An online Harvard experiment tries to guess your age by evaluating your mouse-clicking ability. Hard to say how good it is, really. It deemed me thirty — eight years too young — but then again, with blogging and gaming both ranking high among the extra-curriculars, I probably use a mouse more than most people too.
Onward to the next adventure: With the announcement that there’ll be no more xpacs, Kotaku‘s Kirk Hamilton says farewell to Skyrim. To be honest, I haven’t even started Skyrim yet. I borrowed my father’s copy many moons ago, but I’ve been daunted by the scope of the game — and afraid of the inevitable timesuck it will generate — since it came out. As Alan Sepinwall noted of the currently-unfolding Golden Age of Television, it seems to get harder and harder to keep up with all the great pop culture out there at the moment. Not enough time in the day.
It’s as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. As part of their recent acquisition of the Star Wars empire, Disney decides to close down LucasArts. (A solid appreciation of their middle period is here.) As one of the wags at Coming Soon well put it, this deal is getting worse all the time!
Granted there hasn’t been a must-play Star Wars game since Knights of the Old Republic in 2003, and that was mostly on account of Bioware. But give credit where due – in the late 80′s and early 90′s, LucasArts had an unparalleled record of excellent games: Maniac Mansion, Zack McCracken, Sam and Max, Monkey Island, Full Throttle, Grimm Fandango, Dark Forces, and, of course, the original X-Wing.
Throughout, the LucasArts sign was a symbol of quality craftsmanship, and in many ways, they kept the torch of adventure games aloft after Infocom had closed up shop and Sierra’s Quest line had faltered. (Today, that torch is held by Telltale Games, where Sam and Max and Monkey Island live on.)
After years in development hell with Sam Raimi, two of my hobbies converge anew as Moon and Source Code director Duncan Jones grabs the reins of the Warcraft film. Said Jones in 2010: “I’m hugely jealous of Sam Raimi. I really believe World of Warcraft could be the launch of computer games as good films…[I]t’s not worrying about how the game plays, it’s about creating the world of the game and investing the audience in that world.”
Best build some wildfire…A group of audacious (and bored) GRRM-enthusiasts recreate the entirety of King’s Landing in Minecraft. I’ve yet to try Minecraft, since quite frankly I’m afraid to court another gaming addiction. But everything I read about it makes it seem like it’s eventually going to be the online world described in the namedroppy but compulsively readable Ready Player One.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate..Finally on the MMO front and also languishing in the bookmarks, Tor recounts how one simple mistake caused an intergalactic catastrophe on EVE Online (another game I’ve never played.) “While EVE ships start at $1 and top out around $100, the Titan dwarfs them all by requiring around $7600 of time/investment. Thanks to a single wrong click on Saturday night, that money is gone, and thousands more with it (at one point the estimated number reached $150,000.)”
“‘We don’t know whether the media multitasking is causing symptoms of depression and social anxiety, or if it’s that people who are depressed and anxious are turning to media multitasking as a form of distraction from their problems,’ Becker said in a statement.”
And here I thought Netflix and Warcraft went so well together: A new Michigan State study finds a correlation between depression and multi-tasking media. I wonder if the obverse is true also. One of the many reasons I love seeing a movie in the theater is that (ideally) nothing else but the film is impinging on my attention.
Developmental psychiatrist Nancy Maurer discusses her findings that playing first-person-shooters helps people born with cataracts to improve their vision. “I’m a reader. My husband and I don’t have children. So computer games wouldn’t be a part of our lives. I’ve never played one. I can’t imagine enjoying playing one.“
On the subject of HIV, it looks like the enemy of our enemy is our friend: In a stunning feat of gene therapy, scientists have used a disabled version of HIV to successfully defeat leukemia. “Mr. Ludwig’s doctors have not claimed that he is cured — it is too soon to tell — nor have they declared victory over leukemia on the basis of this experiment, which involved only three patients…But scientists say [this] may signify a turning point in the long struggle to develop effective gene therapies against cancer…In essence, the team is using gene therapy to accomplish something that researchers have hoped to do for decades: train a person’s own immune system to kill cancer cells.”
In the Atlantic, NYT crossword editor Will Shortz briefly explains the techniques of his craft. “Liz’s clue was Rory’s mom on Gilmore Girls, and I didn’t think solvers should have to know that.” You don’t? That’s a bit elitist, isn’t it? (Apparently, I’m not the only person to think so.)
Some very troubling news for MMORPG cheats to consider: The Guardian reports that prisoners at Chinese labor camps are now forced to gold-farm for hours on end. “If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things.” Ugh, don’t subsidize this, people. If you can’t farm the stuff yourself, find another hobby. (Arthas pic via here.)
My non-Cata gaming time has most recently been spent playing through the scary-impressive Dead Space 2, but this and Portal 2 are on my drop-everything list. Can’t wait. (And FWIW, that catchy song above is “Short Change Hero” by The Heavy.)
“By one estimate, Dr. McGonigal notes, creating Wikipedia took eight years and 100 million hours of work, but that’s only half the number of hours spent in a single week by people playing World of Warcraft. ‘Whoever figures out how to effectively engage them first for real work is going to reap enormous benefits,’ Dr. McGonigal predicts.“
But, then it’d be work, would it? At any rate, scientists and game designers try to figure out ways to tap into the world-changing potential of gamers. “‘Gamers are engaged, focused, and happy’…’One of the most profound transformations we can learn from games is how to turn the sense that someone has “failed” into the sense that they ‘haven’t succeeded yet.’“
Like mash-ups? Like graphs? The new Girl Talk album, All Day, gets broken down into its constituent samples in a very handy visual format. Whatever the intellectual property consequences, this definitely puts me in a mood for DJ Hero 2.
(This posed a poignant question for long-time players last night — Where do you go when the world ends? I myself parked my undead rogue on the grave where he was “born” four years ago, atop a hill in Tirisfal Glades, so he could watch the decline from a hazy distance.)
As usual, I’ve got a lot of games on my plate at the moment — CoD: Black Ops, Fallout: New Vegas, Civ 5, Starcraft 2, and DJ Hero 2. I’m still only halfway through Red Dead Redemption, and everything I’ve seen from the Kinect (and particularly Dance Central) suggests it’s a game-changing device in its own right. Still, for what hours I consign to gaming, I usually just keep coming back to WoW. It’s a quality production, through and through.
Sadly, it seems Pilgrim has already joined a film it shares a lot in common with in terms of visual inventiveness, the Wachowskis’ unjustly maligned Speed Racer, as something of a box office “bob-omb”. (That pun, by the way, was borrowed from one of the many Expendables fans on AICN strangely all-too-happy to dance on Pilgrim‘s box office grave.) And that’s really too bad. Because, even if I have some issues with the blatant fanboy (emphasis on “boy”) wish-fulfillment at its core, which I’ll get to in a bit, Scott Pilgrim deserves a wider airing.
For one, with its Wham-Pow! effusiveness and viscerally engaging superhero fights, it’s easily one of the most imaginative comic book renderings onscreen this side of Sin City. And comics are only half the story. From its 8-bit Universal opening (a la those great NES Pink Floyd mash-ups I linked to a few months ago), the movie also has one foot firmly entrenched in the world of old-school console gaming. If the dreamworlds of Inception felt like stages in a video game, this movie takes the conceit to the next level: Scott Pilgrim’s entire life unfolds in a Walter-Mitty-meets-Street Fighter, coin-operated Toronto (Trononto?) where g4m3r rules are a fact of life.
This allows for defeated villains turning into collectible coins, 1-ups around for psychic rejuvenation when needed, and — always a happy indication that the movie is about to get super-fun again — the Capcom “VS.” popping up whenever Scott (Michael Cera) must face off against another of his dastardly foes. Those would be the seven members of the League of Evil Ex’es, the sinister cadre of former significant others to the lovely Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) that have gathered together to block our hero from ever dating his dream girl.
And trust me — These Ex-Men (and one Ex-Woman) are no slouches. Among their number are not only Captain America (Chris Evans), here an action hero heartthrob and skater punk with a Jamie Madrox-style army of stunt doubles at his disposal, but the one and only Superman (Brandon Routh), now blonde, psychic, and, most dastardly of all, Vegan. (In the Pilgrimverse, Vegans operate like the Green Lantern Corps. Just ask Thomas Jane and Clifton Collins, Jr.) And they’re just the mini-bosses Scott will have to contend with before defeating Gideon (Jason Schwartzman, a bit anti-climatic, quite frankly — They should’ve sprung for Aldous Snow), the music biz impresario who still has an unholy thrall over Ramona, thanks to a chip implanted in the back of her neck.
Wait…a what? A chip, you say? That makes her a rather passive character, doesn’t it? Yeah, well, that’s the major problem with Pilgrim, which I attribute more to the source material than anything else. This is basically fanboy pr0n, and, in terms of the ostensible romance here, Pilgrim is as one-sided and overtly gendered a piece of rom-com wish-fulfillment as I imagine Eat, Pray, Love was in the theater next door. I mean, I get it: Saving the girl of your dreams from despicably evil forces has been a fanboy trope from Princess Leia to Princess Zelda (although, to her credit, Leia takes over the show as soon as she’s sprung from Detention Block AA-23.) And as one who’s eternally fond of Brazil, I’m not one to complain about a man going out on a limb for his dream-girl.
Still, something about Scott Pilgrim rankles. Sure, Michael Cera specializes in dweebs, but as George Michael in Arrested Development and in movies like Superbad, Juno, and Youth in Revolt, he still had a certain wry, self-effacing charm about him. But, as Scott Pilgrim, he’s just a lazy, whiny, self-entitled jerk, and seems unpossessed of any trait that would make him either desirable to the opposite sex or worth rooting for as a hero. (Well, I guess he does play the bass.) Meanwhile, Ramona is a very pretty cipher — She doesn’t bring much to the table either except Kate Winslet’s hair from Eternal Sunshine and the plot-driving baggage of seven evil ex’es. She’s more of a Macguffin than a fully-realized character.
Don’t get me wrong: There’s a lot of joy to be had in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, mostly due to Edgar Wright, after Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz, really letting his freak flag fly. There’s almost always something fun and geeky going on in the margins of the screen or on the soundtrack, and the Brandon Routh fight and a later Battle of the Bands (between Scott’s outfit, Sex Bob-omb, and a pair of Japanese twins by way of Daft Punk) are both absolute showstoppers. (Maybe too much so, in fact — The final twenty minutes are muddled, and feel like a letdown after these earlier highs.)
Yet, despite the flaws of its titular hero, Scott Pilgrim is the most purely enjoyable roller coaster ride to come down the cinematic pike since Kick-Ass. And, sure, Scott Pilgrim probably doesn’t deserve the girl in the end (or maybe he does, given that she’s drawn as such a blank), but Scott Pilgrim vs the World definitely deserves your ten bucks regardless.
“When the moose attacked them, Hans knew the first thing he had to do was ‘taunt‘ and provoke the animal so that it would leave his sister alone and she could run to safety…Once Hans was a target, he remembered another skill he had picked up at level 30 in ‘World of Warcraft’ – he feigned death.“
Anyone who’s pugged more than twice in WoW knows the phenomenon of the “huntard” — the little kid who’s not-so-adept at handling his character (almost invariably hunters, and beast-master hunters at that.) Well, it’s not this kid: A 12-year-old Norwegian boy saves his sister from a moose by employing WoW tactics. (And if he managed to Tame Beast I’d be really impressed.)
“‘Mass Effect is a tremendous property ripe for translation to the big screen,’ said Thomas Tull, Chairman and CEO of Legendary Pictures. ‘Mass Effect is a prime example of the kind of source material we at Legendary like to develop; it has depth, compelling characters and an engaging back story.’” In probably inevitable news, Mass Effect is coming to the big screen, with a script by Mark Protosevich (I am Legend, Thor.) Eh, I’d be happier just to see an earlier release of Mass Effect III.
Also turning thirty this weekend, those original Ghosts in the Machine — Inky, Pinky, Blinky, and Clyde. Gratz, guys, and thanks for the handy, binary thumbs-up/thumbs-down reviewing scheme. (Oh, yes, it’s Pac-Man’s birthday too, and the coin-operated Google homepage today is a great way to pay one’s respects.)
Sigh. We’ve come a long way from “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.” In a commencement speech at Hampton University over the weekend, President Obama channels his inner grumpy-old-man (Roger Ebert?) to warn new grads about the perils of gaming and gadgetry. First off, it’s a ludicrous statement on its face: iPods are not particularly hard to work — and, if they’re really insidious Weapons of Mental Distraction, why give one to the Queen (who, by the way and to her credit, has fully embraced the Wii?)
Speaking more broadly, misinformation has been around as long as the republic — go read up on the Jefferson v. Adams race of 1800. If anything, today’s information society allows people to more easily hear the news from multiple sources, which is a very good thing. In fact, the reason our political culture these days is constantly bombarded with irrelevant, distracting, and inane mistruths has nothing — none, zip, zero — to do with iPods, iPads, Xboxes, or Playstations. It has to do with ABC, CBS, WaPo, Politico, and the rest of the Village, i.e. the very same people the President was noshing with a few weeks ago at the ne plus ultra of “information becoming distracting entertainment“, the White House Correspondents’ DInner.
Finally, while the “multi-tasking is distracting” proposition does seem to hold water, scientifically speaking, the jury’s still out on the pernicious effects of Xbox’s and the like. In fact, there are plenty of studies suggesting that video games improve vision, improve reflexes, improve attention, improve cognition, improve memory, and improve “fluid intelligence,” a.k.a. problem-solving. So, let’s not get out the torches and pitchforks just yet. It could just be that the 21st-century interactive culture is making better, smarter, more informed citizens. (And, hey, let’s not forget Admongo.)
To get to the point, while it’s not as irritating as the concerned-centrist pearl-clutching over GTA in past years, it’s just a troubling dynamic to see not only a young, ostensibly Kennedyesque president but the most powerful man in the world tsk-tsking about all this new-fangled technology ruining the lives of the young people. Let’s try to stay ahead of the curve, please. And let’s keep focus on the many problems — lack of jobs, crushing student loan and/or credit card debts, etc. — that might be distracting new graduates right now more than their iPods and PS3s. (Also, try to pick up a copy of Stephen Duncombe’s Dream — Video game-style interactivity isn’t the enemy. It’s the future.)
(Maybe Black Mesa? That was a joke, ha ha, fat chance.) Y’know, to be honest, I blame the time travelers from the future who should’ve come back and prevented these catastrophic rips in the fabric of space-time. Bang up job, you effing slackers.
Art of the Steal starts off as an intriguing albeit confused retelling of this political story: Intriguing in that there’re a lot of interlocking and complicated motivations at work, and confused in that the documentary assumes certain first principles — and, later, malign intent — without backing them up. And while I was willing to forgive Art of the Steal its imbalance for awhile just because it was so clearly compelled by a sense of injustice done, the documentary gradually becomes so grossly one-sided in its telling that it skips right over myopic and naive and ends up feeling downright corrupt.
The story of the Barnes begins with the rise of our Andrew Ryan figure, Albert C. Barnes, a forward-thinking, working-class Philadelphian who, by dint of extraordinary intelligence and a hole in the pharmaceutical market, was a millionaire by the time he was 35. Considered a curmudgeon and misanthrope even by his friends, Barnes also had an undeniably great eye for art, and he started buying up masterpieces of the Post-Impressionist and early Modern periods — Van Gogh, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse — well before any other museums caught on to the scene. And when his attempts to show off his impressive collection in the town of his birth are ridiculed by the stuffy, conventional Philadelphia swells, Barnes angrily vows that he will never show off his private collection to these philistines, ever again.
Barnes is nothing if not a man of his word. He builds his own palatial gallery-school in Lower Merion, a suburb of Philly 4.5 miles outside the city center, and decides to restrict access to his collection to art students, working-class folks, and anyone else he deems worthy. The good news is Mr. Barnes’ sense of worthy is actually pretty keen: Barnes is a New Deal man well ahead of his time, particularly on the race relations front, and he greatly enjoys ridiculing the Philadelphia glitterati, most notably the Yang to his Yin, the conservative-minded Annenbergs. But even the Great Man cannot live forever, and when he dies in a car accident at an advanced age, the scions of Philadelphia begin their slow, convoluted plot to wrest Barnes’ art from him…for the good of the City, of course.
To his credit, Barnes did anticipate thus, and so his will clearly stipulates that this world-historical collection of art never be shown nor removed from its Lower Merion stronghold. (And, as a final screw-you to the Philly elites he loathed, he leaves it as a last resort to the local African-American college, Lincoln.) But, as time passes, and people die off, and Fortress Barnes itself starts to decay from within, the dead man’s ghostly hold over his property becomes more and more attenuated. To the point where — when a case is made that the art would be better off in Philly — well, the Great Man himself has been gone for fifty years, right?
Art of the Steal is at its best in the first hour, when it sets up the personalities involved and recounts the byzantine, death-by-increments process by which the Barnes collection finally got relocated. But, quite frankly, I thought there were some problems with its central thesis from the start. The documentary goes well out of its way to depict the people in favor of moving the collection as despicable and/or corrupt (and it is clear that some of the shadier operators, like Walter Annenberg, were indeed motivated by personal pique). But, nobody ever presents the counter-argument, that maybe (gasp!) there is really a legitimate case for moving the Barnes to downtown Philadelphia.
For one, the Barnes is an impressive building, and one of the best arguments the Barnes disciples make for keeping the collection there is the Great Man’s — again, extremely forward-thinking — methods of curation. (Unlike most museums, Barnes never subdivided the work by period or artist. He grouped by aesthetic, across cultural, geographic, and chronological lines, thus emphasizing a universality of art which is only now becoming more popular in museums.) But round the decay of that colossal wreck, nothing beside remains. For all intent and purposes, the Barnes really did seem to be falling apart, and attempts to continue using Lower Merion as a home base for the collection — adding parking lots and such — were roundly fought off by many of the same locals (Barnes might call them elites) later shown, when it’s convenient, to be “friends of the museum.”
And if the Ozymandias quote didn’t tip you off, I would also argue there’s a world-historical eminent domain question here that should at least be addressed. Albert Barnes may have been a Great Man, but…Mistah Barnes, he dead. (“God rest his soul, and his rudeness. A devouring public can now share the remains of his sickness.“) He’s as dead as King Tut, who probably would not have signed off on what Howard Carter et al did to his tomb. (In fact, I’d argue Tutankhamun almost assuredly got screwed over worse than Barnes.) And, speaking of which, there’s a reason why Indiana Jones’ usually undisputed refrain is, “It belongs in a museum!“
You may disagree, of course, and think that Barnes’ will should be held inviolate from now until the End of Days — Ok, that’s cool, we disagree. But a good documentary would at least entertain this obvious opposing argument. Instead, Art of the Steal keeps making overbroad assertions that merit some serious unpacking. This tale, according to the movie, is a devastating triumph of Unbridled Commerce over the Purity of Art. But wait…wasn’t this about Commerce as soon as Barnes bought the art in the first place? He didn’t paint this stuff. And, according to the movie, the Barnes collection stands for Democracy in the face of the Corporatization of Art. It does? I thought Barnes hated “the mass experience” and wanted to show his collection only to the worthy. That doesn’t sound particularly democratic to me.
And in its final half-hour or so, Art of the Steal just fulminates and rages, barely making any sense at all. It accuses City officials of enacting an elaborate and corrupt scam on the people, and then depicts County officials, as well as the area’s GOP Congressman, as if they’re pure art lovers or something. (Like, I dunno, maybe Lower Merion and Montgomery County, etc., have some financial interests at stake here too?) It accuses the Philadelphia Art Museum’s backers of orchestrating this nefarious plot, but never satisfactorily explains how having a rival art museum moved downtown would benefit them. (Presumably, the argument is a rising tourist tide lifts all boats, I guess. The movie has a better case against the Pew Charitable Trust, who pretty clearly use the Barnes rather dodgily as leverage to improve their tax situation.)
And, with the possible exception of Richard Glanton, an enterprising former Foundation head seen as either the first crack in the Barnes dike or, as he sees himself, Cerberus defending the gates of Hell (Apres moi le deluge), the movie keeps shoehorning everyone involved into either hero or villain, without ever conceding that the issues are more complicated than they first seem. (Julian Bond of the NAACP, for example, is a witness for the prosecution here. But one of his more compelling arguments — that the powers-that-be screwed over Lincoln University, an historically black institution, by Bigfooting them into the move — is mostly elided over.) And the movie generates so much heat in the end that the light is lost. At one point, Governor Ed Rendell says the move of the collection to Philadelphia just seemed like an easy call to him, and after watching this documentary, I didn’t see much to disqualify that claim. Other than following verbatim the will of a man with no heirs who’s been dead for fifty years, what were the reasons again for keeping the collection in Lower Merion?
In choosing to be a one-sided screed rather than an in-depth exploration of the subject at hand, Art of the Steal does its very interesting topic no favors. In the end, the movie works less as a definitive statement on the thorny entanglement of art and commerce than as a sad testament to the narcissism of petty differences. And from the muddled picture one gets of Mr. Barnes here, the Great Man deserved a better advocate.
First off, in keeping with the usual once-a-year romantic status-update, you’ll be happy to know that this 2010 post actually comes with 44% less whining than usual. (Yay, and there was much rejoicing.) I am still single on this end, as per the norm, which means my trusty sheltie sidekick is once again holding down the official valentine spot. (Aw, he got me Bioshock 2. How did he know I wanted it?) But, having at last escaped the egregious emotional, financial, and general personal sandtrap that is late-term gradual school, it’s safe to say I’m in a much happier place these days. And, since returning to DC, a town that’s been swell to me so far, I’ve at least been taking a few swings at the plate lately. So, no wallowing this V-day. I’m in a pretty good place, all in all, and hope springs eternal. In any event, on to the music:
What role do you want to play?
I’m just a click away, night or day.
And if you think I’m not the one,
Log off, log off and we’ll be done…”
But can she kite the adds? First off, as always, I offer some quality cheese: Singlehandedly raising unrealistic expectations for gamergrrls the world (of Warcraft) over, The Guild‘s fetching Felicia Day scored a massive (multiplayer) online hit last summer with the supremely catchy “Do You Wanna Date (My Avatar)?” In some ways a peppy, poppy update to Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love” (which led off the order in ’06) this was one of two songs I heard in the past year that I knew — immediately — would make it into this post.
Now, having spent more than my fair share of time MMO’ing over the past few years — everybody say hi to Jacklowry — it’s safe to say that the bubbly, infectious enthusiasm that drives this track isn’t really a huge part of games like Warcraft. (In fact, everyone usually seems vaguely depressed — There’s a reason why some of the biggest facets of WoW-life are “grinding” levels and “farming” mats. If you take it seriously, it sorta becomes a day job.) But, all that being said, Day and The Guild crew know their WoW — how ’bout a little tank-and-spank? — and they’ve delivered a ditty that works as both a fun and knowing riff on the MMO life and a silky, effervescent pop song all on its own. Great job, y’all…Lvl 80 rogue lf healbot pst?
Girl I refuse, you must have me confused
With some other guy
Your bridges were burned, and now it’s your turn
To cry, cry me a river.”
Don’t it make you sad about it? This song probably needs no introduction — most everybody knows it, and I’m sure a lot of people are totally sick of the durned thing. Still, since the last song, however cheesy, is already a gamer standard and perhaps not nearly as embarrassing a guilty pleasure as I’ve tended to offer in years past, I give you JT’s “Cry Me a River.”
It’s easy to playa-hate Justin Timberlake, and to be honest, I think I can only name three or four songs of his anyway. Still, I’d argue this well-crafted track and “SexyBack” put JT as the truly deserving 21st century pop heir to, say, Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson. He’s got the pipes, he’s got the beats, he’s got the production values, the dance moves, and the marketing savvy, and to my mind “Cry Me a River” just holds it own as a classically catchy pop ditty. And when the scorned lasses of this world roll out Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” as their peppy post-break-up standard on the dance floor, I in turn will call forth this track, Pokemon-style. Game on.
Your eyes are soft with sorrow,
And I know when to say goodbye.
While I threw up some Dylan in both ’06 and ’07, I try not to repeat artists just yet for these V-Day posts. Still, while the sublime “I’m Your Man” — which quite possibly can’t be topped as a V-Day song — was part of the 2007 mix, I’m going with Leonard Cohen’s “That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” this year from Live in London. Not only because it is beautiful, but because, frankly, I played the hell out of this record over the past year.
When he’s at his best, as he is throughout Live in London, Cohen’ sheer rawness — his naked, direct emotion — cuts like a knife. He’s not one to dabble in misdirection, or to try to obscure his feelings with extended metaphors. He just goes right to the heart of it, every time.
With that in mind, I much prefer this version of “That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” to the original 1967 version. At times, the young Cohen sounds too callow to me. It took years, even decades, for his voice to catch up to the power of his poetry. And the slight change in lyrics here — Now it’s “I know when to say goodbye” — helps push this ballad from petulance to poignance. It’s one of many transcendant moments on this superlative album.
And, really, who doesn’t love sleep? As a love-song sorbet of sorts, here’s The Dandy Warhols’ “Sleep.” Like Brian Eno’s “By this River” and Hot Chip’s “Crap Kraft Dinner” (written up in ’09), this is one of those songs I find endlessly soothing. It could just play on and on like this for twenty minutes and I’d be blissfully content…perhaps eventually nodding off, fading away into the wilderness of dream…
Go on, give me a reason to love you
Give me a reason to wanna be your man
Give me a reason to love you
Give me a reason if you can.”
As I said back when hyping Third in 2008, Portishead’s Dummy was one of those ubiquitous albums for a few years there in the mid-nineties, with the most memorable track therein possibly being “the second single, “Glory Box.” I include the late guitarist John Martyn’s cover of “Glory Box” here not because it’s an improvement on the original — they’re both amazing — but because it captures so well that song’s hothouse sultriness, while managing to sound quite different in the end (and switching the gender dynamic.)
Also of note on this subject: Portishead’s “Scorn,” the ice-cold B-side version of this same song. I love how it completely inverts the sensation of the original tune, just by switching the beats involved. Now, the whole song plays out atop that sensual, brooding oil-tanker rhythm only heard when everything goes wobbly in the original version. And, conversely, only in the climax of this mix are the original lyrical strings heard, like a moment of clear-thinking grace before the hammers descend anew. (The Youtube of “Scorn” below cuts out the end, unfortunately, although you can hear the whole mix here.)
Juliet says, ‘Hey, it’s Romeo, you nearly gave me a heart attack!’
He’s underneath the window, she’s singing, ‘Hey la, my boyfriend’s back.’
You shouldn’t come around here singing up to people like that…
Anyway, what you gonna do about it?”
You and me, babe, how ’bout it? Now, if forced, with a gun to my head, to pick the Dire Straits’ absolute finest hour, I’d have to go with “Sultans of Swing”, that testament to resolute keep-on-keepin’-on long after the crowd’s gone home and all the midnight oil is burned. Still, their brief retelling of “Romeo & Juliet” is an unabashedly lovely song indeed. (Full disclosure: This was, in fact, the favorite tune of one of my former ex’s, a long, long time ago. But, no plagiarism here. I ended up earning this streetlight serenade’s stripes myself…the hard way. Anyway, let’s move on.)
There are a lot of covers of “Romeo & Juliet” floating around — Indigo Girls, The Killers, Edwin McCain — but none of ‘em really do the simple beauty of this song justice. Also, the original Dire Straits video is also online, but frankly it’s so bad and ridiculously Eighties-ish that it detracts from the timelessness of the tune. No wonder they later plunked down big dollars for “Money for Nothing“…
All i needed was the love you gave
All i needed for another day,
And all i ever knew,
As I’ve said ’round here many times, I’m a big Depeche Mode fan from way back. (Their “Here is the House” went up here in ’06.) And I think they became a better, darker, richer band in 1982 with Vince Clarke’s departure after Speak & Spell, when Martin Gore took over the songwriting full-time.
Still, with all due respect to melancholy Marty, Vince Clarke always had a way with a happy three-chord love song that the minor-key-obsessed DM never ever really got back to. Case in point: Yaz’s “Only You” (as well as almost all of Erasure’s many hits over the years.) There are no regrets or guilt or religious allusions or teenage scared-stiff-of-sex angst or black cars driving around in the distance. It’s just a simple, very pretty ode to that one special person.
There are a lot of very good tracks on the better of Yaz’s two albums, Upstairs at Eric — “Don’t Go,” “Situation,” and “Winter Kills,” for example. Still, I’d put “Only You” as the pick of the litter: It’s the perfect blend of Vince Clarke synth-pop and Alison Moyet soul.
How can we ever know
We’ve found the right person in this world?
(he means he looks at other girls)
Love is a mystery, It does not follow the rules!
(this guy is a fool)
(he’ll always be a boy, he’s a man who never grew up)
I thought I told you to shut up…”
The first time you get dumped, it feels like a tragedy. It just plain sucks. The second time, it…well, actually it’s even worse. And by the third or fourth time, you start to really wonder what’s wrong with you. But, after enough iterations of the dismal cycle, as the Conchords’ “Carol Brown” points out, it does become farce. And a really funny one, for that matter.
Along with Felicia Day at the top, this is the other song I knew I was going to post here this year as soon as I heard it. The Flight of the Conchords’ second season included a lot of really hilarious tunes: “Hurt Feelings” (and its reprise), “Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor,” “Fashion is Danger.” But “Carol Brown” is, imho, their magnum opus. It’s funny on its own terms (as well as a great riposte to Paul Simon’s smarmy “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”) But, more importantly, it’s just a funky-sweet song with truthiness to spare. (The Michel Gondry video is great too.)
I’m sure most of y’all out there know the old Annie Hall joke: “This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.’ And, uh, the doctor says, ‘Well, why don’t you turn him in?’ The guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and…but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us…need the eggs.“
That’s the gag that “Carol Brown” gets so well. The whole song is a litany of ugly dumpings for most of its run. But every time that peal chimes (at 1:15) and the angelic chorus kicks in for the first time (“He doesn’t cook or clean…“), you can hear exactly why Jemaine — and so many others of us, for that matter — keep leading chin first regardless. Carol Brown took a bus out of town…but I’m hoping the next gal sticks around.
That’ll do for ’10, I think. Have a safe and happy Valentines Day, everybody. I’ll see y’all on the flip side. And, until next year…
News you can use: How to unlock all the titles in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. With my strict gaming regimen freed up until WoW’s Cataclysm expansion comes out, MW:2 has been getting a lot of run lately in Casa Berk (as have Left 4 Dead 2, NBA 2K10, the GTA IV expansions, and Batman: Arkham Asylum.) Then again, given the millions of copies sold on opening day, I guess I’m in good company.
Donnie Darko appears to be having more trouble with the timestream (at least as far as I can ascertain without sound) in the CGI-heavy full trailer for Mike Newell’s The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, with Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton (late of the last Bond), Alfred Molina, and Ben Kingsley. (Does Kingsley say no to projects anymore?) Eh, it looks like The Mummy meets one of the later Pirates movies, but I guess it could be fun in a turn-your-brain-off, two hours of air conditioning kind of way.
“‘The aim is to adapt the game, rather than a previously conceived story written within that world. “We want to be really faithful to the game,’ Raimi said. ‘We would have our writer, Robert Rodat, really craft an original story within that world that feels like a ‘World of WarCraft’ adventure. Only obviously it’s very different ’cause it’s expanded and translated into the world of a motion picture.‘”
Sam Raimi discusses his upcoming World of Warcraft film with MTV, and discloses he’s hired Saving Pvt. Ryan screenwriter Robert Rodat to pen the film. Well, if it’s going to be a wipe, it’ll be an A-list wipe. (Speaking of WoW, I myself quit the game pretty much cold turkey upon moving back to DC this summer, but I could see myself getting snared back in by the next expansion pack, Cataclysm, whenever it drops next year.)
Ever wonder what Shaun of the Dead would’ve been like if it had been an American studio film? Well, I suspect it’d have been bigger and broader in every facet of the game. It’d have more action, more violence, more bodily humor, more star wattage. And it’d probably be less droll, less unconventional, and less memorable. In short, it would probably have been much like Ruben Fleischer’s well-meaning but frothy Zombieland. Don’t get me wrong — Zombieland is a decently fun Friday night, and most of the audience clearly enjoyed it more than I did. But it felt very by-the-numbers to me, and I suspect I’ll remember very little about it after a few weeks, even if the dread zombie apocalypse doesn’t happen between now and then.
So, what’s the rumpus? Well, after a quick breakdown of the rules of surviving said zompocalypse (For example, “Rule 1: Cardio…Fatties die first“), Zombieland basically follows the travails of five of the last humans on Earth. There’s:
I’ll concede that I’m probably being harder on Zombieland than it deserves. It’s a harmless thrill-ride-type entertainment, and I’ll bet it was quite a bit better than a lot of the past summer’s tentpole releases, most of which I skipped. (I’m looking at you, X-Men Joeformers: Salvation.) Still, maybe I’m just an insufferable zombie-snob — this isn’t The Walking Dead or World War Z by any means — but I left Zombieland feeling underwhelmed. To me, it just felt by-the-numbers, with a tired “family is what you make it” plot and a certain laziness — how is the power on everywhere, by the way? — about it. And if anything, the zombies, never once very frightening, seem like a plot convenience more than anything else.
Also, it’s hard to escape the nagging sensation that this movie is basically just Shaun of the Dead for mooks. This feeling isn’t helped by the earlier-mentioned Family Guy-isms, or the Beavis-and-Butthead-y “I like breakin’ things!” messaging of the middle-going. (Sometimes it’s not even Fleischer’s fault — On its own, the slo-mo credit sequence is good, imaginative fun, but it also can’t help but recall the very similar Watchmen opening, which then involuntarily brings to mind the current mook-King of Hollywood, Zack Snyder.)
Lemme put it this way: Throughout the movie, the previously-established Zombie Rules — “Beware of Bathrooms,” “Double-Tap,” “Don’t be a Hero” — will flash up on the screen whenever they become pertinent. This often gives Zombieland the feel of the introductory levels — “Press X to jump” — of a not-very-interactive xBox game. And, while I can’t say I had a bad time at Zombieland, it’s hard to shake the sense that that 81 minutes would’ve been much better spent at home, playing Left 4 Dead. Now there’s a zombie-killing quartet I can get behind.
While much of the geekglobe, including yours truly, are still happily grooving along this week to Felicia Day’s elite-level earworm, “(Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar,” the King of the World has upped the stakes by releasing the teaser trailer for his much-anticipated film of the same name. (Several stills have popped online too, including first looks at Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang (late of Public Enemies), and Giovanni Ribisi. Notably missing: Zoe Saldana.) The Avatar trailer drops at 10am EST.
Update: Apple/Quicktime is failing at the moment, but French MSN has come to the rescue. So, wait, it’s World of Warcraft Draenei replacing Dune‘s Fremen on the forest moon of Endor in 3D? Agh, screw it — you had me at James Cameron.