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Just Bill RSS Feed (Grand Rapids, MI United States)

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Ashes of Ares
Ashes of Ares
Price: $14.56
30 used & new from $4.05

5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Album That Combines Elements of Power Metal, a Bit of Prog Metal, And a Hint of Thrash, August 28, 2014
This review is from: Ashes of Ares (Audio CD)
The debut album from Ashes of Ares surprised me.

Given the pedigree of the band (ex-Iced Earth vocalist Matt Barlow, ex-Iced Earth bassist Freddie Vidales, ex-Nevermore drummer Van Williams) I expected the album to sound like what you'd expect it to sound like: Iced Earth meets Nevermore, which wouldn't be a bad thing. But it just wouldn't be essential listening. I mean, we already have Iced Earth and Nevermore, right?

The surprise in this worthy debut came from three areas:

1. The astounding musicianship, with riffs so big that if the Presidents on Mount Rushmore had hands to hold guitars, I'm sure they'd be playing these riffs. In addition, the drumming is powerful, with equal parts complexity and groove. And there's a nice bottom end to the bass that holds it all together. The riffs are not the triple-time chugging common to Iced Earth, either. They're more like Sabbath or Nevermore. Nice and crunchy.

In addition, the recording itself (courtesy of Jim Morris at Morrisound Studios - the long-time producer of Iced Earth's material) is exemplary. That also surprised me. Morrisound has a unique style. I was expecting the musicians and the producer to create something that sounded like the aforementioned Iced Earth meets Nevermore - with emphasis on Iced Earth. Happily, that's not the case. This doesn't sound like Iced Earth. Ashes of Ares is brighter, deeper, and more compelling.

2. The remarkable vocals, which further proves that Matt Barlow is one of metal's most valuable assets. His vocal range is intact and every bit as mind-blowing as it always was. He truly is an amazing singer, with the ability to be expressive and mellow one moment and a banshee the next, hitting notes that only dogs can hear.

3. The songwriting, which is mature, compelling, and even magical. It's hard to pick a favorite from these 11 tracks. I like the interplay of acoustic guitar, lead guitar, and bass of "This Is My Hell." It has a Horror Show (from Iced Earth) feel to it. But with more of a punch. I also like "Dead Man's Plight," the follow-up track. There are some really fascinating components to this song, a few passages that astound (like around the 2:25 mark). When the riff, guitar solo, and drums kick in (around the 2:52 mark), I love the crispness of the drums (especially the cymbals) and the head-banging rhythm. This song probably kicks major keister in concert.

The open of the seventh song ("Chalice of Man") hints at thrash, a la Testament.

The opening of the tenth track ("The One-Eyed King") hints at prog metal. It's complex and meaty, with a Dream Theater- or even Megadeth- like feel to it.

Bottom line: Ashes of Ares is a powerful, magical melding of musicians that turn this debut into something greater than the sum of its parts.

Oh, one more thing. Ashes of Ares has an overall positive vibe to it, which is another surprise - especially given the bands these three musicians came from. There's something upbeat about this music, almost as if the band sees a ray of hope in the day-to-day darkness of the world.

I wholeheartedly recommend this album!

The Dangers of Rick Warren's Daniel Plan: Dr. Oz, Dr. Amen, & Dr. Hymen--the New Age/Eastern Meditation Doctors behind the Saddleback Health Program
The Dangers of Rick Warren's Daniel Plan: Dr. Oz, Dr. Amen, & Dr. Hymen--the New Age/Eastern Meditation Doctors behind the Saddleback Health Program
Price: $1.75

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The only "danger" evident to me is listening to people like Warren B, August 20, 2014
This book proves Warren B. Smith has an agenda - to continually try to slander Rick Warren.

Smith isn't interested in the truth. Or even in helping people lose weight. Smith wants everyone to think he's right and Rick Warren is wrong...even regarding something as innocuous as a weight-loss program.

The only "danger" evident to me is listening to people like Warren B. Smith tear down everything and everyone that doesn't believe as he does. That's absolutely frightening.

James Gandolfini: The Real Life of the Man Who Made Tony Soprano
James Gandolfini: The Real Life of the Man Who Made Tony Soprano
by Dan Bischoff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.42
61 used & new from $3.18

2.0 out of 5 stars Great Actor, Not-So-Great Book, July 8, 2014
I read this book through at Barnes & Noble while waiting for a movie to start at the local theater.

Something about it seemed off. It smacks of tabloid journalism.

When it was finished, I don't think I gained any insight into Mr. Gandolfini's life - except for the unseemly bits, like drug abuse or alcoholism. Typical tabloid stuff.

Everything about the book reads like I'm scanning headlines on magazines at the checkout counter, or entries on Wikipedia. It has that kind of emotional detachment from the subject matter.

Frankly, if not for said subject matter - the late, great James Gandolfini - this book would be laughed out of bookstores.

James Gandolfini seemed to be a nice guy. By all accounts, he was a regular guy who just happened to be an exceptionally gifted actor.

But you won't find that out by reading this book.

If you're on the bubble about buying "The Real Life Story of the Man Who Made Tony Soprano," I'd say leaf through at your local book store. But don't buy it. It's just not worth it.

Hard Choices
Hard Choices
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $14.99

33 of 52 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Leafed Through At B&N...And Laughed Myself Silly, June 22, 2014
This review is from: Hard Choices (Kindle Edition)
Hillary Clinton is as big a liar as her husband - as evidenced by this novel of how she thought her life has been going to this point.

Oh, wait. It's not a novel. It's supposed to be a non-fiction book.

That's why I was laughing.

Anyone who's said and done the things Hillary Clinton has should never write a book like this. Her handling of Benghazi will haunt her the same way Chappaquiddick haunted Ted Kennedy, and for the same reasons. Her cowardice cost the lives of four Americans that tragic night. Then came the coverups. And lies. She will never live down what she did (and did not do) regarding Benghazi.

And that's not even counting the horrendous example she's set for women. By sticking with her philandering husband for political reasons, helping him discredit all of the women he fooled around with, she set back women's rights a hundred years.

She is a terrible excuse for a human being, let alone a leader of any kind.

I will not buy this book.

But it did provide me with a lotta laughs. That much I'll give her.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 26, 2014 5:56 PM PDT

Comparative Mysticism: An Anthology of Original Sources
Comparative Mysticism: An Anthology of Original Sources
by Steven T. Katz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $136.30
33 used & new from $99.97

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars $134.89??!?!?!?!, May 12, 2014
This book would have to contain handwritten notes from the creator of the universe him/her/it self for it to be worth the price asked.

Either that, or it would have to be bound in the finest calfskin leather, autographed by 14 of the world's most renowned sages, and hand-delivered by the author. In addition, each purchase would have to be an entry into a sweepstakes drawing for a chance to win a trip to seven of the world's most mystical places, with the Dalai Lama being the guide through Tibet.

Short of all that, there's no way I'll pay nearly $140 - down from a full retail price of $175! - for a regular ol' book published April 12, 2013.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 4, 2014 3:39 AM PDT

Odd Thomas
Odd Thomas
DVD ~ Anton Yelchin
Price: $12.49
45 used & new from $4.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Wow. Just Wow. No Words..., March 29, 2014
This review is from: Odd Thomas (DVD)
Like many, I'm always wary of movies made from beloved books.

And Odd Thomas is a book very much loved in our home.

So when I heard a movie was being made from it, I thought, "Yeah, right. How can they make a movie from something as imaginative, magical, and poignant as this?"

My wife and I watched Odd Thomas, the movie, this evening.

We were riveted from the first scene to the end, astounded by the faithfulness of the adaptation, and rocked to our core at the ending.

Fantastic direction, an incredible screenplay, and superb performances bring this Dean Koontz book to life in a way we never thought possible. This is the most enjoyable adaptation - especially of a sci-fi/thriller book - I've ever seen.

If you loved Odd Thomas, the book, as much as we did, you'll love Odd Thomas, the movie, just as much.

All Is Lost
All Is Lost
DVD ~ Robert Redford
Price: $12.96
21 used & new from $6.65

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars "All" Is Lost, Indeed - Like About Two Hours of My Life, March 24, 2014
This review is from: All Is Lost (DVD)
If you want to see a craggy faced Robert Redford not say anything for two hours, this is the movie for you.

In the entire film, Redford says about a dozen words, give or take. The rest of the movie he's supposedly battling the elements on a small craft in the ocean.

But he's not good enough of an actor to pull off a role like this.

In fact, the kid in Life of Pi portrayed this scenario much better.

Because I knew nothing about this character - no background information is provided, not even a name - I found no way to get into the telling of the tale. I simply didn't care about this guy. His perils didn't seem that severe. His situation never seemed to me more than mildly irritating, never life threatening.

My wife and I walked out of this movie thinking, "The hell have we just done? We just lost a couple of hours of our lives."

Save yourself the grief. Skip this one.

The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series
The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series
DVD ~ Bob Newhart
Price: $92.99
17 used & new from $88.44

14 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What are you people complaining about?!?!?!, March 9, 2014
There's no bigger fan of The Bob Newhart Show than me. Well, with the possible exception of my wife.

We just watched episodes from Season Two this morning, in fact, at which time we said, "It's really a shame the rest of the serious isn't available on DVD."

So I looked this morning and discovered - lo and behold! - that the complete series will be released in May.




Who cares if we already own Seasons 1-4? Honestly, what difference does it make? if getting the rest of these brilliant TV series on DVD means I have to re-buy Seasons 1-4 I'm more than happy to do so.

Quite complaining, people! For Pete's sake! Just be thankful that somebody in one of these networks had the brains to do what we've all wanted done for so many years.

"Hi, Bob."

"Hi, Howard."

"Hi, Emily."

Bring it on!
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2014 3:20 PM PDT

Doctor Who-An Adventure in Space & Time
Doctor Who-An Adventure in Space & Time
10 used & new from $8.33

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why the hell isn't this movie available for purchase, or even streaming?, February 7, 2014
Or, to put it another way, what good is a movie that no one can see?

I assume the creators of this movie loved their project. They spent the time, money, and effort to make it.

You'd think they, at least, would want their movie to be seen.

I know I'd love to see it.

So where is it?

Was this movie made, shown once, and then intentionally buried? Was it awful, a terrible film? If not, why isn't it available anywhere, especially in the U.S., a tremendous market for such a release?

Sherlock: Season 3 (Original UK Version)
Sherlock: Season 3 (Original UK Version)
DVD ~ Benedict Cumberbatch
Price: $24.99
34 used & new from $11.40

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars First Two Seasons...Flawless! Season Three...Not So Much, January 30, 2014
My wife and I own Seasons One and Two of this brilliant show on Blu-ray. We watch all six of those episodes constantly. So we were waiting on pins and needles for Season Three to air and we sat in front of our TV the night it did...

...only to shake our heads when it was over and think, "What happened?"

The first episode of Season Three lacks the pizzazz and charm of the first two seasons. In fact, it almost appears to be a different show. Here's why:

1. The explanation as to how Sherlock faked his own death was way beyond convoluted, unbelievable, and just plain hokey. It made no logical sense at all. For Sherlock to pull together a massive team to help him -- who all kept totally silent! -- stretches credibility to the breaking point.

2. It was disjointed and choppy, filmed as if by an apoplectic camera operator. The storyline hopped around as often as the camera did. Quick cut, quick cut, quick cut...close up, close up, close up. It was distracting.

3. Two years? TWO YEARS? Nearly every character but poor John Watson knew Sherlock was still alive. TWO FREAKIN' YEARS?!?!? I realize Sherlock is a sociopath. But that's just plain cruel.

4. The writing - by co-creator and actor Mark Gatiss - tried too hard to be clever and, instead, had to settle for frenetic.

Compare Season Three, Episode One with any previous episode. Watch them side by side, back to back -- doesn't matter. Season Three, Episode One is darker, less coherent, more focused on action than on character...

In short, we were so unimpressed by the first episode that we forgot there was a second episode airing the next week. For us, that's akin to blasphemy and punishable by death. That's how big of Sherlock fans we were.

There's something off about Season Three.

Your mileage may vary.

NOTE: I see a phenomenon happening with Sherlock that I do with Downton Abbey - a host of dubious 5-star reviews, all supposedly from Amazon Verified purchasers, all about a sentence or two in length, all not saying much at all other than "Great Show!" These short "reviews" appear in bursts from time to time. Methinks the game is afoot.


My wife and I watched the third episode last night -- and fell asleep about a half hour into it, something we would never have dreamed of with any episode from the first two seasons.

This morning, we talked about it. I think we know what's wrong with Season 3.

What made the first two seasons special was the fact that Holmes and Watson lived together and were often mistaken for a couple, which ticked off Watson to no end. They were very close, and their banter reflected that.

Consequently, the show was about those two.

Now, thanks to Watson's marriage, and Holmes'"girlfriend," the show is not just about Holmes and Watson; it's about the lives of two separate people who now only occasionally interact to solve a case.

Which means, a large portion of the magic is gone.

The Sherlock Homes canon is vast - some 56 short stories and four novels - so Moffat and Gatiss did not have to introduce Watson's wife this early in the series, if they did at all.

We think doing so threw off the chemistry and radically altered the interplay, which made the show so special.

Whatever the reason, we went from being two of the world's biggest Sherlock fans to falling sleep watching the show.

One more thing: the camera work in episode three was as choppy and disruptive as it was in episode one. It seems someone behind the scenes (producer? director? writer?) knows the material is weak. So there's been an effort to try to make what's happening on the screen seem more kinetic, rather than static. Doesn't work. Like Holmes exclaimed in one of the early (first two seasons) episodes: "Bored!")
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 4, 2014 9:34 AM PST

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