UMass Lowell students face off against New England Blazers wheelchair basketball team

The New England Blazers played against the UMass Lowell women’s basketball team in April of last year. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

Jason Ounpraseuth
Connector Staff

On Friday, Oct. 20, in their annual partnership with the New England Blazers, the physical therapy club invited students to learn first-hand the challenges people in wheelchairs go through by playing wheelchair basketball.

The New England Blazers wheelchair basketball team is an affiliate of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. The Blazers are a not-for-profit organization who raises their own funds during the offseason to allow them new equipment and money to travel.

Paul Cowan has served as director of the Blazers basketball program since 1992. Cowan is not only the director, but he does so much more for the Blazers, serving as the coach, the equipment manager and many other things that make him so vital for the Blazers.

“It’s really cool to be able to have [the New England Blazers] come in. When you’re in the chair it puts you in a position like ‘oh this is kind of how it is,’ but either way they’re still participating in the community,” said physical therapy club President Mike Chiauzzi. “It’s an awesome event, and we have it every year, so this isn’t the first time we’ve had it.

It was an eye-opening event for many who participated in the game.

“You kind of learn it as you go because obviously they have their plays down,” said Chiauzzi. “It kind of shows you. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a wheelchair or not. They make it look so easy, and it definitely gives you a new perspective. It’s amazing, what they’re able to do.”

Friends and family watched on, seeing the fantastical moves of the Blazers as they passed and moved the ball with very few faults.

For the students, it was more trial and error for the rotating groups who got a chance to sit in the wheelchair and get their own experience of wheelchair basketball. Some were successful in moving in the chair and getting shots off while others fell and found trouble moving in the chair, but at the end of the day, everyone had fun as the physical therapy club raised money for the club and other organizations.

The partnership has not only benefited the physical therapy club and other students, but it serves as a chance to have some fun for the Blazers.

“The guys love it. They love doing this type of exhibition game. We get so intense in our own league and everything. This is fun for us,” said Cowan.

Each group of five students got a chance to rotate every 15 minutes to get their shot at trying to see what they were capable of in wheelchair basketball. This kind of experience is a unique one, and Cowan said, “It gets the able-bodied people [a chance to] live in our world, especially in the sports world, not necessarily everyday life.”

It may have been just for 15 or 20 minutes, but the people who participated in the wheelchair basketball event will walk away with a small idea of what it is like for people like Cowan and his teammates from the Blazers thanks to the Physical Mobility Basketball event held by the physical therapy club.

Not a happy day if one sees ‘Happy Death Day’

Tony Gardner, the man who designed the Ghostface mask for the “Scream” series, designed the mask for “Happy Death Day.” (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Owen Johnson
Connector Editor

“Happy Death Day” is a horror movie that was released by Blumhouse Productions. Among Blumhouse’s other horror works includes the “Paranormal Activity” movies, the “Ouija” movies and “The Purge” movies. If that is enough information to help figure out the quality of “Happy Death Day,” feel free to stop reading here.

On her birthday, sorority sister Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is attacked and murdered. After she is murdered, Tree awakens in the same spot she had awoken that exact morning. As she lives through the same day over and over again, Tree sets out to figure out who her killer is so that the day will stop repeating.

Many movies have copied the repeating day plotline of the Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day,” but “Happy Death Day” takes it to a new extreme. The day is not just repeating, but the main character has a similar character and similar character arc, the romance in it has similar traits to it, the repeating day is a non-holiday holiday and the inability to decide on tone is characteristic of both films.

“Happy Death Day” has all of the problems of a repeating day-premised story and all of the problems of a horror movie.

There is absolutely no reason that the day should be repeating itself, and seeing the exact same imagery again and again becomes tedious and annoying once the audience has been forced to sit through it enough times.

Tree is a typical horror movie character: she makes dumb decisions that ultimately keep getting her killed, which is even more annoying to watch than in a normal horror movie because her multiple lives gives her ample opportunity to think of a plan that is not idiotic. It also relies heavily on jump scares and the killer doing impossible things to make the film scary.

The tone fluctuation is the most jarring aspect about the whole movie. The premise of a killer going after a girl and her continuously waking up after she has been murdered sounds like it should be scary and suspenseful. Some scenes are played like that, but other parts are written as if for a comedy.

For example, once it is established that Tree has infinite lives to figure out who her killer is, a comical montage starts. In one of the montage clips, she goes stalking after a suspect with dyed hot pink hair, a camouflage painted face and camouflage attire. The fluctuation of tones is not annoying, but they are never melded together and ultimately make a movie that is confused about what it is trying to be.

The biggest problem is easily the killer, and not just because they have horror movie villain powers where they seem able to be wherever they are needed or do whatever they need to for a kill or a scare, but because their plan makes no sense. The plan makes so little sense that once the killer is stopped, a side character actually has an entire speech dedicated to how illogical the plan was.

To the movie’s credit, there were some praiseworthy aspects. Even if it is a rip off of Bill Murray’s character in “Groundhog Day,” Tree does have a good character arc. Even with a repeating day, the writer did work in a way for there to be stakes to the situation. While Rothe’s acting was not always the best in the horror scenes, she was able to pull off a genuinely emotional performance in what is arguably the movie’s most important scene.

There are a number of other good ideas that the movie has, but unfortunately does not deliver on. Or, even worse, it seems to ignore the potential it has set up for itself. For example, using the “Groundhog Day” premise in a murder mystery is an interesting idea. However, the only investigative parts of the movie are glossed over in a comical montage. Then there are the stakes that actually make the story have tension to it, but the stakes are all ignored in the final confrontation with the killer.

There is a saying out there that something is better than it has any right to be. Well, “Happy Death Day” is worse than it has any right to be. At worst it should have been a generic horror movie version of “Groundhog Day,” and it was much worse.

Final Grade: D-

Another semester, not another headache

Advisers help students create a path for success (Courtesy of UMass Lowell)

Brigid Archibald
Connector Contributor

During the 2015-2016 academic year, the Committee of Academic Affairs, led by Rob Callahan, put out surveys that found as the university had grown many first-year students, including transfer students, were confused by the current advising model. They found themselves in positions where they had changed majors, problems they didn’t know how to fix, or just simply did not know who their adviser was or how to get in contact with them.

This academic year, the Committee and the Office of Academic Administrators have worked together to try to find a solution to the problems in the advisory system.

This year’s incoming students will be the first to experience the solution: a new advising model called the Hybrid Model.

This is a model that has been successful in many universities, and the office has high hopes that it will help incoming students at UMass Lowell. This change will only affect first year students. The model is the first step of many to reform advising, and the office hopes that next year they will be able to expand the program to second year students. Under the Hybrid Model students will be given a professional adviser in addition to the preexisting faculty advisers.

Professional advisers are full time advisers who will act as a point of contact for incoming students. Freshmen will have a professional adviser within their college who will help with degree planning, mapping out schedules and defining goals.

Callahan, last year’s Academic Affairs Committee chair who worked on the reform said, “If we focus heavily on advising freshmen we get the roadmap set up for their entire stay here. The quicker that’s figured out the better.”

Transfer students’ professional advisers are through the university’s Centers for Learning. They will handle all the same work in addition to handling other challenges that are often presented to transfer students.

This program will stream line the freshmen year advising experience, ensuring that all freshmen are getting the same information. Dr. Julie Nash, vice provost for student success says, “One of the things it does is it allows consistency which is especially important for our new students, because their first experience on campus really sets the tone for how they are going to do. If we have good messaging and good outreach then we can hopefully catch students with a safety net before something bad happens.”

While the professional adviser takes care of the more clerical items, the faculty advisers provide students with discipline specifics.

Dr. Justin Gerstienfield, director of college based professional advising, a new position created just for this program, says, “They are going to tell students what it means to study a topic, how to become a content expert and show them all the ways they can use their degree in the real world.”

The goal is that as students move through school they will be better connected to their department and will develop a better understanding of the system. By the end of their second year, they will no longer need their professional adviser, and communicate mostly with their faculty adviser who will help determine which courses to take, help them find opportunities like co-op research or internships, and figure out the student’s trajectory for after graduation.
Kerry Donohoe, the dean of academic services, stressed that both advisers serve an important role by saying “It’s not either-or. Both are critical to the student’s success.”

Professional advisers are only the first part of a much broader advisory reform. The next big change is an advising page soon to go live on the university’s website. The page is a centrally coordinated space that will act as a one stop shop for all things advising, pulling together all the information that is already available for advising and adding more tools for both advisers and students. It will provide links to find students advisers, a step by step tutorial with links to explain how find an advisory report, a FAQ page, numerous how-to guides for things like course selection, and each college within the school will have its own page.

The site will also integrate the scheduling tool for advising that some colleges, like the Manning School of Business, are already using, and the school will be working on expanding the program to other colleges like the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

These changes are a result of the student’s involvement in the university’s programs. Vice President of Student Government Association Brian Madigan says, “The advising reform on campus has truly been a grassroot movement that has shown how the administration listens to the students.”

Donohoe encourages students to continue to be part of the discussion by providing feedback on the new advising system, and how they can continue to improve the new advising website.

‘Going Grey’ is absolutely fantastic

“Going Grey” is the Front Bottom’s fourth studio album. (Courtesy of Bar None Records)

Dorian Taylor
Connector Contributor

The Front Bottoms, an up and coming indie rock and alternative band from Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, followed up their 2015 album “Back on Top” with a more energized and exquisitely produced album titled “Going Grey.”

In the past, most of the group’s songs consisted of minimal production and emphasized the raw sound of acoustic guitar, drums, bass and occasional trumpet. The Front Bottoms’ change of tone in their latest album may come as a shock to those who are familiar with the band, but that is not to say that the band has changed for the worse. In fact, the band has evolved into something greater by expanding their arsenal of instruments with the addition of piano and synthesizer, adding effects to their vocals and increasing the quality of their production.

“Going Grey” immediately introduces the band’s new sound with the heavily synthesized instrumental on the opening track “You Used to Say (Holy F*ck).” The Front Bottoms signed to the record label Fueled by Ramen in 2015, and since their induction there has been a noticeable change in the band’s overall sound, presumably from influence from the label.

The Front Bottoms have found their balance between punk and pop through the process of making this album. Over the span of 11 tracks, the band manages to include the kind of acoustic rock songs that first album fans will appreciate, while also providing tasteful alternative tracks that will help the band acquire a more diverse audience.

The singles of “Going Grey” scream, “We’re back!” as the band seeks to regain the love from fans that may have lost interest in the group after the release of their previous album, which was generally considered to sound too much like pop.

The simplistic track “Raining” is pretty mellow as it starts with just an acoustic guitar, but has waves of satisfying excitement that come in when lead singer Brian Sella yells, “’Cause I feel absolute fantastic!”

The second single, “Vacation Town,” is more stimulating and features a beautiful trumpet line and a reminiscing story that anyone can relate to with lines like, “I miss the way things used to be.” The song has an incredible energy that makes listeners feel like they are in a crowd of bouncing fans at a Front Bottoms concert.

The band ventures from their original sound and gets experimental with the track titled “Trampoline,” which is a notable highlight of the album. The song opens with an unfamiliar synthesizer melody that would not be found in any of their previous albums. The band took a risk releasing a song that has more of a dance and funk feel than anything they have released before, but this experimentation was successful. This track proves that the band can create catchy songs with a variety of instruments, covering the span of several genres.

With such a strong track list, the only song on the album that falls short is “Everyone but You.” The song feels thrown together with a basic rock backing track and an underwhelming humming melody. Most of The Front Bottoms’ songs that fall flat musically are redeemed by Sella’s lyrics and unique storytelling, but lyrics like “Can’t get happy, can’t get sad,” cannot save this forgettable track.

The Front Bottoms’ core members Sella and Mathew Uychich have both grown as musicians since their previous album. With the band originating as an excuse for these childhood friends to get together and have some fun, The Front Bottoms may have suffered from lack of professional music training in creating their first handful of extended plays and full length albums. Sella’s vocals sound more melodic and controlled in “Going Grey” than in any of their previous albums, and Uychich has only become more skilled in his drumming.

In the past, The Front Bottoms may have been a quirky band that could only capture a cult fan base, but today the band has evolved their style into music that can be enjoyed by a broader audience. Their singing and instrumentation is sharpened, their songwriting is more cohesive and their style is more solidified. “Going Grey” is the groups best album to date, and with the band members having found their sound, even better albums can be expected in the future.

Final grade: A-

‘Mindhunter’ is Netflix’s best to date

The series was based on the true crime book “Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit” by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker. (Courtesy of Netflix)

Owen Johnson
Connector Editor

It has been noted numerous times that the television industry is in a golden age of programing when it comes to original content created by streaming services. “Mindhunter,” a Netflix original series, is more than qualified to be added to the ever-expanding list.

Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), a young member of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, teams up with veteran agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) in order to study how criminals think. To do so, they travel around the country, speaking to different incarcerated criminals to collect data for their study, which they hope to use to catch dangerous behavior in people before it goes too far.

The genre of police dramas has been played out so much and for so long on television, but “Mindhunter” finds a way to come at the genre from a new angle. There are no outlandish crimes nor a killer of the week, and when killings are brought into the show it is a question of why instead of who.

The show also manages to stay fresh by not doing the same thing over and over again. For example, in most police drama shows, the cops would find a victim, interview some suspects, collect evidence, pick out the bad guy in the lineup of suspects and finish everything up nicely before their next assignment the following week.

In “Mindhunter,” a lot of the show focuses on the interviews with the incarcerated killers, but it also takes what the characters know and has them apply it to different circumstances, whether those be cold cases in towns they are visiting or when Ford begins investigating an elementary school principal for improper conduct with the students.

The realism of the series is easily the most outstanding detail in every aspect of the show’s creation. The attention to detail was meticulous in order to make the setting look like the 1970s. Even the usage of product placement worked, as the look of the labels set the time period and the way they were worked in was done so to make the world feel lived in and real as opposed to just being in there because the companies gave the studio money.

All of the killers that Ford and Tench meet with are well developed and differentiated in speech, mannerisms and insanity. There is not a single repeat. There are no outlandish crimes or over the top dramatic occurrences that the characters have to deal with. All of the dramatic events in the show are grounded, and at certain points they can even seem mundane.

All of the characters are well written and developed, and the performances by the actors are superb. The only person this is not the case with is Hannah Gross, who plays Ford’s girlfriend. Gross is monotone and not very expressive in any of her scenes, and it is hard to tell if this is part of her character or just bad acting on Gross’ part. Either way, Gross and Groff have remarkable chemistry with one another, which helps to negate her lackluster performance.

Something that speaks volumes to the production and quality of the show are the directors that were used. Of the four directors, three of them are well acclaimed with the most prominent being “Fight Club” and “Zodiac” director David Fincher, while the fourth one still does an exceptional job on his episodes and stands his ground when compared with the others.

Just like the meticulous attention to details that were visible with the aesthetics of the show, the same attention to detail was shown through the directing and editing. Everything from the camera work to the sound editing is done superbly. The way the scenes are shot and the cameras are set up conveys a lot of information about the characters while the sound editing helps set the mood. For example, when Ford meets his first inmate, a 200 plus pound killer named Edmund Kepper (Cameron Britton), his footsteps sound like they shake the entire prison.

With a fantastic cast, intelligent and talented directors, and a wonderful script and premise, “Mindhunters” is easily one of the best television shows out there, and it might be the best original content that Netflix has created thus far.

Final Grade: A+

‘Lotta Sea Lice’ is fine but forgettable

The artists will give $1 from every ticket sale for their tour to the American Civil Liberties Union. (Courtesy of Matador Records)

Patrick Connell
Connector Staff

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile have recently teamed up to create a collaborative album called “Lotta Sea Lice.” If someone has listened to either artist, then there might be an assumption as to what this album might sound like.

Courtney Barnett comes from Melbourne, Australia, which can clearly be heard in her voice. In the past, she has been prone to composing songs with guitar melodies, having many varying parts and adding in the vocals with witty, pun-filled lyrics. Kurt Vile is a Philadelphia-based musician, formerly part of The War on Drugs as lead guitarist, with his own distinctive voice, especially noticeable with his odd inflections on words that have seemingly straightforward pronunciations.

The reason why this album was created in the first place is because Vile wrote the lead single and opening track “Over Everything” with Barnett’s voice in mind, and then after having a jam session together, they decided to go on a tour and write an album as well. With just listening to this track, the sense of the rest of album is given: a mellow, folksy, blues rock album layered with winding guitar lines with a conversation between the two artists sung over them.

For instance, “Over Everything” just has the two of them talking about how they write music. It has a nice set of jazzy chords taking the listener through the verses, and then goes through an extended outro laden with guitar solos.

The next song, “Let It Go,” might have the catchiest melody to it. There are two guitars to it: the one playing the elongated, higher notes in the foreground, and the one playing the bass-like notes to complement in the background. However, part of why this may be so catchy is that it is played for two and a half minutes straight, which brings to light an issue this album has: many of the songs do not have great variance to their structure, so they become somewhat repetitive.

“Fear is Like a Forest” and “Outta the Woodwork” are both the heaviest songs on the album in terms of sound. Either song could be sung by Neil Young & Crazy Horse during their time of hard blues rock, and it would not seem out of place. These are also the best structured songs on the album. After listening to them enough, the chorus parts are nigh impossible to not sing along with, especially in “Outta the Woodwork.”

“Continental Breakfast” is an odd song in its subject matter. Vile and Barnett just sing about how they are from different continents and, during the making of this album, they would sit and eat breakfast together. The guitar here is a mix of acoustic (softly, quickly finger picked) to establish where the melody is going, and then a twangy electric to finish off where it is headed. Despite being one of the more lackluster songs here, the bridge section is where the sentimentality really picks up, but it ends too quickly and just repeats a previous verse.

“Peepin’ Tom” was a song Vile originally preformed as part his solo work (titled “Peeping Tomboy”), but here it has been reworked to just Barnett and her acoustic guitar. She sings about diametrically opposed desires that people often find themselves with, and combined with the bittersweet theme the guitar presents and the stripped-down production, “Peepin’ Tom” is a quite moving song.

Overall, “Lotta Sea Lice” is a pleasant album to listen to. It is probably best heard in a setting of relaxation, such as being around a campfire or watching a sunset on a porch. Nevertheless, it does not have as great critical value, which is noticeable on repeated listens. They will be preforming at the Orpheum Theater in Boston on Saturday, Nov. 4.

Final Grade: B-

Discussions, donations and hard conversations: How many more until we solve gun control?

After the Las Vegas shooting, many are questioning gun control laws and are advocating for change. (Courtesy of iStock)

Alex DePalma
Connector Contributor

I am only 25 years old, but I am already too familiar with the cycle of discussion after a mass shooting. The initial confusion and absence of answers opens a vacuum for unsupported speculation. The casualty numbers are firmed up into final, definitive totals. The shooter’s name, history and tentative ideology come to the fore.

The public figures emerge to deliver the canned tears, the hand-wringing,and the pantomime of grief undercut by the unstated certainty that this will all happen again. We will mourn, we will send thoughts and prayers, but shame on the opportunist who would take advantage of this tragedy to try to reduce the risk of future violence.

And the chatter moves on from substance to hot air, discussing the gamut of causes from mental illness to political affiliation to modern media. Finally, the fire burns out, material and interest exhausted until the next crisis rears its head.

I am tired of this, and I imagine most people with a conscience are as well. I am tired of tragedy dressed up as spectacle and the hollow emotional outpouring. I am tired of expecting Republicans to favor weapons manufacturers and insecure gun fetishists over public safety. I am tired of expecting Democrats to offer only piecemeal solutions like the proposed ban on “bump stocks.”

We deserve political representation that has the courage to say the average citizen does not need access to handguns and assault rifles. We deserve leaders who have the confidence to say that the Second Amendment was conceived in a different time, and that the constitution should be reinterpreted or rewritten to suit our current situation.

When we have properly addressed the problem of gun violence in the United States, perhaps then we can grieve. We cannot grieve while the violence continues, while thousands of people die to gun homicides, suicides and accidents every year.

The cycle will continue until we take guns seriously as dangerous weapons that should be regulated, not playthings for living out survivalist and action hero fantasies. The struggle to change the culture and the law will take years, and will take longer than this presidential administration, but it is a goal worth fighting for.

Start a conversation, make a donation or get involved with a group. The choice is up to you, but there is always something you can do to change the world for the better.

‘Metroid: Samus Returns’ After 18 Years

MercurySteam and Nintendo collaborated on “Metroid: Samus Returns.” (Courtesy of Nintendo)

Vernon Gibbs
Connector Contributor

“Metroid: Samus Returns” does its predecessor “Metroid II: Return of Samus” justice in this amazing remake. Released on September 15, 2017, the player follows the bounty hunter Samus Aran on her mission to terminate a deadly alien species, the titular Metroids. Armed with only her blaster and her armor, she goes through the depths of the Metroid’s home planet on a side-scrolling, action-adventure journey.

With the level of polish that Nintendo is known for, it is not surprising to see how stunning this game’s visuals are. Each new screen looks different from the last, immersing the player into a world of vicious wildlife and deadly hazards. Despite such an atmosphere, the environment never pulls the player away from whatever they may be doing, and does a stunning job at placing the player in a lonely journey through a strange and unnatural world.

Coming as a remake to a much older game, Samus Returns also comes with new gameplay mechanics. Where the original game has a clunky and frustrating 4-directional aim, players can instead enjoy the remake’s new 360-degree aiming. With a core mechanic in the Metroid series being how you shoot your way through, such a change means everything in the player’s enjoyment.

The Metroid series has a reputation for its challenging gameplay, and that holds up in its latest game. Placed into a variety of situations, the player is tasked with fully understanding and utilizing their growing arsenal of weaponry and equipment, going in an upward spiral as their abilities gain them access to more and more options.

But even when the player thinks things couldn’t get any better for them, the game always finds a way to keep up. Huge credit has to be put towards Arturo Sanchez, the lead in this game’s stellar level design. Each map is cleverly laid out, and the journey between destinations is never a boring one. Indeed, the strongest aspect of Samus Returns is how enjoyable it is to move to and from each individual challenge.

The gameplay mechanics are interesting in of themselves. Each map holds a variety of upgrades for Samus, and can only be completed by using them to their fullest. As you progress through the game, you never feel like your latest upgrade is anything uninteresting. From rolling through narrow passages, to scaling walls, and even flying through caverns, each ability is still relevant and useful all the way through your journey.

That being said, each of these strengths come with inherent weaknesses. Samus Returns focuses heavily on its gameplay, with the story as a result being minimal at best. You could say that this is a good thing, that games such as this simply doesn’t mix well with a focus on its story. However, it cannot be denied that the premise of Metroid is average at best, but this fact can often be overlooked. Samus Returns has a simple and irrelevant story, but the game doesn’t need a story to keep you engaged. The gameplay itself is enough of a story to make up for it, with the player going ever deeper into the planet, and gaining ever stronger powers for fighting ever deadlier monsters.

Regardless of any potential flaws, Samus Returns provides a fun and engaging remaster of its predecessor. A single run can last anybody 10-15 hours, as there’s only so many Metroids for you to hunt down, but the experience will last long after you finish off the last one. Metroid: Samus Returns is a must-have for anyone with a 3DS.

Final Grade: A-

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