Jennifer Hudson: Self-Titled

Since winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Dreamgirls, American Idol alumna Jennifer Hudson has spent nearly two years crafting her eponymous debut album. The final product is one that is as much of a vocal triumph for Hudson as it is an inconsistent hodgepodge of musical directions. From gritty urban soul to syrupy adult contemporary pop, Hudson tries to please every audience, an ambition exacerbated by the 11 different producers hired to helm the album’s 13 songs.

Polanski: Wanted Man, Desirable Film

Famed director Roman Polanski’s life story (Chinatown, The Pianist) is one that has been told many times: born to Polish parents during the Holocaust, he was left parentless by his teen years and continued to face many hardships after. From the tragic murder of his wife to a turbulent and highly public legal battle — the documentary’s primary focus — Roman Polanski is a man of much intrigue.

The Pussycat Dolls' Doll Domination

Before I begin the task of critically examining the Pussycat Dolls’ latest album, let’s address the obvious: the Pussycat Dolls are the most blatantly manufactured pop group in today’s music scene, and their music is as deep and as credible as an episode of The Simple Life. Now that that’s out of the way, I will proceed.

L.L. Cool J.'s Exit 13

L.L. Cool J has always been a dualistic rapper, maintaining a hard persona for the streets while keeping his albums smooth for the ladies. Since 2002’s 10, LL’s releases have skewed towards the latter, with singles like “Luv U Better,” “Hush” and “Control Myself,” catering directly to his female fan base. Exit 13 — his 13th and final release for longtime label Def Jam — marks a complete departure from these sensual grooves, as this insufferably lengthy album features harsh, brassy beats accompanied by equally garish rhymes. Aside from the radio-friendly lead single “Baby,” the tracks lack any semblance of excitement or catchiness, as LL buries some appealing old-school grooves (“Feel My Heart Beat”) with nonsensical rhymes.

New Grandpas on the Block

Let’s get one thing straight: NKOTB is one elder boy band. With every member pushing the age of forty, these “Kids” are hardly new. Scoring their first hit single more than two decades ago, the boys have been dormant as a group since the mid-90s. Now grown up, they have re-emerged on the pop music scene. Lead single “Summertime” was a pleasant enough bit of nostalgia that radio lukewarmly received it, sending the song into the top 40. However, the group has not scored a top 10 single in 18 years, and the New Kids feel the pressure of winning back their chart success. These all too obvious realities make their 2008 reunion release The Block a squirm-inducing affair, as the group jarryingly tries to recapture its youth and desperately attempts to fit in with current trends.

Test Spin: Madonna

Over Madonna’s 25-year career, it’s always been nearly impossible to separate her music from her image; the two reflect each other so much that it’s often difficult to discern which came first. This tendency worried me, as the garishly horrific — and eerily pornographic — cover to Hard Candy suggested that the singer’s new album would be an equally atrocious listening experience. Thankfully, Madonna — for the most part — breaks from her image-equals-music tradition, as Hard Candy is a relentlessly modern, savvy collection of hip-pop that gleams with sleek, silky R&B and disco influences.

Ain’t No Drama in Baby Mama

As a huge fan of 30 Rock, Saturday Night Live and Mean Girls — basically anything that involves Tina Fey — I was looking forward to seeing Fey’s latest film Baby Mama. To heighten my anticipation, the film’s two-minute trailer was promisingly suggestive of hearty belly-laughs and sharp satirical humor. Sadly, by the end of this film, I was left longing for 30 Rock’s infinitely better satire about the advantaged and self-involved. Baby Mama is an utterly predictable, if inoffensive, film that offers a few quiet chuckles but never delivers on its promise.

Test Spin: Ashlee Simpson

There probably has never been an artist as shamelessly unauthentic as Ashlee Simpson. Whether aping Hilary Duff on her fizzy-pop debut or mimicking Avril Lavigne on her dourly angst-ridden follow-up, Ashlee Simpson’s sound has always been manufactured solely to follow the trends. Thus, it should surprise no one that Simpson has yet again transformed herself — this time into a Gwen-Stefani-meets-Nelly-Furtado hybrid — by trading in her angry guitar-riffs for electro-urban dance beats clad with ’80s synthesizers and incessantly catchy pop hooks.

Test Spin: Mariah Carey

Hate her or love her, you can’t deny that Mariah Carey makes popular records — she recently broke Elvis Presley’s all-time record for most #1 hits by a solo artist. Although her new album, E=MC2, is far from an artistic breakthrough — it faithfully follows the formula laid out on Emancipation of Mimi — it is by far her most enjoyable effort in over a decade. What’s refreshing here is how pristine Mariah’s voice sounds; her vocals dosn’t come off nearly as shrill as they did on Emancipation. She sounds like a powerhouse again, particularly on standouts “I Stay In Love” and “For the Record.” The breathy, indiscernible vocals of post-millennium Mariah are also missing — this record finds Carey belting out tunes almost like the old days.

Britain Overrun By Zombies … Again

“Well that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.” Those were the exact words that ran through my head — and through the mouth of a fellow movie-goer — after viewing Doomsday, the latest film by British filmmaker Neil Marshall (who also directed 2005’s horror flick about spelunking, The Descent). To be honest, the fact that Doomsday was a mess of a film and I still did not loathe it basically sums up the movie pretty well. Although certainly not a masterpiece by any stretch, Doomsday is an ambitious — if exceptionally bizarre — end-of-the-world flick that wildly mashes up futuristic, medieval and cannibalistic elements into 105 combative minutes of mayhem and anguish.