EC students wage wintery war on the Mall

EC students throw snowballs at fellow classmates on the Mall as part of a tradition celebrating the year’s first snowfall. (Photo by Stefan Carlson)

The first snowfall of the year brought war to the EC campus on Dec. 5.

As is tradition at EC, the first snowfall of the year means a midnight snowball fight among the students of EC and is held in the Mall.

Many students join their friends in the snowball fight while others get together to make a snowman or snow angels in a patch of untouched snow.

“My friends are the reason I came out here,” EC freshman Trisha Corasis said as other students threw snow at her. As she was talking, one of Corasis’s friends came up from behind her and smashed snow on the top of her head.

From their first tour on campus, the snowball fight is an event even EC’s newest students look forward to.

“[The Tour guide] told us on the tour when I first got here about this,” Corasis said.

The tradition of throwing snow at friends and having fun in the first snow of winter is one that will continue for quite some time.

“This is something I would do every year,” said Corasis.

How to decorate your dorm for the holidays

EC students Jessie Allcock and Taylor Dorband decorate the student lounge in West Hall with a Christmas tree. (Photo courtesy of Jessie Allcock)

December is finally here, bringing with it all the joys of the holiday season. The streets glow with beautiful lights and Christmas music fills the air, putting everyone in a jolly mood — until suddenly reality hits and college students at EC realize that finals are looming ahead. Here are The Leader’s suggestions to keep a little bit of the holiday spirit with you in your dorm room as you study.

Christmas lights

Christmas lights are relatively inexpensive — Walmart sells some strands for about $6 —but they instantly brighten up a room. They can go anywhere: windows, doors, the ceiling, a mirror or a bunk bed. For those who do not like peeling tape off of walls, place the lights in a jar for a beautiful holiday lantern.

Wrapping paper

Wrapping paper is a great decorating tool because it is both cheap and versatile. Use a roll to wrap your door, a bulletin board (complete with bow) or get a roll covered with little characters — such as soda-drinking Santas — and cut the figures out to use as decorations or ornaments.

Christmas music

Music might not seem like a decoration, but no Christmas scene is complete without Bing Crosby crooning in the background or Elvis Presley singing about the Christmas blues. WLIT-FM on 93.9 FM plays Christmas music 24/7, although the songs do tend to get a little repetitive. Spotify and Pandora are good choices too, as they tend play a wider variety of songs than 93.9 does.

Candles

Scented candles are a favorite room decoration no matter what time of year it is, but Christmas is the time when they really shine. Depending on where they are from, candles range from around $6 (Walmart) to $20 (Bed Bath & Beyond or Bath and Body Works).

Most stores will sell candles with festive scents such as “Christmas Pine” or “Winter Wonderland.” However, for those who want something a little more unique or who might be feeling a little homesick as the holidays draw near, Homesick Candles offers candles that smell like each of the 50 states. They are a bit pricey — $30 per candle — but as the song goes, “There’s no place like home for the holidays,” and the next best thing to being at home is imagining you are already there.

Weak acting, cliché plot fails to possess audiences in ‘Incarnate’

Aaron Eckhart stars as Doctor Seth Ember in the new horror  lm ‘Incarnate,’ out now in theaters. (Internet Photo)

In the decades since the release of the William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic “The Exorcist,” there have been multiple attempts on the part of contemporary directors to leave their own mark on the genre. But most of these directors get trapped under “The Exorcist’s” influence and become consequently derivative.

However, “Incarnate,” the new film from director Brad Peyton (“San Andreas”, “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”) begins with a promising and unique twist on the genre, but ultimately fails to possess audiences because of its weak performances and hilariously awful dialogue.

The film opens with a dream sequence, introducing its most unique and interesting facet. Instead of exorcising demons through traditional methods of prayer and the sprinkling of holy water, protagonist Doctor Seth Ember (Aaron Eckhart) travels inside the minds of the possessed in an attempt to convince them to take control of their bodies back from the demon inhabiting them.

After exiting the first dream sequence when we are introduced to the lm’s central conflict, Camilla (Carice van Houten), a representative from The Vatican, calls on Doctor Ember to exorcise an archdemon out of the body of Cameron, an 11-year-old boy.

After entering Cameron’s mind, any novelty earned from its premise is lost after subjecting audiences to some of the most laughably cliché plot points most directors and writers work tirelessly to avoid.

For example: It is revealed that Doctor Ember’s wife and young son were killed by a woman possessed by a demon in a head-on collision, now he is out for revenge. In addition to the revenge trope, “Incarnate’s” plot derives any and all suspense from plot twists so blatantly obvious, viewers cannot help but see them coming at least fifteen minutes before they are revealed. The filmmakers cannot even seem to restrain themselves from adding in a shoehorned, last-minute romance for no apparent purpose other than to have one.

The acting here is no better. In most cases, actors in major releases are at the very least good enough to attempt to elevate a film when given terrible material to work with, but the actors in “Incarnate” only add to the mess.

Eckhart (“Batman: The Dark Knight”) is supposed to carry the movie, starring in almost every scene, but instead loses our attention by delivering every single line in the same low growl. We get it. Your character is damaged.

If there is any actor worthy of praise it is Houten (“Game of Thones”) who at the very least attempts to add some emotional depth to her delivery. But there is not much she can do given some of the most inane and cliché dialogue I have ever had the displeasure of hearing in any film.

Although the biggest problem with “Incarnate” is that it feels like a joke, playing more like a spoof of a horror movie than a genuine one. Every line of dialogue, plot twist, and special effect is executed so poorly, yet presented with an un inch- ing seriousness, winning more laughs than scares from audiences.

In fact, I feel no hesitation in deeming “Incarnate” one of the worst films of the year.

Usually, horror films fail because they are formulaic and mediocre at worst. “Incarnate” is outright offensive. Either because the filmmakers think their audience stupid enough to accept the idiotic plot and dialogue, or that they could manipulate audiences into believing this garbage more original than “The Exorcist.”

EC Alumni come home to the Mill Theater

Laura Matthews, an EC alum and adjunct faculty member, gives directions to senior Daniel Sanchez and sophomore Marissa Banker, two of the actors from the play “I and You.” (Photo by Stefan Carlson)

Most people’s EC experience ends with graduation. Every once in awhile they will come back to visit old professors or to cheer on the Bluejays at homecoming. However, a few EC theater alumni have returned to their old home at the Mill, this time as teachers and mentors.

Of the half-dozen adjunct faculty members in the theater department, a third are alumni. They do act lessons, teach classes, and direct plays. In fact, “I and You,” the Mill Theatre’s latest production, was directed by Laura Matthews, ‘11.

This was Matthews’ first time directing a play at EC. However, because she was an alum, the whole process went much smoother.

“I understand how the stage works,” she said. “I know how the space works. I know how the program is evolving and changing within its structure, and because I know everyone here I can ask for help. It’s very collaborative. I don’t know that I would’ve [directed the play] if it wasn’t like that.”

Rick Arnold, one of the theater faculty members who worked with Matthews when she was a student, noted that this collaborative atmosphere is possible because of the unique nature of EC’s theater program.

“We treat our students not only as students but as collaborators,” he said. “If it were a strictly student-faculty relationship, [alumni who return as faculty members] would fall back into that same relationship.”

Andrew Behling, ‘08, noted that it is very different being at EC as an adjunct faculty member than as a student.

“My relationships with the other faculty members have grown because I’ve grown. It is really a blessing [that] I have these old friendships.”

EC theater students benefit from working with alumni as well, noted sophomore Marissa Banker, who played Caroline in “I and You.”

“Laura definitely gets the fact that we have homework,” she said. “[She] is still pretty close to [when she was] in school, and she empathizes with the the fact that we have other stuff besides theater. She understands that it’s hard for college students to be off-book by the first week of practice.”

This relationship with students is another reason why alumni come back to work in EC’s theater department, as it allows them to give back to the program.

“I wandered into the theater on a whim,” said Andrea Trygstad, ‘12.“My mom died two weeks before I began college. No one on campus knew what I was going through. I had isolated myself. I needed something to do ... Rick Arnold saw my potential and drove it.”

Trygstad was so affected by the community she found in the theater, that she eventually changed her major from Exercise Science to Technical eater and Design, a decision she does not regret.

Although Trygstad is not a faculty member, she has kept in contact with Arnold and periodically returns to help in the theater. She was the guest lighting designer for “The Last Cyclist,” in April 2015 directed by Behling and she returned this fall to design the lighting for “I and You.”

“It’s different working as an alum,” said Trygstad. “As a student, I was learning and observing what I could, and now I get to do this for others ... Rick was my mentor. I hope to someday give students a taste of wisdom I got from Rick.”

“I and You” was the perfect opportunity for Trygstad to give back. She worked with junior Andrew Bhrel on designing the lighting.

“It was great to work with [Trygstad because of ] her experience,” he said. “She knew the space really well [from going here]. She is a very talented designer ... It was cool to see her experience and professionalism. It was interesting for me to see how [lighting] works, to see her ideas, thoughts and in-the-moment decisions.”

The theater alumni want to help the students not only because it is a chance to give back to the program, but also because it gives them an opportunity to provide students with the same quality of education they themselves received.

“I get what students are going through,” said Behling. “I don’t just get the college experience as an idea, but I know what it’s like to be here. I know the other professors and the assignments they give. I know EC’s social dynamic.”

Behling appreciates being a part of EC again.

“I find myself walking across campus and having blips of memory from when I was a student here. It’s kind of bitter-sweet.”

‘Fantastic Beasts’ returns whimsy to magical realm of ‘Harry Potter’

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” a spin-o of the popular “Harry Potter” franchise, weaves a whimsical tale of wizards and magical beasts against the Art Deco backdrop of 1920s New York. (Illustration by Alexandra Ehrler)

If there is one complaint that could be made regarding the last few “Harry Potter” films, it is how unsettlingly dark they are. In its later years, the beloved franchise’s plot matured along with its audience, trading in lighthearted magical shenanigans for thrilling magical duels to the death.

However, the newest entry in the series, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” oozes with a nostalgic, light-hearted charm that will most certainly appeal to all fans, new and old alike.

Five years after putting the seemingly-unstoppable beast that is the “Harry Potter” film franchise to bed, author/screenwriter J.K. Rowling and director David Yates have returned to introduce audiences to a softer sort of magical beast, that manages to improve on the original series in almost every way.

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” follows British wizard-researcher Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) on his quest to find and document all of the world’s magical beasts. He arrives in 1920s New York, determined to ensure the safety of any magical beasts in America.

Before he can get to work, however, he becomes wrapped up in a series of wacky misunderstandings that results in him joining together with a defamed magical investigator, her ditzy sister and an awe-struck No-Maj (non-magic user) in order to save the city from destruction at the hands of an out-of-control beast.

“Fantastic Beast’s” main cast does a fantastic job of filling the gaps left by the stars of the original series. Redmayne’s Newt Scamander is an unlikely, yet lovable protagonist, timid and meek, his nuanced performance emphasizes the character’s inner-strength.

Unlike Harry Potter, Newt is not a chosen one, destined for greatness. He is an every-man, willing to do anything for the endangered beasts he is passionate about, making him much easier to identify with.

Opposite Redmayne is Katherine Waterston, an up-and-comer known for her recent roles in “Steve Jobs” and “Inherent Vice,” who plays Tina Goldstein, a former American magical investigator who teams up with Newt after attempting to arrest him for letting his beasts escape into the city. Waterston brings a seriousness to the otherwise light-hearted plot, as the film dips its toe into the murky waters of her troubled past.

An unrecognizable Ezra Miller (slated to play The Flash in DC’s upcoming big screen adaptation,) plays Credence, a young teenage boy whose adopted-mother makes him canvas city streets advocating the eradication of witches.

Credence, however, desires nothing more than to be a wizard. He turns to Tina and high wizard Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) for training and approval. Miller’s raw vulnerability is transfixing, making Credence’s story one of the most compelling of the film.

However, the true standouts here are newcomers Alison Sudol as Tina’s sister Queenie and Dan Fogler as Jacob Kawolski, the unsuspecting No-Maj that gets dragged into the chaos. Both Sudol and Fogler shine and transform what should be supporting comic-relief roles into one of the most magical facets of the film.

The new setting also gives the franchise an alluring polish and freshness to it. The set designers and visual effects crew clearly had fun bringing the wizarding world of 1920s New York to life, resulting in a magnificently enormous Art Deco design that makes the halls of Hogwarts feel look cramped and drab in comparison.

The visual effects also add a lot to the lm’s 1920s aesthetic. Whimsical scenes of clothes being magically levitated onto a clothesline are o set by majestic mythical beasts flying over a 1920s New York City skyline. The effect is entirely engrossing, immersing audiences completely into the magical world.

Yes, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” has seemingly improved on every aspect of the original “Harry Potter” franchise.

The only critique I can give the film is that the deeper bits of plot become almost incoherently confusing near the end, especially if you have not read the source material. But the “Harry Potter” series has suffered from indulging a bit too deeply into its plot, and has certainly succeeded despite this.

Audiences of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find em” too will forgive the lm for its missteps as grown-up fans and children alike flock to theaters for a fresh new spin on the fantastic.

‘Middle Western Voice’ showcases EC’s best art and compositions

“Dorothy,” by artist Brittany Cavanaugh is featured on the cover of the 2016 publication of Middle Western Voice. It is part of her 13-piece series on “The Wizard of Oz.” (Illutration courtesy of Brittany Cavanaugh/Middle Western Voice)

“Lions and tigers and bears ... Oh my!” The whimsical characters from Frank L. Baum’s fairy-tale-story-turned- Hollywood-classic have come to EC with the publication of this year’s issue of EC’s literary magazine, Middle Western Voice.

The cover of this issue pops with the bright colors of Brittany Cavanaugh’s “Dorothy” and “Tinman,” two mixed-media compositions from her series on “The Wizard of Oz,” the remainder of which are featured on pages two and three of Middlewestern Voice. Cavanaugh’s pieces are an excellent choice for the cover, as they make the magazine pop with color and invite the reader in.

Cavanaugh’s pictures are one example of a trend that fills this publication of Middle Western Voice. is issue is the first one that EC has put out since George Siacca, the creator of EC’s graphic design program, resigned in spring of 2015. ere are definitely a few aesthetic differences between this issue and former issues — such as a larger, more vibrant color palette — that make the magazine more inviting and attractive than it was before.

The rest of the art in the issue, all of which was submitted by EC students, certainly holds up to the expectations set by Cavanaugh’s cover art. For example, Capri Spielman’s fairy-tale posters are humorous and thought-provoking as is Rachael Minnick’s “Girlgang” series. Both do an excellent job of providing food for thought in a way that is both attractive and subtle.

However, Middle Western Voice is about more than just art. is issue is filled with several creative stories and poems submitted by EC students.

One of the nest stories in the magazine is “Falling and Getting Up” by Corinne Demyanovich, who has previously contributed to The Leader, the winner of the First Story Contest, an annual writing contest where EC students submit creative stories using a theme. This year’s theme was “Up in the Air,” and Demaynovich’s story literally takes place in the air. The tale she weaves is quite interesting; Demaynovich describes the rise and fall of one girl, Mina’s, relationship and how she finds healing in one leap from a plane.

The plot is fairly simple — boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy meets someone else and moves on, girl finds healing — but Demaynovich does an excellent job in making the story interesting by skillfully jumping between past and present as well as telling the story of James and Mina and not just any boy and a girl.

However, what really makes this story memorable is the descriptive language Demaynovich uses. For example, she compares the landscape Mina sees as she falls as an art project. “Rivers were pipe cleaners, lakes, blue beads, forests, green felt. It was all beautifully deceptive.” James, Mina’s boyfriend, is not just a cute guy, but a man with eyes of “caramel gold, with a rich brown crew-cut that accented his eyes and olive skin.”

Fortunately for literature-lovers, Demaynovich is not the only fine writer featured in the magazine. Each story, whether it be fictional or non-fictional, brings some new idea to the table for the reader to consider.

For example, Jordan Calabrese’s “Boxes of Memories” makes the reader think about the difference between giving advice and meddling with someone’s life, and Nora Georgieva lets the reader ponder her personal experience with the police in “A Dying Blue Lantern.”

Leah Hotchkiss is one of the poets featured in the magazine. Her poems “At the Edge of the World” and “Raindrop Soul” are two of the best poems in this issue. Hotchkiss’ use of language and rhythm make her poems truly enjoyable to read.

Kayla Hoffer’s poem “Remembered Beauty” which describes how nature remembers a fallen tree is another example of the fine poetry in Middle Western Voice.

The magazine also features two student music compositions. “Variations on a theme by Chopin” by Carlos Aviles is a classical music composition, while “Cloud Rider” by Marcus Castillo is a digital music composition. There are supposed to be online recordings of both pieces; however, the website listed in the magazine does not work, it takes you to an educational blog instead of the magazine’s website. Searching the internet does not help either, as the latest issue posted online is from 2014.

One thing that is noticeably absent in this issue of the magazine is interviews with the artists and authors. In past issues, the magazine usually had one or two interviews — for example, one with the cover artist and one with a contest winner — which gave the reader a better insight into what the authors and artists were like, what inspired them and what their future plans were.

While it is nice that Middle Western Voice was able to showcase many student compositions this year, it is a shame that this had to happen at the expense of the interview pieces.

However, overall, the 2016 issue of Middle Western Voice is one that is sure to please. Students looking to pick up a copy can find them in their stands in the basement of Hammerschmidt Chapel and in the lobby of the Frick Center. Students interested in contributing to the next issue of Middle Western Voice should contact Dr. Janice Tuck Lively.

The Leader’s guide to a successful Thanksgiving celebration in Elmhurst

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and many EC students are wondering what to do when stuck on campus during their Thanksgiving break. The Leader did some digging, and found a few fun activities to do on Thanksgiving Day.

Turkey Trot

The Dan Gibbons Turkey Trot is an annual 5k run throughout Elmhurst on Thanksgiving morning. It was started in 1984 after Elmhurst resident Dan Gibbons became determined to raise money for the poor and homeless of DuPage County. Today the race sponsors many great charities, such as DuPage Pads, West Suburban Community Pantry and Catholic Charities of DuPage County.

Race day registration is $40 and begins at 6:45 a.m. at the registration tent outside of Faganel Hall. The race course will run through Downtown Elmhurst, causing some roads — such as York road — to be blocked off Thanksgiving morning. More information about the race as well as a map of the detour route can be found at dangibbonsturkeytrot.com

Krave Restaurant

If you find yourself hankering for something besides Chartwells on Thanksgiving, check out Krave Restaurant. Located on the corner of St. Charles and 83 in Elmhurst, Krave will be open from 6:00 a.m. - 12:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving. The restaurant serves everything from crepes to lamb chops, so even the pickiest eaters will be able to find something they enjoy.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

is year marks the 90th anniversary of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade will be broadcast on NBC at 9:00 a.m. and will feature stars such as Tony Bennet, Sarah McLauchlan, and SpongeBob Square Pants, everyone’s favorite, pineapple-residing sea-sponge.

From practice to performance: Doug Beach and the Jazz Band bring world class music to EC

Excitement fills the air inside the packed Mill Theater. The audience just finished listening to a performance by Late Night Blues, EC’s top vocal jazz ensemble. Now the lights dim again and those audience members who are lucky enough to have seats lean forward in anticipation as the EC Jazz Band takes center stage.

Loud cheers and clapping fill the room as Doug Beach, the director, steps in front of the band, and with a “1 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4,” the band begins to play.

Out of all the ensembles at EC, the Jazz Band is nationally renowned. The band played with Dee Dee Bridgewater at the 2001 Chicago Jazz Festival, a venue which few — if any — other collegiate ensembles have played at. The band has toured overseas several times at the request of the U.S. State Department, the latest trip being the summer of 2016. Just this fall, the band backed up Doc Severinsen, one of the jazz industry’s greatest performers, at his request.

As Bridgewater told DownBeat Magazine in a recent issue, “I’m quite impressed with [the Jazz Band]. It has become kind of a tradition at Elmhurst that their big band has to be at the ‘A game’ level.”

In other words, the Jazz Band is famous because they are ridiculously good.

At the end of “Jumpin at the Woodside,” the band’s rousing first number, Beach steps up to the microphone and greets the audience before introducing the next song.

“I just want to thank you for ignoring the Cubs [in game three of the World Series] and coming to hear us tonight,” he says, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

Beach then introduces the next song, “A Night in Tunisia,” a song with a very Egyptian flair. However, instead of remaining in front of the band and directing them throughout the piece as most directors do, he switches off between standing in front of the band and standing off to the side, letting the players take the spotlight.

That Beach is able to trust his players to perform like this is not only a tribute to their musical ability, but also indicates his ability to help the band reach this level of performance, a skill which led to his reception of the 2015 DownBeat Jazz Education Achievement Award.

When Beach began directing the band in 1978, the Jazz Band was just barely a band.

“When I came off [tours], I played as a fill-in for the Jazz Band because they didn’t have enough people to fill the band,” said Beach. “The whole Music Department was small. We had maybe 46 or 43 music majors compared to the 200 music majors we have now.”

In 1978, the Jazz Band rehearsed two times each week, gave one concert a semester and played at EC’s Jazz Fest. After 38 years of Beach’s guidance, the band rehearses three days a week and gives over 60 concerts a year, both on and off campus.

Beach’s dedication to the band is reflected in the students. Gabby Bandera, a sophomore saxophone player, is still playing in the concert — she has a solo in the third song of the set, a slow, smooth tune called “Wee Small Hours — despite having a cold.

Trevor Hill, a junior sax player in the band, noticed that this dedication really affects how the group plays together in the band.

“In the Jazz Band, we play things on another level,” said Hill. “When I play in Jazz Band, I’m always thinking, ‘Am I interacting with the other players and communicating with the other players?’”

Beach’s drive affects the players outside of a performance as well, for achieving the skill he demands of them requires a lot of practice time.

Michael McCarthy, a sophomore trumpet player said that he spends roughly 11-12 hours per week working on the songs for Jazz Band alone, not to mention the repertoire he must practice for other ensembles.

“You really need to know how to buckle down and have fun later,” he said.

However, while the practice schedule is tough, McCarthy does not mind because he has the opportunity to work with people, such as Beach, who are just as serious about music as he is.

“Being in the Jazz Band is the best thing about being here [at EC],” he said. “At my high school, maybe three percent of the kids were serious about music. At Elmhurst, everyone is serious. Doug is so passionate and watching that from him is inspiring.”

After “Walk, Don’t Run,” a swinging tune that at times is almost like a conversation between the band and the piano, the Jazz Band plays “Johnny’s Theme,” the song with which Severinsen began every episode of “The Tonight Show Star- ring Johnny Carson.” Then Beach introduces Jessie Brooks, the vocalist for the Jazz Band this year. Her vibrant voice echoes off the walls of the theater as she cranes, “I wish I knew why I’m so in love with you,” from “Save Your Love for Me.”

After half a dozen more songs, some slow and smooth, some upbeat and toe-tapping, the band closes the evening with a rendition of “Every Day I Have the Blues.” As the music dies out, the audience rises to their feet .

Although this concert is over, the Jazz Band cannot relax, for they are busy getting ready for Jazz Fest. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Jazz Festival, an event that was commemorated by a feature article in DownBeat Magazine. Jazz lovers will flock to EC in February to hear jazz played by nationally renowned musicians and bands such as Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and of course the EC Jazz Band.

To see a recording of the Jazz Band’s performance, click here

‘Blue Man Group’ performance leaves audiences anything but blue

The blue men play drums as colorful paint splashes around them during a “Blue Man Group” performance at the Briar Street Theater in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo courtesy of Blue Man Group)

An audience looks onward with a mix of amusement and uncertainty as three men, dressed entirely in black with their faces and any remaining showing skin painted blue, descend from the stage of the Briar Street Theater, through the aisles and into the crowd.

The men are the main cast of “The Blue Man Group,” a sort of hybrid between a concert and a circus show, which finds its home in various cities around the world, including Chicago. The resulting spectacle is filled with acrobatics, slapstick comedy, new-wave rock and social comedy that blends together to create a surprisingly accessible and incredibly joyful experience not quite like any other.

The three blue men stare at the audience members closely as if they were from another world, eyeing them with curiosity, almost observing them. The men culminate on one audience member in particular, an elderly woman. They beckon her to stand and join them on stage and she follows with hesitation, propelled forward by applause from the audience all around her.

Once she reaches the stage, however, she embraces the moment and wraps her arms around two of the blue mens’ shoulders, tilting her head back and laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

The scene continues. She and the three blue men sit down at a makeshift scene of a fancy bistro and dine on Twinkies with forks and knives, that is until mashed up “digested” twinkles come shooting out of each of their chests.

If it sounds bizarre,that is because it is. Watching a “Blue Man Group” performance is almost like being transported to an alternate dimension.

However, any initial discomfort or strangeness is soon forgotten. Audience members hoot and holler as the blue men throw what appears to be colored marshmallows and catch them from yards away, suddenly blowing paint from their mouths onto a blank canvas, giving the resulting impromptu artwork to one lucky audience member.

“The Blue Man Group” also offers small doses of social commentary, dealing with concepts of technology, communication and uniformity. However, it isn’t long until the blue men return to their shenanigans and any social implications are left to lie beneath the spectacle.

As a result, “The Blue Man Group” is extremely accessible, as is evident by the giggles of children in the audience echoed throughout the theater. There is something utterly and simplistically joyful in the show. It is- not the audience participation, nor the slapstick comedy, but the blue men characters themselves.

Seemingly from an alien world, the blue men are beacons of childlike innocence, never speaking a word, utterly confused by our world and the strange beings that inhabit it.

Watching a “Blue Man Group” performance not only gives audiences a chance to laugh at the misunderstandings between us and the blue men, it also allows us to examine our own world at a different angle, from a much bluer perspective.

Stunning visual effects and great performances save ‘Doctor Strange’

Benedict Cummberbatch plays Doctor Strange, a mystical Marvel superhero in the film by the same name now playing in theaters. (Illustration by Alexandra Ehrler)

Combine a dash of comic book heroism, a pinch of Eastern mysticism, a heaping helping of stunning CGI visual effects and a cornucopia of A-list actors, and the result is this year’s most anticipated superhero blockbuster, “Doctor Strange.”

However, Marvel’s creative team clearly had trouble translating some of the stranger facets of “Dr. Strange’s” source material, resulting in a slow start with a brick wall of exposition, but one that is clearly worth climbing over and plunging into a stunning and psychedelic sensory experience that is the film’s second half.

The film’s overload of exposition begins with the introduction of Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a hotshot brain surgeon whose celebrity in the medical world has left him cocky and narcissistic.

This changes when Strange gets into a car accident while speeding and looking at case files on his phone. The accident leaves him unable to work.

Devastated, Strange travels to Nepal in hopes that an ancient spiritual sect can help heal his injuries.

There Strange meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an all-knowing sorceress who agrees to teach Strange how to harness the spiritual energy of the multiverse. However, Strange soon finds himself pulled into a world of mind-bending mystery, danger and temptation as he begins to discover the secrets within the universe and within himself.

Although this plot may seem deceptively simple, like the universe within the film itself, it is not. There are too many details weighing the plot down and the film gets lost within itself as a result. There is just a bit too much padding here that makes the beginning of “Dr. Strange” difficult to get through.

Another aspect that makes the film drag is that Doctor Strange himself is so utterly unlikeable in the first half of the film. Audiences will have trouble identifying with or feeling sympathy when the self-obsessed millionaire as*hole falls from grace.

This seems to be more of a symptom of the script than of the performance. Cumberbatch attempts to inject a bit of humanity into his character with his clever witticisms and winning smile, but the character is ultimately too annoying to win us over until the second act after Swinton’s Ancient One arrives to spice things up. Swinton is a standout here, effortlessly blending interesting philosophical ideas (especially for a superhero film) with compelling badassery.

The second act is where the film drops its extra padding and finally embraces action and excitement. After Strange becomes comfortable with his powers, the film is finally able to explore the depths of its many universes.

The result is a series of action sequences that are as visually engrossing as they are exciting. I may even go as far to say that “Doctor Strange” may be the modern pinnacle of computer generated effects. It is incredible to watch as cityscapes bend in impossible angles as the sweeping cameras catch the actors running up the sides of skyscrapers, battling it out with supernatural splendor.

As a result, “Dr. Strange” makes up for the heavier aspects of its characters and plot in favor of grand and marvelous action sequences that might just revolutionize popcorn movies as we know them.

Chicago’s haunted houses provide terrifying experiences for Halloween thrill-seekers

Guests flee out fear from a wrench weilding actor at 13th Floor haunted house in Melrose Park, Illinois. (Internet Photo)

Halloween is the only time of the year where people pay to be scared. What better way is there to celebrate the holiday than to go to a haunted house and be scared out of your wits? Here are The Leader’s suggestions for terrifying haunted houses to visit this Halloween.

13th Floor Haunted House 1940 George St, Melrose Park

The closest haunted house to EC, 13th Floor has two haunt- ed houses that guests can walk through: “Bloodlines: Legacy of Darkness,” where guests must survive a vampire uprising, and “Dead End District: Fallout,” where guests experience a post-apocalyptic scene of horror.

Ticket prices for general admission range from $26.99- $32.99, depending on what day you go. Fast Pass and Skip the Line tickets are also available. A fast pass is an additional $10, which gives guests a wait time one third of that of the regular line. The skip the line option is an additional $20, which enables guests to literally skip the line. It is recommended that you purchase your tickets online in advance to avoid extra-long waits in line.

For an additional $30, guests can also walk through “Nightfall: Revenge of the Witch,” a virtual reality haunted house, where guests must search through a virtual witch’s shack to keep their friends from turning into her undead minions.

13th Floor will be open every night through Halloween from 7:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. On Nov. 4 and 5, there will be a special Blackout event, where all the lights are turned off and guests only have glow-sticks to guide them through the house.

House of Torment 8240 Austen Avenue, Morton Grove, IL

Thirty minutes North of EC, House of Torment is run by the same company that runs 13th Floor Haunted House in Melrose Park, so guests can expect similar kinds of scares from both locations, although the layouts and stories are different.

Like 13th Floor, House of Torment has two haunted houses: “Nightmare High,” where guests must traverse a high school overrun by a zombie cheerleader and her undead minions, and “The Frenzy,” where guests can experience the thrill of running through city streets while being chased by murderous, possessed criminals.

Ticket prices for general admission range from $26.99- $32.99, depending on what day you go. Fast Pass and Skip the Line tickets are also available for an additional $10 for Fast Pass and $20 for Skip the Line. It is recommended that you purchase your tickets online in advance to avoid extra-long wait times in line.

House of Torment will be open every night through Halloween from 7:00 p.m. - 12:00 a.m. Similar to 13th Floor, there will be a special Blackout event at House of Torment on Nov. 4 and 5.

Massacre Haunted House 299 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, IL

Located 42 minutes South- west of EC, Massacre Haunted House is exactly what the name suggests: a haunted house where everyone in it has been chopped to pieces or is doing the chopping. Rated the No. 1 haunted house in Illinois by the Chicago Tribune in 2014, Massacre Haunted House is sure to provide guests with a terrifying experience.

This year, Massacre Haunted House has “Freakshow,” a 3-D movie where guests can experience a horrifying, in-your-face sideshow of terror. A $25 general admission ticket ($35 if you want a Fast Pass) enables guests to experience both the haunted house and the freak show. Tickets should be purchased online to avoid the long ticket lines, and coupons can be found at the haunted house’s website.

In addition to the haunted house and the 3-D movie, guests can also play Massacre Tactical Laser tag, where they must try to complete one of 21 missions in about five minutes. These missions range from trying to defeat an alien invasion, to leading a navy SEAL team against a terrorist group to kill Osama Bin Laden.

Guests can either pay by the mission ($7.50 per mission or $15 for any three missions) or by the hour ($30 for one hour of unlimited missions). Ladies play free on Thursday nights when accompanied by a paying male partner, and on Fridays an hour of laser tag is $20 instead of $30. Tickets for laser tag should be purchased online as the number of spaces is limited.

Along with the new 3-D movie, Massacre added an escape room this year. Guests must solve a series of puzzling riddles in order to rescue victims from the deranged serial killer Helter Skelter. Tickets for the room are $30 and should be booked online as the number of spaces is limited.

Massacre Haunted House will be open Thursday - Sunday nights through Halloween. Hours of operation vary depending upon the day. Please see the website for details. After Halloween, the Massacre Haunted House has two special events: November 4 and 5 is the Zombie Survival Event and November 12 is the Blackout event.

Massacre Laser Tag and the Escape Room are both open beyond Halloween, so if in December you suddenly feel a desire to be terrified, you can take a trip to Montgomery, IL to scratch that itch. Hours of operation can be found on Massacre’s website.

Midnight Terror Haunted House 5220 W 111th St, Oak Lawn, IL

Located 30 minutes South of EC, Midnight Terror Haunted House has two haunted houses on site: “Factory of Malum,” where guests must go through a factory run by demented workers, and “Black Oak Grove: The Mark of Willow,” where guests walk through a town overrun by something called “The Fear.”

Tickets are $23 for general admission ($33 if you want a t-shirt), which includes entry into both haunted houses, and $31 for VIP admission ($43 for a t-shirt), which includes entry to both haunted houses and a shorter wait in line. Tickets are $2 cheaper online than on-site, so purchase them ahead of time.

Midnight Terror Haunted House is open from 7:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. on Oct. 27 and 31 and on Nov.4 and 5. On Oct.28 - 29, the haunted house is open from 7:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.

There is limited local parking near the haunted house, so the website recommends parking at the Oak Lawn Parking Garage, where a free, interactive shuttle operates every five minutes to take guests to the haunted house.

Statesville Haunted Prison 17250 Weber Rd, Lockport, IL

Situated 40 minutes Southwest of EC, Statesville Haunted Prison is a play off of the Stateville Correctional Center in nearby Crest Hill, a maximum security state prison for men. Here guests can walk through a prison full of demented and dangerous criminals, ending with a trip through the City of the Dead, where the prison in- mates are buried.

General admission tickets are $30 dollars and include entrance to both the Haunted Prison and the City of the Dead. For an extra $15, guests can get the VIP pass so they can bypass the regular line to get into the haunted house.

Statesville Haunted Prison is open from 7:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. on Thursdays, Sundays, October 26 and October 31. On Friday and Saturdays, Statesville is open from 7:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. However, as long as guests are in the parking lot by closing time, they are guaranteed entrance into the haunted house.

Horror movie guide: five terrifying Halloween movies you have probably never seen

Actress Maika Monroe plays Jay in the 4 indie horror film “It Follows.” (Internet Photo)

Every Halloween, we turn to the same old time-tested horror classics. We all know “The Exorcist,” “The Omen,” “Halloween” and other horror staples, but why not change it up this Halloween with some hidden gems guaranteed to make your friends shudder in fear and nervously laugh with adrenaline.

1. “Eraserhead”

David Lynch’s 1977 classic “Eraserhead” gained a cult following after a run of popular midnight screenings. The film follows the bizarre, dreamlike tale of a man becoming the reluctant caregiver to his malformed baby after the mother abandons them. Although not classified as horror, Eraserhead contains some of the most disturbingly memorable sequences in cinematic history, and is one movie that will stay with you long after Halloween is over.

2. “It Follows”

The most recent film on this list, “It Follows” is a 2014 indie horror love letter to eighties horror with a twist: The demonic force chasing this group of teens is passed from person to person through sex — sort of like a STD, which in this case stands for Sexually Transmitted Demon. Despite its far-out premise, “It Follows” is one of the most genuinely terrifying horror films released in recent memory. Director David Russell Mitchell effortlessly manipulates audiences by playing on our instinctual fears of being followed, that unshakeable feeling that someone’s always behind you watching.

3. “The Descent”

Director Neil Marshall’s 2005 film is notable for its all female cast. It also stands out from the crowd because it’s scary as hell. A group of adventurous women decide to go hiking into the uncharted caves of The Appalachians. The group gets trapped after a cave in and is forced to find a way out. However, they discover that they may not be alone. What follows is some of the most uncomfortable sequences in horror history as the women crawl through the claustrophobic tunnels.

4. “Audition”

The Japanese film “Audition” at first glance seems sort of like a lifetime movie. A middle-aged widower decides to finally get back into the dating world by using his connections to the film industry to audition women for his relationship under the guise of auditioning them for a movie. The woman he chooses appears to be angelic, but may not be as innocent as she appears. Director Takashi Miike shows restraint in slowly allowing the film to descend into madness, leading up to a gory and brutal final act that will leave you stunned.

5. “You’re Next”

Adam Wingard’s “You’re Next” is not only a horror film, but something of a comedy. Although not funny in a conventional sense, “You’re Next” is pretty fun to watch. It follows a family reunion that goes horribly wrong after the family members are hunted down in their home. However, one of the members isn’t willing to go down without a fight. What results is something akin to “Scream” mixed with “Home Alone.” It’s a bit different, really scary and very fun.

‘Ouija’ misses the mark on Halloween horror

Child actress Lulu Wilson plays Doris Zander, a girl possessed by the spirit of a Ouija Board, in “Ouija: Origins of Evil.” (Internet Photo)

Every year around the end of October, Hollywood studios bank on the prospect of Halloween to get audiences into theaters to see scary movies. So much so, that production companies are often rushed to churn horror movies that are generic, derivative, not scary and just plain boring.

This year we rang Hollywood’s doorbell and they gave us “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” the movie equivalent to the Almond Joy, a candy that is a bit interesting, but ultimately one that nobody wants.

“Ouija: Origin of Evil” is a prequel to 2014’s substanceless cash cow “Ouija.” And while “Origin of Evil” was an improvement on its predecessor, it still disappoints in completely different ways.

The film’s admittedly interesting plot revolves around strange incidents that occur after a 1960s family acquires a Ouija Board to use as a prop for their sham psychic readings.

However, things take a turn when Doris, the younger of the two daughters, uses the board to legitimately communicate with the afterlife. Her newfound psychic powers prove to be too much for Doris, who is easily manipulated by angry spirits still residing in the walls of the family’s home.

When Doris begins acting strangely — she talks in detail about what it feels like to be strangled and writes mysterious journal entries in Polish — the family enlists a local priest to help save their daughter and themselves.

The entire story is told from the perspective of Alice, the family’s matriarch. Alice, played by Elizabeth Reaser, is a single mother trying to get by and raise her two young daughters after the sudden death of her husband a few years prior.

Reaser, along with the rest of the cast, bring impressively deep performances. In fact, it is the actors that separate “Origin of Evil” from scores of other forgettable horror films just like it.

The young actors are especially impressive here, showing skill and maturity well beyond their years.

Lulu Wilson’s standout performance as Doris is particularly captivating to watch. She effortlessly blends in a subtle and off-putting tinge of coldness into every line she delivers.

With this performance, Wilson takes her place among the ranks of the creepiest kids in cinema, next to that kid from “The Omen” and the little blonde girl from “Poltergeist.”

Unfortunately, these performances can’t save “Origin of Evil” from being swallowed up by its shoddy, over-the-top visual effects.

The CGI in the film looks so ridiculous that it immediately kills any sense of suspense or terror. The movie falters particularly in its final act, when the pace picks up and the obnoxiously terrible effects hit full force.

The resulting try-hard-horror is especially sharp because of the film’s more nuanced use of horror at the beginning. The end result leaves audiences torn between being legitimately frightened and slightly amused.

Overall, Ouija’s over reliance on digital effects ruin any immersion the first half worked to create.

So instead of going to the theatres to be scared this Halloween, consider staying at home with some of the lesser-known horror hidden gems The Leader recommends on page 11.

Pop culture dominates 2016 costume trends

Themes for 2016’s top costumes range from political to pop culture. (Illustration by Michael Horwath)

Halloween is right around the corner, and many people are looking for the perfect Halloween costume. Well, look no further, The Leader has put together a guide to help navigate this year’s costume trends.

This year, millennials are seeking outfits that make them look beautiful, handsome or sexy as opposed to years past where scary costumes were more popular. This comes as no surprise, since it’s millennials who will be snapping and posting the most to social media. This generation expresses a desire to be different than others and maintain their individuality and Halloween is perfect because it offers so many different ways to be creative.

If you’re unsure or just not feeling too creative, not to worry because there are plenty of trends and pop culture moments in 2016 that might give you some inspiration. A look at the top trending costumes on Pinterest reveals that the most popular costume for 2016 is Harley Quinn. Batman follows shortly after, along with other Marvel or DC inspired superheroes and antiheroes.

Glam makeup looks are also trending as a bit of a step away from the usual scary gore. For example, some people are going as their favorite Snapchat filter.

It would not be an election year without some politically themed costumes. Donald Trump was a big seller in 2015, and this year Hillary Clinton will of course be joining him. However, some people are opting to ditch the two big party candidates and are going as undecided voter Ken Bone. There’s even a Ken Bone look for women, “The Sexy Undecided Voter.”

Possibly less popular, but equally humorous, were the many moments captured of Bill Clinton loving balloons at the Democratic National Convention. Finding a way to recreate that scene could make you stand out among the Clintons and Trumps in the room.

Lastly, many people will be finding inspiration from their favorite TV shows. There will certainly be numerous people going as characters from Netflix’s original series “Stranger Things,” and “Star Wars” trick- or-treaters will be out in full force.

However, if putting together a costume with a pop culture reference is not your style, you can never go wrong with the classics like the traditional witch, pumpkin, ghost and black cat costumes.

‘Addams Family’ musical keeps EC kooky

Student actors perform the musical number “Full Disclosure” in a dress rehearsal of “The Addams Family: The Musical” which can be seen at the Mill Theater through Saturday, Oct. 15. (Photo by Stefan Carlson)

A boy meeting a girl in beautiful Central Park would be a typical love story if it weren’t for the ghosts watching behind the trees — and the fact that the girl carries a crossbow. However, this is the kind of kooky, clever story that one would expect to find in “The Addams Family: The Musical,” by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice.

The play, which is now play- ing at the Mill Theatre, is an enjoyable mix of weird and heart-warming moments with plenty of humor and great songs to tie the whole show together.

The story revolves around the Addams family, a gothic clan for whom “normal” is what the rest of the world would consider “creepy.” For example, there’s Morticia Addams (Sarah Eckel), the dark and mysterious matriarch of the family, Lurch (Andrew Brhel) the family’s zombie butler, and Pugsley Addams (Taylor Dorband) who loves being tortured by his sister Wednesday (Marissa Banker).

Into this dark, kooky house-hold comes the Beineke family from Ohio, a cheerful, typical American family whose son Lucas (Lukas Nowakowski) is smitten with gloomy Wednesday.

Tensions rise when these two families meet for the first time. What originally starts out as an average, awkward dinner party escalates to an all-out brawl with the Beineke’s and the Addams’ literally flying at each other’s throats. Six songs and a dozen one-liners later, the play comes to a satisfying, if expected conclusion as not one, not two, but four happy couples exit singing off the stage.

“The Addams Family” is a play that relies very heavily on its characters to bring it to life. The plot itself is very simple — boy meets girl, they fall in love, the families clash, etc. — but characters such as the swashbuckling, tangoing Gomez Addams (Brandon Pisano) give depth to the play.

That being said, such dependence upon the characters requires that the actors play their parts well, a task which the actors fulfill with exceptional results from Pisano, Dorband and Michael Shutack (Uncle Fester). Pisano has Gomez’s accent and flair down to a T; Dorband’s portrayal of Pugsley almost makes the little monster loveable and Shutack’s Fester is a hoot.

However, some of the characters seem a little flat, most notably Wednesday Addams and Lucas Beineke. Lucas is just a typical boyfriend while the writers could not seem to decide whether to make Wednesday dark and eerie, or sweet and girlie. She flip flops between singing about puppies and rainbows and torturing her brother Pugsley.

The role of the ancestors is also a little unclear. Although they are supposed to help Wednesday and Lucas fall in love, they do not seem to do much helping, aside from one key scene towards the end of the show.

In addition to unique characters, an interesting collection of songs also works to give depth to the play. All of the actors have phenomenal voices and it was nice to hear a live orchestra as opposed to just a keyboardist or a recording. Andrew Lippa’s music and lyrics really captured the spirit of the characters, especially “Happy Sad,” sung by Gomez and Wednesday and “The Moon and Me,” sung by Fester and the Female Ancestors.

Overall, with its quirky and entertaining characters and talented ensemble is certainly an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. With tickets being $5 with a Jaypass, students should definitely attend one of the play’s final three performances at the Mill before it ends on Saturday, Oct. 15.