April 2017

New charges filed against so-called ‘Spokane spanker’

New charges have been filed against a man accused of slapping the backsides of women along a popular hiking trail that runs through the eastern Washington city of Spokane.

KXLY-TV reports[1] that 28-year-old Jonathan Smith now faces charges in Spokane County District Court and that they carry more serious penalties.

He is charged with 11 counts of fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation. Smith pleaded not guilty when he appeared in district court Friday.

Smith was previously charged in Spokane Municipal Court.

He was arrested April 20, a day after he went to the offices of KHQ television station, identified himself as the spanker and apologized to victims.

Court documents released Friday say that Smith noted that in almost every incident he was sexually aroused before, during, or after each attack.

Spokane police say they’re taking Smith’s actions seriously and don’t consider them a prank.

References

  1. ^ reports (bit.ly)

‘Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’ Review: First Impressions On Nintendo’s New Racer

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There’s a lot riding on “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.”

The latest entry in the venerable franchise is the first major game released for the Nintendo Switch since the console launched alongside “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” Although the system is starting to feature a solid lineup of indie games[1], it will live and die on the strength of first and third-party releases.

Time will tell whether “Deluxe” reinvents the “Mario Kart” wheel. But after spending a few days with it, we found the game to be an essential, although occasionally frustrating entry for the Switch.

It’s important to note that “Deluxe” isn’t a true “Mario Kart” sequel. The game is a port of the Wii U’s “Mario Kart 8,” as it features virtually everything found in that game. It was smart for Nintendo to bring back all of “8’s” characters, karts, levels and modes, including the ultra-fast 200cc mode.

Unfortunately, though, the game’s” troublesome online mode also made the Switch to “Deluxe.”

“Mario Kart” games are enjoyed most when friends are involved, but sometimes online play is the only way to connect. And although it’s possible to play “Deluxe” online with a friend, Nintendo currently doesn’t offer build-in voice chat, and the game’s matchmaking system is strikingly bland.

Furthermore, the fact there’s no way to invite friends to join your matches is an archaic move from a gaming company that prides itself on being innovative.

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That said, playing “Deluxe” offline is something the Switch was made for. Surprisingly, the Joy-Cons on their own are perfectly fine controllers, although they’re admittedly a little small. Also, propping the Switch up on its kickstand and playing multiplayer while, say, the NBA Playoffs are on in the background, is the greatest example yet of what make’s the system[2] so unique.

The biggest difference between “Deluxe” and “8”  is the revamped Battle Mode. Following it’s predecessors frustratingly limited offering, “Deluxe” provides the series’ most dense and exciting[3] Battle Mode yet.

Balloon Battle, Bob-omb Blast, Coin Runners and Renegade Roundup all are great, action-packed modes. Renegade Roundup is the real star, as players must fend off opponents or break teammates out of jail in what amounts to “Mario Kart’s” version of cops and robbers. Again, though, all of these great modes aren’t nearly as exciting when played online.

From a presentation standpoint, “Deluxe” is nothing short of stunning. The graphics, gameplay and soundtrack all are fantastic. Although all of the game’s levels were available on Wii U, they look even better on the Switch, with every tiny detail given the chance to pop.

Overall, “Deluxe” shines, but its future might be brighter. Nintendo has embraced the current trend of releasing games with the intention of improving and adding to them with future updates, and they might do it better than any other developer.

As it stands right now, “Deluxe” is a very satisfying game. But it has room to grow, and Nintendo has given us every reason to believe they will give “Mario Kart” the treatment it deserves.

Verdict: 8.7/10

Thumbnail photo via Nintendo

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References

  1. ^ solid lineup of indie games (nesn.com)
  2. ^ make’s the system (nesn.com)
  3. ^ dense and exciting (nesn.com)

Watch how The Force Awakens and Rogue One use their characters differently

We liked Rogue One when it hit theaters, but had some problems with it[1]: We felt that the film’s central character, Jyn Erso, was thinly defined, as was much of the rest of the cast. Lessons from the Screenplay[2] agrees, and in a new video essay,[3] highlights how the two latest Star Wars films differ in how their characters interact move the story along.

In Rogue One, Jyn’s family is torn apart when she was a child, and when we meet up with her as an adult, we learn that she’s been tossed into Imperial prison. We see everything happening to her, or have the other characters tell us what she did. In The Force Awakens, Rey, we see a different approach: we see her going through her mundane life on Jakku, and when the opportunity presents itself, she makes decisions that ultimately change her destiny. Where Jyn was essentially carried along for the ride in her story, Rey actively chose to be part of hers.

The essay does poke some holes in Rey’s story, noting that the challenges that she overcomes are pretty thin, and notes that the final act of Rogue One is much stronger, because the characters have the opportunity to shape their story a bit more. Some of the issues here with Rogue One probably come down to film’s production issues and reshoots[4], which saw some big changes late in the game.

One of the big points that goes unmentioned is the two films’ places in the Star Wars universe: The Force Awakens, is set at the end of the Star Wars continuity, and its story isn’t boxed in by another movie or book, which gives its characters a bit more leverage to forge ahead and be active in moving the story forward.

Rogue One doesn’t have that luxury: it’s inherently limited by the fact that it sets up A New Hope. The video points out a number of ways that Jyn and the rest of the team could have actively contributed to the story. Ultimately however, its position isn’t really conducive of that because its characters and story is designed to fulfill a plot point from the original film’s opening crawl. While this doesn’t make Rogue One a terrible film, it is a script problem that Lucasfilm is hopefully considering: it’s likely to continue to run into this same issue issue, given that the Han Solo standalone film is once again bracketed by existing canon.

References

  1. ^ had some problems with it (www.theverge.com)
  2. ^ Lessons from the Screenplay (youtu.be)
  3. ^ new video essay, (youtu.be)
  4. ^ film’s production issues and reshoots (www.theverge.com)

The Endless review: a creepy indie horror film that ups the stakes for its creators

Welcome to Cheat Sheet, our brief breakdown-style reviews of festival films, VR previews, and other special-event releases. We’re currently reporting from the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Back in 2012, the Tribeca Film Festival hosted the world premiere of a tiny indie horror film called Resolution, directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead and written by Benson. The film’s desaturated, grubby poster[1] made it look exactly like the torture-porn movies[2] that were already out of vogue at that point, but the film itself is something different — an intimate character drama about two friends stuck in a backwoods cabin, where something unearthly is stalking them, and gradually making itself known. Resolution’s ending is a jarring surprise after the slow build that leads up to it, but the shock comes with a kind of delight at how Benson and Moorhead use Resolution to toy with horror-movie tropes and joke about horror-movie audiences[3].

Benson and Moorhead moved away from the world of Resolution with their second film together, Spring[4], about a young man who unwittingly gets sexually and emotionally involved with a monster. But they’re back to their original world with their latest project, The Endless, which gives Resolution a little more resolution. It isn’t exactly a sequel, but it draws on Resolution’s ideas clearly enough that The Endless will play much better for people who’ve already seen their first film, and have their expectations set for Lovecraftian horror, technological mind-games, and some meta ideas about what makes for a satisfying story.

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What’s the genre?

Mindbending low-budget horror-thriller.

What’s it about?

Justin (Benson) and Aaron (Moorhead) star as brothers who work as low-rent house-cleaners. After their mother died in a car crash, they were rescued and raised by a nearby commune of mild-mannered, vaguely dazed-looking people who make a living by brewing and selling beer and performing other odd jobs for the nearby community. But Justin eventually rebelled and pulled Aaron out, and their heavily publicized “escape from the UFO death cult” has colored both of their lives. They find it hard to make friends or go on dates, and they’re living without personal connections or a plan for the future. Aaron remembers the commune fondly, as a group of friendly people who ate healthy food, lived a wholesome lifestyle, and genuinely cared about each other. When a battered videotape shows up in the mail, with a cult member talking about the approaching ascension, it seals Aaron’s determination to return to the group’s Camp Arcadia for a day or two. Justin is reluctant and angry, but Aaron insists they need emotional closure, and to say goodbye to the people who raised them.

But once they’ve returned to Camp Arcadia, creepy things keep happening. Everyone’s smile seems a little too fake. Nominal camp leader Hal (Tate Ellington) and a mute commune member named Dave (David Lawson Jr.) never seem to stop smiling. Anna (Callie Hernandez), who appeared on the ascension videotape, makes her sexual interest in Aaron clear, even though she was one of the adults raising him. Objects blink in and out of reality. Weird markers, something like tall, narrow termite mounds, mark circles around various territories in the woods. And eventually, a series of signs mark the coming ascension, and a decision that Justin and Aaron need to make.

What’s it really about?

Where Resolution was more obviously a meta-story about the act of storytelling (especially horror storytelling, and horror-movie storytelling), The Endless instead focuses on repetition, the way people get into ruts, and the stories they tell themselves to justify those ruts.

Tribeca Film Festival

Is it good?

The Endless has its notable faults, and the editing is one of the bigger ones. In the early going especially, the script feels rushed, as if Benson’s in a hurry to get past establishing the character and push on toward the commune. The editing around those early scenes feels herky-jerky and confused, with the physical action moving forward at a different pace from the conversation. On the other end of the film, there’s some repetition, with the biggest reveal coming multiple times — which is thematically appropriate, as it turns out, but still frustrating.

Those hiccups aside, though, The Endless rapidly develops from a mysterious, elliptical story about cult survivors and strained relationships into a much larger and stranger movie, essentially the Aliens to Resolution’s original Alien. Benson comes up with some authentically eerie, uncomfortable ideas that play well on screen. Chief among them: “The Struggle,” a Camp Arcadia ritual where commune members use a giant rope to play tug-of-war with an unseen presence out in the pitch darkness outside the camp. It’s presented as a cheery team-building exercise, and it’s clearly symbolic to them, but there’s endless discomfort in the scenes where people act as if it’s perfectly normal to pull on a rope that disappears into inky blackness, with a sense of a monumental unseen presence on the other end.

And Moorhead and Benson make smart use of micro-budget digital special effects to create phenomena just real enough to be unearthly. As oddities pile up around the commune, the effects slowly build in intensity. Some are as simple as a second moon suddenly appearing in the sky. Others are more unsettling. And they ramp up in intensity in an intelligent way, as the film goes from zero-budget horror (“I just saw something terrible offscreen” tactics, essentially) to a much more sophisticated level of world-rebuilding. Viewers who haven’t seen Resolution may be lost at some of the plot twists. But fans of Moorhead and Benson’s fans aren’t going to want to miss the way the use the earlier film to create and subvert expectations here, and to expand their mythology in a way that’s increasingly reminiscent of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

What should it be rated?

PG-13. It’s mental horror, not physical horror, though there’s some blood, some fairly intense shocks, and a whole lot of existential angst.

How can I actually watch it?

The Endless is currently seeking distribution, but given that Resolution spent some time on Netflix’s streaming service and then wound up on the usual roster of online-rental and video-on-demand services, there’s every reason to believe The Endless will join it online eventually.

References

  1. ^ desaturated, grubby poster (imgur.com)
  2. ^ torture-porn movies (www.gstatic.com)
  3. ^ toy with horror-movie tropes and joke about horror-movie audiences (thedissolve.com)
  4. ^ Spring (www.youtube.com)