By Sarah Zupko
Ryan Bingham — “Junky Star”
The ex-rodeo cowboy and current Americana superstar and newly minted actor releases his third album, a slightly more introspective affair than previous work with production by T Bone Burnett.
Richard Thompson — “Dream Attic”
The legendary singer-songwriter and one of the planet’s best guitarists continues to produce one good record after another, many decades after the start of his career. “Dream Attic” features 13 new songs recorded before a live audience.
Heart — “Red Velvet Car”
1970s rockers Ann and Nancy Wilson, who gave us the massive hits “Barracuda,” “Crazy on You,” and “Magic Man,” bring back Heart for the band’s first album in six years.
Goo Goo Dolls — “Something for the Rest of Us”
These 1980s alt-rockers are still at it after more than 20 years. This new album takes its cue from the recession we remain mired in. As John Rzeznik says, “I wanted some of the material on this album to address the disillusionment of the difficult period we live in.”
By Sarah Zupko
Katy Perry — “Teenage Dream”: The platinum selling pop singer who built a career by “kissing a girl” returns with her second LP of chart-friendly pop froth.
Ra Ra Riot — “The Orchard”: The latest in a long line of massively hyped indie bands brings their eagerly awaited third full-length and somehow manages to knock it out of the park and exceed expectations.
!!! — “Strange Weather, Isn’t It?”: The California dance punkers travel to Berlin to record their “dark” album following the footsteps of forbearers like David Bowie and Depeche Mode.
Isobell Campbell, Mark Lanegan — “Hawk”: Belle and Sebastian’s Isobell Campbell solidifies her intriguing partnership that began in 2006 with seeming musical opposite, Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan.
Eels — “Tomorrow Morning”: Eels continue their prolific streak with this third release in a series of concept albums that began last year with “Hombre Lobo” and continued in 2010 with “End Times.”
By Sarah Zupko
John Mellencamp, “No Better Than This”
Heartland roots rocker John Mellencamp goes all the way back to the basics on this new gritty and spare album recorded on a 55-year-old Ampex tape recorder with a single old-timey microphone.
In doing so, he turns out one of his best career albums by stripping away the production layers and revealing the classic American songwriting craft at the base of his work.
The Riff Report
By Sarah Zupko
Indie superstars Arcade Fire give us their heavily anticipated third album, a record inspired thematically by frontman Win Butler’s years growing up in the suburbs of Houston. The BBC likened it to the Montreal band’s “OK Computer,” while NME slapped a 9 out of 10 on it, calling it Arcade Fire’s “Automatic for the People.” With hype comparing them to alt-rock gods like Radiohead and R.E.M., look for this release to move major units.
“Spot the Difference”
Since 1974, English pop maestros Squeeze have been serving up three-minute slices of heaven drawn from the pens of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, who have often been tagged with the heady label of the heirs of Lennon and McCartney. The band has gone through a few break-ups along the way, but since 2007 they’ve been back in the saddle touring. With a long tour this summer and fall, “Spot the Difference” offers recorded versions of many Squeeze classics and is meant to accompany the tour.
Other notable releases this week:
» Black Crowes — “Croweology”
» Buckcherry — “All Night Long”
» Bun B — “Trill O.G.”
» Dr. John — “Tribal”
» El-P — “Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3”
» Gaelic Storm — “Cabbage”
» Gov’t Mule — “Mulennium”
» jj — “jj n: 2”
» Lady Gaga — “The Remix”
» Los Lobos — “Tin Can Trust”
» Katie Melua — “The House”
» The Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band — “Where the Messengers Meet”
» Secondhand Serenade — “Hear Me Now”
» Shapes and Sizes — “Candle to Your Eyes”
» Wavves — “King of the Beach” Read more
Fans and players react during a game at the World Beer Pong Tour competition in Atlantic City, N.J. on June 15. What started out as a drinking game has blossomed into a nationwide competition and a $25,000 first prize, all for doing what millions of college kids do when they should be studying.
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. » There was a time when all you could get from playing beer pong was drunk.
Now, you can get rich, too.
What started out as a drinking game has blossomed into a nationwide competition with a $25,000 first prize, all for doing what millions of college kids do when they should be studying.
Tuesday night in Atlantic City, Michael Seviert and Byron Findley, of Sacramento, Calif., split the top prize as their team, Drinkin’ Smokin’ Straight West Coastin’, bested all comers.
For those who never went to a frat party or stayed in a summer rental at the Jersey Shore, beer pong is a game in which two teams assemble at opposite ends of a table that has 10 plastic cups filled with beer arranged in a triangle formation at either end.
Shooters try to toss pingpong balls into the cups. If a ball goes in, the cup is taken off the table and a member of the opposing team has to drink the beer in it. The first team to get rid of all 10 of its opponents’ cups wins. Of course, there’s nothing other than a shortage of beer stopping players from starting a new game — over and over and over again.
But organizers of the World Beer Pong Tour hope the national tournament and $50,000 worth of prize money will help put a respectable face on the activity. Exhibit A: The cups in the tournament are filled with water, not beer. (The cups and balls do, however, carry the logo of GetBombed.com, a company that sells beer pong supplies and helps sponsor the tournament.) Read more
The Associated Press
Capsule reviews of films opening this week:
“Toy Story 3″
This is what happens when you’re good at your job: Everyone expects excellence from you, and anything even slightly short of that feels like a letdown. “Toy Story 3″ is a gorgeous film — funny, sweet and clever in the tradition of the best Pixar movies — but because it comes from that studio’s nearly flawless tradition, including two “Toy Story” predecessors, the expectations naturally are inflated.
The storytelling in no way is in question; it never is at Pixar, which is the fundamental reason their films are so strong. Neither is the voice cast, led once again by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and Joan Cusack, with formidable newcomers like Ned Beatty thrown into the mix. The details are as vibrant and tactile as ever: the textures and expressions, the use of light, angles and perspective. And the core concept — that toys have a rich, complex interior life when people aren’t around — still resonates all these years later.
If “Toy Story” hadn’t come out in 1995 and “Toy Story 2″ hadn’t followed it in 1999, “Toy Story 3″ would stand on its own as a breakthrough. Trouble is, those earlier movies do exist. And by comparison, this third installment — in which Andy heads off to college and the toys end up in day care — doesn’t feel quite so fresh. Then, of course, there is the 3-D — the unfortunate trend of the summer. It’s not intrusive, but it’s also completely unnecessary. G. In 3-D and IMAX 3-D. 98 min. Three stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire
A romantic charmer that works in spite of — and maybe a bit because of — two physical mismatches that audiences are asked to accept in this story of a suitor battling his new girlfriend’s needy son, who wants mom all to himself.
One: That petite knockout Marisa Tomei and pug-faced hulk John C. Reilly could tumble into near love at first sight. Two: That petite knockout Tomei and baby-faced hulk Jonah Hill could be mother and son. Reilly and Tomei make their asymmetry work, quickly becoming one of those beauty-and-the-beast couples that make people remark, “They look so cute together!”
The movie gets kind of creepy when Tomei and Hill cuddle and tickle each other. Yet that’s where some of the best laughs come from — once you get over the ick factor of a 40-something mom getting so physical with her grown son. Sibling writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass have a knack for wringing laughs out of uncomfortable moments, and the film is steeped in this sort of cringe-and-wince humor.
There’s a real sweetness to it at the same time, and the Duplass brothers do a great job balancing that soft side with the nastier edges underlying their story. R for language and some sexual material. 92 min. Three stars out of four.
— David Germain
“The Killer Inside Me”
Here’s the conundrum with this film: It’s well-made, yet difficult to recommend. It looks great, a mix of parched West Texas vistas and lush interiors, yet portions of it are impossible to watch without wincing. The performances are consistently strong, though, especially from star Casey Affleck as a small-town deputy sheriff in the early 1950s whose polite demeanor and boyish features belie a savage homicidal streak.
Director Michael Winterbottom also gets typically compelling work from Ned Beatty and Elias Koteas in small but crucial supporting roles. But regardless of any other elements, there are a couple of scenes here that will have everyone talking, and will divide viewers’ opinions of the entire movie. Based on the pulp fiction novel by Jim Thompson, “The Killer Inside Me” tracks the steady unraveling of a sociopath, one hidden among the people we trust to be the good guys. Affleck’s Lou Ford comes from an established family in Central City, and he has a lovely girlfriend in Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson), who’s pressuring him to get married.
Then one day, the sheriff (Tom Bower) sends him out to talk with Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a prostitute who’s ensnared the son (Jay R. Ferguson) of Chester Conway (Beatty), the town’s power broker. His purpose is to run her out of town. But a couple of slaps from Joyce during their confrontation unleash pent-up aggressions and desires within Lou. R for disturbing brutal violence, aberrant sexual content and some graphic nudity. 108 min. Two stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire
“8: The Mormon Proposition”
Gay marriage — and California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that stated only marriage between a man and a woman would be valid and recognized — are topics fraught with passionate debate on both sides. Which is why this documentary makes you wish it had been made by filmmakers with more creative, artful inclinations. Or at least more focus.
Director and writer Reed Cowan and co-director Steven Greenstreet depict the campaign to pass this measure — and the influential Mormon church as a massive driving force behind it — in a surprisingly dry, straightforward way. Talking heads and snippets of revealing documents are broken up with rather literal, cheesy imagery.
The stories from real people give the film emotional heft and make it somewhat worthwhile — people like Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones, former Mormons who tearfully describe how most members of their families have ostracized them for being gay. They married each other in San Francisco in June 2008, only to have Prop 8 place the legality of that union in limbo a few months later.
Ultimately, “8” becomes an entirely different movie — a far more compelling one — when it shifts gears and focuses on the high suicide rate among gay teens in Utah. R for some language/sexual references. 78 min. Two stars out of four.
— Christy Lemire
This comic-book adaptation is so short, and so bad, you cringe at the thought of how awful whatever ended up on the cutting-room floor must be.
Take away the eight minutes of end-credits, a prologue sequence built around comic-book panels and some repetitive flashbacks of action we’ve already seen, and there’s barely an hour’s worth of actual movie. And that’s using the term “actual movie” generously. Josh Brolin has the title role as a Civil War vet turned bounty hunter, bent on vengeance against the villain (John Malkovich) who disfigured his face and killed his family.
Jonah’s tragedies somehow leave him able to interrogate the dead, a handy tool as he tracks Malkovich through a lame plot to destroy America with a doomsday weapon. Brolin tries to bring gravity to the role, but Malkovich just seems bored and Megan Fox adds to her robotic resume as Jonah’s prostitute and romantic interest.
Director Jimmy Hayward presents action that feels choppy and unfinished, at least partly the effect of cutting out explicit violence to secure a more audience-friendly rating. PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, disturbing images and sexual content. 82 min. One and a half stars out of four.
— David Germain
Kristen Stewart, left, and James Pattinson in a scene from “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.”
LOS ANGELES » The stars of “Twilight” are already looking forward to the final two installments in the vampire franchise.
Author Stephenie Meyer’s fourth and final “Twilight” book, “Breaking Dawn,” is splitting into two parts, and while scripts are still being written, star Kristen Stewart says she knows exactly where the fourth movie should end: With Bella having just given birth and Edward being forced to change her into a vampire to save her life.
“I feel like it’s so obvious where you break it up. It’s as soon as she turns,” Stewart told AP Television at a weekend publicity event for the third “Twilight” film, “Eclipse,” opening June 30. “Gosh, you open your eyes to this different world, right? That would be amazing.”
Stewart said she’s looking forward to her character’s development in the final two films, the first of which is set for release Nov. 18, 2011. Read more
Shakira dances with kids of the Isu’lihle Senior Primary School in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa last week. In anticipation of the World Cup Kick-off Celebration Concert, the pop star met with scholars and danced the “Waka Waka” from her official World Cup song.
By Donna Bryson
JOHANNESBURG » Shakira danced with school children in Soweto. Juanes debuted a single. Akon launched a clothing line.
And even a few celebrities with more than one name showed up for the World Cup.
The tournament that kicked off in Johannesburg on June 11, being held for the first time in Africa, is the biggest event on the calendar of the world’s most popular sport. It has drawn hundreds of thousands to South Africa and attracted an even bigger television audience. If you were in the business of being famous, would you miss it?
Some celebrities came to work. The main events were an opening ceremony June 11 with American singer R. Kelly, and a June 10 concert featuring Shakira, the Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys. That was the night Colombian rocker Juanes, in a multicolored warm-up jacket, debuted his newest single, “Yerbatero”.
Fellow Colombian Shakira was among the stars who combined work with philanthropy. She spent hours at a school in the famous Johannesburg township of Soweto, where she traded some dance steps with students and spoke with them about the importance of education.
“I wish that every kid in the world has a happy childhood and access to a good education,” she said. Read more
From left, actresses Betty White, Wendie Malick, Valerie Bertinelli, and Jane Leeves pose for a portrait on the set of the television show “Hot in Cleveland” in Studio City, Calif.
By Mike Cidoni
LOS ANGELES » It’s a sitcom about four single women of a certain age, portrayed by an ensemble that includes Betty White.
“Hot in Cleveland,” which debuts this week on TV Land, is not officially “The Golden Girls” redux. But the similarities don’t end with the set up. Just as White shared top billing with three golden character actresses (Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty), she now works with another trio of established comedy veterans: Valerie Bertinelli (“One Day at a Time”); Jane Leeves (“Frasier”); and Wendie Malick (“Just Shoot Me!”).
The four recently sat for an interview with The Associated Press on a key set for the series: the bar where three fifty-somethings (played by Bertinelli, 50; Leeves, 49; and Malick, 59) discover that while they may be past their prime in hometown Los Angeles, they are still “hot” in Cleveland. And, with that realization, they decide to stay there, moving into a house that comes complete with its own caretaker (White, 88). Read more
By Sandy Cohen
LOS ANGELES » Remember the MTV VJ? That’s so two decades ago. Now the network is looking to hire its first “TJ,” or Twitter Jockey.
MTV officials say the search is on for a new social media maven who will engage with the MTV audience and serve as a liaison between viewers and network honchos.
MTV General Manager Stephen Friedman called the TJ position “a natural evolution of how we connect with our audience.”
The network has identified 18 potential candidates and is asking its audience to find two more. The 20 hopefuls will compete in a series of online challenges this summer designed to reveal their personalities and demonstrate how they connect with Twitter followers. Read more