physical copies.  We purchased it later.  I feel this kind of show attracts these kinds of fans who aren’t likely to be tied to a date and time for broadcast, but will still religiously watch a show via streaming service or season collections.  To prove this it has been impressive to see fans rally around it and beg for Netflix to pick it up.  Even more impressive is Atwell’s love of and commitment to the character.  She already has a new show planned, but has repeatedly posted and commented that she will do anything at all to get Peggy Carter back on TVs somewhere and somehow.

And I truly hope she does make a return.

It’s rare to find a show that is so good at storytelling, handling characters, and politics without having any of those elements overshadow the others or “be the thing the show is about”.  Agent Carter did this masterfully, and even provided the audience with a unique look at the early days in the chronology of the MCU.  Hopefully it won’t be the end of Peggy Carter and fans will be able to continue her adventures somewhere in the near future!

4 Lessons Learned from My Internet-free Weekend

Storm season in Tennessee brings high winds, rain, tornado threats and knocks out my internet twice a year. Usually when this happens, it’s mid-week and I frantically try to find a place to work. However, this last time, I awoke on Saturday morning and discovered no internet. And it was one of the most relaxing weekends I’ve ever had.

Lesson 1: Get Off the Phone

This was completely irrational, but I was afraid to use my phone much because of data usage. First, I never come close to my data limit – I use 300 MB a month lol – but I was fearful I’d reach my max if I stayed on my phone. Therefore, I only used my phone for texting and the occasional search. This was pretty amazing. Not only did I stay off social media most of the weekend, but the compulsion to check social media and carry my phone with me everywhere disappeared. I realized that because I’m connected to everyone, it doesn’t mean I have to be connected to everyone. At the end of the day, I really didn’t care how everyone spent their weekend, and I had a much more peaceful one.

Lesson 2: More Free Time

When I first realized the internet was out, I almost panicked. I immediately asked myself, “What am I going to do?” I can’t sit at my computer and work or just kill time? But then I remembered everything ELSE I needed to do, and none of those chores required the internet. Not only did I do almost everything on my house-stuff list, but I also had time to read, nap and exercise. Hmmm … I had time to do things for me and take care of myself. I didn’t feel like I was on a constant schedule, and my stress level was nearly zero. I even finished a massive project that had loomed over me for months.

Lesson 3: Freedom Is Priceless

That weekend I had work but no hard deadlines (thank goodness). It annoyed me that I had to postpone the work and rearrange my weekend, but I was thankful I didn’t have to sit at the computer all day. I had a choice in what tasks I wanted to do. Did I want to paint? What about clean a closet out? Or just chill and watch a movie, maybe go out? Because I wasn’t so tunnel-visioned about work, the world of weekend activities opened up before my eyes. The freedom I experienced when choosing what to do was priceless. It also made me realize that I don’t have to plan every day, which I’m very good at, and instead leave room for spontaneity. That weekend I finished a book and got half-way through another. It was the most I’ve read in two years.

Lesson 4: Time to Change

Have you ever watched a movie with someone who stays on their phone the whole time or gone out to a restaurant and they do the same? If so, you know how annoying it is and it makes you practice the same behavior. No internet forced myself and my company to just watch a movie and discuss it. Total concentration on one task … wow! I learned that when doing something with someone, whether it’s watching a movie or dining out, it’s time to put the phone away. I also realized that maybe I don’t need to accept as much extra work. I do not have to work every weekend in order to survive, so it’s time to start saying no. And I can do different projects that would result in money or even spend my time doing something more fulfilling, such as volunteering or trying new things.

The point is the internet is our best friend and worst enemy. We should use in moderation. I challenge everyone to turn theirs off for one day; you never know what you’ll learn!

Call it Cap: Civil War

The MCU’s journey of Steve Rogers thus far has taken audiences from the streets of Brooklyn; the battlefields of World War II; and into fights with gods, monsters, and even old friends.  So could his latest installment possibly bring his story arc together?

The answer turns out to be a rousing “yes” and is perhaps the pinnacle of how Marvel studios has orchestrated its universe.

The plot is well-known by now.  The Avengers’ heroism has caused considerable collateral damage and the governments of the world would like to exercise some control over them.

Current, past, and future team members become divided on their opinions of these controls; with those supporting the so-called “Sokovia Accords” lining up behind Tony Stark and those opposed to them lining up behind Steve Rogers.  It turns out a very creative and subtle villain is orchestrating additional animosity between the sides and this leads to a clash of the two opposing ideologies.

As usual in Marvel films, especially when directed by the Russo Brothers, there is a lot more going on than just one level, or even two.  Let’s look at some motivations.

Tony Stark: Then came Ultron…again my fault…

To a lot of the audience’s surprise Tony Stark lines up to be regulated by the government.  Mr Rebel himself putting his powers in the hands of someone other than him.  But there are very good reasons for why he does, beyond even what Civil War provides.

Stark’s motivations in the film are given to him by a grieving mother whose son died in Sokovia during the events of Age of Ultron.  Stark’s mental state was already a bit of a mess we learn due to the absence of Pepper Potts, but also as he says later, the entire Ultron problem was more his creation than anyone’s since he created Ultron.  So while many can easily argue that the Avengers saved far more people than they accidentally killed, the Ultron escapade was without a doubt resting of the shoulders of Iron Man.  So maybe he feels he needs some “adult supervision” as it were to keep things in check.

Add to that the events of Iron Man 3, which he mentions in Civil War, left him not using his superpowers anymore and…maybe looking for a reason to come out of retirement, with some oversight if needed.

And if Iron Man’s motivations seem complex…wait until we look at Captain America…

Steve Rogers: The best hands are still our own

Again to a lot of audience surprise the guy literally dressed as a national flag is opposed to government oversight.  This is because, as was mentioned previously, Rogers’ isn’t a symbol of the US government but the ideals of the country.  He represents its people not its leaders.

Rogers is diametrically opposed to some governing body controlling where and when the Avengers can go.  As he says, they could be sent to handle a problem they don’t believe in, or told to stay out of one they do.  Especially after his experiences with Nick Fury in Winter Soldier he’s very wary of other people’s agendas for him.

And then there are his personal feelings. What did we learn about Rogers’ worst fear in Ultron?  During his nightmare sequence we see the times he missed and the empty Stork Club with the dance he never got to have and the people who have left him long ago.  In Winter Soldier he found connections to his old life in the now aging Peggy Carter and again when his best friend Bucky Barnes is revealed to be the Winter Soldier himself.  The two most important people in his life were still in his life, even if it wasn’t in the same way.

Then…

Right in the middle of the first debate about signing the accords amongst the Avengers Steve gets word that Peggy has died.  One more link is gone.  Compounded by Peggy’s niece, Sharon, providing some profound words from her Aunt that helps bolster his decision to stand firm on not signing the accords.

During the summit to approve the accord his MIA best friend is blamed for the bombing that disrupted the entire process.  And Steve sets out to find him, with his entire goal being to bring him back alive.

Because this one person is his only link, his last connection to his previous life.  The loss of Barnes would be his nightmare, which he lives a version of every day, to come starkly and cruelly true.

So while Captain America opposes the Accords on moral grounds…Steve Rogers will do anything to save his friend and last connection to the world he left behind.  And this leads one bad choice…

Cap Calls it Wrong

No I don’t mean his decision not to back the accords.  While it could be debated, I feel Cap is 100% right to not give control over super heroes to the friggin’ United Nations to use as their own person hammer.  A hammer that would either be locked in a drawer never to be used or swung with an arm heavy with personal agendas.  Cap knows people’s politics and knows what it would mean to be a branch of an operating government.

What call did the Captain get wrong?  He should have told Tony about the Winter Soldier’s role in his parents’ deaths.  It is the discovery of Barnes’ assassination of his parents that causes Stark, who had arrived humble and contrite after his crusade was proven to be based on lies, to go ballistic on the two of them, perhaps ending the Avengers as we know them.  Would the result have been different if Rogers had told Stark what he knew ahead of time?  It’s hard to say.  But keeping it secret made things worse.  But Barnes is Rogers’ weakness for the reasons mentioned above.  And his weaknesses compromise his judgment.  Even he acknowledges he made a mistake handling this in his letter to Stark.

Civil War is more like WWI to me.  The motivations of the protagonists and antagonists are so varied and complicated that none of them are wholly right and none are wholly wrong.  The result is a catastrophe…that could potentially lead to a bigger disaster should it be allowed to escalate.  Even in the grand scope of ideology the conflict can still be brought down to personal, almost petty disagreement.  Tony and Steve have been fighting since the first Avengers hammered home again by Tony’s statements of how much he hated Rogers just from hearing his dad talk affectionately about Captain America endlessly.  Which is even more powerful as in Iron Man 2 he says his father “never said he loved me he never even said he liked me.”  The titular civil war is about Sokovia Accords and long-kept secrets but it’s as personal as a fight could be, built up over years of movie narrative.

But mixed into all of the weighty storyline and intricate subplots are characters who are true to themselves, it’s still very funny when it needs to be, very moving when it needs to be, it’s fun and tragic (Winter Soldier is remarkable tragic, his line, “I remember all of them” is downright heartbreaking) and just a terrific film.  So the villain’s intricate plot is left in the background (appropriately as that’s how he played it) to let Iron Man and his group become quasi-antagonists through most of the film.

Whether or not it’s a better movie than Winter Soldier is a hard one for me, since Soldier is so wonderfully constructed and tightly built.  Civil War is certainly right up there, though as one of the best films in the MCU and a fitting end to this chapter of Steve Rogers’ journey.

I personally am looking forward to seeing what is in store for the character next!