Folds a la capella

July 7, 2009

benfoldsacapella

this is exactly what college is like

Not the Same, the first track off of the Ben Folds Greatest Hits/Cover album University A Cappella!, is the exact reason why this is such a good idea. The lead singer is in the right range but he sings with different intent than Folds, and there are plenty of minor rearrangements that demonstrate the wonder that is the human voice.

benfolds66

what an adorable scamp!

Unfortunately, this level of ability is not consistent throughout. Now, this is being advertised as a greatest hits album which I have to disagree with. I give you that you ask the fans of any artist with a large enough discography (especially Folds fans and the Folds discography) you’ll get a wide array of what should be included. But “Magic”? Really? “Boxing”? Even with Folds in the performance it really is not great, though it doesn’t help that I didn’t like the original. And where’s “You To Thank,” or “The Last Polka,” or “Underground”? (Or even better, “Rock this Bitch”?)

Still, it’s a mix of good and bad throughout the album. While the groups chosen are clearly talented, they sometimes take the songs in the wrong direction. Fred Jones Pt. 2 has the wrong person singing the lyrics, for instance, and Selfless, Cold and Composed just feels slow, though it’s saved by a few scatting breakdowns that are awesome.

But as with the opener, there are plenty of great versions as well, often on the virtue of the lead singer. In reality that’s the sell for these songs – like seeing the same performance by two different actors, you get to watch all the possible interpretations inherent to Folds’ superior craftsmanship in lyrical and musical construction. When the student groups took risks is when they succeeded. “Still Fighting It” is majestic when rendered solely in human vocal cords. And “Fair” demonstrates the best parts of a cappella: rearrangements, responses to the lyrics in the ‘musical’ accompaniment, and a brief mash-up with Zak and Sara.

As a concept, the album is a great idea. I feel like all artists should do their greatest hits this way, if not with a cappella versions than someone covering. New fans get introduced to the highlights and old fans are given a reason to invest in songs they otherwise already have. But in practice it comes through uneven. Worth it for the avid Ben Folds fan or a cappella afficianado, but otherwise I’d suggest buying on a track by track basis.

Picks: Not the Same, Still Fighting It, Landed, Evaporated, Fair,

I make Wolverine cry

I make Wolverine cry

Prototype is a free roaming action game from Radical Entertainment, makers of The Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, and it shows. The two games are similar in that they give you a large city to roam around in as an incredibly powerful being. In this game, you’re Alex Mercer. You wake up in a morgue with super powers, and everything gets out of control shortly afterwords.

Prototype revolves around a series of 31 missions. They are punctuated by cut scenes that move the story forward, but lets face it, the cut scenes aren’t that great and the narrative suffers as a result. Luckily, there is more to the story than just whats going on in the here an now. The back story resolves around a government conspiracy that stretches all they back to the 1960’s and is revealed through the web of intrigue. To unveil pieces of the web you have to consume people with knowledge of what’s going on, and there are 130 of them wandering around. Each of them gives you a different cut scene that reveals a new tidbit of information. When I beat the game I only found a 97 of them and you better believe I’m not going to stop until I absorb every last one. It’s that good.

Besides the main story and the web of intrigue, there are side missions you can complete for evolution points, such as consuming a certain number of people in a set time, racing around the city, or blowing stuff up. They’re pretty fun for the most part and help to break up the main story.

Speaking of evolution points, Alex can unlock a lot of powers. I mean A LOT. So many that I didn’t even use all of them. One of the most most useful power sets is the movement powers. Moving around New York is fast and furious. Alex hops over cars, runs up buildings, and glides through the air. You can get from one side of the island to the next very rapidly. One of the other powers I really enjoyed was the sword arm. What else needs to be said? Your arm is a giant organic blade.

One of the things I didn’t enjoy about Prototype were the weird difficulty spikes. One minute you’ll be slaying hundreds of people, the next you’ll be wrecked by a boss battle. There were a few missions that had me spewing expletives, which is a rarity for me. It’s mad frustrating when you’re doing a mission or fighting a boss for the fifth or sixth time. Luckily, most missions do have checkpoints throughout, so death doesn’t mean you’ll have to restart from the beginning. Radical gets a few points for that smart move.

Another negative I hear brought up is the graphics in Prototype aren’t great. They’re not, but it’s OK. There are soldiers, infected, civilians, tanks, cars, and helicopters all on screen at once. Not to mention the explosions. With so much going on something had to take a hit, and it wasn’t the frame rate. You can be in the middle of a huge battle between the infected and the military and the frame rate is still rock solid. Even though this game isn’t much to look at, it is still technically impressive.

In game advertising. If not done well, it can be like nails on a chalkboard (lookin at you Axe body spray in Rainbow Six: Vegas). I saw a few posters for GameStop, the musical Jersey Boys, and even one for Panasonic. As the game rolled forward, I forgot all about them. Why? Because they all get covered up by military propaganda. “Support the Quarantine”, “We Are All Soldiers”, “A Cure is Coming”, and “America is Behind Us” are just a few. I thought this was pretty cool when I realized they did it.

I had a lot fun with Prototype. It’s got slick action, the web of intrigue, and a version of New York City under military quarantine. If you want a game that doesn’t hesitate to make you feel like the ultimate bad ass at every chance it can, then this should be right up your alley.

Aw there's bricks in the window she's so lonely!

Aw there's bricks in the window she's so lonely!

Listening to “The Calculation,” the first track off of Regina Spektor’s new album Far, you can understand where all the criticisms about her being too produced are coming from. Her usually ecstatic voice, which ranges all across the sounds the human voice is capable of, is mostly locked into the standard pop-piano female singer range, and is all about building a computer to make your decisions about love. It sounds like you might be listening to Adult Alternative. But this is Regina Spektor, and so even in this mode you’re getting good things, like the little detail about the computer being made from macaroni. Even at her most mainstream you feel like you’re listening to the musical version of a Michael Gondry movie.

And as the album continues you move back into what has become the Spektor corner of quirkiness. “Eet,” the second track, is reminiscent of “Us” and “Carbon Monoxide” from her earlier Soviet Kitsch and which seems to be about the many things that rhyme with ‘Eet’. The fourth track, “Folding Chairs,” features that dolphin singing all the reviews are talking about and but by that point you already know that you’re listening to Spektor. And really, limiting the song to just the dolphin noises ignores the fact that it’s another pitch perfect examination of a relationship that isn’t the usual glossy Gossip Girl ultra-reality versions you hear about on the radio. The people Spektor summons are messy and weird because, honestly, who wants to be normal?

The songwriting on this album actually reminds me of Andrew Bird or Beirut – several of the songs have a certain trajectory until about two-thirds of the way through when it undergoes a major course correction: the rapturous sign from God on “Human of the Year,” the drunken descent of “Dance Anthem of the 80’s,” even “The Calculation” has a vocal breakdown near the end. It’s in these switches that Spektor’s ability to summon emotion out of every piano chord really shines through. The album does come with some let downs. “Machine,” is incomprehensible as a purposeful creation, and a few tracks like “Genius Next Door” and “One More Time with Feeling” suffer by being merely alright amongst the better compositions. This is especially true of the two bonus tracks that come with the extended version, which are only must-haves for those obsessed with having all of Spektor’s discography.

So, another successful album for Spektor, one that is immensely enjoyable and not the abandonment of principles that some have been claiming when looking at that four producer credit. If you’re up for a talented lady singing about finding someone else’s wallet over some beautiful piano, then grab Far. And even if you don’t think you’re that kind of person, pick it up anyway. I’m sure it will please no matter what, and have you singing along with dolphin clicks.

Picks: Eet, Laughing With, Dance Anthem of the 80s, Folding Chair

Thank you Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Thank you for making vampires bad asses again. These vampires aren’t afraid to drink people’s blood. In fact, they roam around in packs and take people down in the middle of the street. Hell. Yes.

Drink it in

Drink it in

The Strain is a vampire novel written by Guillermo del Toro (yes, that Guillermo del Toro) and Chuck Hogan that was originally pitched as a television show to Fox. Needless to say that didn’t work out, so del Toro hooked up with Chuck Hogan to deliver us the first book in The Strain trilogy. And what a book it is. That isn’t to say it’s the best vampire book I’ve ever read (Salem’s Lot), but it is a breath of fresh air in a time when vampires are looked at as people that teenage girls want to fall in love with.

The protagonist, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, is a CDC scientist living in New York City who is sent to investigate an airplane that is dead on the ground. From there things quickly get out of control in an exciting fashion that kept me hooked. The plot of this book moves quickly enough that you want to keep reading even after you realize it’s one in the morning, but not so fast as to neglect things like characterization and more emotional moments. Some genuinely interesting characters are introduced throughout the course of the novel too, including an aged pawn broker and a rat exterminator.

The vampires in the book break the mold from the guidelines Bram Stoker set down in some interesting ways, while holding true to tradition. Vampirism is treated more as a disease than a magical condition, and because of that the book has more in common with something like 28 Days Later as opposed to Dracula. And while they drink blood, don’t expect them to have fangs. I’m not going to ruin how exactly they do it, but it is  horrifying and makes them much more dangerous. They also don’t sparkle in sunlight.

The Strain took me about a week to read and I was not bored once. The two authors have a real winner on their hands and I hope its success will lead to that TV show as it was originally intended to be. I know I’d watch it. If there is one thing that disappointed me though, it’s that this book is the first in a trilogy. The ending isn’t exactly a cliffhanger, but nothing is really resolved either. Now i have to wait until June 2010 when the next book, The Fall, is being released. Even with that little let down, I’m still anticipating the hot vampire action waiting for me next June.

They're hungover

They're hungover

Fred’s review:

So, the Hangover. Yes, as the reviews like to point out, it is another entry in what has become a long line of bromances (a tradition that Zach Braff and Donald Faison of Scrubs fame recently claim to have started). But that doesn’t make it any less funny. The writers have given themselves a smart set-up; the three groomsmen spend the majority of the movie going back and re-examining the events of the previous, forgotten night in order to find the missing groom (I don’t think this is spoiling anything as any trailer for the movie would tell you as much).

I’m going to say up front that this format is both a strength and one of the few weaknesses of the movie. It is constantly moving forward, zigzagging from one recounted mishap to another. If one of the scenarios they find themselves in starts to lag a little, well in a few minutes they’ll be at another location, talking to another zany character and undergoing a whole new routine. But at the same time, there isn’t a lot of coherency to the overall movie. There are still plenty of holes at the end  as to the exact course of the evening’s festivities, and the events themselves don’t lead from one to the other naturally. If the movie had just followed them through the night in question it would have been horrible, because the shenanigans without the framework don’t have any kind of connections.

But honestly, unless you’re keeping score that doesn’t matter. Each of these little situations provides plenty of fodder for the three talented actors behind the groomsmen, Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis. Galifianakis in particular is unafraid on screen, seemingly willing to go to any length that the movie requires of him. His Alan is, in his own words, “a one man wolf-pack”, someone who has absolutely no self-awareness. In a movie that’s all about giving into the pleasure instinct Galifianakis represents pure id, which makes him pure comedy to watch.

I was laughing throughout, from Mike Tyson to the baby to the hilarious Mr. Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong, most recently of Role Models and in the trailer for The Goods). It is a movie of excess in every sense; you can tell that the writers put in every joke that they could think of, which results in a movie that has something going on in each scene. The final proof of this is in the ending, where whatever punches you thought might have been pulled are let loose. By the time you leave the theater you’ll feel as though you’re ready to take on your own night worth forgetting.

Matt’s Review:

Lets get this out of the way right off the bat, The Hangover is a delightful movie from start to finish. And not just because it’s funny. (Which it is. All the time.) In the Hangover, four guys go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, and only three of them wake up in the hotel room the next day with no memory of the night’s events. This leaves the three groomsmen scrambling all over the city, piecing together what happened in order to locate the missing groom. The interesting storytelling kept me just as involved as the humor did, and I was laughing throughout the entire film.

The humor in this movie is absurd. Tiger in the bathroom, baby with sunglasses, Mike Tyson absurd.If you saw the movie you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t seen it then there is something wrong with you. The closest thing I can compare this to are the recent Judd Apatow hits, and they have been some of my favorite comedies of the past few years. If you enjoyed them, go see this right now.

A strong cast, strong writing, and interesting plot tie together to make this the best comedy I have seen this year. There isn’t a whole lot I can say about this movie that my cohort hasn’t already said (yes, Ken Jeong was fantastic and I can’t wait to see The Goods, and you can’t put enough emphasis on the bromance). If you like raunchy, no holds barred comedy, then this is the movie for you.

Kate Beaton = Much Love

June 25, 2009

Never Learn Anything From History

Never Learn Anything From History

Hello world.

I recently had the absolute pleasure of going to MoCCA  2009 (Museum of Comics and Cartoon Art for the uninitiated). While there I told some people that they make wonderful things while not buying their products because I am a poor college student. Much love to Octopus Pie, Dr. McNinja, and Goats. I would have said something to Jeph Jacques but only his lady was at the table while I was there.

But I did buy one thing that day – Never Learn Anything From History, the Kate Beaton collection. Kate Beaton does mainly history comics, although she writes about her younger self and a little bit of slice of life. She is also sort of a genius. That’s not debatable. What is debatable is the necessity of the collection. If you’re a humongous fan of the comic, then yeah, worth going for. Especially at a convention, seeing as how I got mine signed and with a duck drawn on the inside cover. There’s some commentary underneath some of the comics, but so long as you stay up to date with the strips you also get commentary on the website. There’s also nothing new in the collection, which is a little sad but okay because what is there is still funny on second or third read (or fifth or sixth or… well…)

So to sum up: If you’re not currently reading Kate Beaton, then go read her archive. If you already are, then you should know whether this is worth your money or not. As for me, I already said Aw Yiss to buying me some.

OptimusPrime

Watch my movies

Spoiler free review:

I went into this movie expecting it to be awful. I didn’t read any reviews going into it, but i did see the average on Rotten Tomatoes, and it was at 22%. As I sat and waited for the movie to begin I kept trying to think up witty titles for this review that would reflect how sub par the movie was.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen- How to ruin something awesome.

Fortunately that was not the case. The movie was fun. If you enjoyed the first Transformers film then you would be hard pressed not to like this one. It has everything the first had, but more. More explosions. More transformers. And, unfortunately, a few more weaknesses that kept it from being as good as its predecessor.

First off, the movie is long. Over two hours long. With this kind of length they can’t have Transformers and explosions on the screen the entire time. The second half of the movie drags a bit as it builds toward the finale because of this. Thankfully the end battle makes up for it.

Secondly, there are some weird sexual jokes in this movie. Now don’t get me wrong, I love crude humor, but this is a Transformers movie. There were at least three jokes about testicles that I can think of off the top of my head. I’m not going to spoil them, but they feel awkward and shoe horned in to me.

The last weak point in this film for me was the lack of face time with the Transformers themselves. Besides the main villain and Optimus Prime and Bumble Bee, the other Transformers are put on the back burner while the movie plays out. And when they are onscreen, they’re too busy fighting to do much else.

On the positive side, giant robots and giant explosions. If these are two things you enjoy then you will like this movie. There were more Transformers and more fights than in the first movie. They really took the action up a notch for this one and it all looks great.

Bottom line: If you enjoyed the first movie, you’ll enjoy this one.

Pros: Great action, great special effects

Cons: Odd sexual humor, slow second act, wanted more Transformers characterization