Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: "Wrath of the Titans" is effectively epic, if not narratively competent

Film Rating: C+

Two years ago, I was actually looking forward to the remake of “Clash of the Titans.”  I had seen the 1981 original in an English class, of all places, and found it to be a very fun mythological camp adventure.  As imaginative and flawlessly executed as the Harryhausen stop-motion effects were, though, I couldn’t help but wonder what “Clash” would look like today if a filmmaker took full advantage of modern effects and really went to town illustrating the struggle between men and Gods.  It could be a revelatory action epic, and I was hoping that Louis Leterrier’s remake would fulfill the project’s true potential.  Instead, we got a soulless, lazy, studio-manufactured bore, one with paper-thin characters, bad writing, and a messy, convoluted narrative.  And despite a mammoth budget and cutting edge technology, Leterrier didn’t craft a single set-piece as inspired or engaging as Harryhausen’s work.

It was a tremendous waste of creative opportunity, but it made an awful lot of money, so now a hastily assembled sequel, “Wrath of the Titans,” has arrived in theatres.  While it shares many of the narrative and character problems that plagued its predecessor, I must give director Jonathan Liebesman credit for this: the film absolutely takes advantage of the mythology’s epic possibilities, and pushes the boundaries of modern special effects in the process.  In that way, at least, it’s exactly what I wanted out of the first movie, and while I don’t think the film as a whole is particularly memorable, it does make for a fun and worthwhile trip to the theatre.  Continue reading after the jump...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: "We Need to Talk About Kevin" is a profoundly unsettling work of art

Film Rating: A

This review was originally published on November 11th, 2011 as part of my Starz Denver Film Festival coverage, and the film was later listed as the 15th best film of the year on my Top Twenty Films of 2011.  The review is reprinted here to mark the film's Denver release at the Landmark Esquire.  I obviously recommend the film quite highly.    

I have a feeling that “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is going to resonate very powerfully with audiences in and around Denver, particularly those who lived here during the Columbine High School massacre of 1999.  I was six at the time, but I remember it clearly; it was the same week my Grandfather died, and his passing was only one small part of the larger, inescapable sense of communal grief enveloping Colorado.  The anguish of the killings has never really abated, influencing so many corners of our local society.  I’ve grown up in a reactive school system, one oppressively sensitive to anything that directly or, more often, indirectly echoes Columbine, where every conversation we had about teenage violence or misbehavior inevitably worked its way back to April 20, 1999.  For adults, Columbine has come to represent the unbridled fear of losing a child at a place that should be safe; for kids, Columbine forever altered the way we are educated and treated.  It all comes from a place of immeasurable grief brought on by an act of unspeakable evil, an event I’ve been close to for twelve years and still can’t come close to comprehending. 

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” explores the epicenter of a Columbine-esque tragedy: the parent.  Trust me when I say that no conversation about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold ever goes by without mention of their parents, questioning how anyone could be so unaware of their child’s nature.  This is the enigma “Kevin” tackles, and it does so spectacularly, planting the viewer firmly into the mind of a killer’s mother and keeping us there for two straight hours.  It is a relentlessly dark and uncomfortable experience, but also a profoundly rewarding one.  The mother is never absolved, but we gain a keen understanding and sympathy.  How could we not?  The key question the film asks is one that should strike fear into the hearts of all viewers: what would you do if you didn’t love you child, if you hated them on instinct and they hated you right back?

I can think of few topics more horrifying, and the film is proportionally unsettling.  Continue reading after the jump...

Review: Ralph Fiennes' Shakespeare adaptation "Coriolanus" is an interesting failure

Film Rating: C

This review was originally published on November 10th, 2011 as part of my Starz Denver Film Festival coverage, and is reprinted here to mark the film's Denver release at the Landmark Chez Artiste theatre on Colorado Blvd.

My film professor asserts that the English are too reverential towards William Shakespeare to make effectively cinematic adaptations of his work.  I tend to agree.  Shakespeare’s writing is masterful, but it’s clearly intended for the stage, not for the screen, and filmmakers’ hesitation to make changes often results in stagey, uncomfortable movies.  Ralph Fiennes’ adaptation of “Coriolanus” definitively proves my professor’s theory.  As Shakespearean adaptations go, it has a lot to offer; it effectively brings the material into the present day, gives thought to how the work relates to our modern political landscape, and never once feels stagey, playing like an honest-to-God film at all times.  Fiennes and screenwriter John Logan have done so much to revolutionize the material, but in the end, they don’t go far enough, stopped in their tracks by reverence to the Bard.  They keep all the original dialogue intact, and as beautiful as Shakespeare’s prose is, it tears us out of the film at every turn, clashing with the modernization and, more importantly, the film’s cinematic qualities.  We are kept at a distance from the narrative and the characters, and as a result, it winds up being another failed Shakespeare adaptation, albeit a very interesting one.  Continue reading after the jump...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

OSW Review: "Freaks and Geeks" - Episode 11 - "Looks and Books" - Change your clothes, change your life...


After a week off to discuss “The Hunger Games” and plagiarism, we’re back with weekly reviews of Freaks and Geeks, the short-lived TV classic from 1999 that I’m spending Wednesdays this Spring reviewing and analyzing.  Today, we’re looking at the best hour so far,  Episode 11, “Looks and Books,” in which our characters learn some very important lessons.  (And like all my TV reviews, I expect the reader has seen the episode in question, so if you haven’t, go track down the DVDs and return here when you’ve caught up.  The review will be waiting patiently for you.)

Spoilers for Freaks and Geeks, Episode 11 – “Looks and Books” – coming after the jump…

Sunday, March 25, 2012

"Mad Men" Season Premiere Review - "A Little Kiss" - "What's wrong with you people?"


Mad Men, my second-favorite TV show of all time (The Wire being number one) is finally back after seventeen months off the air, and I’ll be reviewing and analyzing every episode of the fifth season as it airs.  Tonight, we’re taking an in-depth look at the two-hour premiere episode, “A Little Kiss.”  This review contains heavy spoilers, so don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode.

Spoilers for “A Little Kiss” after the jump….

Springsteen Sundays: My Top Ten Favorite Bruce Springsteen Albums

 
Welcome to Springsteen Sundays, a new weekly column devoted to exploring the wonderful world of Bruce Springsteen, my favorite musician and personal hero.  New readers flocked to the site for my extensive Wrecking Ball coverage earlier this month, so I thought now was as good a time as ever to start discussing the Boss on a more consistent basis.  The column will appear here every Sunday, and will cover whatever various and sundry Springsteen-related topics are on my mind at the time, from evaluations of classic albums to reviews of supplementary material to fun, goofy playlist projects. 

I thought I’d kick this new column off with a good old-fashioned Top-Ten List, giving you an idea of my tastes by ranking my Ten Favorite Bruce Springsteen Studio Albums.  A simple topic, but I imposed two guidelines: First, I only ranked studio albums, no side releases like “Tracks” or live compilations.  Second, I left off Wrecking Ball; I love the record as much if not more than several of the title on the list, but it’s not even a month old, and it would be unwise to assign it such a definitive spot alongside works I’ve had years to absorb. 

So without further ado, let’s kick off Springsteen Sundays with my Top Ten Favorite Albums.  You can read the list after the jump….

Friday, March 23, 2012

Review: "The Hunger Games" is a superb blockbuster that comes frustratingly close to artistic greatness

Film Rating: A–

“The Hunger Games” comes frustratingly close to true greatness.  Under the tremendous direction of Gary Ross, the film improves upon Suzanne Collins’ runaway bestseller in every way imaginable, transforming the lightweight novel into one of the most artistic, thoughtful, and emotionally mature blockbusters in recent memory.  Yet Ross could have gone even further, and I desperately wish he had, for while the film is filled with moments of brilliance and beauty unparalleled in big-budget Hollywood filmmaking, conventional mainstream sensibilities ultimately hold the film back from achieving masterpiece status.  But it comes damn close, and that alone is cause for celebration.  Continue reading after the jump...

Review: "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is a spectacularly stupid exercise in pandering

Film Rating: D

You know what I love about fishing?  Subtlety. 

It is a quiet sport, one based on patience and discipline; it requires both a nuance of craft and a stillness of mind, which is precisely why fishing is such an attractive activity to many.  With a rod in one’s hand, in a boat or in waders, where else can one find such mental peace and clarity? 

Not in Lasse Hallström’s “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” for starters.  The film claims to have a love and understanding of fishing, but it is an impostor, for it has not a subtle bone in its spectacularly stupid body.  Every plot point is loudly telegraphed, every character trait shouted at the camera, every message or theme delivered in monologue, every second of music obvious and manipulative, every piece of development outlined with small, easily digestible phrases, and so on and so on.  Combined with flat characters, terrible comedic interludes, and a number of plot contrivances so ill-advised they border on morally reprehensible, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” displays startlingly naked contempt for the audience’s intellect.  The film fishes not with grace and precision, but with dynamite, and the results are proportionally disastrous.  Continue reading after the jump…

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Blu-Ray Review: "Battle Royale: The Complete Collection" does justice to one of the all-time great films


I’ve been waiting for this day for a long, long time.

“Battle Royale” – the controversial Japanese masterpiece from the year 2000 – has finally been released on home video in the United States, twelve years after its original overseas release, in a four-disc Blu-Ray package assembling two cuts of the original movies, one cut of the inferior sequel, and an entire disc of Bonus Material.  It’s a very exciting compilation, and as such, I’ve gone all-out for this Blu-Ray review, giving you my in-depth analysis of both films, technical critiques of the video and audio quality, a look inside the packaging, and an overview of all the extras.  Whether you’re a fan of the films or are new to the franchise this is a review you won’t want to miss.

Read my Blu-Ray review of “Battle Royale: The Complete Collection,” after the jump….

“The Hunger Games” Versus “Battle Royale” – A Critical Analysis of Two Similar Works: Act Three – My ultimate conclusions on this whole sordid affair...


Tomorrow, the first big tent-pole release of 2012 hits theatres: “The Hunger Games,” an adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ 2008 smash-hit novel.  I’m excited for the movie, as are many others, but here’s the thing….when I read the book, it felt awfully familiar.  In fact, it was remarkably similar to one of my favorite books of all time, Koushun Takami’s “Battle Royale,” published in 1999. 

So throughout this week, I’ve been publishing a special three-part article investigating whether or not Collins stole from Takami, and why that informs how we should look at “The Hunger Games.”  In Act Three, the final part, I provide my ultimate conclusions on all the issues I’ve been writing about all week.  If you haven’t read Acts One or Two yet, they went up yesterday; my review of “The Hunger Games” movie will be published tomorrow. 

So without further ado, enjoy Act Three of “The Hunger Games” Vs. “Battle Royale” after the jump….

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

“The Hunger Games” Versus “Battle Royale” – A Critical Analysis of Two Similar Works: Act Two – Why “Hunger Games” is the Dumb American Version of “Battle Royale”


This Friday, the first big tent-pole release of 2012 hits theatres: “The Hunger Games,” an adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ 2008 smash-hit novel.  I’m excited for the movie, as are many others, but here’s the thing….when I read the book, it felt awfully familiar.  In fact, it was remarkably similar to one of my favorite books of all time, Koushun Takami’s “Battle Royale,” published in 1999.  So throughout this week, I’m publishing a special three-part article investigating whether or not Collins stole from Takami, and why that informs how we should look at “The Hunger Games.”

Today, we’re focusing on what I consider to be an important cultural question: if “Battle Royale” and “Hunger Games” are indeed so similar, then why is one so wildly controversial and the other widely accepted?  My answer: “The Hunger Games” is the Dumb American Version of “Battle Royale.”  Before you stone me, let me explain myself in Act Two of the article; Act One went up yesterday, and Act Three will post tomorrow, followed by my review of the “Hunger Games” film on Friday.

So without further ado, enjoy Act Two of “The Hunger Games” Vs. “Battle Royale” after the jump…

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

“The Hunger Games” Versus “Battle Royale” – A Critical Analysis of Two Similar Works: Act One – Comparing the Original Books


This Friday, the first big tent-pole release of 2012 hits theatres: “The Hunger Games,” an adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ 2008 smash-hit novel.  I’m excited for the movie, as are many others, but here’s the thing….when I read the book, it felt awfully familiar.  In fact, it was remarkably similar to one of my favorite books of all time, Koushun Takami’s “Battle Royale,” published in 1999. 

So throughout this week, I’m publishing a special three-part article investigating whether or not Collins stole from Takami, and why that informs how we should look at “The Hunger Games.”  You’re reading Act One, wherein I explain all the similarities between the two novels.  Acts Two and Three will go up over the next two days – the Prologue, which explains this whole scenario, was posted yesterday. 

So without further ado, enjoy Act One of “The Hunger Games” Vs. “Battle Royale” after the jump….

Monday, March 19, 2012

Announcement: “The Hunger Games” Versus “Battle Royale” – A Critical Analysis of Two Similar Works – A Special 3-Part Feature coming this week!


Late last year, I decided to read Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.”  I’d been hearing massive amounts of positive hype about the book for years, and with a major motion picture on the horizon, I knew I’d have to experience the story sooner or later.  Despite all the publicity, I really didn’t know a single thing about the story, except that, since Jennifer Lawrence had been cast in the film adaptation, the main character was a girl.  I like going into stories cold, and that’s such a rare opportunity these days that I thought it would be best to read “The Hunger Games” before movie trailers started arriving and ruining everything.  So with lots of time to kill on a road trip from Colorado to Iowa, I bought the novel on my Nook and started reading, eager to see what all the hype was about. 

A little while later, I was confused.  “The Hunger Games” wasn’t new to me at all.  I already read this book.  In fact, I read it a long time ago, years before “Hunger Games” was even published.  Back then, it was an English translation of a Japanese novel called “Battle Royale,” written by author Koushun Takami, but there was no mistaking it: I had already read this book. 

But let’s back up a moment for those unfamiliar with these two novels.  “The Hunger Games” is about a dystopian future where the tyrannical government demonstrates its control over the people by hosting an annual event, the titular Hunger Games, where 24 children, aged twelve to eighteen, are randomly selected from across twelve districts to compete in a battle to the death, where participants must kill one another until only one adolescent survives.  “Battle Royale” is about a dystopian, alternate-history Japan where the tyrannical government demonstrates its control over the people by randomly selecting a class of 42 high school students, aged fifteen, to compete in a battle to the death, where participants must kill one another until only one adolescent survives.  The core difference between the two stories is that “Battle Royale” was published in 1999 while “The Hunger Games” was published in 2008. 

After discovering the premise to “The Hunger Games,” I posted my concerns on Facebook, where I was immediately flamed by fans of the novel for being unfair, despite the fact that none of them had ever before heard of “Battle Royale.”  But I was enjoying “Hunger Games,” and gladly finished the novel.  It was fun.  A really engaging page-turner.  But try as I might to ignore all the parallels to “Battle Royale” I had discovered, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a watered down version of a superior novel.  Hence the following Facebook message: “‘The Hunger Games’ is the dumb American version of ‘Battle Royale.’”  More outrage, this time even more heated.  Hmm.  Perhaps Facebook was not the proper forum to report my findings, and I vowed to explain my argument in my own particular idiom. 

So here we are.  Four days away from the release of “The Hunger Games” film adaptation, and I’ve prepared a rather lengthily exploration of how Suzanne Collins’ novel compares to Koushun Takami’s work, the cultural implications therein, and my overall thoughts on the effectiveness of both works.  It will be presented in three parts, one per day on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as we await the premiere of the “Hunger Games” movie.  Here’s the schedule:

Tuesday, March 20th: Comparing “The Hunger Games” to “Battle Royale”

Wednesday, March 21st: Why “The Hunger Games” is the dumb American version of “Battle Royale” – A Cultural Analysis

Thursday, March 22nd: My final thoughts and conclusions on both works

Sounds like fun, right?  I think you’ll be reading some of my very best writing over the next four days, and I’m very excited to share it with you….

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Review: Duplass Brothers' "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" is a special, delicately powerful experience

Film Rating: A–

“Jeff, Who Lives at Home” is a wonderful little film about people escaping a rut of melancholy.  It is subtle, honest, and personal, built around real human emotions uncomplicated by manufactured sentiment or a convoluted narrative. 

Well, maybe a little convoluted, as a simple errand to find wood-glue becomes a life-changing experience for all involved, but ‘plot’ is beside the point.  The way writers/directors Jay and Mark Duplass view the world, the plot is life, and life is most often a vehicle to get us from one significant moment to the next.  Life’s machinations won’t always make sense, they can rarely be explained, and we may not even recognize the destinations when we get there, so blinded are we by the stresses of the day.  The film, like its title character, suggests that trying to rationalize any of this is probably futile, and that following the compass of one’s heart may be the best course of action.  Such existential arguments aren’t always effective on film, but in “Jeff,” they work because they are grounded in authentic emotions and moving performances.  The result is an undeniably special, delicately powerful experience.  Continue reading after the jump...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: "21 Jump Street" is a remarkably fun and creative spin on a bad eighties TV premise

Film Rating: B+

Early in “21 Jump Street,” Nick Offerman’s police chief character remarks on how utterly unimaginative the department is in resurrecting an old, silly undercover unit from the eighties where youthful-looking officers fight crime at local High Schools by pretending to be students.  It’s a wonderful little meta gag reflecting how baffling it is that studios keep cranking out remakes and reimaginings of useless, outdated films and TV shows, which is exactly what “21 Jump Street” is on the surface.  The eighties TV series had a spectacularly silly premise, never attracted the sort of rabid cult following that would usually inspire a studio cash-in, and is only notable for launching the career of Johnny Depp.  Yet, as Offerman puts it in his wonderful, deadpan way, here we are, re-launching a concept as insanely stupid as “21 Jump Street.” 

But here’s the thing: if every other remake out there displayed half the creativity, passion, and pitch-perfect tonal clarity as the “21 Jump Street” movie, Offerman wouldn’t need to make that joke.  Writer Michael Bacall and Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are fully aware of what a terrible premise they’ve been given, so they decide to simply have fun with it, using all their wits and imagination to turn dramatic lead into solid comedy gold.  “21 Jump Street” is riotously funny, sharply observed, occasionally thrilling, and even a little sweet.  It’s also the best comedy of 2012 thus far, setting a high bar for the next nine months.  Continue reading after the jump…

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

OSW Review: "Freaks and Geeks" - Episode 10 - "The Diary" - Smooth move, Alexander Graham Bell...


Every Wednesday this spring, I'm reviewing and analyzing the short-lived TV classic from 1999, Freaks and Geeks.  Today we reach Episode 10, "The Diary," an episode that is simultaneously jubilant and painful - and, of course, brilliant.  (And like all my TV reviews, I expect the reader has seen the episode in question, so if you haven’t, go track down the DVDs and return here when you’ve caught up.  The review will be waiting patiently for you.)  And just so nobody gets surprised next Wednesday, there isn't going to be a "Freaks and Geeks" review next week, since I'm publishing a week-long Special Feature article about "The Hunger Games" (which comes out in movie form next Friday) during that time.  Regular "Freaks and Geeks" reviews will resume on March 28th. 

For now, though, Spoilers for Freaks and Geeks, Episode 10 – “The Diary” – coming after the jump…

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The "Monthly Stuff" Podcast #4 - Xbox "720" Rumors, Discussion, and more!!


It’s time for another installment of The “Monthly Stuff” Podcast, where yours truly, Jonathan Lack, and Sean Chapman talk about…well, stuff.

This month, we cover a topic that should be of interest to our fellow gamers – the mythical Xbox 720.  There have been lots of rumors floating around, from release dates to hardware reports and more.  In our topic segment, we discuss all the major rumors, trace the history of the Xbox 360, and explain why we may not even want a new Xbox in the near future.  In addition, Sean gives us his analysis of the latest Xbox smash hit, “Mass Effect 3,” and we do another “Monthly Round-Up” discussing recent movie news we feel may be of interest to our listeners. 



Enjoy the show!

TIME CHART:

Intro: 0:00 – 0:07
News: Movie Trailers, an Obituary, and more: 0:07 – 0:25
Sean reviews “Mass Effect 3”: 0:25 – 0:44
Topic – Xbox 720 Rumors and Discussion: 0:44 – 1:35

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sorry for the delay....What's happening at JonathanLack.Com?


You may have noticed a rather obvious lack of content on this website over the last few days.  My last new post was the most recent “Freaks and Geeks” analysis from Wednesday, and I pushed my “John Carter” review to the top of the page to create an illusion of fresh material.  So for the first weekend in a long, long time, I had no new movie reviews for your reading pleasure.  Sorry about that.  Hopefully it won’t happen again any time soon. 

The reasons for my absence have been twofold.  First, there simply weren’t any interesting movies playing in theatres this weekend.  I’d already reviewed “John Carter,” and neither “Silent House” nor “Friends With Kids” made me want to get off the couch and go to the theatre.  Sometimes that happens.  It’s the middle of March, and while things start heating up in the next few days, some weekends are simply less exciting than others.  But despite the lack of film reviews, I wasn’t exactly taking time off this weekend, and that leads me to my second reason:

As you may have noticed from the hit count on the right hand side of the screen, this website has taken a huge uptick in traffic over the last few weeks, primarily due to my series of Bruce Springsteen "Wrecking Ball" articles.  We got an awful lot of new readers because of that (hi everybody!) – three or four times as many daily hits as before on average – and the “John Carter” review quickly became the most-read movie review on the site as well.  So I’ve spent the last few days reevaluating what to do with the site and planning for the future; now that I’m semi-popular, I feel I have a responsibility to deliver more content than I have in the past. 

My goal is to eventually have daily posts, but that’s obviously too much for one guy (who has another life and set of responsibilities away from all this) to accomplish, so I’ve also been in contact with some of my writer friends to see if they would like to contribute content as well.  Thankfully, Sean Chapman, who co-hosts the “Monthly Stuff” podcast with me, has agreed to write for the site, and you should start seeing articles from him shortly, articles I highly recommend reading.  He’s a phenomenal writer. 

As for me, I’ve got lots of great content coming in the weeks ahead.  A really great new “Monthly Stuff” podcast will be hitting the site tomorrow, and your regular “Freaks and Geeks” review will arrive on Wednesday as per usual.  And to celebrate the release of “The Hunger Games” movie, we will have four straight days of Hunger Games-related articles starting one week from today, articles my readers will definitely want to check out.  There will also be a new weekly column – Springsteen Sundays – beginning this Sunday; since my Wrecking Ball coverage proved to be so wildly popular, I thought I’d put my Springsteen fan knowledge to good use by dishing out some weekly musings on the works of the Boss.

And beyond all that, there’s plenty of other good stuff in the works.  If all goes well, there should be other weekly columns coming your way soon enough.  All this is in addition to the regular movie reviews that come out every weekend, and starting Friday, I’m planning on writing about “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” “21 Jump Street,” and possibly more. 

There’s lots of exciting stuff happening here at www.jonathanlack.com, so be sure to visit often! 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review: Disney's "John Carter" is an epic sci-fi misfire

Film Rating: D+

I wanted to like John Carter.  I really did.  I never read the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels growing up, but I’m well aware of the passion they’ve stirred in others, and I’m a huge fan of the many sci-fi and fantasy works they helped inspire, such as “Star Wars.”  With Andrew Stanton – one of co-founders of Pixar and director of “Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E” – at the helm, I was actually kind of excited to see the film, despite a marketing campaign so wretched it seemed like Disney was actively embarrassed by the end product. 

They probably should be, for “John Carter” is an embarrassing mess of a movie.  The script is a disastrous hodge-podge of unnecessarily complex exposition and inept character development, the acting is largely horrendous, and tonally, it’s all over the place without any clear sense of voice.  The film’s greatest asset is its hugely inventive visual palette and action choreography, but even that is destroyed by a blurry, incomprehensible 3D conversion that is nigh unwatchable.  “John Carter” simply doesn’t work.  Continue reading after the jump...

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

OSW Review: "Freaks and Geeks" - Episode 9 - "We've Got Spirit" - Hand me the head of that Norseman...


Today, we reach the halfway point of Freaks and Geeks, the short-lived TV classic from 1999 I’m spending Wednesdays this Spring reviewing and analyzing.  This is Episode 9, “We’ve Got Spirit,” one of the funniest and most painful episodes yet!  (And like all my TV reviews, I expect the reader has seen the episode in question, so if you haven’t, go track down the DVDs and return here when you’ve caught up.  The review will be waiting patiently for you.)

Spoilers for Freaks and Geeks, Episode 9 – “We’ve Got Spirit” – coming after the jump…

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Unboxing the Vinyl Edition of Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" - "Let me hear your voices call" for this picture log!

The label of the vinyl edition of "Wrecking Ball"

The album I've been writing about for weeks is finally here - literally!  Wrecking Ball, the latest studio album from Bruce Springsteen, arrives in stores today in a variety of packages - Regular CD, Special Edition CD, Digital, etc - but if you're an audiophile like me, it's likely you've opted for the Vinyl edition of the record.

My copy arrived from Amazon only a little while ago, and I documented the unboxing process - always an exciting moment - in pictures to share with other eager fans!  I haven't listened to the Vinyl version yet - I'm sadly away from my turntable today - so a review of the Vinyl sound quality will have to wait.  Until then, continue reading after the jump to see my picture log of the Unboxing!!

Analyzing Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” Bonus Tracks – Are “Swallowed Up” and “American Land” worth your time?


Happy Wrecking Ball day everybody!

Today marks the release of Bruce Springsteen’s seventeenth studio album – his first in over three years – and if you haven’t heard yet, I think it’s wonderful.  In addition to my full review, I’ve performed an in-depth, track-by-track analysis of the entire album, and you’ll find links to those articles at the bottom of this post.

Today I’m here to finish up the job.  See, Wrecking Ball is available in two configurations: a regular edition – just the 11-track album, no frills, available on CD, Digital, and Vinyl – and a special edition with two Bonus Tracks, available on CD and Digital.  Since I already analyzed every track of the main album, it’s only fair I give you my thoughts on these bonus tracks as well, “Swallowed Up (In the Belly of the Whale)” and “American Land.”  How do they hold up next to the album proper?  Are they worth the extra money it will take to purchase them? 

Find out after the jump…

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Album Review: Bruce Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” is an ambitious, emotional, and unforgettable masterpiece

Album Rating: A+

After forty years of recording, seventeen studio albums, and untold levels of fame and acclaim, Bruce Springsteen refuses to stop evolving.  Musically, lyrically, and thematically, his latest record, Wrecking Ball, is unlike anything else in his discography, and that alone is cause for celebration.  A new producer, Ron Aniello, has opened the Boss’s sonic pallet in exciting new directions, while Springsteen himself has composed a brilliant set of songs that see him examining the world in ways he never has before.   

Of course, many critics will fail to recognize this; on the surface, Wrecking Ball isn’t a huge thematic departure from prior works.  I predict it will be widely interpreted as a portrait of American frustration and melancholy following the economic collapse, an angry tirade against the forces that robbed us dry and stole our freedoms, and like all Springsteen works, a meditation on the distance between the American Dream and the American Reality.  This interpretation is fair – in the album’s opening tracks alone, Springsteen hits at the heart of what Occupy Wall Street is about far more clearly than the Occupy protests ever have – but it’s also too narrow, and misses the real meat of Springsteen’s message.   

Taken as a whole – and what an incredible whole it is – I see Wrecking Ball as a poignant, crushingly emotional ode to the indestructible nature of the human spirit, a very new theme for Springsteen to explore.  Many of his classics focus on the crippling toll hard times place on the soul – see Darkness on the Edge of Town, Nebraska, or Tunnel of Love for proof – but on Wrecking Ball, it’s the other way around: it’s the strength of the soul and mankind’s capacity for hope that allows us to whittle away at hardship.  You can beat us down, you can rob us blind, you can leave us in the dirt, you can even let our bodies die, but the spirit cannot be conquered, and as long as we stand tall with this knowledge in our hearts, there will always be hope.   Continue reading after the jump…