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Monday, May 19, 2008
Four Tet - Ringer

The most remarkable thing about “Ringer” is its E Pluribus Unum factor. Probably more than anything else in recent memory, the title track from the latest Four Tet EP weaves itself together from forgotten bits and blips and and pieces and plunks, any one of which seems like it might have fallen off a cheap Nokia if taken in isolation. But digital wunderkind Kieran Hebden’s aesthetic sensibility had him working on officially sanctioned Radiohead remixes by his early 20s, and here it weld the disparate blobs together into a whole that makes you forget the fact that you’ve been listening to the same three notes in the soprano line all along. At ten minutes long, it’s obviously guilty of the cardinal DJ sin of stating every last phrase in powers of four, but right when I’m about to lose interest for good those drums kick in and carry it through the last two minutes. After spending several excruciating years with a cell phone more or less strapped to my face, I’m finally thinking about changing my ringtone.


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Monday, May 19, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-05-19...
Image courtesy of engadget.com

Image courtesy of engadget.com


I never thought I’d see the day.


When is the last time this happened?


Somehow, some way, the Nintendo DS is without a single release this week.  Keep in mind, there were over 50 things released for the DS last November.  50, in a single month, and even since then, the DS has always been a reliable source of new releases; in weeks where it seems as though nothing worthwhile is coming out for the consoles, we always had the DS to look to for a new IP, or at least some imaginative use of the stylus.  As recently as last week, the DS has saved us from the banal, so to look at it, so lonely, with nothing new to offer for the week, well…it’s a little bit sad is all.  (sniff.)


(give me a moment to compose myself.)


The Japanese box art for Wii Fit

The Japanese box art for Wii Fit


(deep breath.) Okay.  So who’s to blame for the orphaning of the little portable that could?  Likely, none other than the parents of that portable themselves, those unfeeling, heartless vessels at Nintendo.  Why would they do such a thing to their adorable little two-screen?  Well, Wii Fit is coming this week.  Wii Fit is, of course, poised to be the biggest thing out there since, well, since GTA IV, though I imagine that for most of the people who would actually be interested in Wii Fit, it will be the biggest thing since Wii Sports.  You can’t fake-bowl forever, I suppose.


In any case, Wii Fit looks to be the piece of software (one hesitates to even call it a “game”, really) that will allow the success that the DS has had in the self-help arena (see: Brain Age, Flash Focus, Let’s Yoga!) to be transferred to the console.  Its success will hinge entirely on how willing people will be to shell out $90 for a “balance board” and the software for that balance board, but despite some of the bad press that’s been thrown its way in pre-release, early indications lean toward the Wii-buying population being very willing.


UEFA EURO 2008

UEFA EURO 2008


Other than Wii Fit, UEFA EURO 2008 is dominating the release list, with versions coming out for pretty much every platform that’s not the DS.  Soccer/football fans will undoubtedly be delighted.  The oft-delayed Haze, Ubisoft’s yellow-tinted shooter with the awesome website and the silly Korn tie-in, is out tomorrow as well, just in case the FPS crowd is out of things to do.  And then, on wednesday, the increasingly reliable Xbox Live Arcade will see the release of the first episode in the Penny Arcade Adventures series, with the unwieldy and vaguely hilarious subtitle of On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness.  Fans of Gabe and Tycho had best have their download fingers ready.


The rest of the releases (and really, there aren’t very many) and a trailer for Wii Fit are after the jump:


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Sunday, May 18, 2008
It's DVD week here at SE&L. Each day from now until Sunday, we will be looking at some of the latest releases on the format, as well as some unusual or independent off-titles that you may have missed. Reviews will be updated sporadically, so check back often to see what we have to offer. Previously: George Romero invents the zombie film with his 1968 epic Night of the Living Dead Romero updates his vision, brilliantly, with the lo-fi wonder Diary of the Dead Today: An American Whodunit with a Psychic Twist - 1982's The Killing Hour (aka The Clairvoyant)


Critics aren’t perfect. They can get it wrong sometimes, even before they’ve seen a film. Case in point - Armand Mastroianni’s The Killing Hour (aka The Clairvoyant). From the name on the credits, and the movie marquee artwork, this looks like your standard Italian giallo, murder mystery tinged with just enough gore to give Argento and Fulci a run for the redrum money. Upon closer inspection, however, it’s merely an American whodunit, the efforts of a filmmaker best known for featuring Tom Hanks in one of his first roles. That film was the sloppy slasher saga Blood Wedding, later retitled He Knows You’re Alone, and its tagalong success led Mastroianni to take his talent to a much larger creative canvas. Unfortunately, he’s only able to fill a tiny fraction of the frame.


It’s 1982, and Manhattan is overrun with unsolved killings. More importantly, the murder’s MO is the same - he handcuffs his victims before doing them in. As the police search for clues, local TV reporter Paul “Mac” McCormack believes he’s found the mother lode. Taking his morning talk show in a more tabloid direction, he feeds the public a daily dose of fear and foreboding. While Detective Weeks works all the angles, McCormick does his own vigilante legwork. Both men are drawn to the claims of a young woman named Virna Nightbourne. Gifted with psychic ability, she believes she is sketching out the deaths before they happen. Naturally, once she goes public with her visions, she becomes a prime target for the fiend - who may be much closer than she thinks.


Overlong at 97 minutes and burdened with a lame stand-up comedy subplot, The Killing Hour (recently reissued on DVD by Blue Underground) is actually a pretty good serial killer caper. We get the mandatory slayings, some decent red herrings, a couple of deductive dead ends, and a resolution that tries to tie everything up in a neat, knockout denouement. The acting is universally good, with Mastroianni making excellent use of then unknowns Jon Polito, Joe Morton, Norman Parker, and established stars Kenneth McMillan and Perry King. If there is a weak link among the cast, it’s Elizabeth Kemp as Ms. Nightbourne. Aside from never convincingly delivering her own name (there seems to be a buried chuckle every time she utters it), her character is more schizophrenic than gifted with second sight. One moment she’s a mess, the next she’s flirting mercilessly with her main male leads.

Indeed, one of The Killing Hour‘s biggest flaws is our lack of sympathy for this heroine. We are supposed to see Virna as an inadvertent victim, sometimes plagued by images of death and innocent indirect knowledge. But she often comes across as a whiny waste, needy without indicating why she should be so cared for. Mastroianni never gives her a moment to shine, to stand up and show courage or consideration. She’s either sketching in some wild, automaton manner, or looking wistfully at the camera. There’s no variance here, no sequences of searing dramatics. It’s the same for the rest of the actors - these are some passive aggressive policemen to say the least - but the men manage some solid New York authenticity.


Another major misstep comes in the lack of legitimate scares. There is no real suspense here, Mastroianni simply leaps into the first three murders without any set up or sense of pace. Virna’s head games provide a few more slayings, but they convey nothing that fans of either fright or bloodshed can really appreciate. There are times when this all feels like a tepid TV movie, and it’s no wonder that this director would go on to excel in the broadcast medium. The Killing Hour is like a ‘70s era sweeps week special, down to the minor amounts of nudity and absent arterial spray. His European counterparts understand that this kind of genre junk just won’t work without ample gore. Mastroianni wants to get by on plotting and performances alone. He can’t, especially when one of our macho men is moonlighting as the world’s worst impressionist (these scenes are just horrid).


Oddly enough, this filmmaker does find more ways to succeed than stumble. There is a wonderful atmosphere present, a tone derived directly from the all New York shoot. This feels like the Big Apple in all its early ‘80s growing pains. Porn is still prevalent, as is a street level sense of sleaze. When Mastroianni shows a dimly lit dive bar, you can almost smell the urine-soaked musk permeating the room. Even better, the crime scenes play as real places in the bullet-riddled, body-strewn history of the city. When a corpse is pulled from the Hudson River, or a potential victim enters a midtown manhole, we experience the urban angst of every famed criminal case. For this reason alone, The Killing Hour is worth a look. Along with acting, it’s the film’s strongest point.


As for the DVD, Blue Underground does very little with this presentation except give Mastroianni a chance to defend himself. With company founder and fellow filmmaker William Lustig along to guide the discussion, we discover that this is one director who has forgotten quite a bit about the movie he’s made. There is lots of dead air in the conversation, Lustig trying and Mastroianni coming up short. There are some deleted scenes, none of them mandatory to the narrative, and the trailer is nothing more than the standard Madison Avenue pitch. Add in the filmmaker overview (some good information on Mastroianni’s later career) and you’ve got some unexceptional extras.


Unlike the Italian crime masters his name mimics, Armand Mastroianni is no Dario. He’s barely even a Lucio. In fact, it’s safe to say that there is very little of the Mediterranean in this wholly American moviemaker. The Killing Hour is loaded with ambition and does everything in its limited creative power to obtain those elusive aesthetic goals. While it’s well made and never totally dull, this is the kind of suspense thriller that could have used a few more trips through the typewriter before seeing celluloid. They say it’s never fair to judge a book by its cover. In the case of this DVD, the expectations brought about by the filmmaker’s name makes the eventual realization all the more unsettling.



FILM:



DVD:



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Sunday, May 18, 2008
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This weekend I finished Clare B. Dunkle’s By These Ten Bones (2005), which was nominated for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher award in 2007. I usually leave a book near where I keep my snacks at the library so I have something to peruse while I consume some late-morning energy. Although this selection is usually made from freshly returned books whenever I need something new, as often as not I don’t finish the novel at hand because it fails to sustain my interest. Last time I went looking for something new, a patron was good enough to return this gem.


Dunkle’s tale, set in northern Scotland perhaps several hundred years ago, when communities were sparse on the ground and pagan customs and superstitions coexisted with budding Christianity, is enthralling. A tiny close knit community is forced to face a shadowy evil in its midst, and the bravery of Maddie, a young girl with more of an open mind than most of her fellows, is crucial to saving the lives of her family and those she loves most.


A page turning story with vengeful witches, cures for a werewolf, a demon said to live in the nearby loch, and dense rolling fog to hide the true doings of the lot (if they really exist) – this little book has something for everyone. The tale is tight enough to hold the interest of anyone who enjoys young adult fiction with a gothic tendency, while any middle school student with an interest in bumps-in-the-night or even (gasp!) love will keep reading as well.


Have you been known to visit the library and take a look at recent returns in order to discover something you might otherwise have missed?


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Sunday, May 18, 2008

It pains me to chide an artist/writer that I admire and a publication that I feel the same way about but both Carrie Brownstein and the L.A. Times owe the Grateful Dead an apology.  Brownstein wrote about and the L.A. Times reported on (in a blog post) how supposedly the Dead didn’t want her to include “Friend of the Devil” in an online mixtape unless the band was subject of a story that she would do. 


Turns out that ain’t the case.  The band itself didn’t ask for any of that.  Their label, Rhino, did.  That’s a big distinction. 


LAT did correct that later but as you know, the correction is usually forgotten more quickly than the initial story (which turns out to be the wrong story)- note that the headline to the LAT blog post that reported the story still has the Dead making the request in the headline.  Brownstein and LAT have a powerful platform as they’re easily able to connect with a lot of people thanks to their rep and as such, they gotta be more careful about who they point fingers at in a story like this. 


As for Rhino, I respect them a lot for taking up the slack of a lot of labels who let material fall outta print but this was kind of a boneheaded request to make of Brownstein.  As the LAT post notes, the Dead ain’t exactly hurting for recognition, even today.  Also note that in the comments to the LAT posting, along with some shots at Brownstein, some other commentators question the Dead organization itself for the way it’s run.


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