"His voice betrayed a craving for terrible things." -- Don DeLillo

"Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come." -- Herman Melville

Send all adoration/vitriol to marc@shadowbloom.com

The Beginning -- 2007 Updates

January 5, 2007

With all the holiday insanity over with, it's time to get back on track here. Have a number of things in the works for the next few weeks and months. First is catching up on some reviews of movies mentioned in The Calendar. That brings us to my review of Borat, now online. It's also about time for the next installment of my annual Best of Awards! I think I'm going to go back to rolling out the categories as they're ready this year. The TV awards should be first and will be up in the next couple weeks. The video game and film awards will take a little longer. There are a handful of big movies that just snuck out at the end of 2006 that haven't gotten to Philly yet (including Pan's Labyrinth and Venus) and I want to wait to see them all before finalizing my Top Ten list. And since I've only had an Xbox 360 and Wii for less than two months now, I still have an intimidating pile of games I'm making my way through. The awards are coming, but bear with me. Finally, I've got a fun project I'm going to start working on involving two of my favorite TV shows of all time, Seinfeld and Married...With Children. I'm really excited to get it online, but I've got a lot of grunt work ahead of me with it first. So, anyway, that's what's coming up in the Shadowbloom world.

Movies Update
Again, my review of Borat is now online.

Just Slowly Shake Your Head in Disbelief
More reasons to love the Internet. Just check out the amazing Museum of Bad Album Covers compiled by zonicweb.net. A simply staggering collection of truly awful covers. Horribly misguided metal bands, perverse Germans, those lovable Christians, ventriloquists, and much more--there's really something for everyone here. This is one of my favorites. Just something...I don't know...exquisite...about it. Look at enough of these and you'll start getting a squirmy feeling much like when reading another great site...

The Bad Cinema Diary! Creator Bruce V. Edwards does us all a public service by watching and reviewing nearly 2,000 B-movies. A wildly eclectic variety of movies is covered here, including the trashiest zero-budget horror movies and sex romps you can imagine (and nearly every one has a speaks-for-itself screen capture). Great stuff.

January 12, 2007

Movies Update
Reviews for Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny and The Fountain are now online.

"And, remember, while today it is me, we all shall fall."
Another Thursday, another night The Office pushes itself even further ahead of everything else on TV. Last night's "Traveling Salesmen" was easily one of the best episodes of the third season. It's astounding how much warmth and character development they're able to fit into a 21-minute show without sparing any of the humor. Dwight's slowly emerging humanity, perfectly played by Rainn Wilson, has been a joy to witness (holding Angela's hand in the Christmas episode, his hug with Jim last night, and I nearly held my breath during his tightrope walk with Pam last week). His sales call with Jim was one of my all-time highlights. I pay far too much attention to these things, but it's notable that last night's episode was written by Michael Schur, Lee Eisenberg, and Gene Stupnitsky. Normally each episode is credited to a single writer (or writing team) and last night's, I believe, was the first time they've intermingled (I'm sure they all tweak scripts as a group, but they don't share the writing credit). The main writing teams appear to be Schur (six episodes); Eisenberg & Stupnitsky (six); Jennifer Celotta (four); show runner Greg Daniels (six); Mindy Kaling (aka Kelly) (five); B.J. Novak (aka Ryan) (five); and Paul Lieberstein (aka Toby) (four) with some scattered episodes by Larry Wilmore, Steve Carrell, Brent Forrester, and Justin Spitzer, not to mention Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant. Yes, I am obsessed with this show. "Oh young Jim, there's just so much I need to warn you about. And yet, tragically, I cannot."

TV Alert!
Saturday night, 10pm, HBO: Louis C.K.'s new one-hour standup special, "Shameless." Be there. No excuses.

Battling Space Robots, Fat Guys, and the USSR
I've had an epic two days of Virtual Console gaming on the Wii, so I figured I'd ramble about it here for the none of you that gives a damn. I've been hooked on Super Star Soldier, a 1990 TurboGrafx-16 scrolling space shooter. Playing it has brought back everything I love and despise about old school gaming. First of all, it's hard. Really, really hard. I've been known to have a little bit of a temper with video games and games like this don't help at all. And when the shooter in question has a fun (read: hellish) little design quirk like restarting you back to the beginning of the stage every time you die, let's just say that the life of my Classic Controller is in serious question (I don't even want to talk about the fight-all-the-bosses-again joy you'll experience in stage 8). Not helping matters is that I've been playing late at night with my girlfriend asleep in the other room--continually holding in a freakish torrent of vulgarity is not easy (and leads to me shaking, hissing, and sputtering in anger). But, of course, I'm now determined to beat the goddamn game, so I'm repeating the same stages over and over and over again. Thankfully, once you power your ship up completely, you're a weapon of mass destruction, so once you get on a roll, you can soldier through two or three stages on a single life (and, yes, I am taking advantage of the VC's save mode to pick up at the same level I left off the night before--if I had to beat the entire game in one sitting, I'd end up slaughtering anyone and everyone around me (or I'd play until I lost the will to live)). That brings us to the love part. As much as I no longer have the patience for brutally difficult games, when you get hooked on one and finally beat each stage, the catharsis is unparalleled (and, in the words of Patrick Bateman, "relief washes over me in an awesome wave.") The sick part? A big reason I'm so determined to beat it is just so I can continue working my way through the rest of the three shoot-em-ups already sitting on the VC (NES Gradius, TG-16 R-Type, and TG-16 Soldier Blade (one of the sequels to SSS)). Pray for me.

After about an hour of SSS, I jump to my reliable mainstay, NES Ice Hockey. With the sheer volume of games I'm playing right now, I haven't given enough time to my old friend, but I haven't lost a match yet since downloading it. It pops up in the middle of my last game--the start of the second period, Sweden (me) versus USSR, I'm up 4-0. Now, I don't know if my brain and reflexes were frazzled from all the SSS, if I wasn't used to playing with the Classic Controller (I usually just use the Wiimote), or what my excuse was, but I just didn't have my mojo working. The computer rattles off four unanswered goals in the second period (I'm still embarrassed just thinking about it) and I'm limping out for the third. I finally manage to break the tie and the computer answers back with three more goals. I'm down 7-5 with about 1:50 left on the clock (and that's like 40 seconds in NES Ice Hockey time). I'm near suicidal. I manage another goal and with about 15 seconds of real time left, I'm still down a goal. I summon all the dark forces of evil and make a final, hellbent dash at the goal with my trusty skinny guy. I dodge the fat guys swarming and take one last, desperate shot at the corner of the net...GOAL! :03 left on the clock (a fraction of a second in real time). Now it's penalty shots for the win and I'm a complete wreck. I can't lose this game now. We both miss our first two shots. I'm dying with each one. I fake the goalie and nail my third. I block his third and it all comes down to this shot (we each get four total). I pull the same fake-out move and GOAL--the game is over, the victory is mine, and my dignity is saved. If this were the middle of the day, I would have been shouting expletive-laden taunts at the TV and doing victory laps around the apartment, but at 1:15 in the morning, I settle for guttural noises and under my breath cheers...or at least what I thought was under my breath until my girlfriend walks into the room with a "Seriously?!" look on her face. Ahh, Ice Hockey...I fucking love that game. What have we learned from this tale? That I'm a hopeless nerd? Nah, you knew that already.

Oh, and it's worth noting: total cost for these two games? $11. I love the Virtual Console.

Song of the Moment: "Snail" by The Smashing Pumpkins.
Been on a Pumpkins kick lately. God, I hope Billy's still got his magic. It would be devastating on so many levels if the new Pumpkins album turned out to be a disappointment. Anyway, "Snail" is my favorite song off Gish. "Flower chase the sunshine..."

January 19, 2007

"But ask me again ten years ago."
Easily the worst part of last night's Office was knowing that we've got two weeks until the next one. <sigh> As usual, more glorious, character-driven genius. And, like last week's episode, it was written by Eisenberg, Stupnitsky, and Schur. (Does anyone find this as interesting as I do?) Make sure you check out the Producer's Cut at NBC.com. I'm curious how they're planning on dealing with Andy and Karen from here on out. It would be a shame if they both ended up leaving the show soon; as crowded as the cast already is (relegating Creed and Meredith to deleted scenes), I'd like to think there's still room for them. If Michael was going to fire Andy, it should have been last night. Ed Helms and the writers have certainly done a good job of making us completely hate Andy over these last couple episodes, but maybe he'll just fade to the background to cool his heels for a little bit (and if you remember Andy freaking out over the calculator-in-jello prank way back when we first met him in "Gay Witch Hunt," you should have seen his latest explosion coming). The Karen/Jim relationship also doesn't look like it'll be lasting much longer, but does that automatically mean she'll have to quit? I could even see her playing matchmaker for Jim and Pam (it's not like Karen and Jim have been dating for very long and she's slowly realizing how perfect JAM are for each other, though I'm still afraid Pam's going to keep up her on-camera front and deny having any feelings for Jim). Rashida Jones is a welcome addition to the cast and, though Karen may have some rough spots ahead, I'd much rather see her stick around.

For the record, I'm adamantly NOT one of those people who thinks the show would spontaneously combust or jump the shark once Jim and Pam get together. In fact, I think it would be ridiculous to save such a momentous event for the series finale. Don't you want to spend some time with them together? Why are so many shows deathly afraid of coupling up main characters? (Examples off the top: George and Susan on Seinfeld, Al and Ilene on Home Improvement, Susan and Mike on Desperate Housewives...) Just look at the embarrassingly protracted courtship of Ross and Rachel on Friends. Ten seasons of will-they-won't-they building to a Hall of Fame anticlimax in the final minutes of the final episode. Jim and Pam deserve much better. (My only stipulation: once they're together, keep them together. Don't do the on-and-off bullshit that Friends delighted in.) I know there are examples of shows that fell apart after these couplings (it was before my time, but Moonlighting is tossed around a lot), but the writers have done such a great job of building so many other storylines that they can afford to lose the JAM unrequited love--I have full confidence they can make it work. It helps that I've never seen The Office as a show that would go on for eight or nine seasons. They've been pushing forward the plot so diligently that, at some point, they'll have to call it a day before they start spinning their wheels (I'm thinking no more than five or six seasons). The producers have prolonged JAM for a long time now and for a show that prides itself on its realism (of sorts), they must know they can't do it forever (so they don't slip into sitcom cliches out of desperation--such as Jim going to tell Pam again how he feels and walking in on her kissing Roy...that kind of crap). It doesn't necessarily have to be right now, but I just hope we're not still playing these games a year or two from now.

Most importantly, The Office has been renewed for a fourth season!!! Not that this was much of a surprise, but it's still so reassuring to know that we're guaranteed at least another 35-40 episodes (counting the rest of this season). I did everything but light a candle and sacrifice a virgin when the show was teetering on the edge of cancellation following its first season and I don't even want to think about not having this show in my life.

While I'm at it, I need to give a long overdue shout-out to the amazing OfficeTally. If you're even half as obsessed with this show as I am, bookmark that page immediately. Regularly updated with all the latest news and gossip in OfficeWorld, it's a fantastic site and I've been loitering there for a long time now (I've spent an embarrassing amount of time just refreshing it so I can read new quotes at the top). Indispensable.

The Truth Is Out There
It's been a long, cruel break from Lost over the past few months, but its return is only a few weeks away now. If you're dying for some scoop, check out this surprisingly candid interview with co-creator Damon Lindelof on IGN. Lots of informative answers on how long the show will last, what Lost is ultimately about, how to deal with audience expectations and much more. If you shy away from anything remotely resembling a Lost spoiler, stay away, but otherwise, it's an illuminating read worth your time. (Also check out this panel with the cast and producers.)

January 26, 2007

Journal Update
My thoughts on the Nintendo Wii launch and its games are now in the Journal.

Chasing the Playoffs
Congratulations to my boy Chase Utley and my deepest thanks to the Phillies for agreeing on a seven year deal that'll keep the All-Star second baseman and my favorite player in baseball around through 2013 (at least). Spring training's just a few weeks away...

Song of the Moment: "11am" by Incubus.
Weird one this. I'm a casual fan of Incubus, meaning I mostly know the singles. I do have Morning View, though, and randomly gave it a listen a few weeks ago for the first time in years. Cut to the morning a couple days ago, I wake up and have a song repeating over and over in my head. Only thing is, I don't know what song it is. Sounds like a chorus, but I can't place it at all. I really want to figure it out, though, so I keep singing it in my head so it doesn't fade into my brain fog. Eventually, I manage to place the singer's voice as Brandon from Incubus and from there it was just a matter of grabbing my MP3 player and finding it. I don't know what subconscious desire to hear that song put it in my head that morning, but, accordingly, I've listened to it a thousand times since then (exaggeration). A nice, catchy little alt-rock song, it would fit perfectly with their other singles.

February 5, 2007

Movies Update
My predictions for the 2007 Academy Awards are now online. Read up so you can mock me for how wrong I was the day after. Fun for all.

Song of the Moment: "The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)" by David Bowie.
From Bowie's wildly pretentious and overly ambitious concept album Outside. Such a strange album. Something about "art crime" and murder in the future, you've got creepy/ridiculous spoken word segues from the characters (all performed with loads of digital manipulation by Bowie, including the fourteen-year-old Baby Grace), some icky artwork, and, thankfully, a handful of good songs mixed in there (thanks a great deal to guitarist Reeves Gabrels and pianist Mike Garson). I mean, just look at the name of this song (it also features one of my favorite Bowie bizarro-lyrics, "Research has pierced all extremes of my sex / Call it a day / Needle point life blinds the will to be next / Call it a day"). For the record, the "anxiety descending" that appears in the title bar of my Journal Archive comes from this album's "I Am With Name." Just thought it sounded cool...

February 8, 2007

Twisting The Knife...
For the most part, I try not to complain much about Comcast. They're certainly a company that many people love to hate, but I've never really been bugged by them too much. After all, they provide me with my TV, DVR, and Internet and for that I'm very grateful. However, it's been a bad few weeks for Comcast...

First up is a report from CES 2007 that DirecTV will be adding 100 HD channels this year. 100...HD...channels. If you're an HDTV owner with Comcast, you've just passed out or slipped into a crying spell. I can't even really discuss this rationally. Just for starters, how about HD versions of Food Network, Cartoon Network, TBS, FX, and Sci Fi? I need these channels. The question is, how will Comcast respond? After all, I'm sure they were planning on giving us these channels, but at the rate of two or three a year max (gotta justify those annual rate increases somehow). Will they actually follow suit and pile on the channels? Or let their hubris take over and continue giving us a yearly pittance? They have added some new HD channels, I'll admit (including MHD, the MTV/VH1/CMT hybrid channel that repeats about 15 total hours of HD programming 24/7), but it's been sloooow going for a while. We're in the HD generation now...it's time to stop screwing around.

Already swooning from that one, I then read that Major League Baseball has signed an exclusive deal with DirecTV for the Extra Innings package. If you're not familiar with it, Extra Innings is a pay-per-view package that offers around 60 out-of-market baseball games a week for $179 a season. If you're a fantasy baseball fanatic or aren't living near your team anymore, it's a godsend. I've bought it the past three seasons and am thoroughly disgusted that it's being taken away from me. It even pissed my girlfriend off and has made her more receptive to DirecTV (which we've both been adamantly against before), so you know this is serious. As the USA Today article notes, people are NOT happy about this and John Kerry has even questioned its legality, so there's a chance this may not happen, but I'm not optimistic. How is Comcast messing all this up? "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."

So, to review, DirecTV this year will have 100 HD channels, the Extra Innings package, and the NFL Sunday Ticket. Comcast will have its tortoise-rate HD unrolling and neither sports package. Two months ago, you couldn't have paid me to get DirecTV, but now? Well, things just got a lot more interesting. Time for a counterstrike, Comcast.

Going Bankrupt $5 to $10 At A Time
Can I just set up a direct deposit to funnel Nintendo money straight from my bank account? The Virtual Console is dangerous. Very dangerous. When Nintendo announced that you had to buy each game separately, I knew this would be coming, but I'm still not prepared. Just in the last three weeks alone, Nintendo's given us A Link to the Past, Contra 3, Mario Kart 64, and Super Mario World. How can I not buy all those games (total cost: $34)? I'm only human.

One thing that has me seriously concerned is my dubious claim to ownership of these games. I've bought them, they're mine, and I want them forever. However, in the current system, the games are tied to your exact console. If your Wii breaks (yeah, that sounds painful), you actually need to send it to Nintendo and have them port your games and account information over to a new system, a unnecessarily protracted process that'll cause problems down the line. What happens when the Wii successor comes out? I'll want to be able to load all my VC games on there, but will I need Nintendo to do it for me? There should be a simple solution--like Xbox Live, just tie all your purchases into an online account. Nintendo already lets you link your MyNintendo account (from nintendo.com) to your Wii, so how hard would be it to keep your ownership records tied to your account instead of your console? I'm just deathly afraid that I'm going to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on the VC over the next few years and could have it taken away from me at a moment's notice. I'm a media whore packrat and these games are MINE now.

Paging Jack Thompson and Joe Lieberman...
Changing gears a little, Nintendo revealed a shocker this week with the announcement of Manhunt 2 for the Wii. I'm floored by this. The original Manhunt, developed by Rockstar Games and an Honorable Mention in my Best of 2003 Awards, is easily one of the most brutally violent video games ever made. If Nintendo wanted to make it clear that mature, adult games will be supported on the Wii, this is a pretty damn good way to to do it. Naturally, the so-called "moral crusaders" will be out en masse against this one, particularly if the Wii remote is integrated as well as it could be. Wrapping piano wire around an enemy's neck, bashing someone's head in with a baseball bat...oh the Wii remote could be some seriously twisted fun here if Rockstar doesn't pull any punches. Have I mentioned that I'm a sick, evil fuck? Worth noting. But if any game has the potential to be branded a "murder simulator," it's this one. Based on the teaser trailer, it looks like Rockstar may be taking more of a Saw approach to the storyline this time. Very intriguing and it may help to curb some of the criticism. How will Nintendo handle the heat? Will they give Rockstar final cut or clean it up for the kiddies? Either way, we've come a long way from fighters "sweating" in the SNES Mortal Kombat. Keep it up, guys, because you've definitely got my attention.

"I was confused by your phrasing."
Thursdays are really no more than a countdown until 8:30 and the new Office episode. Last night, I even had some sort of bizarre dream involving the Office people, something about digging into the center of the earth, and Karen having an STD (which would certainly be one way to end the Karen/Jim relationship). I need to get a life...nah, on second thought, it's not worth it.

Last night brought Lost back into our lives as well. Ahh, the glory of 16 straight weeks of Lost. Almost makes me a little teary-eyed. Couple quick comments about last night's episode:

I don't know how many more times Lost will start off an episode by pulling the "make you think you're on the island/in the real world, but you're really in the real world/on the island," but I'm now convinced they're going to trick me every single time. The start of the second season (Desmond in the hatch) was the all-time great example of that, but they did it again in October with the book club and last night on the beach in Miami. Oh, Lost, how you vex me so!

It's also killing me that the writers are flagrantly tossing in some things just to fuck with us. I mean, how else can you explain Tom saying (after Jack asked why they don't leave the island), "We would, but ever since the sky turned purple--[interrupted by Jack accidentally cutting Ben's artery]" I literally screamed at the television at that one and someone, somewhere was having a good laugh.

Random Lost prediction: something strange is going to be revealed this season about time and the island. Ben showing Jack the Red Sox video, the scientists showing Juliet the x-rays of 27-year-olds that look like they should be of 70-year-olds ("Mittelos," the company they supposedly worked for, unscrambles as "lost time")...I feel like we're building to something. Maybe that time moves slower on the island and it's already years after the crash in the real world? Time has been one of the recurring symbols of the third season and I don't think it's all a red herring. Hmmm...

Trailers
Some movie trailers you know you want to watch. Don't resist...

Knocked Up

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters

YouTube Clip of the Day
One of the greatest sketches from one of the greatest sketch comedy shows of all time, I give you Mr. Show and the Pre-Taped Call-In Show. You can try to poke holes in the logic, but you can't, it's flawless. David Cross is my hero.

Song of the Moment: "The Rat Who Would Be King" by Matthew Good Band.
When I'm creating my Hall of Fame of "Songs I Sing/Bellow In My Car At The Top Of My Lungs," "Rat" would be a first ballot inductee (along with Matt's "When We Were Hunting Rabbits"). Wonderful catharsis after a long day. God, I love Matt so much. "And I've a grenade / With our names scratched on the side / But that's just love / And you know that love's not enough."

March 2, 2007

Journal Update
Took a little while for this latest update because I resolved to stop screwing around and get my Awards ready, so that's been my main focus lately. At last, I'm ready to unveil the first part of the Best of 2006 Awards! Today brings the Best in Television Awards. The other categories will be rolled out over the course of March as I get them ready. At the very least, I'll have them finished by the time the Philadelphia Film Festival maelstrom begins next month.

YouTube Clip of the Day
Today's clip comes courtesy of...ME! In September, I linked to an Office YouTube clip that compiled the entire Jinx storyline from the "Drug Testing" episode. A great idea and a fantastic showcase for John Krasinski. Sadly, at some point over the last couple months, the poster took the clip down. This needs to be on YouTube, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. Last night, I sat down, plugged away in Windows Movie Maker, and the Jinx clip was reborn! It's my first upload onto YouTube, so I'm pretty proud. Go check it out here so I can feel cool.

Song of the Moment: "Pattern Against User" by At the Drive-In.
I've been listening to a good share of Mars Volta over the last few months, so it's inevitable I'd make my way over to At the Drive-In. Here's a nice live performance of "Pattern."

March 23, 2007

Journal Update
Today's update in the Best of 2006 Awards is the Best in Music category.

Speaking of which, this year is shaping up to be an absolutely HUGE one in my musical world. The battle for this category in the Best of 2007 Awards is going to be fierce. In the upper tier alone we've got Nine Inch Nails (April), Marilyn Manson (June), Matthew Good (Summer), The Smashing Pumpkins (July), and Dillinger Escape Plan (September). I'm woozy just thinking about it. We haven't even gotten to the "I don't care what you think of my musical tastes" tier where I'm looking forward to hearing new material from Joseph Arthur (April), Avril Lavigne (April), Tori Amos (May), Björk (May), Linkin Park (May), Maroon 5 (May), Interpol (June), Queens of the Stone Age (June), and Korn (July). Let's not forget some of oft-rumored albums that could hit in 2007, including new releases by Radiohead, Portishead, Craig Wedren, Queen Adreena, and U.N.K.L.E. Holy God. And who knows what else is coming. I think I need to lie down.

The depressing part is that after we blast through so many bands in 2007, the next few years could be really quiet. Let's not think about that now, though.

Song of the Moment: "Handshake Heart Attack" by The Photo Atlas.
More proof that licensed music for video games isn't wasted money: I've already bought Photo's new album. Thanks to Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam for this one. Here's the video.

March 30, 2007

Journal Update
Two short categories in the Best of 2006 Awards are up today: PC Games and Portable Games.

Song of the Moment: "Capillarian Crest" by Mastodon.
This could have the SOTM for any of my posts from December on since "Crest" was never far from my playlist. However, I didn't include it before to keep my Best in Music winner a surprise. I worship this song. Watch the video and join the cult.

April 5-18, 2007

Movies Update
The Philadelphia Film Festival is upon us again, so it's time for lots of movies, little sleep, and mass hysteria for the next two weeks. Such a great time of year. Like last year, I'm hoping to get reviews up quickly, so keep checking back for more. We'll kick things off with my review of opener The Ten.

"It will be a groundbreaking case...when it inevitably goes to trial."
In other news, I'm running late on the last two categories of the Best of 2006 Awards, but they should be up shortly after the Festival ends. Also, thank God The Office is finally back in our lives. The six week wait was brutal, but I'd like to thank Lost for being there for me in these troubling times. Another fantastic episode last night, of course. Roy goes out with a bang and Pam and Jim are inching closer to each other, but, more importantly, we learned that Jim is a Phillies fan! Just awesome. By the way, I'm not prepared to talk about the Phillies yet. Let's wait until they win a game and I stop contemplating setting myself on fire with all my Phillies gear on.

Songs of the Moment: "A Single Explosion" by Matthew Good.
Appearing on Matt's website earlier in the week, "Explosion" is our first taste of Matt's new album and I've listened to it a few dozen times already (gotta love ripping MP3s off of streaming music). I need this album so badly. The ending, where the instruments drop out and it's just Matt and a few piano chords, is heart-achingly beautiful. "By the bright lights in some ICU / On my chest you put your head / And said there you are / There you are / There's my heart"

April 24, 2007

Movies Update
(Climbs out of Film Festival abyss...) Crazy few weeks. Busy at work all day, movies all night, and perilously little sleep tossed in here and there. Set a new record this year with 30 movies in 14 days (applause please), but in all the insanity I didn't have time to get my reviews finished and posted. Plowing through them now...
Here are the first ten.

Song of the Moment: "Vessel" by Nine Inch Nails.
I want to give Trent a big hug for Year Zero, the closest he's come yet to the NIN dance album I've been begging for for years. The pounding techno gear grind, the computer spilling its innards in an orgy of noise, yeah, this is what I want from Nine Inch Nails.

May 29, 2007

I Have Battles In My Life
First, let me toss out my litany of excuses as to why I've been behind in updates lately. We just finished a major campaign at work (for Michael Nutter, the soon-to-be-next-Mayor of Philadelphia--for more, go here or here), I've traveled to two graduations and two weddings in the last month, and I'm in the last few weeks of my job because, momentously, my girlfriend and I are getting ready to leave our beloved Philadelphia and move to Los Angeles later this summer. So, yeah, there's been a bit on my plate lately and I haven't had as much time as I'd like to work on updates here. The rest of the film festival reviews and the Best of Awards ARE on the way, though, and hopefully sooner rather than later.

Today, however, I'm writing because I have a band that you need to listen to right now. I should be writing about the new Smashing Pumpkins song, which was on repeat on my MP3 player all last week, but there's plenty of time for that later since the CD isn't out for over a month yet anyway (short review: awesome song--I've been dying for evidence that Billy was returning to his hard rock ways and "Tarantula" is all the proof I needed. July 10th can't come fast enough). But this past Friday, everything was put on the back burner once I discovered the glory that is Battles. They caught my eye when I saw their high score on Metacritic and as soon as I read they were a math rock band, I knew I had to give them a listen. I downloaded their new album, Mirrored, and was hooked immediately. A number of reviews dubbed the album's sound as "the music of the future" and it's easy to see why. I don't know if any other band has ever struck such a powerful balance between live, raw instrumentation and intricate, carefully plotted digital processing. The unique beauty of each song is how it meticulously layers each of these disparate elements into a mosaic that may intimidate at first listen, but rewards those who keep going back for more. And you will want to hear these songs over and over again. Start off on their MySpace page, where selections from the album are streaming (the entire album was up over the weekend, but it looks like there are only two songs up at the moment), and check out their first single, "Atlas." Then listen to it again. Once its hooks are in you, it'll be all you can think about. Over its driving 7+ minutes, it builds its structure one part at a time before suddenly deconstructing everything and starting again until it reaches a crescendo as each instrument finally blends together (think the last minute of Nine Inch Nails' "All The Love In The World"). It's also one hell of a catchy tune. I'm not exactly a fixture at the clubs, but this is the kind of music I want to dance to--I can't stay still the whole time it's playing. It's worth noting that Tyondai Braxton's vocals on "Atlas" and the rest of the album are digitally manipulated past recognition until discernible words disappear into a sort of computerized chirping that some may find off-putting (at least at first), but which fits perfectly with the band's sound.

No matter what your taste in music (or what you think of my taste), you need to at least give Battles a try. In today's musical climate of repetition rock and cookie-cutter pop, it's not often you to get to hear something defiantly and breathtakingly new. They've only released their new full-length album and a series of EPs, but Battles has already drawn a line in the sand. If you want to hear the future, start here.

Song of the Moment: "Atlas" by Battles.
Check out these YouTube clips for more Battles goodness: the awesome video for "Atlas" as well as a live performance; an interview with the band; and a clip from a live performance of "Tonto." You'd think they couldn't reproduce these songs live, but the members of Battles, all ultra-talented multi-instrumentalists, prove you wrong.

June 7, 2007

Journal Update
At last, the Best in Film category is up in the Best of 2006 Awards.

Song of the Moment: "Putting Holes in Happiness" by Marilyn Manson.
I'm not ready to comment on the new album as a whole yet, but you're guaranteed at least a handful of great songs with each new Manson album and "Happiness" is one of them. It's a return in sound to the fantastic Mechanical Animals and has one of his best choruses along with a roaring guitar solo by Tim Sköld. "You wear your ruins well / Please run away with me to hell."

June 29, 2007

"Only killers call killing progress"
Yeah, I'm obsessed with Matthew Good. Allow me to share... The wait for his new album, Hospital Music, has been horrible and there's still a month to go before its official release (July 31). Starting today, though, the whole album is streaming on Matt's site. This is a momentous occasion in my life. The streaming date has been known for the last week or so, but it's started dominating my attention the past few days. I refreshed his site repeatedly (maybe he'll surprise us and release it early? please?) and bided my time impatiently. One question that bothered me Thursday, though, was what time the album would be available. Would it be right at midnight EST so I could spend some quality time with it immediately? At 3:00am EST (since Matt lives in Vancouver out in the Pacific Time Zone)? Or, as I feared, some time randomly on Friday afternoon? Towards 11:50pm on Thursday night, I started compulsively refreshing, like I was trying for some impossible Ticketmaster show. At 11:57pm, Matt posts a note (titled "3...2...1" no less) saying the album will start streaming soon at around 12pm. My heart drops. Maybe that's a mistake, though? Please? A couple minutes later, the page is corrected and Matt's posted a comment apologizing about the typo. A few minutes after that, the stream is online. I get prepared: turn off the lights, lie on the floor with my cat, grab my headphones and turn the volume up to ridiculous levels--it's only proper to show a special moment the respect it deserves...

It's just past 4am now and Matt's still looping in my ears. I'm trying not to be too effusive until the album's actually available on CD in all its high-quality glory, but this is definitely one of Matt's best and that's no small statement. Hospital feels achingly alive and new, but also recalls and evolves his earlier sounds, from the production grandeur of The Audio of Being to the raw emotion of White Light Rock & Roll Review and Rooms. While much (if not all) of the album may have been written acoustically (and will be performed as such on the first tour), many of the songs have been filled out with copious guitars, drums, keyboards, and sound effects. Is it July 31 yet?

Sadly, Matt is completely ignored in the American music machine, but don't let that stop you. All you need to do is sign up quickly on www.matthewgood.org (takes just a minute) and start the stream. Note, though, that the album is streaming as a whole, so you can't pick individual tracks. Just let epic opener "Champions of Nothing" wash over you (at 9:35, it's the longest song Matt's ever recorded) before the short, sweet "A Single Explosion" kicks in. Before you know it, the hour will be gone, the album over, and you'll be a better person for having heard it (too much?).

July 2007 will go down as a time very near and dear to my music heart. Inarguably my two favorite bands of all time, Matthew Good and The Smashing Pumpkins, are releasing long-awaited new albums. I've got high hopes for Billy and Zeitgeist when it hits in two weeks, but, in a way, I feel like any new time with Billy is just a bonus on top of how much joy the Pumpkins gave me in my teenage years. My obsession with Matt started in the summer of 2001, just six months after the Pumpkins' farewell show, and he picked up where Billy left off and hasn't missed a beat since. Six years later and here I am listening to Hospital in the insomniac's hours of the morning, simply ecstatic that the wait was worth it, as it always is.

Song of the Moment: "Metal Airplanes" by Matthew Good.
The album version is only available on the Hospital stream for now, but I've been wearing out an MP3 of Matt performing "Airplanes" acoustically on a radio show. It's why nothing is going to keep me from seeing Matt on tour this fall. "Don't you mind the gap when you leave / There'll be time enough to turn tail tomorrow."

August 16, 2007

Journal Update
My first update from California! Since I arrived in lovely Alhambra, California, (right outside Los Angeles) just over a week ago now, I'm still wrapped up in unpacking insanity/procrastination. However, I've finally had a little time to finish up a few things here, so, at last, my Best of 2006 Awards are now complete (just in time to start working on the Best of 2007 Awards!) Today's update is the Console Games category.

Song of the Moment: "Johnny Appleseed" by Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros.
RIP John From Cincinnati. It's been a fun few months letting you bewilder and confuse us and I'm very sad to see you go, especially since it means we won't get to watch the amazing opening titles sequence anymore (early lock to succeed Dexter for titles of the year). Go download the fantastic Joe Strummer song, though, and John will live on in spirit in your MP3 player forever...

September 7, 2007

Digital Narcosis
Let's talk video games...

This year's awe-inspiring fall video game season officially kicked off a little early with the release of Madden NFL 08 on August 14. Since it's a major annual video game holiday, I'm always a little sad that I don't participate in it. I'm not a huge football fan (baseball's my sport and, accordingly, I've been spending a ridiculous amount of time with The Bigs over the past two months) and most of my football knowledge comes from the many fantasy leagues I participate in every year. I haven't been hooked on a football video game since NFL Blitz was in its heyday, so I find Madden a little intimidating. However, I certainly have plenty of respect for the many, many people that line up at midnight and take the day off work to drown in the latest edition. You'll hear no argument from me against that.

The following week saw the release of the long-awaited Bioshock on Xbox 360 and PC. If you follow video games at all, you've no doubt heard some of the monumental hype that's built for this game over the past few years. Developed by the masterful Irrational Games (now fully assimilated into the 2K Games machine and rebranded as 2K Australia and 2K Boston), it's basically a next-generation System Shock set in an underwater utopia that's gone horribly awry. Irrational's pedigree is top-notch: for you old-timers, Irrational was founded by three former staffers from innovative developers Looking Glass Studios, the company behind the Ultima Underworld games for the PC. Though many gamers credit Wolfenstein 3D and Doom for introducing the modern first-person shooter, Ultima Underworld actually beat them to the punch by beginning development long before Wolfenstein, hitting stores a few months before it in 1992, and showcasing hybrid FPS/RPG gameplay that was way, way ahead of its time. To be fair, id Software's titles popularized the FPS genre and kickstarted the revolution (because of their simpler pick-up-and-shoot gameplay, comparatively lax system requirements, and the shareware distribution model), but I don't think it's a stretch to say that without Underworld, we may never have had Doom, Quake, or Irrational's own System Shock, not to mention hundreds of others.

Anyway, I've been waiting patiently for Bioshock since it was first announced and, after picking up the GameStop limited edition (because I'm just that cool), I'm ecstatic to report that it's every bit as good as we hoped it would be. Thankfully, the critics agree as it's easily the best reviewed game of the year so far and should go down as one of the all time greats. If you own an Xbox 360, you have no excuse and must buy this game immediately. If you don't have a 360 yet, but have a few hundred dollars lying around and some time on your hands, go grab the system and game. Yes, it's just that good. Such a brilliant mix of rock-solid gameplay, compelling storytelling, and state-of-the-art technology can't go unnoticed. My only fear is that it may pass by gamers too fixated on Halo 3. Don't let that happen--send a message to publishers that we support these games. Go buy it now. Just do it.

Arriving a week after Bioshock was supposed PlayStation 3 killer app Lair, the dragon-flight action sim from Rogue Squadron developers Factor 5. First announced two years ago, it was originally intended to be one of the premiere titles of the PS3's early lineup. However, delays pushed it months back from the PS3's launch and it's only now hitting stores. In one of the more surprising and disappointing stories to come out of this year's releases, Lair is getting utterly RAVAGED by critics. I mean, destroyed. For example, take IGN. I've been a fan of IGN for a while and, suffice to say, I don't own many (if any) games they've given a less than 5.0 score. In his blistering 4.9 review, Greg Miller questions Lair's very existence and says it "falls well short of anything you should be playing." Strong words and he's not alone.

Well, being a big Factor 5 fan and a new PS3 owner desperate for quality software (by the way, long story short on how I finally ended up getting a PS3: $100 price cut + hardware backward compatibility being stripped on newer models + new TV = time to buy a PS3), I picked up Lair on release day. You know what? It's a really fun game. Have these reviewers never played the Rogue Squadron games? Lair plays exactly like the old GameCube titles, from the medal system to the rapidly-changing mission objectives to the stealth flights to the controls, et cetera. The Wii-ripoff SIXAXIS control works very well to immerse players in the gameplay. Some reviewers have clamored for analog control, but they would feel almost antiquated in comparison (though I wonder if Sony slipped Factor 5 some kickbacks to make tilt control the only way to play). Yes, it's not 100% reliable (many reviewers complain about the erratic 180° turn function and it's frustratingly true that it only works about 75% of the time) and the target system can be a little wonky, but none of it has hurt my enjoyment of the title to any significant degree. In the IGN review, Miller opens by railing on an early mission set on a bridge ("...a mission worthy of swallowing the business end of a shotgun to avoid"). I beat it on my first try, in about seven minutes, and had none of the problems he complains about. Granted, I'm only about eight missions in right now, but Lair is pretty much exactly what I expected: Rogue Squadron with dragons. To that end, I can see the validity of criticizing the lack of innovation in the gameplay (besides the tilt controls), but the tremendous production value helps gloss over this (much the same way it did in Gears of War last year). Given the number of terrible reviews, I guess I can't recommend a blind purchase here, but it deserves at least a rental and if you're a fan of the Rogue Squadron series (and boy did I spend way too many hours fighting for the medals in those games) or have a sexy 1080p display you want to show off (and boy does it look plenty tasty in 1080p), this needs to be on your radar.

Finally, this week brings John Woo's Stranglehold to the Xbox 360 (with the PS3 version coming later in the month). A sequel to his classic Hard Boiled, it brings back Chow Yun-Fat as Inspector Tequila, who's got another legion of bad guys to plow through. I'd followed the game only peripherally until playing the awesome 360 demo a few weeks ago. Any demo that has me yelling, "Fuck yeah!!" at the TV repeatedly is a winner in my book. However, the onerous, consumer-screwing HD-DVD/Blu-ray format war is sticking its ugly head into the game's release. Allow me to explain...

Since it's coming out for both 360 and PS3, I've been wondering which version I should buy (an annoying debate I'm going to have to have over and over again now [see Guitar Hero 3]). Both are coming out with deluxe limited editions that I, being the video game whore that I am, can't pass up on. Here's where it gets tricky. The 360 limited edition is fairly straightforward and comes with an extra DVD packed with featurettes about the making of the game. Pretty cool. The PS3 version, though, doesn't have the extra DVD but instead has the original Hard Boiled included right on the Blu-ray disc in all its shoot-em-up glory. That sounds awesome, but now there are a few more questions that need answering:

1. Are we getting the original unrated version or the sanitized R-rated cut?
2) Are we getting a beautiful new HD remaster or just an upconverted DVD transfer?

Complicating these questions is that the rights to Hard Boiled are owned by The Weinstein Company which has thrown its support behind HD-DVD. It's been reported that publisher Ubisoft had to strike a special deal to allow Hard Boiled to be released on Blu-ray, a deal that dictates that the movie can NOT play on any other BD player besides a PlayStation 3. That said, will The Weinstein Company bother putting a fully-remastered transfer on a competing format or just half-ass it by sticking on a DVD version (oh, and, by the way, The Weinstein Company just re-released Hard Boiled on DVD a month ago, so they certainly have a new DVD transfer to use). According to some forum posts at High-Def Digest (an invaluable source for HD-DVD and Blu-ray reviews), insiders working on Stranglehold claim that it is NOT a new, full-HD transfer. The way I see it, then, there are three major dealbreakers for the PS3 version:

1. The game itself runs slower on the PS3 (after all, this IS about the game first and foremost, so if the 360 version runs at a higher framerate, that's enough for me to shove the PS3 version aside and wait for an HD-DVD release of Hard Boiled).
2. The PS3 version of Hard Boiled is the R-rated American cut (fuck censorship and give me the ultra-violence; enough said).
3. The PS3 transfer is only a DVD upconvert (if that's the case, I'll just buy the special edition DVD with all its extra features or wait for the inevitable HD-DVD release).

Unfortunately, since the PS3 release is still a few weeks away, I likely won't get a definitive answer until then. I have a feeling that the PS3 is going to lose this battle, though. There's just too much stacked against it right now. That said, god I fucking hate format wars. It gives me a headache just trying to process all this garbage. And, yes, I know I take this stuff too seriously, but I don't care, this is important. I need to go lie down now.

Song of the Moment: "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver" by Primus.
Gotta thank The Bigs for this one. I've never listened to much Primus, but this is such an awesome song. LOVE the head-banging "chorus" and Les Claypool's bass acrobatics. Can we get this song in Rock Band, please?

September 9, 2007

Get the Clio Award Ready...
This is one of the greatest commercials I have ever seen. I've watched it half a dozen times already today and gotten chills every time. The pounding hits, the kinetic cinematography, the stirring music...it should play before every single football game from now until eternity.

Go to the Nike Football site, click through the opening splash screen, and click on "See More Action" on the bottom left. It should start playing right away. (You can also find it on YouTube, but the quality is much worse than on the Nike site and, ideally, this is something you need to see in its full HD splendor on as big a TV as you can find.) It stars Shawne Merriman and Steven Jackson and was reportedly directed by Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral). So awesome...

While I'm on the subject of football commercials, I don't think I can handle another full season of that John Mellencamp song ("This is our country...") If I never hear that song again for the rest of my life, it will be too soon. It's only week 1 and I'm already getting a mix of nausea and uncontrollable homicidal tendencies whenever I hear it. Does it really need to air during every single commercial break during every single game??? I fear for my sanity.

October 2, 2007

Journal Update
The Phillies are in the playoffs! The Phillies are in the playoffs! I'll never get tired of writing that, but instead of typing it 50 more times, I'll offer a personal history of my life with the Phillies. Here goes...

October 10, 2007

Journal Update
Since I've been watching a staggering amount of TV lately, I'd like to present my quick reviews of all the new and returning shows that are clogging up my DVRs right now. As I cut through my backlog of shows, I'll add more reviews, but this will get us started...

Digital Narcosis
Here's a quick update on my last video games rant. After absorbing every inch of its amazing world, I finally beat Bioshock a couple weeks ago. It is truly a revolutionary video game experience. As the line between movies and games continues to blur over the coming years, games like Bioshock will be hailed as the harbingers of this new paradigm. The game's many twists are burned into my memory and, despite a comparatively lackluster final boss battle (possibly the only valid criticism that can be leveled at Bioshock), the "good" ending packs a tremendous emotional punch in only a slight two or three minutes. I easily spent over 30 hours on my first playthrough, exploring every corner of Rapture and obsessively collecting 960 of the 1000 Xbox Achievement points (unwittingly unlocking the "Irony" achievement is currently the highlight of my Gamerscore career). I only need to beat the game on the hardest difficulty to grab the remaining 40, something I'm eager to do already to get the "evil" ending. Barring a life-changing effort by one of the big guns of fall 2007, it's hard to see how Bioshock won't be game of the year (and, for the record, if anyone has a shot at dethroning it, I'd guess Super Mario Galaxy, Rock Band, or maybe Mass Effect). Would you kindly go buy this game?

In other news, yet another major video game holiday that I didn't participate in just passed by: the release of Halo 3. Given my harsh reaction to Halo 2, I've been avoiding Halo 3 out of spite. That said, since the video game press is predictably orgasmic over the newest iteration, it's probably only a matter of time until I pick it up. I'm so weak. However, considering my aversion to online gaming remains unchanged, I hope the single player mode really has been improved this time or I'm going to feel quite the fool for wasting my money yet again.

And, finally, here's an update on my Stranglehold dilemma. After waiting weeks for the PS3 version to be released so I could get a final verdict at last on the quality of Blu-ray Hard Boiled...the game was delayed at the last minute until the end of October. Annoyed and anticipating even more delays, I finally had enough and bought the Xbox 360 version (silver lining of the wait: I was able to buy the 360 Collector's Edition for $10 off, the same price as the regular version). If Sony wants to start regaining its dominance in the console war, they need to start by keeping this bullshit from happening.

My Final Word On The 2007 Phillies
Yeah, that sucked...

Only six months until April!

Song of the Moment: "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" by Radiohead.
Did you know that a new Radiohead album came out today? Seriously. In what amounts to a gigantic "Fuck You" to the music industry, Radiohead revealed a week ago that their new album would be released independently at www.inrainbows.com. The kicker? There is no set price. The album is available as a digital download for whatever "donation" you deem fit. Keen lads that they are, though, they're also offering a "Discbox" that includes CD and vinyl versions of In Rainbows, a disc of additional new material, and books of artwork and lyrics all packaged in a fancy box for 40 pounds. The discboxes don't ship until December, but pre-ordering one now gives you access to the digital download as well. Gee, which one do you think I bought? I'm so easy...
[Shout out to Mike for giving me a heads up on all this craziness last week]

October 21, 2007

Journal Update
On Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the first ever E for All Expo followed by a night with the Video Games Live concert. A day playing Rock Band, Super Mario Galaxy, and Guitar Hero III? Yeah, that deserves a long write-up (with pictures!)

November 4, 2007

Journal Update
Eleven more shows have been added to my 2007 Fall TV Report, but with the WGA strike starting imminently, we all may be catching up on DVDs soon.

Death to Free Advertising!
NBC and YouTube have taken my Office clip down!!!!!! I can't even tell you how depressing this is. I recently received an ominous email titled "Video Removed: Copyright Infringement" saying that NBC Universal instructed YouTube to remove the clip. Check it out. This really, really pisses me off. I know that some networks and companies are anal about YouTube, but NBC always seemed to welcome Office clips. There were tons of them out there (I've linked to a number of them) and more popped up every day. I put the clip up in March and since then I've had an impressive 38,448 viewers (give or take) with 350-ish favorites. I'm not sure what made NBC change their minds (does the WGA strike have anything to do with it?), but the clips are coming down quickly now (a few of my favorites are already gone). Are these clips really hurting NBC at all? Are crappy-quality three-minute snippets of episodes hurting DVD or syndication revenue? Is bitch-slapping your loyal viewers really a smart strategy? Maybe someone can help me with the answers here, but I'm confused, disappointed, and sad.

Song of the Moment: "Black Bubblegum" by Dillinger Escape Plan.
Man, oh man, the new DEP album is going to be out soon! In a year that's already been filled with a ridiculous number of high-quality, high-profile releases, this is a great capper. The album's currently streaming on their MySpace page and it's a fantastic continuation of the growth they showed in 2004 Best of Award winner Miss Machine. "Black Bubblegum" and its poppy falsetto will likely turn off the OGs wanting another Calculating Infinity, but I'm hooked (and don't worry, there's plenty of thrash to be found elsewhere, starting with opener "Fix Your Face"). There's so much musical virtuosity at work in DEP that it would be a shame to limit it to one style or sound...which makes the dynamic Ire Works that much more exciting.


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