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Black Panther & Cultural Conversation

Another superhero movie came out this past month. That’s where we are at now. Marvel movies are becoming as essential to American culture as the Super Bowl or the Olympics; we all have to see them.

Except Black Panther was more than just another Marvel film.

Black Panther is a platform for black artists and creators to create a lens into their culture. This was a first for a large demographic of kids. They get to see themselves as the hero; the main event. Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman as the titular Black Panther, reprising his role from Captain America: Civil War, with Michael B. Jordan as the debut villain Erik Killmonger.

Michael B. Jordan played a heavy role in the film while also reuniting, for the third time, with writer and director Ryan Coogler—proving to be a match made in cinematic heaven. The two came together in 2013 for Fruitvale Station and again in 2015 for Creed.


“Black Panther” stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis.              

 

Zanesha Williams:

I love Marvel films. I always look forward to seeing the Avengers come together and watch the solo films in between. To be fair though, the other day I overheard a group of girls talking in the cafe and one of them mentioned that she didn’t know that the Black Panther was a superhero. Most people didn’t. I am also fairly new to the club.

Mitchell Walther:

I am a marvel fanboy. There’s no use in me hiding it. While I don’t read the comics quite as much as I did back in the day, I have done everything I can to stay up to date on the Marvel cinematic universe.

Black Panther was always a superhero I liked, but not a character that I found incredibly enticing on his own. Often when I read his stories he was paired with the X-Men or Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. That being said, I was excited when I heard they were giving Black Panther his own film. I was even more excited when I heard Kendrick Lamar was going to be producing the album.

Zanesha:

Once it was announced after Captain America: Civil War that the Black Panther would get a full length film, the most exciting part was seeing updates on the cast. Who would’ve thought we’d being seeing Angela Bassett in a Marvel film? On and off the screen, “blackness” was praised and proved to be something worth watching. The selection for costume designers, the “inspired by” soundtrack, and the director.

Mitchell:

I will be honest and say that before Black Panther, I didn’t know who Angela Bassett was. Bassett put forth a stirring performance as the mother of T’challa, the Black Panther.  It’s sad how long this movie has taken to get made.

Black Panther is another installment in a long line of Marvel films that pushes the envelope. Rather than serve up standard superheroes, Marvel has attempted to give us something unique. A talking raccoon and a giant tree voiced by Vin Diesel would never have gotten the green light when Iron Man and The Dark Knight were the pioneers.

Black Panther is culturally a more important film than Guardians of the Galaxy though. It is the story of a superhero who is also the king of a sovereign nation. In the comics Black Panther fights with politics almost as much as his claws. The story of Black Panther and his nation of Wakanda also carries a lot of racial and social commentary.

Rather than shy away from the issues, the movie leans into them and allows what made the story unique in the comic books to make it unique on screen. It’s a movie about representation, juggling the identity of a comic book flick with that of a film about black culture. How did it do?

Zanesha:

Black Panther was a very different combination of excitement. You have so many new and unusual factors going in one mainstream film. The idea that a blockbuster depicts Africa as beautiful, self-sufficient, and most importantly superior to its surroundings is an anomaly. The excitement that black kids can look up to a superhero that looks like them, play with action figures that have the same features. This film supports an identity that was well overdue.

There’s so much to rave about. You have Kendrick Lamar, an activist through his rap, producing the soundtrack for the film. Ryan Coogler’s $200 million budget for a film he was allowed to make his own. Ruth E. Carter, known for her repeated work with director Spike Lee, and more recently her costume design for Selma.

Names that resonate in the black community are now widely known due the weight that Marvel films hold. The excitement comes from the shift in a community finally being able to show how profitable it truly is.

Mitchell:

It comes at a fortuitous time in Hollywood as well. Black Panther as a movie is poignant. Opening on Oakland, California in 1992, the film makes its goals clear while still entertaining us the entire way. Stunning visuals and an incredible soundtrack composed by Swedish visionary Ludwig Goransson never distract from the climax.

Black Panther is about a hero and a villain who both want what is best for their people. They both see the suffering and persecution endured at the hands of the privileged and the powerful. The crux of their characters fall on what the answer is. How do we as people fight against hundreds of years of systematic and institutionalized racism? Black Panther director Coogler answers as best as he can: we get involved, and we point a spotlight at the beautiful.

SF Ballet Review: Romeo & Juliet

Image by laobc via openclipart

 

The San Francisco Ballet ended its 2015 repertory season with the romantic story of Romeo and Juliet at the War Memorial Opera House on May 9.

The principal dancers of the night were Vanessa Zahorian who played Juliet and Joan Boada who played Romeo.

Zahorian had an amazing corporal expression. In Act III, Juliet’s parents want to marry her to Paris, an aristocrat from the same Capulet family, but she refused. In this scene, Zahorian expressed her mixed feelings of fear and love toward her parents and her displeasure toward dancing with Paris. Her movements looked forced and she did not express the same energy as when she danced with Romeo. Even though Zahorian’s facial expressions were difficult to see from the balcony section, her body language could be seen from the last seat of the house.

The costumes and sets, created by Jens-Jacob Worsaae, were amazing. They transported the audience to Verona where the story takes place. In scene II, Juliet and Romeo were married in secret by Friar Laurence. The stage transformed into a chapel with an altar and a renaissance painting of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus in her arms. The lighting created by Thomas R. Skelton added a dramatic look.

One of the most beautiful dances of the night was in the scene called “Juliet’s Bedroom.” In this scene, Romeo spent the night with Juliet where they consummated their marriage. He needed to leave before the sun came out, but Juliet did not allow him and instead, they danced in an emotive pas de deux that was full of subtle movements of passion and love.

 

SF Ballet Official Website

Principal Dancer Joan Boada Garcia Spotlight video

Principal Dancer Vanessa Zahorian

The taste of Method Brewing: Beer Expert Review

One of the Method Brewing guys hands a beer to a customer during the SF Beer Week event Wednesday, Feb. 11. Photos by Daniel Porter

Jared Funkhouser has been brewing beer and working in the industry for the past 10 years. He is currently enrolled in SF State’s graduate school problem working on a master’s in sustainability. Merging both his love of beer and sustainability, Funkhouser recently developed a beer education program for sustainable brewing that he has begun to introduce to bars in the area. In recent years, he has noticed an exponential growth in the beer industry and bay area restaurants, as they have started paying closer attention to their craft beer selection.

Funkhouser formally reviewed Method Brewing’s beers on February 11. Method Brewing offers a unique and innovative science-driven approach to beer making. You can read more about Method Brewing in Xpress Magazine’s Spring 2015, Issue 1.

The crowd starts small at the beginning of the night during the Method Brewing SF Beer Week event Wednesday, Feb. 11.
The crowd starts small at the beginning of the night during the Method Brewing SF Beer Week event Wednesday, Feb. 11.

Here are some of Funkhouser’s thoughts on the beer choices of the night.

IRA 6.8% ABV

A hoppy, West Coast style india red ale

Funkhouser holds up his beer glass to eye-level. Through his spectacles, he observes the bubbling clear liquid in his hand and determines it’s filtered. The red ale gives off an aroma of pine and flowers. “You can smell the sugars, maybe toffee and caramel,” he says in between sips. “I would buy a six pack of this and take it home,” he notes enthusiastically.

Best paired with? Red meat and Irish pub food.

Tiniest Green Wolf 3.6% ABV

A seasonable micro-IPA that is low in alcohol but packed with hops and flavor

“I can see myself drinking this in the sun all summer long while mowing the lawn,” Funkhouser says as he sips on the easy to drink micro-IPA. The low alcohol content and light body makes for a refreshing beer that showcases the hops and malty flavors. “There’s a bit of a danky smell, a little marijuana smell,” he mentions as he explains that hops are cousins of marijuana without containing any THC.

Best to drink? In between greasy foods to clear palate.

Paul Tiplady, one out of four guys in Method Brewing, hands a guest of the SF Beer Week they put together Wednesday, Feb. 11.
Paul Tiplady, one out of four guys in Method Brewing, hands a guest of the SF Beer Week they put together Wednesday, Feb. 11.

Noyaux Nut Brown Ale 5.2% ABV

Got a bit of a sweet tooth? This light body beer tastes of marzipan and cherries, making the beer itself a decadent dessert, according to Funkhouser. As the beer warms up to cellar temperature, the marzipan decreases and the taste of cherry and almond increases.

Best paired with? Dark chocolate cake.

Toasted Coconut Guayusa Brown Ale 5% ABV

An earthy brown ale made with toasted coconut chips and gunpowder guayusa. 

He inhales. “I can smell toasted coconut all day,” he says. This ale is not too sweet and has a toasty milk chocolate and caramel well-balanced flavor, he adds. He goes on to explain that the guavas plant is native of the amazon and is typically brewed like tea. This adds an earthiness to the flavor that is reminiscent of a musty forest. “This is s stand out to me thus far,” he says as he continues with the beer tasting.

Big Boy Imperial Porter 12% ABV

A dangerously drinkable imperial poter. Over a year old and clocking in at 12% ABV.

Funkhouser recommends drinking beer flights from lightest to darkest. He suggests to end with the most complex, which will in turn, leaves you to most satisfied. That’s exactly what he did by leaving the Big Boy to the end. The beer is slowly sipped, slower than the rest of the beers. Having the same alcohol content as wine, this beer is treated with a bit more care. It tastes of molasses and black licorice, he shares.

Best paired with? Stinky, funky bleu cheese. Chocolate Cake.

Final thoughts? “Beer is supposed to be fun, and I can tell these guys are having a lot of fun,” concludes Funkhouser.

Tom McBride takes a look at the list of beers during a SF Beer Week event put on by Method Brewing in San Francisco Wednesday, Feb. 11.
Tom McBride takes a look at the list of beers during a SF Beer Week event put on by Method Brewing in San Francisco Wednesday, Feb. 11.

OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood Review

Platforms: PS4, Playstation Vita
Release Date: March 3, 2015

The first OlliOlli was the perfect arcadey skating game. Plain and simple.

Nailing kickflips and crooked grinds was a sublime way to pass the time before bed or while pooping. A long list of increasingly difficult challenges and huge array of tricks allowed this game to have replay value, but in small chunks to fit the platform it was made for, being the Playstation Vita.

OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood is the follow-up coming only a year and change later, sporting a slick new look and promising a multitude of added features. Piling on bullet-point worthy features may sound like a boastful press release, but they each improve a game with an already incredible foundation.

The pure art of OlliOlli 2 is how it forces the player to step their game up. There are no upgrades. There are no skill points. The more you play, the better you will eventually get at extending combos and destroying your old high scores. Timing, patience, and skill are encouraged with progression, and so is that rewarding fuzzy feeling of mastering something that once stood as a challenge. In a world where experience bars dominate each release, it’s refreshing to see an experience bar that is a bit more intrinsic.

Points are important though, because they make up the whole crux of the game. Achieving lengthy combos is possible through linking tricks together and finding ways to add to the almighty point multiplier. In the first OlliOlli, this was only possible through chaining grinds in between tricks. Once you stuck the landing, your combo ended, which limited how you could rack up millions of points.

I hear the ancient Mayans would also nosegrind back in the day.
I hear the ancient Mayans would also nosegrind back in the day.

OlliOlli 2 adds some new basic tricks, but manuals, reverts, and grind switching all open up combo-extending possibilities and subsequently provides a wealth of new strategies. Manuals and reverts (which can be linked) yield ways to add to the multiplier on the ground, which gives more choice and opens up the level design. Worlds no longer have to have endless grind rails because these new moves give more ways to link combos together that don’t require a grindable surface.

Grind switching, which allows the player to switch grind mid-rail, is a smaller addition, but a great one nonetheless because it widens the set of available skills and is another way to increase the multiplier. Including manuals, reverts, and grind switching may seem small, however they add an exponential amount of depth because each new skill becomes yet another tool to master.

Here's an exclusive look at Pacific Rim 2, although sadly this sequel has no Ron Perlman or Charlie Day.
Here’s an exclusive look at Pacific Rim 2, although sadly this sequel has no Ron Perlman or Charlie Day.

The depth will showcase to players willing to put in the time to see it, which is an easy given considering the amount of content OlliOlli 2 has. In addition to the score-heavy Daily Grinds and Spots, there are five worlds with five normal levels and five hard levels apiece. Once all challenges are completed, RAD mode is unlocked, which is a super hard mode for the Tony Hawk-iest of Tony Hawks. On paper, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but knocking out challenges one by one takes multiple runs through levels that already have splitting paths. The variability of the gameplay and the dozens upon dozens of challenges gives OlliOlli 2 plenty of replay value for those willing to seek it.

I say “seek it” because most levels need to be unlocked through achieving certain hard tasks. OlliOlli 2 is a difficult game, yet never frustrating. Sure, some levels require clairvoyance and path memorization, though the extremely quick restart timer alleviates any possible aggravation. You don’t even have time to get mad because you’ll already be rolling on your next run.

Fun fact: cowboys would often settle duels at high noon by doing laserflips and darkside grinds.
Fun fact: cowboys would often settle duels at high noon by doing laserflips and darkside grinds.

No matter the trial or world, OlliOlli 2’s funky fresh visuals pack heat. Simplicity carries the visual style since it is only made up of a few colors, however the brightness pairs well with game’s inventive fantastical worlds. I didn’t expect to be skating through a zombie roller-coaster or a Pacific Rim-esque graveyard, yet I was delighted that these unique world ideas allow for some clever visual change-ups from the usual Earthy locales. The soundtrack is also a highlight, featuring smooth tunes that feel right at home in a skateboarding game. It’s a kind of soundtrack that you can sit back and, say, write a review to.

OlliOlli 2 is just about as good as it can be. Striking that balance between keeping what works, streamlining what is there, and adding new content is tricky, but developer Roll7 did exactly what needed to be done to ensure OlliOlli 2 was the definitive OlliOlli experience. The tiny additions like ramps and a new graphical style deserve props but reverts and manuals drastically better the game by adding an abundance of new strategies. OlliOlli 2’s best features are being simple, deep, and replay-able, which make it a fantastic arcade-y skateboarding game, and the ultimate portable experience. Tony Hawk should be jealous.

Perfect!:

+Girthy amount of content
+Intuitive trick system is easy to immediately grasp but has layers of depth for differing skillsets
+Pretty, minimalistic visual style and catchy soundtrack

Sketchy:

-Some levels require some memorization

olliolli2 score

Chicago Review: All that jazz

A line of sultry female dancers in thin black tights and skimpy costumes sing and dance in wooden chairs for the “Cell Block Tango” a song that narrates how these murderesses finish in jail. The performance is one of the twenty-two performances of Chicago the musical that closed its U.S. tour at Orpheum Theater in San Francisco.

Perfectly toned singers and talented musicians bring to life the musical that takes place in Chicago during the 1920s. Terra C. MacLeod portrays Velma Kelly, a cabaret dancer who killed her husband when she found out he cheated on her. Bianca Marroquin portrays Roxie Hart a chorus girl who killed her lover. Hart like Kelly envision fame and fortune. Now that they are in jail together sentenced to death row for murder, they compete of who would be the most popular on the papers.

Marroquin sings with a powerful voice and acts with natural charisma. Her dialogues include jokes that keep the audience engage in the development of the story.

In this version, sets are minimal and lighting is used to create different scenarios. The jazz band plays on the stage during the entire performance.

The grand finale is Kelly and Hart’s moment of fame. After they got out of jail and became old news, they choreographed an act together for their big return. In this last part of the play, you would imagine them wearing glamours costumes. Instead, they wear black dresses with a black cardigan, silver shoes, hat, and cane. They look elegant, but their costumes do not look like they are from the 1920s.

When you hear Chicago the Broadway Musical, you imagine a big production with cabaret lights, shiny costumes, and a variety of sets. It may also bring to mind the Academy Award winning film with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renée Zellweger, and Richard Gere. In the last scene of the movie, Jones and Zellweger wear stunning silver costumes classic of the 1920s.

Producers may want to differentiate the movie from the play by focusing more on the story and music, but a little bit of visual spark would create a more attractive performance.

Shania Winston, SF State student, who has seen the movie many times, said she would like to see more dancing in the play.

“I don’t feel they chose singers and dancers, they just chose singers,” Shania said, referring to the producers of the musical. “I think is great to have a good voice, but the whole point of this play is to have dancers because that’s everything they want to do they want to be a star, they want to be dancers.”

Fleetwood Mac delivers an unforgettable show at Oracle Arena

The view of the Fleetwood Mac concert from the upper level seating at Oakland's Oracle Area.
The view of the Fleetwood Mac concert from the upper level seating at Oakland’s Oracle Area.

Harmony and sentiment filled the Oracle Arena as the recently reunited Fleetwood Mac took the stage Wednesday night. With Christine McVie back behind the keyboard with her low,melodic voice, this On With The Show Tour marks the first time she has appeared on stage with the band since their 1998 The Dance Tour.

Kicking off with “The Chain,” Fleetwood Mac quickly brought the crowd—almost exclusively partiers of the ’70s and ’80s with a few younger generation fans sprinkled in—to a world separated from the storm and gloom outside, filled instead with collective nostalgia and free-spirited roars.

Doused in wicked-looking layers of black, Stevie Nicks began the ongoing theme of emotional, and at moments cheesy, commentary about the band’s history and excitement towards McVie’s return. All of the bandmates, also including Lindsey Buckingham on guitar, John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums, took their turns throughout the night to commemorate the group’s ability to prevail through the good and the bad, Christine referring to her “long lost family.”

Nicks, who spent the most mic time talking about the past, at one point spoke about starting out in San Francisco, going to the Velvet Underground where huge names such as Janis Joplin got their stage outfits, knowing one day she would be able to shop there too, which segued into “Gypsy,” featuring lyrics about the shop. She also dedicated her song “Landslide” to her first boyfriend whom she dated while attending Atherton High School.

Fleetwood Mac at performs at Oracle Arena for their On With The Show Tour.
Fleetwood Mac at performs at Oracle Arena for their On With The Show Tour.

Each and every song was belted out by the audience, with a noticeably loud reaction to “Go Your Own Way,” with Buckingham’s and Nick’s beautiful harmonizing behind McVie’s lead. Even from the very last row in the arena fans got the experience they paid for, each part and band member sounding even better than on the recorded versions blasting in the car on the way there.

The choice of stage background had some room for curiosity, changing each song between moving images of raindrops, windmills and at one point of people stuck in a storm. It could be argued a psychedelic-esque feel was intended, but it ended up being more weird and distracting, especially since the majority of the crowd has long since ended their experimental days.

The band played a near two and a half hour set with little breaks in between. As anticipated the crowd barely had to cry out for a number of encores, the highlight of them featuring Fleetwood’s impressive drum solo complemented by his cackling laughs and indiscernible chants.

Fleetwood Mac’s songs are as good as they were when first produced, and without a doubt, will outlive everyone in attendance. Although the band has gone through a range of members, these five bring out the best of it all. The talent and bond between them will hopefully be gracing stages across the world for many years to come.

The Bay Area can look forward to another visit from the legendary band, scheduled again at the Oracle Arena on April 7th of next year, where audiences will hopefully hear songs from their newest album set to be released in 2015.

America the Beautiful: Blames Media for Sexualizing America’s Youth

The porn industry, child beauty pageants, and the media were once again the painted culprits of twisting the younger generation’s view and approach to sex in the premiere of Darryl Roberts’ film, America the Beautiful 3: The Sexualization of Our Youth.

Darryl Roberts, former radio host and former host of the Chicago news program Hollywood Hype, is on tour promoting the latest addition to his controversial documentary series, America The Beautiful. All films focus on Roberts’ beliefs, the U.S’ obsession, exploitation, and distortion of beauty.

Around forty people filled the Fillmore’s Clay Theater earlier this month to watch Roberts’ latest film. Interviews with beauty pageant mothers explained why they dressed and showcased their scantily clad four-year-old daughters. Graphic behind the scenes of women working in porn showed the emotional and physical pain during sex scenes, and young women and men expressed their own sexual experiences and thoughts.

Roberts uses a variety of critiques and opinions to show that the U.S. media portrays sex in an unhealthy light, and aims that portrayal to children and teenagers. He speaks with therapists, psychologists, model agency representatives, and men and women in their early 20s.

One section of the film covers the porn industry and the culture surrounding it. The ease of access to adult films and clips on the internet creates an unrealistic expectation of women and demeaning view of women in young men.

A professor in the film says the goal of porn is to dehumanize and violate women, porn feeds into and cultivates rape culture, and when young men habitually view porn, they begin to objectify women and expect them to be sexual.

Roberts made a statement in the Q&A panel after the film, and said if there was less gonzo porn, a form of porn that focuses on the verbal and physical violation of women, there would be less rape.

Another part of the film displays the world of child beauty pageants and the defenses of mothers who put their daughters in that environment. One Georgia mother says she sees no problem with dressing her daughter up and letting her dance and sing in front of a panel and crowd. She says it is all fun and games, both for her and her child.  A former model who was interviewed says that pageants help build the foundation for self-esteem issues at a young age because they enforce and teach comparison.

America the Beautiful 3: The Sexualization of Our Youth covers many concepts that link to the media’s portrayal of sex to the objectification of women, and their self-esteem issues. But Roberts does not reveal anything new, he simply restates long held theories. He does, however, inspire a rise of awareness for sexual harassment.

“I thought it was just crazy just because, I mean I knew sexual harassment was happening, everyone knows it’s happening, but just the way the film was formatted, it just made it look like, ‘Oh my gosh, I could be sexually harassed,” says SF State student Olivia Foster, after watching the film.

The film aims to encourage a discussion between parents and children about sex, and to help youth establish what a healthy sexual relationship looks like before they are bombarded with different messages from the media.

“Nobody really knows what a healthy sexuality is and I would like to start the dialogue, especially for adults, for parents, the finding out what is a sexuality, like how can we present sex to the youth in a manner that empowers them, make them healthy, and help them to make right decisions so they don’t get in as much trouble,” says Roberts.

The Teardown: Metro: Last Light: Redux

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: August 26, 2014
Average Scores: 83, 84, 84

I saw the Gamefly envelope resting on my bed and my heart sank into my gut (which could have been Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew now that I think about it). I had one thought: “Fuck. This better not be another Ninja Gaiden game.”

It could have been My Little Pony Sim 2014 or “Game of the Century” Cory in the House, one of which is a real game; I did not care. Just not another Ninja Gaiden game, please. Thankfully, I was greeted with this on my PS4 dashboard upon inserting the mystery disc:

20141118143347

No more garbage combat. No more cringeworthy stories with awful one-liners. I was free.

Well, not entirely free. I still had Metro: Last Light: Redux to play… again. I had already suffered through the regular version of Metro: Last Light last year, but Ukranian developer 4A Games had the bright idea of remastering this “classic” to reach a new audience on new consoles with prettier visuals.

But no one was complaining that Metro looked like hot street trash. Hell, not many were even complaining about Metro at all. To my surprise, Metro was met with great reviews and decorated with awards from the media and fans alike.

It looks great and knows how to set a mood – I will give it that – but playing it was more frustrating that riding an actual metro in San Francisco. However, it did have the same amount of brown coat-wearing drunk white dudes. A mere coincidence, probably.

Moving on.

Metro tosses you into a myriad of narrow tunnels, each filled with more things to shoot than the last. The problem is that sneaking or shooting through these situations is always a headache. Stealth sucks because of the shoddy enemy intelligence. They are either brain dead stupid or hyper intelligent super soldiers. Or, to break this down more: all human enemies possess the mind of Stephen Hawking or the mobility of Stephen Hawking. There is no middle ground.

Just get a rib removed, dude. It makes it way easier.
Just get a rib removed, dude. It makes it way easier.

The mutated freaks, which I can just assume is what most Russian men look like when they do not get their hourly vodka shots, take home the grand prize in being generally about as pleasant as putting a toothpick under your big toe and kicking the nearest wall. They will sprint right up in your grill and mosh like some metal heads, lopping off large amounts of health and even larger amounts of patience. Escaping is not an option because backpedaling makes the main character, Artyom, move at half his normal speed. So the most natural movement that someone would use when confronted by horribly disfigured beasts is significantly hamstrung when you need it most. It does not make a lick of sense.

In a game where you can shoot dog-size bears and bear-sized dogs, this is what made the least amount of sense: not being able to move at a consistent speed. When the playing part of your video game sucks, that is not a good sign. However, the nearly-transparent strokes of a well-made game are in the periphery but lost in the thick, burnt weeds of the nuked-out landscape of stupid design decisions.

It is beautiful in its ugliness - I will cop to that.
It is beautiful in its ugliness – I will cop to that.

But maybe I am just ignorant to this whole game’s message. Maybe this is just how Russia operates. Maybe this game was an accurate representation of day-to-day Russian life: it is frustrating, filled with awkward sexual encounters, and dangerous to explore the irradiated surface without a gas mask. Maybe it is a just another reminder of how awesome America is. You know a good post-apocalyptic game? The Last of Us. You know where it takes place? America. That is no coincidence. Suck it, Putin. I am putin you, your country, and your country’s representative game in its place: back in the mail and to Gamefly’s headquarters because I am not ever playing this game again.

The Resident Evil Within – The Evil Within Review

Platforms: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: October 14, 2014

There has been nothing worse in gaming than Resident Evil‘s fall from grace. Of course it would take the series’ father to rectify the many mistakes Capcom made in recent years with the once-coveted franchise..

Shinji Mikami, one of the key figures behind the first four (good) Resident Evil games, promised a return to the roots, a spiritual successor, if you will, in the form of The Evil Within. The Evil Within wears its Resident Evil 4-ness on its sleeve in multiple ways, but Mikami’s latest project knows how to take from the best and carve new ground at the same time.

If there is one phrase that I am gonna have to edit out of this review ad nauseam, it is going to be “like Resident Evil 4.” The over-the-shoulder, third-person shooting against zombie-like creatures? A lot like Resident Evil 4. Boss encounters? Still a lot like Resident Evil 4. The overall design? Almost ripped straight from the book – nay, bible – of Resident Evil 4.

And that is completely fine since Resident Evil 4‘s golden formula holds up well especially with The Evil Within‘s improvements. Carefully picking shots while a horde of Haunted – not zombies – shamble towards you is a tense experience that is always rewarding. Options are readily available to player in the form of multiple weapons, the opportunity for stealth, and the way the environment can be used against the enemies. Because of this, the combat has a compelling loop that has the ability to allow you to craft your own playstyle and it further evolves through the well-paced upgrade system.

And the kicker is that it is different every time. While conserving ammunition is always the name of the game, each scenario always brings something unique to the table.

Even this sunset is not all what it seems.
Even this sunset is not all what it seems.

You will be escaping bosses, fighting bosses, solving minor puzzles, or adjusting to some other unique wrinkle in the combat, which keeps the game incredibly fresh at every turn. It does not grow stale because you are never doing the same thing for too long; an impressive feat considering the game’s long running time. New enemies types get paced out well and demand different skill sets and when the game starts mixing these types of enemies up, it also begins putting them in different scenarios. It does not always work in the game’s favor, such as rooms or enemies that specialize in one-hit kills, but it hits enough times and hard enough on those times to maintain a phenomenal sense of pacing.

But those one-hit kills can usually lead to a bit of frustration. The Evil Within is more difficult than the average game and that helps with overall tension, but the difficulty can sometimes get a little overzealous. Often time, there will be “kill rooms,” which chop you into mincemeat at the slightest mistake. For most of the game, they are mostly manageable but they begin to increase in number in the final few chapters of the game.

Scratching this dog's belly will leave more than a scar on your arm.
Scratching this dog’s belly will leave more than a scar on your arm.

Same thing goes with the multitude of boss fights. The gorgeously-designed hulking beasts work better than they should as boss fights and can be a healthy change from the norm, but almost all of them have “that move.” That move that can kill you in one hit regardless of your health. Telltale signs signal when these moves are happening that allow you to get out of the way, and that much is great, but getting offed in a single hit is not always fun. Again, while manageable for most of the game, this is very predominant in the game’s final hour or two.

The Evil Within‘s tension has a similar slight drop off within the last chapter but that does not negate its consistent effectiveness for the first fifteen hours. Horror games usually pick one motif and stick with it such as specializing in survival horror, action horror, or psychological horror. The Evil Within blends all three in a way that comes together beautifully.

Creeping around is usually the best strategy.
Creeping around is usually the best strategy.

Ammunition is always scarce and the twisted enemies are deadly, which lets it become more like a survival horror game. Shooting and being strategically offensive is reminiscent of the best action horror titles like Dead Space 2 and Resident Evil 4. And, finally, the game messes with your head in ways that evoke an extremely uncomfortable mood that would make Silent Hill proud, giving it a good psychological horror angle. Jump scares, getting chased, and unkillable beasts are all remarkably effective and the way in which all these horror pastiches are delicately glued together makes The Evil Within incredibly exhausting to play. It is unrelenting in the ways that make you want to put the controller down but amazing enough to force you to keep playing, which is what the best horror games do.

Although the story does not have all the same successes. Sebastian Castellanos, the slightly-gravelly voiced, no nonsense protagonist, has been sent to investigate insane asylum. He and his posse get sucked into some alternate universe before the engine has even cooled, leaving them to survive this tangled illusion of reality and escape.

The jarring transitions that send the characters from level to level cement the fact that this place is not quite right and further feeds the notion that everyone is going insane. Each person is going through their own personal hell and the hazy confusion surrounding everything makes for an intriguing premise to figure what the hell is actually going on. This premise leads you from chapter to chapter but, even after a few reveals, it cannot resolve itself in a way that is digestible or satisfying. All of this works fine until it actually gets around to explaining itself. It just shuffles its feet in the dirt, draws “wait for a sequel!” in the sand, then scurries off. It is all about the journey in The Evil Within because the destination is not all that satisfying.

Just hope he does not see you.
Just hope he does not see you.

Graphically speaking, The Evil Within checks almost all of the necessary boxes. The disgusting but beautiful visuals allow the locales to have an appropriately dark atmosphere. Moving through claustrophobic caves and navigating a deserted mansion hits all the right notes through great lighting and creepy level layouts. The soundtrack, or lack thereof sometimes, also helps build a mood through its subtle strings or high-adrenaline “escape” music. Everything The Evil Within does visually or aurally is done in service of the mood and atmosphere.

The Evil Within is the next step for Resident Evil that we never got thanks to the series’ drastic dropoff in quality. That is alright because we got something much better. The satisfying combat loop, the uneasy atmosphere, high replayability, and amount of scares make The Evil Within worthy of carrying the torch for a new generation of horror games. It may be Resident Evil 4 with a mask but this new and improved update on the classic formula has allowed The Evil Within to become a noteworthy new face in the horror genre. Let us hope that Shinji Mikami does not abandon this franchise and let it die.

The Evil Within:

+Incredibly tense atmosphere with three different styles of horror
+Long game that (mostly) keeps itself fresh over the span of a dozen hours
+Refreshing combat that juggles different playstyles
+Very replayable with multiple difficulties and a solid New Game+

The Evil Without:

-Weak ending
-One-hit kills can get tiresome

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The Teardown: Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z

Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Release Date: March 18, 2014
Average Scores: 43, 50, 49

I am sorry, dear reader. I have failed you. But not as much as I failed myself.

Just a few weeks ago, I made a promise to not play another new Ninja Gaiden game. I lied. I goofed. I fucked up. Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z shot through my mailslot (not a euphemism) at my house, waiting to be the next game that I had to suffer through. It sounds like some sort of coincidence coordinated by Satan to ensure I am primed and ready for hell with a constant stream of shitty Ninja Gaiden games. I mean, I just played through Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge a couple weeks ago. I feel like I need a purple heart medal for enduring that game. It still gives me ‘Nam flashbacks.

Speaking of, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge set the bar high on how low to actually set the bar. The series almost could not get any worse. Muddled combat, bland art, and an abhorrent story will do that to a once-pristine franchise. Yaiba takes all of those poorly executed aspects and makes it look like the developers sat back and thought of ways to make every facet even worse.

Here is Yaiba and you will always want him to shut up when he talks.
Here is Yaiba and you will always want him to shut up when he talks.

Besides the insultingly braindead platforming, melee-focused swordplay makes up most of what you will be doing in Yaiba. Cutting up the ugliest monsters could not be more sluggish and frustrating. Yaiba, the main character, moves like he is covered in glue but also somehow like he downed a bottle of uppers. Spastic sword combos are unresponsive and sludgy, resulting in many quick deaths at the hands of wonky, abysmal controls. Getting Yaiba to do what you want when you want is a Herculean task in and of itself, and doing it in time to avoid the hordes of stupid enemies is a task no human should withstand.

The enemies in this game deserve their own special circle in hell. Most games have an enemy type that sucks. That is fine. Every single enemy in this game is that enemy. That one enemy that sets you on fire; then that other enemy that grabs you; then that other enemy that suicide bombs you. It is almost literally a laundry list of the shittiest video game enemies rolled up into one game. It is appalling. Do not even mention the bosses to me, because I will probably fall into a fugue state and start talking in tongues that, regardless of language, rightfully slam the game.

God dammit, not you again!
God dammit, not you again!

Fuck it! Too late! I am going to complain about the bosses too, but not in the way you think. While, yes, they are frustrating battles of tedium and frustration over reflexes, the rampant unfunniness of each is unsettling. Here is a joke that channels a part of Yaiba‘s sense of humor: ahemPANTIES!

Why are you not laughing? See, the joke is that I said “panties” and just that alone that is comedic gold. Platinum, even. Just saying a word is a joke now. It does not even need context or thought.

Yeah, this game is a headache.
Yeah, this game is a headache.

Many of Yaiba‘s “jokes” are just saying a thing or being overly brash. It is all full of lazy, overly enthusiastic references that barely, even in an inebriated state, resemble comedy. It is the Bobby Lee of video games. I bet Yaiba has even drunkenly shit its pants at a party.

And that is what the Ninja Gaiden series is left with – being the guy who shits himself at a party. Ninja Gaiden used to be the life of the party; he was the dude that would bring all the beer and the women. Now he cannot even limp around without looking sluggish and unresponsive. He is almost literally the guy who loved high school because nothing else happened with him after senior year. Good luck with nine years of community college, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z.

‘Swan Lake’: A modern retelling of a classic love story

A preview of The Australian Ballet’s Swan Lake by Calperformances.

An elegant set combined with minimalistic props, dramatic lighting, and superb dance techniques make the Australian Ballet’s version of “Swan Lake” a stunning performance. The company performed last Sunday at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley as a part of its 2014 United States tour.

Choreographer Graeme Murphy retells Tchaikovsky’s classic story based on the love triangle between Princess Diana, Prince Charles, and Camilla. In this contemporary version, Odette (Diana) marries Prince Siegfried (Charles). After the wedding, she realizes her husband is in love with a baroness. Odette becomes so distressed that she is taken to a mental institution after she starts imagining swan-like maidens.

Throughout the three-hour ballet, dancers moved effortlessly, leaping and gliding through the air. Their pointe shoes carefully touched the floor as they gracefully twirled across the stage. Dancers donned long skirts with layers of tulle instead of the typical ballerina tutus.

Principal dancer Madeleine Eastoe, who portrays Odette, danced the four acts with passion and precision. When Principal dancer Kevin Jackson, who plays Prince Siegfried, lifts her, it was as if she was a feather floating in the air. Everything seemed so natural. Modern and classical ballet movements were combined to present a fresh and creative choreography.

“It was amazing — their technique and expression,” says Maya Bloemhaird, a dance student at Berkeley’s Ballet Theater. Bloemhaird, who has seen other productions of “Swan Lake,” says she has never seen a production like this. She praised the Australian ballet’s dancers for their rhythmic movements.“They are really focused on shaping the feet and how they are using their arms.”

Zrinka Jancic, a UC Berkeley student, was touched by Principal dancer Eastoe’s emotionally expressive performance.

“I found myself crying,” says Jancic. “I don’t find myself doing that easily.”

 

 

Mix music with Crossfader

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Blare two songs at the same time and chances are it will sound like trash being dumped into a garbage truck. But sometimes it creates a pleasant surprise, like late at night in a Castro bar where Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” mixes perfectly with Iyaz’s song “Replay.”

It takes a well-trained ear to match two independent tracks into something audible, but there is now an app to make the process easier. Bay Area entrepreneur Seth Goldstein’s latest project involves a group of fourteen developers and audiophiles creating an interactive DJ platform for smartphones.

The app is called Crossfader, and it might sound intimidating, but it is not really — all it takes is tilting your phone to achieve the perfect remix.

The app divides a smartphone screen into two audio tracks. Leaning it one way increases the volume of the song on that side. DJs have categorized the music into packs of complementary beats that are played on a loop.

Each pack contains a dozen of these loops for the user to mix into rhythmic perfection. A quick scroll through two packs will blend artists like Lil’ Wayne and The Clash into an unexpectedly catchy remix. Lean the phone one way for a heavier rock vibe, or tilt it the other way for more rap.

The developers went to Amsterdam on October 14th to test Crossfader Live. This latest version of the app broadcasts users’ live remix sessions, which can be organized into sets for future playback.

One of the team members, Hannah Fouasnon, says she is pleased with how the app has done since its launch a year ago.

“The curation of the music has been very well received,” Fouasnon says. “A lot of people use the app for music discovery.”

While the app contains mostly remixes of electronic dance music, or EDM, there are also packs for other genres such as reggae, metal, and funk. Users have the freedom to match up Bob Marley against Slayer, but just because they can does not mean they should.

The app is most popular among males ages sixteen to twenty-four years old, and of these, the vast majority are EDM lovers.

“We’re trying to create a DJ community,” Fouasnon says.

If, however, Crossfader wants to expand its demographic, it will have to start promoting its other genres. Hailey Ackermann, a twenty-three-year-old student, felt she could not relate to the app.

“It’s fun, but I don’t know if I would ever actually use it,” Ackermann says. “I guess because it’s not the music I typically listen to.”

Crossfader has also had some glitches on the iPhone’s new operating system, iOS 8. Some users have tried opening it only to find it closes immediately. But for those who genuinely appreciate electronic remixes and want more control of the beat, this free app is still worth a try.