Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Weekly List: 5 Favorite Video Games of All-Time

Unless your name is Hank Hill, you've probably enjoyed playing a few vidjagames in your lifetime. I know I have. I grew up with Mario, moved on to Sonic, and have risen up through the first two Playstations and now play with trash-talking, pre-pubescent punks all around the world on XBox Live.

They're a great way to relieve stress, connect with buddies, wind-down from the day, or just have a shit-ton of fun. So here's my five favorite games of all-time.

5. Super Street Fighter II

Best fighting game ever. The diversity of the characters, the special-moves, the combos. And of course, Haduken. No fighting game has ever lived up to this one for me.

4. Micro Machines V3

My friends and I played this game to death, played it until it resurrected, and then we played it to death again. It was ADDICTING. One your own, you played through races and won cars. Then you got together with your friends and pitted your cars against one another, winner take all. Things got heated.

3. Tecmo Super Bowl

Forget Madden, this is the game that started it all for video game football. Real teams, real players, real action. Naturally, the 49ers and Bo Jackson's Raiders are banned when playing with friends.

2. Super Mario Bros. 3

The best game ever made. Period. It's so good, I still have an original NES, and I still play this game. I really don't need to sell you on this game, because if you don't like it, you're a pinko commie bastard. Bonus points for best cover art ever.

1. The NCAA Football series

I was raised on Alabama football. I worship in the church of college football. So, naturally, any college football game will grab my attention. I've played this EA Sports series since it was Bill Walsh's College Football back on Sega Genesis. Many a controller has been broken playing against friends. The NCAA Dynasty was the thing to do in the dorms. NCAA release day should be a holiday.

On DVD: 'Big Fan'



Paul Aufiero loves the New York Giants. In fact, he would be the exemplar of a fanatic: he goes to the home games with his friend Sal, and although they don't have tickets to get in the stadium each week, they hook up a television to their car battery to watch the game in the parking lot -- obviously, just being there matters to this ultimate fan.

Paul's day-to-day life is less than spectacular. He's happy, but his lawyer brother and dentist's assistant sister think that he needs to move out of his mother's house, find a better job than parking attendant career he has, and get on with life. That's not in Paul's plans.

Paul's life takes a dramatic turn when he meets his favorite Giants' player in person at a strip club, and the athlete beats him senseless, hospitalizing Paul for days.

The conflict in the movie is almost strictly an internal one, and it makes the film to seem somewhat slow paced. It's also a character study on a certain type of person. It is not, however, a comedy, which it has been sometimes billed as being.

The movie certainly takes off after Paul's beating, but it stalls for a few pivotal minutes shortly afterward. The ending seems to make up for it all as it is a tense, suspenseful few moments, which lets you wonder just how Paul will ultimately handle the situation and his life.

Also, the movie held my interest because I know these people. The best moments showed Paul regularly calling in to the sports-talk radio station, even going so far as to write out his remarks before he dials. This would be as if Shane from Centerpoint got a beat down by Mount Cody. (That was for all you Finebaum listeners.)

The movie is a pretty interesting and deep look at this guy named Paul Aufiero. Patton Oswalt really does a good job as the lead role. The acting, directing, and writing are all fine. This one won't blow you away, but it certainly works well enough to watch. Just don't think that it's going to be hilarious or that it's solely about football.

2 1/2 stars (out of five)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hear Them Songs: Sweetdog's Birthday Show

Sweetdog's Birthday Show -- Mellow Mushroom Upstairs Bar, Tuscaloosa, AL, Fri, Feb 26, 2010


We here at The Alabama Take love a musical showcase, especially one this fantastic.

Every year, Craig "Sweetdog" Pickering, or The Midnight Mayor to some of you, puts together a special show for his birthday, and this year ain't no different.

This one has got a little bit, if not a lot, for us all. Headlining the show will be famous Memphis guitar player and songwriter Monsieur Jeffrey Evans, made known by his excellent songs, including "Spyder Blues." Backing him will be his Southern Aces. Evans has played with them all, but the Southern Aces are as good as a group as one could find, featuring Sweetdog, Taylor Hollingsworth, Terrence Bishop, and J.D. Mark. Evans, with the help of The Midnight Mayor, usually finds his way down to Tuscaloosa about once a year, but it has been a little over that amount of time since he's locally rocked one. In all honesty, a sole blog should be devoted to Evans and his Southern Aces, but we'll leave that for another day. Just know if you like a blend of Memphis soul, rockabilly, and deep songwriting, you'll enjoy this show. You'll find what seems like a short set is not just chock full of excellent songs -- also included are interesting back stories and hilarious banter.

Rounding out the bill will be punk-rock, Memphis greats River City Tanlines; Columbus, Mississippi power-pop rockers The Motions; and special guests, Tuscaloosa's own rock royalty, Baak Gwai.

This line-up only comes around once in a while. You'll be there, I'm sure, getting your five dollars worth and more.

Monday, February 22, 2010

In The Theater: 'Crazy Heart'



Crazy Heart is a simple, but engrossing, tale of an old, grizzled country singer who has hit his peak and faces the downside of the mountain of fame. Playing bowling alleys and dive bars have taken their toll on Bad Blake, as does every bottle of whiskey that he downs. And, he downs quite a few, causing his relationship with his new friend and reporter Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) to become more than a little troubled.

This is undoubtedly a character-driven movie. If you are looking for the most enlivened plot in the world, you may be disappointed; however, that's not to say the movie isn't extremely entertaining.

Watching these characters is what keeps you in your seat, and the acting is sublime. Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake is a better fit than anyone else I can imagine. Sadly, what most people are figuring out in Hollywood is that the dude can act. There's no questioning it -- he deserves the Oscar that he will most likely win as he nails every scene. It's haunting how much you can see Waylon Jennings and hear Bill Joe Shaver in this role and in his voice, respectively.

Every thing in the movie is believable, including Gyllenhaal's performance (not to be overlooked). There's only a little back story, but you don't need it -- it is written in all the lines in Bad Blake's face. The only thing lacking is the ending, but you won't hear me complain too much.

Finally the movie wouldn't be nearly as believable as it is if Bad Blake didn't have his songs. They are a character in and of themselves. They are great country music. It makes you wonder why Nashville cannot get it right any more, yet Hollywood does. (It's probably because they have T Bone Burnett working as the music producer for the soundtrack.)

If you like music and are intrigued by the idea of what it takes to make it, you'll love this film. Forget that people are calling it this year's answer to The Wrestler -- this one's worth keeping because of its own merits.

4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, February 15, 2010

In Print: 'The Lovely Bones'



The Lovely Bones, the first novel by author Alice Sebold, tells the first-person account of Susie Salmon, a fourteen-year-old girl who is raped and murdered by a man from her neighborhood. Susie relates her story to the reader as she tries to adjust to her heaven, watch her family on back on Earth painstakingly adjust to life without her, and follow her murderer to his possible next victim.

The Lovely Bones starts out interestingly enough with the murder of its very protagonist. It goes to shit from there, though.

It is almost impossible to read as it is so poorly written. When it is not being vague about certain, important aspects of its plot (is Susie in heaven or viewing Earth?), it is simply cringe inducing. Take the lines Susie speaks about watching her mother in a particularly poorly foreshadowed event: "[i]n the darkness she imagined herself to be within her own heart, and a vision of the enlarged drawing from her doctor's office entered her head..." Yes, the writing is that bad much of the time.

If you can imagine, the ending of the novel is even more ridiculous. I actually made it that far, believe it or not. You can tell that it was just thrown in to try to tie up a lose end. It doesn't work.

I have heard that the movie version of this novel is equally bad, and it's no wonder. There's not much to work with here. It is a novel by an author who has yet to find her voice. The plot, while interesting, should have ended mid-way through the novel. It's too bad that it doesn't.

½ a star (out of 5)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

On DVD: Beer Wars


I love beer. It's delicious, it brings people together, it goes great with food, and it makes me happy. Of course, like pretty much every other goddamned thing I love (music, movies, college football), giant corporations are trying to ruin it.

Sadly, it's problem that goes largely unnoticed by the general public. That's what filmmaker Anat Baron hopes to change with her 2009 documentary, Beer Wars. Beer Wars focuses on the American beer industry, specifically the control that the major companies like Anheuser-Busch have over the industry.

The film follows two smaller brewers in Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Breweries, and Rhonda Kallman of New Century Brewing Company. Baron chronicles their struggles as Calagione tries to expand his brewery and fight through the barriers placed by the big boys, and Kallman tries to get her company off of the ground.

Baron explores how the large breweries use their distinct monetary advantage to corner the market through advertising and lobbyists. In one particularly revealing scene, Calagione gets a cease and desist order from Anheuser-Busch lawyers demanding he stop using the names of two of his beers, citing that they are too similar to AB beers. Thing is, Dogfish actually came out with their beers before AB.

The film is very successful at getting inside the industry, thanks to Baron's past experience as general manager of Mike's Hard Lemonade. She presents her argument very intelligently and thoroughly, and is also fairly entertaining along the way. While she has an obvious bias, the film is still a solid, thought-provoking and compelling documentary.

If you love/like beer, this is definitely worth your time.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Weekly List: 5 Bands That Should Play Another Show

(Editor's note: For the sake of argument, I consider many Birmingham bands to be a part of the Tuscaloosa music scene. It's only a forty-five minute drive; it feels like a second home when I visit that city.)

The music scene around Tuscaloosa, as with any arts collective around a college town, ebbs and flows. What makes it sad is that when the music scene flourishes, and it usually does so in cycles, you find that some bands have quit playing shows for whatever reason. Sometimes they re-form after a while. Many times they don't.

This is my call to see these particular five bands play again, whether they are on a hiatus or have stopped completely. The scene around Tuscaloosa, while good and growing, needs these bands to maintain what they once helped keep thriving when they were playing shows with regularity.

And, quite frankly, these bands are great enough to lay a dollar or two down for a rowdy night of entertainment. In no particular order:

1. ARKADELPHIA

The last incarnation of this band with the addition of keys had brought it to a higher level. The music was soulful, melodic, cocky, lustful, and Goddamn excellent. Of course, the heart and soul of this band are the songs of front man and songwriter Lee Bains III. The man can flat-out write rock n' roll riffs, as well as beautiful ballads. Rock n' roll was about getting people to dance, and Arkadelphia never failed. They always put on a good show. Bains is also sitting on an album that may never see the light of day. It's our Chinese Democracy, minus the shittiness.


2. SQUIRRELHOUSE

If you went to a Squirrelhouse show and didn't dance at least a little, something was wrong with you, not the band. Even with a mid-stream change of lead guitar playing from Patrick O'Sullivan to Micah Crane, the band didn't falter like some might. If you've heard the band's teases from their new album -- "All That Shit" from their MySpace or their latest video for "Apocalypso" -- you know that the writing, both musically and lyrically, is growing. But, where are the performances? Bogged down with school in Austin, Texas, songwriter Paul Hanninen will hopefully have time for some shows sooner than later.

3. 13GHOSTS

13ghosts' shows were methodical and building. They were perfect for the stoner in all of us. They had the right balance and blend of Southern rock and thoughtful balladry. Brad Armstrong's guitar strings were well worn from being bent over and over by show's end. Add that with his and Trey Mclemore's songwriting, and they put on powerful shows. And when you consider the fact that they were so masterful in the studio, you can't help but wonder why this band isn't playing at least once a month somewhere, if not more. Check out "Photographs" on their MySpace. It's a wonderful, well-written, and well-played song.

4. THE GOODNIGHT NOBODIES

When I first heard the song "You've Traveled Before" by the Goodnight Nobodies, it was stuck in my head for weeks on end (in a good way). I don't think that the recording of it that they have on their myspace page does it quite the justice that they do it in a live show; however, like all bands on this list, it's been entirely too long since they've played. You want to talk about rowdy and fun? That's what a Goodnight Nobodies' show was (and hopefully still is), pure and simple. Come on back to Egan's, guys, if you don't play anywhere else in the world again. They tear it up.

5. THE BANGTAIL CATS

The last time I saw this (now-defunct) band, my friend and I looked at one another and said, "This is the best I've ever heard them," which, by the way, was not a cut on their previously-played shows. They were simply growing. It didn't look like they were slowing down, either. The next thing I know, they broke up for this reason or that after only releasing one album, The Get Down. Why they broke up isn't my concern; I just want to see them again. Their songs, sounds, and chemistry were getting solid as hell, and I was eager to go along for the ride. Sadly, two of their members have been meshed with pieces of the Southpaw Bandits and have been reduced to a cover band. It's almost as if they quit just as they were getting a head of steam.


You put all these bands on one bill, and not only would they pack the place, but they would tear it down. If/when they do play shows, go see them. Maybe that's why some of them stopped when they did -- they thought that no one really cared or listened. Well, shit, I do, and I can't wait to see them play them songs again.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hear Them Songs: Druid City Arts Benefit Concert

Druid City Arts Benefit Concert featuring The Motions and Sparrow & the Ghost -- Little Willie's, Tuscaloosa, AL, Sat. Feb. 13, 2010



Well, after the big date--be it dinner, a movie, or just snuggle time (with yourself), take it all down to Little Willie's for some live music.

You've heard of the Motions. Now it's time to see them if you haven't already. Little Willie's is a great room to catch a show, too.

Plus, this concert is designed to help benefit the Druid City Arts. The great, hardworking folks at Druid City Arts plan to bring us the Druid City Arts Festival in late March, and they'll need our help to do it.

You have to support folks who are trying to make something happen with the Tuscaloosa music scene, not the likes of which have been seen since the fabled Tuscapalooza. It's truly about time we have a music and arts festival that bases itself on Alabama (and, believe it or not, mostly Tuscaloosa) music. In fact, with the daytime line up and bar participation they have so far for the Druid City Arts Festival in March, this is promising to be one of the best music and arts festivals ever in Tuscaloosa.

So, go hear some great music, see some great musicians you may have only heard about at this point, support the local scene, and help make Tuscaloosa get better all in one night.

(Hint: if you really wanted to see the Motions, they play the night before at Egan's for free. Go see that they are truly talented; that way you can brag to your date that you are an old fan of theirs on Saturday night when you are all together at Little Willie's.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Random Cool Shit: Custom Made



Actually, this video might force us to change the name of this particular post to "Random Awesome Shit" instead of "Random Cool Shit."

Not to make this blog focus solely on wrestling (it won't), I just couldn't let this one go without sharing. Every few months, I'll dig this video back up from youtube and watch it again. It's worth it. Let me explain what you should do: even if you hate wrestling, don't turn it off during the opening speech by Ric Flair. It will all come together.

You see, what he's doing in those opening minutes is what's called "cutting a promo" in professional wrestling. This proves he was simply stunning at what others may simply call "talking shit." Hey, it's an art form, even if it isn't credited as being one. The proof is all there, though - if you can put it to music and end up with a hilarious, yet great, rap song, you must be pretty damn good, if not custom made.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Weekly List: The 5 Best Wrestling Finshers of All Time

We here at The Alabama Take are all professional wrestling fans (and it is still pro wrestling, Vince McMahon, not “sports entertainment”), and we ain’t afraid to admit it. It’s theater, plain and simple, and it’s damn good theater when the writers get it right.

But, this isn’t about me convincing you to start watching rasslin’, nope. Rather, I was watching the Royal Rumble the other night, and as usual it turned into a finisher-fest at one point. Wrestling historian I am, I've decided to make a list of the best finishers in pro wrestling history (you lucky dogs).

In the words of The Rock: Just bring it.

5. Shooting Star Press – Evan Bourne

Pure athleticism. It’s not only amazing that Bourne can pull off the maneuver, but just look at the height he gets. It almost pains me to make this the only high-flying move on this list over Randy Savage’s flying elbow drop, but I just can’t deny the awesomeness that is the Shooting Star Press.

4. DDT – Jake “The Snake” Roberts/Raven

I’ve always been a sucker for a good DDT. It may be tame, but a really well executed DDT just resonates through an arena. Jake Roberts lays claim to inventing the move, and nobody has done it better since him – maybe with the exception of Raven and his version, the Evenflow/Raven Effect.

3. Figure-Four Leg Lock – “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair

Some might argue that the Sharpshooter/Scorpion Death Lock is more fearsome. Others may say that Kurt Angle’s anklelock is more intense. But no submission move matches the Figure-Four, applied by the one and only Ric Flair. Wooooo!

2. Stone Cold Stunner – “Stone Cold” Steve Austin

This one has it all. It looks devastating. It can come out of nowhere. It gets a huge pop from the crowd. And then after all of that, he flips you off, talks trash, and drinks beer in your face. That’s the bottom line.

1. Canadian Destroyer – Petey Williams

Yeah, that just happened. No, you probably haven’t heard of him or seen this before. Why? Because TNA writers are morons, that’s why. But still, he gave us this; and when he can pull it off, it’s damn impressive.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hear Them Songs: Haiti Relief Benefit Showcase

Haiti Relief Benefit featuring Holly Puckett, Adam Morrow of Callooh! Callay!, and Blaine Duncan -- The Mellow Mushroom, Tuscaloosa, AL, Sat. Feb 6, 2010

We all know what the main attraction is this weekend, but you gotta have something to do before Sunday, right?

Well, Saturday night is an excellent chance for you to get out, have fun and help those in need all at the same time. The Mellow Mushroom is hosting a Haiti Relief Benefit Showcase, presented by SHARE and the Planet Weekly, featuring acoustic acts from Holly Puckett, Adam Morrow of Callooh! Callay!, Blaine Duncan and DJ Sugarfree.

The cover is $10, with all proceeds going to the American Red Cross. Now, if you're bitching about losing a Hamilton consider this: the money goes to a good cause, and there's -- wait for it -- FREE pizza (!). That's right, free pizza from the Mellow Mushroom.

So, let's review: $10 gets you four great acts, pizza and a good feeling that you helped a great cause. What else you got to do?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Random Cool Shit: The Wire's 100 Greatest Quotes

The Wire. In this man's opinion, it's the best television drama ever created. Luckily, someone took a ton of time to create this montage of some of the best quotes from the show.

Couple of notes: it's long, 10 minutes to be exact. Also, wouldn't watch it at work if I were you. Finally, if you haven't seen The Wire, what the hell are you waiting for?

Concert Review: Drive-By Truckers w/ Dexateens

After finishing a song, Dexateens front-man Elliott McPherson paused, took a look at an almost full-capacity Jupiter crowd and proclaimed, “It’s about damn time Tuscaloosa showed up for a rock and roll show! Roll Tide!”

With that the crowd roared back, and the band ripped into their next song.

McPherson was right. Tuscaloosa showed up in full force for the Drive-By Truckers and Dexateens; and the bands responded by giving the people a full-fledged rock and roll assault. Ironic, days after I made this post that I was part of a spectacular atmosphere for a T-town show.

The hometown boys set the tone for the night with their fast-paced, boisterous opening act. Their trademark on-stage charisma flowed through the crowd, and tagged with their impressive stable of punk-infused Southern rock (including – if my ears did not deceive me – a new number or two), ignited the spirits of the audience.

Then the Truckers rode in, full of whiskey and swagger, ready to pick up where the Dexateens left off. Patterson Hood was just a smilin’ fool, launching into songs while talking up a storm and spreading cheer through the faithful like some rock and roll Santa Claus.

With a library stocked full of crowd favorites, DBT really couldn’t go wrong with their selections, playing old standards like “Let There Be Rock,” “Lookout Mountain,” “Women Without Whiskey,” “3 Dimes Down,” “Marry Me,” and “18 Wheels of Love.” And, true to the souvenir guy’s word to me before the show, the boys (and girl) even broke out a good number of new songs from their upcoming album, The Big To-Do.

But what really fueled the show was the audience. Receptive and responsive, they could feel the music and the bands fed off of the energy; and it paid off in a great encore. Kicked off by DBT throwing a curveball and rocking KISS’s “Strutter,” the Dexateens then joined them for a few songs, including Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” and Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died.”

All and all, it was an outstanding show, hopefully indicative of things to come. Because when bands get that kind of turnout, word gets around, and maybe we’ll get more than cover bands in such an underutilized joint like the Jupiter (of course, that’s a whole ‘nother story…).

Until then, let there be rock.