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listeners all know what she's capable of.
Keys possesses an incredibly flexible voice
and a clear gift for musical lyricism. It's a
bummer to hear her play it so safe, with
tepidly pleasant, harmless songs.
But Keys's substantial talent as an art-
ist keeps The Element of Freedom from
degenerating into pure sentimentalism.
Although the album's focus is mostly
centered on relationships and break-ups,
never once do the love songs sound trite,
Keys should heed
her own advice.
cloying or obvious. If anything, Keys
maintains an understatement in her songs
that expressively reflects her personal
demeanor. Unfortunately, sometimes the
subtlety of her songs translates into an
unexciting listen. ,
The album, a mix of forgettable pop bal-
lads and the occasional epically awesome
anthem, starts to pick up about halfway
through its cumbersomely lengthy 16-track
running order. The first half, which seems
to almost entirely consist of easy-listening
for the over-30 crowd, makes for unobtru-
sive ambiance, but won't particularly stick
or resonate with the hipper, younger set.
"Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart" is just
as bland as its title sounds, keeping in line
with the album's flavorless first half.
Monday, December 14, 2009 -7A
But the album does contain the occa-
sional sparkler. "Like the Sea" samples
Debussy's "Arabesque #1"to terrific effect.
The nostalgic, trickling piano notes pro-
vide a familiar backdrop to Keys's emotive
vocals - a clever, believably organic blend-
ing of the old and the new.
Clear album standout "Empire State
of Mind (Part II)" is a refreshing alterna-
tive to the first, overexposed collabora-
tion with Jay-Z of the same title. There is
an honesty in this track that the original
lacked. Keys shines on her own in this
epic, exhilarating love note to the great-
est of American cities - "Concrete jungles
where dreams are made of / There's noth-
ing you can't do."
On the other hand, Keys's collabora-
tion with the Mrs. Jay-Z, Beyonc6, is not
nearly as "fierce" (to borrow a term from
the missus). "Put it in a Love Song" seems
to lack inspiration. It's an infectious tune,
but not a memorable one, despite the talent
and wow-factor of Keys and Knowles. Both
artists are known for their striking, unique
voices, but in their collaboration, scale back
to accommodate the other, which dimin-
ishes the potential of the track.
Although The Element of Freedom is a
decent album, it lacks punch. While a few
gems are sprinkled among a landscape
of relatively lackluster songs, they aren't
nearly precious enough to carry the weight
of the album.
The opening track, "The Element of
Freedom," has Keys sermonizing about
taking risks: "And the day came / when the
risk it took / to remain tight and closed in
the bud / was more painful / than the risk
it took bloom."
It would be nice had Keys taken her own
advice on the album itself
last decade or so of his career. De Niro
plays Frank, an old widower trying to get
in touch with his children after the pass-
ing of his wife. But - as those needing to
learn life lessons in forgettable holiday
films often are - his kids are too busy
with big-city jobs and problems to care
for their poor, lonely father.
Frank wanders from town to town,
discovering things about his kids he
never knew and maybe learning some
lessons of his own. This makes for a
grim, stale and downright boring journey
that is foremost an exercise in cinematic
incompetence. Though audiences gen-
erally buy into sappy holiday films, that
simply cannot happen here; so little is the
film's regard for its audience's patience
and common sentiment.
A disjointed disaster, "Everybody's Fine"
may score a couple of smiles from the Medi-
care crowd, but even they know a decided
dud when they see one.
My dream battle royale
he way I see it, there are four
great TV shows that either
spawned or were spawned by
game franchises: "Beyblade," "Yu-Gi-
Oh!," "Pok6mon," and
Monsters." These ter-
rific 'toons held my
childhood self rapt on
many a Saturday morn-
ing. And to this day, I
find myself perusing
YouTube listening to JAME
the old theme songs BLOCK
that captivated me, -------
every so often watching a full episode.
But there is one mystery regarding
these four shows that remains unsolved,
even now: Which one is the best? They
are all magnificent works of overdubbed
art. But which one rises above the rest as
champion of the children's anime world?
There's only one way to solve this. As
Yugi Moto so wisely yells, "It's time to
The Underdog Bracket:
"Beyblade" vs. "Digimon"
In the blue corner, we have "Beyblade,"
an epic anime centered on battle tops
- yes, battle tops. But these aren't your
grandma's fighting dreidels. These twirl-
ing towers of weaponry are equipped
with blades, spikes and, most important-
ly, the spirits of ancient mythical beasts.
In the red corner, we have "Digimon,"
a world of computer-generated giants
and the kids who must save it. With such
convoluted, ripped-off terms like "digivo-
lution," "digivice" and, oh I dunno, "Digi-
mon," you know the show is full of tacky,
overblown digi-goodness. And as the
theme song proudly proclaims: "Digimon
are the champions." But are they really?
"Beyblade" launches into the arena,
armed with a simple formula of show-
ing off tournament competition in its
fictional, top-centric world. But in stomps
"Digimon" atop an angry Raidramon,
highlighting the show's subdued-yet-
spiky anime style.
All of a sudden, a giant dragon emerges
from "Beyblade" for some unexplained
reason, but "Digimon" swiftly evades
the monster and lunges in for a bite to
the jugular (if tops have jugular veins).
The dragon re-emerges, and "Digimon"
once again evades. With such limited
subject matter and repetitive plot form,
"Beyblade" can't win. The engaging plot
advancement of "Digimon" is just too
quick. "Digimon" wins the bout, and the
dreidel comes up nun.
The Popular Bracket:
"Yu-Gi-Oh!" vs. "Pokdmon"
In the mauve corner, we have "Yu-Gi-
Oh!," the ultimate in spiky-haired, card-
dueling tomfoolery. With a strong set of
developed characters, small-business
struggles, corrupt CEOs and a more-than-
healthy dose of Egyptian mythology,
there was no theme "Yu-Gi-Oh!" couldn't
touch. Combine all that with elves, drag-
ons, traps, magic and giant holograms
and you've got a nerd's wet dream.
in the chartreuse corner sits "Pok6-
mon," which requires no introduction.
Accompanying one of the best game
franchises of all time, the show made
everyone's favorite cute and cuddly com-
panions even cuter and cuddlier. Add to
this an unfailing sense of humor, great
music and moral messages and you've got
one hell of a series.
"Pok6mon" chooses you, Pikachu,
with your adorable, children-friendly
pugnacity. Meanwhile, Yugi Moto sum-
mons his favorite monster, Dark Magi-
cian, revealing the darker fantasy vibe of
Oh no! Oh yes!
"Yu-Gi-Oh!" Pikachu tries to use tackle,
but misses when he does a pratfall for
attempted comedic affect. It's not very
effective. But Pikachu recovers and uses
Thundershock, illuminating the visual
spectacles of the "Pokdmon" series. But
then Yugi yells "You've activated my trap
card," and you fuckin' know all is lost
for the little electric mouse. With unpre-
dictability inherent to the card game it
features, "Yu-Gi-Oh!" defeats the overly
immature and formulaic "Pok6mon"
series. "Meowth, that's right," everyone.
The Championship Round:
All right, readers, this shit just got real.
Let's slow things down and have a real,
detailed fight here. Nothing dirty. Noth-
ing below the belt (not that the target
audiences for these shows even know
what that means). And no more oddly
scripted pseudo-battles. This is important
stuff we're doing.
It's no coincidence that the two darker
shows made it to the finals. It's an inde-
scribably impressive feat to create a show
that keeps children engaged (by some-
thing other than paralyzing fear) while
still maintaining a sense of foggy, sinister
intrigue for older audiences. Yugi's grand-
father was kidnapped by a corporate
monster, and there's an entire alternate
reality in "Yu-Gi-Oh!" appropriately
titled "The Shadow Realm."
The Dark Emperor of "Digimon," on
the other hand, was none other than
the depressed, overachieving pariah
from school with a vendetta against the
world. Both shows pull off the drama to
a point, but "Digimon" undeniably goes
deeper into the perils of human and
digimon psyches. "Yu-Gi-Oh!" presents
trauma in the form of an epic mission
designed to inspire impressionable kids
while "Digimon" shows life's hardships
as they really are, except the show's
brooding anti-hero gets a virtual world
in which to vent.
But for any fantastical show, the fiction
realm where it unfolds must be perfected
and captivating. "Digimon" presents a
stereotypical middle school experience,
paired with a visually stunning digital
world. But, at Ieast in the first season,
much of "Yu-Gi-Oh!" takes place purely
in reality, with fantasy elements appear-
ing only in the form of the namesake card
game. And even when the show takes a
trip to ancient Egypt, there is a stron-
ger sense of reality. Because "Digimon"
doesn't make its real-world setting suf-
ficiently exciting, "Yu-Gi-Oh!" wins the
setting scuffle with its corrupt corporate
Visually, both shows are equally
matched, though they sport notably dif-
ferent aesthetics. In the end, the true
decider must be addictiveness. Both
shows are great diversions, but only one
keeps you coming back week after week.
Barring the last few episodes of each sea-
son, it's safe to miss an episode of "Yu-Gi-
Oh!" and just assume someone challenged
one member of the main cast and lost. But
with "Digimon," every moment is vital.
The world isunder constant threat, the
characters are constantly forming and
shifting their relationships with their
digimon and with one another. And new
powers, forms and realms are always
It was a long and noble effort by both
competitors, but in the end there can only
be one winner. And as the show itself so
presciently postulated, "Digimon are the
Block is dreaming up another tournament:
all-time-best pocket protector. Nominate
your favorites to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ARTS IN BRIEF
Sappy De Niro pic is
At the Quality 16 and Showcase
"Everybody's Fine," an unabashed
tear-jerker of wandering form and nar-
rative, is definitely one of two things:
an OK film that only those with age and
experience will appreciate, or simply
a horrendous conception that is stock,
sterile holiday Hollywood fare at its
worst. It certainly seems to be leaning
toward the latter.
The film stars the venerable Robert
De Niro in another of the many forget-
table roles that have characterized the
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