November 12, 2007

Old Toys are Made New

Posted in Critique, Entertainment tagged , , at 5:59 am by Cruthers

Lego Star Wars II believe weekend day’s break down into easily categorized themes (wouldn’t Aristotle be proud). Friday is the end of the work week and is typified by evening activities and socializing with friends. Saturday is spent recovering from the previous night’s “socializing”, but more importantly it’s usually spent doing activities that make us happy, whether it’s with family, friend’s or just some personal time. Sunday looms with work and preparation for the following week but Saturday truly is a free day.

Lego Star Wars is great way to spend a lazy Saturday, basking in it’s colorful block figures as they jump and blast Clone Troopers across the television. The game’s tone and playful mechanics brings back the simple days of youth. Days in which it was too cold or too rainy to go outside for any length of time. So instead one would got some hot coco, a blanket and plopped oneself near a heater while playing some 8/16 bit pixelated goodness. Lego Star Wars may be a kids game, but adults can find their inner child and enjoy it just as much.

One of the key points of appeal to the game is the ability of drop-in co-op. What I mean by this is say your blasting through a level and a friend drops by. Instead of having to start a whole new co-op game, your buddy can just pick up a second controller, hit start and bam, they’re in fighting along side you. Oh what’s that? Your buddy got a call and has to head out, no problem, they can hit start and drop out. Your single player game is never interrupted with the exception of the pause screen. It’s a simple but effective game element that’s adds to the experience instead of interrupting the flow.

Another element that’ll have you playing long after the game’s story mode has ended is the collectibles. Normally collectibles are a cheap way to extend a games life (ala GTA III and Spiderman 2) but really aren’t worth getting. But in Lego Star Wars, the currency will buy you additional characters to play as with unique moves (General Grievous, four arms of light saber wielding sweetness). Also if you obtain enough currency you can unlock secret pieces of Legos that later build together to make a ship and unlock an secret special stage. Another thing that’s cool is that you can physically view the unlocked Lego ship outside the game’s waiting/loading center (a diner of all things) among other Lego ships that you unlock by collecting special canisters.

The game is a simple platformer with puzzle and action elements, but when broken down further we find that the game is just fun and in the end leaves us wanting more.

Lego Star Wars IIThankfully that can be accommodated with Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, which improves on the original with new and additionally enjoyable content. And if you have a next generation gaming system (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii) you can get both games together in Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga.

A copy of the original Lego Star Wars game runs around 15 bucks new. For the amount of fun I got out of it and continue to with co-op with friends, I’d say it was 15 bucks well spent.

For a look at the game play in action and another review, check out IGN.com’s staff review and video review.

November 5, 2007

JT, The New King of Pop?

Posted in Critique, Entertainment tagged , , at 1:03 pm by Cruthers

FutureSexLoveSounds The new Justin Timberlake album, FutureSex/LoveSounds is one of the best sounding pop albums since Michael Jackson’s Thriller was pressed onto vinyl oh so long ago (Thriller music video). While MJ got it right on his sixth attempt, JT appears to be vying for the crown as king of pop by dropping a monster of an album on only his second try. Thanks are largely due to producer Timbaland who has recently put out a plethora of amazingly catchy material. Timbaland adds heavy beats, lots of synth effects, a wide variety of urban talent (i.e. Three 6 Mafia, T.I., will.i.am), solid production and the ability to mold and cook JT’s voice like a piece of raw dough. However JT must be given a large amount of credit in his fore-site to see that in order to become a true pop-star sometimes you have to take risk. And FutureSex/LoveSounds was one heck of a risk.

The album you can tell is going to be different from his previous works by the way it starts out. FutureSex/LoveSounds the song, is an odd mix of futuristic synth, groovy guitar and whispery pressing lyrics. This trend continues with the first single Sexyback, albeit the sound changes to an aggressive driving beat, heavy voice distortion and somewhat annoying repetitious lyrics. The next song of real interest is My Love, simply an amazing song that’s so cool it doesn’t need to be told it’s cool to be cool, it just is. My Love, while a bit long in the tooth for a pop song (4min 36secs), features rap solos that can only be described as nailing it. LoveStoned/I Think She Knows (Interlude) is another song that can be described as amazing however for completely different reasons. More poppy and upbeat than My Love the preceding song, LoveStoned replaces cool with fun and offers interesting contrast with a somewhat melancholy ending in I Think She Knows (Interlude). What Goes Around…/…Comes Around is a song that everyone can understand. Love has been lost but seemingly to causes outside of ones control and there is nothing left to do but to move on. Its anger and disgust is palpable, we hear JT voice our emotion and directly relate asking him to sing it again , which he does for a full five minutes.

There are other hits on the album including the heavy rap song Chop Me Up (featuring Three 6 Mafia), the throwback song Summer Love and the surprisingly soulful song Losing My Way (which is ironic because what does a Mouseketeer know about crack?). The album on a whole shows off JT’s wide range of talent and the assortment of different hats he can wear. From playful teen pop star, soul singer, techno beat guy to bad boy, Mr. Timberlake succeeds wildly at each. The only question remaining is what will he do to top his already impressive music carrier? Hopefully something as new, dynamic and solid as what he’s making today. Big order, but the king of pop is a big title and won’t go to those not worthy of wearing its illustrious crown.

To hear a shortened podcast version of this review which includes several examples from the album, please click this link to download an mp3 or click the play button below to play the file in your browser.

October 15, 2007

Frank Miller and The Dark Knight

Posted in Critique, Entertainment tagged , at 1:19 pm by Cruthers

Batman The Dark Knight ReturnsSitting in my apartment watching the Daily Show the other day, I noticed that a comic book was lying underneath some discarded miniature candy wrappers (my flat mates and me love the Halloween season) and a Wii remote. Upon further examination, the comic book turned out to be, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by acclaimed writer Frank Miller. The same Frank Miller that created such vivid realities and recent movie hits such as Sin City and 300.

Skeptical, I berated my roommate for buying a comic and being a geek. Laughing he responded that I should shut up and check it out as he judged it to be so intense and well done that it made him sweat while reading it. Intrigued, I decided to read it, even though I hadn’t picked up a comic since I was 10 years-old or so. So one afternoon in between classes I found that I had the apartment all to myself, a perfect time to nerd it out and read a comic book. Settling down in to a couch and munching on a sandwich I had made (toasted tuna with lettuce) I began to read a story.

Batman as we all know fights crime, always has and always will. However in Frank Millers rendition Batman has retired, 10 years have past since his disappearance and we are met with a gray haired and mustached man walking with a cane by the name of Bruce Wayne. Wayne, Batman’s alter-ego is bitter and indifferent to those suffering since his absence, stating that he had done his part and the world will continue as it always will. However, things are getting worse, a new mob of amoral delinquents ravage the city and kill simply for the joy of it. They eventually even attack Wayne, to the effect of awaking the old demons that drove Batman’s insatiable lust for justice and vengeance upon the criminal world. Needless to say, Wayne walks away from the encounter unscathed but not uninjured. Batman begs to be released again, even if it means the death of the old man that contains it.

The tale is an old one, one of an old dog getting a second chance to compete and possibly die in the glory of his profession and youth. Miller’s gritty illustration’s, biting wit and character development bring the story to life with sweating intensity. The comic plays out like a surreal film noir, we know these characters but never could imagined this reality. This is Miller’s gift and it translates surprisingly well to the average consumer.

After spending an afternoon and part of an evening reading Millers work, I now understand how people over the age of 10 can still enjoy comic books or why manga is growing in popularity. It’s the story that counts and sometimes illustrations are not only nice but necessary in order to tell it.

I don’t see myself becoming a “comic book nerd” anytime soon but I may have to check out the local shop every once in awhile and see what I’ve been missing for the past 10 years. At the very least, I’ll check out what else Miller‘s been up to in the cel-shaded world

To Catch a Cartman

Posted in Critique, Entertainment, News Media tagged , at 11:55 am by Cruthers

Cartman & Chris HansenLast week South Park kicked off the second part of its eleventh season with an episode entitled, Le Petit Tourette. In the episode, Cartman discovers the psychological affliction, “Tourette’s Syndrome”. And as we all know, Tourette’s is renowned by the inability to control when one curses an expletive. And much to Cartman delight, he claims to have Tourette’s and uses his “affliction” to berate his Jewish friend Kyle, Judaism and everyone and everything in the most vulgar and depraved language possible. Fortunately, Cartman’s new found ” freedom” has a catch(one which I won’t ruin for you, it’s pretty funny), and he has to attempt to get out of a interview with To Catch a Predator‘s Chris Hansen which he had scheduled earlier in the episode.

I bring this episode up because it got me thinking about the exploitive nature of To Catch a Predator and the questions it raises. The primary question being, why does this show bother me? It does a public service by catching child molesters in the act and turning them over to the proper authorities to be dealt with, who could object to that?

Well this guy Daniel Giuditta does.

In Giuditta’s video he voices the unpopular opinion that To Catch a Predator is no more than a smut film being played during prime time in order to grab ratings and advertising revenue. Giuditta equates the shows characters (child predator’s) to being train wrecks that while they may horrify and disgust us, we just can’t look away. Giuditta also has a problem with the civil “vigilante” group Perverted Justice that co-runs the “investigation”. The problem he has is that officially deputized members of the group are being paid by NBC for their services. Basically, official members of government are being paid by a corporation to perform a service that nets the corporation profits. Another word for this would be bribery.

The other problem is one of good journalistic taste. After 11 Dateline specials, I believe the journalistic portion of the show is no longer valid. Journalism by definition is supposed to illuminate new meaning or perspective on an issue or news item in order to convey additional information to the public so as to encourage civil discourse and encourage a more informed and enlighten population. Or at least that’s my definition, however I think many would agree. In addition I think many would agree that by this definition To Catch a Predator moved from an intriguing and shocking journalistic report to sensationalized non-news after the initial specials and certainly long before “episode” 11.

To put it simply, while the show may be entertaining, the journalist credit upon which its foundation rest is no longer there and the show is no more than the exploitation of America’s morbid curiosity.

It’s like Cops, only with sick perverts and a host that can make anyone sit down.

October 1, 2007

Dirty South Meets Meaningful Lyrics

Posted in Critique, Entertainment tagged , , at 2:46 pm by Cruthers

Chamillionaire - Ultimate VictoryStill floating high from the massive hit that was the 2006 Riddin’, Chamillionaire (or Hakeem Seriki) could have went the way of many of his hip-hop compatriots and let the gravy train roll in while producing increasingly inferior albums. However thankfully I believe that Ultimate Victory proves that while Chamillionaire’s southern style of “snap rap” is subject to simple beats and non-sense lyrics, he attempts to rise above the stereotype and do his own thing in a creative and thoughtful manner.

I have thoroughly enjoyed Ultimate Victory for the past couple of weeks, listening to it between classes and in my car with the bass turned up. What I think really hooked me in was seeing the music video on BET and later searching for the long version of Hip-Hop Police/The Evening News on youtube.com. In the video and in a fair percentage of Chamillionaire’s rhymes, Chamillionaire criticizes the modern media and the lack of balance present today. As a journalist this speaks to me. The discontent present reverberates throughout the album and through a good pair of speakers. However I don’t agree with all of his accusations such as that 9/11 was a timed attack and that white kids anticipating rap albums is a degrading thing (white people make up around 75 percent of the US market, get over it). But I do agree that “Bill O’Reilly somewhere is hating” and ironic lyrics like,

No time to trip don’t be confused, cause this type of news depends on interviews
Got no time for no interviews (got-got no time for no interviews)

Sadly and somewhat expectantly, the album has faults with a few duds such as Rock Star, which features the simply awful rapper Lil Wayne who seems to be inexplicably popular and featured as a guest on many top albums these days. Also the track, The Ultimate Vacation feels too mellow and out of place.

Thankfully the majority of the album is great and thus the bad aspects are more forgivable. Starting with the media and government critical track The Morning News, you know that this isn’t just another party disc but that Chamillionaire actually has something going on upstairs. Followed by the albums single, Hip-Hop Police is a story of injustice and misdirected blame on the rap community for all the worlds’ woes. Next up is Won’t Let You Down, a slow mournful track with great bass. Industry Groupie’s 80’s sport movie music sample is fun though the track is no more than an elongated shout out. Possibly the best track on the album is Bill Collecta featuring Krayzie Bone from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. The song subject matter doesn’t break ground but the preceding skit and the raspy whispery voice of Krayzie Bone simply nails it and will make you fear the “bill collecta”. For a song with more interesting subject matter and a contender for best track turn to I Think I Love You in which Chamillionaire anthropomorphizes money as a woman, musing about the joy and seemingly fated heartache she causes. The Evening News repeats the first tracks message and style but is different enough to still enjoy. Now while Stuck in The Ghetto may be labeled a skit, I personally think it’s strong enough to be labeled an actual song if it was longer. When I first heard the track I knew I had to learn how to play it, so eventually I came across this video of Tony Henry playing it live and copied the chord progression from watching him. Great song. Finally we come to Chamillionaire’s outro The Ultimate Victory in which he thanks everyone for helping him to achieve all that he has and hopefully will keep achieving.

If it seems like I just listed the entire album, you’re close to the truth. The album is chocked full of hits, great production and refreshing attitude that begs to be bumped at parties and in cars. If you like southern rap or good hip-hop in general, go buy this album I assure you won’t regret it.

September 30, 2007

Is this what’s best?

Posted in Critique, Entertainment tagged at 11:59 am by Cruthers

Every couple of days or so I make it down to the local post office to check my mail and to scrounge through the freebies pile. In the pile is a wide range of shopping catalog’s, old ESPN magazines and a variety of others. Recently I scored a copy of Best Life magazine. The magazine’s tag line is “What Matters To Men”. Honestly though, its cut from the same cloth as any women’s advertisement driven fashion magazine (no surprise as it’s from the creator’s of Men’s Health) but it holds under the guise of upper class male reading material. The saving factor of this rag however is the quality of some of its articles.

Articles such as “Multitasking at Mach 2” which follows the physical training of an F-22 Raptor fighter pilot and the massive stresses they choose/have to endure. Or “Sounding Out Prostate Cancer” which explores a new method of treating prostate cancer that appears to be safer, more effective, greatly reduces rates of impotence and surprise surprise isn’t approved by the FDA. Each article is well written but won’t win any awards anytime soon. Interestingly enough in order to justify the title of “Best Life” the magazine attempts to show how these articles relate to the reader by creating how-to’s on the same page such as; how to eat for reducing cancer and how to work out like a fighter pilot.

While the articles are relatively good the magazine stinks (literally as it contains cologne samples) of disconnected rich upper class values or perceived values. Values where environmentalism is no more than a fashion (a section entitled The Green Zone containing more advertisement than substance) and movie stars are celebrated as heroes (an article entitled “The Wild Promise of Eddie Burns).

Ed Burns

The photography reflects this as well. Shot in variety of black and white, color and sometimes silently out of focus the subjects are often seen in industrial locations and aggressive stances that seem to say “I’m better than you and I know it”. Ironically this stance of “I’m Better” is used to sell clothing that the subjects wear, in the hope’s of subjugating the reader with envy and want.

Best LifeKurt Markus

So I say if you every want to know the worth of a periodical, you can’t judge a book by its cover but you can judge a magazine by its smell.

September 24, 2007

Nancy Dis’Grace

Posted in Critique, News Media tagged , at 1:02 pm by Cruthers

So lately I’ve taken to flipping through the tv channels when I manage to squeeze time between classes, my social life and real life obligations. During my surfing sessions I’ve found wonderfully entertaining programs like; Ninja Warrior, Hogan Knows Best and most of the Discovery Channel line up (i.e. Survivor Man and Dirty Jobs).

However during my flipping I occasionally stop at one of the two CNN news broadcast offered here. One is normally up to date news and the other is complete crap. For example I point to Nancy Grace.

Nancy Grace

This woman (of which I have plenty of other choice words to describe her as) is no more than a self important middle age fascist. If you don’t agree with her then your wrong.

Case in point, today there was a young black man attempting to discuss and explain his position on the Free the Jena 6 issue. Well, during his calm and obviously thought out argument he let slip the term “hard-on”. As in, ‘the court system has no more than a “hard-on” to convict some of the accused members with elevated sentences.’ While this may be an innocent slip of what I perceive as non-offensive terminology, Ms. Grace does not.

Grace upon hearing such deemed offensive language proceeded to interrupt and berate the young man saying, “Excuse me! But “hard-on” is not recognized legal terminology!”

As if she was the guys mother scorning him for saying a dirty word. Oh! And we know she’s utterly legally correct in her language all the time.

The young man obviously confused at the fact that this “news anchor” was worried about his “dirty mouth” instead of the actual news they where supposed to be discussing, apologized and said that he would try to keep his colloquialisms in check. To which Ms. Grace rudely said “yeah!” and rolled her eyes.

This is but a surface skim of the terribly poor and offensive interviewing practices I’ve seen on her show. However the saddest thing is that the majority of the preceding and following “news”-like programs on CNN follow her statute of being really loud, using flashy gimmicks and conveying very little useful information that will effect the common man’s life(i.e. celebrities and buzz topics).

In addition I can only hope she doesn’t find her long lost twin brother Bill O’Reilly, consummate and birth the apocalypses.

September 23, 2007

Dusty but Still Kickin’

Posted in Critique, News Media, Science tagged at 5:11 am by Cruthers

Mars Rovers Survive Severe Dust Storms, Ready For Next Objectives

I still find it amazing that the two Mars Rovers, Spirit (landed January 4, 2004) and Opportunity (landed January 25, 2004) are still up and running and sending valuable after 13 times their primary mission length (90 days sol).

How this story is being treated as same old same old confounds me. Yes it’s a bit soft but surely this feat of engineering deserves more notice than the recent OJ debacle. Ah but maybe the latest GQ article The Brain Dead Mega Phone (which strangely I couldn’t find on the GQ website, however I’m not surprised, a lot of magazine have yet to catch up with the web) is right. The article plays with analogies to illustrate the lack of depth in todays news and the reasons why this has come about. I find his analysis a bit pessimistic but then again maybe I’m just wishful that people can’t and won’t sustain themselves on nothing but junk food information indefinitely.

September 17, 2007

Role Playing and Role Models

Posted in Critique, Entertainment at 9:39 am by Cruthers

Children log onto corporate websites for socializing and gaming.

While this activity may sound harmless and presumably safe, it’s in fact something I believe every parent should be concerned about. I mean sure it’s a big corporation, and kids are assumed to be safe from sexual predators, but what about the capitalist predator controlling the children’s playing environment?

Is no one concerned about what messages are being conveyed? Is the Pokemon slogan “Gotta catch(i.e buy) ’em all” going unnoticed and accepted or even dare I say embraced as a modern value? The social network websites purported in this story appear to be really no more than a grounds to encourage materialism.

“Broadly speaking, sites like Club Penguin allow kids to pick out an avatar that they guide through activities. As far as I could tell, this consists mostly of shopping and decorating.”

What is this? The 1980’s with a modern tech twist? Are we going to see Madonna and Prince try and make a comeback?

…….. oh I see, well lets bust out our Flock of Seagulls and Breakfast Club albums we’ve all been hiding and call it a day.