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A&E

"Awkward." is anything but awkward

by Liping Huang

That awkward moment when you’re in a love triangle with the guy who took your virginity and the guy who picked up the pieces afterward.memattjena.jpg Well maybe it isn’t very common to us "normal" teenagers, but to Jenna Hamilton (played by Ashley Rickards) from MTV’s "Awkward," this is the usual. 

“Awkward” is MTV’s hottest and most current teen drama. In its third season, it is going to span 20 episodes from April 16.  In the beginning of season one, Jenna was an awkward teenager that struggled with her self identity, especially after being in an accident that was misconstrued to be a suicide attempt. Throughout the seasons, she starts developing her sense of confidence and identity by experiencing different kinds of scenarios. This relevancy to the  adolescents of the world led to the big success of the first and second season. Unfortunately, the first two seasons had only a span of 12 episodes. This season, they’re going to have more episodes, and hopefully, more drama! 

From the first to second season, Jenna had to deal with choosing between her two lovers, Jake Rosati (played by Brett Davern), who stayed by her side and Matty McKibben (played by Beau Mirchoff), who took her v-card. 

The third season premiere was better than I expected.  I was worried that the show would seem too repetitive because sometimes the drama in the first season dragged on too long. 

Unlike the first two seasons, there are more make out sessions between the couples. I was not totally against that, as I always appreciate good kissing. The season’s conflict starts with our main character Jenna and her new year as a junior in high school. She comes back to school feeling disconnected from her friends, a feeling many of us have encountered. Jenna will have to deal with trust issues between her and Matty, plus her best friend dating her ex-boyfriend. 

The show has different themes in every episode, and throughout the show Jenna wittily narrates the show while typing on her blog. 

My favorite character in this show is Ming Huang (played by Jessica Lu), one of Jenna’s best friends. Her ordeals with the Chinese Mafia, a notorious clique synonymous for their menacing meddling with school affairs, are hilarious. Also she has my last name, so my connection to this show is very close.         "Awkward" always has that edgy feel to it. They always have twists and turns in every episode. They also slip  teenage lingo once in awhile into the episodes, such as "You Only Live Once" and new terms such as “Back Burner Friend” or “Define The Relationship.”

           I love the modern humor and wittiness of "Awkward", as I hate shows with too much drama or shows that merely focus on the jokes instead of the show. Although it seems like the show has no plot, there are twists and turns in every episode. Between pregnancy scares and accidental peanut allergy suicides, the show "Awkward" showcases the normal problems that teens in different places deal with in a comedic manner. 

Like all popular teenage love triangles, we often take sides on who should be with who. Personally, I am Team Jake.  I was disappointed when Jenna chose Matty over Jake. I believed he was the right choice for Jenna because they were comfortable talking to each other when they were together. Jake is also not a douche, unlike Matty. During season one Matty was embarrassed to be seen with Jenna, which was a total d-bag move. Jake always stayed by Jenna’s side, and he reminds me of an underdog in a movie. Although Matty and Jenna had a relationship together in the beginning, that does not mean they should stay together. Just because  the guy is good lookin’ does not prove a strong case on who should be with Jenna.

All in all, even if you’re Team Jake or Team Matty, "Awkward" is a show all teens, guys and girls,  should watch. It has all the elements of a great TV show: love, comedy, relevancy, and making out. But don’t blame me if you get hooked. You’re welcome!

Explore the skies in BioShock Infinite

by Jacob Ortega

Here's a game franchise I haven't touched in a while. When Irrational Games hit the market with “BioShock” in 2007, I declared it an instant classic. bioshock-infinite-cover-art-revealed.jpgIt had a mind-bending narrative, a well-designed dark atmosphere and solid gameplay mechanics. 2K Marin dropped the ball with “BioShock 2,” which wasn't necessarily bad but failed to live up to its predecessor. When “BioShock Infinite” was announced and the creators confirmed to be Irrational Games once again, I watched its development with great anticipation. I knew, just from the demo material, that it was going to be a big hit. When it finally came out I jumped on the opportunity to get a copy, wasting no time as I threw it into my Xbox. It was love at first sight.

“BioShock Infinite” takes place in 1912. Booker DeWitt, an ex-private investigator and "independent contractor" is hired to find a woman named Elizabeth from Columbia, a flying city (seriously). DeWitt, who is down on his luck and haunted by his past, agrees to take the job in exchange for settling his debt.

Upon arrival DeWitt discovers the city to be torn by civil strife between two factions. The first of these is the Founders, Columbia's ultranationalist ruling class that strives to keep Columbia purely for American citizens, shunning foreigners entirely. They are opposed by the Vox Populi (voice of the people), a rag-tag militia group that, though originally fighting to restore citizenship for all, has devolved into fighting out of sheer hatred.

Initially DeWitt is able to navigate through the city unnoticed, but the citizens of Columbia soon discover the letters "AD" branded onto DeWitt's hand. They identify the tattoo as a sign of the "false shepherd," a sort of evil prophet, and attack DeWitt on sight. Now a wanted man in a war-torn city, Booker DeWitt must fight for his life while still trying to save the mysterious woman.

First and foremost, the game looks great! Columbia is an amazingly large place, and exploring the city is an immersive and fun experience. Airships and mechanical enemies alike both spew nationalist ideology, which adds to the creepy aspect that “BioShock” games are known for. Also returning are the recording devices that are littered throughout the area, which go into detail about Columbia and its residents.

Another great part of “BioShock Infinite” is the primary antagonist, Father Comstock. He's the leader of the city, a self-professed prophet and lunatic. His influence and likeness are apparent everywhere throughout Columbia, which is as obnoxious as it is terrifying. He is on a similar level to Andrew Ryan, the main antagonist from the first game: a well-intentioned person who is convinced in his own warped ideology to such a degree that he scares the crap out of me.

Another great character, in more ways than one, is Elizabeth. Her voice actor did a superb job voicing her, and the lines written for her are top notch. Where she really shines is her ability to take care of herself. Rather than just being a damsel in distress, she will kill enemies and assist you in battle, handling herself very well in the face of danger. If the player falls in combat, Elizabeth revives them on the spot. This revival comes at a cost: the player loses some of their money and any remaining enemies are slightly healed.

Elizabeth also has the uncanny ability to access tears in the space-time continuum, which she can use to bring helpful objects into battle. These objects are seen covered in television-like static and range from things like turrets and climbing hooks to health pickups. The translation of this mechanic from the narrative is somewhat awkward, but its unpredictable nature makes combat fun.

The gameplay is much more fluid in this installment with the implementation of vigors. Like the plasmids found in previous “BioShock” games, vigors gift the player with magical abilities that can be very helpful in combat. With the right vigor Booker can zap opponents with electricity, set them on fire, torment them with a torrent of crows or charge at them with superhuman speed. Using these vigors in combination with Booker's arsenal of firearms or other vigors can devastate any foe. Since the gunplay is rather smooth, vigor combos work very well.

Most enemies are gun-toting whack jobs, but the players will be frequently combating mechanical enemies as well. These automatons, many of which look like George Washington, are heavily armored, armed to the teeth and surprisingly agile. If the player isn't careful the machines will punish any mistake. Luckily these foes are usually found in open areas, allowing players to keep them away.

Speaking of open areas, Columbia is full of them. Rapture, the underwater setting for the previous “BioShock” games, was the very definition of claustrophobic. Columbia, however, gives players more room to move, allowing fans of “BioShock” to move in ways that couldn't be accomplished in the cramped underwater hellhole of Rapture. This, along with Columbia's unique skyline rail system, makes for fluid action.

The final piece of the puzzle is the sound design. From ambient sounds like fighting in the distance to the wonderful soundtrack, BioShock Infinite sounds as beautiful as it looks. The song selection matches the era and the tone of the game perfectly, which makes for a very immersive experience for story-driven gamers. This is especially true for the voice acting; even banter from common enemies sounds good.

Unfortunately I discovered a few noteworthy bugs. Every now and then Elizabeth doesn't do what she's scripted to do, such as failing to get herself into an elevator that she is supposed to get into. This leads to strange one-sided conversations where Booker is speaking to the walls, saying the dialogue he is scripted to say to Elizabeth. When this happens it has a knack of killing the immersion, but these bugs are rather rare and are overshadowed by everything else.

Overall “BioShock Infinite” is everything I wanted and more from the next blockbuster shooter. It has a great story, fluid gameplay, interesting use of super powers, a wonderful soundtrack and a mind-blowing ending that will make your jaw drop so hard that you'll need corrective surgery to fix it. I wanted Irrational Games to churn out a good game, and instead they gave us a masterpiece.

5 out of 5; you don't have an excuse not to get this game.

 

So I heard being stuck in an elevator can change your life

by Serina Fang

When I first heard about “Stuck Elevator,” I thought it would be the most unique musical out of all the other current showing productions to grace the stage of ACT Theater. stuckelevator_6_web.jpg

 

Based on a true story and directed by Chay Yew, the musical “Stuck Elevator” is exactly what it says on the tin: a story of a Chinese deliveryman stuck in an elevator for 81 hours. I had no idea what to expect from this production. After all, how can a play about being trapped in an elevator for over two days be interesting? 

 

But “Stuck Elevator” was heartfelt and full of song, vividly portraying a story of the struggles of an undocumented immigrant and the dreams he carries on his shoulders.

 

    Guang, a Chinese takeout deliveryman and an undocumented immigrant from Fuzhou Province, China, is on another delivery round in the Bronx when suddenly the elevator he’s in gets stuck between floors. Guang could call for help, but because he’s an illegal immigrant, contacting police would draw attention to himself and possibly get him deported. Alone in a broken elevator, Guang sifts through his memories and reflects upon the relationships he had to leave behind, the obstacles he faces as an immigrant in America and all the dreams that depend on him to come true. “Stuck Elevator” is essentially an hour and half long flashback showing Guang’s backstory and his determination to succeed in America.

    What I loved most about “Stuck Elevator” was the cast of characters. Julius Ahn’s portrayal of Guang was endearing to say the least, and seeing Guang reflect upon his troubles in America, especially his troubles repaying his debt to Snakehead, dealing with his boss, Snakehead’s wife, racism and zero thanks he gets for working hard, really made me want to give him a big hug. 

 

Along with Guang, my other favorite character is Marco, Guang’s friendly business rival played by Joel Perez. Despite his rivalry with Guang and the occasional racist remark, Marco is perhaps Guang’s only friend with him in America. Marco is also an undocumented immigrant, and he represents the story of immigrants from Mexico and their own pursuit of the American Dream.

 

    The set design by Daniel Ostling featured only an elevator shaft with the stuck elevator in it, but through the use of projected backgrounds and timed rising and descending of the elevator, a formerly unremarkable set becomes striking and beautiful. 

 

I knew that “Stuck Elevator” was an hour and a half without any intermissions, but what I didn’t expect was for the whole production to be all music with no normal dialogue at all. The music, unfortunately, was rather forgettable and unappealing. The Mandarin lyrics of many songs did not mesh well, leaving the pieces sounding awkward and strained. 

 

However, on a better note, Marie-France Arcilla, who plays Guang’s wife Ming, has one of the most crystal-clear and beautiful voices I have ever heard. After hearing her once, for the rest of the duration of the musical I waited to hear her again. 

 

On the topic of Mandarin, I understand that, because the musical was about a Chinese immigrant, it’s natural to have a few lines in Mandarin. Foreign language is good. Foreign language is fine. Foreign language in a musical with actors who cannot pronounce aforementioned language is uncomfortable to listen to. As I have learned Mandarin for most of my life, it was clear to me from the moment Ahn and Arcilla began singing and conversing during the Chinese bits that they could not speak the language at all and possibly never learned it before getting cast as Guang and Ming. The Chinese segments are perfectly alright for an audience who doesn’t know Mandarin, but for someone who does, the effect falls flat.

 

While “Stuck Elevator” isn’t the best musical I have ever seen, I am still impressed by the ingenuity of how the production could turn a seemingly boring story into something inspirational and profound. The story of Guang the deliveryman is the story of all immigrants in America, struggling to find a better life in the land of opportunity, and “Stuck Elevator” portrays that magnificently.

SF Playhouse gives us reasons to love “Reasons to be Pretty”

by Charlotte Woo

“Don’t lie, f*cker.” Written by Neil LaBute, “Reasons to be Pretty” starts with a bang and immediately says this is not going to be a happy story. It played its final performance at SF Playhouse May 11. Those who saw this production know this play was something not to be missed.

    The dark comedy “Reasons to be Pretty” is the story of two couples, two sets of best friends who are dissatisfied with their lives. Greg makes a stupid remark to his best friend Kent and says that his girlfriend Steph’s face is “regular” compared to that of the new girl at work. Kent’s wife Carly then tells Steph what Greg has said. The opening scene reveals Steph yelling at a relatively calm Greg about what she’s heard he’s said.

    Many interesting aspects to this production caught my eye, and together, they were incredible. The initial set is misleading; it displays a breakroom at a warehouse. As the play starts, the set begins to rotate and reveals a bedroom with an angry couple. The scenes then alternate between taking place in the breakroom and in new locations.

    Set designer and artistic director Bill English utilizes the entirety of the stage beautifully. With what seems like a blank concrete wall behind the bedroom, geometric shapes communicate otherwise. Said shapes supply necessary help to make the audience believe that the bedroom wall has transformed into a food court, a fancy restaurant or a baseball field. The breakroom stays constant; after each encounter in a new location, Greg is found back in the breakroom at work interacting with other characters.

    Besides the set, the actors are extraordinary. Having seen Lauren English (Steph) before in “Bell, Book and Candle” and knowing how energetic she has been interacting with the audience of post-show talkbacks, it was intriguing to see her transform into an outlandish, angry character. Her acting choices were superb, and her line delivery was spot on.

    Jennifer Stuckert (Carly) set the tone that Carly is not to be completely trusted. The range of emotions Carly has to experience was displayed well in her performance, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    Though Patrick Russell’s character Kent is a huge jerk, Russell was able to make Kent more likable. He brought a certain charm to Kent that definitely wasn’t written into the play and was purely because of Russell’s phenomenal acting instinct.

    Last but not least, we have Craig Marker, who played Greg. As expected, I sympathized with Greg because of his okay-turned-abominable life. His best friend is an imbecile; his best friend’s wife ruined his romantic relationship, and his longtime girlfriend walked out on him. Greg is a very well-written, dynamic character. 

He begins the show as a bit boring, sluggish, stuck in a rut. As he interacts with the others, he realizes he needs to change; he uncovers his true aspirations in life. Marker’s acting choices were, again, spot on. He had just the right amount of emotion in everything he said and had great chemistry with the rest of the cast.

    Two of LaBute’s writing choices caught my attention. First: Greg is literally in every scene, save one provocative scene between Carly and Kent. This fact emphasized that this play is all about Greg’s life, but it must have been tiring for the actor to be on stage for almost a solid two and a half hours. 

Second: All four characters are never seen interacting with each other at the same time. The most the audience sees is three characters together when Greg walks in on Carly and Kent; even this scene quickly shifts back to the standard two characters. This further emphasizes the importance of keeping the focus on Greg.

    “Reasons to be Pretty” is a dark comedy that should not be missed. Should a local theatre company perform this play, take yourself to see LaBute’s work in all its glory. And if you’ve seen “Reasons to be Pretty,” keep your eye out on its sequel “Reasons to be Happy,” premiering at Off-Broadway’s Lucille Lortel Theatre in New York May 16 through June 23, just as its predecessor did.