Alright, stop what you’re doin’ – ‘cause I’m about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to. Or…I’m probably going to do what I always do.

Yeah…I’m just gonna’ do what I always do.

Warner Brothers has decided in their infinite magnanimity to grace us with STALLONE this week. The best of the bunch is DEMOLITION MAN, but they’ve also unleashed Assassins, Cobra, and The Specialist. Kinda’ surprising they didn’t partner Assassins with The Specialist and Cobra with Demolition Man for a couple of patented Warners Blu-25 double features. Sorta’ miraculous, really – especially since Assassins and The Specialist really don’t deserve a great deal of effort. At least Cobra made money…

This just in – so did Assassins. Holy crap.

Simon says BUY DEMOLITION MAN FROM AMAZON!

ARMED AND DANGEROUS

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This was a cable staple in my youth – and I loved it so. I remember a scene where the dejected duo of John Candy and Eugene Levy are drowning their sorrows at a Mexican-themed cantina, and the following exchange takes place:

Levy: Why don’t you get PEE-PEE to bring us another round of drinks?

Candy: I believe that’s Pepe…

Now, in print – that doesn’t look like much. But the delivery on stupid lines like those from these guys…we could all learn a lesson in comic timing. As a kid, Candy’s “I believe that’s Pepe…” made me laugh so hard. It’s quick and embarrassed and admonishing all at the same time. These two are great, and the rest of the cast – save for mannequin Meg Ryan – is chock full of great character faces like Jonathan Banks , Robert Loggia, and the legendary Brion James. I don’t own this on DVD, and it’s an inexpensive catalog title, so I’ll probably pick it up. I’m a Mark L. Lester loyalist.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI

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I tire of the Cult of Lebowski. This movie’s devotees are just two or three degrees warmer than Juggalos or Boondock Saints fans. I saw this movie in the theater (twice) and I’ve bought it too many times to count on home video, and yet I don’t feel compelled to dress like Walter in my spare time. It’s a shame the faithful don’t get what the Coens were doing with this flick. It’s a shame it didn’t expand their horizons. Wonder how many of them went on a Raymond Chandler kick after they saw it.  Show of hands?

THE KILLING (Criterion)

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I’m not the biggest Stanley Kubrick fan. I find much of his work to be cold and detached. I roll with Dr. Strangelove (another flick I’ve purchased way too many times). I’m big on Killer’s Kiss and Paths of Glory, and I think this film – a gritty yarn about that’s only partially about the plot to stage a robbery at a horse track – is one of Kubrick’s finest. This is the director working with a fire in his gut. The Killing would be my Blu Ray of the Week on any other week.

IT MEANS EVERYTHING – THE BLU RAY OF THE WEEK!

But this week heralds the video release of John Carpenter’s latest, so…what’re ya’ gonna’ do?

JOHN CARPENTER’S THE WARD

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The Ward is saddled with a screenplay so incredibly derivative, that if I told you which film writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen blatantly ripped off, you’d know how the film ended right down to its final shot (these guys should seriously be beaten about the face and neck), but it’s directed with wit and style – and even elegance – by an American treasure. John Carpenter brings this limp script to life with sheer force of will – and his trademark use of widescreen, his almost unerring sense of pace, and his absolutely iron-clad command of performance make this film a real victory. Carp’s definitely helming this with a “What would Val Lewton do” sensibility – and that really works for me.

And so does Danielle Panabaker.

And also Lyndsy Fonseca.

As well as Amber Heard. Especially Amber Heard.

In fact, when I first saw Heard, I thought that she was a pretty girl who was destined to play pretty girlfriends the rest of her career – but after the one-two punch of Drive Angry and The Ward, I’m fairly convinced she can do anything. As cartoonishly over the top hostile as she was in Lussier’s film, she’s wonderfully wounded and vulnerable here. And when it comes time for her character to turn a corner, she doesn’t do so because it’s time to become a “badass” – she does it because she’s scared that she’s going to die. I think it’s a really great female performance in a film with a lot of them.

I’ve read reviews of The Ward that say that Carpenter is really just doing his “Greatest Hits” package here. I guess it’s fine to think that – but suckas’ better recognize that there are few directors of his day – or this one – with a greatest hits package so fucking great. Twenty or so minutes after this Special Ed goes live, I’ll be buying this disc.

ALL IN – THIS WEEK’S BLU RAY:

Agent 8 ¾
Armed and Dangerous
Assassins
The Bang Bang Club
The Big Lebowski
Breaking Glass
Campbell’s Kingdom
Cobra
The Conspirator
Cul-de-Sac Criterion Collection
David Holzman’s Diary
Demolition Man
Dexter: Seasons 1-5
Dexter: The Fifth Season
Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil
Hush
Jane Eyre
John Carpenter’s The Ward
The Killing
Meet Monica Velour
Muppets from Space
The Muppets Take Manhattan
Night Raid 1931: The Complete Collection
Outcasts: Season One
Priest
Something Borrowed
The Specialist
Subspecies
Two Can Play That Game

AND NOW THE DVD STARTS!

WWE MONEY IN THE BANK 2011

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Last month’s WWE Pay Per View extravaganza was their best in many moons. In many ways, it felt like the company actually acknowledging the need to showcase new talent, as the event featured many names that casual fans of the sport may not know, but who are amazing physical talents – guys like Alberto Del Rio, Daniel Bryan, The Miz, Wade Barrett, Justin Gabriel, Kofi Kingston, and Alex Riley. These names are the future of the sport – and they’re acrobatic, energetic, and precision-tuned.

 But nowhere did the card seem more progressive than in the main event – where, for once, a riveting storyline was paid off in sensational fashion. CM Punk vs John Cena is one for the ages.

I have not watched a WWE Pay Per View event in six years. I’m buying this one. Those of you who have drifted away from the sport might find this an interesting time to take a look at what’s going on.

AND ALL THE REST:

Abbott & Costello Comedy Classics
After
The Bang Bang Club
Batman: The Brave & the Bold – Season 2, Part 1
The Best and the Brightest
Bob the Builder: Super Scrambler
Breath
Cat in the Hat: Tricks & Treats

Chato’s Kitchen – I’d imagine his kitchen is conveniently located on Chato’s Land…

The Conspirator
Cut-throats Nine/Joshua
Damn! Is The Price of Fame Too Damn High?
Dave Grohl: The Man with the Midas Touch
Death Stop Holocaust
Dexter: Seasons 1-5
Dexter: The Fifth Season
Elvira’s Movie Macabre: Brain That Wouldn’t Die/The Manster
Elvira’s Movie Macabre: The Terror/Eegah!
Everyone Love Mel
Fanboy & Chum Chum: Brain Freeze
Gone
The Grace Card

The Gruffalo – a rough-hewn documentary that revolves around a day in the life of a hung-over Mark Ruffalo

Hanna’s Gold
Hero 108: Season 1, Volume 2
Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil
Horatio Hornblower: The Further Adventures

Idiots & Angels – A collection of music videos from the Tom DeLonge/Blink 182 side project. Isn’t that what that shitty band is called…?

Innovation You with Dr. Jeff DeGraff
Jane Eyre
John Carpenter’s The Ward
Jorge El Curioso
Lavell Crawford: Can a Brother Get Some Love?

Little Senegal – the heartwarming animated hijinks of a precocious ponytailed martial arts master…oh - Senegal. Shit. Sorry…

Lizard Boy
Marley & Me: The Puppy Years
Maryland Deathfest: Movie 2
Medium Raw: Night of the Wolf
Meet Monica Velour
Monster Bug Wars
Must Love Cats
Night Raid 1931: The Complete Collection
Normal Life
Outcasts: Season One
Pocoyo: Dance Pocoyo Dance
Priest
Queen to Play
Radiohead: Life on Demand
Reality Star
Secretos Y Mentiras
September 11th Memorial Edition
Smile
Smoke Screen
Somebody Help Me 2
Something Borrowed
Spin City: The Complete Fifth Season
Stoney/Killer Likes Candy
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season 9

The Thomas Hardy Collection – or, as I like to call it: The Bane Boxset. Oh wait – wrong Tom Hardy…

Three Stooges Comedy Classics
Veggie Tales: Princess & the Popstar
Voltron: The Legend Begins
WWE: Money in the Bank 2011

JEFF BRIDGES – JEFF BRIDGES

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One of the most impressive things about Bridges’ performance in Crazy Heart was his ability to convince the viewer that he’d once been a big country music star: he did it mostly with attitude and perspective, because Bridges’ voice, while pleasantly light, has little heft behind it, and is sufficiently free of quirk and character that it’s hard to picture it ever rousing an audience or breaking through on the radio; it didn’t help that he was matched with Ryan Bingham, whose vocal characteristics are pretty much Bridges’ polar opposite. Given that, a Bridges album is going to rise or fall on his choice of collaborators: last time out (2000’s Be Here Soon), it was cheesy ersatz soul man Michael McDonald; this time, we get T-Bone Burnett, Bingham, Roseanne Cash and Marc Ribot, among others… guess which album rises and which falls.

Bridges’ good taste extends to his choice of material, skipping over less obvious cover choices for the likes of John Goodwin, Greg Brown, and the late Stephen Bruton, whose “What a Little Bit of Love Can Do” opens the proceedings in rollicking fashion, buoyed by harmony vocals from Bingham. From there, the sound of the album is vintage Burnett: while stripped-down trad country prevails, there’s hints of psychedelia on “Blue Car,” a quiet folkiness to “Slow Boat,” and some down-and-out Nashville schmaltz on “Everything but Love” and “Maybe I Missed the Point.”

When considering this album, I’d planned to avoid clichéd Lebowski references but in fact, much of The Dude’s characterization is informed by Bridges’ zen perspective, and there are more than a few echoes on this album in  Bridges’ own compositions, including the jazz-inflected  “Tumbling Vine (“Here is the freedom I have been sent / I’m alive and I’m Buddhist-ly bent / Wonderful moments / The past is a dream / The future is hiding“) and the contented resignation of album’s closer, “The Quest” (“My memories will stay / But my body must go /  Back to the thunder, the rock and the field / And the truth of my life / Only time will reveal“). The roots music field is pretty crowded these days (hell, the “produced by T-Bone Burnett” field is crowded enough), and I’d characterize this album as more pleasant than essential, but it has a purity and an honesty that bring Bridges’ fans just that much closer to… well, to The Dude.

SLY STONE – I’M BACK! FAMILY AND FRIENDS

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Sometimes, you just gotta trust the knee.  The knee-jerk reaction to the idea of yet another Sly Stone comeback (this is at least his third album with “I’m Back” somewhere in the title) is that the guy who, even at his peak, proved unable to handle success, was (and remains) notoriously unreliable about performances (or even showing up for them), and who seemed to have burned out as a writer decades ago, would be cause for dismissal if not outright despair – particularly since he seemed to be going the played-out  “duets” route, with guest artists ranging from the obvious (Bootsy Collins) to the absurd (Ann Wilson?).  Well, sure enough, despite all the goodwill I can muster, and all the slack I can cut, this is the most useless album by a 60’s icon since last year’s “Carlos Santana Plays Guitar Hero” collection (or whatever the hell it was called).

And, really, Santana’s album at least had a kind of perverse purpose: if you’d ever cared to imagine what, say, “Sunshine of Your Love” or “Smoke On The Water” might have sounded like with a Santana solo slapped in there, well, at least it would satisfy your curiosity.  But we already know what these songs “would” sound like with Sly at the helm, because we’ve heard them all before: with the exception of three (pretty dull) new compositions, the album consists of carefully-executed remakes of Sly’s greatest hits, with him adding raspy, erratic vocals. And the notion that anyone had ever wondered what Ray Manzarek’s beach-boardwalk organ would add to “Dance to the Music,” or had dreamed of a version of “Everyday People” with Ann Wilson droning all over Rose Stone’s vocal part is as unlikely as it is appalling.  I hate to completely dismiss a new album from as important a figure in music as Stone, so I’ll say that fans of Jeff Beck or Johnny Winter may enjoy hearing them stretch out on “(I Want To Take You) Higher” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”, respectively, and while Carmine Appice doesn’t add a whole lot to “Stand!”, it’s nice to know that he’s still working. Really I guess the title of the album is actually pretty accurate: the Sly Stone of the past thirty years or so, is, in fact, back. I kinda miss the one from 1968, though.

OLLABELLE – NEON BLUE BIRD

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Given the level of polarization along religious lines in this country, it’s not surprising that gospel music tends to be ghettoized in the “roots” subculture: young, typically liberal, white musicians comfortable with every other form of black music are frequently reluctant to dig deeply into an art form steeped in articles of faith, tending to admire gospel music form afar rather than absorbing it.  There was something of a breakthrough last year, when Jeff Tweedy masterminded Mavis Staples to a long-overdue Grammy, and the latest album from Levon Helm’s daughter and her band (their first since 2006) remains rooted in their love of gospel music, while expanding its possibilities into bluesy, country-flavored pop that, at its best, recalls Amy Helms’ old man’s outfit, or a gospel-infused Wilco.

In fact, the opener, “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” is just one of several songs that blend intricate vocal parts in a way that was very much a signature of The Band, while “Be Your Woman” and “Brotherly Love” lay some Willie Mitchell funk under the group’s insistent, churchy vocals and slashing guitar from Jimi Zhivago. There’s a few detours into more or less conventional pop balladry: “Wait For The Sun” might be the work of a dark-voiced Carole King, while “Record Needle” and “Lovin in My Baby’s Eyes” roll over their occasional clichés with a convincing passion. But most of the album resists conventional choices:  “Butcher Boy” is a traditional tale of quiet tragedy told in an ominous slow burn, while “Dirt Floor” has some of the breathless acoustic-rock feel of Rod Stewart’s classic early-70’s stuff. And it’s an interesting year in pop music when we get two covers of “Swanee River”: in comparison with Hugh Laurie’s rambunctious piano-driven outing, Neon Blue Bird ends on a gentle, rolling lullabye of the familiar tune.

JAY-Z/KANYE WEST – WATCH THE THRONE

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(I couldn’t preview this one in time for last week, but figured I’d toss in my two cents)

Given that relations in the hip-hop community can range from brotherly to bullet-ridden, this pairing was one to watch, not simply due to the high profile nature of the two participants, but the possibly prickly relationship: mentor being challenged by pupil is an old story, after all, and while it doesn’t always go all Obi-wan/Anakin, there was at least the possibility that West’s explosion of popular and critical acclaim (particularly in the wake of last year’s My Dark Twisted Fantasy) would strike sparks off his senior partner. For better or worse, the result is somewhere between more and less than what you might have expected.

If nothing else, it’s a case of interesting timing: released at the height of the latest (ongoing?) financial crisis, and juxtaposed with images of London aflame in economic misery, the gold-plated album cover, and the luxury brand-name callouts (not just Gucci and Manolo, but Rolex, Hublot, Mercedes, Maybach and Lamborghini) remind us that today’s version of “street cred” is more about conspicuous consumerism and aspirational mobility than anything as simplistic as “keepin’ it real.” But, then, in today’s America, that’s how you create and sustain a legacy: “I’m liable to go Michael / Take your pick: Jackson, Tyson, Jordan (Game 6)” suggests the level of ambition here. More than most pop music forms, rap is tied to its moment (hip-hop will never give birth to the countless “oldies” stations that endlessly recycle rock and pop music), and being a great hip-hop artist is like being a great basketball player: ten years from now, a new generation won’t even know your name, unless it’s gilded with the kind of success Jay-Z and West have achieved. “Built a republic, that still stands / I ‘m tryina lead a nation to leave to my little mans.”

Most of the album continues in that vein, and it’s awfully easy to hear it as two multi-millionaires defending their turf against the anger of youth (again, the London riots make for uncomfortable contrast). Almost as a pre-emptive reaction against that, though, the album’s actual music is not necessarily safe or polished: weird instrumental bits reappear like a scrappy leitmotif, and the samples from Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding and Will Ferrell (!) are treated to abrupt start-stop insertion, interrupting the flow, unwilling to let the listener relax. If Watch the Throne isn’t the best album that either participant has made, it’s the latest chapter in a pair of important pop music legacies, which is at least as important as Kanye’s snappy new suit.

OTHER NOTABLE 8/16 RELEASES:

R.E.M. – Songs For A Green World The release of this legendary 1989 radio broadcast would be more of a knockout if these guys hadn’t just recently put out one of the best rock and roll live albums of the past few years. But the sound is acceptable, the presence of Peter Holsapple on keyboards adds some nice texture, and the choice of material (including covers of Pylon and Mission of Burma) satisfying.

Ana Popovic – Unconditional I have a soft spot for Eastern Europeans that sound like they learned to sing American roots music phonetically. I have no idea if this Serbian sexpot is actually any more familiar with the English language than, say, King Drapes or the Reva River Rockets, but she manages to put the point across most of the time; when her singing falters, she gets it done with some dirty, bluesy Fender action. Plus, Sonny Landreth!

The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient Sturdy pop songwriting, Dylan-like vocal sneer and piano sincerity, delivered with enough reverb and ambience to catch the ear of fans of Echo and the Bunnymen or Tears for Fears. Plus, hooks you’ll remember after the album is over (“Come To The City”, “Brothers”) which, these days, is nothing to sneeze at.

Guy Clark – Songs & Stories Rather an on-the-nose title, but since the man is one of the best country/folk/pop songwriters and storytellers of the past forty years, it makes its point. If you know these songs already, you’ll love hearing the stories behind them; if you don’t, it’s a great place to start.

Various Artists – Johnny Boy Would Love This [A Tribute to John Martyn] I’ll give them this: the talent assembled on this tribute to Nick Drake’s one-time flatmate ranges from the sublime (Beck, Swell Season) to the ridiculous (Phil Collins?). As with most such albums, it’s less remarkable for what it has (including a 40-page booklet and DVD with contributor interviews and rare Martyn performances) than for what it’s missing: Martyn’s idiosyncratic guitar (hard to recapture without simply imitating) and his insistence on pronouncing the letter “s” as “z” (which is actually kind of a relief). If you know Martyn, this will feel like a pale copy, but you might want the book and DVD. If you don’t, find a copy of Solid Air or Bless The Weather.  And thank me later.

The Bottle Rockets – Not So Loud: An Acoustic Evening Sort of the Fountains of Wayne of roots music, given their ability to craft witty modern stories and vivid character pieces within the more or less fixed boundaries of a genre too often given over to nostalgia. I’d take the full-band versions of most of these, but that’s mostly because these guys rock harder than many of their down-home brethren. Taken on its own, though, these are great songs in excellent performances, and a nice change of pace for those who already know the catalog.

Chimaira – Age of Hell It’s quite possible that you would regard as a virtue the fact that a band with songs like “The Age of Hell,” “Born in Blood,” and “Beyond the Grave” sounds exactly the way you’d imagine they would. So we’ll just agree to disagree on that one.

Blue October – Any Man in America MOR pop drivel. I note that the PR is mostly selling Blue October on their ability to place songs on soundtracks for The Sopranos and Saw III. Trust me, there’s nothing even halfway that exciting on here.

Eli Young Band – Life at Best Good ol’ boys run the post-Garth playbook, tossing in some Petty and James Taylor to keep your local programmer on his toes. They’re evidently not embarrassed to write a song called “I Love You,” and good for them. It’s not much of a song, but what the hell… it’s the thought that counts.

Jewel – The Merry Goes ‘Round. Wait, you mean she hasn’t been making kids’ music all along…?

Masonics – In Your Night of Dreams And Other Foreboding Pleasures They’ve been or played with the Milkshakes, Billy Childish, the Headcoats, Pop Rivets, Wildebeests, Kaisers, Del Monas… if those names mean anything to you, you’re probably ordering this right now. If not, I’m honestly not sure even where to begin…

From Bikes to Trains to VIDEO GAMES – WITH BRIAN CONDRY!

GAME OF THE WEEK:

TOY SOLDIERS: COLD WAR (XBLA)

The final Summer of Arcade game is here. So I guess summer’s over. The first Toy Soldiers was a fun take on the tower defense genre. This one looks like more of the same – only 80’s out the ass! Rambo, motherfuckers!

THE REST OF THE STORY:

NO MORE HEROES: HEROES’ PARADISE (PS3; retail)

A polished up, tweaked revamp of the original Wii version. No more jerk-off motion to charge your sword, though. Unless the Move controller lets you do that (ohpleaseohpleaseohplease). Personally, I’d rather play the second one instead – but a wild game like this should at least be experienced.

EL SHADDAI: ASCENSION OF THE METATRON (PS3; 360; retail)

Look at that fucking cover. Look at it. What the shit is that guy wearing? I’ve thrown up twice just looking at it. Anyway…it’s a God of War-like game, but super Japanese and steeped in the crazy Japanese version of the Bible (where people wear blue jeans, I guess). The gameplay looks boring and I personally like how much Kratos hates EVERYTHING, so this is something I’m willing to let pass me by.

Bastion and From Dust show up on the PC. These are both great games.

THE DROSS:

Duke Nukem Forever hits the Mac, so…like – if you hate yourself…there’s that.

Hacker Evolution Duality is actually supposedly out today. I don’t know if that is a lie I believe anymore.

ROCK BAND DLC:

Fall Out Boy – Dance, Dance
Fall Out Boy – Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down*
Fall Out Boy – Thnks fr th Mmrs
Deep Purple – Child in Time

*means you can buy Pro Guitar and Pro Bass modes.

That’s it for now. I’m all out of love.

FIN.