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REVIEW: 'Batman: Arkham Origins' Is A Formulaic, Predictable Effort

A lot of gaming cynics were wondering if Warner Bros. was attempting to just cash-in on the popular Arkham series by rushing into a pre-Christmas release. While others were happy to see the Caped Crusader back on consoles again, this prequel has created a few enjoyable tweaks of their own.

For those who have enjoyed Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, Rocksteady Games elevated the bar for superhero games to a level that was critically acclaimed across the board. Released last Friday (Oct. 25), the highly-anticipated prequel game was inherited by Warner Bros. Games Montreal, the studio's two-year-old video game startup, and Splash Damage. It is telling that for all the strides made by the previous developer, Arkham Origins plays out much like a filler, as the game is not quite up to par when compared to its predecessors.

Powered by Nvidia's PhysX effects, the game picks up where the previous ones left off in terms of the graphics department. As Batman is pitted against eight assassin's all coming for his cowl during Christmas Eve, the engine delivers both realistic fog and snow that adds a holiday charm to Gotham City, which isn't fully given the proper nod. Split between Old and New Gotham, players are able to grasp the mechanics fairly easy, as they haven't changed much. You still use your grappling hook to glide and zip around Gotham. The most interesting difference you'll find while traveling in the city is that Arkham Origins is a significantly larger open world.

As you navigate the area, you realize just how similar everything is to Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. The 'Anarky' bomb side quest is but a reworking of answering phones around the city for Victor Zsasz. The crimes that are actively in progress while you coast in the air are still events that you can choose to participate in or ignore when they come up on your radio. Instead of using this as an opportunity to tell individual tales of Gotham's hapless citizens, this ends up being an exercise in pummeling groups of thugs for extra XP, which is something you engage in throughout most of the game anyway. Also unchanged is the free-flow combat, which propelled the earlier Arkham games into the stratosphere (or batosphere?). The animations are still crisp with the emphasis on getting into a rhythm, but it also feels exactly the same as it did before.

The few new enemy types that are thrown into the mix aren't much of a challenge, as Bats must take on martial artists who have an attack that need to be countered twice rather than once. Even when the Caped Crusader gains new abilities in the form of shock gloves, your punches will send joules through your enemy's bodies, but doesn't change the fighting from coming off as rote and routine.

Arkham Origins does offer some new elements in the form of the "Case Files" investigations, which finds you as Batman putting on the World's Greatest Detective hat and discovering clues from a first-person perspective. Playing out in a CSI-style manner, each point is uploaded remotely to your Batcomputer, and you're able to reconstruct the events holographically piece by piece. The addition of fast travel is also a much needed element in the Arkham universe. After Bats clears out the data scrambling devices placed in key areas, he can utilize the Batwing to quickly enter a new section of town. That said, players are forced to see the same cutscene over and over every time they use the Batwing. Hopefully in the future, players will be able to engage in vehicle missions instead of just watching them.

When the earlier Arkham games were out, they placed you right into the thick of the universe, which allowed gamers to delve deep without stumbling over an origin story. In Arkham Origins, the whole assassin storyline falls into the Star Wars category of confusion, where enemies whose animosity festered for years (see: The Joker, Bane) is pieced together in a few hours. Outside of Bane, Deathstroke and Firefly, the rest of the Christmas Eve assassins are nothing more than D-list baddies at best and fail to live up to the previous games' stellar rogues gallery. Equally as important is the fact that as an origin tale, players are never able to discover more about the battered and broken Bruce Wayne that a long-time comic fan would already have known. Arkham Origins would had done well to take us deeper into his heartache to learn why becoming the Bat was a better move than to say... move to Metropolis.

Warner Bros. Games Montreal inherited a title full of critical acclaim and managed to churn out an effort solely for easy money. There aren't too many advances in gameplay with Arkham Origins. There are a few continuity issues that will have to be addressed when Rocksteady picks up momentum for their next installment. Add to that that at launch, the game was not without glaring technical issues (frame rate plummets, loading screen freezes, disappearing enemies), and you are a bit disappointed during your initial play-through. While there is some great stuff to see in Gotham, and Troy Baker (who voices The Joker) and Roger Craig Smith (Batman / Bruce Wayne) do a great job filling the roles left vacant by Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, respectively, it doesn't push the franchise out of the predictability lane and into a grand new direction.

Don't believe us?! Well, take a look at the trailer for yourself!

Batman: Arkham Origins is out now and available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC.

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Zoe Saldana Says She Regrets Starring In Nina Simone Biopic

Zoe Saldana regrets portraying Nina Simone in the widely panned 2016 biopic, Nina. Reflecting on the film in an recent interview with Pose creator, Steven Canals, Saldana became emotional over her decision to portray the music legend.

At the time, Saldana was subjected to mounds of criticism, all of which she ignored, and forged on with the role. In hindsight, Saldana realizes that she should have used her leverage to give the role to someone else.

“I should have never played Nina. I should have done everything in my power, with the leverage that I had 10 years ago — which was a different leverage but it was leverage none the less — I should have tried everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman,” said Saldana.

“It’s painful,” she added. “I thought back then that I had the permission because I was a Black woman, and I am, but it was Nina Simone and Nina had a life and she had a journey that should have been and should be honored to the most detail because she was a specifically detailed individual.”

Saldana began to cry as she spoke about Simone and the film, “She deserved better. With that said, I’m so sorry because I love her music.”

 

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#NinaSimone #ZoeSaldana

A post shared by the Jasmine BRAND (@thejasminebrand) on Aug 4, 2020 at 1:21pm PDT

 

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#ZoeSaldana Cries Admitting She Never Should Have Played #NinaSimone: I’m Never Going To Do That Again (Part 2)

A post shared by the Jasmine BRAND (@thejasminebrand) on Aug 4, 2020 at 1:26pm PDT

The mountain of backlash against the film included a tweet from a verified account dedicated to Simone warning Saldana to “take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.” But Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, defended the portrayal.

“It’s unfortunate that Zoe Saldana is being attacked so viciously when she is someone who is part of a larger picture,” she said in 2016. “It’s clear she brought her best to this project, but unfortunately she’s being attacked when she’s not responsible for any of the writing or the lies.”

Saldana, who is Dominican, darkened her skin and wore a prosthetic nose for the film. Nina, which featured Mike Epps, David Oyelowo, and Ella Thomas, debuted in limited release and on video on demand.

Watch Saldana’s full interview below.

 

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Zoe Saldana (@zoesaldana) sits down with "Pose" (@poseonfx) creator and executive producer Steven Canals (@stevencanals) to chat about Afro-Latinidad, colorism in the Latinx community, Nina Simone, and more. #AfroLatinx #AfroLatinidad #BESE #ZoeSaldana #StevenCanals #Pose #PoseFX #AfroLatinos #Dominican #PuertoRican

A post shared by BESE (@bese) on Aug 3, 2020 at 6:54pm PDT

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Danielle Brooks To Portray Gospel Legend Mahalia Jackson In Lifetime Biopic 

Fresh off the success of The Clark Sisters biopic, Lifetime is preparing to release another film on a famous gospel legend. Danielle Brooks, of Orange is the Knew Black fame, is set to play gospel pioneer, Mahalia Jackson, in an upcoming film executive produced by journalist Robin Roberts, the network announced on Monday (Aug. 3).

The film, Robin Roberts Presents: The Mahalia Jackson Story, will be helmed by Tony Award-winning director, Kenny Leon, whose credits include the Lifetime remake of Steel Magnolias, featuring an all-Black cast. Brooks and Leon previously worked together on the stage production of Much Ado About Nothing.

Brooks starred as “Beatrice” in Much Ado About Nothing, and made her Broadway debut in The Color Purple, the latter of which earned her a Tony nomination.

“Having had the privilege of working with Kenny on 'Steel Magnolias' and Robin Roberts on 'Stolen by my Mother,' I am ecstatic to have them join forces to work together on this special project,” said Tanya Lopez, Lifetime’s EVP of Movies, Limited Series & Original Movie Acquisitions. “Adding Danielle Brooks as Mahalia is icing on the cake. This team is committed in celebrating the legacy of Mahalia and reintroducing her to a world that needs her spirit more than ever.”

A four-time Grammy award winner and Grammy Hall of Fame inductee, Jackson was born in New Orleans in 1911. She began singing at an early age and become one of the most revered gospel artists in history. Her 1947 recording of “Move On Up a Little Higher” sold eight million copies, and it wasn’t the only platinum-selling effort from the music icon. Jackson also broke multiple barriers, including becoming the first gospel act to perform at Carnegie Hall.

In addition to recording more than 30 albums over her career, Jackson was an active participant in the civil rights movement. She performed at the 1963 March on Washington, and hoped that her music would act as catalyst to “break down” racial division.

Jackson died from heart failure and complications brought on by diabetes in 1972 at the age of 60.

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(L-R) Cast of Upn's 'Moesha'—William Allen Young, Yvette Wilson, Shar Jackson, Ray J, Brandy, Marcus T. Paulk, Lamont Bentley, And Sheryl Lee Ralph—celebrate the 100th episode of the comedy series.
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Netflix Acquires ‘Moesha,’ ‘Girlfriends,’ ‘Sister, Sister’ And More Classic Black Sitcoms

A slew of Black sitcoms are headed to Netflix. Moesha, Girlfriends, The Parkers, Sister, Sister and more will soon be available for streaming the company announced on Wednesday (July 29).

The new editions will begin airing next month, and are apart of Netflix’s Strong Black Lead campaign of programs that highlights the Black experience. “The goal of Strong Black Lead is to celebrate and lift up Black Hollywood. These trailblazing shows are a huge part of that story,” Jasmyn Lawson, Netflix’s Manager of Strong Black Lead and Bradley Edwards, Manager, Content Acquisition said in joint statement to Deadline.

“From the classic clown funeral episode of The Parkers to Moesha’s mind-tripping meet-up with Brandy, we’re thrilled that our members can now enjoy these amazing classics.”

The statement added, “These shows made us laugh, and cry, and sing along with those catchy theme songs. And mostly importantly, we felt like we saw ourselves on screen – in some cases for the very first time. Every week we were able to tune in to see people, families and friends that looked like us and characters whose everyday ups and downs reflected Black life in an authentic way.”

Episodes of Moesha arrive on Netflix on Aug. 1, followed by seasons 1-3 of The Game. Sister, Sister will debut on Sept. 1, while Girlfriends arrives on Sept. 11, commemorating the sitcom’s 20-year anniversary. The Parkers kicks off on Oct. 1, and will be followed up by Half & Half and One on One, both of which will debut on Oct. 15.

Watch the announcement below.

Time to pop bottles🍾🍾 The following classic shows are coming to @Netflix (US)

Moesha - Aug 1 The Game S1-3 - Aug 15 Sister Sister - Sept 1 Girlfriends - Sept 11 The Parkers - Oct 1 Half & Half - Oct 15 One on One - Oct 15

To celebrate, here's a message from your faves: pic.twitter.com/zohNPEo0rz

— Strong Black Lead (@strongblacklead) July 29, 2020

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