Monthly Archives: October 2013

Friday the 13th Special

Fridaythe13thSpecial

It’s Halloween! The date that, at night, every neighborhood looks like a Comic Con. The night all parents forget health standards and may be setting up serious dental problems for their children later in life. The night when you imagine that pedophilia is at is highest rate of the year.

To celebrate, I’m going to review Friday the 13th. which ties with Halloween for my favorite horror series. OK, so essentially, it’s a gore series. But hey, I like gore. Besides, think about the genre. Some degree of stupidity comes with the territory.

These reviews won’t be the usual length, but for the most part, there’s not much to tell anyway. This is a very basic horror series. No heavily detailed explanation is required. Just remember that this series thrives on surprises. These reviews are not entirely spoiler-free. You have been warned.

  Friday the 13th (1980)

FridayPoster1Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees
Adrienne King as Alice Hardy
Ari Lehman as Jason Voorhees

You may have heard that the villain of this series is Jason Voorhees. Not the case here. In fact, it’s not clear who’s killing the camp counselors and Kids at Crystal Lake. The eventual last survivor is a girl named Alice. She is understandably freaked-out that an unknown assassin is killing everyone. However, she is calmed down by a middle-aged woman named Pamela Voorhees. Pamela eventually explains that her son, Jason, swam too deep in the water and drowned many years ago. Normally, the counselors would have saved him, but they were too busy f*cking to be doing their jobs. Talking about this seems to further infuriate her even further towards the two groups responsible for Jason Death: the rough kids who drove him to overexert himself and the counselors who failed him. Upon explaining this all, Pamela starts after Alice.

Friday1

Sure hope your mom ain’t like that!

This isn’t a shabby first effort at all. It showcases very creative kills that will become the main selling point of the series. The main protagonist and villainess (one of the very few examples of them both being women) both play their roles very well. Hardy as a terrified victim, Palmer as a tragically psychotic killer. While this movie might get easily passed up because it doesn’t have the same villain as the others, it’s a very scary picture.

  Overall: 8 out of 10

  Friday the 13th Part II (1981)
FridayPoster2

Warrington Gillette and Steve Daskawisz (actor and stunt double) as Jason Voorhees
Amy Steel as Ginny Field
John Furey as Paul Holt

At the conclusion of the original, Jason Voorhees seemed to be resurrected by the death of his mother and attacked Alice. It was then that she woke up. Whether this was no dream or Jason never really drowned, he’s alive. The first bit of Part II is Jason tracking down and killing Alice with an ice pick. He then goes to Crystal Lake to pick up where mom left off.

I’d say that this isn’t quite as good as the first. While it’s still scary, Jason’s motives aren’t as believable as his mother’s were. Since Jason’s “death” was caused by a lot of people, you could believe that Pamela would go insane with rage at everyone at the camp. But only one person killed Pamela — and in self-defense, no less. Why does Jason’s vendetta apply to everyone who goes to his woods. ‘Cause he’s the bad guy. Also, Jason takes a hard hit to the back of the neck that really should kill him, but because the script demands it, he lives.

Still, this movie does get some goodwill from me back with its effective psychology, particularly where Ginny manages to get Jason to drop his guard by fooling his sick mind into thinking Ginny is his mother.

Interestingly, we still don’t see Jason’s famous Hockey mask, nor is he supernatural (yet). Instead, Jason is a fast but decidedly mortal murderer who who hides his (horrendous, as it turns out) face under a burlap sack.

  Overall: 7 out of 10

  Friday the 13th Part III: 3-D (1982)
FridayPoster3

Richard Brooker as Jason Voorhees
Dana Kimmell as Chris Higgins (girl)

In my opinion, the series took off with this movie. The cleverness of the kills is ratcheted up. When I first saw this movie, I was amazed by some of the ways people are slain. The victims are also quite interesting characters for this kind of movie (let’s face it, this ain’t the Godfather).

Jason’s trademark mask makes its first appearance here. He takes it from a kid he killed. Apparently, the filmmakers didn’t think it would become one of horror’s most visible symbols, because this is a humble origin indeed.

As you may be able to tell from the title, this movie was one of those that used the old 3D glasses from the 1980s. No, not the actually pretty good 3D of today. I mean those lame old gimmick glasses. It doesn’t really detract from the movie itself if you rent it or catch it on TV.

A 3D title. Get it? Yuk-yuk-yu-ugh (dragged away by the neck with a cane)!

A 3D title. Get it? Yuk-yuk-yu-ugh *dragged away by the neck with a cane*!

  Overall: 8 out of 10

  Friday the 13th Part IV: the Final Chapter (1984)

FridayPoster4

My ass, it is!

Ted White as Jason Voorhees
Kimberly Beck as Trish Jarvis
Corey Feldman as Tommy Jarvis

My favorite of the series. Jason was seen lying unconscious in the last scene of Part III so as to leave you wonder whether Jason was dead or alive. Accordingly, the authorities presume Jason dead in this movie and are to deliver him to the morgue. They’re wrong, of course, and Jason escapes back to Crystal Lake to find himself some more human pincushions.

This movie does pretty much everything better than any other movie in the series. The kills, the scares, even the script are done well. My favorite bits are Jason killing a girl by thrusting his knife up through an inflatable raft and killing a boy by sneaking into his shower and literally crushing his head in Jason’s bare hand!

I alluded to the fact that Jason seems to get more supernatural as the series goes on. He can run and isn’t unnaturally strong in Part II (even though we never know if he was resurrected), but by this point, he can barely walk quickly but is barely fazed by a bookshelf ramming into him.

In the end, Jason is killed. And they have tremendous dialogue concerning Jason’s death to make sure you get it. Despite my crack about the title, this movie truly was intended to be the Final Chapter.

A major character in this movie is Tommy Jarvis. He is but one of many youthful characters Corey Feldman would play in the ’80s.

  Overall: 8 out of 10

  Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)

FridayPoster5

John Shepherd as Tommy Jarvis
Melanie Kinnaman as Pam Roberts
Shavar Ross as Reggie

As you can see, the marketing of this newest film implied that Jason was still dead. Since he was carved up good last time, it’s impossible to bring him back. In fact, he’s not brought back. Not yet.

It seems that killing Jason as a child had a tremendous impact on Tommy Jarvis. He now suffers from mental problems. Now a teenager, he is committed to a halfway house. It is at this point that a local killer starts whacking people in ways that totally mirror Jason’s old killing sprees. In the end, it turns out to be a guy who merely dresses like Jason in order to mislead the cops.

Quality takes a dive here. I can see the argument that it’s silly to get mad that it was still a mute killer in a mask but not the right mute killer in a mask. Still, continuity is not unimportant. Also, this just isn’t a very well-done movie. The kills are not very witty, nor are you likely to be scared. In fact, this is basically a generic mystery horror movie that could just as easily have been a standalone. Even if you want to watch these movies, I’d recommend skipping this. As I’ll soon explain, it’s not really important to the series anyway.

  Overall: 4 out of 10

  Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
FridayPoster6

C. J. Graham as Jason Voorhees
Thom Mathews as Tommy Jarvis
Jennifer Cooke as Megan Garris
David Kagen as Sheriff Mike Garris

Apparently, there was a backlash against Paramount for the killer not having anything to do with the series. Fans wanted Jason back. The real Jason. So that’s who Paramount gave them.

Still, this is hardly a conventional Friday movie. It’s a mix of gore horror and comedy. Scenes like Jason being so zombiefied that he can’t even swim and smashing people’s heads into trees, leaving smiley face-prints, are definitely more funny than scary. But I have to admit, it is funny. The satire of various horror cliches is extremely clever. Plus, the gore is as good as ever.

Friday3

Move over, Bond.

Move over, Bond!

I would note that this is a resurrection story. So the brief genre change is happening at just the right time. To use a comic book term, Part V is retconned. That’s when a writer decides that something that happened in the past doesn’t fit in and wipes it out of existence. Tommy Jarvis seems more or less sane and is going to cremate Jason and do a seance or something to send him to Hell. However, lightning ruins this experiment and brings back Jason. After murder and hilarity ensue, Tommy finds a way to get rid of Jason again, but we’re given notice in the last scene that he did survive and will back. Oddly enough, Tommy doesn’t appear in any more movies. Which is odd. Hadn’t he been established at this point as essentially Jason’s archnemesis?

I’m not saying I would have made Part VI this way, but it’s at least as valid in the Friday the 13th series as the Adam West show is in the Batman franchise

  Overall:8 out of 10

  Friday the 13th Part VII: the New Blood (1988)
FridayPoster7

Kane Hodder as Jason Vorhees
Lar Park Lincoln as Tina Shapard
Kevin Spirtas as Nick

Here’s where things start to go downhill, I’m afraid. We can write off Part V as an accident, but the path for a while to come is downhill.

Crystal Lake is back to “normal.” Jason has returned to his old habits of hiding out by day and killing people with a machete by night. One of the campers this time is Tina Shepard, a girl with pyrotechnic powers but serious emotional problems. Sounds like Carrie? Tina basically is.

Additionally, the intelligence of the earlier movies is beginning to fade. I get that you always have to suspend your disbelief with the movies, etc., but things come together too conveniently here. For instance, a camp with rough kids is probably not the best place for your kid with mental problems to adjust.

The final battle between Tina and Jason is pretty good, though. Tina keeps setting Jason on fire but Jason keeps coming. This makes up for some of the shortcomings of this movie.

This movie is Kane Hodder’s first portrayal of Jason, and he did the best of all the actors in the role. He may never have spoke, but his movements were always just right. Pity he didn’t do any of the good ones.

  Overall: 6 out of 10

  Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhatten (1989)
FridayPoster8

Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees
Jensen Daggett as Rennie Wickham
Scott Reeves as Sean Robertson

By this point, most were wishing this series would come to a f*cking end, so the filmmakers again went down the gimmick lane. This time, they chose to put Hockey boy in the Big Apple. And possibly the most hated movie in the series is born.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t find this movie to be horrible exactly. Less bad and more boring. Jason (after yet another resurrection) takes his path of destruction to a New York-bound boat, and most of the movie is a lot of nothing happening there.

Even when Jason finally gets to NYC, there’s not much payoff. The kills are very lazily executed and I don’t remember being the slightest bit chilled. There doesn’t even seem to be any thought put into either of these, as evidenced by the teleporting kills. It doesn’t help that Paramount stopped standing up to the MPAA after awhile, resulting in the gore being watered down.

Jason’s supernatural stature has gotten out of hand. He is now able to go unhurt by bullets and literally punch a dude’s head off.

Even if you can make it through the boring boat cruise, there isn’t much of a reward, I’m afraid.

  Overall: 3 out of 10

  Jason Goes To Hell: the Final Friday (1993)

FridayPoster9

Then why would you have me fear him?

Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees/Freddy Krueger’s claw
John D. LeMay as Steven Freeman
Kari Keegan as Jessica Kimble

Jason dies once more but gains the ability to spiritually enter the bodies of others and control them. ‘Nuff said. Oh, that may be unprofessional of me, but come on — what more than that stupid-ass plot do you need?

Well, OK. At long last, the FBI moves against Jason and kills him in the beginning before the movie goes Homer Simpson. That’s worth a point on the scale.

  Overall: 3 out of 10

  Jason X (2001)
JasonXPoster

Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees
Peter Mensah as Sgt. Brodski
Chuck Campbell as Tsunaron
Lisa Ryder as KM 14

The feds finally catch Jason and freeze him through the art of cryonics. He is rediscovered centuries later. A professor of the group that finds Jason’s body, Brandon Lowe, makes a personal note that this notorious killer could be auctioned off for a lot of cash and thaws him out. Because keeping him frozen and urging any buyer to do the same just wasn’t an option, was it? This leads to another bloodbath, but in outer space.

Were they even trying on this one? Because this movie truly reeks of Hollywood greed. “Jason’s cool, spaceships are cool, so surely the rubes’ll pay even more money if it’s Jason in space.” The whole concept reeks of writers who were running out of ideas. Actually, why not just have Jason kill a bunch of modern campers without, in this case, a single personality between them? That sounds like a far better movie than Jason X.

It’s truly astonishing (but hilarious) how Jason seems to instinctively know his way around a spaceship and how it operates. Try flying an airplane without even the know-how to drive a car. That has but a fraction of the implausibility of Jason instantly mastering spaceships.

  Overall: 2 out of 10

  Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
FreddyVsJasonPoster

Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger
Ken Kirzinger as Jason Voorhees
Monica Keena as Lori Campbell
Jason Ritter as Will Rollins

Ah, yes, the crossover movie. This is where two of the all-time biggest horror icons battle it out. Unfortunately, this kind of thing is always better in theory than practice. Why? Because the story is always awful (it’s a movie centered around a single battle) and the selling point can’t have a good ending because, inevitably, the fans of the loser will go apeshit. What kind of fans? Perhaps SNL can explain better than I can.

The story is suburban slasher boilerplate that serves mostly as filler slapped together as an afterthought until the big fight. Freddy does his usual trickery to lure Jason into town. Both killers do a lot of killing before they finally meet and have the most half-assed fight I’ve seen in a long time. The only part I cared about was the explosion that ends the fight. Why did I care? Because I knew that meant that the movie was about to end.

Alas, there were enough people who only cared that Freddy fights Jason that this third-rate slasher made almost quadruple its budget. Priorities, people! I get that this movie was a true opportunity to geek-out, but it still sucks. As bad as the last three Jason movies? In the sense that mud tastes better that shit, no.

But you know what? I could give this movie an average rating if it convincingly closed the book on both the Friday the 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street lines of films. Instead, we discover in the end that both Jason and Freddy survived. Even though this would be the last pre-reboot film for either man. They kill both guys so many times and this is when they survive?

  Overall: 4 out of 10

  Friday the 13th (2009)

FridayPoster2009Caleb Guss as Jason Voorhees
Amanda Righetti as Whitney Miller
Jared Padelecki as Clay Miller

Oftentimes over the last decade, a movie series were left so completely butchered that the only logical course of action was to start over. Yet in this case, it’s more true. Not only had there not been a good Friday in over twenty years, we had been through imposters, resurrections, demonic possession, jumping into the future, crossovers, even the retconning of entire movies, the old series was just plain broken. Therefore, a reboot.

In many ways, this is the old Jason. After a brief bit showing the end of Jason’s mother and the days when Jason wore a sack on his head, we have a run-of-the-mill Jason story in which he kills teenagers. Nothing new or groundbreaking, but hey, the series had gone off-target for so long that the old ways sure seemed new.

Back to basics.

Back to basics.

Jason is tougher than Hell in this movie, but he’s also able to run like in Part II. So it’s a nice mix of old Jason and later Jason.

Alas, I can’t rate this too high because it’s an old concept. There are rumors of a sequel under the surface, so here’s hoping that, should it be made, it breaks new ground.

Than again, do we really need another one? Twelve movies seems quite enough. If it’s time for this series to end for good, that’s quite all right too.

  Overall: 7 out of 10

I’m not gonna lie to you. This super-long post was quite a workout. I might wait two weeks instead of the usual one for my next review or article. Then again, I might not. If I do, I feel as though I’ve earned a break.

Update at 11:49 PM: I’ve changed my mind. I think I will stay on a regular schedule.

Come what may, happy Halloween!

Nixon

NixonPosterAnthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon
Joan Allen as Pat Nixon
Paul Sorvino as Henry Kissenger
James Woods as H.R. Haldeman
Bob Hoskins as J. Edgar Hoover
David Hyde Pierce as John Dean
Mary Steenburgen as Hannah Nixon
Tom Bower as Frank Nixon

As you can probably tell from the title, this movie is about Richard Nixon, President of the United States of America and as of this post, the only one to resign from office. He is certainly one of our oddest and most interesting leaders. His public image was as a cold warrior, yet his most lasting accomplishments were diplomatic talks with the communist world. His strict, religious mother taught him discipline and integrity, though it is generally accepted among historians that Nixon’s mind was unstable and led him to commit crimes. His image in every campaign was that of a common rural man who saw left-wing Democrats as elite social engineers, but once elected, he tended to govern from the center.

Oliver Stone tries to bring Nixon to life, and to an extent, he succeeds. He shows us a Nixon who was embittered by defeat and driven increasingly paranoid. Stone is not the best journalist in my humble opinion, but he does once again prove to be one of the best at humanizing people. Unfortunately, this picture falters from its overly lenient portrayal of a man who most assuredly was a crook.

Nixon1

So what you’re saying is, “we get some things a tad wrong?”

We begin during the Watergate scandal as a frustrated Nixon reflects on his life in politics. Still, those expecting a complete account of his career will be disappointed. Stone’s scope of focus begins in the 1960 debates between Nixon and John F. Kennedy with the disappointed reaction of Nixon’s campaign staff. He also loses the election but believes he was cheated in Illinois and Texas. Still, he sees a challenge as hopeless, so he lets the result stand. He does run for Governor of his home state of California just two years later, but loses again. This movie implies that Nixon’s defeats were the reason he lost his mind. The vast majority of Nixon is split between Nixon’s gradual comeback from his humiliating defeat in California to his resignation from the office of President in disgrace.

Anthony Hopkins is Tricky Dick. He doesn’t much look like the huge-headed thirty-seventh President, but who does? He’s got what probably were Nixon’s mannerisms down pat. On the other hand, Nixon had the charisma of a dusted-up rocking chair. In this, Hopkins tremendous acting skills work against him. He does a good job grumbling and otherwise trying to sound unlikable, but it’s not quite right. Hopkins is alright, but he definitely doesn’t do a first-rate job of playing this historical figure.

Thankfully, Nixon is scripted well. There are flashbacks to his childhood in which he is taught by his blue collar parents that life is rough. Unfortunately, this Nixon learns the wrong lessons from them. Instead of understanding the true value of hard work, he grows into an incredibly cynical man. So much so that he ends up losing his sense of right and wrong.

"Who's lookin' out for you? Especially if you're a political opponent?"

“Who’s lookin’ out for you? Especially if you’re one of my political opponents?”

Since this is an Oliver Stone movie set partly in the 1960s, the political assassinations do play a part. Nixon has mixed feelings about JFK’s murder, saddened that it happened to President Kennedy, yet he would clearly be celebrating if it were only Jack Kennedy. J. Edgar Hoover is portrayed in this movie as a corrupt status quo guy. Dark tidings are made by the implications that he was responsible for the assassinations of Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and exerted tremendous influence on Nixon (“I’m gonna have to remind him that he needs us a Hell of a lot more than we need him”).

As usual with these political movies, the separation of powers is largely ignored. Congress almost never comes into play. Since Nixon had an opposing Congress all the way through, this would seem to be a pretty big oversight. Fortunately, the real Nixon didn’t care all that much about domestic issues that didn’t accuse him of crimes, preferring international affairs, where Congress has less authority. So the fact that the President’s power is exaggerated, like in most movies, hurts Nixon less than it should.

The foreign issues Nixon grapples with are the communist threat, normalizing relations with China, and of course, Vietnam/Cambodia. The second escalation of the war with Vietnam, war protests against Nixon, negotiations with Mao Zedong, and the eventual withdrawal from ‘Nam are all handled well. You can almost picture that they really happened this way.

You saw it here first folks! Nixon was a Chinese spy!!!

You saw it here first folks! Nixon was a Chinese spy!!!

If Congress seems too small in this movie, the importance of the people who elected Nixon is accurately depicted. There is a reenactment of a real life scene in which Nixon, over the strong objections of his advisers, has a conversation with anti-war students. At first they can’t understand why Nixon does what he does if he really wants to end the war, but he seems to reach common ground with them when he basically explains that changing current policy isn’t easy and requires patience because the system tends to be invested in what works right now.

Nixon also has conversations with some conservative Texas businessmen. In 1963, they urge Nixon to take another shot at Kennedy (who’s not dead yet). Nixon basically tells them that Kennedy or whoever takes his place will be unbeatable. As President, Nixon disappoints them with environmental regulations, expanded school busing, and ending the war. Nixon basically tells them that politics requires compromise. When that doesn’t do the trick, he adds that it’s him or “pansy-poet socialist” George McGovern; “if you’re not happy with the EPA up your ass, try the IRS.” I can totally imagine Obama having a similar conversation with disenchanted Democratic donors.

With all the praise this movie is getting, you’re probably expecting a very high rating. Actually, there is one critical flaw: it’s too generous. For instance, it is true that Nixon chose to talk personally to protesters, but it was pure politics. He had no respect for the protesters or any other form of political opposition. This is why he created a recording system in the first place: he trusted no one. Stone’s attempts to make his look into the soul of Richard Milhous Nixon a sympathetic one is problematic because Nixon deserved no sympathy whatsoever. I understand that Stone probably only wanted to be understanding of a disliked man, but a lot of unpopular people are unpopular for a reason.

Despite this major flaw, I still enjoy Nixon. Generous or not, it is a both enlightening and entertaining presidential biography.

 Overall: 7 out of 10

Crisis averted, for now

After over two weeks, the federal government of the USA has been reopened. There is now a raise in the debt ceiling and funding of the government that will last until at least winter.

In short, President Obama’s strategy on how to stop extortion seems to have worked.

All the Republican demands, even the delay of the medical device tax in the Affordable Care act, have been shelved. Why? Because Obama refused to accept day-to-day operations of the government, much less the economy, as negotiable. It’s too bad he didn’t do this two years ago. Once you agree to negotiate over the faith and credit of the United States, it’s not easy to back away from that. But he seems to have learned his lesson. Let’s hope the same proves true of the Republicans who shut down the government.

So what are the political effects of the shutdown? The Republican party has fallen to its lowest rating in history. Does this mean anything for next year’s midterm elections? Not necessarily. Except in exceptional circumstances, midterms work against the President’s party, especially those happening in his second term. It should be noted, though, that presidents who have it tough in the first set of midterms tend to be the ones who are luckier in the second set (see Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan*).

In the immediate future is the off-year elections. The only particularly suspenseful race is the governor’s race in Virginia. This is a race that the Republicans should expect to win. Why? Because it’s been forty years since a President’s party won it. Since then, any time a party won the Presidency, it would lose the governorship of Virginia a year later. This time, though, the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, has a hefty lead over opponent Ken Cuccinelli.

Ken-Cuccinelli

“Senator Cruz, I’m gonna count to ten, and when I finish, you don’t wanna be here.”

And yet, this may not mean much. Unless the Republicans commit political suicide again, the midterm rule should go back into effect by the time the campaigns heat up. So instead of the Democrats gaining 28 seats, they’ll gain, oh, perhaps three. The shutdown will probably be more significant for the Senate than the House. If another shutdown happens later on, things might get interesting.

Which brings me back to whether this will happen again. The case for this being an unusual calm between storms is pretty solid. Conservative commentators were predictably pissed. They felt that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell caved, that the system has proven broken, that Republicans weren’t really being blamed but Republicans panicked anyway, and so on.

https://twitter.com/DRUDGE/status/390481681108328449

The beauty of this argument, by the way, is that it heads the rational conclusion off at the pass. If the shutdown turns what should be the usual midterm push against Obama into united government (and make no mistake, history says that mere conservative apathy will not cause that), the right can claim that they “knew” all along that backing down from brinkmanship would lead to defeat. Very clever, Matt.

Still, Republicans in Congress know the truth all too well. They have seen the anger over this and will not be so eager to test the patience of the American people again. Moreover, politicians hate losing. Once a strategy proves to be a legislative, as well as political, failure, they may lack the ego as well as the will to try it again.

On the other hand, the next deadline will be on the doorstep of primary season. That would make it harder for them to say no. Maybe even impossible. Don’t forget that about 190 Republicans are safe no matter what, but all who dissent from the party line are vulnerable in a primary.

So I really don’t know how this will turn out. Frankly, I suspect that anyone who claims to be sure is either cocky or lying.

*Reagan did fare badly in the post-election hype, though. The psychological effects of the Democrats winning control of the Senate made their disastrous gubernatorial efforts seem unimportant to most.

Final Fantasy (PSP)

FinalFantasyPSPTitle

Few games were as significant to my video gaming experience as Final Fantasy. I love RPGs, and this was the first great one that I played. I had played Dragon Quest, but that was just OK. No, this was the game that really got me acquainted with the genre. I had trouble with the level grinding (at eight or nine, you’re not very patient), but other than that, I always enjoyed it.

This remake is more than just FF on the go. It has improved graphics, sound, and some extra features. If you’re up to play this again, I heartily recommend this version.

Plot: 7 out of 10

Chances are, you already know what this game is about. It begins with your average “save the princess” story. But this isn’t the case for long. Your party of four people is called the Light Warriors. Each of them has a crystal (changed from orb in the original). The crystals represent what were considered the four main elements in ancient times: Earth, Fire, Water, and Air. Each element has been driven haywire by a fiend of the same element. Result? The fiends are causing destruction all over the world. So… why? What’s the point in creating chaos? This isn’t to provoke a surrender, because they’ve been at this for several centuries. So why a good rating? Three reasons:

1.) The Earth/Fire/Water/Wind angle creates an interesting twist on this. This is basically a storm paranoiac’s worst nightmare come to life.
2.) Some interesting subplots arise throughout the game, such as the ones involving elves and a town that is nearly destroyed by a vampire.
3.) Games originally made in the NES era rarely had compelling plots. What do you expect?

Graphics: 8 out of 10

One of the best-looking on the NES, but I’m not so sure I can be as complimentary of this version. Though graphics are improved all-around, some outdoor objects make a not very convincing attempt at looking 3-D. Still, this is a minor complaint and I must say that the cutscenes give a lot to this game.

FinalFantasyPSP1

No, you did NOT kill Link!

Sound: 10 out of 10

Now, THIS is what FF does best, and this version does not disappoint. The fantastic tunes are there and improved. New songs are included for boss battles (the original version gave all battles the same song), and they’re pretty good as well.

Gameplay: 10 out of 10

You can choose the types (called “classes”) of your four party members. The classes are Fighter, Monk, Thief, Red Mage, White Mage, and Black Mage. They have different attributes. My recommendation is a Fighter, White Mage, Black Mage, and one of the three other classes.

Battles are not active. In contrast to the later games, you can take as long as you want. Still, some modern additions are in this version, such as the ability to run in towns and dungeons. One rare convenience in this version is the ability to save anywhere.

Those who got into the series with or after FFVII will be surprised to find that this game isn’t all that linear. You’re not as uncontrolled as a lot of old RPGs, but you’re free enough. This is preferable, for the game is not linear enough that you have no options, but is linear enough that it’s not impossible to tell where you’re supposed to go.

As usual with these remakes, the PSP version of FF includes some extra dungeons. These are well-designed and include new variants of the existing monster families.

In short, this game always had great gameplay, and in this version, it’s only improved.

Challenge: 5 out of 10

This is not the only FF to be remade on handhelds, but I do notice something peculiar: unlike all the others, this game gets easier with each remake. Monsters aren’t really easier; in fact, bosses seem far more powerful than the pushovers in the original. But you level up very quickly and spells don’t cost as much. I don’t actually mind an easy game that much. It can be quite relaxing. You just have to know going in that this game is fun, not challenging.

FinalFantasyPSP2

A lot bigger than I ever pictured.

The big exception is that the extra dungeons are much harder, especially the bosses. While not insane, they require more grinding and cleverness than the rest of the game. Being challenged obviously has its strong points too and is preferable, if anything. The one thing I have to warn you about is that doors tend to close behind you. So if your only saves are in the dungeons, you may be stuck if you’re not high enough in level. That once happened to me. It sucks to have to start over for no reason other than a game save.

Overall: 8 out of 10

Despite this problem, I can recommend the PSP version of Final Fantasy. You might ask, “why buy this again?” My answer? “The same reason you bought multiple editions of Godfather or Star Wars movies: for all the bells and whistles.” Just make sure you use more than one save slot, just in case.

America held hostage

AmericaHeldHostage1

It has been a week since the federal government of the US of A shut down. Why did it shut down? That’s actually not an easy question to answer. It depends on where you begin this story.

You could start it in 1990, when conservative Republicans in the House Of Representatives, lead by Newt Gingrich, lead a nearly successful revolt against a budget compromise between President George H. W. Bush and the leaders of a Democratic Congress. Unless you count January’s “Fiscal Cliff” deal, this was the last time any Republican in Congress voted to raise taxes. When Bush lost, the far-right became much stronger in the Republican Party because of the assumption that the tax increase had killed Bush’s chances of reelection. Personally, I think Bush’s biggest problem was a recession that most, House backbenchers on the floor included, accepted before the tax increase ever happened as all but inevitable. This definitely isn’t how the right-wing universe saw it. This strengthening of the right made frequent brinkmanship possible.

Or you could start in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. This was likely the result of economic collapse. Once again, that’s not how Republicans saw it. Their view was that they had been sold out, citing No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and earmarks. How these pieces of legislation made Bush any more of an apostate than the sainted Ronald Reagan’s tax increases, meeting with Gorbachev, and immigration reform made him, I could not guess, but apparently, they thought so. And so it was that right-wing groups have launched primary challenges for the slightest impurity ever since.

The starting point could begin just a little later. Supposedly, Republican leaders met right after inauguration day and decided on a strategy of total opposition. This made the filibuster the standard rather than the exception that was in the past. Translated to English, that meant that there was a 60-vote requirement to pass anything in the U.S. Senate. When the Republicans got a House majority, they decided to start channeling the Sopranos by extending this to procedural votes, making even the faith and credit of the United States a bargaining chip.

"Nice economy ya got there. Wouldn't want something ta happen to it."

“Nice economy ya got there. Wouldn’t want something to happen to it.”

Or perhaps we begin in November 2010. Thanks to an enthusiasm gap, but mostly because of 9.6% unemployment, the Republicans won control of the House. This was taken by them to be not a balancing act but a repeal of the Obama administration. To be fair, hubris in victory is not exactly unheard of. “What would Roosevelt do if he were alive” was parodied as “what would Truman do if he were alive” after the 1946 midterms; Gerry Ford had barely begun to be President when he took a lickin’ at the polls in 1974 and received veto override after veto override; House Speaker Tip O’Neill recalled in his memoirs that he didn’t think Reagan would bother running for reelection after his party lost in 1982; months after the 1994 elections, Bill Clinton actually had to say, “the President is relevant here.” Of course, Obama, like three of these four other presidents, went on to win reelection. What’s different is that Republicans have continued to hold onto the memory of 2010 like a life preserver. This helps them see Obama, nay, all political opposition, as illegitimate.

Or maybe it was when Obama committed the blunder of negotiating over the debt ceiling. By the time it became clear that the Republicans were demanding and not compromising, Obama could not believably argue that American credit was non-negotiable.

Actually, though, the answer is two weeks ago. The Republicans were insisting on a continuing resolution that included the de-funding of the Affordable Care Act. Nonetheless, there were indications that a clean CR would pass until Senator Ted Cruz’ pretend-filibuster, which included references to, among other things, the children’s book Green Eggs and Ham. This was my response:

Hey, if he can waste time with lame Dr. Seuss analogies, so can I! Anyway, Cruz’ antics seem to have instantly changed the math in the House. Now a clean CR didn’t have the votes.

I guess someone who decides that people mustn't have a chance to try something does have some relevence to all this...

Someone who judges something before he’s even tried it but loves it when he takes a bite might not be the best analogy, Ted.

What happened next will sound like a joke. To appease conservatives, Republican leaders released their opening demands that look kind of like the Romney/Ryan campaign platform. Even that wasn’t good enough for backbenchers in the House. As a result, no CR passed, so the government ran out of money and closed.

It’s getting worse, people. House Speaker John Boehner recently warned that if Obama does not negotiate over the debt ceiling, we will default. That would mean an economic tsunami. Before that, Rep. Marlin Stutzman said, “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

What do they have to say for themselves (yeah, I mean it that way)? It seems to be that the only way anything can get done is if American credit is on the chopping block. Because Obama doesn’t see it that way, he is the one with a foot on the brakes of the Washington street sweeper.

First of all, Obama has offered a number of compromises on job creation and/or deficit reduction that include major concessions. You can see the progressive Americans For Democratic Action’s mixed reaction to one of them right here. Second, there is no intransigence in not wanting to flush a year’s worth of legislation, not to mention the losing efforts of T. Roosevelt, Truman, T. Kennedy, and the Clintons, down the drain. Besides, the ACA’s opponents have already had their chances to repeal it in the form of filibusters, court cases, and a election to decide its fate. They lost. Third, “give us what we want or the economy gets it” is no compromise. It’s a stickup. Finally, if you think Obama’s the one being unreasonable, I refer you to three paragraphs ago to a right-wing pipe dream being too leftist for the House. And Boehner’s gonna get his people to agree to an adult idea with OBAMA?!

I sincerely haven’t any clue how this will play out. Some liken this to a action movie in which the bad guy takes a hostage that is close to the hero. Me, though, I think the more appropriate kind of movie is the comedy about bumbling criminals who screw up left and right. You see, Boehner appears to have lost control of his caucus. It’s as if he is only a figurehead. He could join with Democrats to get a CR/debt ceiling increase, but to do so would likely be the end of his Speakership. So he hesitates.

An alternative is Obama giving in. He shouldn’t. In the first place, that would permanently make brinkmanship, not negotiation in good faith, the default style of American governance. For another, the Republican’s demands would only grow the next time. There’s going to come a point when nothing can satisfy. Then default will happen anyway.

I really don’t think there’s a perfect solution to this. Some cite the 14th Amendment because it says “the validity of the public debt… shall not be questioned.” But there are certain legal flaws in this argument, such as that the 14th Amendment also says that it’s for Congress to enforce it. Short of that, there is no silver bullet. Here’s hoping that the economy isn’t nuked in the near future.