Stories for December 2006

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Sunday, December 31

Have a seat: Iconic theater replacing balcony chairs

Progress of sorts is about to fill up classic Liberty Hall. Workers Friday were removing 400 decades-old balcony seats to make way for newer ones.

Saturday, December 30

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Review: Marvel Ultimate Alliance (PS3)

If you've got four controllers and some friends to play with, then I'd highly recommend checking out Marvel Ultimate Alliance. It may have a few glitches, but the extremely replayable and customizable nature of the game make it a very entertaining experience.

Biblical body sculpting

Diet, exercise, faith combine to help parishioners shed extra pounds

When the Rev. James Taylor recently received a photo from a wedding he performed over the summer, he barely recognized the man in the picture. "I had jelly rolls," he says. "It was embarrassing."

Friday, December 29

Review: Ridge Racer 7 (PS3)

The single player will last gamers quite a while, and the online play only extends the experience. Well worth checking out for racing fans with a PS3.

Review: SOCOM Combined Assault (PS2)

While Socom US Navy Seals: Combined Assault suffers from many of the shortcomings of previous titles, it features enough new and worthwhile content to elevate it out of the ranks of a standard sequel.

Review: Xiaolin Showdown (DS)

It has a few interesting features in the way of branching skill trees and minigame-style Showdowns, but a combat system that never feels very immersive brings the experience down.

Review: Online Chess Kingdoms (PSP)

While it is largely hit-or-miss (with an emphasis on miss) Online Chess Kingdoms at least stands out in comparison to other chess sims.

Review: My Frogger Toy Trials (DS)

My Frogger is another solid entry in a series that has been running strong for a quarter of a century now. The story feels somewhat tacked on, but the core gameplay is every bit as good as the past titles.

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New Year's Heave

Resolutions and regurgitations from the newsmakers of 2006

Punditocracy turns to the New Year's Resolutions of the famous and powerful, because no one cares about the pilates DVD you bought at Target.

Going retro

A look back at the local A&E stories that made 2006

When it comes to Lawrence, the term "arts and entertainment" encompasses a huge field.Everything from punk band concerts to poetry readings to gallery openings to live theater performances to movie productions fall under this banner.

Thursday, December 28

'Dreamgirls' a loud and phony mess

"Dreamgirls," based on the 1981 hit Broadway play, has been hyped all year as a frontrunner for Best Picture, and now that it has finally arrived, it turns out to be as phony as Pat Boone covering a Little Richard tune. It is big and showy and loud, but director Bill Condon's attempts to make the movie more socially relevant than the theatrical production instead just highlight what little soul was there in the first place.

Top stories from 2006

The most-read articles on lawrence.com from the last year

Even though it's been years since we made up our collective mind to ignore Fred Phelps, somehow he still manages to be the strongest magnet for popular attention. Our piece on a local filmmaker's documentary about the Phelps family was lawrence.com's most read story last year.

Wednesday, December 27

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Smell Smoke?

Hip-hop maestro Miles Bonny lights a fire down below

For his solo debut maestro Miles Bonny slips into something sexy and strides to the front of the stage.

Monday, December 25

Holiday haiku

Readers offer poems celebrating winter season

We challenged readers for holiday, winter themes composed in haiku Fortunately, the subsequent submissions revealed a much better command of the medium than the above introduction.

Sunday, December 24

Strip deals wry Pearls of wisdom

Cartoonist Stephan Pastis lives on the edge. As the creator of the wildly popular comic strip Pearls Before Swine, he's simultaneously trying to captivate a generation that turns to "South Park," "Family Guy" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" for laughs AND make a living selling his strip to daily newspapers, whose subscriber base skews toward the over-50 crowd.

Friday, December 22

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Tolls for thee

"I know what it's like to be without a job and have bills to pay," says veteran and volunteer for the Salvation Army, Jeff Curtis. ": I know what it's like to be rejected. I know what it's like to be in need, and in need of friends. And I know what it's like to go hungry."

Methodical 'Good Shepherd' full of secrets, sad truths

There are men who do the killing and then there are the men with the real power the ones who order the kill. As far as espionage movies go, Robert DeNiro's sophomore directorial effort "The Good Shepherd" probably gets closer to what it is really like in the shadowy business of state secrets than many other movies do. It can't really all be hot babes and high-tech gadgetry al the time, can it Mr. Bond?

Former 'Idol' contestant hits high note with 'Dreamgirls'

'The title of the film is "Dreamgirls," but it could have been called "A Star Is Born." Former "American Idol" contestant Jennifer Hudson absolutely walks away with this big, splashy dazzler of a picture, based on the 1981 Broadway musical, even before performing her plaintive, showstopping number, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." And that's quite a feat.

Thursday, December 21

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Review: Call of Duty 3 (PS3)

The single-player may only be worth one or two playthroughs, but I can see many gamers getting countless hours battling the Nazis online.

Review: Tony Hawk's Project 8 (PS3)

Despite the added immersion provided by the SIXAXIS controls, they're cumbersome and you'll oftentimes find yourself starting manuals when you don't want to.

Review: The Ant Bully (Wii)

You can throw items, swing your stick, and a few other minor functions with the Wii-mote, but it really does nothing to enhance the already-bland experience.

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A Baby-Eating Secularist's Guide to Waging a Better War on Christmas

Do you resent Jesus for making everyone else celebrate his birthday? Has your good will toward men soured into sociopathic rage toward carolers? Do you feel an uncontrollable urge to beat the feces out of that fat child predator in the red suit who smells like cheap wine and hangs out at the mall? If you've answered "Yes" to any of these questions, then you're probably bipolar...but you're also a potential recruit for the War on Christmas!

Review: Fight Night Round 3 (PS3)

Even if you're not a huge boxing fan, give this one a shot. If you're new to the series, go ahead and purchase this immediately if you want the best boxing simulation available.

Tuesday, December 19

Taking a shot among the pros

LHS photographers have work accepted, honored in five-state competition

As an artist, it takes courage to create something and then let other people see it.

Monday, December 18

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Review: Castlevania Portrait of Ruin (DS)

Omitting the touchscreen elements was a great idea, and the ability to switch between characters is a nice twist to the series. Portrait of Ruin belongs in any DS owner's library.

March of the Santas

Carvings of Ol' St. Nick adorn Lawrence artisan's garage

Dick Smith opens the cabinet, and dozens of white-bearded, portly wood carvings peer out.

Sunday, December 17

Review: Final Fantasy III (DS)

While there isn't much competition on DS at this point, Final Fantasy III is a solid RPG that sets the standard for those to come.

Review: Company of Heroes (PC)

Before you write off the WWII setting as over-used, give this a try. It's easily one of the most immersive strategy games of this, or any other, year.

Artist creates rural world to escape chaos

Susan Hunt-Wulkowicz grew up amid concrete and skyscrapers in downtown Chicago, but she always dreamed of a life in the country.

Saturday, December 16

Cultural spin

Traditional holiday game has roots in study of faith

Noah Kenn hopes to spin his way to a sugar high this week. He'll be playing dreidel - a traditional Jewish game played during Hanukkah - and trying to win gelt, which are chocolate coins.

Friday, December 15

This is My Condition opens up many avenues for one-man band

Musician Craig Comstock doesn't have to worry about dealing with prima donna lead singers, irresponsible drummers or lazy guitarists. That's because Comstock performs all those duties himself in his solo act dubbed This is My Condition.

Smith finds success in 'Happyness'

"The Pursuit of Happyness" is the biography of a real guy named Christopher Gardner, whom Will Smith, charming and bright, embodies to the fingertips. As the film has it, Chris is (a) extremely likable, (b) a whiz with numbers and (c) a total loser.

'Eragon' a very draggin' dragon tale

Fans of wunderkind author Christopher Paolini's mystical "Inheritance" series should race to see the film version of the opening chapter, "Eragon." It'll be Era-gone in a week.

Thursday, December 14

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Review: Happy Feet (Wii)

I'd be shocked if anyone anywhere can play this game for more than 10 minutes without being bored out of their minds.

Wednesday, December 13

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Review: Superman Returns (360)

It has some redeeming values, especially in the humor department, but the gameplay is far too generic and repetitive to recommend Superman Returns.

Review: Rampage Total Destruction (Wii)

You can move the Wii-mote from side-to-side or smash it down to do basic attacks, but it's not really that much more immersive than repeatedly tapping the button.

Tuesday, December 12

Review: Cars (Wii)

Many aspects of the title work well within this environment, but the package as a whole is brought down due to some pretty generic racing gameplay that offers nothing new.

Monday, December 11

Review: Call of Duty 3 (360)

The single-player may only be worth one or two playthroughs, but I can see many gamers getting countless hours battling the Nazis online.

Review: Call of Duty 3 (Wii)

Call of Duty 3 certainly features better controls than Ubisoft's Red Steel disappointment, but it's a hard sell considering that the 360 version is noticeably superior.

Review: Winx (DS)

If you have a daughter that wants this game, buy her Grand Theft Auto, a bottle of Jack, and a hunting knife instead. It will ruin her childhood a lot less.

Review: Need For Speed Carbon (Wii)

The tacked-on Wii controls and lack of online multiplayer hurt, but Carbon is still a fun racing title that should please anyone who's a fan of the genre.

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Sonic Transportation

This Is My Condition goes boldly where few have gone before

As bassist for the Blue Leaves, Craig Comstock works an avant-pop vein; as the one-man band This Is My Condition, he goes for the jugular.

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Coal-fired culture war

Proposed power plants bring out the worst in Kansas culture clash

Politics and culture have a way of driving a wedge between Lawrence and the rest of the state.

Actual news*

*based on actual news

Give Them What They Want

Street Level surveys downtown merchants to take the pulse of the season

For most of the merchants in Lawrence, the Christmas season yields a significant and essential portion of the annual take. For many, it's make or break.

Sytle Scout: Karen Scholle

Review: Kirby Squeak Squad (DS)

While it may not last very long, Squeak Squad should certainly please fans of the series. It's not quite as good as Canvas Curse, however, and this throwback title is more of a step backwards than forwards in terms of utilizing the DS.

Picture perfect

Lawrence Photo Alliance group show spotlights members' spectrum of viewpoints, techniques

The Lawrence Photo Alliance is a diverse bunch. Some of its members still work with traditional film and silver prints. Others have embraced digital images and printing. Some use pinhole cameras, and others use large-format equipment.

KU student art reflects on Japan journey

For the past four years, the Freeman Foundation has sponsored the Kansas Asia Scholars program at Kansas University. We were chosen to participate in this scholarship's 2006 trip to Japan. This trip, led by Pat Graham of the Center for East Asian Studies, focused on Japanese culture, primarily through its focus on art and architecture.

Sunday, December 10

Concerts, crimes, gallery closings among top A&E stories of 2006

There never seems to be a shortage of happenings in the Lawrence arts and entertainment scene. And 2006 was no exception.

Book delves into 'Wonderful Life'

Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" has certainly had a wonderful life. The beloved film - which was a flop on its initial release - turns 60 this year.

Police story

Wambaugh continues to draw thin blue lines

Like a ghost returning to the scene of the crime, Joseph Wambaugh was back on the streets of Hollywood. Nearly 40 years ago he had patrolled the fabled, sleazy boulevards as a Juvenile cop with the Los Angeles Police Department - long before he became a master of the modern police novel.

Saturday, December 9

Review: Smackdown vs. Raw 2007 (360)

Smackdown vs. Raw will do just what it has for the last couple of years. It will satisfy the hardcore wrestling crowd and keep them entertained until the next one comes out, but the casual fan will probably tire of it after finishing the season mode.

Jazz Nativity takes new swing at holiday favorites

Sometimes, adding a few tight harmonies is all it takes to give an audience a new perspective on the Christmas story.

Friday, December 8

Gibson ups the gore in hollow 'Apocalypto'

From "Braveheart" to "The Passion of the Christ" and now "Apocalypto," Gibson has shown his tendency towards ancient times, outdoor locations, martyrdom, and sheer bloody torture is no coincidence. It's an infatuation.

'Apocalypto' further reveals director's obsession with gore

Maybe it's the moment when a spurt of blood shoots from the Mayan warrior's exposed brain. It could be the arrow that enters the back of a fleeing man's head and comes out of his mouth. Or perhaps the sequence of beating hearts extracted from slashed-open chests. You could go on and on with "Apocalypto," Mel Gibson's often mesmerizing movie about bad times and heroic struggle near the end of the Mayan empire. But at some point, you realize that Gibson is more obsessed than ever with excruciating pain.

Arts center says let it 'Snow'

Snow castles, hobgoblins and reindeer are just a few of the magical elements featured in the Lawrence Arts Center's new holiday play, "The Snow Queen." The story of "The Snow Queen" was once a Nordic folk tale, then a much-loved Hans Christian Andersen story. Now, LAC drama director Ric Averill has adapted the story to the stage. Averill also composed music for the play that will be performed live by a 12-piece orchestra.

Organ grinder

Former KU basketball player Mike Finnigan still responds to siren call of the music world

Mike Finnigan was a 19-year-old student at Kansas University when he became the proud owner of a Hammond B3 organ. "I put it in the kitchen of this apartment I lived at with this guy. He wasn't that happy about it. It's a little large for a college apartment," Finnigan recalls.

Thursday, December 7

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Review: Tony Hawk's Project 8 (360)

Tony Hawk's Project 8 is not a complete re-invention of the wheel as some hoped it would be. It is, however, an excellent compilation of the best aspects of each entry of the series.

Own-Your-Own show empowers local artists

It normally takes Lawrence artist Nancy Lehenbauer Marshall months to complete one of her oil paintings. On Saturday she will have just 45 minutes.

Wednesday, December 6

The top five games of 2006

With the Xbox 360 in full swing and the arrival of the PS3 and Wii, gamers have a virtual buffet of excellent titles to choose from. Here are Lawrence.com's top five picks for the year.

'Blood Diamond' loses it luster

Leo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou use their formidable talents to try to raise "Blood Diamond" to a level where we forget what message the filmmakers are cramming down our throats. It is not enough, as the film tries to cover too much ground and falls flat with bad dialogue.

Monday, December 4

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A Gift of Music

KJHK plows fertile fields and presents the community with Farm Fresh Sounds

Street Level sheepishly ushers KJHK veterans Caterina Benalcazar, Courtney Ryan and Jenny Kratz into our disheveled podcast studio to reflect on indie spirit, dudes with music biz pretensions and the joys of harvesting a well saturated scene.

Pabst and paper

Inebriation and illustration collide in an underground phenomenon Drink & Draw

There are many activities that one should not undertake while binge drinking: open heart surgery, confessing to manslaughter, choosing a long distance provider, etc.

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Heads above water

Artists cope with rising casualty rate of Lawrence galleries

It wasn't long ago that Lawrence officially declared itself "City of the Arts"-1999 to be exact. Just five years after downtown lightposts first trumpeted the new slogan, the commercial core of Lawrence's art scene began to lose galleries one by one.

Actual news*

*based on actual news

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The utmost of the no coast

KC's crown prince of rap talks candidly about the n-word, misogyny, and the hard lessons learned from his lifestyle

In the Midwest, there is no bigger name in rap than Tech N9ne. Since his 2001 JCOR release "Anghellic," Tech's dark-themed, self-released albums have landed critical praise and impressive sales-thanks to word of mouth, savvy use of the internet, blanket guerilla promotion, and frequent tours.

Style Scout: Molly Murphy

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Review: Rayman Raving Rabbids (Wii)

Rayman Raving Rabbids is one of the best launch titles for the Wii, and shows off different controller applications better than any of the others. You'll blow through the single player in a few sittings, but a few of the minigames will keep you coming back for more.

Leader's inspiration crosses party lines

Ask Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to name his role models for his new responsibilities as the leader of Senate Republicans, and the answer is surprising.

Sunday, December 3

Down-to-earth Diva

Joyce Castle has been on a cleaning spree. "I've thrown out a lot," she says. "How many programs of the same opera do you need?"

Saturday, December 2

Poet well-versed in voyeurism

Matthew Porubsky is not that interesting. At least that's what he likes to tell people when they ask him how it felt to experience some of the scenarios in his poems.

Friday, December 1

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Review: Marvel Ultimate Alliance (Wii)

The spirit of the successful X-Men Legends games lives on in Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, and it provides a bigger and better gameplay experience. While it may not be an enthralling single-player title, it has some of the best co-op gameplay available.

For the love of 'Jesus'

Preteen Christian warriors wearing camouflage make-up and dressed in combat fatigues brandish swords in a bizarre choreographed dance. A 10-year-old girl weeps in a trance-like spiritual bliss, looking up to the sky. A 12-year-old boy speaks in tongues. Children touch a cardboard effigy of President Bush while a massive church prays to guide his righteous political decisions. Children's pastor Becky Fischer leads an enraptured congregation in a chant: "This means war! This means war!"

Church and state share bunk at 'Jesus Camp'

Your reaction to this thought-provoking documentary about an evangelical Christian summer camp for kids lies not only in your religious beliefs but also in your convictions on the separation of church and state. But it doesn't matter on which side of the fence you reside. It's almost impossible not to respond emotionally to this fascinating, sobering and all-too-brief exploration of the politicized religious right and its hopes, dreams and power.

County Fare

Watkins Museum showcases community's culture, legacy

It originally was a bank, then a mortgage company, then it became Lawrence's city hall. But for the last 30 years, the majestic building at 1047 Mass. has operated as a museum. "Almost everything we collect is somehow connected to a Douglas County citizen," says Rebecca Phipps, director of the Watkins Community Museum of History.