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Monday, Aug 4, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

Coldplay
Viva la Vida (Hype Williams version) [Video]


Viva la Vida (Anton Corbijn version) [Video]


Giant Sand
Increments of Love [MP3]
     


Spiritualized
You Lie You Cheat [Video]


Catfish Haven
Set in Stone [MP3]
     


Broken Social Scene Presents: Brendan Canning
Churches Under the Stairs [MP3]
     


Nico Muhly
The Only Tune [MP3]
     


Portland Cello Project
Hands in Pockets (with Laura Gibson) [MP3]
     



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Monday, Aug 4, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-08-04...

A moment of silence for the PSP’s release schedule.  This is the…third?  Fourth?  Actually, I’ve lost count of just how many weeks it’s been since I haven’t had to be a smartass about just how few games are getting released for the PSP this summer.  Thank goodness Madden ‘09 is coming out next week, so I know that I’m not going to have to exclude any of these precious machines of gaming.


You get access to Hannah's wardrobe! Yay!

You get access to Hannah’s wardrobe! Yay!


That said, I’ve heard nice things about Braid and all, but for one week, I’m turning this into a vanity project (SHHH!): The release that’s going to get the most play in this house is…Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour.  Yes, it’s another Hannah Montana game, and the fact that it came out on the Wii, oh, last year doesn’t exactly bode well for its sales prospects, but I do know that my daughter was looking over my shoulder as I put together this week’s release list, saw the name Hannah Montana, and proceeded to ask me why I was typing about Hannah Montana in about seven different ways.  So this one’s for her.  Hannah Montana wins, because you get to be a star just like Hannah (just ask the press release!), and play simple rhythm games mostly for the sake of hearing her songs.  Because no, I haven’t heard them enough.


Okay, Braid: It’s a platformer where you CONTROL TIME.  I have no idea whether that’s a recipe for WIN or if it’s just another gimmicky side scroller, but I’m leaning toward the former.  For all the complaining I’ve done about the dearth of releases this summer, Xbox Live Arcade has had one hell of a season, and it doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.  On the PS3 side, Monster Madness: Grave Danger looks like just the sort of thing that next-gen shooter fans would get a kick out of, something like, oh, the Dreamcast’s Expendable updated in all the important ways.


Braid's homage to Donkey Kong

Braid‘s homage to Donkey Kong


Here’s something I’m ashamed to admit: I had no idea they ever released a Sonic the Hedgehog game for the Sega Master System.  I had assumed that they stopped supporting that poor little system by the time Sonic was even a twinkle in Sonic Team’s collective eye, but apparently a version of the blue hedgehog’s adventures did come out for the Master System, and you’ll be able to download it for your Wii today.  New levels?  New challenges?  Another reason to take down Robotnik/Eggman?  Sign me up.


All right, I give up.  Where’s the hidden treasure on this list?  Somebody help me find a place for my disposable income—my wallet’s just too damn heavy.


The full list is after the jump, along with, yes, a trailer for Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour.  Enjoy!


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Sunday, Aug 3, 2008

The divorce has been coming for some time now. We’ve been separated for years, but it’s only recently that I’ve even considered taking the final step. Lord knows I’ve tried to make it work. I indulged the flights of fancy, the ‘creative excesses’ if you will. I supported his change of scenario, hoping that Europe would unlock some hidden store of talent that would make our future together tolerable. I even ignored the tabloid way he decided to undermine his personal life. But after a couple of fleeting glimpses of the old brilliance, the same old sad self-indulgence set in. Now, with his latest attempt at interpersonal angst, I’ve decided I can’t take any more. After nearly FOUR decades of dedicated fandom, I am divorcing Woody Allen once and for all.


Oh, we’ve had our troubles before. During the late ‘70s, his Fellini-inspired slap in the audience’s face - otherwise known as Stardust Memories - was a particularly hard time. All we wanted from our cinematic hero was a little of his old comic joie de vive. It didn’t have to be Sleeper or Love and Death, but would it have hurt to follow a more of that Annie Hall/Manhattan style of wit with worry? Apparently, since everything about the 81/2 rip was a visually arresting rant against trying to pigeonhole an otherwise indefinable artist…except, Allen had made his entire career on comedy. Asking for a few more jokes didn’t seem like such a major request.


Granted, it was probably unfair to dwell in the past like that. After all, it must be tough for any creative type to live down such a start. His first few efforts remain gems in a frequently faltering genre. Still, he must have been insulted by the non-stop comments about those “early, funny films”, enough to make a mockery of such a sentiment. And this was even after we tolerated his back-peddling Bergmania. Interiors has its moments, but it just can’t compare to the Swedish master being mimicked. Similarly, A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy proved that, when it comes to calm country mannerisms, a Jewish American filmmaker can only stumble like a stooge.


But he kept coming back. Zelig was an experimental wonder, growing better and more poignant with time, and the next four films - Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Radio Days - proved he had lost none of this nostalgic character craftsmanship. Even after going off the tracks again with September (completely recast and reshot during production, thus beginning the mythos), Another Woman, and his “Oedipus Wrecks” segment from New York Stories, he delivered Crimes and Misdemeanors. Only the most cynical cinephile could deny that film’s power and glory. It looked like things might just work out between us.


And then - disaster. One sloppy, subpar production after another. It’s a list too long to discuss here, but from 1990 to now (almost 18 years) Allen has made only three good films (Husbands and Wives, Bullets Over Broadway, Match Point), two tolerable efforts (Manhattan Murder Mystery, Deconstructing Harry) and a bunch of god-awful garbage (and before you bellyache, go ahead and defend Celebrity, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Melinda and Melinda). Perhaps even more unsettling, Allen has yet to make another movie that matches the critical buzz and acclaim of some of his older works. Even the ersatz musical Everyone Says I Love You is now just a forgotten speck on an usually blemished resume.


There will be some who disagree with the assessment, and it is there right to. I can only go on my own experiences with Allen. I first fell in love with his work when I saw Sleeper as part of an ABC Sunday Night Movie broadcast premiere. I laughed hysterically at this sci-fi spoof, even if I didn’t understand all the jokes (I was in my very early teens at the time). When Annie Hall opened, I was one of the first in line, and again, I was swept away on how mystifyingly magical his movies were. Allen was definitely a thinking man’s humorist, and some of his references were so arcane that, after looking them up, they have stayed with me my entire life (like Oswald, the character from Ibsen’s Ghosts, and his infamous headache).


That was the joy of a Woody Allen movie. He never talked down to his audience. He assumed they were just as bright, intelligent, and educated as he. He wasn’t afraid to infuse his characters with outsized idiosyncrasies, as long as they were grounded in the urban everyday surroundings of their life. Many see Manhattan as his masterpiece, and rightly so. It walked the precarious border between arrogance and amiability with a style and a substance that continues to draw fans and fanatics alike. For a while there, it was hard to completely dismiss an Allen film. You could find massive flaws in what he was attempting, but the level of success was usually measured in some kind of entertainment.


But all that stopped somewhere in the ‘80s, and September is a good example of why. By this time (1987), Allen was seen as a legitimate American auteur. He already had eleven Oscar nominations (and three wins) and a kind of creative carte blanche that studios wanted to be a part of. Working almost exclusively for Orion (who had a distribution agreement with Warners), he had final cut, was capable of casting whomever he wanted, and could even go so far as to keep completed scripts away from his hired help. Actors longed to be in his films, his Academy pedigree (especially in the realm of Best Supporting Actress) almost a given. In essence, he had all the power a filmmaker could ever want - and it seems to have gone about systematically abusing same.


September was meant as a “chamber” piece, a filmed play as it were.  Over the course of the production Allen recast the lead twice, and after editing the first version, did indeed rewrite, recast, and refilm it again. In today’s money-oriented clime, that would be unheard of. But Allen’s productions were always cheap, and up until this point, aesthetically successful. September changed all that. It showed the writer/director as insular, moody, and discontented. It didn’t help that the movie was a bore. Even after Crimes and Misdemeanors (his last true masterpiece), efforts like Shadows and Fog and Hollywood Ending smacked of the same artistic recklessness. Of course, had he only made Love and Death for the rest of his career, trading on his high concept hipster humor for every successive film, we’d be crucifying him too.


But Allen’s recent miscues - the dull Scoop, the awful Cassandra’s Dream - are perhaps the most troubling of all. At a recent screening of Vicky Christina Barcelona, I was struck with how little I cared about the filmmaker’s whiny, overly wistful characters. The story of how love conquers and confuses is something he explored (far more successfully) when I was in high school, and his choice of actors - Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson - seemed more show biz then sensible. Like the passionate painters he depicts in the film, Allen has become an artist wholly in love with his own devices. He no longer feels a need to experiment or explore. Instead, he rounds up the current crop of A-list faces, places them in his overly talky tableaus, and shoots everything like the hand-held POV camera was a novel and new device.


The worst thing an ex can do is make you long for the early days of your relationship. It’s even worse when you dread the next expression from their already tired canon. For me, Allen stopped being exciting over a decade ago. Now, I merely tolerate his presence within the motion picture schema. Maybe he has another laugh out loud comedy in his kit (his last attempt, Small Time Crooks…), or perhaps he can mine individual turmoil and moral turpitude for one more knock out drama (Match Point). Unfortunately, I’m not willing to wait. I’ll gladly have cinematic egg on my face should this prolific 73 year old regain his aesthetic footing. Until then, I’ll resign myself to the past. It’s what any new divorcee would do.


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Sunday, Aug 3, 2008

Two noteworthy articles about using a pay-model for the Net.  First is this article from the Maui Time Weekly (reprinted in Alt Weekly) about how to solve the problems of the newspapers by pulling their material offline, copyrighting everything and killing off the wire services.  At the point, Net users would be forced to pay up for papers and their services.  The problem is that unless EVERY paper out there signed on (which they wouldn’t because it’s too risky), a project like this would be a failure- Net users would then just go to whatever news source they can find online that they like and just use that instead.  The genie’s outta the bottle, as they say, and trying to yank all publications offline isn’t going to happen- papers have already invested too much in their online presence and are seeing their ad revenue grow online (as opposed to offline). 


A saner approach comes from Christie Hefner of Playboy who suggests in this Portfolio article that an ala carte pricing menu for publications might be a solution for them, letting them offer individualized choices like iTunes does.  The revenue from such an idea might not be great but if it gets users in the habit of paying for some material that they really want and getting exactly what they want from a publication, that might make them more loyal readers.  While the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal were the last major hold-outs for this model, it might thrive elsewhere on a smaller scale and is at least worth a try, especially in these desperate times.


Finally, a tip of the hat to an article about one of my favorite parts of the Net which found itself sliding off the cultural map with the advent of the World Wide Web.  This PC Magazine article about the death of Usenet made me think of all the times I’ve used newsgroups, even up to this day.  It’s a wonderful, specialized place to chat, gab and argue with fellow enthusiasts about any topic you could think of (of course, I favored the music ones).  Luckily, the newsgroups do survive now in some form thanks to Google Groups, where you should go to check them out.  By the way, you can thank the misguided NY attorney general Andrew Cuomo who decided that ALL newsgroups are evil and support kiddie porn, even though that’s not true- he convinced many ISP’s to stop carrying them all and effectively killed off access to newsgroups to many people.  If you’d like to tell the AG what a misguided knucklehead he is, you can contact him at his website.


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Sunday, Aug 3, 2008


As a deeply-committed peripatetic, I recognize the indispensible role that serendipity plays in travel. In fact, eight times out of seven, it is serendipity—rather than deep ratiocination or meticulous planning—that is going to determine whether the day’s foray will ultimately be deemed successful or not.

Others might call it “happenstance”, or “luck”, or “fortune”—good or bad. But whatever name you attach to it, it is something that travelers have to get used to; we voyagers can’t live without it. Nor would we want to . . . since serendipity is what makes the journey so pleasureable; so deep-meaningful.


Even when it is not. Which is what I will explain next . . .


 


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