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Sunday, Oct 26, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-10-27...

I have to admit, there aren’t all that many weeks that I can say this, but this week simply belongs to the PlayStation 3.  By my count, there are two possible contenders for Game of the Year, one new edition of a casual success story, and a sequel to one of the most well-received of the PS3’s launch titles.


I can’t help but start with Fallout 3, which will of course also be appearing on the Xbox 360 and PC this week.  I simply cannot remember when the anticipation for an RPG of any sort was as high as it is for Fallout 3.  Perhaps this is a lesson in how withholding a sequel can heighten the anticipation for it.  Specifically, we haven’t seen a new Fallout game since 1998, and the first two games in the series are held in such high regard that it will be nigh-impossible for the third to even approach the expectations that have been set for it.  That said, the thing looks incredible—the sheer amount of detail in the environments has to be seen to be believed, and who doesn’t like Vault Boy?


The other one, the game that’s kept me on YouTube for hours on end looking for any footage that I haven’t yet seen, is Little Big Planet.  Sackboy is destined to be an icon.  It’s a brilliant step of marketing to make what may be the most recognizable character on the most high tech of the platforms a low-tech, burlap…thing called Sackboy.  This is like the presidential candidate with nine houses across the United States convincing a good portion of the American population that he’s one of us!  This is the sort of bold move that could fix the PS3’s image, the one that says that it’s a system that we want; it’s not an overloaded behemoth two or three years away from a true public embrace, it’s the only system taking advantage of the here and now.  Or, maybe I’m just putting too much stock in a simple, charming platformer.  Regardless, this may be the game that finally convinces me to drop the cash for a PS3.


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f course, the new SingStar game and the new MotorStorm game (gosh, Sony certainly enjoys capital letters in the middle of their words, don’t they?) are going to get run over by those big ticket items, but there’s plenty going for both.


Elsewhere?  The PC has Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, which continues the long-running strategy franchise with some big names adding cinema-style pizzazz.  The DS has a little something coming out called Ninjatown that looks like it has no shortage in quirky, fun style.  And those who like to download (and who doesn’t?) get the second edition of the Penny Arcade RPG this week as well.


What are you playing this week?  Are you going to have to pull yourself away from Fallout to play SingStar?  Are you going to have to pull yourself away from The Wonder Pets! to play Go, Diego, Go!?  Let us know, and enjoy your Halloween!


(p.s…there’s a whole list of releases and a trailer for Fallout 3 after the jump!)


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Sunday, Oct 26, 2008

Politics are not only social. They can be personal, or professional. They can encompass our entire life, or play a very tiny, very unimportant part in same. The inherent meaning of the term indicates a type of gamesmanship, a give and take that operates on skill, strategy, and individual sympathies. While we tend to view the opposing ideologies in terms of pro or con, black or white, the truth is far more gray. As a reflection of who we are, politics can be problematic. As an indication of who we may become, they are often precognitive and sentient. In Hector Babenco’s brilliant 1985 drama, Kiss of the Spider Woman, the concept of individual belief runs head on into the state controlled notion of control and conformity. For the two prisoners sharing a dingy Brazilian jail cell, their own principles will come to comfort them. They may also destroy everything they are.


Valentin Arregui is a political prisoner in his native land, a man marked by the government for his subversive views and violent radicalism. His cellmate suffers from a different form of persecution. As an effete homosexual, Luis Molina has been incarcerated on ‘morals charges’. As a means of escape, he makes up elaborate fantasies about fancy, fake motion pictures. One revolves around Nazis and spies. The other centers on the Spider Woman, and her wicked affections. As the tension between the two lessen, Valentin opens up about his life. Luis also begins to entrust his newfound friend. Naturally, the authorities are doing whatever they can to get their prisoners to break - and someone may have loyalties outside their own claimed convictions.


The history of Kiss of the Spider Woman is an interesting one, and the subject of several interesting featurettes on the recently released two disc DVD version of the film, now available from City Lights Home Entertainment. Since it deals with subjects both inherently cinematic (the movies) and impossible to perfectly convey (human emotion and sexuality), it must walk a fine line between the outrageous and the insular, the unknowable and the honest and obvious. It helps that director Babenco hired two amazing actors, both of whom were relatively unheralded at the time, to bring his vision to life. It’s safe to say that Spider Woman elevated the professional profile of both Raul Julia (Valentin) and William Hurt (Luis). The former was still a journeyman talent when this minor movie came along. The latter went on to win an Oscar for his work in the film, a clever combination of gay bravura and hidden pain. While Julia carries the film’s social heart, Hurt opens up the entire narrative’s bruised and battered soul.


As a novel, the 1976 work by Manuel Puig was considered ‘un-filmable’, based on the fact that the non-traditional narrative was told completely in dialogue form. While it was later adapted into a play for both stage and radio, the material appeared perfectly suited for the mind’s eye alone. And yet in one of the DVD’s added features, we learn about Puig, about his own thoughts on the book, and how Babenco managed to bring the material to life. Elsewhere, we see another unusual transformation in Spider Woman‘s legacy. Famed Broadway composers John Kander and Frank Ebb turned the tale into a musical, perhaps one of most unusual to ever hit the Great White Way. Another documentary explains the arduous task of modifying an already complex concept into a song and dance extravaganza (one that won several Tonys, by the way). In addition, there is a trivia track, a look at the role of “submissive women” in the movie, and some standard backstage overview.


But it’s the movie that remains timeless. Kiss of the Spider Woman in one of the few films that understands the communal horror and ubiquity of persecution. It plays with our sympathies only to challenge and cherry-pick them later on. There are secrets and symbols strewn throughout the two hour running time, with an additional allotment of unanswered and ambiguous turns along the way. Babenco gets lots of mileage out of the film-within-a-film ideal, as well as utilizing flashbacks to fill in necessary blanks. While it never takes away from its two character conceits, Kiss of the Spider Woman is much more than just a couple of prisoners talking. It illustrates the notion of how humans strive for dignity, and that even in the most oppressive of environments, caring and compassion can break down barriers.


Of course, some two decades-plus on, the homosexual undercurrent feels very dated indeed. Any indication of man-to-man affection is kept completely offscreen and seems dismissed quickly and compactly. Hurt could even be accused of stereotyping Luis, or making him more of a swishy, fey foil than he really is or needs to be. Of course, such an interpretation falls in line with Puig’s take on such gender realities, and the actor’s amazing mannerisms help transcend anything remotely offensive. Of course, the DVD exposes the huge onset arguments Babenco had with his lead, conflicts that apparently added as much to the performance as any high minded Method-ology. Similarly, it’s important not to underestimate Julia’s importance to the film. If Kiss of the Spider Woman were all about Luis and his love of extravagance, we’d grow bored very quickly. Instead, Valentin reminds us of the sacrifice some are willing to endure to stand by their beliefs.


There are unanswered questions, though, elements of Kiss of the Spider Woman that tend to make sense only to itself. The two narratives spun by Luis - the noir-ish thriller Her Real Glory and the oddball b-movie macabre - tend to be more disconnected than reflective of any real theme. In some ways, the bright and shiny scope infused in these fake offerings may stand as nothing more than a way of avoiding the darkness of prison. Additionally, the ending will appear overly grim to some, especially when viewed through our post-millennial mandate of justice and cinematic fairness for all. But that’s one of the great things about Kiss of the Spider Woman. It doesn’t want to deliver the standard ‘feel good’ sentiment. Instead, it wants its audience to understand the hurt and inequity, to realize that, sometimes, the bad get rewarded and the good get far too much punishment. But that’s the way things work in the world. And like the formation of the strangest of bedfellows, that’s part of the foundation of politics as well. 


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Sunday, Oct 26, 2008
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

Hailing from Brooklyn gave this four-piece a CMJ home-field advantage. Unfortunately they never really took advantage of it, except for one obnoxious girl in the front row who shrieked for every song. Playing heavily guitar driven rock with harmonies that would gradually shift in and out of focus, the lead singer dwelled on falsetto-driven vocals that seemed to contradict his taste for distortion penetrating guitar solos. The second guitarist mostly focused on turning his reverb way up and engineering really slow notes that would dispel into layers of granular background noise. The latter he achieved by spending a decent amount of time hunched over on his knees and fiddling with an assortment of knobs. The group’s frontman was the only member who seemed to process any sort of emotion or expression, the others just listlessly thrumming along in perfect rhythm. This made it difficult to respond in any positive way to their innocuous and placid sound. That is, unless you were already a groupie.



Tagged as: cmj, longwave
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Sunday, Oct 26, 2008
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

Power chords akin to Whitesnake and monotonic pointillistic bass lines that evoked the Strokes were this London quartet’s calling card. Added on were anguished and self-involved lyrics that sometimes became morbid or drab and resentful. Singing in what began as a grumbled, mumbled, voice, the lead singer took on a more euphonious tone as the set progressed and he honed in his vocals around the intended notes. Heavy synthesizers permeated all their songs, either sounding like icicles and serving as decorative accents or calming amorphous swaths of light and adding background. Singing usually took precedence for the lead singer, letting his guitar hang loosely during verses and only picking it up to play final garnishes. When he did dig in to it, he pulled heavy on his whammy bar, letting his guitar snarl before singing. But more often than not it was the relentless beating bass line that covered any cantabile cadence.


Tagged as: cmj, white lies
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Sunday, Oct 26, 2008
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

Playing dreary treble soaked guitar rock, Violens’ sound drew heavily from the Smiths and Morissey. The lead singer’s mumbled, somber melodies were distant and detached, as if singing the songs recreated whatever melancholy motives went into writing them. Super-synthesized keys backed up the heavier guitar sounds, usually in wishy-washy smothering chords. Though the songs were consistently minor-toned, the bass player’s melodic lines hinted at reconciling whatever had got them down to begin with. More interesting rhythms populated most of their songs too, giving you a sense that they were trying to expand the indie rock sound rather than just master it.



Tagged as: cmj, violens
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