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Wednesday, Jul 2, 2008
Excited as anybody by the upcoming DS re-release of Chrono Trigger, I'm curious as to what makes it such a well-regarded and influential game.

Did you hear?  Did you?  Chrono Trigger is coming out for the Nintendo DS.  Chrono Trigger!


Of course, anyone who has witnessed Square Enix’s recent track record when it comes to re-releasing their old RPGs and still happens to be surprised by this isn’t really paying attention.  Chrono Trigger, which gained the majority of its notoriety as a classic RPG for the Super Nintendo, has already been re-released once, as part of Final Fantasy Chronicles for the original PlayStation, complete with a few bonus cutscenes created for the purpose of giving the included games a reason to live on the PlayStation.


Like a lot of kids who were just getting in to the whole “video games” thing in a big way during the time of the SNES, I simply didn’t notice Chrono Trigger amidst a sea of Final Fantasy games; my time with the SNES was limited as I didn’t own one, and the only RPGs that I ever played at my friends’ houses were variations on the Final Fantasy name (II/IV, III/VI, Secret of Mana and so on).  Phantasy Star was my drug of choice, RPG-wise, and Chrono Trigger barely registered a tick on my still developing hype meter.


As such, despite the fact that Square Enix might just be releasing another port for the sake of a quick buck at the hands of a ravenous fan base (most recently exemplified by The Brainy Gamer’s assembly of his RPG class syllabus and the drooling posts from some of the major blogs), I’m pretty excited about this, as it’s the first time I’m seeing Chrono Trigger during a time in which I’m actually likely to care (the PlayStation re-release came and went while I was transitioning from Nintendo 64 to PS2, unfortunately).


My question, then, is this:  What makes Chrono Trigger better than, say, Final Fantasy IV?  Or VII, for that matter?  Why should I play Chrono Trigger ahead of more advanced fare developed specifically for the DS, like the Pokémon games or Atlus’ Rondo of Swords?  It’s obviously an influential and beloved game, but why?  Or would it be better, at this point, to be surprised?


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Wednesday, Jul 2, 2008

Since I switched to Google Reader, I’ve gotten into the habit, as I’m blasting through all the blogs I subscribe to via RSS, of starring items that I want to think about more later, and perhaps even write about. Of course, I almost never refer back to these starred items, because there is a nonstop flow of new items in my Reader I’m always trying to keep pace with. Instead they linger there, with my act of starring them standing in for the promised deeper thought that never occurs. Before Google Reader, I’d tag items in del.icio.us and send them to bookmark purgatory. And I’d do a lot of thinking about what I was calling the bookmark effect, which I first noticed when studying for exams. I became aware of how underlining something or scrawling a note in the margin of a book was very gratifying, and how if I wasn’t doing that, I felt like I wasn’t really studying or learning anything. This was true even though the underlining was replacing thought—it was as if I were acknowledging that someone else thought something perceptive, and it was sufficient for me to let that person be a proxy for my own thinking. The underlining was an act of appropriation, a way of buying and consuming the perceptive thought without having to think through it or extend it or integrate—that work was left for some time later. (That time has not yet come, and I still have many of the annotated tomes to prove it.) The decision to underline was akin to a purchasing decision—did I “buy” that idea? And this process commodified my reading for me, which gave me an elusive feeling of mastery over it, even as the reading lists continued to extend themselves.


Now, as technology has advanced, bookmarking an interesting post or article (or starring it) has supplanted underlining, etc. It’s still a way for me to dispatch interesting ideas without having to deal with them any more deeply—I just add them to the collection, and take comfort that it is there, forever fresh in my starred items list. It’s not all that different from buying books in lieu of reading them. The bookmarking/starring gesture allows me to consume in the present moment the thinking I pretend I’ll do later, which is an extremely gratifying feeling, particularly if I wisely avoid ever consulting my bookmarks later on. If I make that mistake, though, I feel nothing but shame for my laziness, and despair when the deferred overwhelmingness of it all hits me like a furnace blast.


At some point I’ll need to do a link dump of all that stuff, sort through it and see if still recognize the potential I once saw there. But still the urge to avoid is strong; the ideas seem more potent as unrealized potential. Sorting through them would be like cleaning out my closet; I’d be forced to get rid of stuff that I may never use but that still somehow comforts me to possess.


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Wednesday, Jul 2, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Stanton Moore is a respected New Orleans drummer and a founding member of Galatic, a jazz/funk group that is a perennial PopMatters favorite. Moore digs into our 20 Questions to reveal his creative inspiration.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Actually it was a song. Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Water From an Ancient Well”. I heard it right after a storm. It moved me so much, I recorded it on my record III.


2. The fictional character most like you?
Han Solo


3. The greatest album, ever?
Jimi Hendrix’s Axis Bold As Love.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Wars... yeah definitely Star Wars... yeah… Star Wars... def, defin… definitely Star Wars


5. Your ideal brain food?
Going to see Shannon Powell, Herlin Riley or Russell Batiste play in New Orleans. I always come away with tons of ideas.


6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
My first instructional book and DVD project. It was a hell of a lot of work but it has been very well received. It’s my approach to New Orleans drumming and it features the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Ivan Neville and George Porter Jr.


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Tuesday, Jul 1, 2008

With the Fourth arriving on Friday, Hollywood is getting an early jump on the holiday box office bonanza. For 2 July, here are the films in focus:


Hancock [rating: 6]


Hancock is either a brilliant disaster or an often uneven masterwork. It either represents Will Smith’s decision to break free of his formerly fashionable (and profitable) summer movie mythos, or another chink in a box office armor that has shown some signs of wear as of late.

Will Smith is the new up to date version of the late in life career of Charleton Heston. No, he’s not some gun wielding NRA apologist who narrates Bible videos in between bouts with aging. As one of Hollywood’s leading ticket/turnstile draws, he’s embraced the science fiction format in a way no actor has since the one and only Chuckster. From Independence Day, Men in Black, I, Robot, I Am Legend, and now his latest, the surreal super hero movie Hancock, no other contemporary star has dabbled in the speculative as often as he. Sure, he moderates such stints with powerful dramas and urbane comedies, but it’s clear that the majority of his bankability comes from action and adventure. Whether this latest film will advance his reputation remains to be seen. read full review…



The Children of Huang Shi [rating: 5]


The Children of Huang Shi is so desperate to be the Asian Schindler’s List, an example of atrocity draped in abject artistry, that it forgets to lay out the context. 


While it may seem sacrilegious to say it, stories of heroic human efforts during the tenuous dangers of wartime appear to be an international dime a dozen. Just when you think all the narrative bases have been covered, and no other angle could possibly emerge, a film comes along that explains yet another case of will triumphing over evil, spirit surviving the horrors inherent in conflict. Granted, not every one of these tales needs to be illustrated, but that doesn’t stop Tinsel Town from cranking out such indirect apologies. Japan’s torment of China prior to World War II serves as the basis for The Children of Huang Shi, yet another explanatory attempt. Yet as typical with most of these stories, it takes a courageous Caucasian to steer the natives - and the narrative - in the right direction.  read full review…



In Brief


Kit Kittredge: An American Girl [rating: 4]


G Rated fare is so rare in Hollywood these days that even the most mediocre example of kid pandering receives a slap on the patently wholesome back. Who cares then if the premise is founded in a misleading marketing gambit? As a popular doll and book series, the American Girl movies have been boob tube staples of years. Now, Oscar nom Abigail Breslin is aiming her prepubescent crossover appeal by playing the juvenile reporter turned community defender…and she doesn’t even look Nancy Drew-ish. When her dad looses his job and heads off to Chicago in search of work, a Depression era Kit helps her mom convert their Cincinnati abode into a boarding house. While a series of shady and stereotyped characters wander in and out of the front door our high-strung heroine helps the poor misguided hobo population redeem themselves in the eyes of a prejudiced public. In between homeless slurs (usually centering on the term “evil”) and soft sell slapstick, there is an attempt to impart a meaningful message of not judging a book by its penniless cover. Unfortunately, said good intentions get lost in a sea of formulaic plotting and tear-jerking contrivances. Even the mystery at the center of the story delivers an obvious dumbed down denouement.


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Text:AAA
Tuesday, Jul 1, 2008

While it may seem sacrilegious to say it, stories of heroic human efforts during the tenuous dangers of wartime appear to be an international dime a dozen. Just when you think all the narrative bases have been covered, and no other angle could possibly emerge, a film comes along that explains yet another case of will triumphing over evil, spirit surviving the horrors inherent in conflict. Granted, not every one of these tales needs to be illustrated, but that doesn’t stop Tinsel Town from cranking out such indirect apologies. Japan’s torment of China prior to World War II serves as the basis for The Children of Huang Shi, yet another explanatory attempt. Yet as typical with most of these stories, it takes a courageous Caucasian to steer the natives - and the narrative - in the right direction.


As a reporter trying to buy his way into the battle torn provinces deep inside the China countryside, George Hogg is willing to risk his life for a story. But when he witnesses a horrible massacre, and is taken prisoner by the Japanese, it looks like his tour of duty is over. Luckily, he is saved by the Chinese rebellion, led by Chen Hansheng, and sent off to a remote school to care for some orphans. There he meets up with Red Cross nurse Lee Pearson, and together they try to reconstruct the lives of these poor, unfortunate kids. Luckily, Hogg is a natural teacher, and he manages to make ends meet with the help of a local opium merchant named Mrs. Wang. But when the Japanese push ever closer to their compound, our hero decides to do something desperate. His plan? Take his kids across the dangerous Liu Pan Shan mountains and relocate on the edge of the Mongolian desert.


While it would definitely make a far better documentary than a drama (it is based on a true story and an actual person, after all), The Children of Huang Shi has some potential at first. Granted, the site of The Tudors’ Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Hogg and the enigmatic Chow Yun-Fat as Hansheng prepares us for a fully fictionalized take on this material. Add in Radha Mitchell as our medical missionary and Michelle Yeoh as the poppy peddler and you know reality is slowly drifting away. And thanks to the gloss of good intentions ladled on top by journeyman director Roger Spottiswoode, we sense there will be more heart tugging and hand wringing than history. Unfortunately, that’s just the start of this film’s problems. The Children of Huang Shi is so desperate to be the Asian Schindler’s List, an example of atrocity draped in abject artistry, that it forgets to lay out the context.


Since the crimes committed in the name of Japan are so utterly reprehensible, it’s hard to believe the movie needs more scope. But the truth is that few in the audience are students of the facts, and without such a perspective, the mass murder witness feels gratuitous. Similarly, we never buy into Hogg’s desire to play the part of reporter. His initial goals seem far more selfish than Fourth Estate-d. It makes his personal sacrifice later seem cockeyed, not commendable, and the entire middle section reeks of an Eastern Dead Poet’s Society. Mitchell and Chow appear superfluous, foisted on the viewer every once in a while so as to keep the narrative in forward motion. Far more interesting are the moments with Madame Wang, Yeoh bringing her standard grace to a part played mostly for what it infers, not what it deliberately does.


This is part of Spottiwoode’s style, to incorporate as much of Hogg’s mythos into his movie as possible without going into too much heady explanation. Montages take the place of the standard growing pains, and when the group finally starts that celebrated trek across the Chinese mountains, it’s like Lord of the Rings retrofitted to a 1930’s travelogue. What we require here is a center, a clear focus on what we should care about and why. Since the kids, with a rare exception here and there, are mostly interchangeable, their dilemma is not daunting enough. And since Rhys Meyers seems too perky to be perturbed by his stranger in a strange land fate (he picks up the language and customs quite easily), his eventual arc leaves little impact.


And then there is that gnawing cinematic de-vice of having a white man save the day. In films like Cry Freedom, where South African reporter Donald Woods winds up accepting the cinematic martyrdom for befriending Stephen Biko, there is an unhealthy implication that people of color can’t champion their own causes. Instead, they need someone like Hogg to bring their colonialist bravado to the fore and face off against the enemy. The Children of Huang Shi is not quite as obvious as the aforementioned narrative affront, but it does rely an awful lot on our twee English gentleman to get us over the potential dangers. Even worse, the role of the Chinese resistance is reduced to off-hand champions. They love to blow stuff up, but never seem to arrive in time to completely save the day.


No, it’s a tribute to what Hogg managed to do with just his wits and a few lucky breaks that the post-credits testimonials from the last remaining real life ‘children’ he helped (Now very old men) manage to resonate. Amidst all the grandstanding and skylarking, moments of misplaced manipulation, and outright disingenuousness, this movie manages to make its point. Since Spottiswoode’s bio would never suggest a Spielberg or Scorsese style epiphany, he can’t help but fumble the film’s many contradictory threads. At any given moment, in any given scene, we could have a far reaching family film, a war-torn thriller, a too languid love story, an able international intrigue, and an illustration of misguided political policy pitting one foreign locale against another. And even then, the movie manages to leave the smallest of impressions. The Children of Huang Shi is not a bad movie. It’s just not the great historic document it pretends to be.


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