‘Kingsman’ proves worthwhile for fun-loving moviegoers

When “Kingsman: The Secret Service” premiered the same weekend as the infamous “50 Shades of Grey,” it at first seemed like the movie was to be taken over by its competition. Thankfully, the star-studded cast and action-filled trailers managed to bring in well-deserved crowds.kingsman

Although the film, rated R for violence, language, and sexual content, is certainly no Oscar nom, the almost cartoonish level of violence and comic book worthy characters allowed the film to succeed in keeping audiences entertained.

Colin Firth leads the way as Harry Hart, codename Galahad, a sophisticated and well trained spy seeking to recruit the young Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, to the secret spy organization known as the Kingsmen.

Though Samuel L. Jackson creates a hilarious yet menacing character in Valentine, a tech genius who seeks to cleanse the world in a less than orthodox fashion, the true standout is Firth.

Firth, age 54, is most well-known for his dramatic roles in historical films or his rather sweet roles in romantic comedies, so to play a super spy trained to kill was a dramatic leap for the actor. Firth absolutely nails as Galahad and manages to delight and entertain audiences with his proper yet deadly skills.

Not only was the casting for “Kingsman” brilliant, but the script is as well. The film seems to know exactly what it is: a love letter to old school spy films and a truly good time.

The film features many references to spy films and TV shows both old and new (Eggsy even has a pug named Jack Bauer). This reminds audiences not to take the film too seriously but never takes viewers too far out of the film.

Moreover, the action sequences are stunning to watch. Director Mathew Vaughn took a much different approach to his action scenes than the popularized shaky-cam that has become a staple of modern action films by keeping his action scenes, such as the film’s new take on the standard bar fight, smooth and easy to follow. (Thank goodness!)

Instead of relying on a shaky camera to hide sloppy choreography or bad acting, Vaughn simply made sure that his actors were well prepared for their roles. This element, along with the inside jokes and interesting concept, provides a refreshing change of pace from the typical modern action film.

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2015 to be a great year in film

“Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” – December 18, 2015

Though many fans of Star Wars would like to forget that the last three films in this franchise came out, the buzz and excitement for the next installment is nevertheless overwhelming. Fans are eager to relive the Star Wars experience in theaters.

“Paper Towns” – June 19, 2015

With the box office success of “The Fault in Our Stars,” it’s no surprise that another John Green novel is being adapted into film. John Green fans and the general public alike are excited for this movie, anticipating that it will live up to its predecessor. The story follows an awkward but lovable boy named Q and his adventures with his mysterious dream-girl Margo.

“Insurgent” – March 20, 2015

Another book adaptation, this sequel to “Divergent” is likely to be even more action-packed and mind-bending then the first installment. The “Divergent” series follows a girl named Tris attempting to navigate a world in which everyone is defined by only a single virtue.

“Focus” – February 27, 2015

As the only film on this list that isn’t a sequel or adaptation, “Focus” draws from Will Smith’s star power and an interesting premise to build anticipation. The film, a romantic crime drama, centers on a con artist who falls in love with the rookie whom he has taken under his wing.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” – May 1, 2015

In the wake of Marvels “phase 3” announcement, buzz for the second Avengers movie has done nothing but increase. Marvel is certainly a powerhouse of the film industry, and fans are expecting the best from the next installment in this film series.

“Hunger Games Mocking Jay Part 2” – November 20, 2015

The movies of the “Hunger Games” franchise have consistently enthused fans with the story of a twisted government and a battle to the death; and the recent release of “Mocking Jay Part 1” has certainly left viewers craving more.

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Global Issues class hosts Teacher Talent Show

teacher talent show 1As one of their last  major fund raisers for the school year, the Global Issues class held their annual Teacher Talent Show on March 14.

Although the event was not as successful at raising money as it was the year before,  the Teacher Talent show managed to bring in $2,000 for the Stop Hunger Now, campaign according to Global Issues teacher James Walliman.

“Although we were a bit disappointed with the turn-out this year, we still had a really fun time and raised money for an incredible cause,” Walliman said.

The show was run by Walliman’s E block Global Issues class.  Every student in the class was assigned a job ranging from backstage work to publicizing the event.

Hosted by seniors Chris Dente and Liam Logue, the show began with a demonstration of how the meal packs that will be purchased from the night’s donations are put together.

Spanish teacher Robert Bilsbury and his wife Kate Bilsbury, accompanied by sophomore Tyler Quade on the viola, were the first act of the night. They performed the songs “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hasard and “Kathy’s Song” by Simon and Garfunkel.

The social studies department then entertained crowds by playing a game of charades on stage. The team “On Wednesdays We Wear Pink,” consisting of social studies teachers Alison Wright, Jennifer Coleman, and math teacher Sarah Deluca won the game and then celebrated with confetti.

This act was followed by a rendition of “The Element Song” by Physics teacher Philip Logsdon. Then physical education teacher Thomas Durfee performed a self-written rap chronicling the entire Star Wars series.

The English department provided a surprising twist to the evening by showcasing a video parody of TV show “Breaking Bad” called “Breaking Badly.” In a spoof on the original series, teacher Dan Koughan portrayed a teacher selling lines of poetry on the streets.

“I thought all of the teachers did a good job of bringing their own personality to the stage. It was definitely a fun night,” junior Alicia Setzer said.

The night ended with a performance by Walliman, Bilsbury, and math teacher David Alger that eventually brought all Global Issues students who worked on the project to the stage for a round of applause.

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The College Board elects drastic changes to the SAT

Due to recent research done by The College Board, the SAT test will be altered for the spring of 2016.

According to The College Board’s website, this new SAT test should be more focused on assessing a student’s readiness for college life and more useful to schools attempting to evaluate prospective students.

The most major changes relate to the scoring of the SAT. The exam is once again going to be on a 400-point to 1600-point scale, and the essay will be optional and given a separate score.

With this change in scoring, the three sections of the exam will be evidence-based reading and writing, math, and the essay as opposed to the previous format with separate sections for critical reading and writing.

The new evidence-based reading and writing section will focus more on the interpretation of evidence than in past exams and is also limiting vocabulary to the examination of “relevant words in context” as opposed to a long list of enormous vocab words.

The essay will also be experiencing some changes. Aside from being deemed its own section, the essay will focus on analyzing a source in order to explain the way in which the author builds his or her argument.

Both the essay and the evidence-based reading and writing sections will be filled with questions and passages grounded in real world situations that often include the application of the sciences or of social studies. For example, every student who takes the SAT will encounter either one of the founding documents or a document related to global conservation, according to The College Board.

Though most changes will be seen in the passage-based sections, the math section will also encounter a new focus. According to The College Board, the exam will focus on the three “essential” areas of math: Problem Solving with Data Analysis, The Heart of Algebra, and Passport to Advanced Math.

Other changes that will take place in the spring include the ability to take the SAT on a computer in select locations and the removal of any penalty if an answer is given incorrectly.

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Powers continues with Malala Project

Malala (from powers)As part of a continuing project involving the middle school and high school, various art pieces featuring Malala Yousafzai will be displayed at the House of Seven Gables and Central Street Gallery.

Yousafzai is a Pakistani educational activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban in October of 2012 as she made her way to a school for girls. Since then, Yousafzai has become a prominent world figure because she stands on behalf of the rights of Middle Eastern girls to be educated and is on her way to becoming a household name.

The Malala Project, headed by art teacher Marion Powers, started two years ago on the day after Yousafzai was shot. According to Powers, she scraped her lesson plan for the middle school that day in order to focus on a project involving Yousafzai.

“I am always trying to fight prejudice and stereotypes in my teaching, and this was a way to make the students see something bigger than themselves,” Powers said.

Eventually the project moved into high school drawing and mixed media classes and has been featured within the school, at Endicott College, and at the Hawthorne Hotel for an event showcasing prominent women in society.

The Malala portraits will soon be exhibited at The House of Seven Gables between April 2 and 10. This exhibition will be open to the public.

Later on this year, six boards of Malala pieces will be on display at Central Street gallery as part of an outreach program working to show student artwork from the area.

“This is a great way to spread awareness about Malala and her story while also showcasing some really great art pieces,” senior Sarah Lewiecki said.

According to Powers, the Malala project should continue to grow as time goes by because Yousafzai’s fight for an education is extremely important.

“This was a way to show all the students that one voice can make a difference, one person can change the world; and in this case the one person was a young girl who fought for an education,” Powers said.

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Turning in essays made easier with new program

Turn It In is a program recently purchased for the high school’s history and english departments. The interface allows students to turn in papers online and teachers to grade them quickly and thoroughly.

According to Principal Patricia Puglisi, school administrators had looked into this program in the past, but this was the first year that they were able to find extra money in the budget to afford the startup costs for Turn It In.

The program allows students to check their own work for any errors in plagiarism or citations prior to submission. It also reduces the risk of losing a paper or forgetting it in a printer at home. Students can also see their grades immediately after the teacher has corrected their paper online.

“The goal of this program is not to catch more  mistakes and call students out on them; it is to provide as much feedback as possible to aid in student learning and development,” Puglisi said.

Teachers, on the other hand, are able to grade papers anywhere that they have access to the Internet, avoid missing errors with help from a grammar checking option, and leave in-depth comments without space restrictions directly onto the papers.

“I really thought that I would miss having the papers actually in my hands as I graded them, but the convenience of being able to grade anywhere outweighs it,” English teacher Gloria Tanner said.

It is not mandatory for teachers to use Turn It In, but every teacher from the english and history departments received preliminary training online in December to help them use the website efficiently.

Students in Tanner’s class have turned in two essays so far on Turn It In and are generally optimistic about the future of the website.

“It is weird to turn in our essays online at first, but I think that Turn It In will eventually make students and teachers more accountable for their work and help us improve our writing,” junior Ariana Jackson said.Print

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“Her” Movie Review

 From the trailer for the movie “Her,” directed and written by Spike Jonze, it seemed like the film was going to be an interesting and quirky piece exploring the meaning of love, especially in taboo situations; but the film went far beyond these expectations.

  However, this movie isn’t for everyone as it received an R rating for language and sexual content.

  Jonze manages to make a story about a man falling in love with an operating system into one of the most authentic love stories to hit theaters in quite some time. Just as Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) begins to see Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) as a real person, the audience does too.

 Just as teenagers feel as they grow into their own person, Samantha is scared, excited, and another emotion that she can’t quite explain, thus making her the character easiest to relate too.

 “Her” received a golden globe for best screenplay. Not only was the story beautiful and heartwarming, it was filmed so incredibly well. Every shot seemed to have a purpose.

  As Samantha is trying to explain this indescribable feeling of coming into being to Theodore, a pot of the tea on the stove begins to whistle as it heats up. As the intensity of the teapot built, I had the realization, “Yeah. That teapot is somehow exactly what it feels like to discover yourself.” And this is obviously not something that any old director could pull off.

  The movie was stupendous in that it existed world away from our own in which a relationship as complicated as this one is more possible. Casey Storm’s costume design helped the movie feel more beleivable, as the fashions were just different enough to set an otherworldly, futuristic aesthetic but were never too far out there that the audience felt a disconnect.her

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Athletic trainer Jill Levine becomes physical education, health teacher

   In addition to serving as the athletic trainer, Jill Levine has been hired to teach two blocks of physical education and health this year.

  Levine has been an athletic trainer for four years. She worked at Georgetown High School before coming to Manchester Essex. She majored in athletic training at Endicott College.

 Before the start of this school year, the school administration discovered that, due to scheduling errors, two blocks of physical education and health had no teacher assigned to them, so an opportunity for the position was offered to Levine.

  According to Principal Patricia Puglisi, many individuals from both the athletic department and the school administration spoke very highly of Levine and suggested her for the position of teacher.

 Puglisi set up an interview with Levine to determine if she would be a good fit for the position. Soon after, the teaching job was offered to Levine.

 “She was very impressive. I was happy to give her those two blocks to teach for the entire year,” Puglisi said.

  When offered a position as physical education and health teacher, Levine decided to accept as well as continue to serve as athletic trainer. According to her, the decision to take the job was not a difficult one.

  “I come from a family of educators, so it was something that I was considering anyway, but it opened up, and they asked me if I was interested,” Levine said.

  The physical education and health department is also undergoing changes in curriculum this year. Classes will concentrate on educating students about the components of fitness as opposed to the elements of game play.

   According to Levine, students have focused on understanding their own physical limitations by testing themselves in a series of activities centered around cardiovascular, circular, and weight training.

 Levine looks forward to the upcoming year and the changes that it will bring for her and students.

“I think that she is amazing. We are lucky to have her as our teacher,” sophomore Toni Rerisi said.

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Starkid Production Company prepares to upload new play

Starkid Productions, most well known for their parody-play “A Very Potter Musical,” has started the production of their seventh play, “Twisted.”

   The company began as a college theater group at The University of Michigan. But after uploading their play “A Very Potter Musical” to YouTube, Starkid began to gain a large following on the Internet.

  Their fans, called “Starkids,” grew in numbers with each video that the company released. Their YouTube channel has accumulated over 345,000 subscribers since their first upload four years ago.

   Among their plays is the “Very Potter Series,” a trilogy poking fun at the “Harry Potter” book and movie series. Each play is uploaded in several 10-15-minute scenes, making up a full length play.

  Other popular plays released by Starkid Productions include “Holy Musical B@Man,” a spoof of the cheesy Sunday morning Batman cartoons, and “Starship,” a comedy about an alien planet. The cast of each play varies as students who graduate may not stay with the company and new members join each year.

   They have also completed two concert tours across America, performing popular songs from each of their plays.

   In July of this year, “Twisted” appeared briefly on stage in Chicago. “Twisted” has not, however, been uploaded to the Starkid YouTube page. Little is known about the actual plot of the play.

   A short teaser trailer for the play was released during the online premier of “A Very Potter Senior Year” in March of this year. “Twisted” will center on the untold story of the royal vizier, Jafar, from Disney’s “Aladdin.”

   A few members of Starkid Productions have moved on to roles in popular TV shows. Darren Criss, who plays Blaine Anderson in the hit FOX TV show “Glee,” played Harry Freakin’ Potter in the “Very Potter Series” and wrote music for other plays put on by the company.

  Starkid Joey Richter has secured a role in the Disney Channel original series “Jessie,” and other Starkid members have toured as part of the comedy act “Airport for Birds.”

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YouTube sensation Ninebrassmonkeys documents famous people, receives thousands of views

Benjamin Cook, more commonly known as Ninebrassmonkeys, has only been making YouTube videos for three months; but Cook has already made a large impact in the YouTube community.

   His channel centers around a documentary series called “Becoming YouTube” in which he interviews famous YouTubers and gives his own satirical opinions about a range of topics from why there aren’t as many girl vloggers on YouTube to if video views and subscribers really matter at all.

   Some of the most well-known YouTubers that Cook has interviewed include New York Times bestselling author John Green, Dan Howell (Danisnotonfire), Charlie McDonnell (CharlieIsSoCoolLike), and Alex Day (Nerimon).

   Despite the fact that Cook has only released eight episodes of the series, it gained mass popularity by the first episode because well-known YouTubers were talking about it on their own channels.

    Over 100,000 people are subscribed to Cook’s channel and an average of 137,000 people watch each episode. Each video is 16 minutes on average, much longer than most popular YouTube videos that range from three to six minutes in length.

   Cook had been on YouTube for years before uploading his first video. He had been watching some of his friends grow to Internet stardom and wondering why some people become YouTube famous and some people will never get more than 15 views on a video.

   The series “Becoming YouTube” is centered on figuring out what makes someone’s channel popular, but its main goal is to encourage people to set up a video camera and start blogging.

   Cook has a second channel, called Ninebrassmonkeys2, which includes raw, uncut footage that didn’t make it into the videos on his first channel. Ninebrassmonkeys2 only has a third of the subscribers that his main channel has.

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