Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Sights and Sounds of Spring Carnival

Up on this hill I get a bird's eve view of everything just before things start to really kick off.

The sun beamed down on everyone's heads on that warm, almost summer-like April afternoon at the South Campus Field, where students, faculty, and kids alike witnessed the fun unfolded around them.

Some students enjoy shooting some hoops at the carnival.

Tables crowded the landscape, filled with people in costume or summer wear, giving out pamphlets or setting up some crazy exhibits. The hickory smoke of barbeque existed as the predominant scent in the air, no matter where you were, and the sounds that echoed throughout the field were an uplifting mix of kids squealing with delight, students engaged in friendly chatter, and rock music. Off in the distance, several large, colorful inflatable structures towered over everyone, with kids bouncing around in and out of them, seemingly brimming with joy. It was a semi-surreal, yet entirely fun scene to bear witness to.

It was also an optimistic signal that the long, busy school year will soon be at an end yet again, at least for students.

Pictured here is Zander Judge, a member of CAPA, holding a delicious pixie stick.
Spring Carnival, the annual event held by CAPA and Student Activities, is a day full of opportunity for everyone. For students passing by, it is an opportunity to blow off some steam before the really hard work sets in, a chance to distract oneself with games and prizes for a few hours. Every year, the carnival has a theme to it, usually focusing on something like pirates, vikings, mermaids or something else along those lines. This year's theme took its inspiration from the polytheistic society of ancient Greece.
For the many student clubs on campus, it is an opportunity to raise some more money, and more support.

Some student engineers goof of for a bit, along with a gorilla in a toga.

Melissa Dorval, a member of the WiseGuys club here at UMass Lowell, is among many other booth runners taking advantage of this year's them. Today, she is dressed as the Greek god of death Hades and offering free photo ops in front of a picture of Mount Olympus at the Wise Guys booth.
Here is Dorval, pictured here summoning the demons of Hades using the very might of the Gods. Or, you know, not.

"We are here today trying to get donations for the club and recruit people too," she said. "Any donations will fund the operations for the club, including our spring break trip to New Orleans next year."
This fairy-tale style castle is kind of an odd fit for a festival with an ancient Greece theme, but the kids bouncing around inside don't seem to mind.
Wise Guys has been heading to New Orleans for a couple of years now, helping the city clean up the damage and rebuild after the mess caused by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. Dorval thinks the theme CAPA picked for this year is fun and easy, although the experience is a little humbling for her.

"Eh, it's alright," she said. "I'm in public wearing a bedsheet, but hey, you know, you gotta make the most of it."
John and Alex, in business with a balloon popping dart board booth set up for both the Biology Club and Unite for Sight, use the spirit of Spring Carnival to strut about their macho-ness. At their twin booths, they don the traditional armor of Greek spartan soldiers, or at least something closely resembling it made with stuff you could buy at the craft store.

"This is nothing but fun," said John. "You get to dress up like a spartan. There aren't many times of year where you get to do that."

John and Alex are pictured here, shields up and spears ready, prepared to defend their booth from the oncoming Persian army. Hail Leonidas!
The balloon popping fun, just like many of the other booths here, also had a good cause driving it. In this case, they stressed that you don't need to be an oracle to have excellent eyesight.

In this picture, it looks like a lucky young woman is about to win a prize.
"We're raising awareness about eye health," said Alex. "In addition to the balloon popping dart board, we're also offering free eye test screenings and a coin-catch game at the board across from it."
Betty, Kristen, and Kate (who didn't disclose thier last names) are not normally keen on wearing crowns. On this day, though, each one of them donned a crown of fake olive branches, possibly symbolizing the extensive knowledge they have of computer science.
Here are, in no particular order: Betty, Kristen and Kate at their Women in Computer Science table, complete with olive branch crowns of felt.
Their table contains an interesting and thought-provoking theme, helping to raise money and membership for the Women in Computer Science club.

"Our theme for this year's carnival is puzzles," said Betty. "A lot of the ancient Greeks knew a lot about math, and many Greek thinkers used their knowledge to make puzzles to help figure out things, so we decided to let the carnival-goers solve some puzzles in an attempt to win some small prizes."

The student engineers are also hoping to stimulate people's minds as well as provide quality entertainment. Their table, surprisingly, does not take advantage of the carnival's theme, but the activity they provide today makes up for that by being fascinating.

"What we have here is a wading pool of a substance called 'non-neutronian fluid,'" said Amy Musgrave, one of the Student Engineering Council members running the table. "What you have to do here is keep it from sticking to you, so you have to keep running in it, or keep it solid enough so that it doesn't. It is really sensitive to pressure."
This sandbox was right next to the E-Council's table, but wasn't getting nearly as much love as the "non-neutronian fluid" was.
The messy yet harmless substance seems to provide endless amusement for a group of students and some small children, as they take pleasure in stomping around in the stuff. Kevin Beauregard, another student engineer on the field helping out today, can vouch for how enjoyable something so simple can be.

"It's good that people are hearing about the club, but mostly, we're just doing this for fun," said Beauregard. "If no one were here right now, we'd probably be playing in the stuff ourselves."

Among the many booths are an inflatable wrecking ball tetherball station, a bouncy castle, and a rock climbing wall. This provides hours of fun not just for the students and faculty, but for the little children who are fortunate enough to have parents who know about the carnival.

A mother and her child out and about at the carnival stop to pose for a picture.

"We really like the tye-dying booth, and who ever was doing the free caricatures," said Britney Melanson, a student who was enjoying the event with some friends.

One of the more popular set-ups there was the Wrecking Ball Tetherball inflatable game, seen here being enjoyed by some more students.
The whole field was alive with the sound of rock music as well. CAPA uses the carnival every year as an opportunity to host the annual Battle of the Bands.

This year's contest had some added significance, however, as it was being simulcast live by the campus radio station WUML 91.5. Bands not only had the opportunity to win prize money but to have their voices heard. Among the entrants were the harmonic post rock band Life on Hold, the punk pop indie band Beneath the Sheets, and many others. Their sounds provided just the right mood for this carnival.

Here's a shot of Ali, the PSA Director, and intern Tyler manning the booth on the morning of the carnival.

In what is possibly one of the only low points of the carnival, the broadcast didn't quite go as smoothly at first as one would hope.

Will Carey,'s webmaster and the person running the booth at Spring Carnival, had mentioned that the vector used to transmit the signal from the mobile broadcasting unit on the field to the main station had taken a while to start up during the night before, when WUML had set up its tent and held their all night broadcast, the event that they hold every year before the actual carnival takes place. Since then, it had been reportedly cutting out every so often.

"The broadcast had its bumps, mainly technological glitches," said Carey, "but we seemed to have that worked out now." Here is some video of the concert that was broadcast:

Here's some footage of the competing bands, which includes the Advocates, Boston punk band the Burning Streets, and UML darlings Bearstronaut and Life on Hold. Beneath the Sheets, unfortunately the only band not in this video, ended up walking away with the prize money, with Life on Hold coming in 3rd and the Burning Streets finishing in second. This video is kind of long, so you might want ot get a sandwich or something while it loads.

This does nothing to dampen his spirits, or the spirits of anyone else at the booth. DJs and interns alike continued to monitor the unit as well as give out CDs and t-shirts. Many students interested in the radio's programming stopped by to say hi, and collect free stuff. Despite this year's technical errors, Carey says that WUML will continue to be a presence here every year.

"As long as CAPA keeps doing this not only will we be here," he said, "But we will be here the night before, too."
Fortunately for them, students will never stop coming out either.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Free Movies! Yaaaaaaay!

Movies these days are expensive. Tickets can cost at least ten dollars or over at the box office, and most of the time big releases are usually sold out on the first night they come out. With this in mind, it's not hard to imagine that anyhone would appreciate the opportunity to see a movie before it comes out, and for free. UMass Lowell students got that opportunity this past Thursday night.

This is the free movie pass you get at the MacGauvran Student Center. Owning one doesn't guarantee admission though, as seats are distributed on a first come, first serve basis.

Students got to see the film Observe and Report the night before it came out in theaters thanks to the Student Activities center and to UberDuzi, a distributor that arranges advanced screenings at college campuses and other locations all across the country.

Students gained access to the movie by getting a free movie pass, either at the door at Cumnock or over at the Student Activities office over in the MacGauvran Student Center.

Judging from the response of some of the students who attended the free pre-screening of Observe and Report, it seems as if hosting the free movies was not only beneficial to students, but to campus life in general.

Here's a photo of Dave Hadley, the professor who runs the 35mm CinemaScope projector in Coburn Hall's projector room.

“I think I like that they set this thing up,” said Claire Lumbard, a student who attended the movie last week. “It’s a fun thing to do on a Thursday night, especially when you’ve been busy all week.”

Two movies have been shown this semester, the surprisingly deep Adventureland which starred Kristen Stewart and Ryan Reynolds, and the grotesquely funny and controversial Observe and Report, which starred Seth Rogen and Anna Faris.

Both of these movies obviously cater to the 18 to 49 year old demographic, making it all the more appealing of an idea to offer free screenings to students as turnout for these movies was expected to be high.

Students seemed to enjoy both movies, but Observe and Report got a slightly more positive response overall. The response of student Dan Best seems to be indicative of this.

“I was there for the Adventureland screen they had, like, three weeks ago,” he said. “That movie was pretty good on its own, but compared to this, this was leagues better. Critics said it was like a funnier version of Taxi Driver, and yeah, I guess this movie was kind of like that.”

Here's a shot of the old camera in action, projecting the commercial before the film.

Most of the students who saw the movie seemed to attribute Observe and Report’s superiority to Adventureland by citing the ridiculous and unexpected ending, which caused the loudest laugh of the night from the crowd in the theater. Student Matt Deady gave the ending as the main example as to why he liked the movie.

“There were tons of funny moments in this one, but the end made it better than Adventureland in my opinion,” he said. “It was just so unexpected.”

Here's a picture of the A.S.A.O. members who helped out with the premiere, in no particular order: Peggy Renois, Lucky Egeh, Valerie Williams, Daniel Gyimah, Hildegard Asante, Sema Gifford, and Nathaniel Dunlap-Nelson.

Judging from the words of the audience, it seems that the movies offered up are getting better and better. There is always the possibility, however, that the novelty of all this could wear off over time, that perhaps students could take this service offered to them.

Thankfully for UMass Lowell and UberDuzi, that time does not seem to be coming anytime soon.

Students stick around to chat after the special pre-screening of Observe and Report.

“This movie was funny in at least three or four different kinds of ways, some which might be illegal in the United States,” said student Kevin Armigo. “This was fun, and it was free. If they had another one of these pre-screenings, I definitely wouldn’t mind showing up for another one.”

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Wild Things trailer is amazing

"Didn't want to wake you...but I really want to show you something." Poster courtesy of Warner Bros.

After having been in development hell for many, many years, the trailer seems to have come out for the adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's picture book, and it is amazing.

Click here to see it.

Despite the amazingness of the trailer, people seem to be approaching this film with cautious optimism. Aside from the difficulty of stretching out the picture book to a full 90 minutes or more, the film is making the studio nervous, causing them to interfere with it quite a bit. Luckily, that was all worked out, and the film seems to retain its original style. Director Spike Jonze had a really interesting conversation with Ain't It Cool's Moriarty about it a while ago:

Moriarty: It makes sense. Like I’ve seen how my kid reacts if you lose control of your anger. They’re little batteries, they soak it up and then it comes back out in the craziest of ways. You don’t know how and you don’t know when, but it’s not gonna be the same coming out as it was going in. You learn real quick to be careful about what you do and express in front of them, and how. That’s something that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone try to talk about in film. Like I think we try and make kids into saints in movies, and we kind of smooth off the rough edges, and it’s just so much more interesting to see a real kid, and to see how kids try and process the world.

Spike Jonze: And I think that’s what freaked the studio out about the movie too. It wasn’t a studio film for kids, or it wasn’t a traditional film about kids. We didn’t have like a Movie Kid in our movie, or a Movie Performance in a Movie Kid world. We had a real kid and a real world, and I think that’s sort of where our problem was. In the end they realized the movie is what it is, and there’s no real way to... it’s sort of like they were expecting a boy and I gave birth to a girl.

From what that says, this movie seems to take an unexpected approach to realism, in both its characters and a little bit in its story, which would probably worry those who want to market the movie to children. My guess is that the film will be aimed towards slightly older kids, rather than toddlers, although that may not entirely be a bad thing for ticket sales.

Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs is composing the score, and both James Gandolfini AND Catherine Keener are starring in it, so that makes me all the more excited. Like everyone else, though, I'm hoping and praying this doesn't turn out to be another Grinch.