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Sunday, Dec 16, 2007

Mutant Storm Empire is one of the most recent examples of the shoot ‘em up renaissance that is now taking place via Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade gaming download service.  The gameplay mechanic isn’t that original (use the left analog stick to move, use the right one to fire), which is why this game seems to be getting overlooked as just another Geometry Wars clone.  Or, if you were a coin-op kid in the ‘90s, you might prefer to think of it as a Smash TV clone.  Regardless of what it’s cloning, it looks great doing it, complete with beautiful HD graphics that might best be described as bloopy alien polygons.  The control is fantastic and responsive, and the strange alien worlds are beautifully laid out and quite intuitive to navigate.  Perhaps best of all, there is pretty much no fanfare behind this game right now, so it’s a fantastic game with which to surprise someone with what is an extremely fun, and at its highest level staggeringly hard, gaming experience.  At only 10 bucks, it’s also one of the most affordable gifts you could possibly come up with this year.


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Sunday, Dec 16, 2007

While their first Christmas album, 1996’s The Darkest Night of the Year, was heavy on standards, Snow Angels relies on mostly original material. That turns out to be a strength, as multi-instrumentalist Linford Detweiler and vocalist Karin Bergquist bring the jazz-and-blues-tinged intimacy of 2007’s The Trumpet Child to these Christmas songs. Songs like “Darlin’ (Christmas is Coming)” and “Snowed in With You” winningly recall the Christmas music of yesteryear, meant to evoke a cozy, snowed-in cabin or townhouse rather than a bustling mega-mall. Only on “White Horse” do Detweiler and Bergquist border on schmaltz. Otherwise, they’re up to the task, with Bergquist sounding like a modern-day Nancy Wilson or Billie Holiday. The pair of standards are given fresh, earthy takes, while “Goodbye Charles” is a fitting Schulz/Guaraldi tribute. Snow Angels exudes the peace and quiet that everyone longs for at Christmastime, and does so with class.


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Sunday, Dec 16, 2007

James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments is a meditation on chaos and coping, with its focus intently on Iraqis. From a close-up of 11-year-old Mohammed’s eye, looking out on city streets, to a long view of young Kurdish shepherd Suleiman, silhouetted by a setting sun, the documentary offers a range of views and reactions to the US occupation of Iraq. As interviewees struggle to imagine a future beyond the current, daily horrors, they are at once alike and disparate, furious and hopeful, resilient and outraged. The film provides specifics, details of hectic life among ruins, faces filled with dread, desire, and defiance. Whether looking out on empty streets or endless fields in Kurdistan, the film creates a sense of space. Whether cramped or expansive, the compositions are alive with movement, color, urgency. Marchers, worshippers, workers, men with guns: they all suggest that the film has only scratched a surface.


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Sunday, Dec 16, 2007

Sports columnist Bondy captures the machinations behind the pivotal 1984 NBA draft; fate, chance, speculation (on target and off mark), and the flip of the coin, as luck would have it.  Cultures, egos, and desires clash in this well-researched, slice of sports history.  I’ve often thought some of the most entertaining storytelling could be found in sports writing. You’ll certainly found it here.


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Sunday, Dec 16, 2007

It is nearly impossible to objectively assess the magnitude of the impact that Saturday Night Fever had all over the world. Arguably, Saturday Night Fever is the movie that most radically altered and reshaped the many facets of popular culture. While it is true that other memorable films such as Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975) were seminal, inspirational, and generated the avid interest of legions of fans worldwide, the influence of Saturday Night Fever was far deeper, multifaceted, and across a wider segment of society. Indeed, Saturday Night Fever not only revolutionized the film and music industries, but it also defined and dictated the dress codes and hairstyles of an entire generation. In an attempt to emulate the spirit of this flick, and for years to come, regular folks wore polyester shirts, platform shoes; bell-bottom pants, gold chains, and elaborated hairstyles. It has also been reported that during the last part of the ‘70s, John Travolta’s iconic white suit was the most popular in proms and other social gatherings. Clearly, even though Saturday Night Fever does not have today a huge and fervent fan following as the Star Wars saga does, it is also true that very few people ever dressed up like storm troopers or Jedi knights on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that after nearly 30 years since its opening night, Saturday Night Fever remains the quintessential emblem of the ‘70s.


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