Our weekly roundup looks at this week's major new releases in film, music, games, and television.
This week in Movies
It's a good thing so many quality DVDs were released this week (see below), because Friday's crop of new movie offerings is shaping up to be wholly unappealing.
This week's most-hyped release is the Denzel Washington vehicle The Book of Eli [Rated R], a post-apocalyptic thriller that marks the first film for the Hughes Brothers (Menace II Society) in nine years. Perhaps the brothers should have held out even longer; Eli is booking mediocre-to-poor reviews so far. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman describes this bleak, violent film as "'The Road Warrior' without car chases, or 'The Road' without humanity." Other critics seemed mainly bored with the picture.
However, Eli is looking good in comparison to the week's other new release. The Spy Next Door [PG] is a family-friendly comedy starring Jackie Chan as a superspy who must babysit three young kids while fending off a Russian terrorist. We use the term "comedy" loosely, as early reviews reveal that there is little to laugh about. If you're looking for action, you won't find much of that, either.
Finally, Peter Jackson's novel adaptation The Lovely Bones expands wide this weekend after screening in select cities for the past month. Once pegged as an award hopeful, the PG-13 drama -- about a murdered teen who watches over her family from the afterlife -- disappointed critics, resulting in a Metascore of 44.
Here are the trailers:
This week in Music
The much-blogged indie band Vampire Weekend released their second album, Contra 80, on Tuesday. Consisting of four Columbia University grads, the band first impressed critics with their self-titled debut 82 two years ago, and Contra is already being mentioned as a potential album of the year candidate. Drawing comparisons to Paul Simon's Graceland thanks to its incorporation of African rhythms and other world music sounds, the disc is also "weirder" than its predecessor, according to Pitchfork. The few detractors included the Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot, who found Contra lacking substance, and Metacritic's own users, who have given the album an average score of just 5.7 out of 10.
Perhaps better known for their music videos than their actual albums, rockers OK Go returned with their third studio album this week. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky 79 was produced by Dave Fridmann and bears little resemblance to its poppy predecessors, instead experimenting with a wider range of songs that are darker, more psychedelic, and more soulful. Critics mostly admired the band's new maturity and versatility.
Also in stores this week: Y Not, former Beatle Ringo Starr's latest solo outing. Later in the week, we'll also have reviews for the third album (Heartland) from orchestral-indie rock artist Owen Pallett, who previously recorded under the name Final Fantasy.
This week in Games
This week's only major release, EA's Army of Two: The 40th Day (Xbox 360: 77, PS3: 79, PSP: N/A) is a sequel to the 2008 game Army of Two. Set in Shanghai after a major disaster, the third-person shooter is designed for two players (the titular "army of two") to work together to repel invading forces. Many critics are praising the cooperative play functionality and the game itself, although others place the game in the solid rather than spectacular category, finding that the sequel lacks enough new elements to distinguish itself from its predecessor or from other shooters. Still, it marks the third well-reviewed release of the year (following Bayonetta and Darksiders), which bodes well for 2010 as a whole.
This week in Television
NBC's Chuck 73 and HBO's Big Love 69 each returned over the past weekend, and there was good news on both counts: critics had mostly positive things to say, and ratings for each program were up significantly compared to last season's starts. The once-canceled cop drama Southland 69 also returned -- to TNT, rather than NBC -- and you can catch up on the early episodes now on Tuesday nights at 10:00p before new episodes air in March.
This Thursday night at 10:00pm, FX debuts its first original animated series, Archer, a TV-MA spy spoof from the creators of "Sealab 2021" and voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, Jessica Walter, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, and Judy Greer. The show received a welcome reception for its surprise sneak preview last fall, and Chicago Tribune critic Maureen Ryan praised the comedy as the animated counterpart to some of TV's smarter single-camera sitcoms, although The Hollywood Reporter's Barry Garron did not find the show funny enough.
Sunday night will see the premiere of Fox's new action series Human Target, airing on a special night before moving to its regular Wednesday time period. We'll post reviews for the show this weekend, but here is a preview:
This week on DVD
This week saw the release of three critically-acclaimed indie releases from 2009, topped by The Hurt Locker 94 Add to Netflix queue, the best-reviewed movie of the year and a leading Best Picture candidate. Kathryn Bigelow's action-filled drama follows an American bomb squad in Iraq in the early portion of the current war.
The UK import In The Loop 83 Add to Netflix queue also deals with the conflict in Iraq, but from a political -- and humorous -- standpoint. One of the highest-scoring comedies of 2009, the dark satire examines how high-ranking government officials make the decision to go to war.
The debut feature for Duncan Jones (better known as the son of David Bowie), Moon 67 Add to Netflix queue was not originally reviewed quite as highly as the above films, but it developed a following and appeared on several year-end top ten lists. This moody, intelligent sci-fi thriller stars Sam Rockwell as a solitary astronaut on a lunar base who begins to hallucinate near the end of his three-year stint. Its small scale and deliberate pacing drew Solaris comparisons, although a few critics found it a bit too languid.
Also in video stores this week: comedian Patton Oswalt takes a well-received serious turn as an overly fanatic New York Giants supporter in Big Fan 70 Add to Netflix queue; Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo star in the offbeat but divisive caper The Brothers Bloom 55 Add to Netflix queue; Spike Lee directs a film version of the Tony-winning rock musical Passing Strange 85 Add to Netflix queue; and a single Palestinian mother attempts to build a new life in the States in the drama Amreeka 73 Add to Netflix queue.
There are so many DVD releases this week that we couldn't list them all here; you can view the remaining, not-so-good titles here.
Next week in Metacritic
TV: The new family drama Life UneXpected premieres on the CW Monday night at 9:00pm, while ABC's soapy new legal series (think "Grey's Anatomy" with lawyers), The Deep End, arrives Jan 21st at 8:00pm. Syfy's "Battlestar Galactica" prequel series Caprica premieres with a special two-hour episode on Jan 22nd at 9:00pm, but will face competition one hour later from the graphic (in every sense of the word) new Starz action series Spartacus: Blood & Sand. We'll have reviews for all four series next week.
MUSIC: Metacritic's artist of the decade, Spoon, releases Transference next week, while other indie favorites like The Magnetic Fields, Beach House, and Los Campesinos! also return with new albums. Electronica artist Four Tet, actress-singer Jennifer Lopez, and rappers Three 6 Mafia will also release new discs on Tuesday.
MOVIES: Opening wide in theaters on Friday, Jan. 22 will be the Harrison Ford drama Extraordinary Measures, the Dwayne Johnson comedy Tooth Fairy, and the fantasy action film Legion. Here are the trailers: