Media


During the weekend, even Ars takes an occasional break from evaluating third-generation iPads or hypothesizing about Microsoft patents. Weekend Ar(t)s is a chance to share what we're watching/listening/reading or otherwise consuming this week.

A video!
We're not in Illinoise anymore folks.

Sufjan Stevens is the modern musician for intellectuals. He has the academic background, the intricate orchestral pop, the bevy of nerdy conceptual albums (covering topics from states to holidays, and even bridges). He once included "Decatur" and "Emancipator" within the same rhyme scheme for crying out loud.

Needless to say, news of a new Stevens EP leaked in February and caused much excitement. The project would be a collaborative effort, with Stevens forming a group called s/s/s. That meant initially pairing up with Son Lux, another heavily orchestral indie musician who once wrote an entire album in a single month, and composed for yMusic. No stretch there.

The surprise came from the inclusion of that final "s." It referred to Serengeti—a rapper who happens to share a label with Son Lux. Like many Ars staffers, he calls Chicago home and playfully weaves it into his music. Serengeti's original album referenced things from WCKG to Portillo's. Considering the emcee's affinity for concepts and hyper-referential vocals, perhaps only his musical style would truly be a stretch for Stevens.

Beak & Claw finally debuted this past week and early listens indicate it's a must for any Stevens completionist. Be warned up front: there's no outright orchestral or folk influence here. It's foreign territory for Stevens; a combo of electronica and hip-hop that should raise an eyebrow only on paper. Ultimately these four songs feature all the charming nuances of any of Stevens work, demonstrating that his musical intelligence can transcend genre.

Beak & Claw's first single, "Museum Day," is particularly indicative of this. Serengeti's verse mentions things like "dinosaur museums" and "double, triple dares," while taking a more relaxed tempo than most hip-hop (think Drake in terms of cadence). A very soothing electronic string hook is laid underneath to carry things musically. Stevens blends his own vocals (through vocoder naturally) with this to create a soundcape verging on ambient. During the chorus when he, accompanied by a familiar choir, vocally soars over a cymbal-heavy percussion beat, it's as genuinely beautiful as anything you'd find on Seven Swans.

The rest of this debut s/s/s effort reaches similar heights (possibly even higher ones, my favorite track is embedded above) and leaves a listener wanting more. It's not the first time Sufjan Stevens has been fused with hip-hop (thank Tor and his Illinoize remixes), but it's the first time he's concocted that marriage on his terms. Stevens has always been willing to challenge himself (ambitions of writing albums for all 50 states for instance), but the work of s/s/s shows he's capable of doing it through composition, not just concept. Here's hoping Beak & Claw isn't the last opportunity for that.

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During the weekend, even Ars takes an occasional break from discussing the potential of DNS amplification or the fallout from Apple's latest event. Weekend Ar(t)s is a chance for various Ars staffers to share what they're watching/listening/reading or otherwise consuming this week. This week: Staff Editor Nathan Mattise.

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Don't judge this classic scif-fi title solely by what you've read.

By now you've seen the headlines: 'The Lorax comfortably outperformed John Carter during its opening weekend.' Or 'John Carter will be hardpressed to break even.' But moviegoers need to take whatever they've read in stride. Decide on your own whether or not to support the first major sci-fi offering of the year. Here are three factors in favor of sampling John Carter firsthand:

The writers

Andrew Stanton and Michael Chabon will excite anyone willing to visit the film's IMDB page. Chabon is easier to recognize. He's a novelist with a fiction background, responsible for the landmark modern title The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. (It's a Pulitzer-winner about two Jewish cousins navigating life during WWII, entering the nascent comics industry, and struggling with issues of self-identity). Stanton should inspire as much if not more confidence.

John Carter marks Stanton's debut as a writer for live action film. His previous work engagement? One of the go-to scribes at Pixar. He's had a hand in all of the Toy Story films, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Monsters, Inc. Whether or not you believe in Stanton's capabilities as a director, that resume showcases an ability to tell engaging, moving stories that appeal to a variety of ages. If there's one characteristic for successful sci-fi (see original Star Wars trilogy), that may be it.

The franchise

Long before Mars Needs Moms spoiled the Red Planet for all of us, John Carter was blazing sci-fi trails. The character dates back to 1912, debuting in the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs before transitioning to comics and now film. The film's introductory trailer sums up its place in the genre nicely: "John Carter had to be there in order for Star Wars to happen, for Avatar to happen."

This is a story 100 years in the making—literally. The technology needed to bring this world to life in a just manner wasn't available until recently. Major genre writers and filmmakers alike aspired to adapt the John Carter universe, including George R.R. Martin and Robert Rodriguez, so the franchise represents hallowed ground.

The spectacle

As Hugo painfully reminded us, movies are the lone place to see visualizations of dreams to the fullest extent. It's the perfect medium for Barsoomians and John Carter's immortal abilities to come alive. (Did you see the White Ape extended preview?).

Disney put $250 million into the film—and not all of it was spent on Taylor Kitsch's chiseled abs. The predictable storyline of Avatar didn't detract from its amazing visual effects. So even if Kitsch won't inspire Oscar voters or if Stanton is better served writing movies for the kids in all of us, the John Carter experience on a big screen is something not even the nicest HDTV and sound system can recreate.

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Metroid: Other M has been available since August and I showed this to a friend who had never even seen it. So if you never have, it features a live-action Samus Aran and its actress is a dead-ringer.

The music track used is a Massive Attack’s “Paradise Circus”, which suits the mood of the video with emotional crescendos. Simply one of the silkiest TV spots ever.

Stay tuned for some first impressions of the game right here on WiiBlog.

The new Apple TV has been delayed into October, but Apple has already rolled out its new iTunes TV show rental service with the iTunes 10 update. Disney/ABC and Fox are on board with the new 99¢ TV episode rental service while other broadcast and cable networks have criticized the service, leery of "devaluing" their content with low prices. Yet some of those same networks are willing to offer their content via Netflix instant streaming for fixed fees.

During a Goldman Sachs investor conference in New York this week, a number of media executives expressed concern that Apple's 99¢ price point is too low. "The 99¢ rental is not a good price point," Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said. "It doesn't work for us." Viacom operates several cable networks, such as MTV, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon.

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