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.”

‘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.

‘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.

Anti-Hero breaks box office records

dedGritty, yet hilariously dark, “Deadpool” is not your ordinary everyday super hero movie.Unlike most of the big-budget blockbuster super hero epics in recent memory, there is no hero to be found here. However, there is something more human, more entertaining — and not to mention a hell of a lot funnier — under this film’s mask. As a result, “Deadpool” opened to a record breaking turn out and just recently crossed $673 million in box office sales worldwide. Look out Marvel fans, there’s a new antihero in town. Said antihero also happens to be the film’s protagonist under the alias Wade Wilson, who takes up the badass superhero moniker Deadpool. Played by a loveably snarky and irreverent Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool is an ex-special forces mercenary turned immortal mutant desperate for revenge. The film’s first half recounts Deadpool’s origin story in a series of masterfully paced flashbacks. His transformation from man to unkillable mutant is surprisingly dark and involves implied and explicit scenes of graphic torture that leaves Deadpool scared, maimed from head to toe, and utterly indestructible. The second half shows Deadpool’s journey to regain his lost good looks in order to resume his life with his lover. If his behavior sounds incredibly vain and narcissistic, well, that’s because it is. Deadpool, like many other superhero’s, is flawed. He’s so proud and selfish that he refuses to return to his longtime girlfriend, who believes him to be dead, until his looks are returned to normal. A flaw like this would normally be treated as a serious and touchy subject. Here, it is used as fodder for a wide variety of self-deprecating jokes. If Deadpool is anything, he is self-aware. He is so self-aware that he knows he is in a movie, often addressing the audience directly and even physically moving the camera. Deadpool takes any form of a fourth wall and gleefully demolishes it with a wrecking ball of sarcastic irony, never taking himself too seriously. Although Deadpool himself is the main draw here, with Reynolds carrying the film through almost every frame, there are also a few highlight supporting performances. T.J. Miller is excellent as Weasel, Deadpool’s sidekick and source of comic relief. Morena Baccarin, known for her reoccurring roles in television series such as “Homeland”, plays Vanessa, Deadpool’s strong, independent, yet realistic love interest. Some of the film’s best comedic moments revolve around Reynolds and Baccarin’s romantic and often hilarious chemistry. As a result, Deadpool will undoubtedly be one of the funniest movies of the year. It’s snappy pace, deftly directed by first-time feature length director Tim Miller, and witty dialogue provided by screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick make it a winning comedy. However, there are also plenty of choreographed fight scenes and surprisingly gory action sequences to quell any desire for high octane thrills. But be warned, the clever, yet unabashedly raunchy dialogue, and the violent action scenes add up to a well deserved R rating from the MPAA. However, Deadpool’s self aware R-rated comedy causes the film to never take itself too seriously, which establishes a more realistic, down-to-earth, and ultimately human hero. Deadpool is a welcome breath of fresh air in Marvel’s line-up of blockbuster franchises, one that makes any half-sane adult question whether to bring their child or not.