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Help for the Heavy Hearted
The Good Life - Help Wanted Nights
8/10
by Roger Chao

I’ll admit, I was nervous about The Good Life’s new album Help Wanted Nights. Their last release, conveniently titled Album of the Year, received rave reviews from fans and critics alike. So, naturally, I wondered and worried, about whether or not the new kid on the block would meet my expectations. Upon my first listening, Help Wanted Nights proved to be a great follow-up to a nearly perfect predecessor, barring a few faults here and there.

Help Wanted Nights is composed of ten tracks, all dealing with the theme of heartache. Musically, it follows the basic format of Album of the Year, which was a slight departure from previous albums by The Good Life. Rather than writing songs with a digital/electronic sound to them, Album of the Year and Help Wanted Nights, are much softer, with more acoustic guitars, relying mainly on singer/guitarist Tim Kasher’s voice to drive each song. That is not to say there is a lack of other instruments. Electric guitars are employed aplenty on this album and the song “Some Tragedy” is driven heavily by a walking bass line and steady drumbeat. Lyrically, Tim Kasher never fails to deliver. His words are sincere and methodical. It is clear from his songs that Kasher has had his fair share of heartbreak. His lyrics accurately describe situations of adultery, doubt, and lying lovers.

Many of Kasher’s lyrics are simple, but have significant meanings, like in the song, “You Don’t Feel Like Home Anymore”: “And she whispers in his ear / ‘You can’t run away forever’ / But sometimes / That feels like coming home to me.” Kasher’s most impressive ability lies in his delivery. His voice ultimately dictates how his listeners perceive the songs; his sad, soothing, and sometimes slightly out-of-key singing strikes a note with listeners and pulls us in, making us want to hear more of his tragic tales.

If there’s anything lacking from Help Wanted Nights, it’s continuity. There is a lack of flow from one song to another. Though there are one or two songs that stream well into the next track, the album altogether feels more like a collection of separate songs, rather than a story. This can be disheartening, especially considering that all the songs follow the same basic theme of dead-end relationships. Some are also a bit drawn out and open-ended. “So Let Go” is a slow, downtrodden song that has one basic melody and rhythm. Rather than finishing with a noticeable ending, it eventually just fades away, leaving the listener wondering if it has truly ended.

Help Wanted Nights is great in that it is filled with mellow, relaxing melodies and easily relatable lyrics. The Good Life succeeded in creating an album with depth and character. It may not be the ideal CD to put on at a party, but it’s perfect for those days when you want to do nothing but lie in bed.

Zombie Clumsily
Resurrects Halloween
Halloween
3/10
by Joe LiButti

Going into Halloween, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’d never seen the John Carpenter original, and my familiarity with Mr. Zombie was limited entirely to trailers (I fondly remember mocking the commercial for his debut, House of 1000 Corpses—1000 corpses is a lot of bodies to fit in a single house). At any rate, the film began promisingly enough, establishing Michael Myers as an almost sympathetic character as opposed to the motive-less, murderous six-year-old of Carpenter’s version. Myers is a chubby, abused boy, picked on at school and mocked incessantly by his alcoholic stepfather, and after an altercation with some bullies it’s discovered that he’s been killing animals for fun. I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of Malcom McDowell of A Clockwork Orange as Dr. Loomis, whose concern for Myers’ impending sociopathy seems to spur the disturbed child to his initial killings.

The movie presents some genuinely unsettling scenes of the old ultra-violence that we seem to crave so heartily these days, and they’re in part very effective because at this point, they’re still somewhat plausible. It’s when the film skips forward 15 years and Myers has grown into a hulking Frankensteinian monster that it loses credibility and slides into the realm of self-parody. His escape from a mental institution is absurd—he simply breaks his chains and kills every staff member on duty—and what follows is approximately an hour of the killer slowly lumbering about town killing anyone he encounters. Dr. Loomis informs us that Myers is seeking the infant sister he left behind when he was sent to the asylum; though, his intentions once he finds her are left entirely unexplained, as is his ability to find and recognize her with ease.

In the end it’s unimportant, as Halloween is at its best when it’s unintentionally comical. Myers clumsily smashing through walls, grunting and breathing heavily is so inherently funny it’s almost worth the price of admission. Incidentally, he’s just as frequently impossibly stealthy, often walking into and about people’s homes and staring at them without being seen. It grew frustrating to watch so many of his victims attempt to crawl away from him; I mean the dude plods along with the speed of a crippled tortoise— why not stand up and run? The coup-de-grace, however, is the inexplicable affinity of local teens to party (read: drink and screw) on the decrepit site of several grizzly murders. Nothing says romance like some lukewarm Keystones in a condemned hell house.

All in all it’s pretty standard slasher movie fare, so if that’s your thing I guess you probably won’t be disappointed, but it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel by any means so expect to see all the typical horror clichés in play.

It’s Business Time
Flight of the Conchords
8/10
by Lisa Strand

Racist dragons, homemade camera phones, and kebabs are only part of the zany antics that make up the explosive new HBO hit, Flight of the Conchords. Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, two native New Zealanders in New York City, are a two-man band that is managed by an awkward yet enthusiastic Murray Hewitt (Rhys Darby). The relatively unknown band struggles through many interesting situations including robbery; dream-induced David Bowies in space; sexually aggressive, lying, croissant-vending women; and fruit stand owners prejudiced against New Zealanders. Along with the storyline, there are corresponding break-out “music videos” that are both visually and lyrically hilarious (they have great costumes). Flight of the Conchords is witty and original. This new series features musical humor like that of Tenacious D combined with strange social situations reminiscent of Seinfield.

Musically, the tenor-and-bass pair are talented artists who created the group Flight of the Conchords in 1998. The series is set around their satirical songs and also their real life experiences living in New York City. It opens with a party at their friend’s house followed by Bret and Jemaine exclaiming in their song “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room,” that the object of Jemaine’s affection, Sally (Rachel Blanchard), could “be a part time model (but you’d probably have to keep your day job),” an instance of the duo’s amusing honesty.

Rarely booked for gigs, they have but a single fan, Mel, who obsesses over the pair and often “happens to be” wherever they are. Mel (Kristen Schaal) always shows up for their gigs and gives them her utmost support while ignoring her husband. The bumbling manager, Murray, can never quite get the “band image” correct, and is easily scammed, often causing the Conchords hardship. His intentions are good, but misplaced suggestions such as having the pair go out in reflective safety gear with maps into the streets of NYC do not always pan out.

The two also aren’t strong on funds: “You want to sit down, but you sold your chair / So what do you do? You just stand there” Bret explains in the song “Inner City Pressure.” They are frequent visitors to the local pawn shop, which is owned by their friend Dave (Arj Barker). They go to him for advice about living in the city and about girls only to receive reassuring (but desperately wrong) responses that get them into more trouble.

With a supporting cast that includes a socially inept manager, a stalker fan, and a pawn shop owner who lives with his parents, Flight of the Conchords is a comic gem that is set for a new season in 2008, airing in the same time slot after Entourage. The subtle and quirky humor that makes up the show is intelligently written and makes this a breath of fresh air after the excessive Hollywood glam of Entourage.

The sport of Emperors and Bandits Alike
Balls of Fury
7/10
by Andrew Casler

Just like any film that’s dedicated to table tennis, Balls of Fury’s opening scenes are complete with a flaming ping-pong ball and ‘80s hair metal. The movie begins with the 1988 Olympics ping-pong match of Randy Daytona versus Karl Wolfschtagg. Daytona (played by Tony Award winner Dan Fogler) is the pre-teen golden boy of the game, and his opponent, Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon), is an ambiguously gay, Aryan super-opponent who harasses Randy throughout the course of the film. The match is a disastrous defeat for Daytona, which results in the murder of his father (Robert Patrick) who had placed bets on the match that he’s unable to repay. The loss results in a downward spiral that essentially turns Daytona into a sequined tuxedo-wearing fat man, performing ping-pong tricks in Reno.

Just when it seems that he has lost everything, FBI agent Rodriguez (George Lopez) offers Daytona a chance to regain his former table tennis glory and avenge his father’s untimely death. Randy must enter a high stakes ping-pong tournament hosted by the man that killed his father, Feng (Christopher Walken). Feng is a Chinese crime boss whose dialogue is more like Mike Myers’ in the SNL skit “Coffee Talk” than that of a crime kingpin. This is where Walken shines in Balls of Fury. With the guidance of the ping-pong coach, Master Wong (James Hong), and his beautiful niece Maggie (Maggie Q.), Daytona begins training for the tournament of his life.

The plot of Balls of Fury is fairly generic, loosely following the story line of most movies about offbeat sports. It’s jam-packed with freeze frames of karate moves and ping-pong action alike. These “slow-mo” shots truly hurt the feel of the movie, making it seem trite at times.

Although it borders on the path of the ill-conceived, it is presented in a way that dares to be anticlimactic and almost dry. James Hong’s performance is undoubtedly the film’s strongest point. Throughout the film he delivers seemingly wise sayings, such as, “Ping-pong is like a fine well-aged prostitute—it takes years to learn her tricks.”

Although several parts were unimpressive and even corny, it was never supposed to be more than a movie that would tell a few good table tennis jokes. With slapstick humor, fart jokes, and humorous, ping-pong ideology making up the brunt of the comedy in Balls Of Fury, the movie delivers what it promises: a few good laughs and not much more.

The Rocket Science of Today’s Comedy
Rocket Science
8/10
by Patrick Dowd

When an independent film jumps from the small screens of film festivals to large screens across America, it sometimes loses its charm. This cannot be said about Rocket Science, which in a relatively concise manner, captured the pains and struggles of growing up. The Sundance Award winner for best director, Jeffery Blitz, focuses on the issues many of us go through while growing up: love, social anxiety, and bizarre as it may be, family bonding. If Rocket Science was released in novel form, it would greatly rival J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye for its ability to describe those formative years.

Rocket Science is about Hal Hefner, played by Reece Thompson, a young boy growing up in the New Jersey suburbs. Going through life with a speech impediment and fear of public speaking, his obstacles seem impossible to overcome. Hal’s luck begins to change when his first love interest, Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick), a new student in Hal’s high school, tries recruiting Hal for the debate team. Ginny, the recent debate team championship loser in her former high school, is harsh-tongued and just bitchy enough to love. Of course, she is totally unaware of Hal’s secret affections for her.

This movie really had me guessing the whole time; it broke from the mundane mold of most contemporary movies. It is listed as a comedy, but it almost trespasses into other genres with an outstretched toe and then skips back. It uses strange characters and awkward dialogue to get laughs instead of the usual one-liners and outrageous, obvious humor prevalent in most comedies. One of the greatest examples of this is the character of Heston (Aaron Yoo), Hal’s mother’s boyfriend’s son, who constantly shoots awkward looks and says things that make you squirm in discomfort. This is not “falling out of your seat” humor, but there are parts that may make you smile and occasionally chuckle.

What kept me interested was the drama in poor Hal’s life. He goes on an adventure to try to discover what love is, how to overcome his demons, and most importantly, how to order a slice of pizza. The more serious of these themes urged me to try to figure out if Hal would ever really overcome the obstacles splayed out in front of him.

The drawback was that the film did become a tad repetitious. It quickly drew me in during the development of the characters, but as the story unfolded it seemed to lose steam. Then, just as I was losing interest, it rapidly picked up the pace for a frantic finale.

All in all the deeply personalized characters helped make Rocket Science interesting and funny, though it was the drama and dark comedy that kept me emotionally involved.

Fifty-Fifty
50 Cent - Curtis
5/10
by James Ghazarian

50 Cent’s new CD, Curtis, is named for the rapper himself, who was born Curtis James Jackson III, but anyone expecting the album to be an introspective look at his life may be sadly disappointed. Curtis is formulaic and the least impressive effort by 50 thus far. It has gained recent publicity because on Sepember 11 it will go head to head with Kanye West’s new CD, Graduation, both competing for superior sales. Curtis has to live up to 50’s monster debut, 2003’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and the second best selling CD of 2005, The Massacre. The album proves to be a mixed bag and it definitely lacks the consistency heard on his last two.

The strength of Curtis lies in its many collaborations. The biggest single off the album is, without a doubt, the Timbaland and Justin Timberlake collaboration, “Ayo Technology.” With help from one of the most successful producers currently working in music, and everyone’s favorite former member of N*SYNC, 50 has his most radio- friendly track on the release. After the initial verses by 50, the chorus, done entirely by Timberlake, makes this feel like one of his songs off of Futuresex/Lovesounds, but featuring 50 Cent. The song is undeniably catchy, but it may be considered selling out by many of 50’s fans. Though it has charted recently on Billboard’s Hot 100, it isn’t doing nearly as well as rival Kanye West’s new single, “Stronger.”

“I’ll Still Kill” finds 50 collaborating with hot property Akon (hey, it worked for Gwen Stefani), but the song comes off like album filler and doesn’t make much of an impact. “I Get Money” is one of the album’s hits and is reminiscent of older tracks off his first CD. It’s sure to be a huge club hit.

The early single “Amusement Park” tries too hard to copy the formula that made him popular on past albums. Lyrically, “Amusement Park” is similar to 50’s number one single, “Candy Shop.” Sadly, its beat and lyrics don’t live up to his previous work.

Another unusual collaboration found on Curtis occurs between 50 Cent and soul singer Robin Thicke (of Growing Pains). The song “Follow My Lead” sounds like a mediocre version of “21 Questions,” with Jackson chiming “Follow my lead” monotonously in the chorus. On “Fire,” he chooses to work with the head Pussycat Doll, Nicole Scherzinger, and Young Buck. The electro beat that drives the song makes this another track that could easily make club rotation.

It’s clear that 50 is trying to appeal to an entirely different audience, but in the process he may lose the fans that drove his previous record sales to such impressive numbers. The fact that he has chosen to work with artists who have had recent success in pop music shows that he is attempting to capitalize on their fame, but the album lacks consistency and sounds forced. It just can’t compare to his previous releases.

Earthly Delights
Mom & Pops Natural Foods
8/10
by Elina Vaysbeyn

Are the Heights around South Campus getting their “street cred” back? No, I’m not talking about armed robbery and drive-by shootings. Main Street is now the home of a locally owned, organic, and natural food market. It is the only awning on the block that doesn’t look dilapidated or condemned. Even the name draws passersby with its humble and inviting demeanor. Mom & Pops Natural Foods, located at 3400 Main Street near UB’s South Campus is small, but slowly expanding. It has been getting a lot of attention from folks who are sick and tired of the awful grocery stores in the University Heights. The community needs to expand and support itself, and until now, it didn’t seem like any of the businesses located in the area gave a damn about the “projects” stigma that hangs over this end of Main St. In fact, the owners contributed to this image by opening up sleazy bars and clubs that soon closed down because the “5-0” caught on to their illegal sale of alcohol to minors.

Mom & Pops Natural Foods is a breath of fresh air. Even before entering I was struck by its outer appearance: no broken neon sign, no hookers on the corner, and no freshmen hangin’ around with their chalked IDs. Score! Seriously though, from the outside, it looks clean, dainty, and amicable. You almost forget where you are. Mom & Pops sits on the corner of Main St., directly across from the NFTA train station, so it’s not a far walk—a strategic location, if you ask me.

Once you go inside, it’s even better. The owners of the market, Jim Park and Anne Paulk, both have a rooted connection to the area. They plan on making Mom and Pops a sort of community landmark, a place for people to gather, exchange friendly words, and even recipes on the community bulletin board, which I am impatiently awaiting.

Having worked at the Lexington Co-Op for ten years, Jim Park explained that their mission was one that incorporated elements of a safe, clean, organic store and an inexpensive way to buy food products. They sell grains and flour, among other things, in large bulk bags, as well as offering a wholesale price of ten percent off for a case of almost anything in the store. Jim and Anne mostly buy from local farmers and growers, some of which operate out of Kenmore, and others a little further away in Lewiston. They support small businesses, much like their own, and with good reason: why ship out when we can ship in? Let’s stop importing products like maple syrup and honey from other countries. Maybe if Buffalo’s businesses worked together as an integrated network, we would see some positive changes being made in the neighborhood.

With hopes of, in time, inviting people to play at open-mic events at Mom & Pops, and helping this impoverished area work up some business, Jim and Anne are also consulting the shoppers about what they would like to see sold in the store. If you can think of it, throw it in the suggestion box. They still do not have their whole selection of foodstuffs, but that is because they are waiting for feedback. I, personally, cannot wait for the fresh produce!

Bravo to Bravo!
Bravo Restaurant Review
10/10
by Bob Fullex

Upon first laying eyes on Bravo, located in the Galleria Mall across the hall from The Cheesecake Factory, I could see that this place was Italian and Mediterranean at its finest. It is exquisitely decorated, with large, white, Greek pillars throughout the entire restaurant. The bar is to the left, and its sheer size pretty much allows you to order any drink imaginable. There is also a secondary bar for when business picks up and they need more space for the drinking crowd. You have a multitude of seating options as well. There is the normal dining room, bar-style seating allowing guests to watch cooks in action while they prepare their meals, an outside patio, and an inside “mall” patio.

The staff was both professional and very personable, joking around with the guests. My friend and I sat down in the dining room and started our meal off with homemade focaccia bread accompanied by an olive oil and rosemary dipping sauce. Sometimes focaccia can be very dry but this was soft and fresh. Next, my compadre had the Flatbread alla Fresca ($8.99) and I had the Crispy Shrimp Natoli ($9.99), both of which were excellent. They definitely had a homemade taste to them and that is rare at a chain restaurant. The Natoli had a butter sauce for the crispy, tail-less shrimp, and the flatbread was topped with some different veggies, basil, and then sprinkled with a bit of cheese.

For the main entrées, my friend ordered the Wood-Grilled Fish (17.99), which features a different catch each week. This week’s was tuna. One of the head chefs told us that their seafood is shipped in at least three to four times a week as opposed to once a week like most other places. It was definitely high quality fish and the spaghetti topped with tomatoes and some colorful peppers on the side was an amazing pairing.

For myself, was the Shrimp Fra Diavolo ($14.99), penne pasta mixed with shrimp in a spicy red cream sauce. It was prepared beautifully and had many vibrant flavors. The spiciness of the sauce was subtle and added a nice touch to the dish. The sauce was not as heavy as an Alfredo sauce and that allowed me leave room for dessert. I had the Crème Brûlée ($4.59) and my friend had the Mixed Berry Cake ($4.49). The Crème Brûlée had a delicate, caramel shell on top and smooth custard underneath. It was garnished with a strawberry. It was so light that I was able to eat most of it even after the large meal. The berry cake was served warm and delightfully appetizing. With a dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side, it was perfect for the lover of sweets looking to have a gourmet dessert.

I cannot say enough good things about this new place. The atmosphere is just as enjoyable as the food and it is perfect to go and relax with your friends, or take out your significant other for a romantic evening. You really must try Bravo for yourself.

 

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