Tuesday, September 14, 2010

THIS JUST OUT: Reach for Paper Hurley Edition

Posted on Tue, Sep 14, 2010 at 1:47 PM

Hurley, Weezer

Weezer's back, and with plenty of controversy and argument — as always. Hurley has been described as the band's best since Pinkerton, and decried as an emotional and lyrical regression that serves as "punishment" for the band's loyal fans. Then again, remember that Pinkerton found itself lambasted on release, even earning the dishonoriffic as "one of the worst albums of 1996" by Rolling Stone*. So let's not hyperventilate just yet, eh?

Still, this release may mark the end of Weezer as kitsch-cool. The ridiculous amount of publicity surrounding this album that has literally nothing to do with the music is astounding. After announcing they were putting "the fat guy on Lost" on the cover (despite having no songs about Lost on the album), Brian Bell said the album was financed by Hurley the clothing company … except no, it wasn't. Lost in the midst of all this was the question of whether anyone cares (they don't).

Now they've provided the backing track for an Auto-Tune The News segment — which didn't really brand them as "sell-outs" so much as it shows their complete and utter desire to be liked. Cuomo went through a long depressive period after Pinkerton because nobody liked the album, following it up with the atrocious Green Album, whose sole saving grace was its brevity. Hurley may not measure up to the earth-shaking revelations of The Blue Album, but it's hard to live up to an album that basically invented a genre (geek rock). Then again, it's hard to call an album a failure when fans are storming the shores of The Pirate Bay to get it a week early. Please note, none of this is any way intended to excuse the atrocious "Viva La Vida" (basically a straight cover that sounds like shitty Coldplay**), and I expect a personal apology from Cuomo. And for appearing in a YouTube video with the culture-destroying Fred***.

  • Glee; The Complete Season 1 — Say what you will about the 20-something high schoolers who just can't help their singing and dancing, but they definitely made an impact on just about every media platform save movie theaters. Now, you can drop $80 on Kids Bop 2: Slightly Older Kidz just in time for them to start another season of covering songs we heard way too often the first time they were released (I'm looking at you, planned Britney Spears episode).
  • Band of Joy, Robert Plant — Did I choose this one solely because of its album art? Yes and no. Yes, I chose it because of the cover, and no, because it also met the crucial qualification of "album being released this week."
  • Penny Sparkle, Blonde Redhead — I suppose an album name like Penny Sparkle should come as no surprise from a band named Blonde Redhead, but … I still don't get it. Their eighth release, it's a marked departure from their original sound. In a press release about the album, frontwoman Kazu Makino used no fewer than four metaphors in as many sentences, including this: "At times I felt like a shepherd who was trying to herd five stallions into a yard (unsuccessfully)." Then again, I should really stop being surprised when Blonde Redhead does things like think shepherds round up horses.
  • Business Casual, Chromeo — The first track off BC, "Hot Mess," definitely sounds like it could be a hit … in 1988. I mean, if you're looking for a good alternative to "Axel F," it'll hit your sweet spot — and it has a British accent! Just because you classify yourself as "electrofunk" (honestly, I don't know why we pretend to have genres in music anymore) doesn't give you an excuse to sound like the opener for Poison. “We're not afraid of bad taste," says Patrick Gemayel, the Lebanese half of the duo, but ironic kitsch will only take you so far.
  • Familial, Philip Selway — The drummer from Radiohead fancies himself a strummin' singer-songwriter now, and … well, he's a brave man. The first track, "By Some Miracle," is a worthy effort, but a single does not an album make. By the time we've hit the midway point in "The Ties That Bind Us," the Cat Stevens sound is packed with more aural and lyrical clichés than a Family Guy musical number. You can view the album in one of two lights: On the one hand, he's a drummer, so what he's able to accomplish is pretty impressive. On the other hand, he's a drummer — what did you expect? ---

Paper Man

I have a man-crush on Ryan Reynolds. Don't worry, you do too. It's nothing serious — I'm not going to be sitting low in my car with my binoculars trained at his house across the street (anymore). But whenever I see his name on a movie poster, I'm willing to give it a shot. Paper Man tells the story of Richard (Jeff Daniels), a writer struggling with his sophomore novel. Extremely introverted, he still has an imaginary friend, Captain Excellent† (Reynolds), whom he relies upon. After a move to a coastal hamlet in an effort to subvert writer's block, Richard (bewilderingly) befriends 17-year-old Abby, who, as a pseudo-hipster teenage girl, is drawn to the fact he's a writer. Their relationship is strange, both from a public "old creepster hanging out with teenage girl" perspective and the interpersonal dynamics, which are displayed in contrary ways and never properly explored or explained. Abby is dealing with problems of her own, and the story follows the two as they learn to grow up and try to deal with the world around them, rather than retreating into themselves. You'll not be wowed by the power of the plot, or the secret-hidden-deeper meaning trying to be imparted. But the acting is superb — even overcoming the script's shortcomings — the camera choices are thoughtfully made and the idea at the heart of the movie is one worth investing an hour and a half in, if only just to think about.

  • Prince of Persia, Sands of Time — I remember when this movie came out: Everybody was shocked (shocked!) that a Jerry Bruckheimer movie didn't open with a $25 million weekend. Because, of course, successfully making movies with huge, technologically based explosions is easily transferable to a movie about ye olde Middle Eastern prince whose chief skill is acrobatics. I know everybody loves Parkour and all, but there's a reason the videos are available for free on YouTube.
  • Barbie: A Fashion Fairy Tale — I have nothing to say about this movie. Consider it a Public Service Announcement, and warn your children accordingly.
  • Broken Lizard: Stands Up — I know, I know. I thought they were dead, too. After the sublime Super Troopers, the rocky Club Dread, the inexplicable Dukes of Hazzard (no seriously, look it up), and the return-to-grace Beerfest, I assumed the guys at Broken Lizard had overdosed gone their separate ways. But ho, it turns out they not only made a movie in 2009 called Slammin' Salmon I just learned about on Wikipedia, they've also been honing their standup for a DVD special. It's about what you'd expect: masturbation, making fun of his own nude scene (Farva), the hilarities of having to produce a sperm sample and, naturally, pot. Even if you liked Super Troopers, this is going to be a stretch. Though if you liked Club Dread, you may enjoy this. Then again, you probably can't actually read this review, so it's kind of a moot point.
  • Casino Jack and the United States of Money — Ach, a documentary! They're trying to make us learn things … grab your torches and pitchforks! From the same guy behind Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room comes an intricately woven story of lobbyist Jack Abramoff's rise to and subsequent fall from the highest echelons of power. Although the director was unable to secure an on-camera interview with Abramoff, the meticulous method he uses to reconstruct Abramoff's dealings is damning in its all-encompassing scope. But the scariest part of the movie isn't that Abramoff was able to amass all this power via backroom/backwater deals — it's the decidedly un-one-sided nature of the man's character. Where you'd expect a cartoonish stick figure of a man, you find an ostensibly well-rounded person who just decides to do the wrong thing.
  • Bill Maher: But I'm Not Wrong — The star of Politically Incorrect takes to the stage to talk about, you guessed it, politics. Though Maher doesn't have the relentlessly aggressive delivery of a Dane Cook (or, to name an actual comedian, Alan King) or quite the same "all politicians are equally stupid" neutrality of Jon Stewart (such as it is), he can still get laughs from the entire political spectrum. Though perhaps not as beloved on the left as David Cross, Maher shows his standup chops are still strong, and this newest special goes a long way toward making up for Religulous.

Halo: Reach (X360)

It's not usually a good sign when the first comparison I can make is to the Star Wars prequels, but stay with me — it's purely a function of story, not quality. The Halo franchise has always centered around Master Chief, the lone surviving Spartan. Reach takes us back to a better time, when he could romp, frolic and kick Persians down wells pal around with all his Spartan buddies. It's natural to feel a bit apprehensive when going into this game, as you know that it must end with everybody dying off save MC. Reach continues to do what we expect from Halo games: provide an amazing first-person shooter experience. The weapons have been upgraded, as well as various implements (holographic decoys, jet packs, protable shields) that will help keep you from getting an energy-sword to the faceplate. Some of the levels will blow your mind thanks to their taking place in flying vehicles, which is a nice respite from ground-based warfare. But any modern game lives and dies on multiplayer. And for Reach — if you can get past/mute all the 12-year-old cries of "die, faggot!" or "I spilled your f---ing n00bsauce all over my bbq!" — it's going to be a long and fruitful life, indeed.

  • The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest (PSP, PS2, PS3, DS, Wii) — Well, since they can't seem to get the Hobbit prequels made, the studio's got to cash in somehow, right? As you can probably infer from the list of systems this game's getting released on, we're not looking at the best visuals to ever hit the screen — the screenshots look like a Muppet Babies version of Aragorn romping around the Fable universe. It's not a new story or anything, you're just playing through all of Aragorn's adventures during the timeline of the LOTR trilogy. At least some of the original actors are back to voice their characters (Sean Astin as Sam and John Rhys-Davies as Gimli, for sure), but considering the game is optimized for the PS3 Move hardware (and coming out on the Wii), you may want to wait before snagging this one.
  • Swords (Wii) — Yay, another hardware gimmick! Despite visions of slicing various Sith lords in twain with my lighsaber when the Wii was first introduced, the only games that have tried to take advantage of the swordplay aspect of motion-gaming are relative duds like Red Steel and its ilk. Most of those were done in by relational — as opposed to motion-authentic — sword movement, and Swords at least uses the MotionPlus attatchment (though I haven't found any reviews saying how well). If you're looking for "a time-traveling arena combat game in which you fight sword practitioners from different cultures and time periods, including a Viking and Sir Lancelot," I'm guessing this is the only game for you.
  • Sonic Adventures (XBLA, PSN) — It's not too often you'll see a release of a Dreamcast game (read: never), and now is no exception. However, Sega's attempting to milk its (only) cash-cow franchise by re-re-releasing the Dreamcast game, which has already been re-released once (as Sonic Adventure DX: Director's Cut for the GameCube). It's actually not a bad plan, as Adventures was one of the few post-Genesis games that didn't completely screw the Sonic pooch (hedgehog?). As this is the first in a line of proposed Dreamcast re-releases (including Crazy Taxi, which both was the best of and signaled the end of the Twisted Metal-style of games era), how many of these are bought will ultimately dictate whether they'll wise up and give us another crack at Jet Set Radio.

*Other albums released in 1996: Backstreet Boys, Kid Rock's Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp, some Celine Dion beverage coaster, MMMBop by Hanson, Chaos and Disorder by whatever the hell Prince was calling himself at the time, and a Michael Bolton Christmas album. I mean, Pinkerton is no All Dogs Go To Heaven 2 Soundtrack, but it's gotta be better than that pile of pop-culture detritus.

**The astute reader will note that this is redundant, given the quality of Coldplay songs in general. The grammatically appropriate form would be the superlative "shittiest" Coldplay cover, but that's like determining the "worst" Stevie Nicks song — it's impossible to delineate between things that are so close together in their awfulness. One option would be to go with the comparative "shittier," but as there's no other song to compare it to, we have to stick with the positive form, "shitty."

***I'm not going to link to the video, because that would make me part of the problem. I will, however, provide a link to the Fred's Wikipedia page, so that you can understand this menace. Because only by understanding your enemy can you destroy him.

† Dude grows up to be a (we have to assume this because it got published) successful novelist and he names his imaginary friend "Captain Excellent"? Heaven forbid he should ever have a child — a son might be able to get away with being called "Sonny," but "daughter" can't be so easily eponymed. One imagines the female offspring would be named after her physical characteristics as a baby ("Tiny," "Smelly" or "Blood-Covered") or, even worse, by her perceived qualities ("Weakness," "Loudmouth" or "Easily Defeatable").

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