Christopher Robin: A trip down nostalgia road

By Peter Partoza
Correspondent

Disney fans have been buffeted with live-action remake and sequel after sequel of classic movies, such as “Toy Story,” “Cars,” “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and countless others. But with “Christopher Robin,” a nice change of pace has hit the cinema scene.  

Christopher Robin tells the story of an adult Christopher who has left the Hundred Acre Woods and has been through the rollercoaster ride of growing up. Those who grew up with “Winnie the Pooh” are pulled in, easily identifying themselves with Christopher Robin as they watch him go through schooling, falling in love, going to war, and starting a family, all within a brief montage in the opening portion of the movie.  

The movie cuts to a view of Christopher Robin, now a workaholic with a strained relationship with his family. Trouble at work adds to Christopher’s stress and begins to push him further and further away from his family, causing him to send them to his childhood cottage for the weekend as he works.

As Christopher aged and grew, Pooh eagerly awaited the return on the other side.

Coming to the movie’s present time, Pooh discovers that he can’t find his friends one day. He decides to venture through the door Christopher Robin would always come through to visit and play.

As Pooh comes through the door he enters our world and through story driving coincidence, Christopher Robin and Pooh reunite.

After realizing that the tree Pooh came through no longer has a way back to the Hundred Acre Wood, Christopher is propelled into a journey to his childhood home, all the while carrying the lighthearted Pooh with him.

As the movie goes on, Christopher Robin’s adult cynicism and stresses begin to clash with Pooh’s childlike wonder and simplicity, making it a recipe ripe for not only comedy and cartoon antics but also somber moments that bring the viewers back to the idea that they are no longer children.

As strange as this sounds, this movie was not made for children. Hear me out. Children being brought to this movie will enjoy the simple comedy that Pooh and friends bring, but the real meat of this movie is the idea of when a child such as Christopher Robin grows up.

It grips those who have already gone through that transition, playing on the heartstrings of those who miss a simpler time. If I had to say one message that this movie had, it would be that “it’s never too late to be a kid again.” “Christopher Robin” is a feel-good movie, which, if only for a short time, will bring you away from the negativity in the world and leave you feeling better than before.

Entertainment Featured Features Reviews

Music Review

By Peter Partoza
Correspondent

Another week, another slew of new music coming out from artists across the spectrum. Logic is back with a brand new single, and he’s not holding anything back. “The Return” features the same aggressive unopposed lyric style he’s built his career on, and yes, he’s still got it.

Dropping names on big brands like Nike and Audi he takes a no-holds-barred approach, calling out the music business for how it still seems to deny him his place in the franchise and instead lumps him in with the mumble rap crowd.

A fast flow and a driving beat paired with powerful (and explicit) lyrics ensures he plants another flag in the rap genre, calling out other artists to push against the current rap trends and bring more types of his style of lyrically based music. Logic recently announced a new album coming soon, “Young Sinatra 4,” set to release Sept. 28, so keep an eye out.

Sliding over to the rock scene, Bring Me The Horizon’s new song “MANTRA” brings back the group after a two year hiatus.

Filled with resonating electric guitar, plenty of cymbal crashes, and the same pseudo-electric style they’ve shown off in the past, “MANTRA” brings a new story to the group, starting the song off with “Do you want to start a cult with me?”

The remainder of the song continues with lyrics speaking to those who feel like they are drifting through life with no purpose, stuck in a rut, and those who are “chanting that same old MANTRA.” No word as of yet on when the next album from them will drop, but with the release of this new song and its music video, you can expect more in the coming months.

Moving away from the more mainstream artists, a new face is making his way onto the scene. Alec Benjamin is an up and comer and his new song “Death of a Hero” features an acoustic and ambient tone with melodic lyrics.

The song laments the “death of a hero,” i.e. the moment you move out of childhood wonder and begin to see the world and people as they truly are without the veil of perfection attributed to icons. This is a good song for those rainy days or times where everything just feels too real. Benjamin is a Phoenix native and has released multiple other singles, and can be found on major music streaming and downloading websites.

There is no word yet on whether we can expect an album or not from the new kid on the scene, though, so fans will have to wait with bated breath.

Audio Featured Features Reviews

Album Review: “The Burning Cold” by Omnium Gatherum

By John Mills
Diversions Editor

At least two albums released on Aug. 31. The bigger of the two was Eminem’s “Kamikaze.” The one that caught my attention was Finnish melodic death metal band Omnium Gatherum’s “The Burning Cold.”

The Burning Cold does a lot to be more appealing to people who might not be completely sold on the melodic death metal category, and is a thoroughly enjoyable album all the way through.

The “Burning Cold” opens with a purely instrumental track, “The Burning.” As an opening track, it establishes both the tone and some of the commanding chord progressions that follow throughout the album.

The track also sets the stage for what is a heavily instrumental album. Vocals are certainly present, but as is the case with a lot of non-American melodic death bands, understanding the lyrics is a secondary factor to the overall enjoyment of the music.

After its instrumental opening, the next two songs, “Gods Go First” and “Refining Fire,” are both high energy tracks, filled with expansive drums, driving lead guitar, and steady bass work.

Lead vocalist Jukka Pelkonen does not disappoint either, delivering a strong performance, growls and all. After these two header tracks, the album settles into a bit of a more defined groove with “Rest in Your Heart,” a track that echoes the opener “The Burning” in a lot of good ways.

“The Burning Cold” has a greater use of synthesizers and electronic influences than one usually finds in melodic death metal.

However, thanks to some excellent mixing, it blends well into the rest of the instrumental work. The guitar, bass, and drums still take center stage, and the electronic work functions as a pleasant accent rather than a defining trait.

However, compared to bands like Amorphis or Dark Tranquility, the presence is still noticeable.

Standout tracks of the album have to be “Over the Battlefield,” “Be the Sky,” and the “Frontline.”  All are powerful, driven tracks, but stand out for their pacing, composition, and follow the themes of the album while standing as their own tracks.

Strong vocals dominate these tracks, with that special blend of death growls and normal lyricism that just isn’t found in American bands.

The best praise I can give the album is that each song flows together without getting lost in the middle. It’s pretty common for good metal albums—especially melodic death metal with its emphasis on melody and flow—to still only have one or two standout tracks.

That’s the normal, and Omnium Gatherum breaks the normal in a full-bodied embrace of the best aspects of the genre.

“The Burning Cold” is probably one of the best albums of the genre this year, and a contender for one of Omnium Gatherum’s best.

It is available on Spotify, Google Music, and Youtube. If you’re looking for your next metal fix, give Omnium Gatherum a try. You’ll be glad you did.

Entertainment Reviews

Book Review: Red Army

By John Mills
Diversions Editor

The mid-to-late 1980s saw the rise of the techno-thriller as a literary genre. In similar sense, it also saw a wave of novels written about a theoretical outbreak of WWIII amidst rising tensions during the Cold War.

Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising” is probably the best known of these and is an early example of the tropes that would come to define Clancy’s writing.

Conversely, “Red Army” by Ralph Peters bucks the in-depth explanation of tactics, vehicles, and weapons that brings “Red Storm Rising” to some 800 pages and instead takes an in-depth look at the men behind and inside those vehicles and weapons.

Perhaps unsurprisingly based on the title, “Red Army” is a character study of the Soviet fighting man and how he reacts to the many unique stresses of combat.

“Red Army” was published in 1989, only a couple years before the Soviet Union dissolved. Consequently, the book received a fair amount of bemused criticism, as people rightly observed that the unity of the USSR necessary to undertake the invasion portrayed obviously didn’t exist when it was written.

However, these critics are missing that what “Red Army” has to say about the men who fight a war, and, more specifically, the Soviet men who would have fought WWIII, is as accurate as any western writer has ever gotten.

Ralph Peters was a US Army Intelligence Officer for many years before writing “Red Army,” and he wrote the novel with the express ideal of ignoring the technological aspect of the respective militaries.

Instead, we get fully three-dimensional characters, from the general whose family has fought for Russia in one way or another for the last three hundred years, to the scared infantryman who has only been in the army for a year, to the grizzled and vicious airborne veteran of Afghanistan.

Everyone has a family they wish to return home to, to wives or girlfriends for whom to survive, to children they hope to see grow. It is unfair to say the human drama is the best part of the novel, because it is really the core of the novel.

The story takes place over three days, in which time we see the Soviets move from the East-West German border to the Rhine.

The incredibly rapid advance of Soviet forces, either directly through defending British and Dutch forces, or around them when possible, leaves the defenders off balance and unable to respond effectively.

Casualties are unthinkably high on both sides, but by maintaining an advance across several routes, the Soviets eventually force a favorable conclusion to the war.

“Red Army” is a deeply depressing book at times. Several characters we have spent dozens of pages with, learning who they are from top to bottom, are killed quite violently in the maelstrom of battle.

One commits suicide after his unit is cut off and overrun. Unlike novels written by authors with poorer skills of characterization, these deaths don’t feel cheap or forced. We care because they are small tragedies in a greater calamity.

Of the four biggest 1980s novels about a possible WWIII—“Red Storm Rising,” “Red Army,” “Team Yankee,” and “Chieftains”—“Red Army” is generally held as the best piece of literature. The others all have their place, but if you’re looking to get the best of them, go Soviet. 

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Video Game Preview: Call of Duty “Black Ops 4”

Breathing New Life into an Old Franchise 

By Sean Hernandez
Correspondent

The next installment in the Call of Duty (COD) franchise is less than a month away from release. The biggest concern I imagine most players have, including myself, is the ever-growing problem with franchise fatigue. After all the trailers are released, weary fans of the franchise find themselves asking the same question every year: is it worth buying the next one? 

    Game developer Treyarch is back again with “Black Ops 4,” the next attempt to keep the aging franchise fresh and fun. This year Treyarch decided to entirely ditch the solo campaign and focus only on multiplayer gameplay. The standard multiplayer game mode returns along with three brand new bizarre stories to tell in Zombies mode. 

The multiplayer beta took place back in August, but there is a lot to take away from the time spent playing. “Black Ops 4” continues with “boots on the ground” gameplay, staying far away from jump packs and wall running. The gameplay still feels very fast-paced but doesn’t suffer from the arcade playstyle of “Black Ops 3.” 

Some aspects resemble more refined combat roles and abilities from “Black Ops 3.” “Black Ops 4” takes direction from games such as “Overwatch” and “Rainbow Six Siege” and has upgraded from soldier classes to the use of specialists.

Each one is equipped with a loadout specially built with a specific purpose and play style in mind, whether it is a tank, defense or healer. The Pick 10, Create-a-Class-System returns along with a new gear category for customizing a specialist.

Treyarch has ditched regenerating health as well, adding a health stim to the soldier’s kit that can be used repeatedly to regain hp.

This makes for a lot more tactical gameplay since players now have a choice to heal up rather than just running in and getting shot. Additionally, fog of war has been implemented into the minimap on the player’s hud, with enemies only being revealed by being in the line of sight, firing their weapons, or through scorestreaks and specialist abilities. There are still some problems with certain specialists kits and gear that need to be balanced.

Call of Duty has also joined the Battle Royale Bandwagon with their own unique take on the genre known as Blackout.

After spending a few hours playing the Blackout beta, I can say that despite my doubts and resistance to the battle royale trend that this was a pleasant surprise that I never saw coming.

Blackout aims to be a cumulative experience filled with iconic settings, characters, weapons, and gadgets that span across the Black Ops worlds.

Eighty-player skirmishes can be played in either solo, duos, or quad teams. It’s a mix of your typical battle royale-style gameplay and the fast-paced combat COD has become famous for.

Vehicles added into the mix make traversing the map both an enjoyable and challenging experience. Anyone who plays “Player Unkown’s Battlegrounds” or “Fortnite” will likely enjoy the battle royale experience that COD has to offer.

Every year I worry that I’m wasting my money on the next Call of Duty. I fear that within a few weeks the franchise fatigue will kick in, even though there’s a lot of improvement and innovation in Black Ops 4.

To my surprise, there’s a lot to be excited about for anyone still on the fence about the next Black Ops.

Entertainment Reviews Student Interest

Movie Review: “Ready Player One” 

By: John Mills
Diversions Editor 

I usually hold the stance that movie adaptations should be as close to the book as is possible. I’m the kind of person who notices and is peeved by the cuts Peter Jackson made to the “Lord of the Rings” books.

Therefore, it may come as a surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed, and would recommend, the “Ready Player One” movie being that it is far removed from the book.  

What makes”Ready Player One” so fun to watch? For me, it was a few things.

First of all, the Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) is gorgeous and works extremely well within the setting.

Most of the movie takes place within a virtual reality environment known as the Oasis. The Oasis is given life in movie form that the book could barely hope to match.

Everything in the Oasis is clearly artificial, but is given a sense of realism despite that that is highly familiar to anyone who’s used a VR headset at any point.  

The plot stays true to the spirit of the novel without having to use any of the unfilmable sections. To point out even the biggest differences would take too long and be too spoiler-y, so I’ll highlight two instead.

The entire way to acquire the first key is entirely different from the book, in a good way. I don’t want to watch someone play an arcade game for half an hour after navigating a notoriously difficult D&D module, all the while being narrated at about how tough the whole thing is.

That just wouldn’t make for a good movie, so Spielberg changed it, and for the better.

The other biggest change I’d like to touch on for example is that the movie cuts out half the challenges, which also would have been difficult to properly film and boring to watch, not to mention long-winded.  

The two leads, played by Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke, work incredibly well together, whether acting in the flesh or as their virtual avatars. There’s a natural chemistry between the two that’s obvious on screen and a joy to watch.

The supporting cast includes the wonderful Ben Mendelsohn and Simon Pegg, and the hilarious T.J. Miller. All of the supporting cast do their job well and fit into the world in a way that makes sense.

Ben Mendelsohn perhaps unsurprisingly plays the primary antagonist, and it feels like there’s a touch of Orson Krennic from “Rogue One” in his performance, in a good way. 

“Ready Player One” was a book that shouldn’t have been filmable. It was a convoluted, fun, mess of self-indulgent nerdism with little true character development and worse interpersonal abilities.

The movie does away with the worst of these flaws by actually making the main character likeable, sociable, and capable without coming off as a pretentious know-it-all who is only out for himself.

That is where”Ready Player One” shines best as a movie. It’s a fun ride from start to finish with satisfying arcs and development, without the deluge of ‘80s pop culture most people won’t get. 

Diversions Reviews

Video Game Review: “Factorio” 

By: John Mills
Diversions Editor 

“Factorio” is a game seemingly custom-made for people who like efficiency.

Or rather, people who like to design efficiency. Or people who like to plan things out. Or people who like chaotic messes. Or people who just wish to visit gross environmental harm where they won’t get fined into nonexistence by the EPA.

The point is, “Factorio” has a broad appeal, something well reflected by its 98% positive rating on Steam. It is available through Steam or [www.factorio.com] for $30. 

At its core, the goal of “Factorio” is simple. Start with your wits, a drill, an oven, and build a factory to enable you to launch a rocket into space.

If this sounds like an impossible task, just know that it is only very difficult. Scattered around the map are resource deposits to make this all possible, and researchable technologies progressively make things easier.

That has to be contextualized by saying that while the technologies allow more, new, or more efficient methods of production, fitting them into an existing factory can be maddeningly difficult.

Oh, and then there’s the hostile aliens that will try to raze your fledgling factory when the pollution gets too high.  

A big aspect of “Factorio”’s appeal is that there is no set way to “win.”

Every time you start a new game, the map will be different than the last time, meaning that the setup you used in the past likely won’t be directly applicable to the new world.

Once you have won by launching a rocket, there’s nothing that tries to stop you from launching more rockets.

With sufficient work, its possible to build a factory that launches rockets with alarming regularity.

Plus, “Factorio” supports both local and internet multi-player, which significantly increases an already high playability value.

Working with a friend to build a factory, then optimizing it when it isn’t efficient enough, then tacking on oil and chemical processing facilities, then doubling its throughput of iron, then adding on a new power system, then optimizing some more can be an amazingly endless process.

The first night I played “Factorio”, I played it for roughly eight hours without noticing the passage of time. That being said, I have since found, personally, that I don’t truly enjoy playing “Factorio” alone, but your mileage may vary.  

Graphically, “Factorio” is no stunner, but its art style works incredibly well with what’s being presented, as well as allowing for absolutely massive numbers of sprites and other items on-screen without putting a heavy load on any modern computer. Even older or less powerful laptops and desktops should be able to run “Factorio” with ease.  

“Factorio” appeals to the wannabe-systems-engineer in me. It distills terribly complicated processes like ore mining, oil refining, and rocket assembly into placeable pieces.

All I have to do is ensure they are supplied with the resources they need to function, given limited space and availability.

That’s just logistics, and anyone can learn logistics. For anyone who enjoys efficiency, resource management, micro-management, or buildings things just the way you want them, “Factorio” is sure to delight for many hours upon hours. 

Diversions Reviews

Band Review: Be’lakor 

By John Mills
Diversions Editor 

I stumbled into Be’lakor quite on accident. As it turns out, this Australian melodic death metal band named themselves after the original demon from the lore of Games Workshop’s Warhammer universes. That being said, I’m very glad I discovered them, because the band’s four albums are some of my favorite I’ve heard in the last five years. They combine excellent work with the standard guitars, basses and drums with pianos and other instrumentals to create a sound that can be both fast and heavy, then slow and thoughtful, before breaking back into the pounding rhythms that defines metal as a genre. 

Be’lakor is probably not going to appeal to people who are not already fans of, or at least okay with, the basic standards of melodic death metal. The standout feature that will probably turn most people away from Be’lakor is that all of their lyrics are done in so-called “death-growls.” The aggressive and abrasive nature of this kind of singing turns a lot of people away from the genre. Be’lakor doesn’t mix death-growls with standard lyrics like some bands, and as a consequence, the words can be very difficult to understand. To compare them to a much more famous band, they sound like an Australian Amon Amarth. This is, in truth, an awful comparison, but probably the one that most people are likely to understand. 

After Be’lakor  released their first album in 2007, each subsequent album has defined their style yet further. As might be expected of a melodic death metal band, Be’lakor maintains a steady, albeit heavy and down-tuned, melody throughout their songs. This consistency has the benefit of making any of their songs instantly identifiable, while also making it difficult to discern just which is playing. Over the length of several nearly hour-long albums, it can become easy to get lost in the music, as it blends together with little difficulty, even on shuffle. As such, I find Be’lakor to be a great band to put on in the background while I work.  

Taste will obviously differ widely, especially in regard to music. Many people who don’t regularly listen to metal will find Be’lakor far from their liking. Even amongst metal fans who generally listen to faster bands or bands with more legible vocals may not enjoy Be’lakor much. All that being said, if any of what has been described sounds appealing, give them a listen. Their entire discography is available on Spotify for free. For a band with as much raw musical talent as is on display, they are almost criminally under-played.  

Diversions Featured Features Reviews

Video Game Review: “Owlboy” 

Russ Chapman
Correspondent 

“Owlboy,”  released in late 2016, is a two-dimensional platforming adventure game. This game’s genre is not new by any stretch of the imagination, being similar to classics like the original “Super Mario Brothers” and “Sonic The Hedgehog” that released in the mid to late 1980’s or early 1990’s. So, what makes this game different? 

Most usually with the platformer genre, mastering the character’s mobility to navigate levels and puzzles is a key feature of gameplay, if not the entirety of the game. “Owlboy,” on the other hand, is a platformer where the mobility of your character is entirely a non-issue.  

The character plays as the young owl-boy named Otus. As would seem natural for an owl, Otus can fly. Flying makes moving through levels simple and a unique experience. However, the developers added difficulty to actually surviving through levels. 

The next noteworthy feature of gameplay is the combat system in the game. Otus is a simple character who relies on his friends to help him survive the hostile lands traversed in the game. There are three different friends that Otus can carry into battle and call upon to help him in the world. Each of them brings different combat abilities and strategies to fend off a variety of enemies and bosses.  

The combat is made interesting by the noticeable lack of platforming mentioned earlier. Otus can fly high into the air in a boss room to avoid damage, seemingly, a quite useful skill. However, if he fails to dodge the opponents attacks then he will be dazed and begin to plummet from the sky. When this failure happens, the friend being carried is dropped and the additional combat abilities are lost. Otus also takes damage from hitting the walls or from falling all the way to the ground, also extending the daze. Therefore, positioning and moving are very significant in combat. 

A brief comment on the artistic aspects of the game: the style is in a voxel art with simplified character models and environments. This art style lends itself well to fantasy environments, allowing for vibrant colors and unique designs. The environment is paired with a retro style music fitting the graphical theme, which only improved the quality of gameplay. 

Overall the game-play aspects of “Owlboy” are very well done. The controls are comfortable, and the abilities feel unique from other games within the genre. The combat is enjoyably difficult without being overly punishing, a difficult combination to achieve. The game is, all-in-all, a pleasure to play. 

Diversions Featured Features Reviews

Cyberpunk Column

John Mills
Diversions Editor 

My favorite sci-fi author, and likely my favorite author of all time, is John Scalzi. Scalzi is the owner, operator, author of one of the oldest blogs on the internet, “Whatever.” Now, why bother mentioning this seemingly inane bit of trivia? Well, the powers that be (i.e., the editors) saw fit to let me write a column. Well, they saw fit to let me try writing one this issue. I suspect I will disappoint in spectacular fashion, but in the spirit of Scalzi’s twenty-year-long exercise in writing about whatever he feels like, I present to you my own opinions on things. This issue, cyberpunk. 

Now I realize that that was a bit of a hard cut, something akin to throwing the hand brake while in fifth gear. What goes into cyberpunk? Cyberpunk is something I’ve wanted to write about for a while, as it stands as one of my favorite genres in fiction. Here are a few key aspects of the genre that I find most defining. 

The first is advanced technology, usually with an emphasis on electronics, usually in both the industrial and consumer sectors. Think of yet to come phones or other personal electronic devices, implanted electronics, more advanced and connected internet. Despite whatever particulars may vary between settings, a massive increase in the usage and massive decrease in physical size of computers is a staple of the setting. Its worth noting human augmentation often dovetails in with this theme.  

Second is color. Most cyberpunk seems to believe the future will be lit up in frankly blinding levels of neon. If this is the future that awaits us, frankly I can’t wait. The more neon the better in my humble opinion. “The Matrix” movies are a notable exception to this trait, but it’s common enough in most other representations of the genre to be worth noting. A future without neon is not a future I want to live in. 

Coming in third is a two-pronged subject: the rise of mega-corporations and the stark increase in income inequality. The inspiration behind these themes is pretty easy to see today. Large corporations like GE, Wal-Mart and dozens of other massive conglomerates seems to control excessive amounts of power and influence due in large part to their brain-meltingly massive revenue. Meanwhile, the majority of their employees may not even get paid a living wage. 

Fourth and last is heavy Asian influence. I have to confess I don’t actually know who started this trend, but it’s very prevalent in the genre. I’m going to hazard a guess and say the original “Ghost in the Shell” movie played a large part in the trend.

Additional examples include 1982’s “Blade Runner” to 2011’s “Deus Ex: Human Revolution,” or obviously, this year’s live action remake of “Ghost in the Shell.” I suspect the extreme urban development seen in Japan, China, and other countries like Singapore in the last two decades mirrors the physical setting of many dystopian futures that cyberpunk seeks to convey.  

Why do I love cyberpunk? Ignoring my undefendable love of neon, I like the idea the downtrodden making a life for themselves in a system that would happily forget they exist. The drive shown by these characters is an inspiration I think we can all take something from, even if we don’t have a computer stapled to our skulls. 

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