The battle between Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero has a clear winner this year, and to nobody’s surprise, it’s been won by the people who’ve been with this genre from the beginning. I actually enjoyed Guitar Hero 3 last year because it was more of a game than a toy; now that Guitar Hero has added the instruments that Rock Band has, its focus seems muddled while Rock Band‘s remains clear: Rock Band (and by extension, Rock Band 2) simply wants to create the most fulfilling social experience possible. With over 80 songs on the disc, another 55 that you can import from the first game, and over 300 that you can download, the song catalog alone makes Rock Band 2 something that just about anyone could have some interest in. A refined and tweaked career interface, the inclusion of a “no-fail” mode, and a “drum trainer” then push it into Ultimate Party Game territory. The Rock Band 2 bundle is not cheap—almost $200 is a lot of coin to drop on a game—but what you get out of it is one of the only gaming experiences out there that truly has unlimited replay value. [$179.99-$189.99]
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U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years 1962-1965 is an aesthetically ambitious new box set that reissues the Beach Boys’ first singles as 16 CD replicas of the original 45s. It collects both the mono and stereo versions of most of the songs, along with a handful of previously unreleased mixes and outtakes and one live track (“409”, from 1965). The box set is a beautiful thing, no doubt—the discs come in cardboard sleeves with original artwork and are accompanied by a hardcover book of great photos, all housed in a “surfboard-inspired” carton with wood veneer inlay—but it is, admittedly, a fetish object for the collector. (It’s worth noting that all of the music spread out over these 16 discs could, in fact, fit onto two discs—but then, the music is not the sole reason for one to own this set.) So it’s a fetish object, yes, but one that has a lot to say about just how innovative the band was prepared to be as it came out of the gate protected in its surf and hot-rod metaphors. [$132.98]
For the serious cook or those that aim to be, Page and Dornenburg have assembled a compelling toolkit that will allow culinary creatives to concoct their own recipes and develop ways to expand their repertoire. Indeed, there are no recipes here; rather there is a comprehensive encyclopedia of ingredients describing what they can be tastefully combined with. Each item is detailed by the season in which it is available, overall taste, weight, volume, cooking techniques and numerous tips. So, if you have ever wondered what to do with some of the more exotic vegetables, spices and meats you find at your local ethnic food store or Whole Foods, The Flavor Bible offers a cornucopia of ideas for fresh experimentation.
Originally released in black and white, Mystic Nights of the Oingo Boingo member Richard Elfman (Danny’s brother) hoped to capture the spirit of his band’s unusual live show with this surreal fantasy film. The one thing he couldn’t achieve was color—until now. Thanks to a painstaking technological tweak by Legend Films, Elfman’s original vision for this nutty trip into racial slurs, sexual innuendos, Kipper Kid craziness, and outmoded musical styles becomes the motion picture equivalent of a rainbow acid trip. While slightly dated and occasionally dopey, this is avant-garde outsider cinema at its head scratching best.
As part of the typical, pre-Turkey Day tradition, Hollywood is handing out a few heaping helpings of holiday weekend wonder. For the upcoming celebration of gluttony and family fellowship, the following films are in focus:
Australia [rating: 6]
He’s been making movies since 1992. Yet in 16 years, he’s completed only four projects - 1992’s Strictly Ballroom, 1996’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, 2001’s magnificent Moulin Rogue, and now the old school epic named for his native land, Australia. So why has Baz Luhrmann been so lax in his creative output? Granted, there have been a couple of setbacks (he was fast tracking an Alexander the Great pic with Leonardo DiCaprio when Oliver Stone and Colin Farrell beat him to the punch), and has rejected offers to “go Hollywood” to make standard mainstream fare. And yet his latest is so enamored of Tinsel Town’s Golden Age that MGM and Gone with the Wind should get a restraining order. This doesn’t make Australia bad, just antithetical to what we know about Lurmann’s previous patterns. read full review…
Four Christmases [rating: 1]
Flailing like a dying fish out of water and eventually smelling just as fetid, Four Christmases is stiflingly unfunny.
So this is what five Oscar winners gets you? This is the result of the combined Academy caliber efforts of Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line), Sissy Spacek (Coal Miner’s Daughter), Mary Steenburgen (Melvin and Howard), Jon Voight (Coming Home), and Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies)? Certainly this quintet, along with some solid satiric support from Wedding Crashers cad Vince Vaughn, and a dash of supplemental slapstick from Swingers pal Jon Favreau, could create a clever, comic Yuletide gem, right? They’ve even got Seth “The King of Kong” Gordon on their side, steering the material toward some edgier environs. And yet, with all this potential talent on tap, Four Christmases ends up a wasted, worthless excuse for holiday humor. read full review…
Role Models [rating: 7]
Ever since a certain Mr. Apatow introduced us to a middle aged man child with limited sexual experience, the motion picture comedy has been flooded with what could best be described as ‘self-aware slackers’. You know the type - hard and cynical on the outside, indulging in whatever vice or vices they can in order to make up for the emptiness inside. Eventually, with the help of an understanding gal pal, a bumbling best friend, or a combination of the two, our hapless hero discovers clarity, and in turn, a far more productive outlook on life. This formula has been followed in several recent laugh riots - Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Superbad. Now there’s another name to add to the genre, and while not as consistently funny as the aforementioned efforts, Role Models provides enough solid snickers to eventually win us over. read full review…