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by Thomas Hauner

18 May 2009

As the Roots slowly adjust to their new day job accompanying Jimmy Fallon and New York-centric lifestyle, their bi-weekly residency at the Highline Ballroom, “The Jam”, has become an unpredictable yet approachable setting to see the group in its element… at least elements of the group. This evening found only Black Thought, ?uestlove—the mainstays of the group—and bass player Owen Biddle leading an open mic night of sorts.

 

The late night set consisted of dozens of young, fledgling musicians sharing the stage with their musical heroes (many gave personal shout outs to the group and/or ?uestlove). It was unclear whether they were all alumni of the same performing arts academy as the Roots themselves (Philadelphia’s High School for Creative and Performing Arts) or just an assortment of their favorite up and coming rappers, vocalists, guitarists, horn players, and percussionists. Regardless, the sell out crowd was supportive and encouraging of the raw talent making its rounds on stage.

However the real story of the night was the stellar rhythm section holding the jam session together—that the Roots are one of music’s best rhythm sections should surprise no one. Naturally de facto music director of the Roots, ?uestlove, was at the helm, micromanaging the shuffling list of musicians from behind his drum kit and also calling out changes and key signatures to the other players. His ambidexterity is awesome, but his real talent is his ability in seamlessly transitioning and transposing multiple musical epochs into one fluid jam. He does it every night and I suspect his work on Late Night is only improving this skill. Along with ?uestlove, the celebrated songwriter and keyboard player James Poyser played back up. Perfectly in sync with ?uestlove the presence of Biddle, on six-string bass, rounded out the extremely adaptable and agile rhythm section.

Given that the Lonely Island (Andy Samberg’s comedy group) had performed on Late Night the previous evening, I was holding out hope that their collaboration with the Roots would spill over into the Highline gig. The band’s ephemeral sets are just another reason to keep coming back for more.

by Mike Schiller

18 May 2009

Are you the type of gamer who needs to have things that other people don’t have?  Are you the type for whom “console exclusive” is the magic pair of words which inspires either immense pride or extreme jealousy?  Well then, for this generation, the Wii is your console.  This week demonstrates as much as well as any—look at the release lists, and you’ll see the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 each with the four same releases, while the Wii?  Seven console-exclusive releases, with the only cross-platform release being the Rock Band Classic Rock Track Pack.  Given the similarity of the Xbox 360 and PS3 processors, it simply doesn’t make sense from a financial standpoint for a third party to release exclusives on one or the other.  The Wii, as a machine with a completely different reason for being (not to mention a far weaker set of specs), almost demands exclusives, given its emphasis on control and limited graphical capabilities; even when games aren’t exclusives, parts of them are far different than versions put out for the other systems.

Of course, a look at this week’s releases also demonstrates the drawback of such a philosophy—wow, does the Wii ever attract some shovelware.

In this space, we’d rather focus on the games that aren’t shovelware, and thankfully, there are plenty of those this week as well.  At the top of the list is the Wiimake—oh…oh my…did I just write “Wiimake”?  I’m kind of ashamed, actually.  It’s the Wii remake of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (or the exponentially less cool Punch Out!! featuring Mr. Dream, if you got to it late), whose most promising announced feature so far is the return of the classic controls with the updated graphics.  Sure, those controls won’t beat the visceral thrill of flailing about with the Wii remote and nunchuck while you try in vain to knock down the likes of Glass Joe, but we have Wii Sports’ boxing for that anyway, right?  In any case, the art style of the new Punch-Out!! is pretty appealing, and old-school nintendo fans are almost guaranteed to have a good time with it!!

If you could care less about old-time gaming, Boom Blox Bash Party is a good way to support one of the new Wii franchises.  The first Boom Blox, highly touted as Steven Spielberg’s entry into the gaming arena, was at first a victim of widespread disinterest, and it sold terribly out of the box.  That said, it’s apparently been a consistent seller for the Wii, given that it’s almost hit seven-figure sales since that slow start.  Bash Party tweaks the formula a bit with underwater and outer space levels (and all the gravity changes such environments would imply), and adds the ability to download new levels at no extra cost, which could potentially push the replay value of the game into the stratosphere.  Here’s hoping the second entry in the series doesn’t take quite so long to catch on.

As for all of those non-exclusives on the other big consoles, I would be remiss to not mention Bionic Commando.  As the modern-day update to what remains my favorite Nintendo game of all time, I’m excited and utterly skeptical at the same time.  My skepticism is mostly borne from descriptions that compare the Bionic Commando swing mechanic to the modern Spider-Man games, but I’m hoping against hope that there’s more to it than that.  If nothing else, it looks to be a fun hi-def adventure game, which is fine and all, but the Bionic Commando name deserves more.

...and how could I forget Imagine: Makeup Artist?  Oh, right.

What are you playing this week?  Is anyone else dreading the release of Bionic Commando just a little bit?  Do you know anyone who you can hold at gunpoint and force to buy Boom Blox Bash Party?  Let us know in the comments, and enjoy the atypically busy release week!!

by Chris Catania

18 May 2009

The purple-hazed synth-funk of Jimmy Jam lives on and strong in this fourth volume from Los Angeles’ “Ambassador of Boogie Funk”, dãm-funk. The DJ/Producer continues his journey into the self-coined “Funkmosphere” with eight tracks (Red, Black, Silver, Sunset, Purple, Indigo, Gold and Chocolate), that could funk you up two ways: either solo with headphones strapped or as you settle in to the southern Cali club scene where he’s known to drop live funk for the locals. The 23 minutes of interstellar drum machine beak beats, hand claps and slithery synth are rooted in early ‘80s electro-funk and are a progressive throwback combination of boogie and modern soul that’s prime for interpretive sampling by other beatmakers or simple absorption into the innermost parts of your sonic sanctum. The subtle and sensual instrumental song cycle listens like a star trek that follows the path of the satellites around the solar system. It’s a trippy traverse through all the colors and tastes of the rainbow that stretches from ear to ear with a tasty pot of gold at both ends.

Purple

by Bill Gibron

17 May 2009

Until recently, David Cronenberg was known only as the king of biological horror. His brutal looks at life and the physiological foundations of fear made uncomfortable classics like Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, and Videodrome fright film masterworks. Today, he dabbles in all manner of contemporary drama, cruelty tingeing works as diverse as A History of Violence, eXistenZ, and his brilliant Russian mob movie Eastern Promises. As with any auteur, it’s interesting to look back on their entire career and trace the steps that brought their visionary style to the fore. And while many may laugh at the suggestion, the drag racing morality tale Fast Company is completely within his surreal sphere of aesthetic influence. Made in 1979, this fascinating film proves that Cronenberg could fetishize anything - from a deformed corpse to a shiny chrome engine.

When his prized dragster goes up in flames, renowned driver Lonnie “Lucky Man” Johnson appears down for the count. FastCo corporate rep Phil Adamson doesn’t want to spring for another vehicle, and besides, there’s a perfectly good automobile waiting for someone capable to pilot it to victory. Of course, this leaves funny car trainee Billy “The Kid” Brocker feeling a little unappreciated. Things get worse when Adamson demands Johnson take over the driving of the fabled asphalt fastback. Tempers flare both on and off the track, with reigning champion Gary “The Blacksmith” Black doing most of the jawing. Eventually, Adamson grows tired of Johnson’s prima donna ways, and plans of replacing him with the entire Blacksmith crew. When he discovers this, Johnson makes off with his machine, preps it for the upcoming Race of Champions, and hopes to put Adamson, Black and FastCo in their place once and for all.

by Bill Gibron

17 May 2009

Fans know you can’t create it on purpose. Aficionados recognize its rarity and embrace such scattershot infrequency. While they occasionally try, producers, writers, and directors almost never get it right, and the pathway of such good cinematic intentions is strewn with misguided attempts with names like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavara and Snakes on a Plane. Of course, we are talking about schlock here, the brazen b-movie madness that arrives when a ridiculous idea is meshed with an unworkable approach to create a kind of perfect storm of celluloid patheticness. The result can almost always be counted on for a laugh or two, the entire experience chalked up to yet another case of ambition thwarted by ability. But then there are the rare exceptions where intention meets incompetence, the endgame being so insanely sublime and deliciously dumb that it’s almost impossible to drink in all at once. Lovers of such lunacy, prepare yourselves for the god-awful greatness of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. It’s everything you think it is, and much, much less.

Hoping to visit some whale pods while listening to Mozart, noted oceanographer Emma NcNeil “borrows” an expensive underwater submersible and does a bit of exploring. She unwillingly discovers something frozen beneath the Alaska ice. Before it can register, a military training exercise unleashes the prehistoric beasts. Soon thereafter, a plane is downed by a massive shark. Elsewhere, an oil platform is destroyed by a giant octopus. In an attempt to understand what she saw, Emma looks up her old professor and mentor Lamar Sanders. They then hook up with Japanese scientist Dr. Seiji Shimada who is also investigating the situation. As death and mayhem rule the sea, the American Government, under the auspices of hard-assed officer Allan Baxter, demands that our trio take on the monstrous duo. When their first plan fails, they decide to let the creatures do what they do best - destroy each other. All they have to do is lure them away from civilization and let nature take its “Thrilla in Manilla” course. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

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