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Friday, June 30, 2006

(Movies) "Superman Returns"

"Superman Returns" is, in a word, a ride. It seems since the out-of-nowhere success of the original Spiderman movie that we, the people, have been bombarded with a barrage of superhero movies. So far, there really hasn't been an example of an "OK" superhero movie in this new generation of the genre. Spiderman 1 & 2 were excellent, as was Batman Begins and the X-Men flicks, and on the other end of the spectrum we have Hulk, Daredevil, Elektra, and Fantastic Four. It seems that up until now there have been two paths to take when making a superhero movie: the path of greatness and the path of imminent damnation. "Superman Returns," as fate would have it, makes its own path...right down the middle.

It begins well enough. Brandon Routh is phenominal as Superman (though the part isn't exactly demanding) and Kevin Spacey is particularly intriguing and dynamic as Lex Luthor. While I'm dishing out the compliments to the cast, I have to go ahead and give major props to Kate Bosworth who makes the leap from cute teen roles to Lois Lane quite effortlessly and, by all means, flawlessly. The casting of the film was terrific and I really couldn't have asked for a better cast (Even Parker Posey was great!). I suppose my only complaint about casting is that Kal Penn is really underused (like, no speaking part, underused).

Now that all that's out of the way I have to say that the plot, for the most part, is very good. The idea of Superman coming back after a 5-year haitus and adjusting to the changes that have occurred since his departure is a truly fascinating one. In essence, it adds a weakness to a character who otherwise has none (ok, kryptonite, sure....but that's so rare that he hardly encounters it). What this weakness adds is a bit of humanity to an alien character and it makes the film a little more complex. My only complaint with the plot is Lex Luthor's laughable attempt at world-conquest (through real-estate). I don't think I'll be the only one with an irritated scalp from all the head-scratching incurred from this plot. Is this the best the writers could come up with? Really? I wonder what Kevin Spacey thought when he read this. I wonder if he saw it as completely ludicrous idea as well. Who knows? Additionally, while we're on the topic of ludicrous plots, (I hope I'm not giving too much away) is it ridiculous to others that in one scene, Superman is an outright pansy around kryptonite and in the next he's man-handling the stuff like margarine? It makes no sense!


Aside from this, the movie is still very fun to watch and a great comeback for Superman. The special effects are amazing, and I am typically not impressed with CG Effects. In "Superman Returns," however, they are used effectively and done in a very high-quality manner. Also, the movie keeps the cheesiness to an absolute minimum and it is never really an issue. Good job!

At this point it's not sure whether they're planning a sequel, but at this point, I'd be thrilled to see one.

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(Retraction) Tilly and the Wall: "Bottoms of Barrels"

Well, what can I say? It was bound to happen sooner or later, right? Right! Today marks my first retraction on CITB, unfortunately it is regarding Tilly and the Wall, one of my favorite bands!

Do you know how sometimes an album just seems amazing at first but then the more you listen to it the more it becomes less-engaging? Yeah. Well, it's not like my feelings have changed much about "Bottoms of Barrels," it's just that the initial magic has worn off. As a result, the 5 out of 5 rating (which, admittedly, I had some hesitation about) is now a 4 out of 5.

Everything I said still stands, but does the album warrant a 100% rating? By no means.

I hope you can trust me again!

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(Music) June In Review

It's Friday, so its time, once again, for another post. More importantly, however, is the fact that today is June 30th, the last day in June; just in time for a June In Review.

For me, June was a pretty unexciting month in the music world. Summer is never really a good season for anything except movies, summer Music mostly being categorized by bad TRL-esque pop and video games suffering what is commonly referred to as the post-E3 dulrums. Nevertheless, June did have a few notable releases. To begin with, Zero 7's "The Garden" totally began the month in solid form with one of 2006's most notable releases (in a close second behind "At War With the Mystics"). The album swept me off my feet the first time I listened to it and continues to do so, even today (as I sit at work with it playing over the speakers at the fitness center...thanks iPod!). If you haven't heard it yet, I can't emphasize how important it is that you check it out. The only other album I reviewed in June was Keane's "Under the Iron Sea" which is essentially their first album with experimentation here and there. It was good, but not the greatest album of the year (probably not even in the top 10).

That being said, there was one other album that I wanted to review but I've still to get my hands on a copy. PSAPP's "The Only Thing I Ever Wanted" has had me excited since the beginning of the year, so look forward to that review in July. Speaking of July, now there's a month I'm excited about! Next month will feature releases from Thom Yorke, Muse, Golden Smog, Alien Ant Farm, Tom Petty, and Pharrell. I plan on reviewing as many of those as I possibly can, so if you're interested, keep checking back for updates.

Overall, June was boring. Here's to July!

June Rankings:
1. Zero 7: "The Garden"
2. Keane: "Under the Iron Sea"

4 out of 5 Stars

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Friday, June 23, 2006

(Music) Keane: "Under the Iron Sea"

Keane's debut album "Hopes and Fears" was a fabulous collection of pop-rock that deserved every grammy nomination that it got. In the vein of mainstream music, there were not a whole lot of bands that came close to the near-perfection that Kean demonstrated in 2004. That being said, "Hopes and Fears" is a tough album to follow, yet it seems as if Keane has done a somewhat admirable job at just that. "Under the Iron Sea" is a much more (as VH1 would put it) eclectic album than their first. Sure, everything you loved about Keane is still there. The haunting piano and sweeping vocals are sill infecting practically every song on the album. However, you'll find a lot more variety on this album than on their previous effort.

The album begins with the steady, yet captivating, drum beat on "Atlantic." Right from the start you'll notice that this is an entirely different album than "Hopes and Fears." Whereas that album began with the strong single "Somewhere Only We Know," "Atlantic" is more of a soft precursor to the rest of the album. "Is It Any Wonder?" is the next song, and first single from the album, and it manages to get the energy going rather nicely. "Nothing In My Way" picks up on this energy and uses it to its fullest extent. As a result, the song manages to be truly breathtaking and also proves to be the best song on the entire album. From there, the album continues its eclectic nature, mostly focusing on more atmospheric beauty than strong pop hooks. "Crystal Ball," of course, is a major exception to this trend as it is arguably the most accessible song on the album and almost sure to become a single in the near future.

Overall, this is a fairly strong album and Keane fans will most likely be happy with what they hear. Though not as strong as "Hopes and Fears" it still manages to captivate its audience from time to time and really draw them into the music. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of songs on here that could compare to their earlier songs like "Bedshaped," "Bend and Break," or "Somewhere Only We Know." As a result, it would be hard for me to listen to this album for more than a few weeks unless something catches my attention further down the line ("Bedshaped" did this and kept me listening for months). If you are a fan of Keane, though, I highly recommend this album! For those unfamiliar with the group, your best bet might be "Hopes and Fears." Whatever you choose, rest assured that Keane has not lost an ounce of talent and is sure to stick around for many years.

Recommended for fans of Keane, Coldplay, and anyone looking for music to accompany their long drives through middle America (as this album is almost a perfect lonesome road trip album).

Key Tracks:
1. "Atlantic"
2. "Is it any Wonder?"
3. "Nothing In My Way"
4. "Put It Behind You"

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

(Video Games) Mario Kart DS

Anyone who owned and loved either an SNES and N64 is almost undoubtedly sure to love the Mario Kart series. When it debuted on SNES about a decade ago, we were all instantly in love with it. When the N64 sequel rolled out a few years later, those who hadn't already jumped on the bandwagon were pretty much guaranteed to do so. In fact, that game is probably the best game in the series. Years went by and Nintendo fans saw the release of a GameCube version called "DoubleDash" and a GBA version that payed homage to the original. Though both games were fun in their own right ("Baby Park" anyone?.....anyone?), they just didn't really reinvent the wheel or bring anything exciting to the Mario Kart table. Mario Kart DS is a game that can possibly reverse this trend.

Being exclusively designed for a handheld system, Mario Kart DS really has its work cut out for it. Seeing as how the other MK games relied heavily on its multiplayer environment, how could a handheld recreate this mayhem? Well, fortunately, the development team over at Nintendo has put a lot of work into this game.

First, there's single player mode, where you can choose from Grand Prix, Time Trials, Versus Match, and Battle Mode. That's right! Mario Kart DS supports bot-matches. So if you want to just race one opponent, you can! If you want to enter a battle arena and bust some balloons, you can do that too! This incredibly helpful when it comes to recreating the multiplayer environment. Additionally, the Grand Prix mode has a plethora of unlockable Karts, Characters, and other assorted goodies. Surely, if you want to just play all by your lonesome, there are a lot of options to keep you going for the long haul.

When it comes to multiplayer, Mario Kart DS isn't really lacking either. All of these game modes are available to play with multiple DS's and you can even play using just one DS cartridge and multiple systems! The real enjoyable feature on the game is really the Wi-Fi Connect Mode which allows players to connect with up to 3 other people and play "best-out-of-4" matches based on certain criteria that you decide. It really adds to the longevity of the game and will continually have you coming back for more.

The development team has decided to keep the classic control scheme for this version of Mario Kart, only utilizing the touch screen for menu-navigation. However, they did utilize both screens on the system, using the top for classic display and the lower screen as a map which displays your position in the race as well as any items that may be headed towards you. This adds so much strategy to the game that it's insane and hard to imagine going back to a single-screen setup ever again.

Additionally, the game features 32 different maps, 16 of which are classic maps from every previous game in the Mario Kart lineup! I can't begin to explain how much fun it is to go ack and play Choco Mountain or Moo Moo Farm from the N64 version, or even Mushroom Bridge from DoubleDash (No DK Jungle though...drats!). That being said, the new maps aren't lacking much. They are very well designed and feature several little shortcuts to help you out if you get a little behind.

Overall, this is a great game! It has the creativity that one has come to expect from Nintendo with the pleasant surprise of lasting appeal, something that is often missing on handhelds. This game is a blast!

Recommended for Mario Kart fans and anyone looking to justify their purchase of a Nintendo DS.

5 out of 5 Stars

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(Video Games) Nintendo DS Lite

I was an early-adopter of the Nintendo DS. I can remember the joy that flooded my heart as I walked out of that GameStop in Conroe with my newest toy. I can remember how cool I felt as I stuffed that beast into my back pocket, and I remember how quickly I put it up on Ebay. The original Nintendo DS was a cool system, but it looked ugly and it really didn't make you feel cool. The new DS Lite, however, oozes cool and will undoubtedly make the system a must-buy for any Nintendo fan!

Whereas the old DS was silver and clunky, DS Lite is sleek, shiny, and iPod-y. Additionally, Nintendo has made some small changes to just make this system work a lot better. For example, the microphone, which used to be located on the bottom left corner of the gadget is now right in the middle. This helps in a game like Brain Age where you use the microphone. Now, you just hold it like you normall would and you don't have to put your mouth in some weird location. Also, the power button which used to be located above the D-Pad is now located on the side of the unit. I can remember getting really far in a level in Mario 64 DS and then accidentally hitting that button and losing all my unsaved more. Nintendo has also made the stylus a little fatter this time around, making it much easier to hold and enjoy.

Of course, none of this is new information to anyone who has been following this product since it's announcement in early January (me). However, I was surprised at how small, sleek, and cool looking this product really is. Additionally, I was blown away by how many neat games are now on the system. I currently have Mario Kart DS, which is just awesome (especially on Nintendo Wi-Fi Connect), and Brain Age, which I can't tear my family away from. Add in Animal Crossing, Metroid Prime Hunters, and New Super Mario Brothers and you literally have one of the most impressive handheld systems ever!

The DS Lite still does everything the original did, but the package is much more inviting this time around. I highly recommend it to any Nintendo fan and anyone debating on whether to get a DS Lite or a PSP. There is really no contest here.

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(Live Music) Ashlee Simpson

What is there to say about Ashlee Simpson that hasn't already been said? Her music is horrendous, her fans are idiots, she sucks at life, and she's unfathomable hot! "But Cale," you may say, "when she had her old nose she was weird looking!" I must, however, acknowledge that my nose is not so much a gift from God as it is a gonzo rip-off. As a result, I found Ashlee's old nose somewhat appealing, but I can also understand why she would hack it off and replace it with something that is much more universally appealing.

Does this really matter when reviewing her performance? Absolutely! Especially when her performance was so bad that I left after the fourth song! Especially when the only thing that was going through my head when I watched the performance was her attractiveness! But that being said, I suppose I will get to some actual reviews here.

It was bad. Like Ashley Parker Angel, but louder and more obnoxious. The stage set looked like something right out of Britney Spears' "Oops I did it again" tour, as did her entrance and the explosion of 12-year-old cheer that her introduction was met with. It was nauseating and slightly boring. In the background, a video showed some really insignificant shots of tombs, ghost towns, and explosions in a really unstylized way, leaving the audience to ponder its purpose...Which it was seemingly void of. Like Ashley Parker Angel, the whole 4 songs that I watched seemed like a manufactured menagerie of suck, but I suppose this is what one should expect from a 20-year-old girl who doesn't play any instrument and can barely carry a tune.

On that note, Ashlee ended every song like she did at the
Orange Bowl in 2005; with a painfully awful slurred note. I suppose it added to her "I don't give a F**k" routine, but after 4 songs of it, you just kinda have to shake your head in disappointment and make a b-line to the exit. As it turns out, that's exactly what happened.

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(Live Music) Ashley Parker Angel

Am I a fan of Ashley Parker Angel? No. Was I before this concert? Not so much. I mean, his show was kinda cool, but that's about it. Let me begin this review by explaining why I went to this concert which I was almost sure to hate.

I was at work. I won tickets.

There. That pretty much explains how this horrid night came into existence. So now with my thoughts.

Ashley Parker Angel has 3 stances: 1. The leg out, knee bent, foot tapping stance (complete with the index finger in the air), 2. The leg on amp while leaning over the edge of the stage to woo your 12-year-old fans, and 3. The backwards crucifix, which is essentially having your back towards the audience and your arms straight out to your side. Of course, as Ashley Parker Angel has discovered, the backwards crucifix is much more effective if it is performed to coincide with the final note of a song. Stance 1 happened twice, as did stance 3. Stance 2 happened about twice per song.

Now, Ashley Parker Angel can sing, but his music is just utterly cookie-cutter and unsurprising. Probably my favorite song of the night would have been "Apology," but I found myself expecting a missed note when he comes to that one point in the know, like he did in his show. It didn't happen.

What did happen was 3 separate MySpace plugs and numerous album references (and even the acknowledgement that he was on MTV). If he would have done an encore, I would have left. Overall, the show felt like it was too produced and not at all spontaneous. It was manufactured. I felt as if his record company was grabbing me by the hair and having its way with me. Ugh. I feel so used.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

(Music) Zero 7: "The Garden"

Zero 7, of Garden State fame, has once again proven that they are a versatile and talented duo whose guest vocalists almost always blend perfectly with their beautifully composed pop music. On their latest release, "The Garden," Sia Furler and Jose Gonzalez take over the majority of the vocal work, and they do so with the talent and grace that we have come to expect from them as artists.

It should go without saying that Sia's solo album "Colour the Small One" is one of the best albums of recent memory, yet with such presence, she still manages to maintain her mellowness and compliment the music of Zero 7 in a flawless manner. This can be seen perfectly on "The Pageant of the Bizarre," where her soulful vocals flutter throughout the track, only to crescendo to her climactic declaration, "Take a chance on me!" It's as beautiful as it is passionate, and a definite standout track on "The Garden." Jose Gonzalez's vocals have a very similar effect to the listener. His trademark sedentary voice flows effortlessly throughout the songs that feature him, especially on "Today," probably the album's strongest song in composition, melody, and attractiveness.

What Zero 7 has accomplished on "The Garden" is truly phenominal. They have crafted an album that is so mellow that you don't even realize that it's had an effect on you until it slowly starts to seep its way into random moments throughout the day. At the same time the album is truly dynamic, encorporating the best of soul, jazz, folk, pop, and indie rock into a tight, cohesive collection that is over before you want it to be. Though seemingly negative, this actually warrants the inevitable repeat listens that will undoubtably follow. I have been struck by this album, and it would not have received the following rating if it had not. This is a very awesome experience!

Recommended for fans of music (If you don't like Zero 7, you don't like music. Plain and simple.)

Key Tracks:
1. "Futures"
2. "Throw It All Away"
3. "The Pageant of the Bizarre"
4. "Today"
5. "Your Place"

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Friday, June 02, 2006

(Music) May In Review

So May has come and gone before I really had a chance to enjoy it. It was a fairly decent month in music, seeing the release of at least one frontrunner for "Album of the Year" when the Third Annual Cale Awards happen in December. Of course, there were also a large assortment of lackluster releases in the month of May. As always, I am here to round things up into one convenient bite-size package.

May 2nd may go down as one of the biggest music dates of the year (with only January 21st giving it a run for its money, thus far). On that exciting Tuesday, the world saw the release of two of the years most anticipated albums: Pearl Jam's self-titled album and Tool's "10,000 Days." Obviously, these aren't my typical favorites, but they are good enough to still be gracing my CD-Player a month later (A good sign). Easily my most anticipated album for May (and beyond) was Tilly and the Wall's second album "Bottoms of Barrels" where they prove that they are superheroes with the power to be impervious to sophomore slumps! The album is, by far, the best album of May and easily one of the best I've heard in 2006!

Other notable releases in the month of may were Grandaddy's final album "Just Like the Fambly Cat" and Les Claypool's "Of Whales and Woe." Both albums were good in their own right, incredibly musical, vastly talent-laden, and interesting; but they just haven't affected me to the degree that May's other albums have. Of course, the month also saw the release of my debut album under the monicher of Soft Light Masquerade. "The Last of Our Lost Earth" won't win any awards (maybe not even Cale awards), but it proved, at least to me, that I can do amazing things with a little hard work in the studio.

May also saw the release of two albums that I greatly anticipated but, in my opinion, fell awfully short: The Red Hot Chilli Pepper's "Stadium Arcadium" and The Raconteurs' "Broken Boy Soldiers." I chose not to review these albums due to my lack of enjoyment with them and my unwillingness to devote more of my time to listening to them. Briefly, "Stadium Arcadium" could've been a much better album if they had taken all the good tracks from the 2-disc release and made it one album. There are simply not any good reasons to release a 28-track album when maybe 5 songs could be considered listenable. The rest is just plain bad, uncreative and unimaginative music that is far below what RCHP is capable of. The Raconteurs turned out to be a lot of hype despite the strong single "Steady as She Goes." Unfortunately, this group just seems to be destined to be known as Jack White's "other band," which would be more exciting if his "real" band didn't suck so much as it is. It's a shame.

Overall, a busy month full of nice surprises and utter letdowns...but not too shabby.

April Rankings:

1. Tilly and the Wall: "Bottoms of Barrells"
2. Tool: "10,000 Days"
3. Les Claypool: "Of Whales and Woe"
4. Grandaddy: "Just Like the Fambly Cat"
5. Pearl Jam: "Pearl Jam"
6. Soft Light Masquerade: "The Last of Our Lost Earth"
7. The Raconteurs: "Broken Boy Soldiers"
8. Red Hot Chilli Peppers: "Stadium Arcadium"

3.125 out of 5 Stars

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(Music Blip) Les Claypool: "Of Whales and Woe"

Les Claypool, the former bassist of Primus, has apparently been putting out albums for a decade on his own. But as per usual, I have been blissfully unaware of such endeavors. Nevertheless, I decided to check out his newest album "Of Whales and Woe." The album is really a acid trip kaleidescope of funky bass riffs, horn flutters, and marimba solos. When listening to the music by itself, I can't help but be reminded of older Red Hot Chilli Peppers (Not this whole "Stadium Arcadium" crap). Sure, Claypool can't exactly sing, but is isn't really trying to pull on your lyrical heartstrings either. I mean "I'm gonna eat me some worms!" isn't really written in the tradition of lyrical geniuses of the past. Despite this, Claypool's album is still a fun trip. An acid trip, for sure, but at least a good acid trip. Like I know....

Recommended for fan of early RHCP, Primus, and of course, acid.

Key Tracks:
1. "One Better"
2. "Phantom Patriot"
3. "Rumble of the Diesel"

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