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Entertainment

Volume 86 (Fall 2014 - Spring 2015)

Controversial Practices in the Gaming Industry

Call Of Duty Advanced Warfare 13991332947595Video games, as a newer medium of entertainment, have seen their fair share of controversy. Many are aware of at least some element of this, even if they don’t play video games themselves. I remember hearing from my grandparents (who don’t play video games) about “violent video games” such as the infamous Grand Theft Auto series. But what many non-gamers (and even some dedicated gamers) haven’t heard of are the controversial business practices within gaming.

Franchises such as Call of Duty, Assassins Creed, or Madden are the poster children of annual video game franchises, the merits of which are open to debate. An annual franchise is a series of video games, such as Assassins Creed, with at least one major release every year (in recent years, Assassins Creed has actually started to release more than one game in a year). On the plus side, for fans of the series, this means more content. However, critics argue that this also means a shorter development cycle for each game, and less improvements from one game to another. Proponents claim that the large development teams allow them to develop games more quickly, without sacrificing quality. One thing’s for sure: a $60 game every year will likely generate more money that a $60 game every other year, provided people buy it.

Imagine if there were a new A Song of Ice and Fire book released every year. On the one hand this would be great—more content for fans. However, previous novels were written over the course of several years. Would the same quality stay constant if they were both written and released in under a year? Getting back to gaming, there appear to be some annual franchises that have managed to keep quality more or less constant (such as Pokémon). However, other franchises once seen as the pinnacle of their genre, such as Call of Duty, have fallen out of favor, at least somewhat. Some, such as vocal gaming critic Angry Joe, believe this is a result of lack of innovation due to the rushed development cycles of annual franchises. 

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A Guide to Summer Must-Reads

beach bkgdThe snow is finally melted, the UGG boots and winter coats are put away, and the sun is out to play! Now that the weather has finally changed and it is nice outside, put down that television remote, pick up a book, and go outside and enjoy the sunshine. Not sure on what to read? Check out one of these 2015 “must-read” books.

#1. “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she passes the same scenery, including stopping at one signal that allows her to watch the same couple sharing breakfast on their deck. She watches them each day and starts to feel as if she knows them; she’s even named them  Jess and Jason. But then suddenly she sees something. Something that is so shocking that it changes everything. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police and tells them everything she knows, but then becomes intimately intertwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone else involved. The question is: has Rachel done more harm than good? 

This instant #1 New York Times Bestseller is a must-read if you are into psychological thrillers! If you are a fan of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, then you will absolutely love this book.

#2. “The Walking Dead” Novels by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

In The Walking Dead universe, there is no greater villain than The Governor. These novels, along with the other books in the series, teaches readers how The Governor became the man that he is, and what drove him to such extremes. They also give a different perspective of how things went down in the television series. If you are a fan of The Walking Dead, these books are a must-read!

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"Little Boy" Tells a Big Story

Little Boy movie poster 640x480If a loved one was away fighting in a war, wouldn’t you do anything to bring them home safely? That’s the premise of Little Boy, a film about a young boy whose faith is tested as he promises to do everything within his power to bring his dad home safely from World War II.

Little Boy, released by independent film studio Open Road Films, opens with a narrator recounting his hometown, the fictional O’Hare, CA, telling us his story set on the homefront of World War II. The narrator remembers his childhood as we focus in on Pepper Busbee (Jacob Salvati), a young child who, according to the narrator, has no friends other than his father whom he fondly calls his partner.

Pepper is very small for his age, a short 39 inches, and never seems to grow taller. In fact, his short stature is a reason that Pepper is bullied by the other children, including Freddie (Mathew Miller). As the doctor’s son, Freddie nicknames Pepper “Little Boy” in order to avoid being punished by his father (Kevin James) for calling him a midget. This “politically correct” nickname sticks, and before long, the entire town is calling Pepper “Little Boy,” which, aside from being the title of the film, has an important connection to the war as the story unfolds. Without giving away too much, it is important to remember the name of the atomic bomb that is released on Hiroshima.

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"Elite Dangerous" Misses its Mark

Elite Dangerous 3Elite Dangerous has one of the most impressive foundations I’ve seen in the space simulation genre. The controls are complex yet precise, the sound is phenomenal, and the graphics are riveting.  Put all of this together, and you have one of the most atmospherically immersive space-sims I’ve had the pleasure to play (and I’ve played quite a few). Unfortunately, Elite Dangerous has a substantial fatal flaw: its lack of depth and content.

The premise of Elite Dangerous is simple: you play as the pilot of a spacecraft who sets out to make his or her way in a sci-fi styled universe. When playing Elite Dangerous, you will literally forget that you’re staring at a computer screen and not actually in a space ship. Elite Dangerous forgoes drama for realism, and this is one of its best features. When you accidentally crash into an asteroid, shattering your cockpit, you will see warning lights, but there will be no sound (true to the actual conditions of space).  It makes the game as a whole feel more believable, and it’s easy to get drawn in as a result.

The ships, space stations, planets, and even space itself are beautifully designed, with painstaking detail. Every ship has a number of unique graphical features, even the early-game ones that you want nothing more than to sell for a better ship. For me personally, one of the highlights of buying a new ship was seeing the new cockpit. Unfortunately, as the game is right now, the cockpit and the exterior of your ship is all that you will ever see. You’re never allowed to get up and leave the ship, or even walk around it (all exploration is via your ship).

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“Constantine” Lights Up NBC

constantine-originalDC Comics originally came up with John Constantine for the Hellblazer series, and since its first issue in 1988, both the series and character have been iconic in the comic book industry. Constantine, known for his trench coat, skinny red tie, and near-constant smoking, made his way to the big screen in 2005, as portrayed by Keanu Reeves. However, the comic series ended in 2013, being replaced with the Constantine comic series that features the New 52 John Constantine, who is both younger and was the leader of Justice League Dark, a version of the Justice League that focuses on the supernatural heroes/heroines and their otherworldly foe.

While the newer run of Constantine's comic legacy has been met with criticism, this reviewer feels the jump to television was a great move. Premiering Oct. 24 at 10 pm, the show, so far, features the iconic characters, chilling special effects, and a sense of disturbance and dread without the need for jump scares and other cheap tricks.

Beginning in the Ravenscar Mental Asylum, the pilot episode shows Constantine encouraging the nurses to give him electroshock therapy, saying, "Some days, you need to forget. Others, you can't," giving a hint at the personal demons that plague him. He doesn't stay locked up for long, because after an argument with a psychologist who tries and fails to convince him that demons aren't real, Constantine follows a trail of cockroaches to a possessed woman painting on a wall. After exorcising it, he sees the message was for him: "Liv Die."

This is a not a misspelling—Liv Aberdine, the only daughter of his late friend and mentor, is being targeted by an 'inner circle' demon and is going to die without his help. His dark past starts to get in the way at times, as he is forced to recollect the events that led to him checking himself into Ravenscar during a car accident.

The viewers learn, through flashbacks and comments from those who were there with him, that he was involved with an exorcism a few months prior to the show's opening. Instead of just sending the demon back to Hell, he summoned a more powerful demon, expecting to be able to command it to do his bidding and drag the lesser demon off. Instead, it dragged a nine-year-old girl named Astra to Hell.

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Emarosa Returns with “Versus” for Fresh New Sound

emarosa_versus_RGB-1024x1024Rise Records' post-hardcore outfit Emarosa released their third studio album titled Versus on Sept. 8, 2014. This release marks their first since their 2010 self-titled sophomore album and their first to feature new lead vocalist Bradley Walden.

The band parted ways with previous front man Jonny Craig in 2011 and stated they would continue writing music without him. After months of perceived media inactivity, they announced in mid-2013 that Walden would assume Emarosa's lead vocal duties from then on and that he would record a new album with them. This album became Versus and Walden did not disappoint on these recordings.

Emarosa established a welcomed presence in the alternative music industry with Craig. Their two albums recorded with Craig, Relativity and Emarosa, featured atmospheric and hard hitting guitar-driven instrumentals as Craig's distinct voice soared overtop. His trademark soulful tones, coupled with the ability to also sing with edgy, raspy belting, gave the band a crossover sound between R&B and alternative rock and gained the band exposure.

Walden's performance on Versus shares many similarities to Craig in terms of soulful crooning and powerful belting over aggressive music. Versus delivers hard rocking tracks that will please listeners who appreciate Emarosa's past discography. However, this release also has a newfound sense of experimentation and maturity that sets it apart from Craig's era. Walden's voice features deeper and smoother tones than Craig's. Rather than singing over the music, his melodies dig into the songs with a sincerity not present in the past releases.

Versus features tracks incorporating elements of pop and indie rock, which are two styles not prevalent in the band's back catalog. This exploration gives each song on the album its own distinct sound. Walden shows listeners his versatility as a vocalist, as his voice fits seamlessly across the eleven tracks.

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The Verdict on Robert Downey Jr.’s “The Judge”

the-judge-movieThroughout his long acting career, Robert Downy Jr. is best known for playing the superhero Iron Man, but his most recent performance in The Judge is sure to reinvigorate Downy Jr.'s image as a serious actor.

Interrupted by a phone call from his brother relaying news that his mother had passed away, successful but arrogant lawyer Hank Palmer (Downey Jr.) exits a Chicago courtroom for his childhood home in rural Indiana. As he travels, we learn that his marriage is crumbling and his relationship with his daughter, Lauren, is strained. The audience can quickly gather that Hank has a lot of animosity towards his childhood home, and is extremely reluctant to go there.

The three Palmer brothers, Glenn, Dale, and Hank, are reunited at their mother's funeral. Glenn has a family and business in town, and Dale seems to be socially awkward and married to his camera. After several references to "The Judge," we meet this infamous character in the form of Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), a serious local judge for over four decades and patriarch of the Palmer family.

Although happy to see his sons after so long, The Judge greets Hank with a stiff handshake, which infuriates him. Pieces of his past slowly unfold the longer he stays with his family. It is revealed to the audience that Hank and his brother Glenn were involved in a terrible car accident as teenagers. As a result, Glenn's promising future as a professional baseball player was shattered along with his arm, and the boys' father harbored resentment towards Hank, blaming him entirely.

The audience also learns that the Palmer past is a hard one. The Judge once let a young man in court off easy for a crime because he saw reflections of Hank in him. Unfortunately, the young man was released from the short sentence and murdered a young girl, revealing that Hank's father is so harsh with him out of love and a fear that Hank would become a felon.

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Live Your "Fantasy Life"

fantasy-life-characterHave you ever wanted to wear a cape while walking your dog and holding a sword? Maybe you wanted to make a name for yourself hunting monsters and fulfilling the requests of a glowing, chattering butterfly. Or perhaps you wanted to live in a fantasy world where you can change professions at will, and wander around at your leisure, doing anything from saving the world to interior design. Whatever your desire, you can do it in Level 5's new role-playing game (RPG) Fantasy Life for the Nintendo 3DS.

The major draw of Fantasy Life is the freedom given to the player. The game starts with players customizing every aspect of their digital avatar. They could create one that resembles themselves, or literally have stars in their eyes and blue hair. They are also afforded a living space that they can decorate however they please. After picking their initial lives and meeting with the king, they are free to do whatever they wish. There is a main storyline, but it can be pursued at any pace.

In fact, there is so much to do that completing the story may itself become a fantasy. Players can easily get lost gathering materials, fighting monsters, exploring new areas, doing quests for non-player characters (NPCs), or trying to rank up their lives.

Objectives, both story and miscellaneous, are kept in an easy-to-reach journal and are organized by story, life challenges, and quests for other characters. Completing story objectives and challenges awards the player Bliss points, which allows them to unlock bonuses such as the ability to carry more items, or to adopt a pet. The more bliss a player obtains, the better.

One of the other major draws of the game is its life system. Each life is synonymous with a job the player can have. Possible choices include Paladin, Mercenary, Angler, Carpenter, Blacksmith, Miner, Woodcutter, Tailor, Cook, Alchemist, Wizard, or Hunter. Each choice gives the player certain skills and abilities that are unique to the class, with some offering the ability to collect materials by mining or cutting trees, and others to create armor and weapons, clothes, or furniture. As players complete challenges associated with the classes, they gain ranks which unlock more skills, special moves, and crafts that they can create.

These classes can be changed at nearly any time, and the player retains any skills and abilities they learned previously. Skills are leveled up as they are used, meaning players only need to change a class long enough to learn its particular skills before returning to their favorite life.

Aside from skill sets, types of items a player can equip, and certain interactions with characters being restricted to having a certain rank in a specific life, classes do not affect how the player can interact with the world.

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Lena Dunham is “Not That Kind of Girl”

lenadunhamNot many TV stars can make the tough transition from actress to writer. Lucky for Lena Dunham, her fantastic writing skills ensured that debut book "Not That Kind of Girl" didn't turn out just okay—it was incredible.

The book focuses largely on Dunham's adolescence and self-discovery phases growing up. She mentions a lot of her firsts: first relationship, first sort of online boyfriend, and first therapist. It is a delicious read in the sense that her words are so powerful and enchanting that you can't put the book down. A lot of people criticize Dunham for how she got her start in the business and how her family connections helped her get to where she is. I feel that her connections might have helped her get her foot in the door, but her talent is what has secured her spot not only as an actress, writer, producer, director, but also as one of the most creative people of our time and the voice of a generation.

In "Igor: Or, My Internet Boyfriend Died and So Can Yours," she talks about her 'internet boyfriend' whom she never me and later finds out has died. Dunham finds herself becoming infatuated with her new online suitor (like she does with most things throughout the book) and wants to learn everything about him. When she finds out through a mutual friend that has physically met Igor that he has passed, she feels somewhat heartbroken. Out of all of the chapters in this book, I really, really enjoyed this one. The premise that she found herself caring for this boy that she had never met only to lose him was just so tragic—almost like an episode of "Catfish" with no ending.

In another chapter of her glorious book, Dunham discusses therapy. Therapy isn't for everyone, but in her case it wasn't so much about deciding whether or not to go to therapy, but rather who would be her therapist. She talks about forming a special bond with her therapist and later having that bond become overwhelming to the point where she had to get a new therapist. Eventually, she found out that her therapist had a daughter her age, and they would later meet at college and become friends—a happy coincidence for Dunham.

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“Ultimax’s” Place Within the “Persona” Series

persona4ultimaxAs a "Persona 3" fan, I felt let down by the plot of "Ultimax" (although the "Persona 4" fan in me was satisfied). Within the "Persona" series, "Persona 3 and 4" are night and day. "Persona 3" is about gaining strength by facing one's own death. The Latin phrase "Memento Mori" is displayed during the opening sequence; it is then translated as "remember that you will die" (and a lot of people die in this game). Every time there is a fight in "Persona 3," the main characters raise a gun-like object (called an evoker) to their head and pull the trigger.

"Persona 4," on the other hand, is much more feel-good (and funny). In stark contrast to the "Persona 3" color pallet of dark blue and dark green (meant to symbolize rot and decay), "Persona 4" has vibrant pink and gold. Though it has several deaths, they are nothing close to what "Persona 3" does, neither in the number of deaths nor the importance of them. The theme of "Persona 4" is enjoying one's youth and finding inner strength by accepting oneself. Also, the evokers are replaced with tarot cards. In "Ultimax," these two games are fused together—this may not bother newcomers or "Persona 4" fans so much, but "Persona 3" fans will likely be disappointed.

Finally, the "Persona" series as a whole is heavily influenced by psychology (Jungian Psychology in particular). In core titles, the player will actually sit through lectures on the subject. The word 'persona' is Latin for mask, used by the famous psychologist Carl Jung to describe the different faces people wear at different times. Other concepts like chaos theory, projection, and the collective unconscious are explored in depth. However, the amount of psychology in "Ultimax" is negligible. I personally found this to make it feel less like a "Persona" game.

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“Persona 4 Arena Ultimax” Fights Off Competition

If you are a fan of arcade fighting games for their mechanics and design, then you don't even have to read any further—this game is perfect. If, on the other hand, you care more about its narrative, then there are several factors which may detract from your experience.

"Persona 4 Arena Ultimax" is an arcade-style fighting game, developed mainly by Arc System Works in the style of Atlus's hit series "Shin Megami Tensei: Persona." The game itself is considered to be a spinoff within "Persona" because while it is not a core title of the series (like "Persona 3" or "Persona 4"), its events are considered canon to the "Persona" series plotline.

As a disclaimer, I haven't played a lot of fighting games (three that I recall are "Smash Bros," "Dissidia Final Fantasy," and "Injustice: Gods Among Us"). However, with that said, the mechanics, look, and sound of "Ultimax" all appeared to be flawless, and they have been received as such by critics. The difficulty when playing against computer opponents can be easily adjusted (in the context of Story Mode, it can even be automated) so no one should be prevented from enjoying this story by a single tough opponent or difficulty grasping the controls.

However, while I thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay itself, depending on the mode that one plays there is either too much or too little. In Story Mode, expect at most two percent of your time to be devoted to gameplay (it is essentially a visual novel broken up by the occasional short lived brawl). In other modes, such as Arcade Mode, you will find a skeletal story. One of my personal favorites, GoldenArena Mode, removes story entirely, but adds in character progression (you level up, increasing stats and learning or finding abilities). There's definitely room for improvement, but it's refreshing to see that sort of mode in an arcade-style fighting game.

The music and cut scenes of "Ultimax" deserve special mention. Although the music probably isn't everyone's taste, it is the epitome of its genre (mostly j-pop and j-rock). The same can be said for the anime-style cut scenes. A good measure of whether you like this or not is if you watch and enjoy anime; if you do you probably will like "Ultimax." If you dislike anime and aren't an arcade style fighting game enthusiast, you'll probably want to steer clear of this game. My only criticism is that I personally feel that there should have been more cut scenes (it felt like, and I'm being generous, 15 minutes of them, counting all of the story episodes and the opening).

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Exploring “The Evil Within ”

theevilwithinThe video game community has been clamoring for a return to good old-fashioned survival horror, and they were promised just that when "Resident Evil" creator Shinji Mikami was announced as the game director for "The Evil Within," developed by Tango Gameworks and published by Bethesda Softworks. This highly anticipated title was promoted with phrases like "ammo scarcity" and "nightmare inducing," with the trailers showing the protagonist, Sebastian Castellanos, sneaking through dark, trap-laden corridors stalked by hulking monstrosities. Above all, the world was promised that this would not be a "Resident Evil" game.

However, Mikami seems to have spent a little too much time on that franchise, because "The Evil Within" is chock-full of the same old badness that "Resident Evil" fans are used to. In fact, if you played "Resident Evil 4," you came pretty close to playing this game. The player must dodge trip wires and bear traps while avoiding human beings that have been mutated by some powerful, previously untapped source that only the antagonist—in this case, a scientist named Ruvik—can control. Some similar enemies make a comeback too, including a giant chainsaw-wielding monster that decapitates Castellanos exactly like the Ganado did in "RE4."

Some of these moments are obvious nods to the aforementioned franchise. For instance, the first enemy you come across is hunkered down over a corpse, eating some random organs, and looks back at the player while lightning flashes. This little Easter Egg will be familiar to those who played the original "Resident Evil." It can be difficult to tell where homage ends and replication begins, but there are many similarities, only a few of which I'll go into.

Overall, this was a well-done game. The graphics are fairly nice, offering an impressive range of detailing, but this is limited to the characters. While the player can count the hairs of Castellanos's five o'clock shadow, flowers and shadows appear bulky, even pixilated, at times. The sound effects are more effective, offering an array of clangs, groans, and scuttles that left me swiveling the camera around, desperately trying to figure out if what I was hearing was a broken pipe or the hiss of something that might force me to empty my already low amount of ammo.

This can be a problem, because the camera hovers so close to the character that he takes up nearly half the screen, resulting in a lot of confusion, spinning, and sometimes, eye strain, motion sensitivity, and seizures.

The other interesting part was the difficulty. This game will kill you in dozens of ways, ranging from the mundane, such as a mutant stabbing you to death, to the occasionally hysterical, like if a bomb you're trying to disarm detonates and sends your arms to the other end of the level.

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“Gone Girl” Isn’t Going Anywhere

gone-girlIt is so typical to see Hollywood create movies where romances have happy endings, but what happens when a love story is nowhere near predictable? In the newest craze "Gone Girl," Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) shows audiences what the real meaning of "on the edge of your seat" feels like.

Before even entering the theatre, you think you know the story. Even with no knowledge of the book, you get a sense that this is just the usual husband kills wife plot—or at least that's what I thought.

The movie opens up with Nick going to a bar to meet his sister (Carrie Coon). Immediately, you think that he must have a drinking problem because the scene is set early in the morning. After getting a call at the bar from a neighbor about the cat being let out, Nick rushes home. While entering his kitchen, he notices that a table has been flipped upside down and smashed. He calls for his wife, but there is no answer.

The rest of the movie is twist after twist after twist, and there is no telling what will happen next (unless you read the book!). As the investigation progresses, "Gone Girl" gives a completely new meaning to the word 'gone.'

The way Nick tries to convince the crowd he had nothing to do with the disappearance of his wife is chilling. On one hand, you want to believe everything he is saying. But at the same time, all signs point to him. As Nick's character develops throughout the movie, you can tell that the harsh words of the media take a beating on him, as if he knows he did not kill his wife but the media's interrogation makes him question himself.

One of the biggest plot twists comes as soon as the audience thinks they have it all figured out. Without giving anything away, let's just say this movie does not feel as if it is two and a half hours long.

Even though Affleck, Pike, and Coon are the main focus in the mystery-thriller-love story that "Gone Girl" is, there are a few familiar faces you can expect to see on the screen. Neil Patrick Harris plays Desi Collings, a past love interest of Amy. This is unlike any other character Harris has played. He is creepy, overbearing, and controlling, which are opposites of his usually funny roles.

Audiences will also see Tyler Perry play Tanner Bolt, a lawyer who decides he wants to defend Nick in court. Known best for his series of "Tyler Perry's Madea" movies, it was refreshing to see Perry in something new. One other face audiences might recognize is Emily Ratajkowski, whose character Andie Hardy gets caught up in Nick and Amy's drama. Ratajkowski is a well-known model, and can be seen in the music video for the song "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke.

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Nintendo Releases Smashing New Game

super-smash-bros-3ds-release-dateOn Oct. 3, Nintendo released the fourth entry in its successful, "Super Smash Bros." series for Nintendo 3DS. For anyone unfamiliar with this name, "Smash" is a fighting game starring characters from Nintendo's iconic franchises duking it out in frantic four player action until only one is left standing. Players select one of these characters, and using a variety of attacks and special moves, attempt to rack up enough damage to send their opponents flying out of the ring. Characters in this version include famous Nintendo icons such as Mario and Link, non-Nintendo characters such as Mega Man, Pac-Man, and Sonic the Hedgehog and even lesser known Nintendo personas such as Mr. Game & Watch and the Duck Hunt Dog.

This new version offers several first time features aside from new characters. Smash Run allows players to run through environments, defeating enemies and collecting power-ups for their selected character while competing against three other opponents. After five minutes, all fighters are brought together for a final challenge ranging from a timed battle to see who gets the most KO's, to climbing a tower, to running a race, or anything in between.

Another new mode that takes advantage of the 3DS's Street Pass function is Street Smash. In this mode, players select a token based on a character they have unlocked and do battle with others in a borderless arena. Each token is moved around the field and rammed into other tokens, attempting to knock them out of the arena until only one remains. Winning grants coins and equipment that can be used in the third new game mode, character customization.

Character customization is by far the strongest addition to the series. By collecting equipment in Smash Run, Classic, or Trophy Rush, the player can apply them to any character and gain benefits to one of three stats, Attack, Defense, or Speed. Typically, equipping something to boost one stat gives a decrease in another stat in a rock-paper-scissors type of relationship. Attacking raising items reduce defense, defense increasing items reduce speed, and speed enhancing items reduce attack. One can even customize the special moves of each fighter based on different versions they've collected. Now anyone can take a fighter they like and truly make it their own.

You can even build your own fighter from the ground up in the form of a Mii Fighter. By using digital avatars saved on your 3DS system, you can create a fighter from three distinct archetypes (a hand-to-hand fighter, a swordfighter, or a gunner) and select special moves in the same way as you would a customized fighter. You can even select different outfits to customize your fighter's appearance and put yourself in the game, literally!

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“Once Upon a Time” is Frozen Over

640_OUAT_Season_4_FrozenThe small New England town of Storybrooke was 'frozen' over when Season 4 of ABC's hit series, "Once Upon A Time," premiered on Sunday, Sept. 28.

The show's storyline revolves around classic fairytale characters that lose their memories and are transported to our world after a curse created by the Evil Queen, Regina (Lana Parrilla). Even though the curse was broken at the end of Season 1, each episode is still packed with drama. Now that Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) has restored everyone's memories, we are torn between who is good, who is evil, whom we should root for, and whom we root against.

Characters like Snow White, Prince Charming, Rumpelstiltskin, Belle, Robin Hood, Captain Hook, and many more, are still peacefully living in the small town of Storybrooke — but those who watch the show know that trouble is about to start.

In the Season 3 finale, Emma and Hook returned home after being taken back in time to Storybook Land, the original residence of the fairytale characters. While there, Emma freed Maid Marian (Christie Laing), from the Evil Queen's fortress. Emma felt that if she left Maid Marian there to die, she would never be able to live with herself — but by doing so, she complicates the future timeline: Robin Hood (Sean Maguire) is shocked by the reemergence of his previously-deceased love interest. With Maid Marian's return, what will happen to viewers' new favorite couple, Robin Hood and Regina?

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The Pros and Cons of “Destiny”

Erde-Die-Stadt-und-der-ReisendeThere are few video games more popular than "Halo," and few game developers more well-established than Bungie. When Bungie sold "Halo" to create "Destiny," they promised gamers the stars, literally. Now, "Destiny" has been out for a month, and the question is: did Bungie deliver?

My answer is that it depends on what you want from "Destiny." If you loved everything about "Halo" and you're a fan of multiplayer first-person shooters (FPS), then "Destiny" may very well be game-of-the-year. However, if you're here for the story, or the supposedly MMO-inspired character progression, then there's a very good chance you'll be disappointed. For what it is (a multiplayer FPS with roleplaying elements) "Destiny" is outstanding; the problem is that Bungie presented it as more than that.

What "Destiny" does best, above all else, is the player-versus-player (PVP) combat (which should come as no surprise to fans of "Halo"). The controls are prefect and the selection of weapons and abilities allow for widely varied playing styles. Vehicles and turrets are well executed, and I've never played a game with a better sense of verticality. Jetpacks and other similar movement abilities allow for complex maneuvering during combat and some devastating kills. Using a jetpack to boost yourself for a melee kill is tons of fun. The ability to summon a vehicle into combat allows you to get to enemies more quickly, and offers more versatility in combat. My fondest memory of this system was using a motorcycle-like vehicle to get me to a turret. The turret had been picking off my team, so I dropped a grenade on its occupant.

My only criticism for multiplayer is that, like with the rest of "Destiny," loot drops are completely random. This means that someone who died ten times and got two kills could get a legendary drop, and the person who carried the team might get nothing. Sure everyone gets equal treatment, but what's the point of trying if you're barely rewarded for it?

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ABC’s “Selfie” Has Potential

 

selfieThe new ABC sitcom "Selfie," created by Emily Kapnek and starring Karen Gillan and John Cho, is interesting, to say the least. The show, based on the "My Fair Lady" take of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion," follows Eliza Dooley (Gillan), a social media obsessed young woman who suffers from an embarrassing viral video that destroys her reputation among her so-called "friends," followers, and co-workers. Hoping to rebuild her image, she enlists the help of marketing expert and co-worker Henry Higgs (Cho), who will hopefully turn her into a respectable and self-aware member of society.

 

The beginning of the pilot episode does not cast the brightest light on "Selfie." The set up for the premise is done too quickly, and the introduction of lead character Eliza is particularly off-putting. While we are not supposed to really relate to Eliza at all, she is still too annoying and self-absorbed to like or develop interest in. Even the embarrassing situation that leads her to seek help from Henry does not really evoke any sympathy until later.

 

Taking on an interpretation of an already known work could also be its detriment. With a familiar premise, it is hard to really set the show apart in its pilot. I would not blame anyone who turned off "Selfie" after the first commercial. It does not start off very funny, the use of various social media lingo is cringe-worthy, and it takes a while to really get started.

 

As the pilot continues, though, the series does show some potential, as it gives us more information about our lead characters and plays with some clever comedy. Through voiceover, we learn more about Eliza, and her explanation of her desires, insecurities, and fears shows that she is not as vapid as she seems. Henry, who is first shown as intelligent yet holier-than-thou, is slowly revealed to have his own flaws.

 

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MTV Gets “AWKWARD.”

awkward2The "AWKWARD." fall season premiere aired on MTV this past Tuesday, Sept. 23. After last season's finale left a million questions, fans were anxiously waiting to see what Jenna (Ashley Rickards), Matty (Beau Mirchoff), and Eva (Elizabeth Whitson) were going to do next.

The episode starts off during finals week. The pressure of getting into college is affecting everyone, but the stresses of Jenna's past relationships are upsetting her even more. With Luke (Evan Williams) and Matty both on her mind, she decides to give her relationship with Luke one last shot and go visit him at college. When she gets there, he's with another girl, and later tells her that he does not want to be in a relationship.

Now with Luke out of the picture, all Jenna is thinking about is Matty, Eva and their baby. The premiere showed Jenna continuously harassing Matty about how to live his life, which gave clues that this season will focus on their relationship just like all the others. Jenna and Matty forever!

While I am one of the biggest supporters of the Jenna and Matty relationship, it seems like we've been through this a million times. She loves him, he loves her, he changes his mind, then loves her again. Why can't they just be together?

When Matty and Eva went to go pick out engagement rings, I was one of the many viewers who was cringing in their seats. Getting married just because she said a month ago she was pregnant? The best part of the whole episode came in this scene, when Matty finally called out Eva (or should we say Amber?) about lying. He gave her the proposition to either transfer out of the school, or he would ruin her reputation.

Later in the episode, things got awkward when perfect Christian girl Alyssa hooked up with her adopted brother, Tyler. This just seems wrong. She is hiding it from everyone, and she begins to create a distraction by saying she is back in love with Jake. Poor Jake; he has no clue that he is just a distraction, and he seems to genuinely like Alyssa again after having dated her back in Season One.

The end of the first episode gives viewers a little bit of hope when Matty shows up at Jenna's bedroom balcony to announce that he broke up with Eva. With Eva faking her pregnancy, it seemed like Matty had finally been coming to his senses that Jenna always knows best. Though this appealed to fans, it showed that last season's plot was just a big waste of a storyline.

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Fright Fest Brings Thrills & Chills To Six Flags

fright-festIt's that time of year again! The air is crisp, the leaves are changing colors, Pumpkin Spice coffee is back at Dunkin Donuts and everyone is breaking out the sweatshirts. This could only mean one thing: it's finally fall!

Fall is my favorite time of year. I love the weather, the apple cider, and the hayrides, but most of all, I love going to Fright Fest at Six Flags in Jackson, NJ. Fright Fest is back for its 23rd year with its famous slogan, "Thrills by day, fright by night!"

Six Flags is currently decorated with spider webs, haystacks and pumpkins, and the famous fountain is now colored red. You are safe to walk throughout the park until 6 pm, which is when "awakening" occurs.

Before awakening, there are tons of activities to do that many people overlook (though they are mainly aimed for kids). There is the Six Flags Spooktacular Street Party, which features the Looney Tunes characters and some of your favorite Halloween music. There are also shows such as the Spooky Kooky Magic Show, Sea Lion Scary Tales, and You Otter Know. Kids can even go trick-or-treating on the Trick-Or-Treat Trail.

But once the clock hits 6 pm, over 2,000 zombies, ghosts and goblins come out to do what they do best: scare! These ghouls wonder around the park, sneaking up on guests, creepily following them and of course, making them scream. Ghouls are only allowed to stay in front of the park by the fountain, and clowns must stay at the entrance to the Boardwalk. These are known as scare zones – if you want to go to Fright Fest but don't want to be scared, just avoid them.

Not only are the zombies wondering the park, but they put on great shows and travel through the famous terror trails. Some crowd favorites are back this year, such as Voodoo Island, Total Darkness, The Manor, and Wasteland. Guests can pay an extra fee to walk through these frightening trails, but be warned, because you never know when something (or someone) will pop out and scare you!

New this year is the addition of Crop Circles. Crop Circles is a terrorizing trail with an alien scarecrow theme.

Nighttime shows will return this year as well. The most popular event, Dead Man's Party, is back and better than ever. With new hit songs, people will see the zombies dance like they've never danced before. Also returning are shows like Ghoulmaster's Ghosts, Circus of Thrills and The Awakening. The list of show times can be found on the park map.

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Dakaboom Comedy Duo Visits Monmouth

20140926_200756_LLSSilly antics and comedic original songs entertained a decent crowd on Friday, Sept. 26. As one of Monmouth University's SHADOW program events, many freshman students attended to acquire an "O" for this week. Consisting of Paul Peglar and Ben McLain, Dakaboom utilizes their voices, a synthesizer, and a keyboard to create intricate beatboxes or comical mashups of actual songs.

The show, sponsored by the Student Activities Board (SAB), was full of fantastic vocal work as well as hilarious skits and banter between the two comedians. Peglar and McLain's chemistry is an obvious reason for the show's great success. The two mentioned being roommates for about seven years while being best friends for much longer. Although they live in two very different cities and states, the duo is still able to write new material and perform together.

In addition to Peglar's beautiful vocal range, his talent stretches into piano playing. Peglar was the original piano player in the first season of the musical TV show "Glee." Once this was mentioned to the crowd, many "Glee" fanatics cheered and shouted, "I knew I recognized him from somewhere!" Several songs performed by the duo utilized Peglar's fantastic pianist capabilities, proving that his role in "Glee" was well-deserved.

McLain has made appearances on "General Hospital," but he mostly spends his time with his electronic band located in Los Angeles. McLain's acting ability was showcased during the performance throughout the skits onstage. The comedian's reactions and involvement with the crowd created a believable and enjoyable experience for all.

Darius Jenkins, a sophomore member of SAB, mentioned, "Dakaboom is one of the events we brought from NACA last year, so this is their first time here at Monmouth University." Dakaboom has offered their talent throughout many colleges around the nation, entertaining students when they need it the most.

The duo's introductory piece took jabs at the other's interesting characteristics while demonstrating their perfect chemistry in the most upbeat way. Peglar proved his astonishing falsetto vocals while covering the works of Jackson 5, a-ha, and several others. McLain impressed the crowd with his beatbox original while comically claiming, "I'm a bat!"

A following song included a silly collection of questions that the duo has received after shows in the past: "Who are your influences?" "Where do you normally work?" "Are you single?" All of which garnered humorous half-responses.

Another song boasted a hilarious chant about friendship and all the qualities that made them great friends, which effortlessly cued laughter from the audience. A perfect play on words made the next piece a crowd favorite. Peglar's solo performance twisted girls' names into seemingly romantic phrases. "You're the girl I'd like to pick: Rose!" Peglar's clever wordplay continued into another composition that he called "Cheesy Love Song." This song switched out certain words with similar sounding cheese names. Yet again, the crowd gave positive feedback of the adorable lyrics.

The duo engaged the crowd numerous times, asking for answers throughout skits, and even singling out a girl in the crowd by creating an uncomfortable yet hilarious song purely about her name.

With many more songs sprinkled between the aforementioned ones, Dakaboom ended their hour-long performance with "50 Theme Songs Under 5 Minutes." The original mashup consisted of exactly what the title stated: 50 popular theme songs to TV shows including "Saved By The Bell," "Smurfs," "The Flintstones," "Animaniacs," "Happy Days," "Friends," "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," and many, many more.

At the end of the performance, Dakaboom received overwhelming applause and feedback. Many students stayed after the show to mingle more with the duo, as well as ask any questions that Dakaboom themselves didn't answer. The duo was more than happy to communicate with the starry-eyed students.

Emerald Umstead, a freshman, commented, "It was definitely a cute performance and they were very fun to watch. I'm glad I came."

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“South Park” Makes Triumphant Return to Comedy Central

south-park"Boner balls," blabbered off Cartman as he welcomed viewers to the 18th season of "South Park."

Creators of "South Park" Trey Parker and Matt Stone didn't hesitate to jump (scratch that, dive) right into things. And boy was it beautifully and hilariously executed.

The season premiere, "Go Fund Yourself," opened with the boys scheming a way to get rich without really having to exert much energy, as usual. After some (absurd) deliberation, an Internet Kickstarter company was named the ideal mean of achieving this goal.

Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny, and Butters assumed that all a company needs is a great name to emerge into a money-making machine.

Minutes after rattling off only the filthiest, raunchiest names for the Kickstarter company, Cartman finally had an epiphany – he decided to call their company the "Washington Redskins," since the whole "court thingy" just recently made the name available.

Capitalizing on the name "Washington Redskins," their company exploded into a giant success overnight. But not everybody was in favor of the new Kickstarter company, especially Dan Snyder, owner of the NFL Washington Redskins.

Snyder felt Cartman was mocking the "Washington Redskins," and was deeply offended – it was almost as if Cartman was poking fun at the team's heritage or something. I mean really, how dare he be so cruel and dehumanizing!

Cartman assured Snyder that the company name is only meant to show their deep appreciation of Snyder's "people." The satire is nothing less than greatness, with "South Park" executing this at its finest.

Besides, Cartman has an incredibly legitimate excuse to continue to keep the "Washington Redskins" name: "We can't change the name of the company, because it's like super-hard."

Kyle, being the most ethical and conscientious one of the group, decided to start his own company called "Furry Balls Plopped Menacingly on the Table, INC." It's a name that only "South Park" could devise because of its utter ridiculousness. Stan joined him in his endeavors, but then left after deciding he didn't like the name, insisting that the title was entirely too long.

Refusing to accept Cartman's reasoning for keeping the company name, Snyder visited Commissioner Goodell, who happened to be a robot. Unsatisfied and hungry for a solution, Snyder then turned to other NFL team owners for advice. His colleagues insisted Snyder force Cartman to change the Kickstarter company logo.

Cartman complied – but definitely not to Snyder's standards. The increasingly vulgar and overtly sexual logos were probably (no, definitely) the highlights of this episode. I'm sorry Redskins fans, but I couldn't help but chuckle each and every single time Cartman unveiled a new rendition to the company logo during one of his Ted Talks. Pure comedic gold, Parker and Stone. I applaud you both.

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“This Is Where I Leave You” Hits Theaters

fmp-this-is-where-i-leave-youWe all have that one memory of our family that just stands out among the rest. For the Altman's, it was the time their Dad died, and they were forced to sit Shiva, even though they aren't Jewish. "This is Where I Leave You" was overflowing with gifted performers, perfectly sculpted scenes, and beautifully written dialogue. Oh, and Tina Fey swears a lot!

"This is Where I Leave You" is the gathering of a family in support after their father's death. The film focuses on the four Altman children and their significant others coping with not only the loss of their father, but in some cases, the imploding of their love lives. One person is dealing with infertility issues, another is dealing with her ass of a husband, one is fighting off adulthood like it's a disease, and the other is having a baby with the woman he hates most. Are you sold yet?

Each performer could carry this film on his or her own — that's how impeccable they all are. They each crafted and perfected their roles so distinctly. Even the smaller roles gave phenomenal performances.

My personal favorite was "Parks and Recreation's" Ben Schwartz, who played Rabi Charles Grodner (better known as "Boner"). Adam Driver served as the film's resident Peter Pan, making inappropriate jokes, acting out, and toying with Tracy's (Connie Britton) emotions. This was one of the first serious roles comedy queen Tina Fey has taken on, and she shined as the cynical daughter, Wendy.

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‘River Read Reading Series’ Hosts Established Poets and Aspiring Writers

MemmerThe Manhattan Bagel in Red Bank, NJ, served as the host of this month's River Read Reading Series, coordinated by Linda Jade and Gregg Brown, on Saturday, Sept. 20. This community-focused event brings celebrated poets into a close setting with a few dozen eager listeners, letting them autograph their works for paying fans, and ends with an open mic for aspiring writers to share their own work.

Dr. Michael Waters, Professor of English, was in attendance, as was former University professor Lauren Schmidt, among a few University students. This installment featured Philip Memmer and Gerry LaFemina.

Memmer is the author of four books of poems, including "The Storehouses of the Snow: Psalms, Parables and Dreams" (2012) and "Lucifer: A Hagiography" (2008). His poems have appeared in journals such as "Poetry," "Poetry Northwest," and "Poetry London." He lives in upstate NY, where he directs the YMCA's Downtown Writers Center, and also serves as Associate Editor for Tiger Bark Press.

LaFemina is the award-winning author of 11 books of poetry and prose poetry, as well as a collection of short stories and a novel. His latest collection of poems, "Little Heretic," came out earlier this year, and recent poems have appeared in such magazines as the American Poetry Review and The Sun. He serves as Executive Director of Poets at Work, and directs the Center for Creative Writing at Frostburg State University, where he is an Associate Professor of English.

The event opened with Jade taking the microphone, briefly welcoming the audience and thanking its members for their attendance on "this fluky summer day." She then introduced Memmer, who spoke first, by noting that his poem "Psalm" was "so simply profound that it reminded me of the 'Cosmos' series. I had chills going down my spine."

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“The Mindy Project” Returns to FOX

the-mindy-project-20333-1366x768September 15 came around, and that meant that it was finally time to see America's favorite doctors back on TV. These are the doctors of "The Mindy Project," who seem to barely speak about medical needs at all, but more about what happens when their strangely entangled lives get even more complicated.

This episode starts off just the way it should, with Mindy (played by the show's writer, Mindy Kaling) and Danny Castellano (played by Chris Messina), finally being a couple. Anyone who watched more than one episode of the previous seasons knows that the show was always leading up to Danny and Mindy getting together.

One would not expect Mindy, the loud, pop-culture obsessed, slightly independent woman, and Danny, who is usually an angry divorcee, to have the chemistry they do — but the writers and actors have done a good job at finding things for the two to bond upon. Mindy and Danny should in no way get along (as shown in the first two seasons), but are now in a committed relationship.

This episode had Mindy and Danny's first fight as an official couple, and in proper "Mindy Project" fashion, it was an unusual disagreement. It began with Mindy finding a thong in one of Danny's drawers, believing it was for another woman. Later in the episode, Mindy and viewers discover that Danny had previously become a stripper to pay for med school.

While I am a fan of "The Mindy Project," this plot just reminds me of a Season 1 storyline from "Grey's Anatomy," in which Izzy (Katherine Heigl) becomes a lingerie model to pay her way through med school.

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U2 Releases New Album

Whether You Want It Or Not

 

U2main_1146547aWhen students checked Twitter a few days ago, most thought the tweets regarding the Irish band U2's new album, "Songs of Innocence," were a joke. How could every single iPhone have inexplicably downloaded the same CD? Through the mysterious qualities of the iCloud, this bizarre situation really happened — and not everyone is happy with Apple's gift.

On Sept. 9, Apple used the power of the iCloud to download the album to every device. Bono, lead singer of the band, admitted that he and the band are "on the verge of irrelevance." While he probably assumed this free release would lead to a positive response, what occurred was a tremendous amount of negative backlash.

The fact that Apple holds the power to download anything it wants to its users' computers, phones, and tablets is a big concern. Apple's website proudly stated: "Apple and U2 are giving the new album 'Songs of Innocence' to over 500 million iTunes customers worldwide. Never before have so many people owned one album, let alone on the day of its release." Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, boasted that this move was "music history," and "the biggest release of all time."

This free download was in the wake of the recent celebrity nude photo scandal, where a hacker stole over a hundred private photos — apparently using the iCloud. After receiving such negative attention, it is strange that they are once again forcing their power on the people. While Apple provided a tool for users to remove the album, there is no telling what Apple will do next with its new power over technology. Samantha Marella, a sophomore business marketing major, contended, "The iCloud is just a part of modern technology. People ned to be more careful and roll with it — or get a flip phone."

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"Teen Wolf" Finale is All Bark, No Bite

teen-wolf-season-4When MTV's Teen Wolf first premiered in June of 2011, its first season was surprisingly successful, despite low expectations based on the mere fact that it was a show called "Teen Wolf" on a network that does not exactly carry the best reputation when it comes to producing high-quality television.

If one were to survey fans of the show (which includes myself), they would most likely say that the success of the first season was mainly due to the fact that it focused heavily on its charming characters, such as the incredibly selfless Scott McCall (Tyler Posey) and his rather sarcastic best friend, Stiles Stilinski (Dylan O'Brien), and the relationships that they held. Although the first season had its share of intriguing plotlines and conflicts, the show never seemed to stray from what was making it a hit—the teens themselves.

Now, three years later (as I sit here and contemplate just how long I have dedicated my time to this show), Teen Wolf finishes up its fourth season. Unfortunately, this particular finale was just another underwhelming addition to an overall disappointing season.

This season, fans followed their protagonist Scott as he came to terms with the fact that he is now the Alpha (or "leader") of his own wolf pack, which now includes a very young (and very moody) freshman boy named Liam that Scott bit himself.

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Blue Hawk Records to Hold Open Auditions

Will Be Held at Woods Theater on Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m.

bhrStudent-run record label, Blue Hawk Records, is holding its first open auditions for all Monmouth students; students can audition for its newest compilation record in Woods Theater on Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m.

Organized by Professor Joe Rapolla and Monmouth's Music Industry students in 2013, Blue Hawk Records was designed to give participants a first-hand look at what it takes to write, produce, and distribute original music. This unique experience allows education to transcend the classroom, and provides students with the opportunity to better understand the industry they hope to be a part of in the future.

Blue Hawk Records acknowledges the various career paths that can stem from a love of music, and thus encourages students to pursue the area that interests them most; these areas include talent scouting, artist promotion and development, live music and record release, as well as artwork, packaging, sales, and marketing material.

In putting together three previous diverse compilations from scratch, Music Industry students have gained invaluable insight and expertise useful for a future profession. This semester, Blue Hawk Records will extend this experience to any Monmouth student willing to audition for the label's fourth EP next week in Woods Theater. Acts will be judged by a panel of senior student record executives and Professor Rapolla. Chosen artists will be offered a spot on the compilation album, and any students not selected will be offered other ways to become involved with the campus music scene, like playing shows through Blue Hawk Records' sister organization, the Music Alliance.

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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Rock ♪ Madison Square Garden ♫

tompettyandtheheartbreakers-34On tour promoting their newest album, "Hypnotic Eye," Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers took to Madison Square Garden on Sept. 10 for a one night stand in New York, at what Petty described as one of the greatest rock venues in the world.

As I was walking through the streets of Manhattan en route to the show, the city seemed to have an eerie feel about it, almost as if a dark cloud were looming atop the outstretched buildings watching those below. This being the night before the 13th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the atmosphere of the city was dull and lugubrious. One could feel the tension in the city rising as the fear that comes with this yearly reminder of tragedy settled in.

Walking into The Garden, the sense of uneasiness was heightened by the process of the workers bag-checking and frisking every person that entered the building. Never having been to a concert there before, I couldn't help but wonder if this was a regular Madison Square Garden safety precaution, or an extra security measure because of the date. Either way, I'm sure everyone there felt safer, more comfortable, and ready to rock.

After voyaging up five sets of escalators and stopping for an over-priced basket of chicken fingers, I was finally making my way up the rows to my seat.

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Welcome to Shondaland

Shonda Rhimes Launches Bold Thursday Night Lineup

 

scandal"Thank God it's Thursday!" shouted one of the marketing executives at ABC, or so I'm assuming. When ABC announced their new Thursday night lineup would feature not one, not two, but THREE Shonda Rhimes shows, it's safe to say fans were beyond thrilled.

Rhimes is a force that can't be stopped, a hit-making machine that has officially taken over an entire primetime lineup. The three-time Emmy nominee started her work with ABC in 2005 with medical drama, "Grey's Anatomy." Fans instantly swooped in on this mid-season pickup and made it the powerhouse it is.

Now going into its 11th season, stakes are high for Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), as they set to work out their living situation and whether or not they will move to D.C. so Derek can work at the White House. (Possible Scandal crossover? We hope so!) Geena Davis has been confirmed as a guest star this season, and though there are no details on her character just yet, she apparently works with Callie (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) a lot, and plays a pivotal role in their relationship.

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“ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK” SEASON TWO IS CRIMINALLY ENTERTAINING

orange-is-the-new-black-posterSeason One of "Orange is the New Black," Netflix's breakout dramedy about a women's correctional facility, was raw, hilarious, and fearless - and it was just the beginning. The show's second installment, available online as of June 6th, goes deeper into the lives of everyone's favorite convicts as racial lines are drawn in the sand of Litchfield Penitentiary. The arrival of new inmates shakes up alliances, and it's every woman for herself in the show's highly-anticipated second season.

Originally based on the memoir of the same name written by Piper Kerman, "Orange" follows a fictional Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), and her transition from yuppie Smith graduate to fish-out-of-water in a woman's prison. After carrying a suitcase of money across international borders for her drug smuggling then-girlfriend Alex Vause (Laura Prepon), Piper drastically changes course and spends the next decade building a picture-perfect life with dorky fiance Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs). When she is ultimately indicted for her criminal involvement in a drug ring, Piper is sentenced to fifteen months at a minimum security prison, where she confronts painful truths about herself and her relationships.

The series has received a lot of hype since its debut last year, and for good reason: Jenji Kohan and her writers took an unproven streaming service and delivered a powerhouse story that not only criticizes an archaic prison system, but digs deep to prove that we are all more than the bad decisions we make. "Orange" is unprecedented in its vast and diverse female ensemble, all of whom have backgrounds and storylines of their own. Its writing is sharp and funny in a completely unconventional way, and as recognized by the Academy with four Emmy nominations this past summer, it features some winning acting performances.

Last season left us with an agonizing cliffhanger, and a reminder that in prison, the stakes are always high. Piper's character arc throughout "Orange's" first chapter was a brilliant descent into the life of the rare female antihero, one who (despite her education, entitlement, and wealthy background) ends up in a bloody brawl outside in the snow during the prison's Christmas pageant. After a year of torturous speculation (Did Piper kill Pennsatucky (Taryn Manning)? Will her sentence be extended?), Season Two mercifully provides some answers.

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James Franco and Jonah Hill Tell a "True Story"

A unique look at a movie-book combination, the film True Story analyzes how the real-life crime drama about convicted murderer Christian Longo was made into a book written by former New York Times journalist Mike Finkel. 

The film opens with a teddy bear being dropped into a suitcase containing the dead body of a very young girl. The suitcase is then closed and dropped into a body of water off the Pacific Ocean. The scene changes and we then see reporter Mike Finkel, played by the versatile Jonah Hill, in an African city interviewing some teenage boys who claimed to have been abused by the owners of the cocoa plantation where they were allegedly enslaved. This scene is extremely important to the story in that it sets up for Finkel’s subsequent dismissal from The New York Times for fabricating parts of this story.

However, the scene quickly moves again, this time to Cancun, Mexico, where another man who claims to be a New York Times reporter Mike Finkel meets a young woman in a church, but is quickly arrested and extradited to the United States after the rendezvous with this woman. We then find out that this man is Christian Longo, played splendidly by James Franco, who is accused of murdering his entire family including his wife and his three young children. Longo subsequently fled to Mexico and stole Finkel’s identity to avoid prosecution, but we pick up his story upon his arrest.

After Finkel is made aware that Longo had been pretending to be him, Finkel reaches out to Longo in jail and they forge an unusual relationship. After Finkel loses his job at the Times, he is looking for redemption through Longo’s story. Longo, on the other hand, is looking to Finkel to find a way to his own absolution. While both men manipulate the relationship in ways to benefit themselves, Finkel invests his entire reputation on Longo and an interesting dialogue and drama ensues.

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University Hosts Conference Featuring Tony Award Winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson

SantiagohudsonOn Friday, April 17, Dr. Aaron X. Smith and Tony Award-winning actor, director and playwright, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, hosted a race conference on “Using Popular Culture and Media for Accessing the Criminal System.”

Elaborating on his peace mission, Santiago-Hudson begins by speaking about African Americans living on the periphery, cultural intelligence, societal conformity, racial misrepresentation and police brutality. It is undeniably true that when we ask questions about the history of this nation, educators and representatives often leave out the contributions that African Americans, and minorities as a whole, have made towards this country’s structure and work ethic. One part of Santiago-Hudson’s presentation was especially significant. He said, “When people profess history, they’re often the stars of that history.” So the question is: how do we include society in this peace mission? How do we spread awareness? 

Smith spoke mostly about media and hip-hop’s contribution to the pursuit of equal humanity. Well known music artists from the 90’s like Tupac and Biggie Smalls rapped about African American legacy and the pursuit of justice, but hip-hop is not always viewed with respect because people cannot think outside of the destructive paradigm of today’s society. Hip-hop is the only one telling the story, and it is the same system of paradigm that highlights only the negative. With police brutality—a subject that is especially familiar to us with the current injustices performed by our law enforcement—we now take a look at how blacks are misrepresented. We hear it all the time on the news: Ferguson, Mike Brown, the recent shooting of Eric Harris. It is the negative images that society places on people of color that allows authority to brutalize them. 

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"Blue Hawk Five" to Drop on April 29

blue hawkBlue Hawk Records’ fifth compilation album, Blue Hawk Five, will be released on Wednesday, April 29. After holding auditions, the artists and groups that will be featured on the record are: Lily Riche, Tatiana Walia, Tympanic Plexus, Brian Perrino, and Shoreline.  These artists come from outside the music department with majors such as math, English, and criminal justice within the University. One of the albums’ members is also a recent alumnus. Not only have some students produced the album, but they also put their musical talents on display. Blue Hawk Five promises to be the most exciting yet for Blue Hawk Records because it will feature song genres that will appeal to multiple personalities such as folk, soul, instrumental, indie, and more. 

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Dance Gavin Dance Gives Fans "Instant Gratification"

rgrPost-hardcore veterans Dance Gavin Dance released their sixth studio album, Instant Gratification, on Tuesday, April 14 via Rise Records. This album marks the second release featuring current clean vocalist Tilian Pearson and the fifth to include long-time unclean vocalist Jon Mess. 

Since the group’s inception in 2005, the band has dealt with a myriad of lineup changes that would have collapsed any other band. Fortunately, the two core members, lead guitarist Will Swan and drummer Matthew Mingus, have held the band together in the face of personnel conflicts. Each album maintains the group’s signature style that showcases Swan and Mingus’s intricate musicianship while drawing from a diverse pool of influences and experimenting with many different musical styles. 

The band rose to widespread popularity with their first studio album, Downtown Battle Mountain, in 2007. The record featured original clean vocalist Jonny Craig, whom has now gone on to record with multiple bands and artists. Following Craig’s departure, the group continued on with clean vocalist Kurt Travis. After Travis joined, screamer Jon Mess quit the band before the release of their 2008 self-titled album. Dance Gavin Dance recorded one more album with Travis, 2009’s Happiness, before inviting both Craig and Mess to rejoin for 2011’s Downtown Battle Mountain II

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Marvel Gets Dark In Netflix's "Daredevil"

daredevil posterMarvel Comics’ newest television series Daredevil premiered its first season in full on Friday, April 10, exclusively on Netflix. This series marks the third television tie-in to Marvel’s greater cinematic universe, and the first series produced solely for Netflix subscribers. 

Marvel first announced Dareveil as one of five new series for Netflix, with the other four airing at later dates. The next four will feature Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage in their own series with a penultimate miniseries called The Defenders once the four individual entries have finished. 

Many viewers perhaps best remember Daredevil as a character portrayed by Ben Affleck in a poorly-received film in 2003. Unlike that film, the Netflix series shows an exciting, dark, and action-packed adventure that only leaves anticipation for more. 

Daredevil could be best compared to Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman. Nolan wanted to give Batman a darker, more mature atmosphere to contrast with the more bizarre Batman films released in the 1990s. Marvel took the hint and gave the same treatment to their Daredevil series. 

While both franchises feature heroes with no superpowers, each has something that grants them extra abilities when fighting crime. Where Bruce Wayne has the money to finance Batman’s expensive gadgets, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is blind. Some may view that as a disadvantage to crime fighting, but Daredevil’s other enhanced senses allow him to sense the world in ways most people cannot. 

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THE “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” SAVE THE UNIVERSE

...and the summer box office

GuardiansThe heroes currently guarding our galaxy aren't exactly heroic: the dysfunctional team introduced to us in Marvel's newest blockbuster is made up of outlaws, thieves, traitors, and (in some cases) genetically-modified creatures. They come together for a selfish purpose, but a quest to cash in on a mysterious orb ultimately unlocks a sinister plot to destroy the realms. In forcing its characters to discover their own virtues and establish a new definition for the term 'hero,' "Guardians of the Galaxy" became the fresh, funny, and unexpected hit of the summer.

Like most Marvel movies, "Guardians" requires a healthy dose of mythology before it can kick off the story. We begin our journey on Earth, where a young Peter Quill watches his mother die before being swiftly sucked up into the night sky in 1988. We reunite with Peter two decades later, where he has adopted a new name (Star-Lord), and is more-or-less partaking in a terrestrial treasure hunt. The self-proclaimed "legendary outlaw" is brought to life by Chris Pratt, who (despite starring in his first leading role) has a commanding screen presence.

In a complicated turn of events, Quill finds himself with a bounty on his head, and being hunted down by the odd group of hopeful reward-collectors that will become the Guardians: Zemora (Zoe Saldana), the green-skinned, surprisingly moral assassin; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a trigger-happy raccoon with a knack for machinery; and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a benign talking tree that has only mastered three words of the English language ('I,' 'am,' and 'Groot,' exclusively in that order.). Along the way they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a no-nonsense brute on a quest for revenge.

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5 Seconds of Summer

Australian band makes pop-punk mainstream

5sos_buzznetThis summer was filled with many new obsessions, like dumping ice on your head and buying more clothes that are originally from the 80s; however, the music scene had a different type of breakout star. Four boys from Sydney, Australia have made their way into the eyes of the public with their self-titled debut album, "5 Seconds of Summer." More importantly, these boys have brought pop-punk music back onto mainstream radio stations, and even back onto award shows. The band consists of Luke Hemmings (lead vocals/guitar), Michael "Mikey" Clifford (guitar), Calum Hood (bass/vocals), and Ashton Irwin (drums). These 18 and 20-year-old guys have been making their mark on the billboard charts and radio stations around the world.

The album was released in America on July 22, and debuted number one on the Billboard 200 charts. The album opens strong with their incredibly catchy first single, "She Looks So Perfect." The song is fun to sing along to, beginning with a string of "hey's" before moving into your typical pop-punk sound. The next song on the album, "Don't Stop," is another single released by the band, and it's just as catchy as the first. At this point, the listener probably realizes that this album is going to be four teenage boys singing about pretty girls in a catchy, but not necessarily lyrically complex, way. This listener's theory is confirmed when the next songs that follow are called "Good Girls" and "Kiss Me Kiss Me."

"Kiss Me Kiss Me" was co-written by Alex Gaskarth, the front-man to popular pop-punk group All Time Low. Gaskarth also helped write "End Up Here" and "Long Way Home," two tracks that show up later on the album. You can definitely hear the influence that Gaskarth had on those three tracks, because they have a very similar vibe compared to most All Time Low's songs.

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“Déjà Vu” for Classic Rock Fans at the MAC

csnappWhile the people of Monmouth County were wrapping up their Fourth of July weekend this past summer, Monmouth University sparked some fireworks of their own by hosting Crosby, Stills & Nash in concert on July 6.

The auditorium was vast and almost silent as I climbed the upper-tier section of the MAC for an opening act-less 7:30 show time. The lights were dimmed as I found my seat, the only noise coming from the anxious grumblings of anticipation from a restless crowd surrounding me.

Suddenly, a flash of light illuminated the faces in the arena. The band, playing atop their infamous Persian rug flooring, filled every crack and crevice of the building with one of their most famous songs, "Carry On/Questions." I was shocked as people of all ages stood up and swallowed me whole in my seat, dancing and swaying to a record released over 40 years prior. Who says rock is dead?

"Yes they may be older guys, but they are in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame," Vice President of Student Services Mary Anne Nagy, said. "We thought it was going to be a good show from the beginning, and we were very pleased with the ticket sales." Nagy led the forefront of workers who helped book and set up the show, and made sure it ran as efficiently and safely as possible.

With Monmouth being only the fourth date on the 2014 tour, Crosby, Stills & Nash produced a sound that was both fresh and electric. Though not all of the 40 years of music have been entirely easy, consisting of break-ups, solo records, and losing a crucial member, Neil Young, one would not have guessed it from this performance. The trio complimented one another with highest regards, transitioned smoothly from song to song, and kept the atmosphere of the show positive, as if they had not one dispute in their careers.

The set-list for the show was a refreshing combination of new and old material, along with some Buffalo Springfield hits including "For What It's Worth" that kept the fans on their toes. Despite the reality of most concerts, where new material is accepted with apprehensive uncertainty, the lyrical mastery of Graham Nash, David Crosby, and Steven Stills kept any sense of worry at bay. The songs were welcomed with open arms, leaving the audience teeming with excitement for more.

"They can still harmonize, and so effortlessly," said Sharon Codd, Assistant to the Vice Principal of Student Services, when asked what she thought of the performance. "And what did I do the next day? I ordered the 'Déjà Vu' CD. I have it on an album, but I don't have a turntable to play it on."

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The "Entourage" Boys are Back

entourage movie gets summer 2015 releaseThe boys are back and, from the look of it, better than ever in the new trailer released from Warner Bros. and HBO Entertainment’s Entourage. It has been less than four years since the final episode of HBO’s hit series aired on Sept. 11, 2011 and they are ready to take the big screen for their first feature film on June 12, 2015. 

The show was created by Doug Ellin and stars a perfect cast including Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon and Jeremy Piven. Grenier plays  new-to-fame movie star Vinny Chase, who moves from Queens, NY, out to the West Coast and experiences an extravagant new life with his posse, (okay, his Entourage) of best friends Eric (Connolly), Turtle (Ferrara) and older brother Johnny Drama (Dillon). The series includes a concoction of fame, money, sex, drugs, parties, more sex, money, more parties and then a bunch of detours the boys come across along with their power-crazy agent, Ari Gold (Piven). 

In the early days (or what some would consider the golden days) of Entourage, the show took a look at the boys trying to fit into Hollywood and figure out a way to keep succeeding in the business. It shouldn’t be too hard when you have movie star good looks, talent and lucky doors opening for you left and right; however the boys always had to make the situation harder than it had to be. The series was based on the real life of movie star Mark Wahlberg and a few crazy events which he dealt with along the way in the beginning of his rise as Marky Mark. The show is known for cameos of a large range of stars including T.I, Bobby Flay, Tom Brady, Jessica Alba, Seth Green, Kanye West, Martin Scorsese, 50 Cent, Edward Burns, Sasha Grey, James Cameron and Mandy Moore, to name a few.

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Woods Theatre Gets Groovy

muller“Okay class, I’m going to have to end our session a little early tonight, I have to catch a gig at Count Basie Theatre.” If you have not heard a professor at Monmouth University say these words, chances are you haven’t had Professor Marc Muller.

I caught Professor Muller for an interview after he was done teaching a class, exiting the room as usual with a guitar case in his hand. This time, he actually had two, one slung around his shoulder.

“As early as I can remember,” he said, answering when he first began playing the six-string. “About four years old, I guess.” 

He took a seat on the green lounge chairs in the lobby of Woods Theatre, the building where he usually sets up shop for his classes, consisting of a Rock n’ Roll and American Culture lecture. Gently placing both of his cased instruments on the floor beside him, he scratched his shaggy grey hair and gave a look of excited apprehension, as most musicians do when approached for an interview. His relaxed look of khaki pants and Sanuk style shoes gives off a vibe that says, “Yeah, I’m a hippie, but I’m a hippie who knows his stuff. So sit down and listen.”

Muller, who attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, is currently an adjunct here at Monmouth. However, his main occupation is his Grateful Dead tribute band, Dead On Live, which he has created and brought to success since its beginning in 2010. “The Dead On Live thing is a full-time job,” he said. “Trying to promote it, run it, organize it and book it.”

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Audiences Fell in Love with "The Longest Ride"

longest rideIf you are a Nicholas Sparks fan, get excited for the newest novel-to-movie offering. The Longest Ride opened in theaters on Friday, April 10, and gives Sparks’ fans what they expect from his stories, and much more. The Longest Ride is a story of love, young and old, new and lasting, through cleverly-articulated parallel accounts of two pairs of lovers in different time periods, while they both learn that “Love requires sacrifice….always.”

The story opens with Luke Collins, the number one ranked bull rider from a small North Carolina town, getting thrown from his ride, and resulting in a major injury that sidelines him for a year. As he mounts his comeback, he meets Sophia Danko, a native New Jersey college student finishing her last semester at Wake Forrest with plans to pursue an art career in New York City as soon as she graduates. Luke, played by newcomer Scott Eastwood, and Sophia, played by Britt Robertson in her second starring role, have an instant connection but plan to say goodbye at the end of their first date to pursue their very different dreams. 

On the way home, they find Ira Levinson, played spectacularly by Alan Alda, in his car after it crashes through a guardrail in the pouring rain. They bring Ira and his beloved box of letters to the hospital where Sophia sees through Ira’s curmudgeonly exterior and they begin an unexpected and unusual friendship. Sophia visits the healing Ira daily and reads to him his love letters to his beloved Ruth as he can no longer see well enough to read them himself. 

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All Time Low prepares to rock the MAC with new album, "Future Hearts"

future heartsIt’s been two years since their last visit and almost everyone has been waiting for it to happen again. Baltimore-based band All Time Low is coming to Monmouth once more on their spring “Future Hearts Tour” featuring accompanying bands Tonight Alive, State Champs, and Issues on Friday, April 17. The album, which matches the name of the tour, was just released on Tuesday, April 7, following two singles, “Something’s Gotta Give” and “Kids in the Dark.” This is All Time Low’s sixth album, and while some think it’s a great new chapter in the journey that is All Time Low’s career, others beg to differ. 

Amanda Salerno, a junior psychology student, is not too thrilled with how the record came out. “I was listening to it with my friend the other day and I didn’t like how you could guess the song names from the songs themselves because they say it in every chorus.” The album’s single, “Something’s Gotta Give,” does what Salerno suggests, with the lyrics stating, “I’m dying to live/Something’s gotta give.”

This is a change in lyrics from All Time Low’s old music. Salerno said she hopes that they play their old songs rather than their newer ones. “I suppose they’ll play ‘Kids in the Dark’ and their new songs, but I really am excited to see ‘Remembering Sunday’ and ‘Vegas.’” Both aforementioned tracks are off of All Time Low’s sophomore album from 2007, So Wrong, It’s Right.

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“The Walking Dead” Survives Another Season

the walking dead season 5 rick lincoln daryl reedus 935Sunday, March 29, saw the end of the fifth season of AMC’s The Walking Dead, culminating with an explosive season finale that left viewers on a cliffhanger until October, when new episodes will air.

The season finale wrapped up several plots that have been building over the course of the season; namely, whether Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his group will be able to stay in Alexandria, a safe haven where life continues as normal even in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The last moments also reunited Rick with former friend and ally Morgan Jones (Lennie James), who was last seen searching for Rick at the end of the first episode of the season. While many viewers believed that the season would end with Rick being exiled from Alexandria, it seems that this will not be the case, and it appears that he may even be given more authority in the city. 

Several minor plot points were wrapped up as well, such as answering the mystery of the people who had been leaving ‘W’s carved onto the foreheads of zombies and corpses across the countryside—this was revealed to be the handiwork of the Wolves, a mysterious group that has yet to be explained much. The Wolves, while much speculated about, had very little screen time in the season, although it is hinted that they will return at some point in the sixth season. 

Unlike most season finales of the show, there were no major character deaths—although this past season has seen the demise of characters Beth Greene (Emily Kinney), Tyreese (Chad Coleman), and Noah (Tyler James Williams). There were several scenes, however, that put major characters in danger, such as when Glenn Rhee (Steven Yuen) was attacked by an enemy inside Alexandria, and when misguided priest Gabriel Stokes (Seth Gilliam) attempted first to kill himself, and then attacked ally Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green).

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Robert Durst Gets Jinxed

the jinx the life and deaths of robert durst stillHBO’s The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst’s ratings  have skyrocketed the past few weeks as star Robert Durst jinxed himself into getting arrested in New Orleans, LA on first-degree murder charges days before the season finale aired.

The Jinx is a series created by director Andrew Jarecki that was inspired by the life of the mysterious Durst who beat three murder charges. Jarecki originally took interest in Durst back in 1982 when the case of his wife, Kathy Durst, dominated news stations and airways all over the country with her unsolved disappearance. Apparently Kathy was last seen arguing with her husband before heading home, never to be heard from again. 

Following the 1982 case,  the 2000 execution-style killing of Durst’s good friend Susan Berman put ‘the Jinx’ right back in the news headlines in California. Then, only a few months later in 2001, the death and dismemberment of Durst’s apparently good friend Morris Black came about and was the only case that had Durst see a trial. 

After all these murders seemed to link Durst as a common theme, Jarecki became interested in Durst and wanted to make a movie that he could sit and watch and possibly draw emotion from. Jarecki went on in 2010 to direct a Durst-inspired film called All Good Things starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst. The movie did its job and triggered something in Durst, who, soon after the film’s release, called up Jarecki with profound admiration of the picture and decided to work with him on a new project, an HBO miniseries titled The Jinx

Durst would ultimately sit down with Jarecki for over 20 hours throughout a multi-year period, having never before cooperated with journalistic media. The series investigates deeper into the unsolved 1982 disappearance of his wife Kathy, the 2000 execution-style killing of Susan Berman, as well as the 2001 death and dismemberment of Morris Black, who was neighbors with Durst in Galveston, TX, although no one in the town had ever seen the two together. 

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New Series ‘Lip Sync Battle’ Triumphs on SPIKE

fallon rock mashableThe mic is off, but the battle is on in the all-new series Lip Sync Battle, which debuted on SPIKE on Thursday, April 2nd. Grab that bowl of popcorn, a close friend, and get ready to laugh until you cry because Lip Sync Battle is a show you don’t want to miss! The lip sync battle skit from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon is already a huge sensation, but now SPIKE is taking it to the next level. 

This all-new series is hosted by LL Cool J, with commentary by supermodel co-host, Chrissy Teigen. Each episode will feature two celebrities like you have never seen them before: lip syncing their hearts out in hysterical performances. There will be two rounds each episode. The first is pure lip sync while in the second round, the celebrities are free to take their performances above and beyond. The audience determines the winners of each round by the volume of their applause. 

The first episode starred Jimmy Fallon, the king of lip sync, who went up against Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson started the battle by perfectly lip-syncing Taylor Swift’s hit “Shake It Off.”  Picture a 6’5” wrestler lip-syncing a Taylor Swift song; it was everything you could ever imagine. Johnson definitely brought it the first round. 

Fallon was up next. His song choice was Harry Belafonte’s  “Jump in the Line.” Not only did he perfectly match the lyrics, but also brought the hip-shaking and the rumba along with him. Fallon was even able to start a conga line with the audience.

In round two, Fallon took the mic first. His second song choice was “Like a Prayer” by Madonna. As if his first performance wasn’t enough, Fallon definitely took it up a notch during his second lip sync. Not only did he wear a church robe to fit the role, but he brought out an entire choir to lip sync with him. That’s dedication. 

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Justin Bieber Gets Roasted

bieber roast ewAdmit it: at one point in your life you had a little crush on Justin Bieber. Whether it was his long luscious hair, his cute voice, or how smooth he looked with girls in music videos, he always seemed to be your type. 

Whether your crush for Bieber was real, or still is, there is no way you could miss out on The Roast of Justin Bieber, which aired on Monday March 30 on Comedy Central. From jokes about his pet monkey being left in Germany to his relationship with actress and singer Selena Gomez, the jokes kept getting better and better. 

The ones who mustered up the courage, and jokes, to get on stage to humiliate Bieber were Kevin Hart, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Pete Davidson, Martha Stewart, Jeff Ross, Shaquille O’Neal, Hannibal Buress, Natasha Leggero, Chris D’elia, and surprise guest Ron Burgundy.

Hart was the host of the night. It was recently announced that he would be receiving the Comedic Genius Award at the MTV Movie Awards this April. Knowing that he was the recipient of this award made it crucial that he lived up to the expectations for this roast, and he delivered; his jokes were hilarious. He joked about people wanting Ebola rather than ‘Bieber fever,’ and how Justin is Canadian but really American because no Canadian has ever been as disrespectful as he has. I would say Hart was one the funniest of the night.

There was a lot of talk about Martha Stewart being the greatest thing to happen to The Roast of Justin Bieber; for some reason, I just was not feeling it. It felt like all of her jokes were written for her, and  that she was reading them for the first time while she was on stage. A lot of the other participants of the roast mocked on how Stewart had been to jail, but her best joke was when she gave Bieber tips on what to do once he made his way to the cellar. For a 73-year-old woman, I guess Stewart did the best she could.

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Crobot Is Rocking Brighton Bar on April 2

ven21 ja 14mar crobot 640x557Hard rock band Crobot is kicking off their 2015 tour at Brighton Bar in Long Branch, NJ, on Thursday, April 2, to promote their new album Something Supernatural

Lead singer Brandon Yeagley’s electric voice spreads like wildfire when combined with Chris Bishop’s guitar. The Figueroa brothers, Jake and Paul, respectively lock down the heavy funk infused bass and a consistent beat of the drums. 

Crobot’s sound can be associated with the hard rock and heavy metal scene of Pottsville, PA, which is also where they formed the band and signed to Wind-Up Records in 2013. 

Crobot is branching out in style since their debut EP, The Legend of the Spacebourne Killer, and really found an organic rhythm by laying down more of a dirty groove that people can rock to. 

The band will be playing a lot of their new material like “Chupacabra” and “Skull of Geronimo,” but it is almost guaranteed that the audience will hear old songs as well (such as “Nowhere left to Hide”) at Brighton Bar on Thursday.

Crobot just returned to the States from Lausanne, Switzerland and many other European countries that they visited on tour. Before beginning their European set, the band played with Limp Bizkit, Black Label Society, Buckcherry, and Filter. 

Brighton Bar sets the tone for the remainder of the tour with one of high energy at a famous punk club venue.

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Graphic Design and Animation Students Present First-Ever Senior Exhibit

1stshowThe First Senior Exhibition of Graphic Design and Animation is being displayed in Joan and Robert Rechnitz Hall’s DiMattio Gallery from March 27 to April 4; the work presented by the senior art students is the product of countless hours in the studio to express themselves and what they are passionate about. 

The DiMattio Gallery’s first floor walls are covered head-to-toe with beautiful and thoughtful pieces from graphic design students, and the second floor contains creative works from animation students.

Last Friday, the opening reception of the exhibition drew a crowd of about 150 people with positive energy, and the students really had the chance to show off their work and receive live feedback from an audience. All of the seniors involved in the exhibition had a story to tell; many of them have been working towards this moment for four years.

Marissa Clemente, a graphic design student, said, “I am really proud of what I accomplished, partially because I didn’t really realize how much potential my work had until finishing last night at 1:30 am. Now I can stand back and look at everything I’ve done at Monmouth and I realize it’s a lot.”

The various styles and formats the senior art majors have in their arsenal of skills were unleashed in a beautiful display of expression. Some seniors were influenced by other work or even personal experiences.

Clemente said, “My grandfather was in WWII and he served on the U.S.S. Cabot. I took images from letters he wrote and meshed them with not just pictures of war but hope as well. Sometimes you just get really involved in your work; I spent three weeks on that particular piece. It was so cool because you’re diving into history.”

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Kendrick Lamar Releases a Winning Third Album

kendrick lamar reebok promo 1According to the Huffington Post, the word “pimp” has not been used in an album title since 2006, and the word “butterfly” has not been used since 1997. And as graceful as the butterfly in his album title, Kendrick Lamar has done both—all while his new album hit number one on the hip-hop charts this past week. Better yet, Lamar has made history by including the word “pimp” on a chart-topping album, which has never been done until he came into the picture. 

If you aren’t familiar with Compton, CA native rapper Kendrick Lamar, you should get used to hearing the name. Lamar’s new album, To Pimp A Butterfly, dropped March 16, gives a glimpse into Lamar’s personal life. Between the track “For Sale? –Interlude” and the following song, “Momma,” fans and new listeners alike are let into Lamar’s childhood and early adolescence. With its mixture of sentimental tracks and traditional hip-hop songs like the single, “I,” Lamar has taken his talent to the next level. 

Even if rap isn’t the first thing you’d turn on when you get into your car, To Pimp a Butterfly is worth at least a listen. Even the fan of hardest rock will enjoy Lamar’s style. He mixes traditional elements of rap and hip-hop with a slight edge. Hints of jazz and R&B also play a role in Butterfly, as seen on the opening track, “Wesley’s Theory.” 

Lamar’s new record is a game changer. Taking the original rap origin of poetry, the title of the album is actually a metaphor. In the last track, “Mortal Men,” he explains the meaning behind the history making, off-beat, and endearing title: 

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"Bloodline" is Netflix's Captivating New Drama

bloodlinesOn Friday, March 20, Netflix released the new television series, Bloodline, for streaming. With the first episode alone involving mystery, suspense, and the premise that “we’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing,” it is almost sure to be a success.

According to imdb.com, Bloodline is about “a family of adult siblings who find that their secrets and scars are revealed when their black sheep of a brother returns home.” The first episode begins with the Rayburn family hosting a gathering at their resort, and the “black sheep brother,” Danny Rayburn (Ben Mendelsohn), contemplating whether he wants to go or not. Eventually he does, and we learn that he has had a troubling past and a questionable future with the family.

The pilot episode shows that Danny has faced struggles in the past because the family does not want to let him back into the family business (for a reason that we are unsure of) and his father is clearly disappointed in him, hesitating even to say something positive about his son during a toast. We are left wondering what it is that Danny has done, which is the interesting hook of the show.

Throughout the episode there are flashes of Danny and his brother, John (Kyle Chandler), swimming through water and rain while carrying Danny’s unconscious body. This made me wonder what happened for the brothers to get into this crazy circumstance. Later in the episode, John is telling his brother that he has done a lot for Danny that nobody knows about, which also left me wondering. 

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“Dancing With the Stars” Launches Season 20

danceGrab your dancing shoes because an all-new season of Dancing with the Stars is back on ABC! The 20th season of the show kicked off Monday, March 16 with an unforgettable episode.

The show began with Willow Shields and her partner, Mark Ballas. Shields, the youngest competitor at 14-years-old, is known for her role as Primrose Everdeen in the Hunger Games films. Shields and Ballas danced the cha-cha and received great comments from the judges. She has great potential and will most likely make it far in this season. Shields received a total of 25 out of 40. 

Robert Herjavec and his partner, Kym Johnson, were up next on the dance floor. Herjavec is a Croatian-born Canadian businessman who is known for starring on ABC’s Shark Tank. Herjavec and Johnson danced a fun cha-cha, making the crowd go wild. Herjavec shocked the judges, proving he belongs here, and received a total of 28 out of 40. 

Next on the dance floor were Riker Lynch and his partner, Allison Holker. Lynch is known for his role as Jeff Sterling on the hit television series, Glee. He is also the cousin of Derek and Julianne Hough, who are both professional dancers and have both won Dancing with the Stars numerous times. Lynch showed off his dance moves by jiving his way to a total of 31 out of 40.

Charlotte McKinney and her partner, Keo Motsepe were next to dance. McKinney is a model who starred in Carl’s Jr.’s infamous naked Super Bowl ad emphasizing “all-natural” ingredients. McKinney tried her best during her jive, but had a few miss-steps. She received a total of 22 out of 40.

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Disney's Live-Action “Cinderella” Is No Fairytale

Cinderella (1)Disney’s Cinderella is everything that you would expect: no exciting twist to the plot, but the basic tale that we all remember from our childhood. The film has an evil stepmother, two evil stepsisters, a cat that constantly chases Cinderella’s mice pals, a prince, a fairy godmother, a pumpkin that turns into a carriage with the magical words, “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” and, of course, the glass slippers. The movie wasn’t as enchanting and magical as I expected it to be, but it wasn’t terribly bad either. 

Cinderella begins with a narration as the audience looks on at a beautiful house surrounded by trees and flowers, almost as if we were birds soaring in the sky. We see a young Ella (Eloise Webb), happy as can be playing with her mother (Hayley Atwell) and father (Ben Chaplin) outside their cottage. Ella is told that “sorrow can come to any kingdom,” and it does: her mother grows terribly ill. She tells Ella to “have courage and be kind,” which Ella takes to heart even when confronted by her wicked stepmother.

It’s been many years now since her mother passed on, and her father tells a fully-grown Ella (Lily James) that he wants to marry Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett). Soon Lady Tremaine moves into the cottage home and brings her two spoiled, bratty daughters Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger), who later give their stepsister the nickname “Cinderella” because she slept by a fireplace and got cinder ashes on her face. At a party in their home, Cinderella’s father says that he has to be leaving for business and will return soon, but as the story goes, he becomes ill and dies on his journey back home. 

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Blue Hawk Records to Release Fifth Studio Album

bhr sticker

West Long Branch, NJ—Blue Hawk Records is set to release its fifth compilation album, Blue Hawk Five, in the spring. Could the release be the turning point the label is hoping for?

Blue Hawk Five is the most ambitious album yet for the student-run record label here at Monmouth University. Auditions were held on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015, in Woods Theatre to find new, aspiring singers to record on the album. Students from outside of the music department, including math, English, and criminal justice majors, came out to the auditions with beautiful voices and captivating songs. All of the musicians who performed showcased their talents and told a story with their songs. 

With this fifth studio-produced effort, the label plans to expand its project outside of the University. They are hoping this album is bigger and better than the four previous compilations. Blue Hawk Five will be special because all of the acts chosen bring something different. The decision-making process was difficult because it was hard to choose between all of the incredible acts that came out to audition. Ultimately, the following artists were chosen for Blue Hawk Five: Tympanic Plexus, Shoreline, Lily Riche, Brian Perrino, and Tatiana Muslim. The album will feature many different genres that will appeal to a large audience. 

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‘The Bachelor’ Becomes the Fiancé

chris soules and whitney bischoffRoses are red, violets are blue, Prince Farming is off the market, and his love for Whitney is true! Season 19 of the The Bachelor on ABC seemed to be one of the weirdest seasons thus far. From widows to virgins, the women all had their own story and a chance to win the heart of Prince Farming (or more formally known as Chris Soules). 

On Jan. 5, the premiere of The Bachelor introduced audiences to 30 women who were ready to take their shot at love. The heart they were competing for was one of Season 18’s fan favorites. An attractive farmer from Arlington, Iowa, Chris set out to find a woman who was ready to become Mrs. Farmer, but from the very first episode it was clear that he didn’t know exactly what he had signed up for. As soon as the last woman got out of the limo to introduce herself, it was as though someone had screamed, “Let the games begin!”

The whole season was a series of ups and downs that created backstabbers, best friends, and belly laughs. There was Tara Eddings, who was so drunk on the first night that she could not even stand. Then there was Ashley Salter, who was hands down the most unusual contestant The Bachelor had ever seen. From her random babbling to her picking an onion off a tree during one of her interviews, there was never a moment when people knew what she was talking about. Viewers got their dosage of laughter from contestant Carly Waddell, who was quick to poke fun at women who she thought were being fake. But the most controversial contestant in Season 19 was Kelsey Poe, a conniving widow who made it clear that she was not on the show to make friends. Faking panic attacks and using her tragic life story to her advantage were just a few ways Poe tried to win Chris’ heart. 

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Get Lost in the World of “WarFrame”

warframeWho wants to play a third-person co-op shooter about space ninjas? If you first thought is, “Yeah, I’m going to pass,” then we have something in common—I was also blind to the allure of space ninjas. Then I heard that Warframe was free… Five minutes later I was downloading it to my laptop (Warframe can  also be played on Xbox One and Playstation 4). To cut to the chase, this game was well-worth my money (or lack-thereof). To be completely honest, Warframe has so many excellent features that I won’t be able to cover all of it in my review, so I’m simply going to focus on the highlights. 

Warframe is a futuristic sci-fi game set, for the most part, in our solar system. Players are put in control of various Warframes, which are similar to character classes. I wish I could tell you exactly what Warframes are, but the fine points of their nature/origin is a hotly debated topic among Warframe’s player-base. Suffice to say that they’re a race of space ninjas (part organic, part energy, and part machine) that fight to maintain balance on various planets and moons throughout our solar system. Interestingly enough, the various factions in Warframe (Tenno, Grineer, Orokin Corrupted, Corpus, and Infested) seem to represent different directions taken by humanity, most of which are corrupt. In my opinion, one of Warframe’s weak points is its plot. While it is quite interesting, the vast majority of it is lore-based, which takes effort to pursue.

Warframe is beautifully designed; it has a unique mix of traditional Japanese and futuristic sci-fi aesthetics that I haven’t seen before. The sound design, while perhaps not iPod worthy, is certainly fitting. The score is suspenseful, and manages to sound both traditional and sci-fi. The sound effects (footsteps, alarms, gunshots, etc) actually just received a major update, and are currently on par with any triple-A title. Despite these production values, it’s actually very accessible, and can run on out-of-date laptops/computers.

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Chef Ramsey Checks Into "Hell's Kitchen"

HK 1216If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen! Chef Gordon Ramsey and his attitude are back for an all-new season of Hell’s Kitchen. The season premiered on Tuesday, March 3, and as the new contestants grabbed their aprons, the fire immediately heated up. 

The show kicked off with a surprise: as the new contestants approached the Hell’s Kitchen building, they discovered that the door was locked. Chef Ramsey then greeted contestants on the roof, informing them that if they wanted to set foot in the kitchen, they must first jump off. He asked for volunteers, and the first to raise their hands were Enrique and Ruth. After they jumped, it was revealed that they were stunt doubles and that none of the contestants actually had to participate in the jump. This season is already off to a crazy start.

After this fiasco, the contestants were immediately thrown into the kitchen for their first challenge, in which they had only an hour to complete their signature dishes, which would be judged on a scale of one to five by Chef Ramsey. It was the women versus the men, with the men winning the challenge, 31-28. 

The men were then rewarded with a trip to meet William Shatner, a Hollywood legend known for his role of Captain Kirk in Star Trek, while the women were assigned to resetting the dining room and mailing out all of the reservation letters. 

Back in the kitchen, the ladies began to brush up on recipes. Many gained some confidence, especially Chrissa Schmerler, owner of a food truck from Bellmore, NY, who made a complete fool of herself when she announced that she had to go to the bathroom before the dining room opened. 

Once the dining room officially opened and guests started pouring into the restaurant, the new chefs immediately got to cooking. It wasn’t a surprise when Chrissa started slowing the red team down, and (before she even got a chance to correct herself) was thrown out of the kitchen. 

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"The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" Get Real

The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills 34435No amount of money, fancy cars, or high-end handbags can stop a group of women from having their differences at times.  On Season 5 of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, the housewives get real when issues like alcoholism, drug addiction, and even illness come into the women’s lives from all different angles. 

Returning housewives Kyle Richards, Kim Richards, Lisa Vanderpump, Brandi Glanville, and Yolanda Foster seemed to be very welcoming to newcomers Eileen Davidson and Lisa Rinna this season. Eileen is famous for her roles in soap operas like The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful. Lisa is best known for her role on Melrose Place and host of SoapNet’s Soap Talk. With both of these new women having had their fair share of soap operas in which drama is the root of every episode, it was just a waiting game to see who would throw the first punch (or wine glass). 

In previous seasons, viewers have seen the dysfunctional relationship between sisters Kyle and Kim. Back in Season 3, Kyle was the one that spilled the big secret that Kim was an alcoholic. Shortly after, Kim checked herself into rehab to get her addiction under control. In Season 4, Kim was portrayed as sober, living life to the fullest, and finally getting back to being her real self. 

When Season 5 kicked off in November of 2014, viewers and cast members began questioning if Kim was still sober. The season progressed to show her admitting to Kyle that she took some pills to relax after all the stress she had been under; her ex-husband, Monty Brinson, was recently diagnosed with cancer again. Almost all of the other cast members blamed her weird behavior on her newfound friendship with housewife Brandi Glanville, who has had her own sobriety issues in the past. 

On a recent episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, things got heated when Lisa continued to bring up Kim’s problems in front of the cameras. Kim retaliated by telling Lisa to watch what she says, or else she will have to tell the world about Lisa’s issues with husband Harry Hamlin. 

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Pollak Has A 'Girls Night'

GN Production Photo HR Banquette“Ladies, get ready to shake it!” This is exactly what went down in the audience on Saturday, March 7, in Pollak Theatre; the mostly-female audience clapped and sang along to popular 70s and 80s hits with the cast of “Girls Night: The Musical.” The play was fun, energetic and interacted with the audience like no other show. The crowd roared with laughter as the five leading ladies took the spotlight in this hilarious comedy that hooked viewers right from the opening act. 

“Girls Night” opens up with a young lady (Jillian Soares) dressed in white bedazzled pants and a jean jacket and has a pair of angel’s wings. We find out that she is an angel named Sharon who directly speaks to the audience as a narrator for the musical. Sharon died from a moped accident when she was a young adult; at 16, she had a baby named Candy Rose whom she never met. Now, Candy Rose is getting married and Sharon’s four friends are holding a bachelorette party for her. 

Each of Sharon’s friends has a different personality that unravels throughout the play with flashbacks of the past and conversations throughout the night. Anita (Kelly Higgins) is on constant medication for her anxiety and has weird ramblings that sometimes distance her from her friends. Kate (Alex Tripp) is the conservative one, and a very appropriate woman that turns into the life of the party after a few cocktails. Tripp succeeded in making Kate the comic relief of the play. Carol (Sarah McShane) is Sharon’s best friend and a woman who continually wants to let go of her youth, but her regretful past seems to haunt her. Liza (Erin Baltsar) is the preppy blonde with a high-pitched laugh that giggles at her own sexual innuendos.

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Wind Sails Shines With "Morning Light"

Wind In Sails Morning LightSongwriter Evan Pharmakis released his debut solo album, Morning Light, under the moniker Wind in Sails on Feb. 24 via Equal Vision Records.

Many people familiar with the post-hardcore scene may best remember Pharmakis as the former guitarist and founding member of the band Vanna. Following his exit from the band, he shifted gears and began writing and performing primarily acoustic music under the Wind in Sails name. After releasing a few EP’s, Pharmakis gained exposure in the scene once again, and proved to listeners he is a masterful songwriter capable of creating instant classics that extend far beyond his post-hardcore roots. Rather than sounding like he is cashing in on his previous reputation as an ex-Vanna member, Pharmakis instead reintroduces himself to a new audience with a captivating, eclectic mix of tracks that depart completely from his former band’s sound. 

Morning Light presents audiences with a stripped-down yet driving listening experience that includes elements of alternative rock, indie, and acoustic music. The songs frequently shift dynamic between solo acoustic and full-band in a matter of seconds and always keep listeners guessing what will hit their ears next. 

Pharmakis starts the album with the track “Push and Shove.” The song begins with a familiar, strict guitar-and-vocals dynamic before an upbeat drum track enters the mix halfway through. Here, Pharmakis slowly introduces the album’s greater full-band presence that only appeared sparsely in previous Wind in Sails releases.  

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Contestants On "The Voice" Aren't Always Undiscovered

the voiceAs NBC’s answer to the successful  American Idol, The Voice is promoted as “the Emmy Award-winning, number one series on NBC, featuring the country’s best unknown artists,” according to nbcthevoice.com.  But are the artists that audition for The Voice really “unknown”?

On Feb. 23, 2015, Meghan Linsey auditioned in the Season 8 opener and caught the attention of three out of the four judges who turned their chairs and offered Linsey a spot on their respective teams. Linsey, however, is far from an “unknown” talent, especially in the world of country music. 

Linsey was a part of the duo Steel Magnolia, who, in 2010, 2011, and 2012, was nominated for various Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association Awards including “Vocal Duo of the Year.” The duo toured with Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton (who was, ironically, the only judge who did not turn his chair), and Bob Seger. Steel Magnolia topped at #4 with their hit “Keep on Loving You.” The duo officially broke up in 2013, and both Linsey and her former partner Joshua Scott Jones have since gone solo. Linsey released an album as recently as 2014 featuring a cover of OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” and her own “Try Harder Than That,” which have both had airplay on CMT and country radio. 

Linsey is not the only one who has already had opportunities in the music business before auditioning for The Voice.  Season 4 contestant Luke Edgemon was a member of the cast of Glee as a Dalton Academy Warbler and has been listed as a vocal contributor on two of Glee’s Christmas albums, as well as the Music Celebrating 100 Episodes album. He was also credited as a back-up singer on Idina Menzel’s recent Holiday Wishes album. Although Edgemon’s success is limited to back-up vocals, he was also a contestant on American Idol and made it to the Hollywood rounds. Arguably, then, Edgemon has had significant opportunities before The Voice and is not really an “unknown.”

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Will Smith Struggles to 'Focus'

Focus 2015 MovieI walked out of the theater wanting my money back because I was not at all satisfied. What I saw on the screen was a confusing mess; with horrible character development and a terrible plot, it was unbearable to watch without wanting to throw my popcorn at the screen and wonder who produced this movie. 

Focus is mainly based around a con-artist named Nicky (Will Smith), who is tasked with recruiting con-artists like himself. They do things that are distasteful; they steal innocent people’s wallets from the back of their pants, they “accidently” knock women over to snatch their purses, steal money off of ATM cards and jewelry off of people. Nicky likes to describe it as “a game of focus.” The movie also includes a romantic love story between Nicky and Jess (Margot Robbie), who is a budding femme fatale. Jess meets Nicky when she tries to seduce him, but he is too smart to know what she is planning to do next: steal his wallet.  

Jess is now interested in Nicky and wants to learn from him, while he explores whether or not she is worthy of becoming part of their group. As she steals wallets, jewelry, purses and other expensive items off of drunken people, she proves to them that she is a good intern and is asked to be a part of their illegal schemes. 

During the Super Bowl, we find out that Nicky seems to have a betting problem; he starts to make little bets with Jess under the pretense of acting like a cute couple. A billionaire overhears and wants to make bets with big money. Nicky is losing until he tells Jess to pick a number of a football player’s jersey and she wins Nicky’s money back. Later on, Jess is surprised to find that the whole betting game was just part of one of Nicky’s dirty schemes. Deeming her unfit for this business, Nicky abandons Jess and leaves her there crying. 

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Wilson Hall Hosts "The Punk Singer"

IMG 2241An eager audience gathered in the Wilson Auditorium on Feb. 27 to view a screening of The Punk Singer, a documentary about Bikini Kill frontrunner and third-wave feminist icon Kathleen Hanna. Sini Anderson, the film’s director, was there to answer questions about the film after. Anderson is herself a feminist and queer art activist as well as a producer and performance artist.

Anderson was the Chief Curator and the Co-Artistic Director for The National Queer Arts Festival and has served as the president of the board of directors for The Harvey Milk Institute, and the co-chair of the board of directors for The Queer Cultural Center. In 1994, she and Michelle Tea founded Sister Spit and Sister Spit’s Ramblin Road Show, touring the US with over 40 queer and feminist writers, performance artists and musicians. Anderson’s work can also be found in The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (Thundermouth Press) and Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders in the Spoken Word Revolution (Seal Press).

The Punk Singer opened at SXSW in 2013, and was released theatrically in 2013/2014. Anderson has won awards for the film, including the Seattle International Film Festival’s Lena Sharpe Award For Persistence Of Vision, Women in Cinema and ARCA Best Director Award, First Feature. In 2014, Anderson was awarded POV’s Humanitarian Award in Media at their 40th annual awards ceremony in Los Angeles, CA. The film features clips of Hanna from recent years looking back on her experiences, interspersed with other testimonials and recordings from the mid-nineties into mid-2000s.

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'Far Cry 4' is a Delightfully Wild Ride

far cry elephant“Like Skyrim with guns” is how Adam Kovac, host of the popular Machinima YouTube channel, referred to Far Cry 3. Ubisoft, the game’s developer and publisher, apparently liked the quote enough to put it on the box’s cover. I myself thoroughly enjoyed Skyrim, and also have a certain fondness for games with guns, so I purchased Far Cry 3. Far Cry 3 was not “like Skyrim with guns,” and neither is Far Cry 4—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  

Skyrim is a massive open-world game, as is Far Cry 4. However, to complete all the content within Skyrim (which is impossible in a single play-through), you will literally need to set aside a couple hundred hours. Far Cry 4 is closer to 25 (which, during the semester, is a relief for me personally). Far Cry 4 is a modern first-person shooter, and like Skyrim, it takes place in a sandbox-style open-world (this means that you exert a good deal of influence over said world, and are free to roam it). However, whereas almost everything you do in Skyrim is narrative driven, more often than not you will be making your own fun in Far Cry games.

Whereas Far Cry 3 was set on the tropical rock islands, Far Cry 4 is set in Kyrat, a fictional country in the Himalayas. The plot follows Ajay Ghale, who was born in Kyrat, but grew up in the US. He has no memory of Kyrat (he was too young) but returns there at the age of 26 to deliver his mother’s ashes to a certain shrine. Ajay quickly finds himself getting caught up in a civil war, fighting against a sadistic dictator, Pagan Min. 

The gameplay, audio, and visuals of Far Cry 4 are some of the highest quality I have ever seen. The controls feel precise and the AI is intelligent (typically). The sounds/music are well designed, and Kyrat looks stunning. You will have the opportunity to use a wide array of weapons, and I was more than satisfied by the ones provided to me (a flamethrower, crossbow, grenade launchers, bows, landmines, throwing knives, and many varieties of guns). The bow was particularly fun and varied in its potential uses. One can use it close range or long range for silent takedowns to avoid alerting guards. It also allows one to get clean kills when hunting, providing extra loot. Special arrows can be used with the bow, grenade and Molotov, allowing it to take down difficult targets (such as a helicopter, or a body-armor wearing person). 

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The Villains Take Over 'Once Upon A Time'

once upon a timeThe small New England town of Storybrooke may be in trouble in the mid-season premiere of ABC’s hit series, Once Upon A Time. The show, which revolves around fairytale characters that come to our world because of a curse, left us on the edge of our seats before going on hiatus in December. 

In the finale, Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) disappointed his true love, Belle (Emilie de Ravin), when she held the dagger that controlled Rumpel and she commanded him to step over the town line. Rumpel had no choice and did as he was told, but once he stepped foot over that line, he would never be able to enter Storybrooke again. We were left hanging when we saw Rumpel reunite with an old, evil friend, Ursula, the sea witch (Merrin Dungey). 

In Once Upon A Time’s mid-season premiere, which aired on March 1, fans’ questions were finally answered. The episode began with a flashback in Storybook Land. We see how Ursula, Cruella DeVille (Victoria Smurfit), and Maleficent (Kristin Bauer van Straten) all meet one another through Rumpelstiltskin and his mischievous plans. We learn that the three villains were invited into the mansion by Rumpel so that they could all work together to find the dark curse.

The show then flashes to current time in our world, where we learn that Rumpel is now living with Ursula in New York City. It is not long before Rumpel reunites with Cruella and convinces her to take him and Ursula to the small town of Storybrooke. 

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The 87th Annual Academy Awards

oscarredoOn Sunday, Feb. 22, the 87th annual Oscars wrapped up award season live on ABC at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. With Neil Patrick Harris hosting, it was hard to predict just what was going to happen.

The red carpet was filled with actors and actresses from movies, documentaries, and short films. The always-flawless Meryl Streep was seen in a sharp blazer paired with a blouse and a high-waisted skirt. This year was Streep’s 19th Oscar nomination. She holds the title for most Academy Award nominations any actor or actress has ever received in history. 

Another best dressed was Jennifer Hudson. Wearing yellow to any event is a gamble, but she paired a long, tight yellow gown with emerald earrings, which made her shine unlike many others who walked the carpet. Other actresses that stole the spotlight for their dresses were the fabulous Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, and Anna Kendrick. 

There always has to be contenders for the worst dressed on the red carpet. This year Solange Knowles, Lady Gaga, Diane Warren and Nicole Kidman all fell short on style. Newly-engaged Lady Gaga showed up with red gloves on, which looked more like oven mitts. They did not go with her dress whatsoever, and actually ruined her whole outfit. Hopefully she has better luck with love than her style choices. 

The show opened with Harris telling a few jokes, and, to no  one’s surprise, an extravagant musical number. The special effects are what made the song; on the screen behind Harris were little bits of movies and pictures of actors and actresses over the years. Half way through the dance number, Harris actually put himself into the scenes, which was the best part of the whole thing. Kendrick and Jack Black both made special appearances in the opening monologue. 

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Fall In Love With “The Last Five Years”

The Last 5 Years MovieA movie adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s award-winning musical, The Last Five Years, was released in limited theaters on Feb. 13, just in time for Valentine’s Day. 

The movie is a love story, though it is by no means a standard, happy tale—instead, it is about a couple falling apart. The story is told through both sides of the relationship of protagonists Cathy (Anna Kendrick) and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan). These two are the only principal cast members in the entire film. They are also the only ones who sing; many of the songs are solos with the occasional duet. 

The two characters are also travelling along separate timelines—the movie opens with Cathy in a New York apartment, alone, after having been just left by Jamie, beginning her timeline with the end of their relationship. The next scene shows Jamie’s timeline, where he is just beginning to fall in love with Cathy; his story moves from beginning to end, while hers goes from end to beginning. The two timelines only overlap for one brief moment, when the couple marries. 

The movie is told almost entirely in songs—only a few lines are spoken and there is continuous music playing in the background. Much of the singing was performed live, with only three songs recorded. The singing is certainly one of the strong points of the movie—both actors have performed in Broadway shows, and Kendrick starred in another musical adaptation, Into the Woods, earlier this year. Much of the directing choices are simple, giving the actors room to exercise their voices and really shine. 

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“Selma” Marches Into Greatness

selma redoSelma was one of the best civil rights movies I’ve seen in a long time. It allowed the audience to get a closer look at Dr. Martin Luther King as he gathers a rally of people of all races to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama for the right to vote for African Americans in 1965. The film shows not only the struggles that Dr. King had as a civil rights protester and preacher, but also the dysfunctions that it brought upon his family.

The film opens with Dr. King (David Oyelowo) tying his tie in a mirror and practicing for his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Speech. He starts to get frustrated not being able to make a perfect knot, and calls on his wife, Coretta (Carmen Ejogo), to help him. The scene changes to Dr. King being honored and awarded with the Noble Peace Prize. “I accept this honor for our lost ones whose death paves a path,” he says as the camera cuts to four little African American girls innocently chatting while walking down a long spiral staircase in a church. 

Suddenly debris is flying around with chunks of wood, dust and fiery red everywhere. The camera pans out and on the floor we see the four girls’ lifeless bodies with debris on top of them from an explosion. This particular scene made me jump from my seat, giving me goose bumps to think that this is where the movie begins. 

Where Selma picks up, segregation has just ended and African Americans want the right to vote, especially in the South where life is especially challenging. We watch Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah) try to apply to vote, only to be disrespected and denied. Momentum for the movement picks up as we see Dr. King asking President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass a bill granting all African Americans the right to vote, but Johnson is too afraid that it might start an uproar in the south. This gives King no choice but to take matters into his own hands, and he goes to Selma to start his protest. 

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“Fifty Shades” of W.T.F.

50 shadesWhen I showed up with my overpriced box of popcorn and large beverage to see Fifty Shades of Grey, I simply did not prepare myself enough for what I was getting into.

Fifty Shades of Grey, in so many words, is well-shot, expensive pornography.

You cannot make a movie about BDSM (Bondage and Discipline and Sadism and Masochism) and not expect it to be graphic. I can only assume most people knew this going in, but there was a little voice in the back of my mind saying, “They can’t really put that in theaters, can they?”

Well, they did.

The sex scenes were very graphic, and if you are not a fan of looking at other people’s body parts, I would not recommend seeing this film. I do, however, understand why it had to be done. 

If you were curious as to what the female body looks like, Fifty Shades of Grey will definitely give you an anatomy lesson. I saw more of Dakota Johnson, the actress who plays female lead Anastasia Steele, than I would ever have liked to, but that was not the most disturbing part for cringing movie-goers such as myself.

During the very graphic sex scenes, her reactions to the pain being inflicted on her seemed very natural, but also something I would have liked to see. Honestly though, I expected nothing less from a high-budget pornography film.

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Bioware Launches “Dragon Age: Inquisition”

dragon ageDragon Age: Inquisition, the latest title in Bioware’s Dragon Age series, is an outstanding game, every bit deserving of the numerous “Game of the Year” rewards it has received. I’ve completed both prior Dragon Age titles, and loved both almost without reservation, even the extremely divisive Dragon Age 2. However, while Dragon Age: Inquisition may very well be the most well-designed title yet, I find myself partially dissatisfied, despite having played it all the way through and enjoyed it thoroughly.

 Dragon Age: Inquisition is high-fantasy with a dark political edge, comparable to Game of Thrones. The game features action/strategy gameplay, elements of social-simulation, and political decisions with profound narrative consequences. The player can design a character from an impressive amount of options: race, gender, appearance, and combat class are all customizable.

Early in the game, players are put in charge of an organization called the Inquisition, loosely associated with a religion,  referred to as “The Chantry.” Dragon Age: Inquisition is set in the fantasy world of Thedas, specifically in the nations of Ferelden and Orlais, which are based off of medieval England and France, respectively. 

Over the course of the approximately 100 hour game, players will deal with a variety of conflicts, with two in particular taking the center stage. The first is a conflict between Mages and Templars. In the Dragon Age universe, Mages are beings that are given great power, but are uniquely vulnerable to demonic possession, and demons can do a lot of damage (a demon-possessed Mage is basically a walking bomb). Because of this, they are tightly controlled/oppressed, living in tower’s called “circles” and guarded by the sometimes fair, sometimes corrupt Templars. At the start of Dragon Age: Inquisition, their strained relationship has devolved into war, and the player has to choose who to support.

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Jon Stewart Announces Retirement from "The Daily Show"

The Daily ShowIt’s the end of an era not only at The Daily Show, but also for satire news in general. After 15 years of skewering politics, the media, and more, Jon Stewart announced his retirement from The Daily Show on Feb. 10. 

This announcement is not completely surprising. Stewart’s contract with the program was set to expire sometime this year, and he also took three months off last summer in order to direct his first film, Rosewater. But despite these factors, his impending departure still hits hard. This news also comes just two months shy of the end of The Colbert Report, a similar satire news program hosted by The Daily Show alum, Stephen Colbert. Stewart paved the way for “fake news,” as he referred to it, and introduced new audiences to what was going on when “real news” could not. 

“He’s drawn a younger audience into watching news,” said Lauren Payne, an adjunct professor of communication. “He starts a conversation.” Bringing in more and more young viewers and introducing them to new discussions has always been one of Stewart’s strengths. Regular news is too time consuming and dull for the social media generation, but Stewart was a unique voice that could break through the barriers. A Time magazine poll showed that the public ranked him as one of America’s most trusted newsmen. His ability to bring absurdities to light with a comedic edge and sincere touch has made him easy to follow and trust. 

“Colbert and Stewart leaving together is a beautiful tragedy,” said Casey Schellinger, a freshman. “They will be missed.” 

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“Red Bank River Read” Features Monmouth Professor

IMG 2223Valentine’s Day is known for chocolate, candlelit dinners, Hallmark cards, flowers, and lovers exchanging gifts. This year, the holiday was also marked by the February installment of the Red Bank River Read series, which included Suzanne Parker and Monmouth’s own Melissa Febos, assistant professor of English. The Manhattan Bagel was packed to near capacity as people of all ages joined together to hear the writers read.

Parker is a winner of the Kinereth Gensler Book Award from Alice James Books for her poetry collection Viral, written in response to Tyler Clementi’s suicide, which was also a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award and was on the National Library Association’s Over the Rainbow List of recommended books for 2014. Her poetry has appeared in Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, Hunger Mountain, Drunken Boat, and numerous other journals and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Febos is the author of Whip Smart. Her work has been widely anthologized and appears in publications including The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Glamour, Post Road, Salon, New York Times, Portland Review, Dissent, The Brooklyn Rail, and Hunger Mountain. Her essays have won prizes from Prairie Schooner and Story Quarterly, and she is the recipient of a 2012 Bread Loaf nonfiction fellowship, a 2013 Barbara Deming Memorial Fund artist grant, a 2014 Virginia Center for Creative Arts fellowship, a 2015 Vermont Studio Center fellowship, a 2015 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council “Process Space” fellowship, and MacDowell Colony fellowships in 2010, 2011, and 2014. 

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Hidden Gems of Netflix: Valentine’s Day Edition

 It is no false claim to say that many college students spend a lot of free time streaming movies and television shows on Netflix. The service provides a great alternative to venturing to the movie theater and spending almost $30 by the time the tickets and concessions are paid for. With Valentine’s Day approaching, couples all over the country will be planning some variation of the classic "dinner and a movie" outing. Instead of spending a fortune on seeing a movie in a theater, here are some great selections available on Netflix for couples to enjoy a more intimate and cost-effective night in.

1. Chasing Amy (1997) chasing amy 4

From the same creative mind that rocked the independent film industry with Clerks in 1994 comes another film socially ahead of its time. Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy is a movie set in the same fictional version of Monmouth County, NJ as Clerks and a number of Smith’s other releases. Not only does it take place in the same general area as Monmouth University, but some local places are visible in the film itself, such as Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank.

Chasing Amy

stars Ben Affleck as Holden McNeil, a comic book artist who falls in love with a young woman named Alyssa Jones, who turns out to be a lesbian. Holden originally agrees to hang out with Alyssa as friends, but soon finds he cannot contain his love for her. This starts him on a long, humorous, and heartbreaking quest that examines relationship dynamics and the power of romantic love in a unique way that has not been replicated in media since. The scene featuring Smith’s iconic characters Jay and Silent Bob (Silent Bob played by Smith himself) presents one of the most humorous and insightful rants in film. For a unique Valentine’s Day viewing experience, make sure Chasing Amy remains at the top of the list.

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And the Grammy Goes To...

grammys Artists from around the world gathered at The Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA, for the 57th Annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 8. Airing live on CBS at 8 pm, the show opened with two AC/DC songs that got the crowd ready to go.

No one turns down an invitation to the biggest night in music history. The Staples Center was filled with artists from John Legend to Gwen Stefani to Paul McCartney. Before they could even enter the venue, each star had to walk the red carpet for the second most important part of the night: their outfits. Ariana Grande ditched her mini-skirts and crop tops, and went with an elegant white dress. Miley Cyrus was more covered than usual with a long black dress that had slits on each side. Taylor Swift added a pop of color to the carpet with a teal-ish gown and magenta shoes. Almost all the men on the carpet were dressed in their tuxedos, but Pharrell took a new approach to his look—instead of a traditional tux, he went with a suit and tie paired with shorts.

Some of the worst dressed females on the carpet this year included Rihanna and Ciara. Both went with the poufy look, which was the wrong way to go. Rihanna’s pink strapless gown took up a lot of room for no reason. Ciara stuck with the classic black, but still had a little too much fluff.

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“Still Alice” is a Memorable Masterpiece

still alice poster

I can see why Julianne Moore is nominated for Best Actress for her role in Still Alice. Moore plays Alice with perfection and the natural realistic traits of someone with early onset Alzheimer’s that it seems as if Moore and Alice are one. Moore’s performance, if I had to sum it up in three words, made the film thoughtful, touching, and inspirational.

The main focus of the movie is Alice Howland; she is a linguistics professor at the University of Columbia and is known by her colleagues and students as one of the best. She lives in a beautiful house with her loving husband and has three grown children. She is about to be a grandparent to a set of twins, and life seems to be going her way until she is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s.

Alice notices something is wrong when she forgets the simplest things that came easily to her before. The horrifying turning point in the film is when she is going for a run on campus and all of a sudden she stops for a breath, and when she looks up everything in the background is fuzzy and she can’t remember where she is. Later that night while she and her husband John (Alec Baldwin) go to bed, she wakes him up because she is very disturbed and can’t sleep. She admits to John that she has been seeing a neurologist and he told her she might have early onset Alzheimer’s. Not wanting to believe this, John gets upset and tells Alice that it’s too early in the stages and it’s normal to forget things here and there.

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L.A. Theatre Works Performs “In the Heat of the Night” at Pollak

heat of the nightL.A. Theatre Works performed In the Heat of the Night at Monmouth University’s Pollak Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 5.

The play tells the story of a colored detective named Virgil Tibbs from Pasadena, CA, working on a murder case in Montgomery, AL, with the Chief of police and his officers.

In the 1960’s, those of color were not respected or viewed as an educated race, and as the audience we were able to witness this throughout the series of events. Although Mr. Tibbs is a man of intelligence, he is constantly overlooked because of his color and is angered by the idea that authority figures of equivalent government position were belittling him. Towards the middle of the play, the Chief and the officers of Montgomery form an exceptional partnership with Mr. Tibbs, and although it was not accepted by their people, they respected him for his character.

With hopes of delivering a strong message to the audience about individual rights and discrimination, the play ends with a scene parallel to the opening of the show. In the beginning of the play, Mr. Tibbs holds out his hand to Chief Gillespie, hoping he would return the gesture and shake hands, but the Chief refuses and proceedes with his lecture. In the last scene, Tibbs is waiting for his train to return home and hopes to shake hands with Chief Gillespie. Once again, the Chief refuses and walks away, leaving Tibbs with his last goodbye.

During a Q&A with the director and actors, an audience member asked why the director ended the show with the Chief still refusing to shake hands with Tibbs. The director explained that towards the beginning of their tour, the Chief shook hands with Tibbs in the final scene, but some time ago he had changed his mind. His reasoning was that if he had kept the hand shake, then this would mean that discrimination is dead and absent in our society, but that is not the case. Discrimination is still very real and alive whether you are there to see it or not.

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It’s Worth a Trip to “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

The Grand Budapest Hotel 580 In a sea of dramas and biopics this Oscar season, one film stands out so obviously that it cannot be missed. The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson and starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, and many more, is truly a comedy, drama, mystery, and thriller wrapped in one package. But despite what sounds like a wild tone, The Grand Budapest Hotel is completely entertaining and incredibly fun to watch.

The film follows a myriad of characters and timelines, but our main protagonist is Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), the new lobby boy at the extravagant Grand Budapest Hotel. As he learns the ropes, he forms a bond with his eccentric mentor and famed concierge of the hotel, Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). When wealthy guest Madame D (Tilda Swinton) is murdered, not only is Gustave accused of the crime, but he also has to face the wrath of Madame D’s greedy family after she bequeaths her fortune to him.

The entire plot of The Grand Budapest Hotel can be seen as a typical caper, but the many twists and turns make it seem fresh and original. And make no mistake, despite a seemingly simple story, the film is undeniably strange, almost to the point of fantasy, much like many of Anderson’s previous films like Moonrise Kingdom and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Anderson’s quirky nature is what makes a movie like this stand out without becoming cheesy or silly. The director’s typical fast paced action and dialogue also keep the film from becoming boring.

The characters and actors of The Grand Budapest Hotel are the main draw in this film. Newcomer Revolori is charming as Zero, and he really holds his own in a cast of mainly A-list actors. His chemistry with Fiennes is also spot on, making the friendship that blooms between Zero and Gustave H very believable and heartfelt. Fiennes, in a role unlike any of his others, is hilarious and over the top as Gustave H. Despite Gustave being a standoffish character, Fiennes has the ability to make the audience root for him.

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Look Out For “The Boy Next Door”

boy doorIt’s a familiar storyline: a one-night stand becomes a dangerous obsession. The most prominent film to feature this plot is Fatal Attraction, the 1987 film starring Michael Douglas about a man that gives into a one-night stand with a woman (Glenn Close) who "will not be ignored." Hollywood has since then attempted to create successful copycats with a twist. For example, Obsessed in 2009 starred Beyoncé as a cheating wife, but the affair wasn’t actually real—it was a figment of the imagination of Idris Elba’s temp secretary played by Ali Larter. Obsessed did not see the same success as Fatal Attraction, but, then, the characters were not as believable, the acting was not at the same level, and the story was predictable. That hasn’t stopped Hollywood from repeating this story.

The Boy Next Door is another stalker film with a one-night stand that turns into a psychotic obsession. The film, in fact, is Fatal Attraction with reversed roles. Jennifer Lopez plays Claire Peterson, a high school teacher who is separated from her cheating husband, Garrett (John Corbett). Claire, as we learn in the opening scene, kicked her husband out almost a year ago, but is still holding out hope that they can work things out as she refuses to sign the divorce papers.

Claire and her teenage son, Kevin, live in a small suburban neighborhood and are trying to make life as normal as possible, even though a repentant Garrett is only invited in on special occasions, such as Kevin’s birthday.

While trying to open a broken garage door, Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman) shows up and saves the day, opening the door so that Claire and Kevin can make it to yet another allergist appointment. Kevin suffers from debilitating asthma, which also inhibits his social life and has subjected him to bullies. Noah, however, not only helps Claire with garage door repairs, but also befriends Kevin and begins to build a trusting relationship with both he and his mother.

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"Whiplash" Doesn’t Miss a Beat

Whiplash"There are no two words in the English language more harmful than ‘good job,’" Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) declares in the feverish indie flick Whiplash, about the toxic relationship between a tyrannical jazz band conductor and his collegiate drummer. Helmed by up-and-coming director Damien Chazelle, Whiplash enlists an electrifying soundtrack and gripping performances to give a new meaning to the phrase ‘blood, sweat, and tears.’

The film opens during the fall semester at Shaffer Conservatory of Music, where Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller) seems to be below average—he’s the back-up drummer in the school’s back-up band and spends his weekends at the movies with his dad. His world suddenly cracks open when he’s noticed by Fletcher, the institution’s mysterious Studio Band conductor.

Fittingly, Fletcher makes his debut in the film by literally emerging from a shadowy corridor to watch Andrew practice a drum solo. When he recruits Andrew for Studio Band a few days later, Fletcher plays the role of supportive coach, encouraging his new drummer to just have fun—something that’s hard to do when your conductor’s idea of "fun" is launching a chair at your head.

Andrew’s induction into this elite team of jazz musicians becomes a nightmarish assault of threats and mind games. Fletcher reveals himself as a master manipulator that mines personal information and insecurities to use as weapons later. He berates Andrew for being worthless and screams at him to keep up with an impossible tempo.

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What Happens in the Woods Should Stay Off the Screen

into the woods anna kendrick2 Fellow moviegoers and theatre geeks alike, if you want to endure two hours and four minutes of utter disappointment, go see Into the Woods.

For an Oscar-nominated film, Into the Woods is extremely unfulfilling. While the movie did stay true to its musical theatre roots by having a vivacious cast and beautiful atmosphere, it seems as though a certain "wow" factor is missing.

The cast ably performed all of their roles, but nothing appears to be exciting or new about Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway musical-turned-movie. Much like when Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was brought to the big screen, it was clear that Sondheim wanted very little to change in its Hollywood debut.

Having participated in a production of Into the Woods in earlier years and having seen the original stage production on film, it was hard sitting through this film. Purists, like myself, will have a hard time getting over the cutting of some musical numbers that add value to the show. For example, "I Guess This is Goodbye/Maybe They’re Really Magic" was completely scrapped from the film. For those of you who may be confused, this is the song Jack sings to his cow Milky White as he sells her to the Baker and his wife and is directly followed with a musical argument between the couple. That whole number is full of so much emotion that the film so desperately needed.

Anna Kendrick is by far the most depressed-looking Cinderella that Hollywood has ever seen. She barely smiled throughout the film and it was hard to get that chipper, princess personality that Cinderella is supposed to possess. Her prince, played by Chris Pine, had twice the personality she did, and it made for the most enjoyable scene in the entire movie.

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“Inherent Vice” is a Winning Adaptation

Inherent Vice Three things need to be understood before seeing Inherent Vice. 1) The film is not about plot or conventional emotions. 2) The pacing is deliberate. 3) The film is as stoned as its central character.

I don’t mean that the film makes you feel stoned. Inherent Vice is seductive, but despite a lot of the film’s subject, not in the sexual sense. It’s seductive in that the film’s atmosphere, style, humor and liveliness is so enticing that you don’t want it to end.

The film was adapted from the 2009 Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name by Hollywood wunderkind Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood).

People might ask what the film is about. What does it matter? It centers on jaded pot-loving hippie/private detective Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix). His ex-girlfriend, Shasta (Katherine Waterson) reappears in his life, asking Doc to prevent a plot by her boyfriend’s wife with the help of her lover to put him in an asylum…

...which leads to a murder, the police framing Doc, another murder, drug smuggling, neo-nazis, more murder, and a paranoia of authority typical of that late 60s daze. Groovy man, but what were we talking about again?

The plot is purposely incomprehensible. That’s the main complaint against it: "If there’s no plot, what’s left?" What is left is a surplus of attitude and personality, which Inherent Vice is all about. The film functions as a mix of the 1946 classic The Big Sleep and the 1973 Robert Altman film The Long Goodbye. The former because of the film’s emphasis on atmospheric, individual scenes over coherence, and the latter for its sprawling nature and subversive world portrait.

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MTV Faces A New 'Challenge'

challengeEveryone knows that getting over an ex is sometimes one of the hardest things to do. But what if instead of getting over them, you had to work with them in order to receive $350,000? Would you do it? This is the concept of MTV’s The Challenge: Battle Of The Exes II.

In the 26th season of this reality game show, alumni from MTV’s The Real World and, for the first time, MTV’s Are You The One? are teamed up with an ex-lover to compete in endurance and mental challenges until there is only one team left standing. While some couples seem to be able to put aside their differences and just think about the grand prize, other duos are having a hard time even communicating with one another.

Though the show is broken off into couples, there are also two sets of groups: Rookies and Veterans. The Rookies are some of the contestants that were on recent episodes of The Real World and Are You The One? While committed fans need time to decide if they like the Rookies or not, on the Veteran side are cast members that fans have fallen in love (or hate) with over the past couple of seasons.

One of the most famous couples on the series is Chris “CT” Tamburello and Diem Brown. With their on-again/off-again relationship that has carried through multiple seasons, fans have grown to love them when they are together as well as when they are apart. Brown had been categorized as a true fighter both on the screen during challenges, but also off the screen when she was battling cancer. In October of 2014, Brown was hospitalized for her third and most brutal battle with cancer. Devastatingly, in November of 2014 at the age of 34, Brown passed away. 

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“Eye Candy” Starts Off Strong

eye candy victoria justice lindy mtvEye Candy is a new show on MTV that revolves around a 21-year-old girl named Lindy (Victoria Justice). The show begins with her having some issues with her younger sister Sara (Jordyn DiNatale). They aren’t close, but you can tell how much Lindy cares for her. As they make a stop for food, Sara decides to get out of the car and use the restroom, but in a sudden turn of events, Lindy is forced to witness her sister’s abduction. 

Three years later with no sign of Sara, Lindy is working towards finding Sara’s killer. Lindy is a tech wiz and that is notorious for her work (even though some of it may be illegal). As of now a new cyber killer is on the rise in Manhattan, and Lindy will put herself in extreme danger to find him. 

Her best friend and roommate Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) convinces her that she needs to use a new online dating service called Flirtual, and gives her the user name “eye candy.” While meeting possible suitors, she discovers that one of them may be the cyber stalker himself. The killer has a strong infatuation towards Lindy and will stop at nothing to get to her, including killing all of her potential suitors. Working with her friends, Lindy decides to solve the murder herself and ultimately find her missing sister Sara.

The series opener shows that the show is not just about solving a mystery. The episode delves into the romantic history Lindy has with Detective Ben Miller (Daniel Lissing). Throughout the episode, Lindy and Ben rekindle their romance and give their relationship another try, but they run into trouble when the cyber killer wants Ben gone for good. This plot is resolved in a shocking twist ending, which turned out to be one of the saddest endings to a season’s priemere that I’ve ever seen. 

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Breaking Down “Take Me to Church”

hozierHozier’s gospel EP “Take Me to Church” made ripples in the music industry for some time before it hit the top charts worldwide. Whether you heard the catchy tune on the radio or watched the music video on YouTube, it probably left a lasting impression. At the root of the lyrics and soul of the song there lays an evident conflict presented by singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne. 

For the first time in about a decade (with the exception of Ed Sheeran), an Irishman punctured the Top 40 charts worldwide. Hozier’s music style, not taking the form of Bono or Snow Patrol, is refreshing and a sign of a notable change in the music today. And that style is genuine soul. Hozier’s biggest hit, “Take Me To Church,” originally released in 2013, takes a jab at passion, sex, and religion during modern times and how they often do not mix well together.

In an interview with Gigwise, Hozier said, “I wouldn’t consider it an indictment against religion or an indictment against the church but more of an indictment against institutions…that undermine some of the more natural parts of being a person, undermine humanity itself.”

Although Hozier claims to not be directing the song directly at the Church or Catholicism, the lyrics tend to speak for themselves. The chorus intertwines liturgical language and a love song, “Take me to church/ I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies/ I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife/ Offer me that deathless death/ Good God, let me give you my life.”

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“How to Get Away With Murder” Returns With a Vengeance

how get away murderNo one was more hurt than I was when ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder decided to take a break from the end of November until the end of January. I have counted down the days until the mid-season premiere, and I am happy to report that it was worth the wait.

The last time viewers saw Professor Keating (Viola Davis) and her team of students (Alfred Enoch, Jack Falahee, Aja Naomi King, Matt McGorry and Karla Souza) was when it was finally revealed how Sam Keating (Tom Verica) was killed. While it was shocking to have finally found out that Wes Gibbons (Enoch) was the one who physically killed Mr. Keating, the real plot twist came when it was revealed that Professor Keating knew that the students were involved in her husband’s murder. The jaw dropping moment for me was when Professor Keating actually told Gibbons not to be sorry for killing her husband. With a mid-season ending like that, it was hard to imagine what was next for the mid-season premiere. 

The episode opens with Professor Keating speaking with detectives who are trying to help her locate her husband. She recites the events that happened the night her husband had disappeared. While some statements she is making are true, others are meant to cover up what actually happened that night. With each lie Professor Keating tells the detectives, a flashback occurs of what was really going on. With tears in her eyes, it is apparent that Professor Keating knows what she is doing to keep accusations of her killing her own husband out of the minds of everyone around her. 

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Holiday Lights Show Returns to PNC

North Faces, gingerbread lattes and holiday music on 106.7 FM can only mean one thing: it’s the most wonderful time of the year and we should all be getting into the holiday spirit. Everyone loves to drive around and look at holiday lights at least one night out of the season, and there is no better place to do this than The Holiday Light Spectacular at PNC Bank Arts Center.

After four years of cancellation, the lights are back up and are now sponsored by Buydig.com. From Nov. 20 to Jan. 4, you can visit PNC Bank Arts Center with your friends and family to see the show of a lifetime. With over 150 light displays and 2.5 miles of holiday scenery, the Holiday Light Spectacular will create a winter wonderland in the heart of NJ. You can also tune into PNC’s radio station, 102.5 FM, for holiday music that goes along with the light displays.

From the minute you pull into the parking lot, holiday lights will surround you. As you drive through this winter wonderland, you will see motion light displays of Santa playing sports, such as golf, paragliding, sledding, and even zip lining. As you continue through, you will drive through a section called “Favorite Tales,” where you will go back into your childhood as you drive past light displays of “Humpty Dumpty,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “The Three Little Pigs,” “Little Bo Beep,” “Rapunzel,” “Mother Goose,” and even “Jack and Jill.”

Once you pass the “Favorite Tales,” you will drive through the famous light tunnel and enter the world of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” where you will pass by light displays of each element from the classic holiday song, including five Gold Rings, four Calling Birds, three French Hens, two Turtle Doves, and, of course, a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

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“Pokemon” Franchise Launches New Game

So you’re probably wondering (as most of the gaming world is), whether Pokémon Omega Ruby Alpha Sapphire (ORAS) is worthy of the Pokémon legacy. To answer your question, Pokémon ORAS is as fun and addicting as last year’s titles, Pokémon X and Y. Not only that, it’s a worthy remake of the original Hoenn-set titles, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire (and this is coming from someone who considers Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire to be the height of the series’ innovation).

The original Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire saw the introduction of double battles, abilities, underwater exploration, double battles, Pokémon contests, added depth to stats, double battles, immersive environments, complicated berry growing mechanics, double battles, deeper supporting characters, the largest roster of new Pokémon since the original game, and, my personal favorite, have I mentioned double battles?

As a remake, Pokémon ORAS is not intended to eclipse the originals, or make any meaningful additions to the series (that was the job of Pokémon X and Y). In my mind, all Pokémon ORAS had to do was recreate the setting of the original games, with all the depth and production values of the most recent Pokémon titles. In this, Nintendo mostly succeeded. What makes this a great game is that there is considerable innovation, and in a title where none was expected. I found that a number of additional apps and systems had a surprisingly large impact on overall enjoyment and accessibility.

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“Peter Pan Live” Falls Short

As a follow up to NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! which was broadcasted on Dec. 5 of last year, the network released a much anticipated Peter Pan Live! production on Thursday night.

Playing the title role was 26-year-old Allison Williams, an actress who is more commonly known for playing Marnie Michaels in HBO’s Girls. Thanks to an old English law which forbid those who were less than 14 years of age to work past 9 pm, Pan was often played by a female. Staying true to the play’s roots, director Rob Ashford, along with producer Donna Suchan Smeland, decided to cast the Yale graduate for the lead. Williams now joins the likes of Cathy Rigby, Mary Martin, and Sandy Duncan, all of whom played Peter Pan.

Much like her predecessors, Williams provided quite the singing voice and performed with a very believable British accent.

Despite this performance, the play’s production was surrounded by nasty comments on social media sites. The tweets of disappointment began about 15 minutes into the production, when Peter and Wendy go to find the house maid who is in a small closet allegedly sleeping. Comedian Zach Braff even got in on the action as he tweeted, “The top hat kid killed the maid.”

It became rather obvious throughout the production that there were four main issues within the play. They can be broken down as follows:

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A Culture Clash is Coming to “Shameless” Season Five

Showtime’s Shameless has perhaps the most sincere title on television. The simple adjective says it all about the outrageous lengths people (well, poor people) will go to get by. Some of these jaw-droppers include but are not limited to intentionally breaking a leg for booze money or taking other students’ SATs for payment. Even doing adult web videos for side cash or wrongly accusing an uncle of molestation to save the family home are not off limits. These are just a few of a long list of “shameless” moments in the dramedy, which is coming up on its fifth season in January. Now, this poor culture will come head to head with an influx of city newbies: yuppies.

If you haven’t seen it, Shameless centers around the Gallaghers: a white, low class family living in South Side Chicago. In rare TV fashion, Shameless actually features a poor family for once.

The show focuses on the struggle of the oldest sibling of six, Fiona (Emmy Rossum), to run the house, barely living paycheck to paycheck. She has taken it amongst herself to provide for her five siblings, Lip (Jeremy Allen White), Ian (Cameron Monaghan), Carl (Ethan Cutkosky), Debs (Emma Kenney) and Liam. Their manic-depressive, bipolar mother Monica (Chloe Webb) dipped out years ago. The unbelievably selfish Frank (William H. Macy) is their alcoholic father. When he’s not out conning someone for beer or whatever he can get his hands on, he only makes their lives more problematic. This is with the exception of occasional help from next-door neighbors, Kev and V, or the obsessive-compulsive loner, Sheila.

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The Games Are Over in “Mockingjay: Part 1”

The victors who return for the third installment of The Hunger Games are up against more than just Tributes and Gamemakers in Mockingjay Part 1.

The Quarter Quell has ended and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) now finds herself far from the Capitol but far from home as well. The intense stress of the games has left Katniss suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the audience sees her grappling with her emotions, guilt, and loss of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who is in President Snow’s clutches back at the Capitol.

Katniss, her mother (Paula Malcomson), Prim (Willow Shields), and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), as well as a whole community of people are living deep underground within the protection of District 13. Years ago, 13’s defiance to the Capitol resulted in their entire district being bombed off the face of the earth. They survived underneath the radiation-soaked soil, biding their time for when they can defeat the Capitol once and for all.

The previous Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour-Hoffman) has renounced his ties to the Capitol and is now working closely with District 13’s President Coin (Julianne Moore) against the city. To rally the other districts against the tyranny of the Capitol, Plutarch and President Coin plan to use propaganda posters and videos to bring people to their cause. Katniss is sought out as the emblem of revolution, and agrees to be the Mockingjay as long as President Coin vows to rescue Peeta and the other victors from the Capitol.

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Starz Launches mysterious New Mini-Series, "The Missing”

Every parent’s worst nightmare is losing his or her child due to a kidnapping. This nightmare becomes reality in Starz’s new eight-episode mini-series, The Missing, which gets inside the mind of a father who witnesses the kidnapping of his five-year-old son.

The series premiere opens with the Hughes family on vacation in France. In 2006, Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt), his wife, Emily (Frances O’Connor), and their son, Oliver (Oliver Hunt) were driving to their vacation spot in France when their car suddenly breaks down. They are forced to find a hotel room while their car is in the shop. Oliver and his father decide to watch the World Cup Finals in a crowded pub when suddenly Tony can’t find his son. He starts yelling Oliver’s name and searching the pub up and down, but soon realizes that his son is gone.

After eight years of cop investigations, Tony pushes to have the case reopened when he finds a new clue that he thinks will lead them to Oliver. Tony uncovers a photograph of a young boy who is roughly Oliver’s age, wearing the same scarf that Oliver owned. We soon learn that within these eight years, Tony has driven everyone around him crazy, and has even broken apart his marriage.

After Tony finds the photograph, he contacts the police and his ex-wife immediately. The local cops try to get Tony to calm down, but he is convinced that this photograph will lead them to find Oliver.

Julien Baptiste (Tcheky Karyo) was the lead investigator for Oliver’s missing persons case back in 2006. He is now retired, but Tony convinces Baptiste to come back into the search for his son. Together, they find a critical clue that leaves the viewers on the edge of their seats wanting more.

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The Music Alliance & Colleges Against Cancer Team Up For "ROCK CURE SOCKS OFF"

The Music Alliance teamed up with Colleges Against Cancer to host “Rock Cure Socks Off,” a fundraising concert featuring Blue Hawk Records, in Anacon Hall on Friday, Nov. 21. In conjunction with the University’s Relay for Life chapter, the event raised $130 to benefit the American Cancer Society.

Upon entering the event, the stairs of the Rebecca Stafford Student Center (RSSC) were adorned with paper bags, each containing a light on the inside and a dedication to someone affected by cancer. Paper bags (pictured below) could be decorated inside Anacon Hall, where the University’s chapter of Relay for Life held a table containing facts about the organization and ways attendees could donate. Attendees that donated three dollars at the door were entered to win an iPad mini.

Jordan Levinson, a senior psychology major and Event Co-Chair of Relay for Life, introduced the organization to guests and spoke about their annual fundraising event taking place March 27-28, in which participants can celebrate cancer survivors and fight for those still battling by signing up in teams and taking place in the relay. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Relay for Life in the 1980’s, this year’s event will have an 80’s theme.

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“The Band” Tribute Takes Pollak Back to 1976

Glen Burtnik, Sal Boyd, Bob Burger and Arne Wendt performed at Pollak Theater in a tribute to legendary musical act The Band with a powerful and upbeat set that echoed the 1976 concert movie, The Last Waltz, on Friday, Nov. 21.

The Band, originally consisting of Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson, was best known for being the ensemble group behind several popular frontmen, including Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan. The group’s unique folksy style was immortalized on Thanksgiving day in 1976, when Martin Scorsese filmed The Band’s final tour and edited it together with special interview footage to create The Last Waltz.

To recapture the spirit of this star-studded extravaganza, Burtnik, Boyd, Burger and Wendt performed many of The Band’s original hits, complete with infectious guitar solos, swinging horn sections, and several energetic guest performances. The ensemble kicked off the set with a lively version of “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” followed by classics “Forever Young” and “Further On Up the Road.”

The group was joined at various points throughout the show by artists including Southside Johnny, Pat Guadagno, Bobby Banderia, Kate Taylor, Bruce Gassman, Frank Puggy DeRosa, Matt Wade, Stringbean Sorenson, Frank Lombardi, Anthony D’Amato, Emily Grove, Nick Foster, and Tommy LaBella.

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Ian Anderson & Jethro Tull Fail to Rock the Wellmont Theater

ian-andersonWith his flute by his side, Ian Anderson, 67, took to the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, NJ on Monday, Nov. 10, to bring fans back to the early days of his band Jethro Tull and the creatively distinct music they brought to life. However, it seemed the life had to be choked out of the night in order to be seen.

One hour, 60 minutes, 1200 seconds—that's how long Anderson kept his crowd waiting to hear even one of Jethro Tull's classic hits. He used the first hour of the show to play an "opening act of sorts" off his new album, Homo Erraticus, and to take a 20 minute trip to the bathroom. I'm sure all of the middle-aged men with prostate issues were elated to hear of the intermission, but all I could think was, "who takes breaks anymore?"

So, with a fresh bladder back on stage, Anderson mandolin-ed his way into "Thick as a Brick" and brought some energy back into the building. The anticipation that was fizzled out during his opening act was beginning to resurface.

Anderson molded the show into a kind of trip through time, showing the year the song came out on a giant screen behind him before he played, and a video of his 1970s-self singing the song while he performed. Almost obviously saving his last bullet of the show for "Aqualung," he left the stage with a booming audience. Looking past that, however, I found some oddities with the show.

Firstly, the solos. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with a strong Hendrix-like solo for a few minutes in the middle of a song. When I saw Buddy Guy at The Wellmont, he would flourish a guitar-smacking solo on almost every song, taking a few seconds to gauge the audience's reaction, which was almost always overwhelmingly positive. With Anderson, the solos seemed dragged out and tiring. But then again, it's hard to compare the ear piercing electric guitar solo of a Buddy Guy to Anderson's flute. It just isn't fair.

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Metro Station and The Ready Set Host Disappointing Concert in Howell

metro-stationWhen I bought my tickets three months ago for The Outsiders Tour, I thought that I had made the best purchase for the approaching fall concert season.

I was very wrong.

On Sunday Nov. 9, I anticipated having an excellent time seeing Metro Station, the band I have been a fan of since I was 14 and spent my hard earned work money to see. I did not get what I expected.

Before I even arrived at the venue, my iPhone GPS took me to a fish market across the street, which should have been where the venue was, and from then on the evening did not improve much.

I did end up finding the venue once I pulled into the sketchy looking parking lot, and a man flashing a light in my eyes greeted me ever so kindly. He eventually stopped flashing his light at me when my friend handed him five dollars for parking and we went on our way. When we got out of the car, we couldn't help but notice he was greeting every other patron in the same rude fashion.

We waited in line with the rest of the high school kids, who we assumed did not drive there on their own, and mentally prepared what was now turning into a terrible time.

Walking into the venue, GameChanger World in Howell, NJ, we did not expect the atmosphere to be what it was.

According to their website, GameChanger World is "a state of the art event space." I didn't realize that every concession stand at an ice skating rink is considered to be "state of the art," because that is exactly what this place looked like. Already, I knew that I was not going to have a good time.

I assumed there would only be three bands performing that night (The Downtown Fiction, Metro Station and The Ready Set), but I was very wrong.

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“Our Town” Comes to Monmouth

our-town-posterThe Department of Music and Theatre Arts at Monmouth recently presented their production of the play Our Town at the Lauren K. Woods Theatre from Nov. 5-9 and 12-15.

The three act play of Our Town was originally written by American playwright Thornton Wilder in 1938. It was first performed as a play at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ, on Jan. 22, 1938, and started its run on Broadway on Feb. 4 of the same year. It enjoyed an incredibly successful run, and Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama that year for the play. For the past 75 years, it has consistently been one of the most produced plays in the world.

"If you pick six of the greatest American plays, this is one of them," says director of Our Town, Dr. John J. Burke. "There is a performance of Thornton Wilder's Our Town somewhere in the world every day. This alone testifies to the fact that it is one of the best American plays ever written."

The story does not follow a typical plot. Instead, the character of the stage manager, played by junior Stephen Lang, takes on the main role in Our Town, guiding the audience through years and events that happen in the small town of Grover's Corners, NH. With audience interaction, flashbacks, flash-forwards, little scenery and more, the production is an incomparable, unique theater experience. Despite being written in 1938, Our Town continues to have universal appeal, even today. Much of this has to do with its familiar message and being incredibly relatable to anyone who has ever experienced small town America.

"When the play premiered in 1938," continues Burke, "Wilder's use of little scenery, a stage manager who travels through time to tell the story, and the focus on the seemingly unimportant events of everyday life gave the audience a sense that this could be 'my town,' anywhere in America."

"Everyone resonates with small town America," voiced freshman Molly Hubert, who played the character of Mrs. Soames. "It's universal."

The loose story does follow two families in the town: the Gibb family and the Webb family, and the story of the eventual relationship between two of their children, George Gibb, double casted and played by juniors T.J. Bent and Michael Qualiano, and Emily Webb, also double casted and played by seniors Zoe Bullitt and Kelly Thomas. It is the ideas of the play that are of true importance in the production. To always appreciate life and making sure not to let it pass by without a thought is the lesson Our Town wants the audience to take away from it.

"I've never done a show as groundbreaking or meaningful as this," explained junior Patrick Hall, who played Simon Stimson, during a talk-back after the Nov. 9 production. "This play is really timeless."

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“Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor” Sets Standard For Licensed Games

middle_earthLicensed games are typically, to put it delicately, awful. More often than not they're simple cash-ins, next to nothing is spent developing them, and, in the case of Lord of the Rings properties, the publisher knows that the picture of Gandalf on the cover will make back any expenses several times over. Thankfully, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is not your average licensed game. Production values, along with several unique ideas, make it a game worth playing, especially if you're a fan of Tolkien's The Lord of The Rings.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a non-canonical entry set in between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. The Dark Lord Sauron is slowly waking and gaining power, and Mordor is being overrun by orcs called 'uruks.' There are two player-controlled protagonists, a former ranger captain of Gondor cursed with undeath (Talion) and an elf-wraith (who is actually an important character within The Lord of the Rings, having a special relationship with the One Ring). These two actually play as one character, Talion, for unlike the wraith, he has physical form. The wraith provides a number of unique abilities for Talion to use, such as teleportation, a wraith bow, mind control, and enhanced senses.

The two set out to use Sauron's own armies against him, and stop him from returning to Middle Earth with his former strength. This quest brings them into conflict with the uruk of Mordor.

In terms of gameplay, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor should be immediately familiar to anyone who's played a title from the Batman: Arkham series or Assassins Creed. Shadow of Mordor surpasses the last Batman game I played (Batman: Arkham City). One of the game systems that allows it to do this is the nemesis system.

The nemesis system allows for additional depth among enemy leaders by displaying their strengths and weaknesses, overall power, standing within the uruks, etc. As one would expect, there are unlimited numbers of uruk grunts, none of whom should pose a problem to Talion.

There are three tiers of captains, and they serve as a sort of field leader of the uruks. You will find them scattered amongst the grunts; they can be easily detected with your wraith vision. However, if you don't rely on wraith vision, you'll be in for quite a few surprises. Some of these encounters may be pleasant, in which you receive experience points and a rune that can be used to enhance weapons. Other battles can involve enemy captains getting promoted and gaining strength, like in one instance when I lost a battle to my nemesis, who I later hunted down for the boosted reward.

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World War II Rages On In “Fury”

Fury-MovieOn arguably the worst first day of work anyone has ever had, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is a young American clerk thrust into the midst of warfare on the German front in April 1945. Trained to type 60 words per minute, Ellison is rotated in as the fifth crew member of a Sherman tank christened "Fury," and must now ruthlessly kill Nazi soldiers from within this metal monster.

The other crew members are older men who have been manning "Fury" together for three years. Bonded together but psychologically damaged from the tides of war, they dismiss Norman as nothing more than another dead man. Spurned by his fellow tank mates, Norman is told to clean his new seat, which is covered in the blood and the blown-off face of the soldier who sat there before him.

Repulsed, Norman vomits and begs the headman of his tank, Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), to be rotated elsewhere. Aggravated at his new soldier's weakness in the face of gritty war, Wardaddy forces Norman to shoot a captured German soldier through the back. The audience's sympathies are with Norman, for he is definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his new job as a Nazi killer does not match up with his morals. Consistent with a pro-war film, the "Fury" tank-mates Wardaddy, Bible (Shia LaBeouf), Gordo (Michael Peña), Grady (Joe Bernthal), and eventually Norman all keep to their mantra that being in the war is "the best job [they] ever had."

Tasked by their commander to move out with a group of tanks and capture a run-down city, Norman reluctantly enters the tank and the group heads out. Partly hidden by the foliage of the forest they are travelling along, Norman spots a young German boy, but chooses to dismiss him as nonthreatening. This turns out to be a mistake, when suddenly one of their own men in the tank ahead of them is doused with fire from a flare and takes his life to end the suffering. Wardaddy uses this horrifying instance as another opportunity to get it through Norman's mind that to leave a Nazi alive means certain death for the American troops.

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“Civilization: Beyond Earth” One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

civilization_beyond_earth_00"Civilization: Not Earth" might very well be a more appropriate title for the latest game in the hit Civilization series. I say this because Civilization: Beyond Earth fails almost entirely in going beyond what was done in the last Civilization title, Civilization V (which was released in 2010). This is especially disappointing when taking into account the outstanding reputation of Fireaxis Games, developer of the Civilization series.

Fans of the series will find several minor innovations in this title. One supposed development within this game is the "technology web." As opposed to the linear technology tree of previous Civilization titles, the technology web starts you from a center point, with different technologies radiating from said center point. This gives players more flexibility in how they choose to develop their civilizations.

However, I found that while you aren't forced to develop your technologies in a slightly branching linear pattern as in previous games, you wind up choosing between three. This is because of the new affinity system, which allows for three alignments; purity, supremacy, or harmony (and depending on the alignment that you choose, different technologies become available). However, each affinity has its own technologies which are pretty much essential, so rather than letting one develop their civilization freely, this technology system gives you more choices. In order to get the most out of their resources, one is going to have to remove miasmas (toxic alien gasses). This need (and others) direct ones advancement on the technology web, limiting freedom.

Also worth mentioning is the removal of technology trading from the diplomacy menu. While technology trading did serve to imbalance previous titles, I think removing it was a poor decision, as its elimination severely reduces available diplomatic options. Even if technology trading was unfixable (which I find unbelievable), it should have been at least replaced by another system to fill the void left in diplomacy. Civilization has had a flawed diplomacy system for a while now, but at least Civilization V made improvements. Try as I might, I cannot identify a single tangible improvement in Beyond Earth. Fireaxis Games has had negative feedback in regards to this system from players and critics alike, and on top of that, they had over four years to work on it. In my mind that is very difficult to overlook.

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NJ Artist Spotlight: Zak Smith

Zak-Smith-1-0718-Photo-Credit-Stephan-AlessiSeeded in the roots of the Garden State is a passion and a drive for music of all kinds. From Sinatra to Springsteen, NJ has produced some of the greats, and continues to inspire up-and-coming musicians. 31-year-old Montclair, NJ native Zak Smith is following in the footsteps of these artists with his latest album, Signs of Life.

After picking up the guitar when he was 15 years old, Smith took cues from influences like Neil Young and Kurt Cobain, developing a rock and Americana vibe. "I had a good friend that got me into rock music," Smith said. "[The guitar] seemed like the coolest instrument to play if you were going to play one."

Smith's interest in poetry came alive in a big way when he combined powerful words with meaningful music and became a singer/songwriter. Smith said, "When I heard music, it was like writing but plus something else. The musical aspect made words into something even bigger."

Once Smith got into music, he was hooked. "I became obsessed pretty early on," he said, "and I envisioned doing it for the rest of my life." Smith took the first step at a recording studio in Red Bank, NJ, where he was able to produce a demo and start making connections. He proceeded to play shows throughout the tri-state area, meeting people who shared his passion for music and writing.

"The best way to connect with people is to be serious about what you're saying," Smith said. He makes many of these connections on tour, which he considers to be one of his favorite parts about playing music. "Being able to play every night to different people feels like what it's all about," Smith enthused. "I would do it every day if I could."

When writing his music, Smith prefers to develop lyrics late at night and in solitude—sometimes he'll even get ideas while driving. In regards to what he likes to write about, Smith said, "I'll write about the typical relationships, but [I like to sing about] more than just that. I try to respond to stuff that's going on in the world."

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Breaking Down "Signs of Life "

Zak-Smith-1-0277-Photo-Credit-Stephan-AlessiMontclair, NJ-based artist Zak Smith released his newest album Signs of Life on Oct. 7, 2014. This marks his sixth official release and his first collection of new tracks since 2013's The Precambrian Age.

Smith, the winner of the 2013 Jersey Acoustic Music Awards "Top Male Vocalist" category, delivers a distinct Americana sound in his latest effort that reminds listeners of another prominent NJ artist. Signs of Life features songwriting that takes many cues from Bruce Springsteen's musical catalog. Though both artists feature a sound that appeals to folk, rock, and country lovers, Smith's stripped-down musical approach and humble sincerity in his voice establishes its own unique identity on his album.

This unique musical identity also sets Smith apart from other current NJ artists. His approach looks back to American music icons such as Springsteen and Neil Young, but he shows a modern sensibility in his songwriting that prevents his music from seeming like a rehashing of classic Americana staples. Though his music might not resemble anything other local artists are striving for, Smith's sound can easily fit in with whomever he shares a gig. The versatility evident in his songs allows him to reach a broad range of audiences across multiple genres.

Signs of Life uses a minimal number of instruments on each track, yet still delivers a masterfully crafted sound. Piano, guitar, percussion, and vocals make up the four major musical components distinctively heard on the album, save for harmonica used sparsely throughout. Female backing vocals also accompany Smith's voice on multiple tracks.

Though this minimalist approach proves effective, one component had been left out entirely: drums. No song on the album features the use of an actual drum set. Though the drums could enhance the dynamic on some of the songs, Smith still delivers a collection of strong tracks with musical timekeeping cared for by mixture of percussion instruments such as a tambourine, shakers, and a cajon.

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Taylor Swift Takes Us Back to “1989”

ts-bannerWhen it was first announced that Taylor Swift's new record was going to be pop instead of country, I have to admit I was already disappointed with the album. How could the girl who moved to Nashville to be a country artist just decide one day that she can change her style without any effort? I was one of the skeptics when the album 1989 was finally released on Oct. 27, but I crossed my fingers, hit play, and surprisingly fell in love with the new Swift. The theme of moving on instead of dwelling in heartbreak somehow made this album shockingly catchy.

Before the track list was even shared, Swift put out three songs for her listeners: "Shake It Off," "Out of the Woods," and "Welcome To New York." I will be the first to admit that "Shake It Off" made me want to shake Swift off. The song sounded the opposite of what we were used to hearing: lyrics about heartbreak with Swift playing the piano in the background. Then, "Out of the Woods" was released.

With speculation that this track was about the famous Harry Styles of One Direction, it was a reminder that Swift is still the same girl who writes songs about relationships. "Welcome To New York" was the last song to be released before 1989 hit airwaves. This was track number one, so naturally this is the song I used to judge the whole album. For the first time in what feels like forever, Swift was singing about taking chances that did not involve loving anyone but yourself. Within the past year Swift finally moved to New York after being on the fence about it. This song was to show that she was proud of her decision, and it was the best change she ever made.

1989 is comprised of 13 tracks (Swift's favorite number) and ranges from songs about being stabbed in the back by a friend to moving on from someone who no longer serves you any purpose.

The genre of pop welcomed Swift with open arms as if she had been doing it her whole life. Upbeat songs keep your foot tapping throughout the whole album, and listeners really hear a different side of Swift 's voice.

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An Evening With Rock Legend Jerry Lee Lewis

jerry-lee-lewisImagine this: it's 1957 and Rock n' Roll music is forming, growing more popular in the teen generation by the day. The music is fast, it's loud, and it's nothing anyone has seen before. The baby boomer post-World War II kids are running around like chickens with their heads cut off, breaking away from previous social norms. Parents are furious.

Word gets around about a young kid in his twenties from Louisiana recording at Sun Records, where Elvis got his start. Word also says he's a lunatic. Flipping his curly hair, he pounds on the piano keys with a chaotic proficiency that only a genius could produce. He sings about "shakin'" and "wigglin' around" with a Southern twang that can shout over his piano or fall loosely from his mouth like thick molasses.

"He's the white Little Richard," you say to your friend as both of you jump around your bedroom to the sounds coming out from the record player in the corner. Sweating, gasping for breath, you realize music has never made you feel this way before—so alive, so in the now. A new star is born, and his name is Jerry Lee Lewis.

57 years later, celebrating his 80th birthday on tour, Lewis took to B.B. King's night club in NY's perpetually bustling Times Square last Thursday. And not even sitting in the night-before-Halloween New York City traffic could take away from what this night gave to me.

Arriving at B.B. King's venue at 7 pm, an hour before the show began, all the seats in the house were taken. My father and I ended up standing at the bar where there was plenty of room to hang around. However, by the time Lewis came on at 9 pm we were packed in like sardines, fighting for position to get a clear view of the stage.

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Blue Hawk Records Soars Higher

blue-hawk-imageStudents of Blue Hawk Records (BHR) changed the selection process in preparation for their fourth compilation EP for the fall semester, allowing a mixture of artists on the record. Members of Blue Hawk Records Applied Industry III class held open auditions on Wednesday, Sept. 24.

"This year, we changed the process entirely by having open auditions to not only the rest of the department outside the class, but to the entire University as well. Musicians or artists could email BHR to reserve their audition slot to come perform their song in front of a panel of judges," said Mike Burke, president of BHR. The songs performed during auditions were judged based on completeness of composition and overall musical appeal. For predominately electronic pieces, there was an opportunity to submit audio files rather than performing.

Open auditions enabled the student organization to grow not only in size, but also in musical talent and variety. "The Blue Hawk CD is not at all exclusive to BHR members. Looking at it from a business standpoint, that would be dramatically limiting our talent pool and our audience," Burke said. He pointed out that interest in the auditions was strong, giving members of BHR a challenging decision to make.

"It was a tough decision for the judges, but they eventually managed to come to a consensus," said Dave DePaola, head of BHR public relations. Among the judges were Burke, Professor Joe Rapolla and Professor George Wurzbach of the music department. The remaining judges were students currently active in BHR.

The album for this semester will feature Ice House Gallery, Joey Affatato, JKC, Joe Sullivan and Dan Robinson, and Jessica Leigh. Among the artists chosen, Sullivan and Robinson were new to the department. Robinson noted, "At first we were intimidated by the theater and people around us, but it turned into excitement when we started playing. Overall, it boosted our confidence and it was a great experience."

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The Flawed Arguments of the “Gamergate” Controversy

Grand_Theft_Auto_VOne of the main reasons many people in the gaming community have heard about 'Gamergate' (something that is neither representative of gamers, nor comparable to Watergate in any real way) is because Anita Sarkeesian, a self-described "feminist media-critic/blogger" has seized upon the conflict (if one can even call it that) to draw attention to her own personal agenda. Sarkeesian believes that the portrayal of women in video games is sexist, and has used the issue of 'Gamergate' to help her criticism gain traction. According to MSNBC's The Reid Report, 'Gamergate' is "an online battle of the sexes over how gamers are portrayed, and the sometimes violent reaction to women who speak out." As far as I can see, this is what some in the media would like it to be, but not what it is. This entire controversy feels manufactured.

That's not to say that there isn't a controversy right now. There is, but it wasn't built off of sexism in video games (there was a domestic spat in the life of a game developer which received media attention, and it has since devolved into 'Gamergate'). There has, unfortunately, been much toxicity towards Sarkeesian, even death threats. When she was scheduled to speak at Utah State University, someone threatened to carry out a school shooting were she allowed to speak. Honestly, I feel there's very little to say on this area, as most reasonable people would agree that offensive language and death threats are bad.

I have an issue with Sarkeesian and others who are framing this controversy as being representative of gaming (and gamers) as a whole. First of all, the sexist portrayal of women is not constrained to video games. Some of you have probably seen a story about 'Gamergate' on the news. If you stick around until the commercials, you'll likely see sexist portrayals of both men and women just as bad as what's featured in games (and it's much more difficult to argue that there's a narrative basis in an ad).

Grand Theft Auto V was cited by Sarkeesian as one of the franchises portraying women in a sexist light, and she's absolutely right. However, she neglects to mention that the game itself is a satire, and as such is meant to show humanity at its worst. Throughout the Grand Theft Auto series as a whole, players will see and partake in such deviant behaviors as theft, murder, arson, torture, rape, and cannibalism. In some cases players are meant to enjoy the deviant behavior, and in others they are meant to be disturbed by it.

Many of the worst aspects of Grand Theft Auto can be seen in The Sopranos, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones to name a few examples. I'm not saying that what Grand Theft Auto does is right—I'm conflicted about this particular series myself. My goal is to fully inform the public of the flaws in Sarkeesian's reasoning behind the sexist portrayal of women in video games.

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Contact Information

CAMPUS LOCATION
The Outlook
Jules L. Plangere Jr. Center for Communication 
and Instructional Technology (CCIT) Room 260, 2nd floor

MAILING ADDRESS
The Outlook
Monmouth University
400 Cedar Ave, West Long Branch, New Jersey 07764

Phone:(732) 571-3481 | Fax: (732) 263-5151
Email: outlook@monmouth.edu