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  CONSUMABLES: RELOADED, 50 CENT, DOWN WITH LOVE, AND AFI'S GLOOMSTER ROCK.  
   
   
   
 

THE MATRIX RELOADED, DIRECTED BY THE WACHOWSKI BROTHERS
If you can survive the first 40 minutes or so, you'll be just fine. What once was spectacular in a just-wait-'til-you-see-what-we'll-do-next kinda way has now ground down to a high level of craftsmanship and execution. Keanu Reeves has found himself in this role - his more-with-less acting centers the whole film. If we're stuck with (sigh) council meetings, then we're also blessed with a highway car chase that reminds you of great ones past and then blows 'em all away. If we lose the twists and turns of the original, then we gain some great new characters. And if we get to complain that this one ain't as amazing as the first, then we should be able to enjoy the proficiency and care that's been shown here. It'll help you forget those council scenes and Jada Pinkett Smith. B+

DOWN WITH LOVE, DIRECTED BY PEYTON REED
A triumph of look and nostalgia. It mimics an era without satire or commentary - it loves the Hudson-Doris pictures and hopes the date-movie crowd will have at least heard of them. Free of the burden of Obi-Wan, Ewan McGregor grins, relaxes, and keeps the whole thing together. He embodies the swingin' '60s without condescension; he's never quite commanded a movie like he does here. That, and a whole lot of pretty surface, is enough for a diverting evening. B-

M. WARD "TRANSFIGURATION OF VINCENT"
Indie purists love their underdogs - those just-me-and-my-songs oddballs who crawl out of the small towns and weird bogs that make up most of America: Sparklehorse, Conor Oberst, even Spoon. These misfits' distinct, though not always worthwhile, voices give comfort that there are things out there not yet mass-marketed by Clear Channel. And into that world stumbles Mr. Ward. From its impenetrable title to the insular instrumental segues between the real songs, the man's second record risks coyness at every turn. What saves him is sincerity and uncalculated emotion - even the '80s Bowie cover refuses to wink at the knowing hipsters in the room. He's warm and romantic and heartbroken. What any of this has to do with Vincent I'll happily leave to the obsessives on the Internet and the albinos who run 'zines everywhere. A-

YEAH YEAH YEAHS "FEVER TO TELL"
Karen O's angry even though she isn't always articulate, liberating, or cleansing. But she and her band refuse to be one-note, either. Her voice has shadows of PJ Harvey and Chrissie Hynde, underloved and vulnerable without giving an inch. She isn't to the level of either of them yet - songs that accompany the vengeful riffs 'n' noise will go a long way toward helping on that front. But when she connects on "Maps," it gives us all hope that she'll go beyond the shock tactics to something more permanently human. And, in another sign of progress, her album improves with each play - and gains in momentum and depth as it rolls along. B+

50 CENT "GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN'"
If this walking bullet wound wasn't produced by Dre and Em, would you care as much? His casual ferocity can't be questioned, but his hype sure can. Here is one more inner-city thug who discovered he could make a ton in hip-hop without risking jail. He sings about vendettas, drugs, the 5-0 - nothing too surprising there. But his ripped-from-his-own-headlines routine gets tiresome over 19 tracks. And what does it mean that my favorite moments are when Em cameos or when "In Da Club" comes back on - songs, in other words, that have nothing specific to do with 50 Cent? B

THE MUSIC "THE MUSIC"
These total poseurs get by more on charisma than they do hooks. Multi-taskers will be happy to know that you can read a book, call your loved ones, balance your checkbook, and work on your memoirs with this humming in the background - such weightless guitar bravado never taxes your brain but also never sounds less than pleasant. And upon closer inspection, the sheer force of this band's attitude washes over you, giving you the impression that there's some mighty rockin' occurring. Insubstantial but also unpretentious. B

 

 
 

GOOD THINGS.

MC HONKY "I AM THE MESSIAH"
We had come to know what to expect from Eels albums, and apparently so did E himself. Sick of his persona - delicate emotions paired off with caustic cynicism - he creates a bogus doppelganger to hide behind. MC Honky is purportedly a fiftysomething recluse, specializing in remix wizardry. In other words, it's E's dream come true - a studio dabbler free of expectations or singer-songwriter trappings. And so, without warning, E makes the most buoyant album of his career. Where E the Artist was limited by the Beck similarities, Honky lets them fly, spoofing and goofing as if "Odelay" never happened. Side projects are always doomed by the curse of inside jokes and self-indulgence, but, then again, so are E's official studio albums. And this thing is funny and wistful in ways that normal Eels projects won't allow themselves to be. What a throwaway. A-

 

BAD THINGS.

AFI "SING THE SORROW"
Hilariously overwrought, hard rock bands of the 21st century dabble in a spooky gloom they must assume makes them seem less ridiculous than those wussy vampire bands like Concrete Blonde or the Cure from a generation before. On a big-label debut, this group needn't worry about "selling out" or "compromising their principles" - the pseudo-darkness they hawk is precisely why Dreamworks signed them. Davey Havok sings in the same hopelessly generic style that's plagued every Saliva and P.O.D. you care to mention. His band opts for "atmosphere" every chance they get. Does Butch Vig truly have nothing better to do with his producing time? C-

EMINEM "SING FOR THE MOMENT"
Since "Without Me" announced his return, bratty as ever, Eminem and his handlers have systematically challenged his audience and defied his haters by unleashing single after single that doesn't fit his legend: the dark introspection of "Cleanin' Out My Closet," the inspirational grit of "Lose Yourself." But now comes this. "The Eminem Show" has smarter, riskier, better tracks than this one - each would further distance Marshall from the narrow assumptions people have of him. But sampling Aerosmith won't convince anyone you're a good father or that you deserve to spew your vitriol. I don't mind when he tries to shock me, but I sure as hell resent when he acts this whiny while still thinking he's preaching for White America. C+

 
 

 

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*BT*

Tim Grierson is an editor of The Simon, a weekly online publication of culture, politics, and humor.