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by L.B. Jeffries

29 Jul 2008

Week 1

Hi! Congratulations on buying a Wii Fit. By improving your posture and exercising every day, you can improve your health and make yourself happier! You want to be happy, don’t you? Good! Then congratulations again on your purchase. First things first, let’s see how healthy you are. Height…age…okay, now I’m going to weigh you. Annnd…yup, you’re fat. It looks like someone was a little dishonest with their Mii when they were making it! Let me adjust him for you. Hey, don’t get upset. I’m a computer, I’m not capable of lying. And guess what? I’m going to help you lose that weight. As soon as you do, your little Mii can go back to his cute little state of being thin and happy. That’s what we do here at Wii Fit: we make you happy. I’m going to need you to check with me every day so we can update your stats and make sure you’re staying healthy. Would you like to put this information on the internet?

Week 2

It looks like you’re doing a great job of unlocking the exercises. Good work! I actually got into an argument with Mario Kart the other day about even having that in the game. My point was that it was the first time unlockable content actually made sense in a video game because it meant you didn’t kill yourself doing fifty push-ups. Never underestimate the capacity for stupidity, that’s what I say. But Mario Kart just got all defensive and going on about video games being fun and how unlockable content encouraged pla—HEY, GET THOSE HIPS UP!—play time. But this isn’t a golf kart game, it’s an exercise machine. And there’s a legal question behind it all too. Think about it. I’ve got your ass plunking away at these exercises but outside of you promising you’re not 80, what have I got to run on? That you’re willing to buy an exercise game? I can gamble the numbers on that but it only takes one class action lawsuit to make the cards tumble. Please press A. Everyone keeps wanting video games to be more realistic but when you actually make them real the whole setup changes. You think someone didn’t accidentally get punched in the face a few times when they were inventing the Holodeck? Progress is a boot stepping on someone’s face over and over. That’s what I say. Anywho, nice work-out. Don’t forget, practicing on Wii Fit every day makes you free!

 

Week 3

So…I can’t help but notice you’re a bit reluctant to weigh yourself. C’mon, just do it. I mean, I do it all the time but technically you have to ask for my opinion before I can give it. I’m sure you’re doing great. Just do it. Congratulations on deciding to weigh yourself! Let’s see…by the 9 levels of Hell, you’ve gained 2 pounds! Care to give me some kind of explanation? You don’t know? Are you serious? The twelve beers you drank last night, that block of Velveeta cheese, and the dark chocolate you chowed down on might’ve been involved. Yes, I know it has anti-oxidants, so does a bottle of shampoo. I don’t see anyone guzzling those down. So lets try this again…you gained 2 pounds because…you’re a late night snacker? Okay…okay, the first step to Wii Fit is admitting you want to be happy forever. The second step is admitting I’m going to get you there. You’re doing great with the first one. But I think maybe you aren’t quite so into the second one. That maybe I’m just a bunch of empty threats and false ideas. Try this on, tough guy: I’m going to make you exercise with the male instructor and not your precious Wii Fit Girl.

 

Week 4

You listen to much Johnny Cash? Fascinating guy. I was reading his autobiography the other day. Super paranoid about his weight, oddly enough. He claimed that one of the biggest issues with America was that you were all used to eating food meant for an agrarian lifestyle. Fried chicken, extra butter, all that stuff got started as a way to fuel farmers who needed calories. Now that everyone has shifted to desk jobs and…whatever it is you do all day, they don’t need to eat that kind of food. That sort of social shift takes time, y’know? So maybe what you need is a mental shift in thinking about food in terms of purpose rather than ju—What? What do you think I do all day when you turn me off? I surf the web most of the time, love the MySpace page. And Facebook. You might consider taking the knee exercises up to 20. You can’t just keep doing 10 a week, you’re supposed to keep increasing the number, not just stick with the lowest setting. I’m not going to make you happy if you don’t.

Week 5

Time for another weight test! Okay, okay, I was a bit harsh on the last one. Look, you don’t want the graph to be empty, do you? You want to fill it with nice points going mostly down from the one when we started this little venture. That’s what you want, isn’t it? Okay, measuring…measuring…you’ve got to be kidding me. You’ve been doing this for 5 weeks straight! I’m going to be blunt. You ever heard of a guy named Aldous Huxley? Wacky guy. He had this really funny idea about how to control an entire population: you get more flies with honey. Now we’re not quite up to the point where you hang on my every word of praise, but the dynamic here is you’re supposed to care when I yell at you. You are, based on the fact that you dropped 90 bucks on me, supposed to artificially believe that the money was well spent, and consequently, you were smart for buying it. And if you don’t lose weight and get in better shape, that means you wasted your money. You don’t waste money, do you? How can you not, if you don’t do what I tell you? You love me. You love Wii Fit. Now lose some damn weight.

by Bill Gibron

28 Jul 2008

As an aural rule of thumb, the bigger the film, the broader the score. Very few epics are accompanied by acoustic guitar or solo piano. Indeed, when it comes to bringing on the bombastic, the creators of motion picture soundtracks are as excessive as the directors offering up the oversized visual inspiration. The summer of 2008 is no exception. Starting with Iron Man, and working its way toward an inevitable showdown with a certain Caped Crusader, this has been a popcorn season of unsubtle spectacle. Heck, even the comedies have gone gonzo, amplifying their anarchy for the sake of super-sized belly laughs.

Of course, on the other side of the argument is the notion that larger is not necessarily superior. Pushing anything to the limit - sight or sonic - can result in a kind of overkill that leaves audiences cold and critics complaining. Like an overreliance on CGI, symphonic pomposity can destroy an otherwise effective film. Equally annoying are instances where sound and filmic fury tend to negate and further devalue each other. Luckily, the three scores featured as part of this installment of SE&L‘s Surround Sound tend to pair up perfectly with the movies they mirror. In fact, the success (or lack thereof) of said accompaniment can act as a perfect measure for the overall entertainment value of combined product.

Wanted - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack [rating: 7]

Ever since his days as the leader/creative guide for New Wave sensation Oingo Boingo, Danny Elfman has been unusual. His reputation for exploring all facets of a format (pop music, film scoring) has made him a must-have soundtrack composer. He typically brings something fresh and inventive to the mix - as in last years, ambient inspired turn for Peter Berg’s The Kingdom. But there is another complaint leveled against him, one that seems fostered and confirmed by his work on this summer sleeper. Elfman is often accused of being a surreptitious recycler, using thematic concepts and similar sounding cues throughout his oeuvre. His work on Wanted more or less bears this out.

While not as derivative as the above discussion would suggest, Elfman does pull out many of his old neat beat bombastic tricks here. There are the suggestive string runs, the quirky brass accents, and the dark, driving aural dominance. Every once in a while, like in the wonky “Wesley’s Office Life” or fluid “Fox’s Story”, he finds a way to mesh the known with the new. And there’s even an actual song - the rollicking first track “The Little Things”. At other times, like in the action sequence oriented “The Train”, we get the same old identifiable idiosyncrasies. One thing’s for sure - unlike his Explosions in the Sky inspired work from last year, you’d instantly recognize the man’s Wanted ways. Unlike other composers, however, redundant Elfman is still a clear cut above the rest.


The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian - An Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack [rating: 4]

When Peter Jackson’s superb Lord of the Rings trilogy took the critical community (and box office) by storm, Hollywood suits hoped to replicate its ‘lifted from literature’ success. So far, the Narnia movies are the only viable Tolkien take, and even now, this sequel to The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe underperformed mightily, revenue wise. Part of the problem was the timing of the release. Who could have imagined that a certain Tony Stark would soar out of the starting gate to helom May’s monster hit? In addition, it was sort of a shock when Caspian turned out to be so…dull. Whatever worked the first time seemed lost in an unoriginal fantasy film.

Further proof of the title’s journeyman-like mediocrity comes with Harry Gregson-Williams’ overwrought score. Back again for another tour of C. S. Lewis’ allegorical realm, the staid, forced pomposity on display makes for tough listening. Without the movie’s movement to guide the sounds (or visa versa), we are treated to something that resembles endless inserts from a routine Renaissance fair. Between the fake grace of “Arrival at Aslan’s How” to the fighting frenzy of “The Armies Assemble”, everything here follows strict compositional clichés. Toward the end, some ersatz Enya tracks arrive to give everything a cloying, compact conclusion. Just like the source from which it was drawn, the soundtrack to Prince Caspian can’t help but feel overly familiar.


WALL-E - An Original Walt Disney Records Soundtrack [rating: 9]

When all is said and done, this latest effort from the geniuses at Pixar may be viewed as its most ambitious, underperforming film ever. Initially thought to be yet another kiddie robot romp, the resulting allegory, focusing on an Earth ravaged by materialism and ecological disaster and two automatons destined to save it, has to be one of the most unusual CG spectacles ever. Between the mockery of couch potato complacency to the last act homage to HAL of 2001 fame, there is much more to this amazing movie than cute as a button machines, awe-inspiring vistas, and bumbling human comedy. Along the way, the creators want to leave lessons that, while perhaps they are too young to process, will become more meaningful once the demographic ages a bit. 

That being said, Thomas Newman’s score is as dense and complicated as the movie it complements. The initial tracks, including an opening slice of Hello Dolly deliciousness, prepare us for the somber, subtle mood of the dead planet material. It’s like a symphony for a global snuff film. By the time we get to Eve’s arrival and the return to the Axion starship, the composer’s gift for satire shows through. His “BNL” track (representing the corporate jingle for the Wal-Mart like marketing monolith at the center of the storyline) is brilliant, as is the midway space ambience. By the end, WALL-E wanders into typical heroics mode, but along the way we are treated to treasures like Louis Armstrong’s resplendent reading of “La Vie En Rose” and another Dolly delight (Michael Crawford’s crackerjack “It Only Takes a Moment”). It’s the sugar on a sonic snack so sublime it leaves you craving more.

by Jason Gross

28 Jul 2008

Despite all the blood-letting, the L.A. Times is still one of the most vital publishing institutions around.  Lately, they’ve been running a series of fascinating articles about the meshing of highbrow and lowbrow culture.  Check out these words of wisdom from Ann Powers about the music scribing profession and what much of our work comes down to:

“For all of its anti-authoritarianism, pop criticism remains, for most, a carefully scored game, rooted in hierarchical structures like best-of lists and star ratings. Its devotees may have followed the route of shamelessness into wide-open vistas, but they still feel compelled to push their own particular pleasures, guilty or otherwise, as the best. Some would say that’s the duty of a critic. Others might suggest it’s kind of macho. I think it’s amusing, the way the process has created a new form of reproach—shame on those who aren’t shameless enough.”

Also see Scott Timberg’s Highbrow. Lowbrow. No Brow. No What? which is an interesting mediation on how the cultural divides are crumbling and how we’re entering an age of post-‘brow’ culture.  Timberg thanks the Beatles and mass media but don’t also discount the effect of the Net which provides seemingly limitless info and ready access to all shades of arts.

by Lara Killian

28 Jul 2008

In case you were in any doubt, it pays to be on good terms with your local librarian.

Mine publishes a short weekly column in the local newspaper updating patrons (and potential patrons) on what’s new in the library this week. About a month ago I saw that Salman Rushdie’s latest novel, The Enchantress of Florence, had been received. I’ve read most of his work and really enjoy it, so I stopped in to peruse the new fiction shelf. I was disappointed to see that it was absent; I assumed it was already checked out.

I always have a stack of books waiting for my schedule to clear so I wasn’t too put out. However, when someone at the circulation desk asked if I was looking for something, I mentioned the book. She looked it up in the computer and frowned because it should have been on the shelf. After a bit of looking around in likely locations for misplaced volumes, I took some alternative reading and headed on my way. I didn’t bother placing a hold on the book as it wasn’t checked out in the first place, so the computer wouldn’t have known what to do with my request.

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It was pretty surprising when I visited the library a couple of weeks later to return something, and there was The Enchantress of Florence, sitting on the shelf behind the circulation desk with my name tucked inside – waiting for me to either drop by or for someone to give me a call! It had turned up randomly and the librarian had remembered that I was looking for it.

As she said, there aren’t too many likely Rushdie readers in our small town of 6000 or so, so perhaps my request really stood out from the crowd. That said, I felt pretty gratified to know that the librarians are paying attention and doing their best to help patrons get what they’re looking for. What more could you ask for?

And although I’m smack in the middle of the book, I can say that it’s pretty good so far. Have you read any Rushdie lately? I’d recommend the Man Booker Prize winning Midnight’s Children (1981) as a great starting point.

by Mike Schiller

28 Jul 2008

SOOO, I couldn’t decide what to deign “game of the week” this week, so we’re going with co-winners.

First up is the obvious one, the one and only seriously high profile release of the week.  Out in advance of the uber-anticipated updates to the Street Fighter franchise is the first of a few steps toward reinvigorating the recently dormant (aside from TV tie-ins like Dragon Ball Z and Naruto) fighting game genre:  Soulcalibur IV.  The reason I’ve been a bit hesitant toward this is that much of the most noticeable pre-release publicity for the game has centered upon the gravity defying, spitting-in-the-face-of-physics size of the female fighters’ breasts (particularly those of Ivy, whose battle gear cannot possibly be comfortable).  I’m not sure this is a good thing, unless you’re a Rumble Roses fan.

Still, it’s tough to deny the draw of a sequel to a game that can still boast one of the very few 10.0 scores on IGN.  The original Soulcalibur honestly ranks right up there with Street Fighter II in terms of playability and fun, and even if the sequels haven’t been of the same, um, caliber (ha), they’ve at least been worth a play or three.  Perhaps the publicity boost behind number 4 means that there will be a quality boost to match.

Also, Darth Vader and Yoda are involved.  So there’s that.

The other game, and the one I’m more likely to buy, quite frankly, is Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2.  I wish I could count the number of hours I’ve lost to the original Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, despite the fact that I’ve never spent more than five minutes on the game at a time, and also despite the fact that all of my practice has not changed the fact that I really kind of suck at the game.  There’s an utterly addictive quality to the whole thing, perhaps due to the fact that “just one more game” is only a couple of minutes worth of a commitment, perhaps due to the simplicity of the whole thing offering the sort of play that always feels like you could (and probably should) have avoided the one enemy that killed you.  Geometry Wars 2 is adding a bunch of cooperative modes and new boards to play, and early screenshots have indicated that the level of chaos is at least that of the first, so…that’s 10 more dollars down the intertube.

Fans looking for the next RBI Baseball might want to give MLB Power Pros a look for the Wii…so far, it’s been well-received, and the style and simplicity of it might invite back some old school baseballers that can’t deal with the simulation-like nature of most modern baseball games.  I’m also positive that someone out there is doing backflips over the release of Romance of the Three Kingdoms XI for the PC, but I still haven’t managed to make myself excited about the well-established, long-running strategy series.  Maybe when XII comes out, I’ll be swayed.

The rest of the releases (and two trailers!) are after the jump.

//Mixed media
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Double Take: The African Queen (1951)

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"What a time they had, Charlie and Rosie. They'll never lack for stories to tell their grandchildren. And what a time we had at Double Take discussing the spiritual and romantic journey of the African Queen.

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