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Sunday, Nov 25, 2007

Almost exactly one year after the Wii’s launch, the system finally has its Mario game… and what a game it is. Super Mario Galaxy is huge, it’s beautiful, and it evokes the same constant sense of wonder that playing Super Mario Bros. did more than 20 years ago. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Super Mario Galaxy is how quickly it makes you forget that, graphically, the Wii as a system is nearly five years behind its contemporaries.  Or, perhaps, it’s the way the remote and nunchuk become extensions of your hands, with a control scheme that is both responsive and utterly natural to anyone who has played one of the previous 3-dimensional Mario games. Or it could be a story which, while still secondary to the gameplay, actually evokes something like emotion in the player as it develops. Regardless of what makes Super Mario Galaxy great, there is no question that it is great, a serious contender not just for Wii game of the year (a competition in which its primary adversaries are currently cringing), but for video game of the year. If you have a Wii and don’t own Super Mario Galaxy, sell it. The game is that good.



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Sunday, Nov 25, 2007

A beautifully matte behemoth, Iconic America is a direct analogue of the country it purports to characterize. One is a country that transforms people and things into icons through its cultural attunement, the other is a book that does the same thing simply by labeling these elements as icons. Viewed as such, the debate over the book’s intellectual worth becomes a debate over America’s reduction to hollow symbols. Maybe Iconic America is just a record of the memorable pictures of America’s history, and maybe the concept of America is but an amalgamation of icons, the prominence of which is more coincidence than composition. Let your cultural critic, with a penchant for the visual, ponder over this.


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Sunday, Nov 25, 2007

Have you got a friend who acts like the biggest sports know-it-all? The one who claims to know every stat in the book and who wields this knowledge like an intimidating weapon, or wears it with a sense of gleeful self-importance? Call their bluff with this new board game from ESPN. This is Trivial Pursuit for sports geeks of the first order. With a 24-second shot clock counting down on answering questions, the pressure is on, as players must answer all manner of question from “rookie” to “pro” level. The “rookie” questions are more like the sort you may encounter in Trivial Pursuit, so beware those “pro” questions, or spring them on the know-it-all to bring them down a peg or two.


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Sunday, Nov 25, 2007

Forget about the noted indie director—this is the original medium manipulator. Let’s face it, anyone who stands as one of elusive author Thomas Pynchon’s favorite artist has to be something pretty special. Deconstructing Tin Pan Alley classics with a cacophony of found noises and non-musical accompaniment (Gunshots? Train whistles?), the bandleader and cultural critic was like Mitch Miller without the tired traditionalism. Today, he’s a forgotten footnote in the otherwise recognizable novelty song sect. Thankfully, this DVD presentation provides testimonials from those he’s influenced (Weird Al Yankovic) as well as a chance to see the man in his manic element.


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Sunday, Nov 25, 2007
by Quentin Huff

Here’s the scene: a fully decorated Christmas tree, a crackling fireplace flickering in the reflection of a champagne glass, red and white stockings and candy canes over the mantel,  a smile from the one you love. Luther Vandross sets the mood with “Please Come Home for Christmas”, followed by Faith Evans jamming to “Santa Baby” and Marvin Gaye with “I Want to Come Home for Christmas”. Slow Jams for Christmas is a joyous, slow-cooking romance-fest that works out very much like an R&B mixtape. It’s quite a treat: 20 songs on a single disc representing five decades of music, from the ‘60s (Nancy Wilson’s “What Are You Doing For New Year’s Eve?”) and ‘70s (“This Christmas” by the Whispers) to 2005 (“Merry Christmas, Darling” by Vanessa Williams). It’s probably the type of album you’d see advertised on a late night infomercial (“Order now, and we’ll throw in this champagne bottle opener!”). But the artists are the draw, with recordings of disparate styles and voices pulled together in a “One Christmas Under a Groove” sort of way. Dianne Reeves absolutely nails “Christmas Time is Here”. Other highlights are Boyz II Men’s ever-popular “Let It Snow”, which plays well year round, as well as Babyface’s medley of “It Came Upon a Midnight/The First Noel”. Toward the middle, the soul vibe dominates, culminating in selections from Al Green, Bobby Womack, Lou Rawls, and Freddie Jackson at the back end. Sweet and marvelous.


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