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Clint Eastwood’s Ten Directorial Triumphs

Saturday, May 9th, 2015 - by Kyle Smith

In his eighties, Clint Eastwood directed the biggest money-maker he has ever been associated with, American Sniper. Modeling himself on his mentor Don Siegel, Eastwood gradually evolved from a meat-and-potatoes genre director to a consummate craftsman and the maker of some true artistic triumphs. Let’s look back at the ten best he’s ever helmed.

10 White Hunter, Black Heart (1990). One of Eastwood’s stranger offerings was this project about the making of The African Queen and its director, John Huston, who in the film is fictionalized, called “John Wilson” and played by Eastwood. Eastwood’s attempts to recreate Huston’s peculiar lockjaw are mixed, but White Hunter is a worthy inquiry into the nature of obsessive artistry and the relationship between an artist’s personality and the caliber of his work.

9. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). Eastwood began to explore his sensitive side with his portrayal of an honest farmer and family man who turns into a ruthless desperado after the murder of his wife and child. Classic Eastwood motifs such as barroom showdowns and wickedly barbed one liners (such as “Buzzards gotta eat too,” said over the body of a dead man who doesn’t deserve a burial) are laid over an unusual political foundation, about the pointless savagery at the end of the Civil War, when marauding bands of pro-Union “Red Legs” lay waste to civilian homes. Josey Wales explains in his climactic parley with a Comanche chief that despite dealing death for most of the movie he believes in tolerance, his “word of life.”

8. Sudden Impact (1983). Eastwood rejuvenated the Dirty Harry franchise with this fourth entry, in which Callahan tangles with a gang of rapists yet has an uneasy relationship with one of their victims (Sondra Locke), who shares Harry’s approach to violent criminals. Although some of the film’s themes were approaching cliche at this point, it’s still a highly entertaining action picture that deserves to be remembered for more than its signature one liner (cited by President Reagan in the course of promising to veto tax hikes), “Go ahead, make my day.”

WATCH: Clint Eastwood’s “Go ahead, make my day scene:”

7. The Gauntlet (1977). A Phoenix cop (Eastwood) sent to Las Vegas to bring back a “nothing witness” — a prostitute (Sondra Locke) — is slowly revealed to be a witty reversal of Dirty Harry. This cop thinks he was hired because he was the only man who could do a tricky job. In fact he got the nod because he’s perceived to be dumb and incompetent, a lazy drunk who is not expected to survive a battle with the Mob and corrupt cops in both states who want the hooker dead before she can testify against them.

6. High Plains Drifter (1973) A very Eastwood-y twist on High Noon: An entire town is culpable when a lawman gets whipped to death while the residents look on, and the entire town will suffer the consequences. Eastwood plays a mysterious stranger, a ghost or an avenging angel of the dead man, who rides into an Old West village and is hired to take down the three outlaws who murdered the marshal and are about to get out of jail. The apocalyptic touch — the Stranger orders the town literally painted red, with a sign reading “Welcome to Hell” posted to greet the returning desperadoes — gives the film a stern, pitiless sense of evil that must be punished.

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5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics

Saturday, March 7th, 2015 - by Chris Queen


WARNING: this post contains plot spoilers! If you haven’t seen Big Hero 6, go watch it – RIGHT NOW! – and then come back to read this.

I recently watched Disney’s latest Oscar-winning animated feature Big Hero 6 for the first (and second) time. I loved the film so much that I watched it twice in less than 24 hours. The story of Hiro Hamada, his robot buddy Baymax, and their college pals who become unwitting superheroes surprised me in so many ways that I believe Big Hero 6 deserves a place among the classics of Disney animation, and here are a few reasons why.


5. Big Hero 6 contains some of the most appealing characters Disney has introduced in a long time.

Over nearly a century, Disney has brought us some memorable and wonderful characters, and though the Big Hero 6 originated in the Marvel universe, the characters in the film Big Hero 6 wind up being some of the best Disney characters in recent memory.

Hiro takes many character tropes – the young teen, the plucky orphan, the prodigious genius – and overcomes them with his sense of wonder at the world around him. Tadashi’s selfless nature manifests itself beautifully in his love for his brother, and Aunt Cass is both high-strung and grounded as guardian of her nephews.

Hiro and Tadashi’s friends are terrific characters in their own right. Go-Go counters her surface misanthropy by revealing her heart at just the right times, while Honey Lemon breaks through a vapid exterior with intellect and concern for others. Wasabi’s quirky neuroses belie a maturity that drives him, while Fred proves he’s more than just an apparent stoner ne’er-do-well.

And then there’s Baymax, my personal favorite. His robotic deadpan turns out to be the perfect delivery for some of the movie’s best lines (what he mines from a simple “oh no” is worth its weight in gold). Baymax proves that artificial intelligence can generate genuine heart.

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4. The self-esteem message in Big Hero 6 contains more substance than anything else in our culture today.

Nowadays pop culture tends to send the same message to young people – embrace your weirdness, let your freak flag fly. It seems like films, music, and television tell our kids that unless they’re an oddball in some way they’ll never fit it.

Big Hero 6 conveys a self-esteem message that runs counter to current pop culture: the notion that everyone has talents and ways that they can make the world a better place. Sure, the Big Hero 6 are weird, but their value lies not in embracing their weirdness but in the skills and knowledge they possess (or, to paraphrase Tadashi, their big brains). That’s a message that carries more substance than the freak flag ever will.

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3. Big Hero 6 appeals to boys better than most of Disney’s prior attempts.

Let’s face it: Disney’s animated output has been princess-centric since the beginning, and it seems like the studio has upped the ante since discovering the princesses’ marketing power a few years back. Disney has attempted to appeal directly to boys over the years, but for various reasons, those attempts haven’t really stuck long term.

As wonderful as The Sword In The Stone is, it has never ranked among the classics with long-term staying power. The Black Cauldron? Nope, too dark. Unfortunately, Aladdin has had to suffer the “Princess Movie” label, despite the fact that the protagonist and titular character is a guy. The Lion King is one of the rare Disney “boy movies” that rank among the classics, and I firmly believe Big Hero 6 will join that short list.

Big Hero 6 is the total package for a guy’s movie: edge-of-the-seat action, high and low comedy, and a heroes-versus-villains tension (even if the villain’s evil is driven by family revenge). The movie balances these elements with the right amount of heart, as well as including sly jokes that parents can laugh along with. I feel strongly that the film has the kind of staying power that will resist changing trends and attitudes, despite it’s current cutting-edge style.


2. There are elements of countercultural conservatism in Big Hero 6.

Whether the filmmakers intended them or not, we can find threads in Big Hero 6 that suggest countercultural conservative themes. I’ve already discussed the unique (and positive) message of self-esteem we see in the film. We also see evidence of the value of hard work and perseverance when Baymax shows Hiro the footage of Tadashi working on his prized robot.

In spite of his off-the-charts intelligence (the kid graduated high school at 13, for crying out loud!), Hiro must work hard to produce a unique invention to ensure his admission into the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology’s robotics program. He even receives in invitation to work with the billionaire industrialist Alistair Krei as a result of his presentation.

The most interesting countercultural conservative thread runs through the villain story. When Alistair Krei approaches Hiro after his robotics presentation, the earnest Professor Callaghan decries Krei as a selfish robber baron. Yet the villain turns out to be Callaghan, and Krei is his target. It’s also worth noting that, with Krei’s obvious success, his major failure is the government-sponsored teleportation project.

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1. Big Hero 6 conveys a message about innovation that would make Walt himself proud.

One underlying – and possibly intentional – lesson from Big Hero 6 has to do with innovation, and the movie delivers it in a way that would make Walt and his inner circle proud.

For starters, the competition which results in Hiro’s admission to SFIT is one where prospective students seek to create truly innovative robotics applications, and Hiro wins over both Krei and Professor Callaghan with his microbots. But the kicker is Tadashi’s encouragment to Hiro which leads to his invention of the microbots.

When Hiro hits a dead end in coming up with ideas for the competition, Tadashi gives his younger brother advice in an unusual way:

Tadashi: Hey, I’m not giving up on you.

[Tadashi grabs Hiro by the ankles and hangs him upside-down over his shoulders. He begins jumping around the room, with Hiro flopping behind him.]

Hiro: Ahhǃ What are you doing?

Tadashi: Shake things up! Use that big brain of yours to think your way out!

Hiro: What?

Tadashi: Look for a new angle.

[Hiro groans and decides to humor Tadashi. He looks around the room from a new angle and spots Megabot. He gets an idea.]

Tadashi’s advice would make Walt proud and even reads like a page out of The Imagineering Way. Hiro dishes it out when the team runs up against trouble in their battle against Callaghan. He tells the team, “Listen up! Use those big brains of yours to think your way around the problem! Look for a new angle!”

And while we’re at it, let’s consider the coolest innovation of all – Baymax. Tadashi set out to help people, and in doing so he created the ultimate innovation in health care, one that didn’t require massive federal bureaucracy.

I’m telling you, Walt would be proud.


Please join the discussion on TwitterThe essay above is the twelfth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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12 Signs You’ve Sought Redemption Through the Religion of Pop

Sunday, July 20th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Pop culture has become as much of a religious powerhouse as Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism or any other faith. Don’t believe me? Sit in a college classroom. Better yet, attend a fan convention or simply rent the film Trekkies. Films, shows, bands, comic books and their like have become, for some, sources of spiritual nourishment. Do you feel the power?

12. What was once DVR-able is now weekly appointment television.

“Appointment TV” doesn’t begin to describe your weekly ritual. All pressing engagements are pushed aside, phones are silenced, and ritual food is laid out on the coffee table to be partaken in as the ceremony commences. You still DVR the show for good measure, being sure to re-watch at least once, if not multiple times in deep study so that you may discuss the meanings of both text and subtext with fellow fans.

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Second Chance for John Frankenheimer’s Seconds on Blu-Ray

Sunday, September 1st, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll


Last week, the mailman delivered an Amazon box containing the Criterion Blu-Ray edition of the 1966 John Frankenheimer movie Seconds, starring Rock Hudson. Its arrival meant I could finally retire my 1997 laser disc edition of the film, one of the last 12-inch silver discs I purchased before switching to DVDs. But first, it meant a late night viewing of one of the strangest and most unsettling movies produced by mid-‘60s Hollywood.

Forget Dr. Strangelove’s obsession with fluoridation — something strange had gotten in the water in the mid-1960s. Maybe it was a collective premonition that the overreach of the Johnson Administration’s Great Society would very likely cause it to fail, as it attempted to fight the war on poverty, the war on racism, the space race, the Cold War, and the hot war in Vietnam, all simultaneously.

Perhaps it was the cognitive dissonance of the left, unable to process the fact that Johnson was only in office because President Kennedy was shot by “some silly little Communist,” as newly-widowed Jackie Kennedy muttered upon hearing the news about the motivations of the man who shot her husband. Instead of understanding that the Cold War had claimed her husband, Jackie, like most of the American left couldn’t make the connection. The ideology of Kennedy’s assassin “robs his death of any meaning,” she added.

But giving meaning to life didn’t really interest the American left at the height of the Cold War. In the early days of the 20th century, pioneering, self-described “Progressives” championed better working conditions for the common man. Now that America’s postwar economic boom meant that many men had them, and were moving to the suburbs as a result, after World War II, the left decided this was a bad thing. Hence, the 1956 film, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, (which both Seconds and today’s Mad Men each owes much to), and by time of the Kennedy era, Malvina Reynolds and Pete Seeger’s “Little Boxes,” with its references to suburban houses “all made out of ticky-tacky,” dubbed “the most sanctimonious song ever written” by fellow leftwing songwriter Tom Leher.

But this trend went into overdrive by the mid-‘60s, a hatred of all things suburbia that burns to this day, one of many poisoned leftwing wells from which our current president has drunk from deeply. In 1966, director Frank Perry shot the film version of the 1964 short story written by the New Yorker’s John Cheever, The Swimmer, which starred a buff-looking Burt Lancaster, trapped in an 95-minute-long metaphor of a movie. As the title implies, Lancaster swam from pool to pool, chatting wistfully with his neighbors in their wealthy Connecticut suburb about missed opportunities, middle age, and social conformity.

The Swimmer, which is available in high def streaming video from Amazon, wasn’t released by Columbia Pictures until 1968, perhaps because another, much darker film with a somewhat similar theme had bombed badly at the box office. In the early to mid-1960s, director John Frankenheimer had a made a career of Cold War paranoid thrillers, releasing first The Manchurian Candidate in 1962, starring Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey. In 1964, Frankenheimer next helmed Seven Days in May, with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster starring in a film about American generals attempting a coup against a dovish liberal president. In 1966, Frankenheimer directed Seconds.


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Pioneer Elite SC-75 Home Theater Receiver Review

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll


I distinctly remember two mile markers on the road to my obsession with home theater. The first was a 1987 article in Billboard magazine exploring the continuing popularity, against all odds, of the 12-inch laser disc format with movie collectors. The article mentioned an obscure California firm called “The Criterion Collection” that was selling Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey in something called a “letterboxed” format, which would allow seeing the entire frame of those magnificently photographed widescreen movies on a home television set, instead of the “panned and scanned” version, which cut off the sides of the frame. It also mentioned the superiority of the laser disc format compared to fuzzy VHS tapes, and that laser disc allowed for such ancillary items as directors’ commentaries on auxiliary audio channels, behind the scenes still photos, trailers, deleted scenes, and other fun pieces of memorabilia.

This sounded pretty darn awesome. Shortly thereafter, I purchased my first laser disc player, the predecessor to the DVD, which wouldn’t arrive in stores for another decade. At its best, the picture and sound quality of laser discs blew VHS away, and I was quickly hooked. Particularly when I stumbled over a nearby video store that rented laser discs.

The second mile maker arrived two years later. That’s when I walked out of the B. Dalton Bookstore in New Jersey’s Burlington Mall holding a copy of the second issue of Audio/Video Interiors, the magazine that put the words “home theater” on the map. It was essentially Architectural Digest meets Stereo Review, with photo layout after photo layout filled with sophisticated audio and video components beautifully photographed in stunning home settings, including some of the first dedicated home theaters that were designed to look like the classic movie palaces of the 1930s, such as Theo Kalomirakis’ Roxy Theater, a knockout design built in the basement of his Brooklyn Brownstone. (Kalomirakis would go on to make a living as a home theater designer, producing works for extremely well-heeled clients that make his initial Roxy look positively modest by comparison.)

I gravitated more to the media rooms the magazine featured than the dedicated home theaters. Media rooms were rooms designed for a variety of media consumption — music, TV, movies, concert videos, with the electronics tastefully combined into some of sort attractive cabinetry or hidden into the wall. Maybe because my father had a custom built-in unit installed in his basement in 1969 to house his stereo equipment and a small portion of his enormous (3000+) collection of jazz and big band records. Adding video and surround sound to that concept seemed like a natural to me.

I’ve kept most of the issues from Audio/Video Interiors’ initial run; I was immensely proud to have written a few articles for the magazine in the late 1990s. In retrospect, it’s fun to look back at the first issues of AVI, and realize how much technology has progressed since then. HD video replaced “Never Twice the Same Color” low-def analog TV. VHS is all but extinct. Dolby Pro-Logic, the first consumer surround sound format has been upgraded to first Dolby 5.1 and now Dolby 7.1 and beyond. CDs have been rendered increasingly anathema, particularly for casual listening, by MP3s. The laser disc was replaced 15 years ago by the DVD, which has now been supplanted by Blu-Ray, and increasingly, by streaming high-definition movies, such as those offered by Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

Welcome to 2013

Apologies for burying the lede, but this brings us to one of Pioneer’s newest A/V receivers, the Pioneer Elite SC-75. The first Pioneer receiver I owned was the classic Pioneer VSX-D1S of 1990, one of the first receivers designed with what we now call home theater in mind, with as much emphasis on controlling video components as the CD player, the tape deck and the record player. Since then, Pioneer has been upgrading the electronics of their units to keep pace with changing world of home theater technology. I purchased the SC-75 to replace my Pioneer Elite VSX-72TXV, which was built in 2006. With six years passed, and the proliferation of streaming video set-top boxes such as the Roku (which we reviewed last year), the addition of LAN and wireless networking technology to many Blu-Ray players, the popularization of Androids and iPods/iPads as music and video devices, and the standardization of the HDMI format to connect video components, the SC-75 is a very different beast compared to the previous generation of Pioneer Elite receivers.

The differences aren’t immediately apparent at first glance; the only thing that initially sets the unit apart from its predecessors is its brushed metal finish, instead of the smooth piano black styling of older Pioneer Elite models (Pioneer has apparently also permanently retired the beautiful rosewood-veneered side panels of the first generation of Elite models, which is a pity; on the other hand, perhaps they simply don’t want to be raided by the lumber fascists, ala Gibson.)

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The 5 Most Surprising Movie Adaptations

Friday, May 10th, 2013 - by Hannah Sternberg

The critics are chattering about Baz Luhrmann’s highly anticipated The Great Gatsby. They fall into two camps: those who watched the movie for itself, and those who closely compared it to the book. Even though I appreciate F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal work, I’ll be going to the theater as a member of the first camp. Adaptations are rarely successful when the goal is a strict translation of the book to the screen. Even if a movie’s based on a book, I try to judge it as a movie in its own right, as if the book had never existed. Just to prove how unimportant The Great Gatsby’s faithfulness to the book is, here are four examples of absolutely amazing, beautiful, gripping, classic movies (and a TV show) that took an existing story and threw expectations out the window to make something completely original.

5. The Adaptation Most People Don’t Know Is an Adaptation: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Did you know that O Brother Where Art Thou?, the Coen brothers’ rollicking adventure comedy through the Depression-era South, is a loose retelling of Homer’s Odyssey? If you didn’t, pick up the DVD and rewatch it (well, you should rewatch it anyway even if you did already know because it’s that good) and see if you can recognize the sirens, the cyclops, and the hydra.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Dropkick Murphys and Twenty One Pilots Begin 2013′s Rocking Start

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 - by Jonathan Sanders

As if one needed further proof of a downward-trending music industry, Adele’s 21 became the first album of the Soundscan era to lead all album sales two years running. In other words, nothing released during all of 2012 could unseat an album released in the first month of 2011. All that with Adele sidelined by vocal-chord issues and her pending pregnancy.

Taylor Swift tried and failed to block that path, with Red falling 1.3 million from 21 despite having four top ten hits, none of which ranked inside the year’s top ten overall. The year’s big winners — Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen and Fun — dominated single sales with their first Hot 100 releases. No one knew their names when the year began, and it remains questionable whether either can follow it up.

With the fresh start a new year brings, we need to face facts: LPs no longer draw long-term interest from fans, who prefer the instant gratification of a viral hit single. And no matter how many singles get parceled out to radio stations month after month, an artist lives or dies by the success of the last one.

Singles don’t drive album sales — they simply drive demand for more singles.

Having sacrificed the long-term stability inherent in developing artists over the long term, labels must now watch as newcomers either instantly dominate or free-fall. Veteran acts, meanwhile, either find ways to continually churn out successful singles to dying radio while courting fickle audiences online or they cling to the hope that their next album will prove different. Just ask Aerosmith how that worked for them.

Welcome to the new industry normal. Observing which bands find ways to use these trends to their advantage will provide the real fun of chart-watching in 2013.

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New Releases in Music

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Black Veil Brides – Wretched and Divine: The Story of the Wild Ones (Universal Republic)

Broadcast – The Berberian Sound Studio (Warp Records)

Conor Maynard – Contrast (Capitol)

This kid’s already getting called 2013’s next pop superstar, and with production assistance from hip-hop / r&b heavyweights including Pharrell Williams, Ne-Yo, Stargate and Frank Ocean, he already has a leg up on the competition hype-wise. Too bad “Better Than You,” which features Rita Ora, doesn’t particularly shout “buy me!” for anyone outside the Bieber generation.

David Bronson – Story (David Bronson)

Dropkick Murphys – Signed and Sealed in Blood (Dropkick Murphys)

Though they once tried to whitewash the Irish music of their childhood from their blend of Boston-bred punk-rock fury, the stamp of Dropkick Murphys’ heritage remains indelible on the third track off Signed and Sealed in Blood. Thank God the band figured out that building upon one’s influences doesn’t have to mean the same as simply wallowing in them. With their latest effort, the band has crafted the exciting shot across the bow fans have long waited. Let the imitators struggle to keep up.

Never Shout Never – Indigo (All The Best)

Nolwenn Leroy – Nolwenn (Decca)

Skinny Molly – Haywire Riot (Ruf Records)

Solange – True (Terrible Records)

If you’re into hybrid pop which blends elements of disco with modern r&b club flourishes, “Losing You” has moments where it hints at a passable hook. But the remainder of this forgettable EP, getting a CD pressing after two months of online availability, simply showcases that Beyonce’s forgotten younger sister doesn’t have the pop know-how to rise beyond a mere curiosity.

Thorcraft Cobra – Count It In (Redeye Label)

Twenty One Pilots – Vessel (Fueled By Ramen)

Produced by Greg Wells, who earned Grammy nods working with Weezer and Adele, this debut effort morphs hip-hop, indie rock and punk in ways which shouldn’t work. Oddly, “Holding On To You” has the hooks of Fun and Paper Tongues, with a video which owes as much to Gotye as it does Panic! at the disco. This definitely warrants a second look if you’re a fan of genre-bending pop.

Wooden Wand – Blood Oaths of the New Blues (Fire Records)

Zatokrev – The Bat, The Wheel and a Long Road to Nowhere (Candlelight)

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New Releases: DVD / Blu-Ray

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Looper (DVD / Blu-Ray)

James Berardinelli of ReelViews calls Looper the year’s best movie, arguing that, unlikely any other film this year, it succeeds on three levels: intellectual, visceral and emotional. “I was engaged by the twisty, unpredictable narrative, which reached a hard-hitting, logical conclusion. I cared about the characters and the dilemma presented. And I was fascinated by some of the choices made with respect to how time travel is presented.” I’ll spare you any spoilers, but if you’re at all a fan of science fiction, you can’t skip this film.

Cosmopolis (DVD / Blu-Ray)

House at the End of the Street (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Touchback (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Stolen (DVD / Blu-Ray)

The Words (DVD / Blu-Ray)

A writer at the peak of his literary success discovers the steep price he must pay for stealing another man’s work. This film and Silver Linings Playbook showcase Bradley Cooper’s surprising acting range, making him much more than “that guy from The Hangover.” Deemed overly clever and dramatically inert by many critics, the movie could better forge a connection with audiences when viewed from the comfort of your sofa.

Jack and Diane (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Little Birds (DVD)

The Trouble With Bliss (DVD)

Anger Management: Season One (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Proving yet again that America loves Charlie Sheen in any form, these ten episodes showcase that as much as things change, they more often remain the same. If you liked Sheen on Two and a Half Men as a womanizing jingle-writer, you’ll probably feel pretty much the same about him as a non-traditional shrink specializing in anger management therapy. You’ll laugh, you’ll yawn, you’ll take a nap. And FX will produce 90 more episodes just like these, pleasing the syndication gods thusly.

Archer: Season Three (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Dallas: The Complete First Season (DVD)

Justified: The Complete Third Season (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Being Human: The Second Season (DVD/Blu-Ray)

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PJ Lifestyle Tech Watch

Belkin WeMo Home Automation Switch for Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch

Every father who has ever complained his progeny leave too many lights on will love the latest tech innovation from Belkin. Think controlling all the electrical devices in your home by your smart-phone remains the tech of the future? Wrong! The Belkin WeMo switch works with the free WeMo app to give you wireless control of your home appliances and electronics, making it simple to set schedules for appliances and electronics, allowing you to control as much or as little of your home as you choose. As an added bonus, you can purchase the WeMo Switch and WeMo Motion Kit (sold separately) which allows you to program any light in your home to become motion-sensing!

LaCie 5big Office 2TB Expandable Network Storage

The perfect professional backup option for any small business, the LaCie 5big Office brings the networking professionals use at the proper scale for your individual situation. Protect your data using industry standard Windows Home Server 2011, with a powerful 1.6 GHz Intel 64-bit Atom processor, allowing you to secure and share your data both within and outside your office network, without suffering undue maintenance costs. For the at-home user, try the smaller-scaled LaCie Network Space 2 1TB Ethernet Network, which offers fast storage, secure backup and global remote access for your home network, making widespread data-loss from hard-drive crashes a thing of the past

Lego 8547 Mindstorms NXT 2.0 Robotics Kit

Forget about the old-fashioned Lego bricks we all had as kids. These days, you can build your first robot in 30 minutes or less, using Lego Mindstorms NXT, complete with new robot models, even more customized programming, and all-new technology including a color sensor.  Combining the unlimited versatility of those classic Lego bricks with an intelligent microcomputer brick and drag-and-drop programming software, only you now limit what you can create. This summer Lego will release its EV3 platform, expected to introduce an even younger generation to the excitement of building and programming robots. But why wait when there’s so much already at your fingertips?

Inventio-HD 720P Video & Audio Recording Sunglasses

For those adventurous folks among us who want the world to experience things exactly as you lived them, these Inventio-HD sunglasses make the perfect accessory. Advanced video stabilization technology eliminates shaky-cam issues, while an 8GB internal hard drive allows the intrepid user to capture extreme point-of-view video wherever a challenge leads! Don’t expect to sneak in under the radar wearing what clearly will never pass for Bond-style spy tech, but if you want to own “the most advanced video-recording sunglasses on the planet,” now’s your chance to have the best conversation starter $130 ever bought.

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That’s all for this week’s edition of Tuesday New Releases! We’re open to your suggestions as we develop this column to best serve you. If you have suggestions for future coverage, or if you have a product you’d like featured or reviewed here, simply email Jonathan Sanders at kroessman@gmail.com.

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A Premium Rush of New Blu-Ray and DVD Releases Leads Final Week Before Christmas

Monday, December 17th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders
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The music industry’s annual holiday shuttering begins this week. Sure, Motorhead and Rush will battle on the reissue front, with a few other albums from smaller labels looking to pick up a few end-of-year sales, including a hip-hop concept album from Atlanta-based rapper T.I. Beyond that, the labels count on catalog sales carrying the remainder of the season, not wanting a major release crushed by the post-Christmas lull.

Hollywood loves this run-up to Christmas, choosing to issue DVDs and Blu-Rays this week on both Tuesday and Friday, in advance of next week’s annual Christmas new-release blowout in theaters. The studios’ big names set up for battle, including Matthew McConaughey’s NC-17-rated bloody black comedy Killer Joe, Richard Gere’s Oscar bait Arbitrage and Clint Eastwood’s unjustly maligned Trouble with the Curve. And with Diary of a Wimpy Kid’s third film outing and the Glee-light Pitch Perfect coming out the same week, welcome literally to something for every taste.

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New Releases: DVD / Blu-Ray

Premium Rush (DVD / Blu-Ray) — December 21st

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a bike messenger who puts his life on the line every time he sets out on a delivery run. But with someone truly out to kill him, this last-envelope-of-the-day “premium rush” run definitely ups the ante. High-octane action and enjoyable performances buoy this real-time bike messenger action flick, in a film the Minneapolis Star Tribune called “loopy, crazed, dangerous fun.”

Resident Evil: Retribution (DVD / Blu-Ray) — December 21st

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Red Hook: Summer (DVD / Blu-Ray) — December 21st

Pitch Perfect (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Killer Joe (DVD / Blu-Ray) — December 21st

The film which put the NC-17 rating back into public discussion, Killer Joe features a scheme which makes the depravity of Fargo look quaint. Tom Long, of the Detroit News, puts it best: “If you like your movies filled with twisted humor, sexual perversion, psychological intimidation and sudden violence, Killer Joe is the flick for you.” Surprisingly, the film comes in an unrated “Director’s Cut” edition as well, suggesting changes were made even to receive its original “kiss of death” rating.

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Total Recall (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Sleepwalk With Me (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Liberal Arts (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Trouble with the Curve (DVD / Blu-Ray)

In an age of stat-crunching “moneyball,” Gus Lobel, an old-school scout, struggles to keep up despite a career’s worth of long-term success. Needing to scout the latest hitting phenom despite his failing eyesight, Lobel teams up with his adult daughter for a road trip, learning in the process that bodies fail us but family never will. Though critically reamed during its theatrical run, Eastwood’s sentimental film deserves a second look on Blu-Ray, playing better to its strengths on the smaller screen.

10 Years (DVD / Blu-Ray)

The Good Doctor (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Army Wives: Season Six Part Two (DVD)

Californication: The Fifth Season (DVD)

Arbitrage (DVD / Blu-Ray) — December 21st

A Madoff-esque hedge-fund manager attempts to pass off his trading empire to a major bank before anyone can expose his massive financial fraud, but an unexpected bloody error leaves him juggling family, business and crime. Richard Gere hopes to secure an Oscar nomination for his performance, among his all-time best according to Time and Rolling Stone.

Funny or Die Presents: Season Two (DVD)

House of Lies: Season One (DVD)

Shameless: The Complete Second Season (DVD / Blu-Ray)

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“You’ll shoot your eye out!” your mother cries, even as you’ll drool over the ultimate holiday gift for everyone who ever saw A Christmas Story. We’ve also discovered your own personal interactive R2D2 droid and a perfect pair of headphones for the online gamer on your list this week in last-minute gift finds.

PJ Lifestyle: Ultimate Holiday Gifts

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125th Anniversary Official Daisy Red Ryder Range Model Air Rifle BB Gun

For the kid in all of us, or the one living just down the hall, this Daisy Red Ryder youth BB gun brings rich tradition and dependable design together with a lever-cocking action and a 650-shot BB capacity. Whether you’re bringing back past holiday memories or creating new ones with your family, order now and you’ll protect your homestead from Black Bart’s men in no time.

Interactive R2-D2 Droid

What better way to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Star Wars than by bringing this movie-accurate droid into your life? This electronic toy responds to commands, can find and follow you, and plays multiple games, responding to more than 40 voice commands. Though not for small children — the droid’s personality requires patience to learn features parts which risk breakage in small hands — few interactive gifts pack the punch of this 15-inch companion. Once you master R2’s “companion” and “game” modes, move on to “command” mode to plot real-time maneuvering or programmed courses, which your droid will learn to follow. I’m geeking out just thinking about it.

Turtle Beach Call of Duty: Black Ops II Gaming Headset

This headset combines premium stereo game sound with crystal-clear communication on the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live and PC/Mac. For those who long for a truly engaging audio-gaming experience, this product combines a stereo headset for chat sound and an amplified stereo headset for in-game sound, featuring independent volume controls mounted right on the cloth-braided cables. Over-the-ear design allows for optimal comfort as well, making these perfect for any extended session.

Nikon D600 24.3 MP CMOS FX-Format Digital SLR Camera

Nikon’s most compact FX-format HD-SLR camera, the D600 allows you to share photos and cinema-quality HD video in 1080p, while the 24.3 megapixel sensor allows you to capture every detail in stunning clarity. From Amazon:

Passionate photographers who seek exceptional full-frame, high-resolution performance rely on Nikon FX-format HD-SLRs. For the first time ever, that level of performance is available in a compact, affordable HD-SLR. D600’s 24.3 megapixel FX-format CMOS sensor captures every detail with lifelike sharpness. Its EXPEED 3 processing system manages all that data with remarkable speed and accuracy, enabling up to 5.5 fps continuous shooting at full resolution. And the lowlight performance synonymous with Nikon is again proven deserved—shoot crystal clear images from ISO 100 to 6400, expandable down to 50 and up to 25600 for extreme situations.

If you’ve been looking for the right camera to push your passion for photography beyond the amateur level, consider the D600 while Amazon still has it steeply discounted for the holidays!

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Without many major-label albums getting a big pre-holiday push this week, there’s room to find a few nice surprises, including a 16-disc collection of Motorhead’s early albums, and live albums from Buddy Guy, The Pogues and Toots and the Maytals. Meanwhile, a soundtrack battle looms between Les Misérables and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

Tuesday New Releases in Music

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Beausoleil w. Michael Doucet – Hot Chilli Mama (Arhoolie Records)

Buddy Guy – Live at Legends (RCA)

Live at Legends features Buddy Guy’s last live recordings from the now-defunct Legends Blues Club in Chicago, captured during his 2010 residency at the venue. The album features a variety of hits spanning his five decades in blues, a perfect introduction to the music which earned him this year’s Kennedy Center honors alongside Led Zeppelin.

Chief Keef – Finally Rich

John Delafose – Zydeco Man (Arhoolie Records) – Vinyl

Memphis May Fire – Challenger (Rise Records) – Vinyl

Memphis’s post-hardcore answer to southern rock, Memphis May Fire’s latest features fiery grunge-fueled guitar riffs coupled with dueling vocals alternating from pop-punk choruses to full-throated metal-core screams. Out since June, this week’s reissue includes the album on both CD and vinyl.

Motorhead – Complete Early Years (Sanctuary) - 16 Disc Box Set

Rush – 2112: Deluxe Edition () – CD + Audio Blu-Ray (Mercury)

Soundtrack – Les Misérables: Highlights from the Motion Picture (Universal Republic)

Soundtrack – Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (Universal Republic)

T.I. – Trouble Man: Heavy is the Head (Atlantic)

The Atlanta-based rapper’s eighth studio album features collaborations with R. Kelly, CeeLo Green, Andre 3000 and Pink, alongside production from long-time collaborators Pharell and DJ Toomp. The LP’s concept, the first in a series inspired by Marvin Gaye’s Troubled Man, seeks to answer the question: “Could you learn to love a troubled man?”

The Pogues – In Paris: 30th Anniversary Concert at the Olympia (Universal)

Tilly and the Wall – Defenders (Team Love) – Vinyl Single

Toots and the Maytals – Live (Island)

Toots Hibbert’s career spans the development of Jamaican music over the last four decades, from ska and rock-steady all the way through contemporary reggae. This live performance from 1991 features his band the Maytals, mixing his own songs with creative covers including his take on John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads,” showcasing the range of his talents.

Venom – Fallen Angels: Limited Edition (Universal Int’l)

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That’s all for this week’s edition of Tuesday New Releases! We’re open to your suggestions as we develop this column to best serve you. If you have suggestions for future coverage, or if you have a product you’d like featured or reviewed here, simply email Jonathan Sanders at kroessman@gmail.com.


Related at PJ Lifestyle:

Premium Rush: The Bike Messenger as Action Hero?

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox Challenges Third Serving of Green Day This Year

Monday, December 10th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders
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With two weeks remaining before the entertainment industry’s end-of-year Christmas shutdown, Bruno Mars’ Unorthodox Jukebox should dominate its competition, though Green Day hopes Tre! also delivers their three-album experiment from the arms of commercial failure. Elsewhere, Lifehouse’s Almeria and Boys Meets Girls’ Crazy World look to make waves from the relative shadows.

With Grammy nominations announced in advance of February’s big night we have time to break down the albums you must hear this year across the pop spectrum. Meanwhile, Hollywood held over some big releases for these last few shopping weeks, including Seth McFarlane’s Ted and The Bourne Legacy.

Tuesday New Releases in Music

Adrian Sherwood – Recovery Time (On-U Sound) – Vinyl

An English record producer best known for his work on albums by Depeche Mode, Sinéad O’Connor and Primal Scream, Sherwood’s latest EP twists his dub innovations through the lens of modern electronic club music.

Alternative TV – Love Lies Limp (Fire Records)

Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (Def Jam)

Blue Sky Boys – Presenting the Blue Sky Boys (Arhoolie Records)

Boys Like Girls – Crazy World (Columbia)

Bruno Mars – Unorthodox Jukebox (Atlantic)

Hailing from the “go big or go home” modern school of pop R&B, Mars’ debut Doo Wops and Hooligans wildly varied in quality from track to track. This sophomore effort aims high for its unorthodox hooks, merging deep respect for classic R&B with Mars’ more prurient interests (hint: Prince). The pinnacle, “Locked Out of Heaven,” illustrates deft control over influences, while “Gorilla” satisfies itself with smug, albeit catchy, references to animalistic sex. Fans of ear-catching pop won’t want to miss this one.

Calvin Love – New Radar (Autumn Tone Records)

Circle City Band – Circle City Band (Luv N Haight)

Fairhorns – Doki Doki Run (Invada)

Flipron – Firework Shoes (101 Distribution)

Green Day – Tre! (Reprise)

Supposedly Green Day came to their senses after two consecutive concept albums turned them into this decade’s most pompous rockers (sorry, Bono.) Instead, they overindulged again, creating three albums when one would suffice. With the grunge of Uno! and the power pop of Dos! out of the way, Tre! stands as Green Day’s attempt at something epic. Instead they’d benefit from brutal editing. Your opinion of “Dirty Rotten Bastards” will determine your mileage for what Tre! delivers.

Howard Shore – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (WaterTower Music)

Lento – Anxiety Despair Languish (Denovali Records)

Les Misérables – The Original 1985 London Cast Recording (First Night/Red)

Lifehouse – Almeria (Geffen)

Without a hit to rival 2001’s “Hanging by a Moment,” Lifehouse spent the next decade releasing workmanlike albums every few years for their ardent followers, getting little traction nationally. Almeria, their sixth full-length, aims to change that, as “Between the Raindrops” builds an audience online. An inoffensive album, Almeria breaks no new ground, but does prove the band still has a few good songs left. That alone makes this one worth a listen.

The Game – Jesus Piece (Geffen)

The Racer – Passengers (MondoTunes)

Siobhan Fahey – The MGA Sessions (101 Distribution)

The Wonder Revolution – Firefly (Air House Records)

War – The World is a Ghetto: 40th Anniversary Expanded Edition (Xenon)

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With the Grammy nominations announced and two months remaining for research before you make your predictions, here’s PJ Lifestyle’s primer of thirty albums worth hearing from the 2013 class.

Grammy Nominated Hits

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The Black Keys – El Camino (Nonesuch)
Record of the Year
, Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song (“Lonely Boy”)
Album of the Year
and Best Rock Album

Seven albums in, Dan Auerbach’s Black Keys found the recipe for success, ditching the slower, quieter tracks of Brothers to focus on “efficient rock-and-roll songs with minimal instrumentation.” El Camino lacks subtlety, but Auerbach lets the songs breathe, making them more widely accessible. From the Los Angeles Times: “Sometimes, a CD scratches an itch you didn’t even know you had, and El Camino is that record.”

Fun – Some Nights (Fueled By Ramen)

Mumford & Sons – Babel (Glass Note)

Gotye – Making Mirrors (Universal Republic)

Maroon 5 – Overexposed (A&M / Octone)

Jack White – Blunderbuss (Third Man / Columbia)

Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls (ATO Records)
Best Rock Performance (“Hold On”)
Best New Artist

Boys & Girls, the full-length debut of this southern soul-rock quartet, introduces a band fully in control of its sound. Brittany Howard’s full-throated growl defines Alabama Shakes, proving the death of rock remains a premature prediction. That “Hold On” became a contemporary hit bodes well for the appetites of discerning listeners as we head toward the new year.

Muse – The Second Law (Warner Bros.)

Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto (Capitol Records)

Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti)

M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute)

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel (Epic)

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (Def Jam)
Record of the Year
(“Thinkin’ Bout You”)
Album of the Year
, Best Urban Contemporary Album and Best New Artist

Channel Orange stands out as this year’s clearest artistic breakthrough, utilizing an unconventional blend of electro-funk, pop, soul, jazz and funk to craft arrangements with free-form flow, defining modern R&B for today’s listeners. From Entertainment Weekly: “Ocean is less concerned with urban realism than with his own ’80s-noir fantasy … and his music captures that vibe perfectly, pulsing with electro-soul grooves [and] vintage jazz-funk.”

Drake – Take Care (Cash Money)

Nas – Life Is Good (Def Jam)

Eric Church – Chief (Capitol Records)

Eli Young Band – Life At Best (Republic)

The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter (Universal Republic)

The Lumineers – The Lumineers (Dualtone)
Best Americana Album
and Best New Artist

Denver’s Lumineers arrived as this year’s answer to Mumford & Sons, riding the Americana-inspired pop wave while pushing “Ho Hey” to #5 on Billboard’s Hot 100. From the Austin Chronicle: “The general expansiveness … make[s] this young group’s eponymous debut uniquely American in all the best ways: gritty, determined, soaked in sweat and love and drive.”

Bonnie Raitt – Slipstream (Redwing Records LLC)

John Fullbright – From the Ground Up (Blue Dirt Records)

Dr. John – Locked Down (Nonesuch)

Ruthie Foster – Let It Burn (Blue Corn Music)

Joan Osborne – Bring It on Home (Saguaro Road Records)

Hunter Hayes – Hunter Hayes (Atlantic)
Best Country Solo Performance
Best Country Album
and Best New Artist

Consider Hunter Hayes a welcome surprise. The 21-year-old country songwriter’s debut album spawned three legitimate hits this year, including “Storm Warning” and “Somebody’s Heartbreak.” This refreshing debut warrants a second look, highlighted by his warm, distinct vocals and descriptive writing.

Ed Sheeran – + (Plus) (Elektra)

Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials (Universal Republic)

Deadmau5 – > Album Title Goes Here < (Ultra Records)

Skrillex – Bangarang (Atlantic)

Marilyn Manson – Born Villain (Cooking Vinyl)

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Seth MacFarlane’s Ted headlines this week’s new releases on DVD and Blu-Ray, competing against action thriller The Bourne Legacy and the latest Ice Age installment. Plus, before you see the latest Les Misérables update, watch Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush and Claire Danes in the 1998 non-musical adaptation, now available on Blu-Ray.

New Releases: DVD / Blu-Ray

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Ted (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Starring Mark Wahlberg and a foul-mouthed stuffed bear, Seth MacFarlane’s raunchy yet loveable ode to childhood and friendship finally hits the small screen after blowing up in theaters this summer. Grab your “thunder buddy” and make this a new Yuletide viewing tradition.

Backwards (DVD)

Why Stop Now (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Futurama Volume 7 (DVD / Blu-Ray)

Girls: The Complete First Season (DVD / Blu-Ray)

The Bourne Legacy (DVD / Blu-Ray)

A new CIA operative must put together the pieces of a complicated government conspiracy while outsmarting those who wish him dead. Who needs Jason Bourne? With this film, The Avengers and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol under his belt, Jeremy Renner enters 2013 as a true action star.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Year Nine (DVD)

Unraveled (DVD)

Dick Tracy (Blu-Ray)

The Joy Luck Club (Blu-Ray)

Ice Age: Continental Drift (DVD / Blu-Ray)

The fourth film in this franchise showcases a stretching, tired formula but kids won’t care. They just want to see Manny, Diego and Sid in a fresh series of adventure, something Continental Drift delivers with ease.

Heavy Weights (Blu-Ray)

Les Misérables (Blu-Ray)

Bill Cunningham’ New York (Blu-Ray)

Babes in Toyland (Blu-Ray)

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For those still searching for the elusive “perfect holiday gift,” we salute you and hope to provide solutions for your shopping dilemmas. Whether you’re looking for kitchen accessories any budding home chef requires or the ultimate boombox for the annual office party, PJ Lifestyle has something for everyone.

Ultimate Holiday Gifts

Top Chef by Master Cutlery: 15-Piece Knife Set

Pack your knives for kitchen glory with this officially licensed Top Chef set, featuring cutlery the pros on Bravo’s flagship show utilize daily. Though this set includes a wide assortment of blades appropriate for any cooking occasion, the company makes smaller sets depending on your needs, including a 9-piece set and a basic 5-piece set suitable for any novice on your list. As an added bonus, if you get them before Christmas, Amazon has each set steeply discounted.

Skybar 3-Chamber Wine Preserving System

For the wine aficionado in the family, this trendsetting preservation system chills, serves and stores up to three 1-1/2 liter bottles in individually controlled chambers. Each chamber holds its own temperature, whether you chose one of the nine presets or choose to adjust settings manually. The Skybar 3 keeps each bottle’s temperature steady for up to 10 days, so no need to worry over freshness or wasted wine!

Jawbone Big Jambox Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

The Jawbone Big Jambox turns any phone, tablet or mobile device into a portable, hi-fi sound system, bringing boombox technology into the 21st century! With the speaker’s wireless construction, steam all your digital media through any Bluetooth device, with a battery that lasts 15 hours. Meanwhile, don’t expect tinny audio — built-in LiveAudio technology provides a 3D immersive experience, equivalent to hearing the music in a live setting. With the Jawbone Big Jambox, the party never has to end, and weighing less than five pounds, you’ll never need to travel without it!

Belkin @TV Plus – Mobile Television Anywhere

For those among us tempted to cut the cable cord, the Belkin @TV Plus deliers a perfect reason to wait. Connect the @TV Plus to your DVR, cable or satellite system, download the appropriate app on your mobile device and the box transmits to your router and the web, and your mobile device receives TV programming through a WiFi, 3G or 4G connection! Even use your smartphone or tablet as a remote — “Swipe Surf” allows you to scroll through TV channels or record a show at the touch of a button. You’re paying for the television signal already, but with the @TV Plus you can more fully enjoy the experience, wherever you go. Welcome to entertainment nirvana!

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That’s all for this week’s edition of Tuesday New Releases! We’re open to your suggestions as we develop this column to best serve you. If you have suggestions for future coverage, or if you have a product you’d like featured or reviewed here, simply email Jonathan Sanders at kroessman@gmail.com.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire Set to Ignite the Post-Thanksgiving Lull

Monday, November 26th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

Tuesday New Releases in Music

A few big albums remain unreleased in the run-up to Christmas, but this week the industry still recovers from its post-Black Friday hangover. So Alicia Keys offers the only major-label new release of note this week, with Girl on Fire set for a strong debut. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a wealth of great music coming out this week, including an exceptional survey of Charlie Christian’s contributions to the development of bebop and jazz. Plus: Rage Against the Machine receives a 20th anniversary reissue, and the Winter Sounds prove you don’t need a huge budget to craft solid pop hooks.

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Alicia Keys – Girl on Fire (RCA)

Don’t call her prolific, as Alicia Keys releases just her fifth studio album in the last twelve years, her first since 2009’s The Element of Freedom. It’s worth the wait, however, as early reviews have praised Keys for taking things back to basics, focusing on intimate moments and what Uncut calls her “technical brilliance.” The strongest of those intimate moments, “Not Even The King,” serves as a highlight of what Girl on Fire offers.

Big Dipper – Big Dipper Crashes on the Platinum Planet (Almost Ready Records)

Blood of the Sun – Burning on the Wings of Desire (Listenable Records)

Breathless – Green to Blue (Shellshock)

Charlie Christian – The Genius of the Electric Guitar (Sony Legacy)

Fans of jazz and bebop already know the music of Charlie Christian, but fans of anything modern involving the electric guitar should care as well. This four disc collection brings that music into stunning clarity, focusing on Christian’s pioneering work with the instrument while a member of the Benny Goodman Sextet from 1939-41, along with a disc of rarities from his time in Goodman’s orchestra and the Metronome All-Stars.

Daniel Higgs – Say God (Thrill Jockey) – Vinyl

Fort Shame – Double Wide (Redeye Label)

Great Big Sea – XX (Great Big Sea)

Jefferson Starship – Tales from the Mothership (United States Distribution)

Jerry Cole – Surf Age (Sundazed Music Inc)

Flash back to the era of classic surf-pop via this reissue from Jerry Cole and His Spacemen. Surf Age attempted to merge surf music with the wider sphere of 60s pop, more carefully focusing Cole’s mile-a-minute recording process. Incredibly rare until this long-awaited CD release, enjoy the perfect holiday time capsule. Highlights include the title track and “One Color Blues.”

John Zorn – The Concealed (Tzadik)

Junkie XL – Synthesized (Nettwerk)

Lone Wolf – The Lovers (It Never Rains)

Mike Cooper – Life and Death in Paradise (Entertainment One)

Myriad 3 – Tell (Alma Records)

My favorite discovery of the year by far, this Canadian jazz trio builds on the collective nature of improvisation, crafting a nuanced debut you won’t want to miss. The album’s highlights include “But Still and Yet” and the band’s peerless interplay on “Disturbing Inspiration,” which will haunt you, guaranteed.

Nektar – A Spoonful of Time (Cleopatra)

Outasight – Nights Like These (Warner Bros.)

Piatcions – Senseless > Sense (I Blame The Parents Records)

Rage Against The Machine – XX (20th Anniversary Edition Deluxe Box Set) (Legacy)

Sonny Burgess – Live at Sun Studios (Cleopatra) – Vinyl

The Winter Sounds – Runner (New Grenada Records)

Serving up a hybrid of Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons and Snow Patrol, New Orleans’ the Winter Sounds craft shiny pop nuggets which stand strong on repeat listens. Highlights include “The Sun Also Rises” (video below) and “Run from the Wicked”. Also worth noting: the band funded the album entirely through $9,000 in fan contributions, proving pop this good doesn’t require a major-label budget.

Therion – Les Fleurs Du Mal (End of the Light)

Wild Billy Childish & the Spartan Dreggs – Coastal Command (Damaged Goods)

Wu-Block – Wu-Block (Entertainment One)

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With a new year looming and Christmas just around the corner, now’s the time to look back at albums already out in 2012 which may have slipped from your radar. Any of these, including the latest from Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews and David Crowder Band, would make perfect stocking-stuffers for the music fan in your world.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Detroit Rock City: Kid Rock’s Rebel Soul vs Uncle Kracker’s Midnight Special

Monday, November 19th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

This week fans of OneRepublic regret that the band’s Native won’t arrive until at least 2013 after yet another delay. But in the lead-up to Black Friday plenty of new music still hits the shelves this week. Kid Rock will battle his protégé and former DJ Uncle Kracker, while Rihanna hopes her sales will come in strong despite that ridiculously trippy performance of “Diamonds” she gave us last week on Saturday Night Live. Meanwhile Phillip Phillips hopes his generic name and the diminished reputation of American Idol will still convert into fan excitement as his The World from the Side of the Moon arrives Tuesday as well.

In chart news, One Direction’s boy-band sophomore album extravaganza looks to debut atop the Billboard 200 when that chart updates Wednesday, as Take Me Home should sell more than half a million copies. Sorry, Taylor Swift, your reign has ended. Meanwhile, the truth of the new music industry reality becomes clear for veteran artists. Christina Aguilera has to mourn her album’s putrid sales — even her ubiquitous role on NBC’s The Voice won’t push Lotus past 75,000. Even Soundgarden, gone 16 years from the alt-rock landscape, expects to reach 80,000. Aerosmith’s album went top three last week, but a dismal overall performance suggests the title will plummet in the coming weeks.

Don’t even ask about Green Day’s latest – Dos! — which arrives comatose. Their supposed one, two, three punch serves more as a weak, desperate slap, the year’s biggest rock disappointment by far.

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3 Doors Down – The Greatest Hits (Universal Republic)

If you listened to radio during the years 2000 through 2007 you’ve heard the bulk of these post-Grunge hits, including Billboard top five smash singles “Kryptonite,” “When I’m Gone,” and “Here Without You.” This greatest hits collection compiles those and nine additional hits, including their most recent single “One Light.”

AC/DC – Live at River Plate (Columbia)

Bad Brains – Into the Future (Megaforce)

Crown the Empire – The Fallout (Rise Records)

David Vest – East Meets Vest (Ark-O-Matic)

Elbow – Dead in the Boot (Xenon Records)

Federale – The Blood Flowed Like Wine (Federale Records)

Inspired by classic spaghetti westerns, Portland band Federale re-captures that haunting, violent atmosphere through their third album. “Sarcophagus” blends a horn-driven western tribal rhythm with haunting middle-eastern inspired vocals to create a hybrid I’d describe as “Tarantino-esque.” It’s definitely worth a listen.

Il Volo – We Are Love (Xenon Records)

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – Live From Alabama (Lightning Rod Records)

Kelly Clarkson – Greatest Hits – Chapter One (RCA)

Kid Rock – Rebel Soul (Atlantic)

Kid Rock long ago abandoned rap-rock for the more sturdy role of “trailer-park troubadour,” as Entertainment Weekly puts it. There’s nothing groundbreaking about Rebel Soul’s over-reliance on various well-worn Southern Rock tropes, but he knows his audience and has no problem playing it safe, singing to the converted.

Matt & Toby – Matt & Toby (Tooth & Nail)

Naomi Punk – The Feeling (Captured Tracks)

Phillip Phillips – The World from the Side of the Moon (Interscope)

Pitbull – Global Warming (RCA)

Porcupine Tree – Octane Twisted (KSCOPE)

Rihanna – Unapologetic (Island / Def-Jam)

The ugliest album cover of the year aside, whether you love or hate her Rihanna has proven herself unsinkable over the years. So far she’s heading into release week without a guaranteed smash like “Umbrella” to keep the haters at bay. That and, unapologetic or not, it’s hard to get past all the songs about her undying love for Chris Brown, the man who savagely and publicly beat her just three years ago.

Sienna Skies – The Constant Climb (Invogue Records)

Solid Gold – Eat Your Young (Totally Gross National Product)

The Faint – Danse Macabre: Deluxe Edition (Saddle Creek)

The Maldives – Muscle for the Wing (Spark and Shine Records)

The Pharmacy – Stoned and Alone (Old Flame Records)

The Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know – The Remixes (FatCat Records)

The Young Evils – Foreign Spells (The Young Evils)

Uncle Kracker – Midnight Special (Sugarhill)

Wanting – Everything in the World (Nettwerk Records)

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Among the list of overlooked albums we’re highlighting this week, Alt-J’s An Awesome Wave proves art-rock can have commercially viable overtones, while albums from Dirty Projectors and Midwestern indie-rock stalwarts Guided By Voices vie for your attention as well.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: The Rolling Stones’ Grrr vs. Every Beatles Album Ever Made

Monday, November 12th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

This week’s release schedule had more than its share of shake-ups, as One Republic’s Native shifted to next week, and 50 Cent’s Street King Immortal slouches its way to 2013. With Taylor Swift’s Red set for a third consecutive week atop the charts, does a surprise hit rest among the remaining 2012 releases?

Green Day had high hopes for Dos!, the second release of their planned three-album punch, but with a lead singer in rehab, it’s tough promoting new material. Christina Aguilera earned plenty of press for Lotus, thanks to her role judging The Voice, but the album’s songs aren’t building much buzz. OneDirection will get the teen girls hopping thanks to 2012’s boy-band resurgence, but the biggest battle this week has the Beatles and the Rolling Stones challenging each other for sales supremacy while Soundgarden releases its first album of fresh material since 1996.

With next week’s release window still swinging wide open, nothing’s a safe bet save for the likelihood that Adele’s 21, issued last year, stands to be this year’s most successful album by a wide margin.

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Tuesday New Releases in Music

Aaron Lewis – The Road (Blaster Records)

Aaron Lewis’s second solo album fully transitions the former Staind front-man from by-the-numbers alt-rock to straightforward radio country. “Red White and Blue” aims for the Veterans Day crowd and hits the mark, though nothing quite has the lyrical punch of “Country Boy” off his debut Town Line.

Altered Five – Gotta Earn It (Conclave / Cold Wind Records)

Bambi Lee Savage – Darkness Overshadowed (Bambi Lee Savage)

Black Forest Fire – Transit of Venus (Sedimental)

Brian Eno – LUX (Warp Records)

Christina Aguilera – Lotus (RCA)

Clinic – Free Reign (Domino)

Crystal Castles – III (Casablanca)

Deftones – Koi No Yokan (Reprise)

Green Day – Dos! (Reprise)

How to Destroy Angels – An Omen (Columbia)

Jozef Van Wissem and Jim Jarmusch – The Mystery of Heaven (Sacred Bones)

Lana Del Rey – Paradise (Interscope)

Whether you love or hate her overwrought “gangster Nancy Sinatra” pose, Paradise adds depth to Del Rey’s much maligned debut Born to Die, showcasing an artist still searching for her real hook. With months separating these new songs from January’s hype, they stand successfully on their own, boding well for her second wind.

Lust for Youth – Growing Seeds (Sacred Bones)

Midnight Magic – Walking the Midnight Streets (Midnight Sun Sound)

OneDirection – Take Me Home (Columbia)

Oneida – A List of the Burning Mountains (Jagjaguwar)

Soundgarden – King Animal (Universal Republic)

Chris Cornell and Soundgarden haven’t put out fresh material since 1996, yet King Animal and the lead single “Been Away Too Long” prove you can pick up right where you left off. Forget ‘90s nostalgia – Soundgarden’s making great alternative music in the here and now.

Stephen Lynch – LION (What Are Records)

Stumbleine – Spiderwebbed (Monotreme Records)

Sufjan Stevens – Silver & Gold (Asthmatic Kitty)

Susan Boyle – Standing Ovation: The Greatest Songs from the Stage (Syco Music)

The Babies – Our House on the Hill (Woodsist)

The Beatles Stereo Vinyl Box Set

For fans of both the Beatles and vinyl in general, there’s no better holiday gift than this newly reissued collection. Reproduced in 180-gram audiophile-grade vinyl, this collection includes all 14 of the Beatles’ original studio albums, plus an elegant 252-page hardcover book showcasing a wealth of photographs spanning the band’s entire career. As a bonus, this is the first time the band’s four earliest albums will receive North American stereo vinyl treatment.

The Rolling Stones – GRRR! (ABKCO / Interscope)

Travis Barker and Yelawolf – Psycho White EP (Lasalle Records)

Vinyl Williams – Lemniscate (Salonislam)

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While this week’s release slate gears up for Black Friday with heavy hitters, a number of albums from the last month still merit consideration as last-minute stocking-stuffers, including new pop-punk from All Time Low and a rarities collection from the best Athens, Georgia band not called R.E.M.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Aerosmith Goes Multi-Dimensional, Third Day Prays for a Miracle

Monday, November 5th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

Tuesday New Releases in Music

According to early predictions from Billboard (the final charts aren’t out until Wednesday) Taylor Swift will dominate the charts yet again this week, with even a weakened Red proving too much for her challengers. Tuesday’s release schedule features tougher competition as Aerosmith mounts its long-awaited comeback against competition from Ne Yo, Saigon and contemporary-Christian artist Third Day.

Next week the rush for pre-Black Friday releases begins, as 50 Cent, OneRepublic and One Direction each launch new albums. With the major labels holding their expected biggest sellers for the last seven weeks of the year, nothing’s a sure thing.

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Aerosmith – Music From Another Dimension (Columbia)

Fifteen albums in, Aerosmith still aims to rock America, though their latest leans heavily on the ballad formula. After an 11-year absence do we really mind if we miss a thing? Highlights include “LUV XXX” and “Legendary Child.” Avoid “Freedom Fighter” at all costs, unless hearing Johnny Depp sing about terrorism floats your boat.

All That Remains – A War You Cannot Win (Razor & Tie)

Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love)

Dionne Warwick – Now (Blue Horizon Venture)

Graveyard – Lights Out (Nuclear Blast)

Isis – Temporal (Ipecac Recordings)

Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick: 40th Anniversary Edition (Chrysalis)

Katie Melua – Secret Symphony: Bonus Edition (Dramatico)

Kylie Minogue – The Abbey Road Sessions ()

Mike Doughty – The Flip is Another Honey (Snack Bar)

Ne-Yo – R.E.D. (Motown)

Peter Gabriel – So: 25th Anniversary Edition (Real World Productions)

The ultimate holiday gift for fans of the seminal album, includes Gabriel’s classic album remastered plus “Director’s Cut” vinyl featuring unreleased tracks. The set also includes two previously unreleased DVDs, including Live in Athens (1987), produced by Martin Scorsese, and a 60 page case-bound book with new liner notes and rare photographs.

Prince Rama – Top Ten Hits of the End of the World (Paw Tracks)

Public Enemy – Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp (Eastlink)

Public Enemy – The Evil Empire of Everything (Eastlink)

Saigon – The Greatest Story Never Told Chapter 2: Bread and Circuses (Suburban Noize)

After a two month delay, East-coast rapper Saigon issues the follow-up to last year’s mainstream break-through The Greatest Story Never Told, featuring guest spots from Killer Mike, Dead Prez, Chamillionaire and Styles P.

Slingshot Dakota – Dark Hearts (Topshelf Records)

Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve (Victory Records)

Teen Daze – The Inner Mansions (Lefse Records)

The Epilogues – Cinematics (Red General Catalog)

Third Day – Miracle (Provident)

Christian contemporary’s equivalent to Nickelback, the Georgia band’s 11th studio album features lead single “I Need A Miracle.” Fans by now know what to expect from these musical journeymen, but strong sales could catch uninitiated chart-watchers off guard.

Vesen – This Time It’s Personal (Soulseller)

Vitalic – Rave Age (Different Recordings)

While She Sleeps – This is the Six (The End Records)

Yousef – A Product of Your Environment (Circus Recordings)

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We’ve covered recent releases closely over the last month, but what about albums you may have missed earlier in the year? These twenty albums, across the spectrum of country, rock and pop, stand out among those deserving a second listen.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: Seeing Red, Taylor Swift Plots Chart Domination

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

Contrary to expectations, Jason Aldean’s Night Train looks to be a Mumford-slayer when this week’s Billboard 200 is updated later this week. Estimates suggest the new album will break 400,000 and easily dominate last week’s slate of new releases. He won’t get much time to enjoy his first-ever No. 1 album, however, as this week’s juggernaut release, Taylor Swift’s Red, is set to be this year’s biggest-selling album. Her sophomore album, Speak Now, broke one million in first-week sales back in 2010, and Red has already spawned four top ten singles, two of which had opening week sales of more than 400,000. Nothing else on this week’s slate can touch that.

See Last Week’s Picks: TUESDAY NEW RELEASES – “A Fine Frenzy in the Shadow of Mumford”

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… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead – Lost Songs (Superball Music)

Bebo Norman – Lights of Distant Cities (BEC Recordings)

The most consistent songwriter in all of Christian contemporary music, Norman’s eighth studio album features his strongest material yet. Standout track “Outside Her Window Was the World” successfully channels Coldplay through Third Day, subverting expectations both from the pop and CCR perspective.

Being As An Ocean – Dear G-d… (Invogue Records)

Billy Ray Cyrus – Change My Mind (Blue Cadillac Music)

He who brought us the torture of “Achy Breaky Heart” coupled with his overhyped offspring Miley, Cyrus attempts a comeback and, at least with the title track, comes up with by-the-book modern country which won’t disappoint casual listeners.

Bridgit Mendler – Hello My Name Is… (Hollywood Records)

Colbie Caillat – Christmas in the Sand (Universal Republic)

Diamond Rings – Free Dimensional (Astralwerks)

Further Seems Forever – Penny Black (Rise Records)

Gary Clark Jr. – Blak and Blu (Warner Bros.)

At 28, Gary Clark Jr’s blend of contemporary soul and hip-hop with classic blues and r&b plants him firmly at the lead of today’s young tastemakers. Of his new album, Rolling Stone calls the album “uneven, [but] occasionally thrilling” and touts Clark’s willingness to experiment with blues in the age of auto-tune.

Kendrick Lamar – Good Kid M.A.A.D. City (Aftermath)

P.O.S. – We Don’t Even Live Here (Rhymesayers)

Paul Banks – Banks (Matador Records)

Rick Berlin – Always On Insane (The Whitehaus Family Record)

Shiny Toy Guns – III (Five Seven Music)

Taylor Swift – Red (Big Machine)

This album is critically bulletproof, but when you strip away the hype, Red is a surprisingly strong album from a songwriter who isn’t afraid to leave country in the dust for the pop music she clearly longs to make. “I Knew You Were Trouble” flirts with dubstep flourishes and proves to be her strongest pop contribution yet. Haters, prepare to be surprised!

Titus Andronicus – Local Business (XL Recordings)

Tony Bennett – Viva Duets (Columbia)

Tweaker – Call the Time Eternity (Metropolis Records)

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Week after week albums continue to surprise, as this Fall’s releases prove there’s always plenty more great music worth highlighting. This week, KISS’s twentieth album gets surprisingly solid reviews. Plus crazy cabaret-inspired alternative from former Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer, new music from Muse and fresh material from Jack White’s latest revival project, Wanda Jackson.

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TUESDAY NEW RELEASES: A Fine Frenzy in the Shadow of Mumford

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 - by Jonathan Sanders

With so much new music, movies, and technology available on a weekly basis, even the most plugged-in people find it difficult to find the truly interesting products. Here at PJ Lifestyle we’re all about keeping it simple. Check in each Tuesday for information about current album and DVD/BluRay releases, along with hot new technology and gadgets you’re sure to want to make your own.

Tuesday New Releases in Music

Mumford and Sons’ Babel continues to rule the Billboard 200 after two weeks in release, and very little on this week’s release schedule suggests that’s going to change in the short term. Next week Taylor Swift storms the charts with her upcoming album Red, which leaves a void this week for albums heavily slanted in the indie direction. Though none of these should unseat Mumford, there’s plenty of room in the top ten for a few surprises. We’re open to your suggestions as we develop this column to best serve you. If you have suggestions for future coverage, or if you have a product you’d like featured or reviewed here, simply email Jonathan Sanders at kroessman@gmail.com.

A Fine Frenzy – Pines (Virgin)

Singer-songwriter Alison Sudol’s third studio album, Pines, features a companion book and animated film in addition to the CD release. The album of songs plays as a succession of chapters, according to the songwriter. Her last album, Bomb in a Birdcage, made an indie splash in 2010, charting among Billboard’s top thirty albums on its debut.

Anberlin – Vital (Universal Republic)

Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man

Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives (Barsuk) – of Death Cab for Cutie

Boys Noize – Out of the Black (Ingrooves)

Brandy – Two Eleven (RCA)

Conor Maynard – Contrast (Capitol)

Daphni – Jiaolong (Merge) – Dan Snaith a.k.a. Caribou

Dethklok – Metalocalypse: Dethklok Dethalbum III (William Street)

The “virtual band” on Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse, Dethklok features music from the second, third and fourth seasons of the television show. The deluxe edition CD / DVD contains a 32 minute behind-the-scenes documentary of the making of the album, as well as music videos.

Donald Fagen – Sunken Condos (Reprise)

Double Naught Spy Car – Western Violence (Eleven Foot Pole)

Earlimart – System Preferences (The Ship)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (Constellation)

In Fear and Faith – In Fear and Faith (Rise Records)

Jamey Johnson – Livin’ For a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran (Mercury Nashville)

One of the most successful songwriters in country music, Hank Cochran mentored Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard among others. This tribute revives Cochran’s songs, including “I Fall To Pieces” and “Ocean Front Property,” as performed by Johnson, himself among Nashville’s finest modern songwriters.

Jason Aldean – Night Train (Broken Bow)

Jason Lytle – Dept. of Disappearance (ANTI Records)

Kem – What Christmas Means (Xenon)

K’naan – Country, God or the Girl (A&M/Octone)

J. Charles and the Train Robbers – Upon Leaving (End Sounds)

Martha Wainwright – Come Home To Mama (Cooperative Music)

Mika – The Origin of Love (Casablanca)

No Bragging Rights – Cycles (100% WOMON)

Pinback – Information Retrieved (Temporary Residence)

Rah Rah – The Poet’s Dead (Hidden Pony)

This Canadian indie rock band’s latest album fits right in with the current crop of folk-inspired alternative. But they blend these influences with pure pop hooks. The band’s latest single, “Prairie Girl,” has something to please fans of Metric as much as it will those who prefer Mumford’s Babel.

Scotty McCreery – Christmas With Scotty McCreery (Mercury Nashville)

Smoke & Jackal – EP No. 1 (RCA)

That’s Outrageous! – Psycho (Invogue Records)


Trey Anastasio – Traveler (Ato Records) – of Phish

Though the holiday release season frequently doesn’t hit its peak until November, this year has seen a surprising number of high-profile album releases over the last four weeks, making it difficult for even the most discerning music listener to keep track of every noteworthy album. Here are a few you might have missed.

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VIDEO: Deleted Scene From The Avengers

Monday, August 20th, 2012 - by Duane Lester

In this deleted scene, Bruce Banner chats with a security officer about the depth of his character.

Spinoff Online writes:

The clip expands on the sequence in which the Hulk plummets from the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier into an old factory, and Banner awakens amid a pile of rubble to be greeted by an unfazed security guard (played by veteran character actor Harry Dean Stanton). The expanded scene finds Ruffalo’s character struggling with whether to return to the fight to save the planet, and with his nature: Is he, as Stanton asks, “a big guy that gets all little, or a little guy that sometimes blows up large”?

Here’s the clip:

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The Avengers comes out on Blu-Ray September 25. I’m sure it will have more deleted scenes like this.


More from Duane on superheroes at PJ Lifestyle:

‘Who Is Thanos?’ And 10 More Post-Avengers Comic Book Movie Rumors

Which of the 5 Avengers Prequels Is the Best?

The 10 Worst Comic Book Movie Casting Blunders (And 5 That Nailed It)

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Why an Evil Jew in Act of Valor?

Friday, August 10th, 2012 - by Andrew Klavan

A reader in Amsterdam wrote to remonstrate with me because my positive review of the film Act of Valor ignored the evil Jew character and thus missed the film’s anti-Semitic message. This is a fair criticism: I meant to mention this scene but, having thought it through to my own satisfaction, neglected to include my thoughts in the blog.

This is a small spoiler. It turns out the Islamist plot against America that powers the movie is being financed, irony of ironies, by a Jewish guy. When I saw this reveal, my jaw dropped and my first thought was: “You have got to be kidding me!” Was the movie selling some sort of Elders of Zion scenario where the Jews financed everything, including the work of those dedicated to wiping them off the face of the earth?

On reflection (and after consulting with the mighty and also all-knowing John Nolte at Big Hollywood), I came to feel that this was not the intent of the film. Rather I thought it was a ham-handed attempt to avoid the appearance of Islamophobia and give the picture some sort of moral complexity. Often, as we know, it’s the person who is NOT bigoted who says the most awkward thing — “Boy, that black gymnast is swinging around like a monkey!” — because he hasn’t got the implied slur in his mind. I believe that to be the case here.

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The Intense Warrior Ethos of Act of Valor

Friday, August 3rd, 2012 - by Andrew Klavan


I finally got to see Act of Valor the other day. This, of course, is the Navy Seal action film that stars actual Navy Seals. It’s good! An exciting action yarn with a very intense feel to it. The acting, of course, isn’t first rate, but it’s not bad at all and doesn’t get in the way of the story. Arnold Schwarzenegger was not exactly Laurence Olivier either. Great acting is not what action films are about.

Now, of course, the film is patriotic and has a very intense warrior ethos — that’s part of the pleasure of it, and you have to get your John Wayne on to fully enjoy it. This is no problem for me because I’ve got my John Wayne stuck on with KrazyGlue but I imagine there are some people who have to be in the proper mood. Whatever. The point is, the movie does what it sets out to do, and fans of cool, all-American action movies (like me) will definitely enjoy it.

Okay, so after I watched the film I went on Rotten Tomatoes and checked out the reviews. Viewers gave the film 75% positive ratings. Professional critics gave it 25%.

What??? Three fourths of the people who watch this movie like it, but only one fourth of the critics say it’s any good? How does that make sense? I mean, what is the point of a movie critic anyway? He has a job, right? His job is to tell you whether you’ll like the film or not, no? He’s supposed to tell you whether to plunk down your money for it. Otherwise, who cares what his opinion is?

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Safe House: Post-American American Pop Culture

Saturday, July 14th, 2012 - by Andrew Klavan

[This post contains spoilers to Safe House and Three Days of the Condor.]

In Safe House, Denzel Washington plays a super-spy traitor on the run from a team of killers. In U.S. custody, he becomes the charge, enemy and mentor of as-spy-ring spy Ryan Reynolds. As crappy, mindless entertainment, the movie succeeds on all fronts: it’s entertaining, mindless and crappy. Its cast of high-level professional entertainers squeezes every drop of joy it can out of the ridiculously violent and predictable script. Denzel Washington must be able to play these sorts of characters in his sleep but, to his credit, he doesn’t; he’s classy enough to show up for the paying customers and do it right. After all, that’s part of what a movie star does — deliver his familiar personae well.

What makes the film really second rate though is the fact that it’s so incredibly derivative. “This isn’t so much a movie as a list of cliches,” as my pal Christopher Tookey wrote in Britain’s Daily Mail. It seems to lift scenes from every spy movie ever made. Stylistically, its main source is The Bourne Identity. Content-wise, it’s 1975′s dated-but-still-classy Three Days of the Condor — it’s virtually a remake, hold the class.

But just as interesting as the similarities between Safe House and Condor are the differences, the marks of thirty plus years. In both pictures, a low level CIA agent is isolated and on the run after his unit is brutally exterminated. In both pictures it turns out the bad guy is within the agency itself. In both pictures, the resolution includes our hero leaking the agency’s misdeeds to the world. In Condor, Robert Redford spreads the word through the New York Times, which was a newspaper in those days. In Safe House, Reynolds gives the info to CNN, from which I guess it then leaks out to a news agency and becomes public.

But here is what’s different.  Although Three Days of the Condor is a stridently left wing movie, its hero is a patriot. The stateless assassin on his trail tells him to abandon America and work only for pay: “It’s almost peaceful. No need to believe in either side, or any side. There is no cause. There’s only yourself.” But Redford replies mildly, “I was born in the United States. I miss it when I’m away too long.”

“A pity,” says the assassin.

“I don’t think so,” says Redford.

As love of country goes, it’s not much, but for sophisticates like the LA-New York set, it’s downright George M. Cohan.

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Ice Age 4: A Floe Too Far

Friday, July 13th, 2012 - by Tom Neven

We go to movies presumably to enjoy a good story. Yes, the writing is important, as are the acting, cinematography, score, set design — all the myriad things that must work together in service of the story. They are but tools intended for a larger purpose. Of course, too often one or more tools fail or the filmmakers put too much emphasis on them and forget the story altogether.

That seems to be the case with Ice Age: Continental Drift, the fourth installment of the Ice Age franchise by Blue Sky Studios. Terrific computer animation in digital 3D renders crisp detail in the animals’ fur and performs a virtuoso dance of light and shadow on ice and water.

But the movie feels overstuffed with way too many barely developed characters. The story could easily have been cut by a third and its building blocks could have been more artfully arranged. The film feels workmanlike, adequate but lacking zest. While the earlier installments had the obligatory subtext about doing the right thing and the importance of working together, the lessons in Continental Drift feel forced. Yes, kids, it’s important to obey your parents, value your friends, and not get caught up in the wrong crowd — good lessons all, but they come with the subtlety of an elbow to the ribs.

As with the first three Ice Ages, there are plenty of sight gags and pratfalls along the way with the usual gross-out jokes. And as always, Scrat the proto rat is the best part of these stories, with his Gilligan-like ability to blow a sure thing and a single-mindedness that makes Wile E. Coyote look positively ambivalent.

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An Indulgent 10 Disc Boxset: Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012 - by Dave Swindle

Do you suppose that they pulled a George Lucas and went back and made stupid changes to all the movies? Probably not.

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Best Picture Winner The Artist Out on Blu Ray Today

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 - by PJ Lifestyle News

Among the special features:

Sony Pictures’ Blu-ray presents the film in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, alongside bonus supplements including four featurettes covering the costumes, cinematography, production design and composition in the film. Other behind-the-scenes featurettes include The Artist: The Making of an American Romance, Hollywood as a Character: The Locations of The Artist, a Q&A with the filmmakers and cast, and a blooper reel.

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Liam Neeson is Badass in The Grey

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 - by Andrew Klavan

A group of tough guys led by Liam Neeson plane-crash in the frozen wastes of Alaska and have to try to make their way back to civilization while being harried by a pack of vicious wolves. Let me be honest, there’s virtually no way they could make this movie so I wouldn’t enjoy it. They would have had to do something utterly childish, despicable and self-destructive like, I don’t know, include a shot of George W. Bush’s severed head on a pike, to alienate me from a story that — as a lefty friend said to me, rolling his eyes — “sounds right up your alley!”

But hurrah, they didn’t ruin it. The film is everything it oughta be and more. It’s tough, exciting and full of the sort of macho wisdom about struggle, strength, leadership, life and death that Hollywood seems to have all but forgotten. There’re no women who unrealistically prove themselves to be as tough as the men. There are no speeches about how wolves are really nice and only harm you if you drill for oil. There are no sub-plots about tolerance. In fact, there’s no tolerance at all — these are men, after all! There’s just gritty, exciting, bloody action punctuated by more or less realistic reflections on what matters in life.

Neeson is his usual great self, but kudos especially to director Joe Carnahan who has been going after the testosterone-fueled set with fun but not-quite efforts like Pride and Glory and Smokin’ Aces. This time he hits the target. Makes me look forward to his upcoming adaptation of Mark Bowden’s excellent book Killing Pablo.

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Cross-Posted from Klavan on the Culture

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Harold and Maude Joins The Criterion Collection on Blu-Ray

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 - by Dave Swindle

Harold and Maude (1971) – The Criterion Collection.

June 12


New digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition

Optional remastered uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition

New audio commentary by Hal Ashby biographer Nick Dawson and producer Charles B. Mulvehill

Illustrated audio excerpts from seminars by Ashby and writer-producer Colin Higgins

New interview with songwriter Yusuf/Cat Stevens

PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz; a 1971 New York Times profile of star Ruth Gordon; and two excerpted interviews, one from 1997 with star Bud Cort and cinematographer John Alonzo and one from 2001 with executive producer Mildred Lewis

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