I don’t even know why I’m telling you any of this. You know what to do. So much so that you’ve already done it, and you probably won’t bother reading at all. But here’s it is anyway. You’re welcome.

YOU’RE ALL WELCOME.

GAME OF THRONES: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON

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Sing a somber song of fire and ice with this intense, chaotic tale from George R.R. Martin (at least one of those R’s is for rape. Cause’s there’s a lot. Poor Dany) comes to Blu in a fairly loaded box set. The transfers look really nice – probably better than the original broadcasts if you take the increased bitrate into account – and there’s a nicely integrated interactive encyclopedia that you can access during your viewing to help you distinguish knight from day from Dinklage. Masterful, masterful Dinklage. Get this under your belt and get ready for the new season.

Oh – and if you can stomach the worst of the big box retailers, Wal-Mart will match Best Buy’s print ad price point, and their Blu comes with a bonus disc of George R.R. Martin content (which is far cooler than optional packaging). So you’ve got that going for you – which is nice…

IMMORTALS

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I hated The Cell. Such also-ran serial killer gabidge. The only thing to be said for the film was that, should someone hand him a good script, Tarsem Singh could take that ball and run with it – or at least make it visually splendid. He got that script, eventually. It was called The Fall, and it’s a ginuwinely great film. So now Tarsem’s back in the big leagues…and he does a warmed over, 300-style take on Greek mythology that looks more offensive than Clash and Wrath of the Titans put together. And it’s got the wall of boring from Zack Snyder’s Superman flick in it. Additionally, Mickey Rourke turned down some potentially good work to sulk, wince, and mumble his way through this. I’ve heard it said that the film is not utterly worthless, but still I fear it.

I went ahead and linked to the 3D/Blu Ray/Digital Copy set at Amazon, because it’s the exact same price as the standard Blu. Duty now for the future, my friends.

PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE

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Are you ribbing me? The charmingly sincere Legend Films, an organization that has done some very nice restoration work over the past few years (I personally think their version of My Man Godfrey eclipses the Criterion), brings Ed Wood’s masterwork to Blu Ray via a newly-remastered transfer. Ah yes…Plan Nine…

THE SKIN I LIVE IN

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Haven’t seen it yet. It looks wild. It’s supposed to be brilliant. I can’t wait.

54
9 1/2 Weeks – is Audie England in this? No? NO DICE.
All’s Faire in Love
Aquamarine
Assassin’s Creed/Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Alpha
Benji
Blade of Kings
Columbus Circle
Dead in the Water
Dinosaurs: Inside & Out – sounds dirty.
Disclosure – do people even remember this film?
Evil Roy Slade/The Brothers O’Toole
FernGully: The Last Rainforest
Footloose – are you up for some punch dancing?
Forest Warrior
Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season
High Road
Immortals
Jack and Jill – this film makes me want to switch my stance on abortion from pro-choice to pro-ABORTION.
Like Crazy
The Lion King 1 1/2
The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride – Simba’s Pride is fuckin’ with him. Fuck pride.
The Little Shop of Horrors
The Man from Snowy River
Nature: Fortress of the Bears
New York Giants: Super Bowl XLVI Champions
The Nutty Professor
Ocean Giants
Open Water 1 & 2
Out of Africa
Over Hawaii
Parenthood
Plan 9 from Outer Space
Poirot: Series 3
Recoil
Reindeer Games
Requiem for the Damned: 5 Short Films of Poe
The Skin I Live In
Striptease
Thumbelina
To Catch a Thief
Tooth Fairy II – I wish Larry the Cable Guy would die.
The Town
Transformers Prime: Season One

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN – WRECKING BALL

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At the turn of the 90’s, with both his band and marriage dissolved, Springsteen was simultaneously resigned to and embracing the public persona he’d bear for the rest of his career: “a rich man in a poor man’s shirt“; and as he acknowledges in the liner notes to his new album, the effect could often be “kind of corny.” But his creative restlessness has generally mitigated that, and Wrecking Ball mashes up the familiar and the unlikely, with the songs’ razor-sharp fury at the betrayal of the American promise incorporating elements of Springsteen’s extended experiment with the Appalachian/Celtic sound of the Seeger Sessions’ band, a generous dose of gospel, a dash of hip-hop, sporadic appearances from the E Street regulars, and a bagful of studio tricks. Rather than the dense sonic focus that has marked his last few albums, Wrecking Ball has something of the patchwork quality of the 1992 Human Touch/Lucky Town combo (and their 12″ remixes); the contributions of Tom Morello and Michelle Moore are as important as those of Steve Van Zandt or Max Weinberg.

“We Take Care Of Our Own,” despite a few production tricks (including the Theremin line from “Good Vibrations”), is the most conventionally Springsteen-sounding of the album’s new songs, and while it’s ripe for co-option by opportunistic politicians, it’s a scold of dashed pledges aimed at liberal and libertarian alike: “Where’s the promise from sea to shining sea?” “Easy Money” is the disquieting followup: the narrator, emboldened by the merry greed of the “fat cats” he sees around him, is cheerfully inviting his girl to accompany him on a robbery. There’s no backstory– the protagonist isn’t Johnny 99, no screen door slams, and there’s no meeting across the river; it’s as though the narrator of “Nebraska” found himself raised from the dead into a world so venal that a murder spree was small potatoes. Rage, mingled with an almost black-comic disbelief at how quickly the promise of 2008 has devolved into the bile of 2012, reverberates through the polemics of “Shackled and Drawn” and “Death To My Hometown” (“Send the robber barons straight to hell / The greedy thieves who came around / And ate the flesh of everything they found / Whose crimes have gone unpunished now“). Springsteen has always been mindful of the hard life that his old friends weren’t as lucky as he to escape, and the somewhat clumsy “Jack of All Trades” is a poignant picture of a working man desperately trying to convince his wife/lover–and himself–that his lifetime of hard work will be enough for them to get by.

The title song, like much of Springsteen’s early work, transcends its fixed geographic locale: originally written as a farewell to New Jersey’s Meadowlands Arena, after the middle eight it leaves particulars behind, and the tearing down of the stadium morphs into life’s inevitable destruction: “Your best hopes and desires are scattered to the wind,” as Springsteen grimly intones “Hold tight to your anger” because “Hard times come / And hard times go / Just to come again;” all carried on a swelling, defiant melody. “You’ve Got It” might be the most startling moment on the album: on a refurbished  outtake from the 80’s, Springsteen eschews the pinched Guthrie-like delivery that has marked the past few decades of his music with an open-throated vocal that brings back memories of “I Wanna Marry You” or “Bobby Jean.” Like “Wrecking Ball,” “Land of Hope and Dreams” is familiar from years of live performances; it remains simple and evocative, if a bit overwrought, and while the studio recording doesn’t add much to the version released on Live in NYC, I would guess that its inclusion has a lot to do with it featuring one last, haunting performance from Clarence Clemons. “We Are Alive” ends the album with the hope that the dreams of martyred Americans through the ages will encourage us to “Carry the fire and light the spark / To fight shoulder to shoulder and heart to heart.”

The “deluxe edition” adds two tracks: “Swallowed Up (In The Belly Of The Beast)” is a bleak musical dirge, sung by Springsteen in a stark, refreshingly alarming whine. But it’s “American Land” that, in a sense, could stand for the album as a whole. Loosely based on a 19th century poem written by an immigrant steelworker, it’s the American promise as impossible fantasy, where the visions of “Diamonds in the sidewalks” or “Beer flowing through the faucets all night long,” are no more (or less) ridiculous than the idea that there is “Treasure for the taking for any hard-working man,” or that a stranger might find a place of their own in the New World. But the litany of bitter hardship (“They died building the railroads / They died to get here a hundred years ago / They’re still dying now“) is set against the only weapon Springsteen, or any artist has: the creative impulse, his ability to engage the listener, and set their feet to dancing to the song’s irresistible jig. There’s a reason that “American Land” has been the final encore for the past few years of E Street Band performances: it celebrates both the contradictions and commitments inherent in the American experience, and rather than harking back to the spirit of “Born To Run,” it continues the throughline of songs like “Promised Land,” “The River,” “Reason To Believe” and “Long Walk Home.” Faith may not set you free, but if it’s got a good beat, you might as well dance to it.

ANDREW BIRD – BREAK IT YOURSELF

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Bird’s always challenged his audiences to lean in and listen closely, and I wouldn’t say that his latest is letting up on us at all, but there’s an aural clarity that feels newly-minted. The pizzicato raindrops that introduce “Desperation Breeds” mesh seamlessly into its light, lush rhythm track, so that you’ve begun enjoying the melody almost before you realize you’re hearing it; and it would be a good idea to get comfortable with those raindrops, because the album has almost as much of that sound as it does of Bird’s whistling. The birdsong strings hark back to Vivaldi and Respighi, and the album is filled with similar tricks (the “Tomorrow Never Knows” gull’s cries of “Polynation,” the quietly chirping crickets of “Belles); I acknowledge that if any current indie fave has earned the label of “pretentious,” it’s Bird. That’s not the worst thing for an ambitious artist to be, though, and Bird’s musical gifts pay off frequently enough to justify the teeth-gritting that’s sometimes needed to appreciate them.

The whole concept of the pop singer/songwriter has, for some inexplicable reason, been burdened with the notion that each new release must be torn from the heart and forged in the soul; Bird works with an artifice that belies that, but with a craftsman’s genius: even if this isn’t Bird’s pain, it’s someone’s; maybe even yours. From anyone else, “Lazy Projector,” with its hushed choral moan, and uber-sensitive strummed guitar would be a classic weeper:  “I can’t see the sense in us breaking up at all;” Bird’s familiar lonesome whistling is an arch reminder that it’s only a performance after all, but it’s equally an invitation to the listener to make it their own. “Dance Carib” lives up to its name with a swaying, modified waltz time; “Eyeoneye” opens in a tremendous wall of sound (courtesy of drummer Martin Dosh, guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker, and bassist Mike Lewis) before rounding home with its power-pop chorus (“You made yourself invulnerable /  So no one can break your heart / So you break it yourself“). From the echoing glockenspiel of “Orpheo Looks Back” to the ghostly wind (a musical saw?) that rushes over “Sifters,” every track has something to perk the ear, even if a few of the tricks do get overused.

Annie (St. Vincent) Clark’s vocal backing on the gently swaying “Lusitania” undercuts some of the strained metaphor (“You’re laying mines along your shore / Through my hull it ripped and tore“). The finale, “Belles,” is a lovely piece of tape-looped melody… and so on-the-nose as a valedictory that it includes the sound of those crickets. Break It Yourself is Bird’s usual mix of the oblique and the obvious, but executed with a craftsmanship that will keep some at a distance, but makes it easy to embrace for those who need it.

THE MAGNETIC FIELDS – LOVE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA

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It’s hard to know how to follow up an act of artistic self-immolation: 69 Love Songs was positioned as an exhaustive last word on the topic, figuratively exploding the band’s career, and while Merritt was never naïve enough to think it would be, there’s no question that his work since then has felt like a careful dance around that elephant in the room, from the coyness of i to the ragged staginess of Realism. Whether he sees his return to the Merge label as setting things to rights, or just resetting the clock, the effect is as though he’d opened an old storage closet and found the songs–and the synths–that he’d left behind there.

Certainly the rest of the gang’s all here, with contributions from Claudia Gonson, Sam Davol, Shirley Simms, Johnny Blood and Lemon… er, Daniel Handler, and Merritt’s in full-blown outrage mode, leading with a pair of shots across the bow of the culture war: the satirical “God Wants Us To Wait” (“Although it would be the perfect end to our date / I love you baby / But God wants us to wait“) and the straight-up (so to speak) challenge of “Andrew in Drag” (“A pity she does not exist / A shame he’s not a fag / The only girl I ever loved / Was Andrew in drag“). I’ll admit that nothing that follows has quite the same sit-up-and-take-notice impact, but you gotta love an album that contains delights like “All She Cares About Is Mariachi” and “I’ve Run Away to Join the Fairies.” Not everything is perfection: “Born For Love” feels muddy and unfocused, while “Only Boy in Town” is unusually tedious. But there’s the usual assortment of delightfully groaning rhymes (“Let Laramie / Take care o’ me / Till they bury me“; “Infatuation (with Your Gyration)”), and “The Machine in Your Hand” is a long-overdue “Hang up and love” manifesto.

BILL FRISELL - FLORATONE II

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Drummer Matt Chamberlain, who is also part of the band on Bruce Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball, makes his second appearance this week in this reunion of the sort-of jazz supergroup Floratone, featuring Bill Frisell, producers-mixers Lee Townsend and Tucker Martine, with bass from Mike Elizondo, additional keyboards by Jon Brion, and “guest” appearances by Ron Miles and violist Eyvind Kang. Rather than a bandleader/composer, Frisell is more an “instigator” in this project, with he and Chamberlain outlining bare sketches of pieces, the final versions being shaped by the rest of the band, with Townsend and Martine applying the fine-tune.

“The Bloom Is On” opens the proceedings with Frisell’s treated guitar looped against a clanging percussion track; the guitar remains in the music bed as tape effects provide counterpoint to Ron Miles’ cornet. “Snake, Rattle” is an insidious drone that evokes its disquieting title; “Move” is jazz-rock that’s not embarrassed by the category, and “Do You Have It” is a wonderfully funky strut. “The Time, The Place (Part 2)” derives its title from its seeming to be of a piece with Frisell’s glorious 2011 collaboration with Mexican singer Vinicius Cantuaria.  “Gimme Some” is an ambitiously skewed blues, with Elizondo and Chamberlain fluidly circling Frisell’s looped guitar. “Stand by This” is a sweet, relaxed ballad with lovely acoustic picking from Frisell, and the album closes on the forceful “Dreamy Deluxe,” with a Gabriel-like urgency. Over the past year or so, Frisell has been nearly as busy as Joe Bonamossa, but (apart from his pallid Lennon tribute), to much greater effect, and Floratone II is as rewarding as anything he’s offered in some time.

OTHER NOTABLE 3/6 RELEASES:

Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns & Stoner Fables Snider may lack Springsteen’s gift for (or, more likely, interest in) the grand gesture, but that doesn’t mean he can’t apply his wry wit and ramshackle musical approach to the shithole he finds us all in these days (“New York Banker,” “In Between Jobs”). The ideal companion piece to Ry Cooder’s Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down.

Kaiser Chiefs – Start the Revolution Without Me Big guitars and herky-jerk footie chants for the lads: given Noel Gallagher’s redundant High Flying Birds, and Liam’s forgettable Beady Eye, I’d say there’s room for these blokes at the Brit-pop top.

Wes Montgomery – Echoes of Indiana Avenue The first full album of previously unreleased Montgomery in over 25 years, with studio and live performances from 1957 and 1958. Spotty sound, but it’s fascinating to compare the scrappy young Montgomery’s take on standards like “Misty” and “Body & Soul” with the plush, polished sound that became his trademark in the 60’s.

Xandria – Neverworld’s End Chirping like Sparks or yelping like The Darkness may  have its appeal, I’ll grant you, but it does rather undercut sentiments like “Blood On My Hands” or “Soulcrusher.”

Good Old War – Come Back As Rain This is an elegant, well-crafted slice of vaguely roots-ized Americana that I have now listened to three times, and cannot for the life of me recall a single specific detail about. Except that it sounded… I dunno… “nice.”

Paul Brown – The Funky Joint You’d expect that an album featuring Boney James, Bob James, and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, would be not so much “funky” as “smooth”… and I guess it is pretty smooth, but in a slightly funky sort of way.

Rocco Deluca – Drugs ‘N Hymns Ethereal country blues yodel, featuring contributions from something called the Echo Park Jubilee Tambo Flower Unsung Heroes Choir; I think Daniel Lanois might be a member.

STREET FIGHTER X TEKKEN (PS3, 360)

I love subcultures. The people that obsess over the minute details of something other people would easily brush off. They create communities with their own slang and social rules. They find the hidden and beautiful things in their obsessions. They see things that we non-insane people can learn from. Without them we wouldn’t have Power Rangers Wikis, and we all know the internet is all the better for those.

There is possibly no bigger subculture in gaming than the fighting game community. Fighting games are a hardcore gamers dream; complex mechanics and dozens of unique characters and movesets setup games full of split-second timing and strategy. And they’re really fun at parties. But beyond even the deepest levels explored by the casual fan is a whole world full of frame counting and insane math equations. People spend years studying and perfecting a single game. There is a large metagame the community has created. Characters move up and down tiered lists as techniques and strategies are found, sometimes a decade after the release of a game. There are dozens of major structured tournaments every year, and many of them offer the victors seats in the fighting game World Series known as EVO. These tournaments are broadcast on Twitch.TV like live sporting events – with knowledgeable commentators, sponsored teams, and their own superstars. These events are usually great fun to watch. It’s always a joy to see people stylishly punch the shit out of each other – not to mention hundreds of people with unreal skill competing in games that are sometimes older than the players. It’s a celebration of crazy obsessions. The fighting game community is fucking insane, but mostly in the best possible way. Mostly.

I should probably explain the qualifier. This past week, I got the bug and jumped head first into fighting game streams. The impending launch of Street Fighter X Tekken saw Capcom with its promotional mechanisms running full steam. One of these was a show called Cross Assault.

Basically a reality show centered around a Street Fighter X Tekken tournament between Street Fighter and Tekken players (each with a veteran coach to lead their team), the Capcom-sponsored program streamed live for 12+ hours a day. Most of the streams saw the teams training with their coach for elimination matches – pretty basic stuff. But like any reality show, it had its fair share of drama – only Cross Assault’s drama was the non-scripted and really creepy kind.

It all boils down to the Tekken team’s coach, Aris Bakhtanians, being a real asshole creeper. From the start, his attitude toward the female players was off-putting. I caught a couple of conversations about ‘which girl he’d do’ and more than a couple of random misogynistic remarks. He was basically the avatar for the creepy unwashed masses populating anything involving attractive girls and video games. But then the fucker got weird.

This happened:

For those with weak stomachs or good taste, it’s a fifteen minute clip of a large, bearded man casually sexually harassing a woman (his own teammate) until she leaves the entire production in tears. It is beyond disgusting. Hearing Aris threaten to “smell her and whisper her boyfriend’s name” may possibly the worst thing I’ve seen on live television. Later, Aris gets into a conversation with one of the show’s promoters wherein he defends hundreds of players chanting “rape that bitch” during a heated match involving a female character. He never backed down, insisting it was okay because no one actually wanted any harm to come to anyone and that’s the way the fighting game community works. So not only did he sexually harass a young woman on live television, he also insulted the entire community he was there to represent. Bakhtanians did issue an apology the next day. He apologized to “anyone who was offended by his statements.” Cause he’s a giant douche bag like that.  This man – or a creature with a vague visual proximity to one – hosts a podcast with a regular segment called “Who is a Bitch.” And he was chosen to represent Tekken in a large, sponsored event. Whoever made that choice did a disservice to the entire community.

Now I understand that an insular community will create this kind of monster – and the reaction from the community was mostly the expected horror and disgust – but more than a few people came to the aid of their creepy, too-small-shirt wearing friend. The issue for his defenders quickly went from Aris’s blatant sexual assault to “that’s how we roll.” This – beyond the obvious terribleness – elucidates my problem with the fighting game community. There seems to be a vocal group of fighting game fans that feel as though aggression, homophobia, and misogyny are all part of the game and should be tolerated as part of the “scene.” I get that some of this stems from a fear of going mainstream – of losing the niche appeal of your life’s obsession. But that’s a fucking narcissistic fear that exists only to protect the size of your iPenis. I’m sure some of the people attracted to such an aggressive and competitive genre are just rotting piles of shitty personalities with Ecko hats, but they really shouldn’t be the community’s mouthpieces.

Really what I wanted to say is this: if you end up getting into Street Fighter X Tekken, there is a whole wonderful community out there for you. One that needs to get its shit together. Maybe it could use your help. The bearded sex offenders are a small minority. Use the community’s resources and entertainment. Populate the forums and ask questions. Swell their ranks with intelligent, open-minded individuals. I’m not saying you should start counting frame animations, but if you want to – there are dozens of guides to help you along the way. If you do delve deep into the obsession, do me a favor and make the aggressive assholes the villains. Don’t allow a community where sexual harassment is defended – and even encouraged  – to exist. Don’t choose a drying turd with bad facial hair and the social graces of a serial rapist as any sort of leader, ever. You can spend a lifetime learning how to play Street Fighter X Tekken if you want to, it’d just be awesome if you could do it without having to witness the worst of humanity along the way.

MASS EFFECT 3 (360, PS3)

I don’t know what the hell this is. I saw an ad and it looked like Star Trek: The 25th Anniversary for NES. Apparently it was made by the guys who did Dragon Ace and Star Trek: Knights of Old Republicans. Sounds boring.

THE OTHER STUFF:

I don’t know why there are so few major releases today. You can’t get more niche than a fighting game and a space sim, so you’d think the day is wide open for a true juggernaut title. But whatever – baseball fans can be happy. MLB 2K12 is hitting everything, including the PS2 for some reason. MLB: The Show 12 is hitting Playstation consoles that aren’t PS2. If you have the choice, and you really need a new baseball game, The Show is easily the way to go. After about twenty five years in game limbo, I Am Alive is finally hitting XBLA. Or, more likely, it doesn’t exist and is some sort of tax shelter for Ubisoft.

So that does it for this week’s Special Ed. I’m Commander Shepard – and this is my favorite store on the Citadel.

FIN.