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“Murder on the Orient Express” gets derailed

in Entertainment/Review by
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    Johny Depp portrays the dubious gangster Edward Ratchett.

Agatha Christie, the queen of suspense, is arguably one of the best female authors in the past century. Known for her slight-of-hand murder mysteries where the killer is often introduced within the first chapter, her books have sold millions of copies, inspired board games like Clue and have been the basis for television episodes including “Family Guy’s” “And Then There Were Fewer” and the BBC’s “Miss Marple” series.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is one of Christie’s best-known stories. The book is inspired by the real life murder case of the Lindbergh baby in 1932. When Bruno Hauptman was convicted of kidnapping and murder and executed. He maintained his innocence until the day of his death. Hauptman is characterized in the book and played by Johnny Depp in the movie.

The story had been adapted into several made for TV movies before this newest 20th Century Fox big screen film. In all actuality, the movie resembles a car adapted into a train. The presence of a plot is there, and many of the characters boast some of Hollywood’s big named actors, but somewhere the translation of a masterpiece book falls into the snowdrifts of the mountains.

The movie opens on the desert city of Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall with a young boy running through the city streets carrying a covered box. Already, our train is a bit de-railed. We are then introduced to the rather narcissistic and obsessive-compulsive “world renowned” detective; Hercule Poirot (played by director and star Kenneth Branagh).This peculiar man with his peculiar mustache is a peculiar perfectionist, demanding his eggs be recooked over and over until the eggs are the right height, only to proclaim he blames the chicken for laying uneven eggs.

This scene drags on with the purpose of establishing Poirot as an almost Sherlock-level detective. While his quirkiness is funny at times, the emphasis on his perfectionism is so out of character with his literary counterpart that Poirot gets a bit trite throughout the first act of the two hour movie, before his obsessiveness is completely abandoned during the second and third acts.

The movie chugs along for over 20 minutes before we are introduced to the entire main cast. Johnny Depp portrays the shady soon-to-be-murdered Edward Ratchet. Television star Leslie Odom Jr. and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Daisy Ridley are the star-crossed lovers Doctor and Miss Mary. Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Willem Dafoe and Judi Dench are just a few of the Orient Express’ suspect passengers. The movie’s characters are vastly different from the book characters’ descriptions, personalities and even nationalities, which caused some confusion.

While Christie created a worthwhile backstory for each suspect told in over 100 pages in her book, the movie only really explores two backstories, the detective and the murdered Ratchet. This is unfortunate as there is plenty of time to cover the other backstories as well in order to understand their personal motivation and connection to the dead man. Instead, the movie’s interviews of the suspects feel rushed, sometimes combining several into one montage. It is hard to connect with the characters in the end because of this. Honestly, by the end of the movie, the only character I really cared about was the murdered child.

Perhaps this is the biggest folly with the movie adaptation: there is a lot of wasted time spent on the detective himself and not nearly a sufficient amount of time spent on the rest of the cast, their stories or even the conclusion of the mystery. The murder in the book happens within the first 45 pages, but in the movie it does not clock in until almost an hour in, after the train screeches to a standstill in a snowy avalanche half on the tracks. With the suspects stuck together and time ticking away, the motives unfold rather quickly without much detail. Poirot’s epiphanies come as a surprise with so little detail delivered to the audience.

Poirot himself is connected to the murdered in a roundabout way, but there isn’t any reason to suspect him, and his emotional connection suffers almost until the end of the movie. The show down between Poirot and Dr. Arbuthnot is thrown in in order to drum up drama that the movie doesn’t actually need, just like the multiple crass and unnecessary sexual innuendos and statements. I understand trying to appeal to a modern audience, but Christie left any good writer and director the perfect DNA for a good murder mystery. In fact, it is my humble opinion that the “Family Guy” episodes did a better job of sticking to Christie’s literary values than this latest offering.

I will grant that the trip by train through the snowy terrain is lovely, and the sweeping landscapes certainly give a wondrous background to the grisly murder. The train itself is the true star with beautiful designs, rich interiors and ice-covered windows. Anyone who is into traveling and historical vehicles would enjoy a trip on the Orient Express, although perhaps not as a passenger in this movie. If you enjoy Christie’s work, pick up the book, but I would advise waiting out the snow for the movie. •

Rating: Snowed In!

Call of Duty: back into history for a new game

in Review/video games by
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    Private Zussman, a main character, marches by a friendly tank. Photo provided by Activision.

   Hardcore fans of the Call of Duty franchise can now pick up their newest addition: Call of Duty WW2, developed by Sledgehammer games (last release was by Infinity Ward). The fast-paced first person shooter had a midnight release Nov. 2.

   Call of Duty WW2 tells the grim story of World War II. For example, the game’s campaign mode starts players off directly in the battle as they storm Normandy Beach evading machine gun turrets while watching fellow soldiers take heavy casualties.

   With all the questions and excitement in the air, many people are curious about Sledgehammer’s approach to the game’s multiplayer and zombie game modes.

   I bought and downloaded the game Nov. 2 on its early release night, and I can say that after the first couple of hours waiting for bugs to be patched, I was very amazed with the game and its three different modes, campaign, multiplayer, and Nazi zombies.

   In fact, at 9 p.m. I was at GameStop picking up the game. At 9:20 p.m., I started downloading it. The game’s multiplayer servers were down, so I started with campaign mode, and it wasn’t until 11:40 p.m. that the multi-player servers were up. At 12:06 a.m., I was still unable to load a multi-player game. At 12:12, I was finally able to start playing online in multiplayer mode. Being a fan of Call of Duty, I was committed to get into a game no matter how long it took.

   As said earlier, the game’s campaign mode is an emotional roller-coaster but also a very fun experience. I was only able to play the first two missions, but the game did add a few new aspects.

   Earlier in previous Call of Duty games, if your player’s health decreased, you simply ran to cover and your health automatically regenerated. In WW2, you have medical kits that you have to use to bandage yourself to gain health. You either find them throughout the game or take them from a solider who gives them to you over time.

   The campaign also contains good commentary from actual actors such as Josh Duhamel (Transformers), Jonathan Tucker (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Sleepers) and Jeffrey Pierce (The Stranger Within).

   The multiplayer game mode is also very enjoyable. This new Call of Duty does, however, now have a new “Headquarters” that is a sort of main lobby where players can take their customized character and walk around and do several activities such as training, one-versus-one battles and a shooting range to practice with new unlocked guns.

   The game also has supply drops which fall from the sky and give players different types of calling cards, emblems and other personal items.

   All of these new features aside, the game has amazingly smooth game-play. It was the clearest picture I have seen in a Call of Duty game in a while.

   The game’s Nazi zombie mode is a game mode where players can play together or solo and fight their way through as many waves of zombies as possible. The mode was given some new additions to previous games’ zombie modes by adding things such as different classes which have a variety of perks and special abilities.

   Players are also able to customize their own load-out before starting a new game.

   All three game modes are thrilling to play, even though only the campaign has pure historical accuracy.

   Gamers might be interested to know that, according to an article provided by Forbes, Sledgehammer purposely took out swastikas and other inappropriate icons on multiplayer and zombie game modes.

   Yet, in the game’s campaign mode, Sledgehammer purposely left it and other icons in so that the game is as accurate as possible.

   Forbes talked to the co-founder of Sledgehammer games, Michael Condrey, who said, “Including Nazi symbols wouldn’t bring honor, nor be appropriate, without the rich history of a WW2 story to ground their context in Multiplayer.”

   I understand where he is going with that. In light of recent events regarding Nazi symbols, it would be a good idea to leave it out of a fictional part of the game. Keeping it in the campaign for historical accuracy makes sense.

   Regardless of that, I love all three game modes and will be playing Call of Duty WW2 for quite some time. To readers who are fans of first person shooters, I say you should pick up a copy as soon as possible; you do not want to miss out.

   Call of Duty WW2 has a rating of M for mature audiences rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

   On a scale from one to ten: 8.5/10.

Does ‘IT’ stay afloat? A comparison between ‘It’ from 1990 and the recent 2017 remake

in Movies/Review by
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    Advertising for “It” in 2017 Copyright of Warner Brother Studios
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    Advertising for “It” in 1990 Copyright of Warner Brother Studios

The infamous dancing clown Pennywise in the remake of “IT” is back yet again to feast upon the young in Stephen King’s novel, written by Chase Palmer, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman and directed by Argentine screenwriter Andrés Muschietti.

Muschietti’s directing is similar to his 2013 horror production, “Mama.” “IT” and “Mama” are his only two feature length horror films and, in both, he uses low lighting whenever the villain is in the shot to give off a shadow around the menacing character with only a faint light in the center of the face, projecting a frightening appearance. Muschietti also uses a great deal of jump scares. This is a great approach for horror movies. It makes the moment so much scarier and will also keep the audience on the edge of their seats because they won’t know when the next one is coming.

Muschietti’s “IT” kisses the former Pennywise played by Tim Curry goodbye. The new Pennywise played by Bill Skarsgard is more terrifying with his obscure clown makeup and red lipstick that begins at his mouth and goes to the top of his eyebrows giving him a very grim and frightening smile that almost resembles the late Heath Ledger’s version of Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Skarsgard’s portrayal of Pennywise’s demented personality and derailed mannerisms, not to mention the very exhausted clothing, tells us that this clown has been around for a very long time and isn’t going away.

The new Skarsgard Pennywise comes out of the old sewers of the fictional town of Derry, dragging down any poor child that dares to look down a rain gutter. He devours them as they scream for help.

Pennywise believes that children are the best source of food since they are easy to lure and are afraid of things that Pennywise can easily manifest into reality. Pennywise shape shifts into his victims’ darkest fears in an action he calls “salting the meat.” Once he has them in his grasp, dinner is served.

In order to fight back against Pennywise, some of Derry’s most vulnerable citizens, a group of seven bullied children, unite together to as “The Loser’s Club”: Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, and Jackson Robert Scott. The Losers’ Club’s goal is to defeat the hungry Pennywise who is the reason for the dark history in Derry’s accidents involving children and the reason for Derry’s grieving parents. The Losers’ Club will do everything to keep their friendship afloat while tracking down Pennywise. They visit the haunting locations in Stephen King’s novel such as The 29 Neibolt house, The Black Spot, as well as The Barrens where Pennywise stores his leftovers. The group must defend their town and bring justice to all the victims of Pennywise whilst conquering their darkest fears.

The 2017 version is more frightening than the 1990; however, the 2017 movie follows the same theme as the 1990 “IT” directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. One obvious difference is in how the new “IT” is portrayed. The movie is converted in a way to appeal young adults. The New York Post suggests that millennials just don’t like old movies, saying “A new study finds that less than a quarter of millennials have watched a film from start to finish that was made back in the 1940s or 50s and only a third have seen one from the 1960s.” This study suggests that a quarter of millennials haven’t seen the 1990 version of “IT” and would most likely not watch the original “IT” due to its horrible special effects and the lack of CGI.

Another difference is that the CGI work in the new version of “IT” makes Pennywise look demonic in a way that makeup could never do. In one specific scene Pennywise becomes abnormally tall. Also, when Pennywise has his prey in his grasp, he opens his mouth from ear to ear, showing layers and layers of teeth. One other form of great CGI is in a scene where Pennywise opens his mouth — there is a clear shot of his throat where the Spook Lights can be seen. The Spook Lights are a very important thing to Pennywise because it is essentially the thing keeping him alive.

The Spook Lights is Pennywise’s true form. The reason it is not always shown in the movie is because the Spook Lights is force that humans cannot understand and if seen can leave them in a sort of trance.

The 2017 remake has perfect production timing. From 1990 to 2017 would make 27 years, and Pennywise comes out of the sewers every 27 years. This added a great terrifying touch.

Rotten Tomatoes gave the 2017 “IT” an overall 85 percent on the Tomatometer. Rotten Tomatoes also added that the movie is “well-acted and fiendishly frightening with an emotionally affecting story at its core.” Rotten Tomatoes also explains that “’IT’ amplifies the horror in Stephen King’s classic story without losing touch with it’s heart.” The audience scored the movie with an overall 86 percent.

IMBD gave the 2017 “IT” a 7.8 out of 10 and made an “IT” movie review page dedicated directly for “IT” consisting of balloons and a theme of red and black with an ominous look.

Roger Ebert awarded 3 stars. says “’IT’ could have used a bit of tightening as it builds toward its climax, though. While the imagery is undeniably harrowing and even poignant in the action-packed third act, some of ‘IT’ feels dragged out and redundant. And because the final confrontation takes place within a dark, underground lair, it’s sometimes difficult to tell exactly what’s going on, despite the impressive visual effects on display as Pennywise unleashes his full powers on his young attackers.”

In spite of Ebert’s 3 stars, the R rated movie “IT” premiered in theaters September 8 with a run time of 135 minutes, bringing home a whopping $123.1 million in just the opening weekend. The box office total was published as $305,250,480, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

This film is great for young adults. It is recommended for ages 18 and up due to gory images, violence and the very colorful language. It’s a great Friday night fright with amazing special effects. The film was professionally shot and had amazing characters who all nailed their roles. As a returning fan, I was especially satisfied with the film. Pennywise was amazing. He was frightening and nailed every one of The Losers’ Club fears as well as some of my own. Pennywise also had a satisfying amount of screen time as well as scream time.

A gory video game of history “Mortal Kombat”

in Review/video games by
Credit to:
Liu Kang fighting Reptile at the bottom of the Pit on SNES version.

If people want to make enemies of friends, one sure fire way to do it is thrashing them in a fighting game. Whether by slamming a friend’s head into pixelated asphalt or through the ring in a WWE sponsored video game title, players of fighting games have made, lost and finished friends on the couch and all over the world.

One of the most popular games that spawned from the ‘80s and continues to this day is the “Mortal Kombat” Series. This series is often praised as one of the best fighting games, as well as one of the more historic games due to the changes to the industry that it brought.

“Mortal Kombat” was produced in a time where violence was a growing aspect of the video game industry. Video games before “Mortal Kombat” were hits in the arcade, with gore and flashy martial moves. When “Mortal Kombat” was in production, though, “Street Fighter II” was the king of the hill with a gaggle of clones following its success.

John Tobias and Ed Boon, using previous games of their creation “Narc” and “Terminator 2”, produced “Mortal Kombat” in a renaissance of martial art movies of Asian inspiration. The pair wanted to make combatants as large as possible while small enough to move on a screen. Because they used digitized actors similar to arcade games like “Narc” and “Terminator 2”, the pair found they couldn’t get any live actors — like Van Damme — to sign into the game.

Creating an elaborate mythology of “Mortal Kombat,” the two man team took one lesson from Street Fighter 2: secrets. One of the things that helped drive “Mortal Kombat” as a game of history was this plethora of secrets. According to “The Ultimate History of Video Games” by Steven L. Kent, Boons explained one of these secrets: “Reptile was a last minute idea. Someone came up with the idea of doing a green [ninja] as opposed to the red (Scorpion) and blue (Sub-Zero), and having him be this hidden feature that is seen very rarely. We knew that the rumors were running kind of rampant about the game and as a last ditch effort we just threw Reptile in saying, ‘Lets make this come out very rarely, so only a few people will see it.’”

The hope was that when players got certain circumstances to happen, they’d be brought to the bottom of the fight pit where they would get the chance to fight Reptile.

Credit to: Wikimedia Commons                         Sub-Zero preforming one of the “Fatalities” a player could preform

One of the other initial secrets were “Fatalities” that a player could perform. Fans fueled rumors of more secrets than what actually got into the game. Some rumors, however, became reality as the game developed, one being Ermac the Ninja in “Mortal Kombat” 3. Ermac was based off of diagnostic menus used to patch coding errors that occasionally glitched into normal gameplay, and the developers later adopted the “error,” turning it into a character.

The game’s most significant impact to the industry was popping the tension that had been building from concerned groups of the public and within the industry about the impact that violence, misogyny and gory drama in games could have on children.

Before “Mortal Kombat,” there had been several games, bands and television or movie broadcasts that had spurred public outcry about the graphic content in media, starting in 1976 with “Death Race”, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” in 1982, “Chiller” in 1986, and “Narc” itself in 1988. While crude by today’s standards, these games drove many concerned political, parental, religious and media groups of the day to give the video game industry an ultimatum.  Regulate the industry, or the government will do it for you.

With that ultimatum on the table, several major players in the media industry created the ESRB, Electronic Software Rating Bureau. With this bureau in operation, major retailers enforced its usage by restricting sales on games that weren’t rated by the ESRB. The only other option for developers if they refused rating was having a games market restricted to catalogue sales. Video games have since had a rating from E for Everyone to AO for Adults Only.

“Mortal Kombat” showed parents to be more conscious about what they allow their children to interact with, and it (along with Night Trap, Wolfenstein 3D, and others among the video games industry) changed the industry by partly inspiring the ESRB.

This is the second column in a series that will hopefully continue to discuss and review video games of historical and uncommon notoriety. The first of this series was on “Dwarf Fortress.” Suggestions are welcome and can be sent to the writer Peter Bordenave at, or through the Mainstream’s Facebook page.

Mystery, romance and wit: Theatre Arts at UCC produces the award-winning musical “Curtains”

in Review by
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    The Centerstage Theatre buzzed with excitement between cast and audience members immediately following the curtain call of the musical on Feb. 18.
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    The Centerstage Theatre buzzed with excitement between cast and audience members immediately following the curtain call of the musical on Feb. 18.
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    Jacob Mills (ensemble) and Aaron Carter (choreographer and ensemble) were not quite ready to stop practicing their blocking by the end of their Feb. 19 performance.
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    Jacob Mills (ensemble) and Aaron Carter (choreographer and ensemble) were not quite ready to stop practicing their blocking by the end of their Feb. 19 performance.

The Tony Award-winning musical “Curtains” delivered laugh after laugh at the Centerstage Theater this winter. The show opened Feb. 17 and runs through March 5. The direction, stagecraft, casting and acting all worked cooperatively under the direction of Stephanie Newman on the night of Feb. 18 to deliver a memorable performance to the audience members.
The story of “Curtains” unfolds entirely within Boston’s Colonial Theatre in 1959 as the theatre company attempts a Western production “Robbin’ Hood.” Every member of the production gets detained by Lt. Frank Cioffi, played by Matthew Campbell, due to the onstage murder of their star actress Jessica Cranshaw, played by Chantelle Smith. A murder investigation will take place, love brews on the horizon for some, and the show must turn its ratings around in 24 hours to continue production of the brand-new musical.
Smith’s role as Cranshaw was both brief, but pivotal, to the rest of the play; the role had to nonverbally communicate her unpopularity among her company in order to make the play believable. She needed to convincingly and safely dance, scoff, and bump into her fellow thespians to set the stage for this ‘whodunit,’ and Smith made it abundantly clear that Ms. Cranshaw’s nose was turned up so high that she may have been liable to drown in a rainstorm.
Songwriter Georgia Hendricks, played by Cristina Bayardo, was appointed to the leading role of “Robbin’ Hood” not long after the murder. Bayardo delivered the Hendricks’ complex character from start to finish. She shared her deep thoughts with her separated husband and composer, Aaron Fox, played by John Davis. On the other hand, Hendricks clearly gave her affections to the much less serious choreographer and male lead of “Robbin’ Hood,” Bobby Pepper, played by Ben Ruggles.
Early in the play Bayardo, Davis and Ruggles showed that they were clearly immersed in their respective characters for their performance of “Thinking of Him” through their choreography and emotive delivery of lyrics. The melancholy for what was but could not be expressed by both Bayardo and Davis informed the audience that “Curtains” would deliver both comedic and romantic plots and themes.
Most members of the tumultuous production make pun after pun about Cranshaw’s murder. These quips usually dealt with the way the star murdered the careers of her associates, how she strangled the show itself, and generally destroyed any and every pillar of acting while she was alive. The ridicule of the late actress highlights how chaotic Lt. Cioffi’s job becomes apparent upon his entry to the Colonial Theatre, but despite all of the caustic remarks tossed at his murder victim, no one safe from verbal inferno.
While it would be hard to find a consensus on which singular character best exemplifies shamelessness, the play’s director, Christopher ‘Chris’ Belling, played by Travis Newman, liberally applies both intellect and cruelty in his speech. Newman gave a soulful performance of the melodramatic Belling through his mannerisms, as well as an exuberant delivery of the character’s emotionally and tonally complex lines.
For example, Chris wanted a tune from his songwriters that is “catchier than pink eye.”
In another instance, the play’s financial backer and general manager, Oscar Shapiro, played by Conner Arrant, said to Belling: “I’ll make sure to put my money where your mouth is.”
“Just make sure you launder it first,” Belling replies.
Arrant walked the fine line of embodying a dubious career businessman while oddly having earnest and forthright intentions about the play within the play.
Before long, Cioffi found that he had fallen quickly for the understudy to his murder victim, and murder suspect Niki Harris, played by Alyssa Longoria. Cioffi habitually asks Harris out on a date to be continually reminded by Ms. Harris: “But you won’t let me leave.” Despite the obvious windup to this joke multiple times in both acts, both Campbell and Longoria brought out laughter from the audience on each occasion.
Detailed stagecraft and choreography were obvious from the opening moments of “Curtains”— the vivid sets in the opening number “Wide Open Spaces” throws the audience immediately into the production of the play within a play.

During the musical number “A Tough Act to Follow,” which starts out as a duet between Cioffi and Harris, a curtain reveal instantly becomes a fantastic vision complete with an ensemble and a gorgeous backdrop made entirely of strung gold beads with the dance ensemble on multiple levels. The rise of the pair’s emotions was timed with the reveal of the backdrop, and the deflation of their fantasy was marked by a curtain close. The synchronization of emotions and aesthetics was one of the most impressive features of the production.
Campbell’s labor to portray protagonist Lt. Cioffi as a meticulous character with awkward mannerisms and hidden talents kept the production tightly bound onstage in both acts. Cioffi’s overtly anxious yet calculated speech, mannerisms and actions were clearly expressed by Campbell. Had Campbell chose to play the actor primarily as a ‘tough guy,’ the charm of the play would have been hampered.

Free admission was made available to UCC students from Feb. 17 to Feb. 19, thanks to ASUCC Student Weekend. The play can still be seen through Sunday, March 5. Go find out whodunit!

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