Monday, October 31, 2011

Batman: Arkham City - The New Standard

Believe it or not, I was one of the few people who didn't totally love Arkham Asylum. I thought it was repetitive, flawed, and the writing just led the player in the wrong directions.

Nothing feels worse than seeing others praise something that you feel let down by. Especially when you voice your complaints and the people who loved it still agree with you.

I told them all that I thought Killer Croc was a huge waste of time and buildup. I kept telling them that the bosses were a huge failure, to the point where a great villain like Bane got treated like an enemy that becomes normal two hours later in the game. And then they bullshit their way into a final battle with the Joker that uses every gaming shortcut in the book.

Lets just eliminate everything that makes him an interesting character.

The one thing Asylum did well was that it made you feel like Batman every once in a while. And for those brief windows of gameplay, it felt pretty awesome. I keep saying, if you compare Arkham Asylum to other comic book games, of course it's superior. But as a game, it just falls short of the acclaim it was receiving at the time.

It's been three years, and Arkham City is now officially a game of the year candidate, and I have no problem with that whatsoever; because this game is amazing. Rocksteady Studios and Paul Dini have crafted the Batman universe and placed it in your hands to explore.

Asylum was a free roaming game. You were allowed to backtrack wherever you wanted almost at any time, but it wasn't nearly big enough to be considered a 'sandbox' game. City, on the other hand, is pretty huge in comparison, and it gives you enough liberty and side quests to keep you busy for weeks.

You can always tell when a sandbox game is good around three in the morning. You know, you're about to go to sleep and you tell yourself 'five more minutes' and I'll turn off for the night. Suddenly the sun is coming in through your window and you realize that one sidequest just killed your last three and a half hours of sleep. And Arkham City has given me enough sleepless nights to be considered one of the best sandbox games I've ever played.

The fighting in Asylum was something I did like, at first. It can get quite repetitive; the key word there is can, because it doesn't have to. Not much has changed for the sequel, if you find one thing that works and you keep doing it you will get bored. But the game gives you enough options to spice up the combat, and I encourage you to do so; I mean, you're The God Damned Batman (I had to say it once), you're supposed to kick petty thug ass with style, and it's very satisfying to do so.

The boss battles are much improved. I won't spoil which ones. Because that would be mean. Let me just say that the game has enough surprises in it to keep you invested even after the story is over. If a character is mentioned more than once during the game, odds are he's in there somewhere. You should expect the unexpected.

The story is just flat out brilliant. I can't say enough good things about it. Paul Dini worked enough obscurity and detail into this to make even the most hardcore Bat-fans giddy. There are so many intricate details in this world that you will  be constantly asking yourself when something is an easter egg, a thing yet to come in game, or just him pointing out things to expect in the sequel. And yes, there will be a sequel, unless there's a whole part of the game I haven't found yet (a guy can only hope).

I'm not going to review the story. I already told you it's spectacular, and you just need to experience it for yourself. If you really need to know, go read it. But I can't urge you enough to play through it, every Batman fan should. If you're not much of a gamer, just play it in the easy setting, it's not a difficult game. You just need to go through this.

I will say that part of what makes it so great is the voices. Vereran Bat-voice Kevin Conroy returns, and again does a great job. But without a doubt the showstealer, as always, is Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill as the Joker. He just gets extra creepy at times. And as the story escalates the relation between Joker and Batman he just gets outright terrifying (make sure and sit through the credits if you don't believe me).

If I had to nitpick at something I would say that the inside environments aren't nearly as big or intricate as they were in the first game. Batman is constantly stuffed into small areas for sneaking around, whereas you were constantly climbing giant elevator shafts in the Asylum. I kinda liked that, and I could have seen at least one giant elevator shaft puzzle. But it's really just me trying to find something wrong.

Of course, the other big thing that AC changes is the fact that you not only get to play as The Dark Knight; Catwoman joins him, with her own sections of the story as downloadable content, and they add perfectly to the story. Unlike the Joker DLC from the first, she controls differently to the Bat, yet oddly similar. Her gadgets are different, her methods of movement are different, and she seems to be slightly quicker.

And she just makes me feel... sexy.
There's also Robin and Nightwing DLC in the upcoming months, but unfortunately they'll only be playable in challenge maps. It would be great if they got their own in story segments, but I guess I might be asking for too much. I can only hope that they're brought in for the sequel.

This is officially the best time to be a Batman fan. Between the Nolan films, and the Rocksteady games it's hard not to be. I was asked the other day which one of the two universes I prefer, and It may shock many, but I can't pick against the games. The world is too huge to even compare. I really do think Dini has found the secret formula to writing comic book games. Marvel needs to fess up and get with the standards if they want to stay afloat, because Spider-Man: Edge Of Time doesn't stand the slightest chance. 

I've been saying for months that this will be the best month in the history of gaming, I just didn't expect Arkham City to be this big a part of it. I can't express how overjoyed I am that this game is this good. I will go as far as to call this an experience, more than a video game. 

More than anything, it just gives me huge expectations for the third. Let me drive the Batmobile. Please.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Las Cargas - The Funnest Band In Puerto Rico

This might be a tough one. I've written about movies, TV, music, books. I've written rants and articles. I've written about things I love, and things I loathe. I've never written about people I actually know.

This is also the first time I've had to review an album where I'm more accustomed to seeing it performed live. This lends itself to the interesting dynamic where the album version feels weirder to me that hearing it in person. And in this case it's a whole different experience that could almost lead to two totally different reviews.

But I've been requested by the band's singer, so I guess I need to give this a whirl.

Las Cargas is a really hard band to describe. It would be easy to call it punk, but it isn't. And that's why I like them better live. Las Cargas is what that garage punk band you used to like in high school would sound like if they ever took music seriously and decided to keep playing. But more than anything, they're just an awesome stage show, and what makes them so special is how they drag you in just far enough for you to feel like a part of the show. They're multi-layered and multi-faceted. And I really don't think that translates well into a recorded medium. But that doesn't mean the record is bad; like with many bands, it just doesn't compare to the live experience.

The live experience just stands for itself. I would openly say that Pekeke is among the best frontmen around. He just sets up a fun show, and is an expert in making the audience feel like they're an important part of it. Adding to that is the fact that they paint their faces, which is kinda hard to explain. When it's a Las Cargas show Omar shows up, paints his face, and becomes Pekeke. And that's how every band member is, they transform into a character, and you can tell. They keep in character and even get angry at you if you mention their "real" names.
A fun bunch... Right?
Oddly enough, the album stands on it's own. It has it's differences that make it stand apart from seeing the band live; mostly sound related. Sound-wise the drums steal the show. I'm not sure how or where they recorded the album, but El Conde sounds amazing on every track. That's not to say anyone sounds bad. The whole album sounds great. It's just that the drums just seem to get special treatment.

The album stands at almost an hour in length, which is surprising for the style they play. I've judged albums before for being too short, but in this case, even though most of the songs are really short they supply enough of them. The one bad thing I can say is that some of the songs almost feel like skits, but they're still skits that get stuck in your head. You just find yourself singing them over and over. The best example of this has to be Baño (Na, Na, Na). Seriously, I just told you most of the words to the song. It translates to 'time to take a bath' and it's become that the one song I hum on the way to the shower.

The rest of the album is littered with songs that will be stuck in your head for a good while, and most of them are simple enough that you learn them by the second listen. Just stuff that you find yourself singing along to without even noticing, and when you do, you'll love it even more.

Unfortunately, it pales in comparison to what these guys are live. The music loses a lot of steam when heard by yourself, through headphones. These songs are meant to be heard in person, at a party, with a bunch of people who know and love them. So yes, the album is nice and dandy, but if you ever get the chance to see Las Cargas live, don't hesitate. I've seen a lot of shows, and I don't think I've seen a band that has more fun at their own shows than these guys. And they make sure the audience feels that.


Since it's a local band I'm going to link you to...
Las Cargas' Facebook page.
The album on Amazon.
And the video for Alcoholico Ezquizofenico.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Parallel Universe - Dexter By Design

Dexter. The name itself just makes me smile these days. I stand firm in saying that it's the best thing on TV right now. And the ratings back up my statement. But it seems to me that the books the hit Showtime series was based on seem to be flying a bit under the radar. With the sixth book, Double Dexter, about to hit the shelves, I'm slightly behind.

To say that the novels by Jeff Lindsay have an odd relationship with the show would be quite the understatement. They seem to borrow ideas from each other back and forth, but the plots are totally different. The only actual thing in common is the setting and the characters at the start. And by at the start I mean first book (Darkly Dreaming Dexter), first season (Ice Truck Killer), but that's really as far as the similarities go directly.

It's almost like the comic book universes where the same characters are doing different things. Some get killed off, some turn on each other, and in this case, some get physically mutilated forever (That last part couldn't be more literal). But in the end it really works well to give a new depth to characters that are already pretty well developed.

By the fourth novel, Dexter By Design, which I just finished, Dexter's situation is very much different from what you've seen on the show, but somehow he's handling a lot of the same issues he faces on TV. The book kicks off with Dexter on his honeymoon in Paris where he and his wife Rita get invited to a rather bizarre art exhibit that peaks Dexter's interests. From there the story picks up into a tale of a serial killer who thinks of his victims as vessels to showcase his artistic side. Eventually Dexter crosses this new foe, and we have a very pleasant cat and mouse game to the death.

There are a couple of subplots in the story which differ greatly from the show. These mostly revolve around the interactions between Dexter and the people around him. It's here where the two go totally in opposite directions. Without spoiling much I can say that Dexter's stepchildren, Cody and Astor, play a much bigger role in the novels. Lets just say that Dex is a much bigger influence on their lives, and it's not really his choice.


The other big subplot involves Dexter's stepsister Deborah dealing with the fact that she discovered the truth about Dex at the end of the first book. She had been silent throughout the second and third, but Debs finally confronts him about his reality at the worst time. Dexter is left wondering what he would do if the cop in her takes over and decides to bring him to justice. This is a real stand out moment in the tale of Dexter. When confronted with the decision on what to do about the person he considers closest, Dexter sees himself forced to contemplate things he never thought he would, making him a much more human character.


Story wise the book is a huge step up from the third (Dexter In The Dark) which had a overly strange plot that included Dexter hallucinating and being kidnapped by a cult. Yeah, I'm glad that's over. This one is more the usual Dexter style. Serial killer vs serial killer.

As always, the city of Miami is almost as important as the characters, which is one of the things I've always loved about the series. I've never spent too much time in Miami, I've been there once or twice for a day or so, but I swear that I know my way around that city. That sounds absurd, and I'm probably (totally) wrong, but these books just describe that city in a way that you just believe you know your way around. Then again, if I believed everything in these books I'd probably be dead within a week of arrival.

Lindsay does another spectacular job at bringing to life these amazing characters. He places you in the head of a serial killer, and you love it. He makes you feel what he feels, and he makes you justify every stab and slice he performs. He makes these outlandish stories believable with ease. I do believe it's in the details; from  the way things are said, to the way the forensic stuff is explained... He just gets it.

Even if you haven't seen the show (you should!), take a look at these novels. They stand for themselves, and they might be just as good. And if you do enjoy the show, and you haven't checked out the novels, then you're really doing yourself a disservice.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Netflix Reviews #6


When I heard that Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) and Robert DeNiro were going to be starring in a Neil Burger (The Illusionist) movie, I was excited. I loved The Illusionist and was excited to see what was next for Burger. This sci-fi thriller is pretty good. Not as good as I was expecting, but it was still an entertaining movie with an entertaining premise and a couple of interesting shots. I was surprised at how little the female cast had to do. They were just sort of there to motivate Cooper's Eddie but otherwise, they are nonexistent. I did like the effects that they used whenever Eddie used the drug. There was a frenetic feel to the camera work and I felt that worked to the films advantage even though it might be a little dizzying. So, in the end, its an interesting movie that works. Check it out.

7 out of 10


This movie was nominated for 10 Goya Awards, winning three of them. Then again, some movies that tend to win the festivals are sometimes over hyped. This movie was probably over hyped. It's not a bad movie, and surprisingly, its not a boring movie. It did keep me on the edge of my seat and the ending was surprising. I sort of had to remember to breathe during the last 5 minutes of the movie when Ryan Reynolds' Paul Conroy begins to break down. I have never seen anything by director Rodrigo Cortés, but I'm interested in his movies now. Now, don't get me wrong, the movie is all of those things I mentioned above, and Ryan Reynolds performance is surprisingly good... but there is something about this movie that makes me uneasy. Maybe its the premise, but I'm not sure its anything to do with the story, and more with the movie itself. For example, that scene with the snake. It seemed out of place and sort of throws the movie off in my opinion. Either way, some credit has to be given for actually being able to elicit an emotional response from those watching... unlike the next film...

6 out of 10

Blue Valentine

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star in this bore fest of a movie directed by Derek Cianfrance. There's nothing about this movie that made me feel anything for either of these characters. They are both extremely unlikable so it was hard for me to like them at all. It tells the story of this married couple and how they began and where they eventually ended up. Nothing new or interesting about it. People get fat and bald and bitchy and they fall out of love... happens all the time. This was just an uninteresting way to see it happen. If there are any redeeming qualities to this movie, its probably the performances by both Gosling and Williams, other than that... if you can, skip this movie. There are many better movies out there to watch.

4 out of 10

The Spanish Prisoner

I remember watching a David Mamet film a long time ago and thinking he was an incredible writer of dialogue. After that, I have tried to find most of the movies he has directed and some of the movies he has written a screenplay for and they all seem to have amazing dialogue. Glengarry Glen Ross is amazing and the underrated Spartan is also very good. This particular movie doesn't stray far from what has made Mamet what he is, a con movie. Campbell Scott is really good as Joe, the man who invents a "Process" that will earn his company a lot of money. He plays the mark incredibly well. You root for him all the way. Rebecca Pidgeon is also really good as the love interest, but my favorite character is the dodgy millionaire Jimmy as played by Steve Martin. It was surprising to see him in a role as this one instead of the quirky, funny guy that we are always used to. Anyways, if you like con movies with incredible dialogue, check this one out. Also, check out some of Mamet's other stuff as well.

8 out of 10

Your Highness

From the makers of Pineapple Express, this movie is a fantasy comedy about two completely different princes, played by James Franco and the hilarious Danny McBride, who go on a quest to save Franco's wife to be and McBride's sense of self worth. Look, this movie is dumb. It will not win any awards or be one of those movies that you will be watching 20 years from now, but for what it is, its an entertaining, raunchy comedy that pays homage and also makes fun of the fantasy genre. Justin Theroux is hilarious as the bad wizard Leezar and Natalie Portman is just okay as Isabel. Some of the jokes are just meh, but you can't help but laugh at most of it. And that is what I rate this one on. I wish Hollywood would make more comedy films for adults instead of the PG comedies that we normally get. Also, director David Gordon Green is someone to keep an eye on. I loved 2007's Snow Angels (not at all like you'd expect) and of course 2008's Pineapple Express.

6.5 out of 10

Friday, October 14, 2011

Who-Views: The Ninth Doctor

He doesn't look it, but he's quite the ray of sunshine.
Thanks mainly to fellow SiD-er Ray, I've developed a new love for longtime BBC staple Doctor Who. I can't say that I'm watching them in order though. Oddly enough my first Doctor is the current and Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. I love the Eleventh enough to firmly say that I couldn't imagine getting into anyone else as the Doctor, even though everyone around me seems awfully partial to the Tenth.

So since I recently signed up for Netflix I decided to take full advantage of it and slightly broaden my Whovian knowledge. I'm not watching all the way from the beginning, I might at some point, but for now I'm sticking to the 2005 reboot which kicks off with the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston.

Since I can only compare him to the Eleventh, my first impression was kind of odd. Right off the bat, I'm surprised by how old he seems. I don't mean seems, I mean is. Eccleston is 19 years older than Smith. I know it's a superficial thing to judge in such a complex character. They say that the first impression is the most important, and it's painfully obvious here. I'm just used to the Doctor looking like a quirky late twenties lanky dude, and suddenly I'm watching an early forties dude with really big ears, and they're supposed to be the same character. Kinda hard to swallow. But once the first episode carries on you get that Doctor sense from him and I settled into seeing him as that character.

Overall he seems to have a shorter temper. He seems snappier and much less carefree than Smith, but oddly enough on other occasions he seems to say that his short fuse is an act and drops the whole anger bit for the lightheartedness that I know from the Doctor. He is also a much dryer character. He does attempt the clever quips and jokes at times, but it just doesn't flow as naturally for him and it almost seems forced. Either way, it's not enough for me not to like the character, just slightly different. I don't like him as much as the Eleventh, but he's cool in my book.

Insert generic blonde here.
On the other hand, we have the one thing that really takes away from the show: the companion. Rose Tyler might just be the most blah character I've ever seen on this show. Calling her bland is doing her a service. After getting used to Amy Pond who just has built in chemistry with the Doctor, Rose just feels like she got picked out of a hat, won a contest or something.

If you look at how she comes in contact with the Doctor, it was pure luck, they just happened to bump into each other. Nothing special. Amy Pond is the girl who fucking waited, an awesome and touching story that gave birth to a great complex character that isn't just there to fuck things up for the Doctor.

And on top of that, she brings along the people around her. Her mom is just as bad, if not worse. Bitchy and loud, almost disruptive to the mood of the show. And she's not even the character I dislike the most; that honor goes to Mickey, Rose's more or less boyfriend, who is without a doubt the biggest idiot I've ever seen on this show.

To his credit, the Doctor acknowledges how annoying these two are, butting heads with Rose's mom quite often and going as far as nicknaming him 'Mickey the idiot', but his love and admiration for Rose is seriously misplaced in my eyes. She just adds nothing to the story, and I can't get over how they try and put over her importance to the Doctor, and I just don't see it.

With only ten stories over thirteen episodes, the Ninth Doctor didn't really last too long, but it's interesting how much he did grow on me. Not all the episodes are great, but the ones that are are actually very good. I look forward to the Tenth Doctor. I really need to see what all the fuss is about. For now though, the Eleventh reigns supreme to me.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Top Ten Most Horribly Misnamed Bands/Groups

One of the most important thing about starting your new band is the name. It will be what people will eventually chant whenever your are around. It is what will define the members for the rest of their careers with said band. Names are important. Most bands got this. Most bands named their bands according to what genre of music they played. Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax are hard names for hard bands. Coldplay, Maroon 5, and Hoobastank tell you exactly how crap their music really is without having to kill your neurons with their lame ass music.

This list, though, is about the bands that didn't get it. So without further ado, here are the:

Top Ten Most Horribly Misnamed Bands/Groups

10. Smash Mouth

What does it sound like?
It sounds like a New Wave of American Heavy Metal a la Hatebreed. It sounds like music that will grab your face and punch it in while it drinks whiskey and fucks a stripper.

What does it REALLY sound like? If you had images of stripper fucking, whiskey drinking, face punching music..... you better call Phil Anselmo cause this ain't it! In the late 1990's there was a hole in the music business that sucked all good taste and left out all the pop punk, surf rock, whatever bands that we all know. Smash Mouth came on the scene with singles like "Walkin' On The Sun" and "All Star" which showed the world once more that white folks should stop trying to rap. Truth is, everyone that grew up with MTV during this generation would remember the lyrics to their songs. But boy, are they the farthest thing from Mouth Smashing that I could think of.

9. Def Leppard

What does it sound like?
What the hell happened here? What is a Leppard? What does Def mean? Apparently they changed it from the original Deaf Leopard... which is still a terrible name for a band. This sounds like a kid with obvious learning issues wrote it down for them and in they were too high to apply reason.

What does it REALLY sound like? It's very surprising to me that a band with a name like this one could become as big as they did. During the early 1980's the New Wave of British Heavy Metal took the world by storm and at one point, Def Leppard was at the forefront. That is even though they are not metal at all. I read someone at one point call them the love child of Jon Bon Jovi and AC/DC and it seemed like a fitting description... even though the mental image will forever stay with me... In 1983 they released Pyromania and in 1987 Hysteria to popular acclaim. There is not one band that is as catchy as this one. The songs are just memorable even though their name is probably one of the worst in existence.

8. Graveyard

What does it sound like?
The name immediately brings up images of black metal. Emperor, Mayhem and Immortal come to mind.

What does it REALLY sound like? Graveyard is a retro rock/blues band from Sweden (not far off with the black metal thing!). Their style is nothing like the name entails. A band called Dead sounds dark and ominous... The Grateful Dead sounds like it could actually be your friend. Maybe they should have added something to the graveyard to make it feel more like what they sound. Don't get me wrong, I love this band (as you can probably tell by my review of their last album) but they picked a terribly generic name that might turn off prospective fans before giving the music a chance.

7. Young Black Teenagers

What does it sound like?
It sounds like a hip hop group from Compton with politically conscious music that deals with living in the inner city and racism.

What does it REALLY sound like? No. It can't be. This name would be perfectly fine for a 1990's hip hop group. There is just tiny problem. One teeny tiny defect in this thing. THOSE MORONS AREN'T BLACK! Phew... had to get that off my chest. How anyone could think that naming yourself Young Black Teenagers when you are not black was some sort of message is beyond me. It's stupid. You are not black, whitey. Live with it! Also... "Tap the Bottle (Twist the Cap)"... ugh.

6. King Diamond

What does it sound like?
Fuckin' Neil Diamond. Other than that, this sounds like something from the 80's glam metal scene.

What does it REALLY sound like? King Diamond is none other but the painted face vocalist for Mercyful Fate and the band King Diamond. His vocal style can range from the growly to the really high falsetto that is really hard to find anymore. His career has served to give us some of incredible songs and albums, but the name is still the one thing that doesn't seem to fit. Look at his face somewhere and tell me that you see someone named King Diamond somewhere in there. I don't.

5. Strapping Young Lad

What does it sound like?
The name always reminded me of those New Wave-y synthpop groups like Tears for Fears and A Flock of Seagulls.

What does it REALLY sound like? It's definitely not New Wave or synthpop. Not at all. Devin Townsend is known for his wall to wall heavy sound. Strapping Young Lad where a heavy band through and through. While Townsend was always experimenting with different styles and concepts, SYL always kept at its core the sound that made them successful. I guess its the Young Lad part that throws me off, but I'm sure Townsend could have come up with something more creative.

4. House of Pain

What does it sound like?
Metalcore to its oompth degree. It feels like someone is about to get murdered in a mosh pit.

What does it REALLY sound like? Would you believe it if I told you that this is three white boys rapping? Two Irish-Americans (I guess I got the part about fighting right) and a Latvian-American teaming up to.... jump around... I guess. I had to find out why they named themselves like they did and found that it is actually in reference to H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau. It still makes absolutely no sense. I guess it could be worse.

3. Extreme

What does it sound like?
German traditional metal fronted by Udo Dirkschneider.

What does it REALLY sound like? I will completely look over the fact that they actually were the reason that the song "More Than Words" exists because otherwise Chiko will get a seizure. Other than that, there is nothing extreme about Extreme's music. Sure, the band has probably one of the most talented guitar virtuosos in Nuno Bettencourt, but this band is not really extreme unless you are talking about their overuse of hair spray, makeup and spandex.

2. The Killers (Tie)

What does it sound like?
It sounds like something from the extreme metal genre. Something hard and violent and intense.

What does it REALLY sound like? As you probably surmised from the picture above, this is nothing like that. If I where to open my dictionary in search for a replacement name for this band, it would be Inane. The Killers are this sort of indie-ish new wave band that asks questions like "Are we human or are we dancer?". Whatever happened to actually interesting questions in music? This is what we get? Also, it seems like lead singer Brandon Flowers is kind of a douche. I guess I should have realized when you hear a song like "Human". Terrible stuff. Also, a waste of a good name for some other band.

2. The Darkness (Tie)

What does it sound like?
This gives me a vibe of a goth or doom band that is incredibly depressed.

What does it REALLY sound like? Nothing like what the name implies. Don't get me wrong, I like The Darkness. These British retro rockers came to the attention of the world in 2003 with their single "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" and the funny music video that accompanied it. What I liked about them was that it was obvious that they were talented, but they weren't taking themselves too seriously with the video and comparisons to bands that came before. Too band they took a name that could have been used by some generic band. There is nothing generic about this band and it deserves a name to go along with it.

1. Slaughter

What does it sound like?
Fuck yeah! This sounds like one of the big dogs of thrash. Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Megadeth, Exodus, Testament and SLAUGHTER!

What does it REALLY sound like? You gotta be fuckin' kidding me. A band named Slaughter should be powerful and strong and kickass. Instead, what you have here is the pussiest of the glam rock bands. Pink and lame go hand in hand if you are a member of Slaughter. Probably their biggest hit was the sub par "Up All Night" and that is one of their best songs... you can imagine the rest of this pink colored turd of a band's repertoire. A bunch of whiny and unimaginative power ballads that are better off not remembered.

If you know any other bands or groups that you think are horribly misnamed. Let me know in the comments!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Back to Basics - Weeds season 7

I'm really surprised with Weeds. A season or two ago I would have easily said that the show was on it's last legs. They had strayed so far from what had made it a fun and interesting show that they should have changed the title.

Fortunately for them it seemed to be an easy fix. Kill off a couple of characters, put in a healthy time gap, move the family again and you have a fresh start.

The season kicks off with Nancy Botwin fulfilling a three year prison sentence which allowed her family to flee to Copenhagen. She gets released early into a half way house in Manhattan, the new setting for the show.She immediately contacts her sister who has been taking care of her youngest son, who is now three years old.

Upon learning of her release the rest of the gang meet up in New York, and of course everything slowly unravels into more crime and conflict... I mean, it wouldn't be any fun if it didn't right?

I like to think that this season is marked by interesting character growth. Silas for example, seems to have put the drug business behind him, becoming a successful male model in Copenhagen; but now in the Big Apple, he's suddenly the little fish in the biggest ocean around. Interestingly enough, he seems to harbor anger because of what his mother did for them.

Meanwhile, Shane shows emotional and physical growth. Now eighteen, he has worked and even been in (questionable) relationships. He still greatly misses his mother and contrary to Silas, is grateful for her sacrifice. It's an interesting step for a character who was getting rather robotic, and just seemed to be along for the ride the past couple of seasons.

More than anything though, I'm glad to see that Uncle Andy hasn't really changed. He's still up to crazy antics that just brighten up every episode. But while the character hasn't changed, his goals have; he seems to just want to live a normal life, and wants to put the drama behind them. But again, that wouldn't make for very entertaining television now would it? It's fun to watch him try though.

I'm also glad to say that Doug is back to having a bigger role in the show again. After just 'having him around' for a couple of seasons, he is back to being a pivotal part in the plot and where it goes. This is due to Nancy's lack of resources, which is another interesting direction in the story. How does a drug dealer sever all ties with all of her contacts, go to jail for three years, get released into a limited freedom situation and still manage to deal? I can just say that it's very entertaining to see her try.

Nancy Botwin will forever be Nancy Botwin. The ultimate mother who does the most unholy, and immoral of things for her family. We've seen her go through hell for these people, and she continues to do so season after season. She also does it with the same style and wit we have grown to know and love, and this season is no different. I will go as far to say that three years in prison have only made her more resourceful, and in turn, made her even sexier than before.

You want to argue with my point?
I do think this show needed to simplify it more than anything. When a simple show about family life in the pot dealing business goes as far as to bring in the Mexican Cartel you know it's getting out of hand. I really did think they had written themselves into a corner but they managed to bring it back into a rather enjoyable season, going back to the basics of what made it a fun show to watch.

It's also a good season for surprises in many aspects, bringing in a good two or three recurring guest stars and even characters who had almost been forgotten. I won't spoil which past character come back, that would be mean. But as for guest stars we get Michelle Trachtenberg who quickly becomes Silas' "acquaintance" for a while, but beneath that she's a much deeper character than it seems. But even more awesome is the recurring cameo of Martin Short as Nancy's lawyer. He steals every scene he's in with hilarious ease. It's just fun to watch when you notice Short just ad-lib through scenes.

The finale probably one of the nicest cliffhangers in the show's history, but as of right now it hasn't been renewed. There is some speculation that it was made that way in case the show got cancelled. While it wouldn't surprise me if it did, it would make me sad. Showtime would be cutting the legs out from under a good show that's just getting a second wind. I hope they keep it on the air.

So, for now we sit in suspense. I'd be happy to hear about an eighth season, but I won't hold my breath for that one. If it is the end, then Weeds went out on a high note.


Monday, October 3, 2011

I don't get the Delta Blues; I get the Hisingen Blues!

Hisingen Blues by Graveyard

I have been a fan of hard rock/heavy metal for years. My love for heavy metal and hard rock (and the memories of the music my father would play) sort of inspired me to turn back and listen to the old classic rock of the 60s and 70s. While The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival were mainstays of my youth, it wasn't until I discovered Led Zeppelin that my love for classic rock was set in stone. After that small sidebar, I think you might understand why I feel like I feel for this album.

In March of 2011, the Swedish retro rock/blues band Graveyard released their sophomore album to the world. Hisingen Blues was released by heavy metal independent record label Nuclear Blast. I was surprised by that, because Graveyard is the farthest thing from Heavy Metal. Graveyard is (like my friend Yhann called it) a Led Zeppelin worship band. That might sound bad and sort of dismissive, but it doesn't have to be.

Graveyard feels like a time capsule. It feels like listening to a band that is contemporary with throwback speakers. Like watching a modern band with 1960s glasses. Sure, it's a little bit faster than most of the blues rock that inspired it, but the influences are there. While they might not be the cup of tea of fans of the modern heavy metal scene, for those that can feel the roots of these modern day bands, and can trace them back to that bygone era that has never been forgotten socially, culturally and especially musically... this band is a breath of fresh air in these tried and true times of generic and soulless rock.

Truth is, I really hate to compare this band with those bands that came before it, but our brains are designed to find the patterns in things and while this band knows what it is, I can't help but be impressed by each song that passes on the album. While "Ain't Fit To Live Here" and "Hisingen Blues" are faster bluesy rockers, songs like "No Good, Mr. Holden" and "Uncomfortably Numb" show inventiveness in their doom and slow, almost ballady southern styles respectively.

They look like they hopped on a DeLorean and couldn't get back home.

So, while I compare this band with many bands that came before them. I don't want it to sound like I am pigeonholing them into one genre of music as it is clear to me and to anyone who listens to their whole album that their influences are incredibly broad. This album has everything you want or need. The aforementioned songs are accompanied by the weirdly fun and entertaining "RSS" and the very interesting instrumental "Longing" that cries of spaghetti westerns, Clint Eastwood and Ennio Morricone.

I have to admit to never having listened to this band's first album before my friend Rocky suggested I listen to this album. When he said I had to listen to this band Graveyard, I have to say I kind of groaned. I thought it would be one of those generic metal bands that play good music but don't really have much to them.

I think all those songs are amazing but I think "The Siren" is the most amazing of all. The rhythm section really shines. The blues is really heavy in this track and they do a little bit of everything. If you want to know what they are capable of doing, this is the track that you have to listen to. Rikard Edlund and Axel Sjöberg on bass and drums are fantastic and at their best, while Joakim Nilsson's vocals are crisp and clear while still sounding raw and Jonathan Ramm does his thing with the guitar.

Call this band what you will. Worship band, retro band, blue/rock band, stoner rock, psychedelic rock or whatever other sub genre you can find. They are all of those things and more. Even their album art is cool. It is really a little window as to what they have to offer in the album without having to listen to them. Give them a try.

9 out of 10

True Blood season 4 - Transitional as it can be

True Blood may be taking full advantage of the whole vampire fad that's going on, but it's the one thing that has been doing it decently. It's the only current vampire thing I can stand. And I only put up with it for one reason... It's kinda awesome. Season four just wrapped up and by this point is almost as big a phenomenon as that other vampire thing (yes, the fucking sparkly ones).

The season opened interestingly enough. Sookie Stackhouse had recently discovered that she was actually a faerie, she had then been carried off into some magical faerie dimension where everything was nice and pretty. I won't spoil much here, so lets just point out that time in this world works differently than in the real world. So when she comes back by the end of the episode she had been gone from Bon Temps for around a year, and much has changed.

They really play up Sookie's disappearance and they use it as a plot device to really shake up every character's situation, most importantly, Bill has become King of Louisiana. The vampire community is in damage control mode after the mess caused by former King Russell Edgington. On the human side, Jason Stackhouse is now an actual police officer while the other officer, Andy Bellefleur, is hooked on vampire blood. That's really all you need to know to get started with the season.

These occurrences by themselves would probably make for an interesting season. Unfortunately they went in a whole other direction. Without spoiling much, Eric Northman runs into some trouble running an errand for the new King, he ends up losing his memory, and with it, most of his identity. Thus the most badass vamp in Louisiana becomes a wuss. And to me, this just about ruins the season. I looked forward to all the Eric scenes, because he's such a great character. When you take the best character in the show and turn him into an unwatchable, whiny, lovey-dovey bitch... You're going to lose some of your audience.

It's not totally bad. In the end it does make for some interesting character scenarios and situations. And the scene where that whole memory loss thing gets resolved is easily the best in the season, but they make you wait too long, and some people probably lost interest.

On the plus side, there's enough happening with other characters to keep you invested, at least in their stories. The problem is how transparent this show is becoming. It's easy to tell when we're getting a transitional season; along with season 2, this is the other clear cut example of this situation. Any time the main villain of a season of True Blood isn't a vampire, it's a transitional season. At least up until now. This might change in the next two seasons though, because I happen to think the faeries are finally pissed.

The show keeps true to it's formula of lots of sex, violence, and cursing. The character drama is also very present, it just takes different turns playing with the time lapse of Sookie's disappearance. You still get the good characters giving the hilarious one liners that everyone I know tunes in to laugh at and quote later. But without a doubt this season the 'one liner award' goes to Pam, who stole all the laughs. The poor vamp goes through hell this time around, and she makes certain that you hear her yell about it. It's really fun to watch.
The dirtiest mouth on TV, next to Cartman and probably someone on the  Jersey Shore.

The villain this time around isn't even as good as the last transitional baddie. She seems harmless most of the time, and for the most part all the evil things she does she seems to do by accident. It's not until later in the season that she actually becomes an actual threat, and again, by that time you might have lost interest.

The season doesn't really pick up until the final three or four episodes, and at that point it actually gets pretty good. I'm not saying the rest of it is bad, it's still better than most things on television, it's just not up to par with the last season which was great. I hate making excuses for TV shows, but in this case I must tell new viewers not to judge True Blood for this season, watch the last one, or wait 'till the next.

The finale is a typical close to a transitional season. The main plot gets resolved fairly early on, and then we get a massive (MASSIVE) build for what happens next. I can say with confidence that the next season might be the best one yet. There's enough emotion brewing between these characters to get some pretty intense stuff going, and I think that kind of thing (along with sex, lots of sex) is what keeps this show interesting.

As for this season, it's a decent transition. Nothing spectacular, but watchable for the most part. If the villain had been a bigger threat from the beginning it would have been better, but by the time she is, it gets pretty good.