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by Mike Schiller

23 Mar 2008

There’s something satisfying about taking a look through a list of games, finding a name that means nothing to you, looking up that name, and suddenly becoming utterly, hopelessly intrigued by the story behind that unfamiliar name.

The name this week: Opoona.

Even if you love gaming, you live and breathe it, you spend hours every day playing, studying, reading, and writing about games, it’s entirely possible that Opoona escaped your notice.  For one, it’s on the Wii, an utter shovelware dumping ground of late, one where prior research is becoming absolutely necessary in buying games if only for the sake of avoiding things like Ninjabread Man and Anubis.  Something with as impenetrable a title as Opoona is bound to be overlooked, assumed to be not worth our time.

Still, there’s more to the story.  Opoona is like the Zak and Wiki of Japan, well-received on a critical level but utterly ignored by the public.  It’s an adventure/role-playing experience, apparently moderately long on the first playthrough and utterly gargantuan if you are to complete all of the objectives.  The unique, cute, perfect-for-the-Wii art design is by a Dragon Quest alum, which is another mark in its favor.  It’s innovative in its control, even for the Wii, featuring the first Nunchuck-only control scheme to be found on the system.  Still, its highly Japanese flavor and the relative commercial flavor of it can’t have made it a probable candidate for Americanization.

And yet, it’s on its way.  This week, even.

One should almost want to buy Opoona on principle, assuming that those critics who reviewed it upon its initial Japanese release knew what they were talking about.  It’s the sort of game that could help to legitimize third-party software on the Wii, the type of game that could stifle the detractors who assume that the Wii is only good for games created by Nintendo itself, with the occasional exception of the inexplicably popular set of mini-games (hello, Carnival Games).  Sadly, there’s a good chance nobody will buy it.  Prove me wrong, America.

Elsewhere, the action/role-playing of Crisis Core will likely give the Final Fantasy VII junkie set something to do for a month, and anyone up for a little bit of “Global Conquest” might do well to check out the new Command & Conquer 3 expansion.  Dark Sector looks like it may put some new spins on the FPS, and hey, if mini-games are your thing, there’s always Summer Sports.  The full list of this week’s releases is after the break…

by PopMatters Staff

23 Mar 2008

Presidents of the United States of America
Sharpen Up Those Fangs [MP3]
     

So Lo So Hi [MP3]
     

Fern Knight
Sun Dew [MP3]
     

Ssion
Ah Ma [Video]

WHY?
Song of the Sad Assassin [Video]

Bad Dudes
Eat Drugs [Video]

13ghosts
Riverside [MP3]
     

by Jason Gross

23 Mar 2008

After the Saul Williams album he produced didn’t tear the charts, a frustrated Trent Reznor got pissy, saying that fans didn’t want to support artists at all, even when they provided a quick, direct, cheap way to get the music online.  Williams took a much more mature view, saying that offering music to fans online for what they wanna pay is a new experiment and that it will pay off long term.  As such, I didn’t have much hope when Raznor offered the new Nine Inch Nails album, Ghosts I-IV, online the same way from his own site, especially as it was an instrumental set.  Boy was I wrong… and I’m glad too.

by Bill Gibron

23 Mar 2008

Unlike most cinematic genres, the Hong Kong crime film is a fluid, flexible category. It can easily embrace horror, comedy, drama, and even the occasional excursion into science fiction. The main reason for this is that the plot usually centers most of its purpose in a good vs. evil, black hat/white hat dynamic. Even better, such a storyline typically allows its heroes and villains to be multifaceted and purposefully ambiguous. One of the best examples of the dimensional dynamic is Johnny To’s P.T.U.: Police Tactical Unit. It takes a simple tale of one cop’s search for his missing gun and turns its overnight vignettes into a meditation on loyalty, duty, purpose, and personal regret.

When overweight Sgt. Lo gets into a scuffle with the gang of local hoodlum Ponytail, he comes out of the attack badly beaten and missing his gun. Among Hong Kong police, such an error is unconscionable. Hoping to save face, he gets his friend in the PTU, Sgt. Ho, to cover for him. The two agree - if they can’t find the weapon by morning, they will both report it to CID/Internal Affairs. Of course, this doesn’t keep steely eyed agent Inspector Leigh Cheung from following up on the case. Lo, who knows both crime bosses in the area, decides to play both against each other to find his missing piece. But they also want revenge for a recent assassination and may be setting up the policeman to take the fall.

Dark, noirish, and loaded with late night atmosphere, PTU: Police Tactical Unit (new to DVD from Genius Entertainment and the Weinstein Company’s Dragon Dynasty label) is an intriguing take on the standard cops and robbers routine. It proves that Johnny To - often referred to as the Woody Allen of Hong Kong - is a master of composition and the camera, taking risks while following standard filmic formulas. At its very core, this is a story about policemen protecting and playing off each other, the responsibility they owe to the public matched by their own internal code of conduct. It deals directly with human foibles and departmental frictions. It begins slowly, shuffling its cards meticulously before playing its flashy final hand, and after it’s all over, we realize there’s much more here than meets the eye.

For the vast majority of the film’s running time, we are involved in a three way struggle between street smart flatfoots, by-the-book procedural lawmen, and glorified gangster bravado. Director To balances all of these elements into a slowly synchronized dance, adding bits and pieces along the way to add depth to what could be a typical bit of law and order. Because Lo is somewhat loyal to both sides of the situation, because Ho understands this beat cop’s need, because Leigh Cheung is seen as bureaucracy incarnate, the infighting between them is far more intriguing than any tired Triad mechanics. While a sequence inside one boss’s den, complete with caged criminals being systematical brutalized, gives us the standard shock value of the genre, To takes away from such sensationalizing by keeping the clockwork plot percolating. 

All of which makes the way this film was created all the more intriguing. As part of the bonus features offered on the DVD, we learn that P.T.U. was made over three years. That’s right, three YEARS. Shooting almost exclusively at night, and when cast and crew could take the time away from other projects, there’s an intimacy born out of necessity here. Commentator Bey Logan, a stalwart of the Dragon Dynasty series, suggests that To was able to take this approach because of his solid reputation. While other filmmakers have to fumble for available production staff, or feed the mainstream needs of the industry, this director can call upon a stellar group of company confederates for what amounts to a night and weekend pickup. Logan also adds that, like Allen, To tends to be dismissed in his native land as being an idiosyncratic, critical darling. While P.T.U. was a hit, it didn’t match the international attention of Election or Triad Election.

Of course, the actors who work with To tend to dismiss such sentiments. The disc also contains interviews with Simon Yam (Sgt. Ho) and P.T.U. team member Kat (actress Maggie Shiu). To them, the film is a chance to explore all facets of character interaction - the noble and the wicked, the expected and the outsized. Yam praises the fact that there was no script when the shoot started. It allowed him to dig deeper into his persona, experimenting with tone and temperament. Shiu also enjoys working with To, especially in the action scenes. And then there is said ending. Taking a page out of the John Woo playbook, To sets the entire slow motion firefight to an amazing ambient score. As the bullets fly in frame by frame fastidiousness, we get the grandeur of such a sequence, as well as the horror of such a bloodbath.

It’s the perfect payoff for all the foundation laying P.T.U. does. This is a film as firecracker, the lost gun acting as a lit fuse to further push the plot toward its explosive end. Fans who enjoy the clichés created by the genre over the last two decades may not enjoy all the subterfuge and slow burn here. They want choreographed chaos and lots of it. Instead, Johnny To is more interested in the human toll taken by such a tightrope walk. On the one hand, criminals are running ramshackle over the Hong Kong streets, mandating new and novel police protection agencies like the P.T.U. On the other hand, the lure of easy money and professional frustration leads to lawlessness on the wrong side of the badge. For Johnny To, this dramatic dichotomy creates inherently volatile cinema. P.T.U.: Police Tactical Unit is an excellent example of this ideal. 

by Chris Barsanti

22 Mar 2008

Maybe it’s true that Canadians are just simply nicer. While American graphic novels of late have been concerning themselves with abject self hatred (Adrian Tomine), vampire slackers (Jessica Abel), and the like, Michel Rabagliati just goes on creating work that’s just as inherently decent as ever. In Paul Goes Fishing, his third graphic novel—Paul Moves Out and Paul Gets a Summer Job being the previous installments—Rabagliati continues his penchant for crafting delicately hued graphic autobiographies that are just as winning as any of the grimmer and self-lacerating work being produced in the lower 48 states, but often just as psychologically astute. Nice doesn’t have to mean clueless.

A Montreal-based illustrator and family man with practically no experience in the outdoors, Rabagliati spends the first part of his newest volume learning how to go fishing, of course. Using the structure of a summer vacation at a lakeside cabin with some friends, Rabagliati spins off from that basic conceit to explore his relationship with his father, his childhood (sparked by his re-reading in the cabin of Catcher in the Rye, a favorite from his moody youth), and the painful process he and his wife endure in a series of difficult pregnancies. He also finds the time to provide a short history of the graphic arts industry’s transition from hand-work to personal computers that beautifully skewers the designers’ cult of the Macintosh (“between 1987 and 1995, I handed over more than $40,000 to Apple & Co. for equipment that was practically obsolete before I’d even unpacked it.”)

Through all this, Rabagliati keeps a basically upbeat mood, with his freshly energetic black-and-white illustrations and cast of characters who are pretty much always (with a few obvious exceptions) smiling. Rabagliati’s approach verges on Archie comics simplicity at times (when characters cry, it’s actually rendered as “boo hoo”), but it somehow never seems fake, and that’s the beauty of this book. For all their troubles and occasional emotional outbursts, Rabagliati’s cast seems a supremely decent and nice group who anybody would consider themselves lucky to know. To create that kind of world, and to do it in a way that is far from insulting to one’s intelligence, takes a rare kind of talent, something that Rabagliati has in spades. Must be the Canadian in him.

You can view a preview (in .pdf form) of Paul Goes Fishing over at Drawn & Quarterly’s website here.

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