“Cowboys & Aliens” Review

Armed with a Megaman blaster and his rugged good looks, Cowboys & Aliens finds Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) leading a strike against an encroaching team of aliens that have settled on Earth to strip mine for gold (for some reason or another). Aside from this undeniably superior alien race being taken down by far lesser manpower and artillery, which is kind of like the adorable Ewoks bringing down the Empire with sling shots and determination, there isn’t much here in terms of story. When considering all the plot devices – from Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and his son being pompous dicks to everyone in sight to Ella Swenson’s (Olivia Wilde) mysterious history – there isn’t much in the development of the story that’s particularly engrossing. That said, we need more Olivia Wilde in this world, be it on movies, TV shows or pay per view specials: that woman is breathtaking. Unfortunately however, considering that pre-production of the movie dates back over a decade, the delivery of the movie is not. Director Jon Favreau’s Iron Man thumbprint is all over the film without adding anything flavorful, Ford’s supporting role doesn’t utilize his gritty charm, and when combining these aspects with Craig’s lack of personality, Cowboys & Aliens throws a lot at the audience without actually giving us much of anything.

Ween’s Homo Rainbow

Originally titled “The Rainbow” when released on South Park‘s Chef Aid compilation in 1998, the song was later rechristened “The Homo Rainbow” as it became a staple in Ween‘s live set. As is true of many of their other songs, the Live Music Archive is ripe with bootleg versions of the track, but none that I listened to offered any noteworthy variation; these 2001 performances from Charleston and San Francisco are rather clear and enjoyable, though, for what it’s worth. The song also appeared on Ween’s 2003 Live at Stubb’s release and anyone with the most beginner level Google skills can likely scrounge up a few more concert takes, though none might be as blog-worthy as the group’s ’99 performance of the track in Atlanta with Queens of the Stone Age (which is in convenient video form below). All said however, it’s hard to match the bizarre beauty of the original.

From the track’s casual and simplistic, yet no less clever, lyrics to its place on a Rick Rubin-produced novelty album alongside the likes of Master P, Joe Strummer, Primus & Elton John, “The Rainbow” is about as much of an oddity as any from Ween’s career. Considering that it features the late Isaac Hayes, who was an outspoken Scientologist, cast alongside overdubbed remarks about living under God’s watchful eye, while spouting humorously inaccurate geographical rhymes encouraging all to feel welcomed to be themselves… well, it’s simply a thing of beauty.

Fedor Emelianenko, Matt Hamill and the Writing on the Wall

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks in the world of mixed martial arts; particularly in Strikeforce. Aside from the brothers Overeem and Marloes Coenen being released, word came on August 4 that so too had “The Last Emperor” Fedor Emelianenko.

On the heels of a first round TKO loss to Dan Henderson, Fedor’s third in a row, his cut comes as no surprise, especially considering his well documented issues with Strikeforce’s parent company Zuffa. Yet equally intriguing is the news that followed a crushing defeat at the hands of the surging youngster Alexander Gustafsson, as UFC veteran Matt Hamill announced in a message on his personal website that he would be stepping away from the sport, “I can’t continue to fight without having the hunger and desire to do so.” While being quite different fighters from separate promotions hailing opposite sides of the planet, there is a unique similarity between Fedor and Hamill, and further: the present state of their respective fighting careers.

Born a week apart in the fall of 1976, Hamill and Fedor both took to competing at young ages (Fedor in judo and sambo, Hamill in wrestling), each boasting life stories fit for film; in fact, the wrestler’s will see release this fall when the deaf fighter’s inspirational tale is released as Hamill. However remarkable his life might be, Matt Hamill’s respectable MMA career fails to compare to that of the highly decorated career of Fedor Emelianenko. Aside from his decade plus of elite competition as a Sambo world champion, he is a former PRIDE, WAMMA and RINGS Heavyweight Champion who amassed a legendary decade-long 28 fight streak without accruing a single loss (going 27-0 with 1 no contest). Yet both fighters, where they stand presently, find themselves at nearly the same crossroads.

For all intents and purposes, the writing is on the wall for each fighter to call it a career. Hamill, himself, explained that he wanted to retire following his UFC 130 loss to “Rampage” Jackson, a match which he showcased an uncharacteristically unsuccessful wrestling display, leading to a one-sided decision loss. The Gustafsson beating he took this past weekend was academic: his heart simply isn’t in it anymore. And after his string of three firm defeats, the same appears evident of Fedor as well. Yet key difference here isn’t determination, nor will to compete, but financial. Rather than hang up his gloves, something fans have been crying out for since his beating from Antonio Silva this past February, M-1 Global president Vadim Finkelstein announced in a press release that not only will Fedor continue to fight, but that he will be tentatively taking on bouts in both Russia and Japan this year before returning to the U.S. again in 2012. The difference here is clear: Fedor raked in a tidy $1.5 million for his match with Henderson while Hamill took home a comparatively meager $32,000 for his efforts this past weekend.

Though neither fighter may have that fire that once drove them to their respective peaks, both are still elite-level practitioners and could likely utilize their fame by Ken Shamrock-ing their way through another decade of meaningless sideshow bouts. But at this point in time the only thing separating the two is a paycheck: Fedor, and more importantly Fedor’s small army of management and other hangers-on, can still draw a rather hefty sum while Hamill can’t. Without it, the Russian legend would likely be making the same decision as Hamill: that being the right decision.

Jay-Z and Kanye West "Watch the Throne" Review

The success of Watch the Throne is going to have to be defined by how each unique passenger of the vessel approaches the collaboration. Kanye West and Jay-Z are undoubtedly two of the most elite and in demand voices in rap (or pop music, or simply music in general), and if the focus is the music, the album will be defined by its sound. With production by the likes of West, Swizz Beatz, the RZA, 88 Keys and Q-Tip, there’s no shortage of talent behind the scenes to allow the songs to burst with excellence. But if looking below the glossy exterior, the perception of what the core of Watch the Throne is all about changes dramatically. “Doctors say I’m the illest ’cause I’m suffering from realness,” teases Kanye in “Niggas in Paris,” a track which was recorded in the extravagant Le Meurice Hotel in Paris, France. Keeping it real never appeared so luxurious.

But in the world of Jay-Z and Kanye West, that’s what keeping it real has become: it’s about how hard you can stunt and the excessive lengths which your posturing can reach, while still retaining an appearance of realness. As Jay continues in “Paris,” “What’s 50 grand to a muhfucka like me?… The Nets could go 0-82 and I look at you like this shit gravy.” Perhaps the chest-pounding is no more excessive than it is on the Otis Redding/James Brown-sampling “Otis,” with Jay further reaching toward tasteless extremes, “Photoshoot fresh, lookin’ like wealth, I’m ’bout to call the paparazzi on myself” while Kanye boasts “Luxury rap, the Hermes of verses/Sophisticated ignorance, write my curses in cursive.” In the world of The Throne this is the norm which is lived by, so of course it’s going to be a non-event when they brag of having “so many watches I need eight arms” as they do in “Who Gon Stop Me.” But what’s more is that this shift in belief is not only an expectation of the listener at this point, but of themselves: “I’m at the table/I’m gambling/Lucky lefty, I expect a seven/I went through hell, I’m expecting heaven/I’m owed, I’m throwed and I stuck to the G-code.”

The trouble isn’t in that this brand of living is the new elite standard, but that with every reminder of the duo’s swag comes an equally empty reminder of how it's deserved. In the Kanye-produced “Lift Off,” Beyonce‘s hook loops around the singer’s qualification that “you don’t know what we’ve been through to make it this far.” “Paris” finds Jay justifying his excesses, “If you escaped what I’ve escaped you’d be in Paris getting fucked up too.” Led by Frank Ocean’s hook, engineered for emotional appeal, the duo continue to expound on their life lessons in the track, while reconfirming just how in touch with the world they still are in “Gotta Have It,” despite having “Maybachs on bachs on bachs on bachs,” Yeezy adds “I remain Chi-town,” and Jay, “Brooklyn till I die.” And while he might be living lavishly, Kanye’s quick to remind us how hard Chicago still rolls (“And I’m from the murder capital/Where they murder for capital/Heard about at least three killings this afternoon”) which somehow adds further to his realness, if only by proximity.

If that contrast weren’t difficult enough to digest, Watch the Throne is ripe with plenty of other twists, turns, and inevitable Kanye-isms. Without even touching on Holocaust allusions (“Who Gon Stop Me”), the duo both lean on race to combat feelings of insecurity and perceived artistic injustice: Kanye accuses “white America” of character assassination in “Gotta Have It” while Jay preaches how they need to “put some colored girls in the MOMA” in “That’s My Bitch,” adding, “I mean Marilyn Monroe, she’s quite nice/But why all the pretty icons always all-white?” The RZA co-produced “New Day” takes an odd turn as both Jay and Ye speak to their future children, attempting to steer them toward private paths of happiness long before their birth, while still finding ways to be casually venomous, “And I’ll never let my son have an ego/He’ll be nice to everyone wherever we go/I mean I might even make ‘em be Republican/So everybody know he love white people.” A faint shadow of poetry appears in the Swizz Beatz-produced “Welcome to the Jungle” as Jay looks back at the inescapable lows which still find a way to drown out the successes, “Work pots and pans just to come me some Airs/My uncle died, my daddy did too/Paralyzed by pain I can barely move/My nephew gone, my heard is torn/Sometimes I look to the sky, ask why I was born/My faith in God, every day is hard/Every night is worst, that’s why I pray so hard.” But cast among such a focused body of self-congratulatory work, the feigned sensitivity is washed away by wave after wave of empty boasting by the braggadocious tag-team.

For the numerous basketball related references that pass by throughout Watch the Throne, it’s interesting to follow how the two solo performers do in fact end up working together as a team on the album. But as Grantland’s Hua Hsu explained in his take on the album, this ability to co-exist shouldn’t be viewed as an immediate sign of greatness.
"Instead of competition, we now live in a culture that produces mutually beneficial agreements. Instead of rivals there are dream teams, talents taken around the globe in the name of common goals, brand visions, the quid pro quo backslap culture of “liking” and retweeting. Instead of a guy emerging from a bench-clearing brawl with his arm dislocated, we have the Miami Heat and their ‘Big Three.’ By most accounts, this is a far preferable way to live… But it doesn’t necessarily make for more interesting art."
Not unlike the “Big Three,” Watch the Throne finds Kanye and Jay bringing out an unusual side in each other, kicking back and basking in their collective glow, examining their successes, congratulating one another on sticking to the “G-code” and making a point to reference how selfless they’ve been in helping the less fortunate along the way, despite continually remaining targets themselves (which covers the lyrical basis of “Why I Love You,” the Cassius-sampling track which might be one of the musical highlights on the release). But this is far more blatant than “Big Pimpin’” ever was, instead portraying the pair as insiders looking back out over a world that they are no longer in touch with; their reference points so far changed that their extreme stories of success have become folklore championing the “everyman” within their circles. Illuminati? No need. What’s the use of a secret society when you can live and breathe your creed out in the public, documenting your own personal new world order in plain sight, painting it gold, and shelving it exclusively at a big box retailer where fans will still inevitably line up in droves, hard-earned cash in hands to see their reflection in its faux-metallic cover?

Well, if you’re approaching Watch the Throne from that perspective, the album might not present itself with quite the same value that it otherwise would. But at least it sounds tight.

Space Lord… Mother… Mother…

Whatever happened to Monster Magnet?

Truth is, despite retaining just a single original member, vocalist and guitarist Dave Wyndorf, the band is still kicking around after over two decades “together.” That said, Monster Magnet‘s continued existence hasn’t been without its setbacks. Rotating through 11 band members since 1989, the group hit it big after switching up from their psych-rock leaning Dopes to Infinity by making a splash on modern rock radio with 1998′s polished Powertrip. Going gold within a year, the album bolstered a pair of killer singles that might very well remain the most notable within MM’s discography: “Space Lord” and the title track, “Powertrip.”

Though the band’s follow-up release, 2000′s God Says No, might be a more well-rounded album (I know this having purchased it back in the day based on its inclusion in Q’s Recordings of the Year list — sidenote: remember when music mags had clout?), but it failed to equal the commercial success of its predecessor, resulting in a major turnover in the lineup and a parting of ways with A&M Records. A couple of flops bookended a drug overdose before MM made a return last year with Mastermind, which resulted in the group’s first appearance on the Billboard 200 in nearly a decade (debuting at #165). Not to undercut any of the subsequent highs and lows, but for better or worse, Powertrip remains the centerpiece from Monster Magnet’s lengthy discography.

Part of the album’s success — a large part, actually — was the use of music videos to drive interest in songs that might otherwise have faded away into the hard rock landscape of the time. Directed by Joseph Kahn, who’s also responsible for videos from the likes of the Backstreet Boys, Destiny’s Child and Aaliyah, “Space Lord” has all of the gratuitous excesses of many other clips from the late-’90s, but what’s most unique about it is its ability to completely bite style from such a wide range of already-clich├ęd videos (something Kahn was great at, as resume later landed him the directorial role behind the 2004 Fast and Furious rip-off, Torque).

Opening with an attempt at creating atmosphere by having the band set in a cloud of out-of-focus haze while light bursts kick in and out (not unlike Hole’s “Gold Dust Woman” or “A Common Disaster” from the Cowboy Junkies) the music video builds a little momentum before the largely naked body of a wrinkly old near-corpse of a man enters the shot (this is where my mind jumps to “Heart Shaped Box“). Then, for some not-readily-apparent reason, we’re whisked away from the brooding stage of the intro to the Las Vegas strip where Monster Magnet gets all Bad Boy on us, performing in front of the Plaza Hotel (and Casino) among rapid fire shots of fireworks and rump-shaking power-dancers. Hell, they even manage to squeeze Twiggy Ramirez into the video. The only thing it was missing was a supa-dupa fly costume (which actually ended up making an appearance in the band’s next Kuhn-directed clip for “Powertrip“). Fun fact: “Space Lord” was also the first video to ever be shown on MTV’s Total Request Live when the show made its debut, September 14, 1998. (Entirely unrelated fun fact: Total Request Live debuted on Amy Winehouse’s 15th birthday.)

Though Powertrip caught fire in North America, its singles didn’t carry the same momentum into the UK when the album was released there the following year. Despite peaking at #3 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart the previous year, “Space Lord” topped out at the #45 position on the UK singles chart, where it lasted only a single week. “Powertrip” only did slightly better, spending a total of two weeks in the sun.

So to answer the question, whatever happened to Monster Magnet: clearly, a lot has happened. But — not unlike many hundred, if not thousands of bands before and after who tasted success only to collapse into obscurity — nothing has happened that really compares to the band’s peak in the late-’90s with the success of Powertrip.

Randy Moss Retires: The Legacy of an NFL Great

In a statement from his agent, Joel Segal, NFL great Randy Moss has announced that he’s retiring after 13 seasons in the league.

Though word had been circling that Moss was in better shape than he has been in years (keeping in mind that said word came from Segal), and that he’d hoped to come back strong after his worst season ever, the news that he’s making his exit from the game comes with little surprise. ESPN’s Bill Simmons said it best, tweeting in response to the report that “Randy Moss just announced that he retired a year ago.” Splitting 2010 between the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans (and, some would argue, the sidelines, where he was a firm staple during all three stints), Moss collected just 28 receptions, 5 TDs and less than 400 yards last season. Rather than risking another equally embarrassing showing in 2011 however (with “risking” being interchangeable with “likely diving head first into” in this scenario), the decision to step away from the game seemingly comes as a wise one. Yet while the short term taste of Moss’ inability to focus on the game and reclaim his place as one of the NFL’s elite receivers still lingers, history should prove that he was one of the best that the game has ever seen. A few quick statistics:

• (3) 17+ TD seasons (an NFL record)
• 153 career TD receptions (2nd all time)
• (10) 1000+ yard receiving seasons (2nd all time)
• 14,858 receiving yards (6th all time)
• 4-time All Pro
• 1997: Heisman Trophy nominee
• 1998: Part of the Vikings’ offense which scored an NFL record 556 points (later eclipsed by the 2007 Patriots, another team which Moss was part of)
• 1998: 17 TDs (an NFL rookie record)
• 2000: Set Pro-Bowl receiving record (212 yards)
• 2007: 23 TDs (an NFL record), including (8) 2+ TD games (also an NFL record), helping the Patriots on their way to a 16 game winning streak

One of the most unfortunate aspects of Moss’ history comes with his time away from the football field however, where the perennial superstar was unable to keep himself in check. Despite a noteworthy college career, the Vikings were able to scoop Moss up with the 21st overall pick in 1998 as NFL clubs balked at his reckless history (including a 1996 jail sentence and subsequent probation violation). In 2001 Moss tested positive for marijuana, which violated the NFL’s substance abuse program. In 2002 Moss again made headlines when he “bumped” a traffic control officer with his car in downtown Minneapolis after she had instructed him to stop before completing a what-would-have-been-illegal turn (resulting in a misdemeanor traffic violation). But further to his off-field antics, as Moss’ career wore on his dwindling work ethic and questionable on-field behavior began to take precedent over his wild abilities.

During the last game of the 2004 season Moss walked off the field as the Vikings were losing, leading critics to call him out for stranding his teammates. He would later be criticized by former Raiders coaches for his lack of effort during his two-season stint with the club, and continually haunted by fans and the media for his decreasing relevance as a play-maker on the field. Oh, and who can forget this?

Moss was great at what he did, and had his head been firmly on his shoulders he might have developed into the best receiver that football has ever seen. But with his antics both on and off the field tarnishing his game-play and his increasingly obvious tendency to call-in plays (obviously interrupted by a single career defining season from a team which he was a key member of), Randy Moss’ legacy will likely be one of someone who had the ability to become legendary, yet one ultimately marred by the resolve of a quitter.