Our weekly roundup looks at this week's major new releases in film, music, games, and television.
This week in Movies
Could it be? A good movie in January? The R-rated thriller Edge of Darkness represents Mel Gibson's first big-screen starring role since 2002. Echoing last winter's revenge-oriented Taken, the film centers on a cop who stumbles onto a conspiracy when investigating the killing of his own daughter, and is based on a well-received 1985 British miniseries. Early reviews, while not stellar, are at least promising, marking the film as an effective diversion (while lamenting that the movie's screenplay is less interesting than that of the miniseries). And Gibson's performance? Critics find it one of the film's major highlights.
The week's other major release comes from the opposite end of the quality spectrum. Not screened in advance for critics (i.e., Avoid! Avoid!), When in Rome [PG-13] is a romantic comedy starring Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel. The film comes from director and co-writer Mark Steven Johnson (Ghost Rider 35, Simon Birch 39), who is entirely unfamiliar with the concept of green Metascores -- and will continue to be unfamiliar with them for the foreseeable future.
In limited release this week, Saint John of Las Vegas [R] is the first -- and, let's face it, worst -- film from new production company IndieVest Pictures and writer-director Hue Rhodes. Very loosely based on Dante's Inferno, the would-be quirky comedy stars Steve Buscemi, Sarah Silverman and Romany Malco ... unfortunately for them. Here's one quote you won't be seeing in print ads: "Excruciatingly awful!" -- Entertainment Weekly. While that represents the worst of the reviews published so far, the others aren't a whole lot better.
Here are the trailers:
This week in Music
Teen Dream 83, the third album for the Baltimore dream-pop duo Beach House, is both the group's debut for Sub Pop and their best-reviewed release to date. Of the 22 reviews collected to date, 20 of them are positive, with most critics finding the album a major step forward for the duo. Metacritic's users are a bit less effusive so far, assigning the disc a composite score of 6.7 out of 10.
An acoustic folk counterpart to the fuzzy rock of 2008's Distortion 79, The Magnetic Fields' Realism 78 is mostly impressing critics so far. As is the default for Magnetic Fields albums, Stephin Merritt's songwriting is the subject of much of the critical praise, although some notable detractors -- including Pitchfork and the Los Angeles Times -- prevented the disc from scoring higher.
After a sabbatical spent recording experimental jazz albums with drummer Steve Reid, folktronica artist Kieran Hebden returned this week with his first LP under the Four Tet name in five years, and it is shaping up to be another winner. There Is Love in You 83 effectively straddles the line between dance music and background listening, according to several of the critics praising the disc. And did we really call him a "folktronica" artist? This could be the album where Hebden finally sheds that label once and for all, with his music now relying more heavily on straight electronica and less on post-rock.
Did we mention yet that it's a big week for great albums? Another of the week's strong titles is Romance Is Boring 84, the third release for Welsh indie-rockers Los Campesinos!. The title serves as the hypothesis tested by the disc's 15 songs, which represent the band's most ambitious offering yet -- and one that has yet to receive a bad review.
Actress/singer Charlotte Gainsbourg -- the daughter of Serge Gainsbourg and the star, most recently, of Lars von Trier's controversial Antichrist 49 -- recorded her third studio album IRM 82 with Beck, who produced and co-wrote all of the songs in addition to contributing vocals on lead single "Heaven Can Wait."
Finally, UK folk-soul singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae's sophomore effort The Sea 77 is receiving better notices than its 2006 predecessor, including a glowing review in the Los Angeles Times. The subject matter, however, can get a bit dark -- the album deals with the recent death of Rae's husband.
This week in Games
The game world is abuzz this week with the release of the action-RPG Mass Effect 2 (Xbox: 96, PC: 94), which is already threatening to become the best-reviewed game in history for the 360. This second installment in a planned sci-fi trilogy is set in a dangerous universe, where you (playing as the hero, Commander Shepard) lead a team to combat whatever interstellar forces are causing entire human colonies to vanish. Critics are hailing its blend of shoot-em-up action and movie-worthy drama, with the word "perfect" appearing in more than one review.
This week also saw the release of a pair of console-exclusive titles, although they didn't generate quite the same level of fanfare as ME2. The main selling point of the PS3 massive action game MAG 80 is 256-player battles, and the game certainly delivers on that front, while also drawing a few complaints about its control system. And the Wii release No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle 89 surpassed the Metascore of its predecessor -- as well as those of almost all other Wii releases, landing among the top 10 best-reviewed Wii titles of all time. A rare M-rated Wii game, this obscenity-laced actioner returns anti-hero Travis Touchdown, who has fallen to the lowest ranking in the United Assassins Association and must work his way back up.
This week in Television
Monday saw the premiere of two new cable comedies, with varying degrees of critical success. The good news came in the form of BBC America's The Inbetweeners 72 (which now shifts to Wednesdays at 9:30p), a high school comedy in the spirit of Judd Apatow movies (or even Apatow's "Freaks and Geeks"). Showtime's La La Land 60 (Mondays, 11p) also has a British connection -- in this case, star Marc Wootton -- but this "Ali G"-esque reality comedy provoked a mixed response.
FX's legal thriller Damages 82 (Mondays, 10p) returned to kick off its third season on Monday, and the show posted its highest Metascore yet. New additions Martin Short and Lily Tomlin join an already stellar cast headed by Emmy-winner Glenn Close.
This week on DVD
A much-publicized concert documentary utilizing footage of rehearsals for his planned comeback performances, Michael Jackson's This Is It 67 + Netflix queue arrived in stores this week. While the reviews were mostly positive, fans looking for an impressive collection of DVD extras will have to look elsewhere.
The best of the week's remaining DVD releases? The Drew Barrymore-directed roller derby dramedy Whip It 67 + Netflix queue, and Jane Campion's period romance about poet John Keats, Bright Star 81 + Netflix queue stand out among a crowd that ranges from mediocre to poor, including:
- Saw VI 30 + Netflix queue, the worst-received installment in the Saw series;
- Surrogates 45 + Netflix queue, a B-movie-caliber sci-fi adventure starring Bruce Willis;
- I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell 26 + Netflix queue, a painfully unfunny comedy based on Tucker Max's best-seller; and
- The Boys Are Back 57 + Netflix queue, a generic tale of fatherhood starring Clive Owen.
Next week in Metacritic
Here are a few of the titles we'll be reviewing next week at Metacritic.com:
TV: Next week will bring the debuts of Bravo's latest fashion-oriented reality show Kell on Earth (Monday, 10p), and, after the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, CBS' Undercover Boss. And a little show called Lost returns for its final season on Tuesday at 9pm with a special two-hour episode. Also returning next week are Comedy Central's Important Things with Demetri Martin (Feb. 4 at 10p) and The Sarah Silverman Program (Feb. 4 at 10:30p).
GAMES: PC owners and fans of Star Trek are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the MMORPG Star Trek Online, which officially debuts next Tuesday (Stardate -312911.3). And, looking even further ahead, the first few reviews have been published for the highly anticipated PS3 title Heavy Rain, which arrives on Feb. 16.
MUSIC: In stores next Tuesday will be a rare release from indie-Americana outfit Midlake, new discs from The Album Leaf, Rob Zombie, kd lang, and -- it's true -- rapper Lil Wayne, and the brother-free solo debut album from Nick Jonas.
MOVIES: Opening wide in theaters on Friday, Feb. 5 will be the romance Dear John, the action comedy From Paris With Love, and the chilly thriller Frozen. Here are the trailers: